Halleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Halleluiah! So we shout forth in this joyous season of Easter, when we confidently and triumphantly declare before all of creation that our Lord did not remain in the tomb, but is arisen, He has conquered over death, He will bring us to be with Him in eternal glory. Dear friends in Christ, the text for our sermon this morning comes from the Psalm of the Day, Psalm 146: “Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!”
We began this sermon with the word ‘halleluiah.’ Have you ever wondered where this particular term comes from? Well, we have it before us in the sermon text for today. ‘Praise the Lord’ in the Hebrew is two words that together are pronounced ‘halleluiah.’ It’s pretty simple, really. We give thanks to God for raising Christ from the grave, for promising to call us forth some day, and so we say ‘halleluiah,’ ‘praise the Lord.’ But yet here we are setting ourselves apart from the world. Whenever we say ‘halleluiah,’ we are saying that God deserves our ultimate praise, and no one else. This is a radical separation, because our world tells us that there are many places where we can place our praise and trust. Especially in the midst of a presidential campaign, the temptation is to say ‘praise Obama’ or ‘praise Hillary’ or ‘praise Ross Perot!’
And it does not even have to be a presidential candidate. We put our trust in many other people around us, hoping that they can give us what we need. We may not use the word, be we are often looking for ‘salvation.’ In some sense or another, we want them to deliver us. High gas prices, a slumping economy, threat of war and terrorism, we think that human beings are the answer. Every time you vote, you place your confidence in a person; one whom you think can make things better. It is so easy to place all our hope on a son of man, to put our trust in anyone but God. The first commandment is easily transgressed- we idolize other people because we look up to them, we depend on them, they are our ‘salvation.’ But the psalmist stops us dead in our tracks- he rebukes us, he tells the entire world that such trust, such ‘salvation’ is ultimately hopeless. “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man in whom there is no salvation.”
This salvation is hopeless, because the people in whom we place our trust are as afflicted by sin as we are. The people in whom we put our trust, in whom we seek salvation from whatever might afflict us, all manage to let us down in some way or another. And even if they do in some way fulfill our trust, if they manage to make our lives a bit better, if they improve our world, they can do nothing about our primary problem- we die. The same Satan, who is at work in our world, leading sons of men astray, leads us to put our trust in those sons of men. We might find temporary deliverance from a son of man- but even there Satan is working, trying to get you to place your trust in the things and people of this world. You see, our world, and if you are honest, you yourself, do not ask the right question. We seek salvation from the worries of this world but we cannot vote away death, we cannot elect someone who can destroy this enemy. You can brag about all the medical accomplishments you wish, but the simple fact is that you will still die. The Psalmist puts it like this: “When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” Putting your ultimate trust in a son of man can only take you to where he is also headed- the grave. You need salvation from death, and this salvation no son of man can give you.
In the midst of this the psalmist tells us of the creator, the God in which all are blessed who find Him as their helper. This God created “heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them.” There is only one problem. Since Adam and Eve fell into sin, no person is able to find God as his helper, in fact every son of man is born into the domain of Satan, totally opposed to God. By the psalmist’s definition, no one is blessed, because no one can have God as His helper. This holy and pure God cannot be the helper of anyone tainted by sin. In fact, His divine wrath over man’s transgression doomed all children of Adam and Eve, every son and daughter of man, to hell.
But because God is love, He sought to satisfy His divine wrath over our sin, He had to act. The psalmist writes that God “guards faithfulness forever.” He made a promise that He would satisfy His own justice, His own wrath over sin, and even though the psalmist could not see it with his own eyes, God remained faithful to that promise.
The little words in Scripture are important. Sometimes one letter can make all the difference. The word ‘the’ is English is three letters, but in Hebrew it is only one. This one letter declares God’s plan. Salvation for this corrupted world could not come through a son of man, but it does come through the Son of Man. This is the self-designation of a man named Jesus, a man who was not simply a man, but God With Us, God in the flesh. He called Himself the Son of Man to demonstrate His humiliation, that He was walking the earth as one of us, though He was no ordinary man. As He says in our Gospel lesson for today, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” The Son of Man was obedient to the Father’s will, humbling Himself to death, even death on a cross.
This final act of humiliation, when Jesus Christ, Son of God and the Son of Man died, restored what had gone wrong with God’s original creation and granted us salvation by satisfying God’s wrath. This act was the culmination of a life of restoring fallen creation. The Son of Man in His humiliation worked the works of God, as Jesus tells us in the Gospel lesson: “The Father who dwells in me does His works.” The psalmist saw this work from afar and declared it, that God working through Christ would be the one “who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.” Surely God did these things in the Old Testament, but even more surely He has done them through Christ, and He has done them in your life. Jesus called Himself the Son of Man as He fed the hungry (four thousand and five thousand at a time!), healed the blind, lifted up those bowed down by sin, and raised the dead of widows.
Jesus has in His death and resurrection set you free from the bondage of Satan, Jesus feeds your spiritual hunger through His Body and Blood, Jesus healed your spiritual blindness through His Word, Jesus will raise up on the Last Day all who have died in the faith, Jesus preserves you in that true faith as you sojourn on this earth, Jesus brought to ruin the way of the wicked one. The path of death is replaced by Jesus who is the Way: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In the middle of the psalmist’s list, we find the reason for it all: “The Lord loves the righteous.” God loves those whom He has declared righteous through the death of His Son. You are now right with God because of Christ, now you truly are blessed, and what the psalmist says he says to you: “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God.” We may have to depend on sons of men for things in this world, but only with the knowledge that our ultimate trust can only be founded on Christ, the Son of Man.
On Easter morning, Jesus shed the title of ‘the Son of Man.’ No other New Testament writer uses it of our Lord, and we do not use it of Him even today. Christ is now enthroned in glory, and He will bring us to be with Him in glory when we die. Death is not our end- it has been defeated- our destiny is now life, life in heaven, life with God forever. Faced with this reality, we can only say with the psalmist: “The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!”
And yet today, we still remain in this world. We still vote, we still depend on police and firefighters, but knowing that ultimate salvation has only come through Christ. And we pray. The Church is a praying Church. And what better to pray than the psalms, God’s prayer book given to us? But we do not only pray, we echo the psalmist by praising and giving thanks to God for His deliverance in Christ, the salvation that came through the Son of Man. As Peter says in our Epistle lesson, “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Our identity through Baptism is that we declare the praises of God, the God who delivered us through the Son of Man, and that is what we will do forever. Amen. Halleluiah, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Halleluiah!