Sunday, April 24, 2022

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter - Quasimodo Geniti - Jn 20:19-31


Easter 2

                                                                                      Jn 20:19-31




          “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  Those were the last words Jesus addressed to all the disciples as they made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane on the evening of Maundy Thursday. 

          Jesus had said a number of things, but a theme that continues to appear throughout the three chapters of his words to them in John’s Gospel is that Jesus is about to leave.  He is returning to the Father.  Now our Lord also repeatedly tells them that he will send the Spirit who will play a critical role in the work that is to be done.  But the thought of Jesus leaving them could hardly have prompted feelings of peace.

          And then our Lord says that he has overcome the world.  In the events from Thursday night through Friday afternoon, it sure didn’t look like it. Instead, he had been betrayed by Judas – someone who was supposedly one of his devoted disciples. He had been sentenced to death and crucified. He had suffered and died on a cross. Then, before sundown on Friday, he had been buried in a tomb.  By any rational evaluation, the world had overcome Jesus with overwhelming might.

          On the first day of the week – on Easter – there had been developments that were confusing.  In John’s Gospel we learn that Mary Magdalene had gone to tomb early, when it was still dark, and had found that the stone had been rolled away.  As we heard in the Gospel lesson for Easter, she had gone and told Peter and John. They found that the tomb was empty. The cloth in which Jesus had been buried was folded up and, the cloth that had covered his face had been set in a different place.  When John saw this, we are told that he believed.

          John and Peter had returned to where they were staying.  Mary Magdalene had then met the risen Lord Jesus.  She had held on to her Lord who had risen from the dead.  Jesus had replied, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”  Just as Jesus had commanded, Mary had gone to the disciples and announced, “I have seen the Lord” -- and that he had said these things to her.

          However, our text this morning begins with the words: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews.” There was certainly no peace in that room.  Instead, there was fear.  Mary’s report seemed to have had little impact on the disciples as a whole.  Was it because the source of the news was a woman?  Was because it was just too good to be true? Was it because it was sounded too crazy too be true?  For whatever reason, her announcement, “I have seen the Lord,” had done nothing to drive away their fear.

          Looking at things from a rational, worldly perspective there was indeed much to fear. Jesus, the One they had followed for nearly three years had been arrested and crucified.  The disciples had been with Jesus.  It wouldn’t be hard to identify them.  What if the Jewish leaders weren’t content to stop with killing Jesus?  What if they decided to go after others who were seen as leaders in his movement?

          As we live our lives, when we look at things from a rational, worldly perspective, there is also much to fear.  There are serious, life threatening health problems in our life, or in that of family and friends.  There is uncertainty about the future course of our life – the direction it will take and the events that await us.  There are financial concerns as we face debt and worries about how we are going to pay for future expenses.

          The disciples were in a locked room because of fear.  But John tells us, “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.”  The risen Lord appeared before them in the midst of that locked room.  He said to them, “Peace be with you.”  This was not a wish or hope. It was a declaration of fact.  They were words that did what they said, because Jesus Christ was there speaking them to the disciples. 

He was their peace. He was their peace because he had been crucified and died.  But now he had risen from the dead.  He showed them his hands, which bore the marks of the nails that had held him to the cross.  He showed them his side, into which a Roman soldier had plunged a spear to confirm that Jesus hanging on the cross was in fact dead.

Jesus had died on the cross. He had been buried.  But now he stood before them alive!  Certainly, there was something different about him.  After all, he had just appeared in the midst of a locked room.  But the marks in his hands and side demonstrated that this was the same Jesus they had known.  It was the Jesus who had been crucified.  It was the Jesus whose body had now been raised from the dead.

Our translation says, “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”  But that doesn’t really do justice to the Greek.  Not only is the word used here more normally translated as “rejoice,” but John has placed it has the first word in the sentence which is a sign of emphasis.  The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord!  Jesus was alive!  In an instant they had seen the words of Mary Magdelene confirmed to be true.  Whatever they had thought about Jesus’ death was now wiped away.

Jesus who had been crucified was alive. He had risen.  And now they had peace.  Our Lord drove this point home by saying for a second time, “Peace be with you.”  And then Jesus went on to express how they were now to share this peace with others.  He said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Then Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

          Our Lord had told his opponents, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” He had said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”

            John the Baptist had declared that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  When speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus had compared himself to the bronze serpent that God had commanded Moses to raise up on a pole.  He said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  Jesus had said during Holy Week, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

          In his first letter, John explains what Jesus accomplished on the cross.  The apostle says that Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”  Jesus’ death as the Lamb of God was the sacrifice that has removed sins and allowed us to have life with God.  John tells us, “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

          In the Old Testament, a sacrifice was killed, and then it was dead - end of story. These sacrifices pointed forward to the great sacrifice Jesus would offer on the cross. But as the fulfillment of these sacrifices, Jesus’ death was about the forgiveness of sins that leads to life.  Our Lord said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

          As the risen Lord, Jesus told his disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”  He sent his Church forth with the authority to forgive sins – his authority as the crucified and risen Lord.  That’s what happened at the beginning of this service.  You heard these words: “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

          The command spoken by the risen Lord on the evening of Easter was carried out this morning. Because it was, your sins are forgiven.  They are forgiven, and because they are you have life.  Jesus promised, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life.”  These are not merely words. They are words that find their source in the One who died on the cross and then rose from the dead.  They are words that are true because Jesus lives.  He has conquered sin.  He has conquered death.

          Because of Jesus Christ, you have eternal life now.  And you also know that the risen Lord will raise you up on the Last Day.  Jesus said, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  Death cannot be the end for your body, because it was not for Jesus.  He stood in the midst of his disciples with the same body that was crucified.  Yet it was also a body transformed by the resurrection so that it can never die again.  Jesus has won the victory for us in both body and soul.

          On the night before he died, Jesus told his disciples, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  On the evening of Easter, the disciples learned how true these words are. 

By his death on the cross Jesus has given us the forgiveness of sins. By his resurrection from the dead he has defeated death.  Through faith in Christ we already have eternal life now – life with God that not even death can end.  We also have the assurance that death cannot end our bodily life.  Yes, it may put our body in the grave. But the risen Lord who stood in the midst of the disciples on the evening of Easter will return on the Last Day to raise our bodies to be like his own – never to die again.

Are there tribulations and difficulties as we live in this fallen world? Yes.  Jesus said there would be.  But there is no need for fear.  Instead, we live by confident trust in the Lord Jesus who was crucified on Good Friday to give us forgiveness and rose from the dead on Easter to defeat death.  He has conquered sin and death for us. We live in his forgiveness and love which will carry us through every challenge as we set our hope on the risen Lord.                    

















Thursday, April 21, 2022

Commemoration of Anselm of Canterbury


Today we remember and give thanks for Anselm of Canterbury. Born in Italy in 1033, Anselm is most closely associated with England, where he served as Archbishop of Canterbury for many years. A brilliant scholar and writer, Anselm used his political skills with the British kings on behalf of the established Christian church, affirming that it is the leadership of the church and not the state which has the responsibility of establishing structure and maintaining order among the clergy. Anselm is especially remembered for his classic book, Why God Became Man, which taught that the reason for the incarnation was that Jesus, the Son of God, would suffer and die in place of sinners.

 Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, you give the gift of teachers to your Church.  We praise you for the gifts of grace manifested in your servant Anselm, and we pray that your Church may never be destitute of such gifts; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.



(Treasury of Daily Prayer, 1290)


Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Easter Wednesday


Today is Easter Wednesday as we continue to celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord.  The Gospel lesson for today is John 21:1-14.

Scripture reading:

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21:1-14)

Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, by the glorious resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ, You destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light. Grant that we who have been raised with Him may abide in His presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.




Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Easter Tuesday


Today is Easter Tuesday as we continue to celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord.  The Gospel lesson for today is Luke 24:36-49:

 Scripture reading:

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, "Peace to you!" But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."

 Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, through the resurrection of Your Son You have secured peace for our troubled consciences. Grant us this peace evermore that trusting in the merit of Your Son we may come at last to the perfect peace of heaven; though the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Mark's thoughts: Surprising features of the Easter accounts


In his book , The Resurrection of the Son of God, the New Testament scholar N.T. Wright observes four surprises that we encounter when we read the resurrection accounts in the Gospels. The first surprise is that the accounts of the resurrection do not contain specific references to Old Testament passages, or even allusions to specific passages.  While the Gospels themselves up to this point are filled with this kind of material, the Easter accounts have none. The closest we come are Jesus’ very general statements in Luke (24:25-27; 44-6) that his suffering, death, and resurrection has fulfilled Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms, and John (20:9) that Scripture said he must rise from the dead.  Yet this is quite different from the specific Old Testament texts to which we find quotation and allusion in the material before Easter.

The second surprise is the absence of personal hope in the accounts.  Wrights sums this up well when he says: “If Mathew, Mark, Luke and John wanted to tell stories whose import was ‘Jesus is risen, therefore you will be too’, they have done a remarkably bad job of it” (pg. 603).  The accounts clearly witness to the resurrection of Jesus, but they do not apply the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection to those who believe in him (this is something that the other parts of the New Testament certainly do).

The third surprise is the description of Jesus.  When the resurrection is mentioned in Daniel we read: And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:2-3).  The reference to “shall shine” is reflected in the way that Jewish writings after the Old Testament describe the resurrection.  This is not how the Gospel accounts describe Jesus.  Wright comments: “To begin with, Jesus is never depicted, in these stories as a heavenly beings, radiant and shining … The sightings of, and meetings with, Jesus are not at all like the heavenly visions, or visions of a figure in blinding light or dazzling radiance, or wreathed in clouds, that one might expect in the Jewish apocalyptic tradition, or in connection with Merkabah mysticism” (pg. 604). 


Instead, Wright observes, “Jesus is almost routinely depicted in these stories as having a human body with properties that are, to say the least, unusual” (pg. 605).  So, Jesus has a normal human appearance, apart from the marks of the crucifixion, which themselves are proof that it is the same Jesus who had died.  He can be touched (Matthew 28:9; John 20:26-27), eats (Luke 24:41-43), handles food and gives it to his believers (Luke 24:30; John 21:13).  At the same time he can disappear (Luke 24:31) and appear in their midst (Luke 24:36; John 20:19, 26).  Jesus is the same, but also different.


Finally, the fourth surprise is the presence of the women in the Gospel accounts as the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection.  In Judaism, a woman was not a legally acceptable witness. Women serving as the first witnesses to the resurrection was something that for many people in the first century A.D. would be a negative feature that called the account into question.  It should be noted that the women are not included in the apostolic tradition about the resurrection of Jesus that was handed on as the Church spread in the Greco-Roman world (1 Corinthians 15:3-7).  Yet there the women are in all four Gospel accounts of the resurrection.


All four of these surprising features point to the fact that the resurrection accounts present what actually happened. They come from the very beginning of the Church. They describe the events that helped to create the Church.  They don’t describe things or develop them in the way we would expect them to do so.  Wright correctly argues that is the case “for the very good reason that stories as earth-shattering as this, stories as community-forming as this, once told, are not easily modified. Too much depends on them” (pg. 611).  They tell what happened in the beginning, and they couldn’t be changed because everyone had heard them.  The surprising features of the Easter accounts demonstrate the surprise of the resurrection that changed everything for the early disciples. His resurrection has changed everything for us as well.  Jesus is Lord. God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9).







Sunday, April 17, 2022

Sermon for the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord - Jn 20:1-18



                                                                                      John 20:1-18



          The resurrection of Jesus Christ took everyone by surprise.  In spite of the fact that our Lord had said he would be raised, and that he would raise up all on the Last Day, it was not something that his followers were expecting.  Instead, it came as a complete shock.

          Living in faith on this side of Easter, it seems easy to judge the disciples because of this.  But we are fooling ourselves if we think we would have been any different.  The disciples of Jesus had followed our Lord for nearly three years. They had seen him perform incredible miracles.  He had fed more than five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish.  He had walked on water.  Not long ago he had raised his friend Lazarus from the dead.  After seeing all of this, how could anyone really expect Jesus’ life and ministry to end as it did on Good Friday?

          Yet Jesus had been arrested on Thursday night – betrayed by one of his own apostles.  He had been condemned to death by the Jewish leaders, who then maneuvered Pontius Pilate into having Jesus crucified.  Friday morning Jesus hung on a cross. On Friday afternoon he was dead.   A Roman solider had made sure of this fact by piercing his side with a spear. Then in a rushed action of final love and devotion, John tells us that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had buried Jesus in a tomb before sundown on Friday. In less than twenty four hours, Jesus had gone from the Messiah they followed to a dead body in a tomb – the body of man who had been crucified.

          Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus’ disciples.  She had been there at the cross when Jesus died. She had then observed the Sabbath – Saturday.  It is hard to imagine the shock and grief that she and all of Jesus’ disciples were trying to process that day.  What had not changed was the love she felt for Jesus. And so we learn in our text that on the first day of the week, with the Sabbath past, Mary came to the tomb early, while it was still dark.

          However, when she arrived she saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.  The Gospel accounts of the resurrection capture the confused and frenetic nature of that morning.  John tells us that “she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’”  She reported to Peter and John that the tomb had been opened and someone had taken Jesus’ body.

          In response to this news, Peter and John ran to the tomb.  We learn that John got there first, and that when he stooped and looked in, he saw the linen clothes in which Jesus body had been buried. When Peter arrived, he entered the tomb and saw that linen clothes had been folded, and that the cloth that had covered Jesus’ face was placed off by itself. Then John entered the tomb and we learn “he saw and believed for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” 

Then the two disciples went back to their homes.

          Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb expecting to find death.  After all, that is the purpose of a tomb – it is the final resting place of a body.  Jesus had died on the cross and had been buried in that tomb.

          But when Jesus spoke during Holy Week about what was about to happen, he did not describe it only as death.  He said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  Jesus was going to die, but this was to carry out God’s saving purpose.  A little after this he went on to say, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

          Jesus Christ died as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – who takes away your sin.  His death has yielded the fruit of freeing you from God’s wrath and judgment.  We learn in this Gospel, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”  Or as Jesus said a little later, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

          Our Lord came to free us from sin.  And freedom from sin means life – eternal life.  Jesus referred to what was about to happen as him being glorified.  During the evening of Maundy Thursday before his arrest, Jesus had told the disciples that he was going to the Father. He said this was good thing for them, because he would send the Spirit.  Jesus was glorified as he carried out the Father’s saving will by dying on the cross, rising from the dead, and ascending to the Father. These are, in John’s Gospel, one movement that curves down into the tomb in death, and then up out of the tomb in resurrection and ascension.

          After telling Peter and John about the tomb, Mary Magdalene had returned to where the body of Jesus had been. We learn that she was weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she looked into the tomb and saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She replied that someone had taken away her Lord and she did not know where they had laid him.

          Then Mary turned around and saw Jesus standing.  However, John reports that she did not know it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Thinking that he was the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

          Then our Lord said to her, “Mary.”  In hearing Jesus’ voice, Mary was called out of her grief as she recognized the risen Lord. She answered, “Rabboni!,” which means Teacher.

Our Lord said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 

In joy Mary had taken hold of Jesus.  Yet the good news about Jesus’ resurrection was something that needed to be shared. And so our Lord sent Mary to the disciples to announce that he was alive and would be ascending to the Father, just as he said he would. We learn in our text that Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and shared what Jesus had told her.

          Mary went to tomb expecting death.  But instead, what she found there was life.  She found that Jesus lives!  He has risen!  And because he has, in the crucified and risen Lord we have life.  We have life now, and life yet to come. 

As I mentioned earlier, Jesus said, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life.”  Because Jesus has risen from the dead, you already have eternal life now. As John says in his first letter, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God; and so we are.”  We have the life of the forgiven children God. We have fellowship with God.  We belong to him, and we always will.  Sin no longer stands as a barrier.  Death itself cannot change this fact.

And at the same time, because Jesus has risen from the dead, we know that he will also raise us up on the Last Day.  Our Lord said, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in him will have eternal life, and I myself will raise him up on the Last Day.”

