The 2nd Sunday of Easter (April 24, 2022)
Today, we continue in the radiant light and joy of Jesus’ open tomb! “He is Risen! (He is risen indeed!) Alleluia!” As the hymn says: “Today the grave has lost its sting” (LSB #470, v 1). Sin has been vanquished. The pall of death over our lives has been lifted. Yes, we still are sinners. But Jesus has atoned for our sins and is alive to bring us forgiveness. Yes, we still will die. But Jesus’ resurrection declares that He has conquered this consequence of sin for us. Death no longer has any hold on us. Just as He was raised, so we who have been baptized into Him and believe in Him will live even if we die (John 11:25, Romans 6:5) and our bodies will also be raised on the last day (John 6:39,40).
But as great as this good news of Jesus’ resurrection is, have you ever stopped to ask how it is that some 2000 years later you and I actually know this good news and believe it? 40 days after His resurrection our Savior ascended to the Father not only removing His physical presence from us but also effectively ending His personal ministry to the people of this world. Despite this fact millions upon millions of people still celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and worship Him as their Savior and God as if He were still among them. How is this possible? Likewise, before He ascended He promised His followers that even though He was returning to the Father “I am with you always unto the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). This sounds like Jesus is saying His ministry among us continues to this day! How can this be?
I have shared with some of you before that over 30 years ago now, when I was still a seminarian, I was assigned to serve the congregation of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in downtown Ft. Wayne, Indiana. It is an historic congregation of the LCMS, dating all the way back to the days of C.F.W. Walther. The church sanctuary is also of the same vintage. It is almost twice the size of our sanctuary, built in the Gothic style, with a high balcony encircling the whole Nave.
One of the most intriguing elements of the sanctuary architecture is that encircling the altar are 12 statues of the apostles. Being an unsophisticated and sheltered Lutheran from Montana, I did not quite know what to make of it. I thought to myself, “Are we being idolatrous, worshipping men? Do these men have the prominence of Jesus Christ?”
The answer, of course, to both questions is an emphatic “No!” And that is not the message the architect was attempting to portray. After all, the center of focus in the altar area was still a crucifix. The presence of the apostles was reminding the worshippers of something else… something also quite important. That is, it was reminding them that just as Jesus’ death was not the end but the accomplishment of our eternal salvation which the Risen Jesus fully proclaimed, so Jesus’ ascension did not end the Risen Jesus’ ministry among us but has continued down into our present through His chosen apostles and their successors, the pastors and preachers who continue to preach His Word in all truthfulness and administer His Sacraments in accordance with His institution. In other words, through the apostolic word and the ministry of it, the Risen Savior Himself continues to meet with us and with His presence among us continues to heal, forgive, grant peace, deliver, save and give eternal life.
Such is one of the clear messages of our appointed Scripture texts for this Sunday. In the Epistle lesson we hear John relaying to us the vision Jesus gave to him to share and teach us. We read: “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus, saying, ‘Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches…’” (Rev. 1:9-11) Of his important role as witness and spokesman for Jesus, John later writes in His first epistle: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ…”(1Jn 1:1-5).
Then again as our Gospel Lesson relays to us the events of the evening of Jesus’ resurrection, as Jesus appears to the apostles, minus Judas who had killed himself and Thomas who was off somewhere else, it helps us to understand that Jesus’ appearance to them served a two-fold purpose. First, it reaffirmed that Jesus was indeed risen from the dead. He stood among them alive“in the flesh.” Secondly, it served as the apostles’ ordination, if you will. The risen Jesus commissioned these men, saying, “’Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld”(Jn 20:21-23).
By the way, this is not the last time Jesus would give these apostles the Holy Spirit. On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them in a miraculous and visible way. On the night before He died, Jesus had already promised them, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning” (Jn. 15:26,27).
The importance of the testimony of these apostles cannot, therefore, be overstated. The living Jesus had appointed them, and them alone, as His official “witnesses.” As He was ascending into heaven, He said to them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Through their testimony alone; that is their gospel, others, both then and now, are brought to believe in the crucified and risen Jesus as the true God and Savior of sinners.
This we are clearly shown in our first reading from the only historical book of the New Testament, technically titled: “Acts of the Apostles.” The first verses of our text read: “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed” (5:12-16).
This is some pretty amazing stuff! It far surpasses the wizardry of Harry Potter! The Holy Spirit was indeed testifying in spectacular fashion to the authority of the apostles to speak for Jesus. The miraculous signs and wonders that accompanied and were performed by these men equaled, or even on some levels, exceeded those of Jesus’ own ministry, just as He had promised. “Truly, truly, I say to you,” Jesus had said, “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).
In the immediate and preceding context we are told that at the word of Peter the idolatrous couple, Ananias and Sapphira, were immediately struck dead having lied to God about the price they got from the sale of their property to give to the needs of the poor…Here the mere shadow of Peter falling upon the sick healed them…Even though there were times and places when Jesus only healed a few, here it says concerning the apostles, all the sick, afflicted, and those with unclean spirits were healed. Other places we see the apostles cast out demons and even raise dead people!
All this was not some kind of magic. Neither was it spiritual grandstanding! By giving His apostles these supernatural abilities, Jesus was attesting in a mighty way to their authority to speak for Him. Mark wrote in his Gospel, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17,18). The signs and wonders spoke loud and clear that in these men Jesus’ ministry was continuing and that, in fact, in them, you and I and all others who encounter them, whether in person or in the pages of their writings, are being brought into contact and fellowship with Jesus Himself and through Jesus with God the Father.
The apostle Paul would later write in defense of his “johnny-come-lately” calling as an apostle that God did through him more of these wonders than any of the other apostles to help compensate for his “untimeliness.” He wrote to the Corinthian Christians: “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works” (2 Cor. 12:12).
You and I, therefore, must take warning. Anyone who claims to speak Jesus’ Word, the true Gospel, must get their word only from these Holy Apostles of Jesus… not from some inner spirit within them… not from some dream… not from some other authority. If it is not the Gospel of the apostles, it is not the true gospel… It is not truth at all for it cannot then truly present to us He who is The Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jn. 14:6).
This is no small matter. Anyone can preach a sermon and conclude by saying “Thus sayeth the Lord.” Anyone can write a book and get it placed on the shelves of the so called Christian book stores. Anyone can claim they got the words they espouse from God. But that does not make them true witnesses of Jesus or someone who proclaims the true Christ Jesus.
Whatever preaching you hear or Bible Studies or books you read, if they are not grounded in the word of the Holy Apostles, then they are nothing but rubbish. The Risen Jesus is not working through them. They give us neither the true Gospel of Jesus Christ nor the way of salvation. In fact, they may be leading you and me away from Jesus Christ and down the road to destruction.
It is no wonder then, that our Christian forefathers found it necessary already in the 4th century to declare openly and publicly in the Creed of the Church: “I believe in the holy, Christian and apostolic church” (Nicene Creed). God has attested to only one Gospel… that Gospel delivered to us by the Apostles of Jesus, found among us only in the pages of The Holy Bible. Only in that Gospel is the Holy Spirit testifying to the real Jesus and to the true salvation He has won for us. Only in that Gospel is the Risen Jesus coming to us and ministering to us.
And what a Gospel it is! It is truly the one and only Gospel that is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Ro. 1:16). Only in this Apostolic Gospel , as the angel said, will you and I find the words of “this life”; that is, the words of the Crucified and resurrected One Who is Life… Who alone gives to sinners true and eternal life.
Likewise, only in this Gospel of the Apostles does the Holy Spirit of God operate to give faith, to give new birth, to embolden believers to follow the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. As our text notes, multitudes of men and women were being brought to faith in Jesus by it. As the people focused on the teaching of the apostles the Lord was adding to the number of the saved daily (Acts 2:47). On top of this the very bravery, tenaciousness, and boldness of the apostles themselves was also a testament to the veracity and power of the true Gospel of Jesus they preached. Threats… arrests… beatings, none of them proved to silence the apostles.
In fact, as we heard, after having been beaten once again and being told under threat to stop speaking of the name of Jesus by the very leaders of the Jewish faith themselves, the apostles responded, “We must obey God rather than men!” (5:29).
You know, to a certain extent, one of those very apostles, Thomas, gets a bad rap. He is consistently referred to as “Doubting Thomas.” But he really didn’t ask for anything unreasonable, in fact, he didn’t actually ask for anything more than Jesus had already given the others. Thomas was just not there when Jesus gave the other apostles the physical evidence of His resurrection by letting them examine His nail pierced hands and side. Thomas simply wanted to touch those wounds himself.
I for one am glad Jesus felt it necessary to allow these men to “press His flesh”… see with their own eyes… touch with their own hands His risen body. After all, they were serving as our eyes and hands. Because of it, their witness… their Gospel… is all the more credible and believable for us. They are the ones who touched the wounds of Jesus! Their Gospel makes it possible for us to be truly blessed, believing without having to see. Thanks be to God for The Apostolic Gospel! By it and through it we are given to see, touch, and have fellowship with our crucified and risen Savior!
He is Risen!