Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Day (Matthew 28:1-10)

“Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.” Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this Easter morning comes from Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the twenty-eighth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Dear friends in Christ, when Jesus died upon the cross on Good Friday, Saint Matthew tells us that the very earth shook. Rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the curtain of the temple tore in two. At the death of the Son of God, the created order reacted, quaking as if in agony. Whether the earth shakes in mourning or in celebration, one thing is clear: something very significant has just happened. Three days later, in a peaceful garden not far from the hill of Golgotha the earth was shaken again. “And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat upon it.” The earth shakes in reaction once again to the mighty deeds of God. All creation was affected by what happened on that bloody hill, and now all creation is affected by what is happening in a quiet graveyard. God has done something amazing, something wonderful, something miraculous, and the earth itself responds. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

The created order reacts to the mighty deeds of God, but humans are ignorant. “Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.” They came expecting to find a body to anoint, they came expecting to find a sealed tomb. They came in the expectation that their Lord, their leader, their friend, remained in the grave. Now, Jesus had testified to His followers quite clearly that He would die and then three days later be raised. They knew the end of the story, but on that morning, they came to the tomb in doubt and unbelief. Their doubt has been shared by many throughout the centuries, especially today. Some simply argue on the basis of their own experience: “people just don’t rise from the dead.” Others turn to the ridiculous, claiming that Jesus had a body double, or that He simply fainted upon the cross and then woke up in the tomb. The most common objection is the oldest. Matthew tells us right after our text: “They gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, ‘Tell people, “His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep”’… And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.” Perhaps some of you have bought into those explanations in the past. Perhaps a few of you are even now denying the resurrection in your hearts and minds. But even if we don’t deny the resurrection, doubt assails us each and every day, for our enemy is the father of lies. Make no mistake, such doubt is sinful, for in doubting we call Jesus a liar when He promised that He would rise again. The women had heard those promises from Jesus’ own lips, but still they doubted; they came to the tomb not expecting a resurrection, but instead a dead body.

Pay close attention to how Matthew tells us of the resurrection. Even as the women travel to the tomb, things are happening. “And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.” Plenty of people saw the death of Jesus. The Roman soldiers, the mocking crowds, the women and the disciple whom Jesus loved could all testify that Jesus died. But no one saw the actual resurrection of Jesus, for the witnesses showed up after it had occurred. Even before the women arrived at the tomb, filled with doubt, God had already raised Jesus from the dead. The resurrection occurs before the witnesses arrive, it occurs before the women believe. The resurrection is not dependent upon man, but upon God.

The resurrection is true whether you believe it or not. It is an objective fact, more true than any other event recorded in history. Neither your faith nor your unbelief affects the plans and purposes of God. The resurrection of Jesus isn’t created by your faith, and it isn’t denied by your lack of faith. The resurrection of Jesus instead creates faith; when you hear the proclamation of Christ’s Easter victory, the Holy Spirit is working faith within you to grasp onto the truth of the resurrection of the Crucified One. This began early that morning, for the angel at the tomb had the privilege to preach the first Easter sermon. “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him. See, I have told you.” The result of this message was nothing else but faith. “So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell His disciples.”

The response of the women to the first Easter sermon seems strange. Fear and joy don’t really go together in our minds. Now, the joy we understand. In fact, joy is the proper response to the resurrection. That is why we let the alleluia’s ring forth again this morning after keeping them buried for the season of Lent. The resurrection greeting is full of joy: Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! We rejoice for Christ has been vindicated, God did not let His Righteous One see decay. We rejoice because the resurrection is the seal of the victory Christ won through His sacrifice on Calvary’s cross. Good Friday and Easter belong together as one mighty act of God for our salvation, and we rejoice that Jesus did not leave us in our sin, but instead gave Himself as the sacrifice. All joy in the life of a Christian flows from Easter. But do we always have that joy? Do we go through this life in the joyful knowledge that Christ has indeed been raised for us and our salvation? Or do we find ourselves with the same emotions as the women on that first Easter morning, filled with fear? We come to worship this morning knowing that we should have joy, but instead we still feel the burden and fear caused by sin. In a world filled with corruption, surrounded with plenty of reasons to fear, how can we rejoice?

The resurrection of Jesus doesn’t depend on our faith or our joy, but instead it creates both faith and joy. His victory over death gives us joy even in this valley of the shadow of death. But Christian joy, the joy of the resurrection, isn’t some fleeting emotion. Having this joy doesn’t mean that we’re happy all the time or that we never feel sadness or fear. Instead, the joy of the resurrection expresses itself throughout the varied experiences of our lives in this world. This joy is much more profound than simply an emotion. It is the confidence that death, sin, and suffering have no permanent hold upon us, but instead that they are defeated enemies, trampled under by Jesus’ death and victorious resurrection. This confidence only comes from Jesus, only from the proclamation of the cross and empty tomb. Only the Gospel can give us this joy in the midst of sorrow, joy that is fed and sustained by the comforting words of our Lord. Jesus has been raised whether we feel joyful or not, indeed He has been raised because our hearts are filled with fear. The empty tomb and the risen Jesus is an objective fact, true despite all appearances to the contrary.

Christ is risen even if there seems to be no cause for joy in this world. Christ is risen even though we suffer. Christ is risen even though we mourn. Christ is risen even though we die. In fact, Christ is risen because we suffer, Christ is risen because we mourn, Christ is risen because we die. Christ is risen as the solution to suffering and death. Only He provides the answer to sin in this world, for He bore all of the sin of the world to the cross. The risen Jesus is the crucified one, as the angel reminds us this Easter Sunday. He will bear His wounds for eternity, a testimony that the living One is He who was crucified, the Lamb who was slain for the sin of the world. He died in our place, He died to destroy death, He died to pay the price for all sin. The solution to suffering was His suffering, the solution to death was His death. His resurrection proclaims that sin, death, and Satan are defeated, and for that reason, we can have true joy. Christian joy is His gift to you, for only He can banish fear.

The first words from the mouth of the angel were intended to drive out fear and bring joy to those frightened women. “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.” They heard these wonderful words, but they still had fear. Only one person could remove that fear, and soon He was standing before them. “And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.’” The resurrection of Jesus removes all fear. When Jesus tells us “Do not be afraid,” He is speaking words of absolution. ‘Do not be afraid, for my resurrection is your victory. I died for you and now I live for you.’ His resurrection means that death’s reign is done, sin can’t condemn us, and Satan’s accusations are now empty. Jesus has conquered them all, and the empty tomb proves it. When you hear the beautiful words, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ Jesus is saying to you, “Do not be afraid.” And today, hear that message again: because Christ died and rose again for you, your sins are forgiven! Each and every one of them has been washed away by blood of the Lamb, swallowed up by His victory. You are forgiven- do not be afraid!

We no longer fear sin, for it has been forgiven by the shed blood of Jesus. We no longer fear Satan, for His head has been crushed by the foot of Jesus, just as God promised in the beginning. We no longer fear death, for the message of Easter is that just as Christ was raised from the dead, so you too will rise. Your destination is not eternal death, but eternal life, for your Lord and Savior died for you, and He rose again for you. Christ’s tomb is empty, and so shall yours be, for He will raise you up in victory on the Last Day. His life is your life, for God raised Him up for your salvation. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! In the name of the crucified and risen one, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

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