These two facts are exactly what Jesus expressed as he approached another tomb – the tomb of Lazarus.  There he said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”  Because you believe in the risen Lord you will never die. Your life with God cannot be ended by death.  You have been born again of water and the Spirit, and that life with God will never end.  If your body dies, you will be with Christ the risen Lord. You will live with him.

This is a great comfort as we think about our family and friends who have died believing in Jesus.  It is a great encouragement to us as we face the reality of death. But at the same time, we also need to pay attention to what Jesus said to Mary: “Do not cling to me.” The risen Lord had a body that Mary could touch.  Jesus’ resurrection was a resurrection of the body – a resurrection of the flesh.  Though transformed so that it is now immortal and can never die again, the resurrected body of Jesus was the same body that had been buried in the tomb on Good Friday.

Jesus will do this for us as well when he returns on the Last Day.  His resurrection provides the model and pattern for our own resurrection.  John went on to say in his letter, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

The resurrection of Jesus Christ changed everything for the disciples. We learn in our text that when John saw burial clothes folded up and the face covering set in a different place he believed that Jesus had risen.  Then John adds, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”  The resurrection of Jesus opened up a new and complete understanding of the Old Testament.  As we heard in the reading on Palm Sunday about the entrance into Jerusalem which fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah: “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.”

And it changed how they lived. John says in his first letter, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”  It does the same thing for us.  Because we know the Lord who in love laid down his life for us and rose from the dead, we too now seek to love others just as Jesus has loved us.

Mary Magdalene went to the tomb on the first day of the week, early while it was still dark.  She went there because of death.  But when she left the tomb for the second time that day, she did so because of life.  She went so that she could report to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”  She found that the tomb was empty, and instead she met Jesus Christ who had risen from the dead. Jesus Christ is risen.  Because he is we have eternal life now – life with God that can never be taken from us.  And we know that on the Last Day, Jesus will raise our bodies to be like his. 


Friday, April 15, 2022

Sermon for Good Friday - 2 Cor 5:14-21


Good Friday

                                                                                      2 Cor 5:14-21



          Do you think that there will be reconciliation between Ukraine and Russia during our lifetime?  It seems very unlikely.  On February 24 Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine.  It was unprovoked.  Ukraine had not attacked Russia.  Instead, Russia had already invaded Ukraine in 2014 when it took over the Crimean Peninsula and began a proxy war in some eastern regions of Ukraine that border Russia.

          While Russia expected a quick and easy victory, it has not turned out that way.  Ukraine has fought a brave and smart defense – a defense that has been supported with military aid from the U.S. and European countries.  Russia has sustained heavy losses, and the initial advance to take the capital of Kyiv has been repulsed.  The Russian military has been embarrassed as its competency has been called into question. Yet now the war seems to be shifting to a new phase as Russia prepares for further attacks in eastern Ukraine.

The invasion has caused at least forty thousand deaths.  It has caused more than four point six million Ukrainians to leave the country and has displaced a quarter of the population.  There has been massive destruction in cities. And as places like the Kyiv suburb of Bucha have been regained by Ukraine, it has become clear that Russia has committed atrocities against civilians.  Russia has become the hated enemy of Ukraine, even as Russia continues to seek territory from its neighbor.

These events make it seem that reconciliation is impossible. Yet in the epistle for Good Friday we are reminded that any human animosity cannot begin to compare to the condition that existed between God and man.  When there was absolutely no possibility for reconciliation from the human side, God acted in the death of Jesus Christ to reconcile us to himself.

Paul says in our text, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” There are two things to note here.  First, the apostle says that God acted in Christ to reconcile the world to himself. Second, he says that this was done by not counting our trespasses against us.

The problem in the relation between God and us is, of course, sin.  Paul told the Ephesians, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

The original sin of Adam and Eve brought sin into the world.  And once sin entered into human existence, it has infected everyone born since then.  We are all conceived as fallen, sinful people.  As I have said in catechesis many times, I don’t know a single parent who has had to teach a child to be jealous, angry or to lie.  Instead, it is just there, ready to emerge and display itself.

