2nd Sunday of Easter – 4/16/2023
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Yes, the glow of Easter continues to live on in our lives, or at least ought to. So, today we once again greet one another with the joyous good news of Easter, "Christ is risen!" However, the sad reality is that most of the world and perhaps many Christians have already moved on from Easter. They have deflated the giant inflatable bunny in their front yard, cleaned up all the scattered pink and green plastic grass, and finished cursing under their breath that they overate chocolate and watermelon-flavored Peeps, and by now, have already moved on to preparing for the next celebration. After all, Mother's Day, the Bucking Horse Sale, and Graduation are just around the corner!
Are you ready to move on from Easter? I'm not. The good news of Easter is just too wonderful to tuck away for another year! That is why, following our liturgical church calendar, we will continue celebrating the message of the crucified and resurrected Jesus for an additional 5 Sundays. Today we call the Second Sunday of Easter. There are seven Sundays in all. We never stop making Jesus' death and resurrection the focal point of our worship life. Every Sunday is in itself a "mini-Easter." Even during Lent, we don't call the Sundays “Sundays of Lent”, but “Sundays in Lent.” Every Sunday, we rejoice in Jesus' resurrection from the dead and all that it means for us and brings to us.
Hence the Scripture readings appointed for today. The Gospel reading from John, as well as the First Reading from the Book of Acts, relay to us how the resurrection of Jesus transformed Jesus' disciples from quivering blobs of doubt and fear, hiding behind locked doors, to bold witnesses of the faith, confessing that Jesus is both God and Lord, even under the threat of arrest and punishment.
Then, there is our Epistle Reading from I Peter, upon which I would like to direct your attention this morning. Through the apostle Peter, a very eyewitness of the resurrected Jesus, we are made to see that Jesus' resurrection from the dead is the same basis of the living hope we can have as Christians. Secondly, Jesus' resurrection is the basis of the surety of our ultimate salvation. And, finally, it is the basis for the indescribable joy of victory and glory that is ours even now, every day, in every circumstance.
Peter's original audience was the Diaspora group of contemporary Christian scholars. They were Christians who had been dispersed or scattered because the Jews were persecuting them. They had fled to such distant places as Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. They needed desperately to be encouraged in their strife. And as Peter states, there is nothing better to encourage the suffering, those feeling abandoned, and those living in fear for their lives than the good news of Jesus' resurrection from the dead.
Accordingly, after reminding them of their election, that is, their calling as Christians, by the grace of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, and by the sprinkling of Jesus' blood, and greeting them with God's blessing, Peter says to them and to us, who share their faith in Jesus Christ, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
Back on March 20, the calendar said spring had arrived. We have all been eager to greet it and the new life it brings. But I wonder if we ought to be too hasty in our judgment. We have had a few balmy days, but we have also had some relatively cool and quite wintery days, not to mention freezing nights. I am cautious about whether spring has really sprung or if Old Man Winter might have a few surprises for us.
The state of the physical world around us also parallels the state of our spiritual reality. Like the wintry earth, so, on account of the fallen nature we inherited from Adam, we lie dead. Our sin under the wrath of God has left us with no life. As Scripture states, "We are dead in our transgressions and sins." We all need a new birth. We must be raised from sadness to joy, fear to peace, and despair to hope.
Only one thing can do this: give us this new birth. That one thing is the forgiveness of our sins. After all, our sins have brought death to our bodies and made us dead in spirit. The guilt of our sins places us under the wrath of God. By our very sinful nature, we are enemies of God. The only thing we deserve on account of our sin is God's eternal punishment in hell.
But as Peter reminds us, God's great mercy is our saving grace. God loves us too much to be content that we all die in our sins and under His wrath. In His compassion for our plight, He gave us His only begotten Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. In His mercy, God brought the full brunt of His wrath against Jesus to our place. Jesus died the death we deserve. He took all our sins to the grave with him. Then He rose from the dead, leaving our sin and guilt behind.
In Jesus' resurrection, therefore, we have received a new lease on life. It signals that God has accepted Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf. The holy apostle declares, "He was raised for our justification" before God (Ro. 4:25). That is why, when Jesus greeted His fearful disciples after His resurrection, He always greeted them by saying, "Peace be with you." It is as if He were saying, "You have nothing to fear. I have reconciled you back to My Father. Your sins are forgiven. My resurrection proves it!"
You and I no longer need to be locked into the dead hopes of this world, with all its strife, empty promises, and fleeting securities. Jesus' resurrection has brought to you and me a living hope. In the light of Jesus' empty tomb, we know exactly where we stand with God. We stand forgiven, justified, and at eternal peace with Him.
Since sin has been conquered for you and me in Jesus' death and resurrection, we have the blessed hope of living forever with Christ. As Holy Scripture assures us, death, a consequence of sin, has been swallowed up in Christ's victory (Is. 25:8; I Cor. 15:54–57). Where the guilt of sin is removed, so is the punishment. Where there is forgiveness, there can be no permanent or lasting death. The sting of death is removed (I Cor. 15).
