You thought He was God. You’re ‘you shall have no other Gods before me’ God. Him you feared. Him you loved. Him you trusted. For you, there was no other God than the man Jesus. Luther teaches us: “To whatever we look for any good thing and for refuge in every need, that is what is meant by ‘god.’ To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in Him from the heart.” You believed in Jesus, you trusted Him. You believed that He was who He said He was, that He truly was the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. You believed that the one God of Israel had taken human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. He said words that only God could say, forgiving sins, rebuking storms, commanding demons to depart and the dead to rise. He did things that only God could do, multiplying loaves, walking on water, casting out disease and opening the eyes of the blind. You were amazed, astonished, even afraid of the great events you witnessed. He healed a paralytic and forgave his sins, shocking everyone. He stilled the storm, and you asked one another, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!” Astonishment is hardly adequate to describe your reaction when Jairus’ dead daughter was brought back to life, and when He was transfigured on the mountain, showing forth His glory, you cowered on the ground in fear. Could He really be who He said He was? You certainly thought so—you were convinced He was God.
But then He started a new sermon series about going to Jerusalem. He had a ‘Jerusalem fixation,’ Jerusalem on the brain. He was obsessed with Jerusalem. This seemed strange for a person who cared little for the powers and principalities of this world, but you were even more shocked to hear what He planned to do there. Three times He boldly and defiantly preached that He was going to Jerusalem to be handed over, arrested, beaten, spit upon, and ridiculed. He wouldn’t quit preaching that in Jerusalem He would be condemned, flogged, and killed, that in Jerusalem He would meet a humiliating end. He said something, too, about rising again after three days, but you were too alarmed to pay much attention. You were terrified by His words. These things just don’t happen to Messiahs; they don’t happen to God. You thought, you hoped, that He would get over it, that this Jerusalem obsession was simply a fad, like almost every other sermon series, that He would soon get back to teaching the children and healing disease.
But you were wrong. He was serious—dead serious. And now He is just dead. Betrayed, just like He said. Condemned, just like He said. Crucified, just like He said. What good is a dead Jesus? You thought He was the Son of God, God Himself in the flesh, and now He is laying in a tomb. You saw His side pierced by the spear, you saw them take the corpse down. You watched as they laid Him in a new tomb, unstained by death no more. The one you trusted as your God is now dead. Where does that leave you? Once again, Luther teaches: “It is the trust and faith of the heart, nothing else, that make both God and an idol. If your faith and confidence are of the right kind, then your God is the true God. If, on the other hand, your trust is false, if it is misdirected, then you do not have the true God.” This is much worse than simply losing a good friend. You trusted Jesus as your God, and if He is dead, then you must have had the wrong God; you are an idolater. You have lied about God; if Jesus lays in the tomb, then you, of all people, are most to be pitied. That is why you cower in fear: what good is a dead Jesus? Can you fear, love, and trust in Him anymore? Can you!?
Three days later, a few brave women, who cared for Jesus while He lived, set out to care for Him in His death. What they find is as shocking as a man walking on water or a few loaves and fish feeding five thousand people. “And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed.” The stone—rolled back! The tomb—empty! Nothing is as you expected it to be; you are terrified, astonished, looking for an explanation, and fortunately, this young man, this angel, has one. “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.” Look, see the empty place as the first eyewitnesses, and then go from here, for a Christian should not remain in a place where Christ is not; and the one place Christ will never be again is this tomb. He has risen! “Go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.” Just as He told you. Can it be? You remember long-forgotten promises, the declaration that just as He would certainly suffer and die, so also He would certainly rise. Nothing has shocked you more. “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Fear. Trembling. Astonishment. You are overwhelmed to the point of silence by the shocking events of this morning. But as you leave the tomb with mouth firmly shut, you are haunted by the command of the angel. “Go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.” Will you tell the disciples? Will you tell Peter? Will you go to Galilee to meet your risen Lord? You’re a bit reluctant, aren’t you? Of course you are; you have a guilty conscience. You know what you have done, what you have failed to do, and now you are a bit hesitant to meet the glorified, risen Jesus. You claimed that Jesus was your God, that the First Commandment applied to Him: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” But have you feared Jesus above all things? Have you loved Jesus above all things? Have you trusted Jesus above all things? You know that you haven’t.
With Judas, you have betrayed Jesus, handing Him over for a bag of money, or your car, or your sports team. With Peter, you have denied Jesus, failing to confess Him when the world called on you to speak, hiding or watering down your Christian faith to fit in with friends, co-workers, or relatives. With the disciples, you have abandoned Jesus, leaving Him high and dry when the cross came into view, shrinking away from the suffering, ridicule, and persecution that comes from bearing His Name. What do you expect to find in Galilee? The same Jesus you betrayed, denied, and abandoned, the same Jesus you claimed as your God but failed to fear, love, and trust above all things. What will He have for you? You expect nothing but payback, retribution, and divine judgment, summed up in one word: death. What else do you deserve?
But Jesus has not risen from the dead to give you what you deserve. Listen again to the message of the angel. “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.” Do not be alarmed, do not be afraid. The time for fear is over. Why? The tomb is empty, He is not here. Christ is risen, and all fear of God’s wrath has ended. Christ is risen, and He gives you not what you deserve, but what He won for you. Christ is risen, and He meets you not as an angry judge, but as your loving Savior. Do not be alarmed. Jesus is the crucified One, the One who bore all sin to the cross: Judas’ betrayal and yours, Peter’s denial and yours, the disciples’ abandonment and yours. Every violation of every commandment that we have examined this Lenten season was paid for by the shed blood of Jesus. He suffers and dies in your place, and He rises in your place.
His ‘Jerusalem fixation’ was for your forgiveness, your life, your salvation. He was obsessed with the cross, because there He would die bearing your sin; He took them with Himself into death. And your sins are left behind in the grave; by raising Him up, God declares that the penalty has been paid, He will not demand their price from you. Christ is risen, and you are forgiven. Christ is risen, and His victory is yours. “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth.” Look into the tomb, examine every empty nook and cranny, fill your heart with joy at its barrenness. Your Redeemer lives, and as His grave stands empty, as the stone is rolled away, so your grave too will be vacated when He returns to stand upon the earth.
“And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? You are defeated, triumphed over, conquered. You tried to take Jesus, you swallowed Him up, but you swallowed your own destruction. For our Lord has burst your gullet and you are destroyed; we lay the saints into the ground not in defeat, but in anticipation of victory. You could not hold Him; you will not hold us. His grave is empty; He is not here, for He has risen. He is the God of the living and the dead, and all who believe in Him will live, even though they die. Not one will you snatch out of His hands, we belong to Him forever. You have lost.
The crucified and risen Jesus is our God, the one true God. Your defeat is our victory. He died for us and He lives for us as our God, pouring out His forgiveness, life, and salvation. He is not our opponent, our enemy any longer; He does not seek vengeance, but He rose to speak words of forgiveness. He has risen, as He said, and every promise is true. He has risen, as He said, and we can trust the Absolution. He has risen, as He said, and He gives His very Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins in the Supper. He has risen, as He said, and all who are baptized into His Name will be raised up on the Last Day. You have lost, O death, and this day and every day, we will cry out, proclaiming His victory which is our victory:
Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! Amen.