And it’s not as if we get better at managing sin as we get older.  Instead, the more our powers and abilities grow, the more sin shows up in our lives.  We find and create false gods that rule our lives – the wealth, the hobbies, the sports, the sex, the desire for approval by others.  We get better and better at mistreating others in order to get what we want.  We grow in our ability to ignore the needs of others.  The last thing we want to do is to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

But God is the holy and just God.  He does not change. Sinners cannot exist in his presence.  They cannot have fellowship with him.  Paul told the Romans, “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works.”  

In our existence, sin brings death. God told Adam, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  It has continued to mean that for every person since Adam. Paul told the Romans that, “The wages of sin is death.” And it doesn’t just bring death.  It brings the eternal death and the punishment of hell as it leads to judgment of the Last Day.  Paul told the Romans “that we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.”  On that day God will render to each one according to his works.  And by that standard, every person who has ever lived would receive damnation as sinners.

That is the reality upon which Paul’s statement in our text is based. And yet, the apostle says to the Corinthians: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself.”  When we had no ability and no desire to be reconciled to God, he did the unthinkable. He acted in his Son, Jesus Christ, to reconcile us to himself.  He did this purely as a matter of his grace and love. The apostle says that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.”

God is the holy and just God.  How could he not count our trespasses against us? The answer is provided by the event that we are remembering tonight.  He sent his Son to die on the cross.  God sent forth his Son into the world as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus Christ is true God and true man.  The holy Son of God took on humanity without ceasing to be God.  And he did not cease to be holy.  Instead, he lived a perfectly holy life as he fulfilled God’s will. Despite the devil’s temptations; despite the fact that he lived in a sinful world that rejected at every turn his work of love, he did not sin.

On Good Friday, Jesus Christ arrived at the goal and purpose of his ministry.  Paul expresses it in our text in a way that it so succinct that it is shocking. He says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  The apostle is absolutely clear that Jesus Christ had no sin. But then he also says that God made Jesus to be sin.  This was not a matter of his own sin. Instead, it was ours.  The sinless One became sin by taking our sins as if they were his own.  Indeed, in God’s eyes they become his own. 

The holy and just God judged sin when Christ died on the cross. He poured out his wrath against his own Son.  Sin was judged.  The sinner was damned.  It occurred as Jesus Christ suffered and died in our place.  The apostle says in our text, “that one has died for all, therefore all have died.”  This is why forgiveness is now possible.  This is how God was true to his holy and just nature, and yet does not count our trespasses against us.   This is how God reconciled us to himself.

One of the challenges of preaching on Good Friday is that the day is indeed about the death of Jesus Christ.  We focus upon how Jesus died in our place – how he took our sins as his own – and received God’s judgment against them.  But on Good Friday, that’s not what things looked like.  It did not appear that anything of meaning was taking place.  Instead, all those in Jerusalem saw was a man dying in the most humiliating and pathetic way possible. They saw the ultimate demonstration of weakness – a tortured individual now dying a slow and painful death as he was mocked by those below.  They saw one more crucifixion by the Romans – one of thousands upon thousands that they carried out during their rule.  Indeed, we know of occasions when the Romans crucified thousands of people at one time.

If that was all there was, then we would not be here tonight.  Paul alludes to this in our text when he states, “Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.”  To regard Christ according to the flesh would be to see only a dying man on the cross.  Yet the apostle declares that this is no longer possible. As he says in the prior verse: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

The One who died, was raised. Paul told the Romans, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

God has called you to faith through the Gospel – the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for you.  We believe in Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. This is what it means to be “in Christ” as Paul expresses it in our text.  It is through faith in Christ that God no longer counts our trespasses against us.  Instead, God counts us as righteous on account of Christ. In him we have become the righteousness of God.  Because of this, we already know that we are justified – that we will be declared not guilty when we appear before the judgment seat of God on the Last Day.

On Good Friday, Jesus Christ died on the cross.  Regarded according to the flesh, he was messianic pretender who died in the humiliation of Roman crucifixion.  But because God has called you to faith in the Lord Jesus, you know that it was so much more.  It was God’s great saving action to reconcile you to himself. Only God could do this. And he did.  As Paul says in the epistle lesson for Good Friday:  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”