Jesus couldn't be any more clear. He has said, "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in Me, though he dies, yet shall he live; and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die" (John 11:25–26). That is living hope! Death is no longer the fierce enemy that it once was. Jesus' resurrection assures us that even if we should die, it will only mean the end of our earthly existence, not our existence and our life in Him. Our souls will continue to live on in the presence of Christ, and when our Lord appears on the last day, even our bodies will be raised from the dust to join our souls in God's heavenly presence. Jesus' resurrection has ensured that it can't be otherwise!
As John of Damascus wrote in his 9th-century hymn, which we still love to sing today, Jesus' resurrection is "the spring of our souls." The song continues: "Christ has burst His prison. And the sun has risen from three days' sleep in death; all the winter of our sins, long and dark, is flying..."(LSB 487, v. 2) Because of Jesus' resurrection, we have been given a new birth into a living hope.
Accordingly, Jesus' resurrection is the basis for our surety of receiving an imperishable inheritance. Peter continues, "You have been born again to an imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance, kept in heaven for you...
Can you name one thing this world has or offers you that is lasting, that is guaranteed to be yours tomorrow, forever? The government sets up a pension plan for our old age and calls it Social Security, but what is secure about it? Some experts predict the Social Security program will be bankrupt by 2025!
We put our money on deposit with banks that say that our accounts are secure because the Federal Deposit Insurance Agency backs them up. Yet, we have recently seen three major banks default, and our federal government is itself over 20 trillion dollars in debt, threatening to bring down our whole economy. It is borrowing millions every day to keep running! How can its agency insure anything? Our country boasts one of the most advanced medical establishments in the world. Yet, a virus concocted in a lab in Wuhan, China, found our capabilities to fight it entirely wanting, and almost brought our whole economy and country to their knees. We taunt our technology as the savior of all that ails us, yet we can't cure a common cold or stop the aging process. How secure are we?
But Jesus' resurrection grants us true security! Jesus' resurrection proves that Jesus is God and can give you and me all He has earned and promised us. His death made us heirs of all that is His. His resurrection is the guarantee that, at His final appearance, He will give us all that He has promised. His resurrection is our guarantee that this eternal inheritance, unlike everything we know in this world, remains forever imperishable, unstained, and unfading.
In other words, the eternal inheritance that Jesus' resurrection has brought us is untouched by death, unstained by evil, and unimpaired by time (Beare, Reinecker, p. 398).
Besides this, Peter states our eternal inheritance can never be in jeopardy because it "is being kept in the heavens (for us)," and by His power, God is "guarding us through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."
Here Peter employs military terminology to reinforce that God, as the omnipotent general, is posting His sentinels and guards to protect our inheritance and us from our enemies so that we might remain in true faith and receive the inheritance laid up for us in Christ. He who has conquered sin, death, and the devil through Jesus' death and resurrection can keep us alive to "obtain the end of our faith, the salvation of our souls!"
Finally, Jesus' resurrection is also the basis for our present joy, an indescribable joy because it flourishes even in worldly tears and suffering. Again, we give ear to Peter's words of encouragement: "In this, you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."
Perhaps, of all that Peter says here, this is the most difficult to wrap our human reason around. After all, it does not make worldly sense that a person can be joyful when besieged by sorrows or burdened by pain and suffering. Our world assumes that happiness can only exist when there is no pain, everything goes smoothly, and you have everything you want.
But you see, the Christian's happiness is not founded in nor dependent upon one's lot in this life. Christian joy is independent of circumstances. Instead, it is anchored in the resurrected Jesus.
That's because Jesus' resurrection has given us all a basis for joy that is well beyond this world. Jesus' resurrection has assured us that our praise, glory, and honor do not come into this world but will be found at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
We don't even need to see Jesus to have this joy physically. The clear testimony of God's eyewitnesses to Jesus' death and resurrection is enough to establish this joy in our hearts. Mercifully, God has, through the washing of rebirth in Holy Baptism, as well as through that Word of Good News as found in the Holy Scriptures, given us faith to see that, like in the suffering and death of the only begotten Son of God Himself, even our suffering in God's merciful hand brings forth the pure gold of righteousness, goodness, and victory.
When you and I look at all our trials and tribulations through the prism of Jesus' resurrection, we see just how "necessary" even these trials are. Without them, we would be lured away from Christ by the comforts of this world, imagining that we do not need Him. But by these trials, God graciously refines faith as gold in a fiery furnace, purifying it to be anchored in Christ alone and tempering it to be resilient to all falsehood and temptation.
Knowing this gives you joy that is inexplicable to the world. You can't necessarily see it on your face. But it fills the heart and radiates throughout the soul nonetheless.
It's analogous to a last-string quarterback being finally put into the last few minutes of a game your team already has in the bag. Your team is so far ahead that you can't lose the game, no matter how much you screw up. Under such circumstances, you can relax, do your best, and have the time of your life in the process! So what if you get sacked or intercepted? You can pick yourself up and try it again. After all, the first-string quarterback has already won the game for you!
So, dear friends, play on with all your vigor! You have been born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. His resurrection is the basis for all your hope, peace, and eternal joy! Jesus' resurrection means those of you who are in Christ by faith and baptism have already won. I know it still looks like winter, but spring has arrived, and the fruit of summer is just around the corner. I know your days may still be filled with tears of sorrow and pain, but they will indeed be replaced with eternal tears of joy at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
For Christ is Risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia!