Tuesday, April 23, 2019

He is Risen!

Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.” So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.” Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.” So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day (Matthew 28:1-15).

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Matthew tells us that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to Jesus’ tomb after the Sabbath. They went to finish their work of caring for Jesus’ body, which they had cut short because of the Sabbath. To their surprise, there is an earthquake, and an angel descends from heaven. He rolls away the stone from the tomb. The guards stationed there by Pilate to satisfy the Jews were terrified, as were the women, not doubt. The angel tells the women not to be afraid; Jesus is risen. This is the Gospel. There is no need to be afraid of sin, death, and the devil anymore. Jesus has defeated them once and for all. The proof is in His resurrection. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.[1]

St. Paul calls Jesus the first fruits: But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep... For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.[2] The resurrection is our ultimate goal. We have been united together in the likeness of Christ’s death through our baptism; we are also united together to His resurrection. Christ Himself promises, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.”[3] The unbelieving world scoffs at such a notion. How can the dead come back to life? Because science and their own personal experience tells them that it is impossible, the world rejects the testimony of the Apostles, and denies that even Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection, however, is the most important part of Christianity. Without it, Christianity is just another man-made philosophy, with an invented set of moral rules, designed to make ourselves feel better, despite the fact that we know something is very seriously wrong with us. It becomes for us a wax nose to twist into any shape we wish, to justify whatever deviant, sinful desires we want to do.

But Jesus’ resurrection is no fairy tale; it isn’t some kind of metaphor for some man-defined “good” overcoming “evil”. It is a fact of history. He appeared alive to hundreds of people. A great crowd saw Him ascend into heaven. If the disciples had invented Jesus’ resurrection, would they be eager to proclaim Christ as God and man, crucified and risen, even on pain of torture and death? Would Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus, the great persecutor of the Church, reject the religion of his people, the Jews, and endure a life of hardship, persecution, and finally a gruesome death, for something he knew to be false? Without the resurrection, there is no Christianity:

Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up - if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable.[4]

But our hope in Christ isn’t merely for this world. It is also for the world to come. Because He lives, we will live also.[5] He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead: For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.[6] Then those who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. We will then be free from sin, free from death, free from all mourning and sorrow. All tears shall be wiped away. With a perfect resurrection body, like that of Our Lord, we will live with Him forever in the new creation.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

[1] Romans 4:25
[2] 1 Corinthians 15:20, 22
[3] John 11:25-26
[4] 1 Corinthians 15:12-19
[5] John 14:19
[6] 1 Thessalonians 4:16

Monday, April 1, 2019

The King on a Cross

Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus. And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him. But Jesus, turning to them, said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!’ Then they will begin ‘to say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’ For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?” There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots. And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.” The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.” And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said [d]to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:26-43).

The great crowds of people hailing Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem with palm branches in their hands are gone. As Jesus begins His trek down the Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrow, to Golgotha, the place of the skull, another crowd follows Him. As He struggles to make His way under the burden of the instrument of His own death, women of Jerusalem mourn and lament Him. Jesus tells them not to weep for Him, but rather for themselves and their children. Speaking of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, Jesus chillingly foreshadows the level of violence and suffering to come: “For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts that never nursed!’”[1] Normally, barrenness would be considered shameful in this culture. Jesus’ statement must have shocked the women. How bad must things get in order for one to say that the curse of barrenness was a blessing? The Roman general Titus would show them, but that would come later.

Jesus is nailed to the cross by the Roman soldiers, and crucified between two criminals. When the soldiers finish their task, they turn their attention to the matter of dividing up Jesus’ belongings. Jesus does not lament His situation; He doesn’t curse the Jews who stood nearby and mocked Him, or the soldiers who murdered Him. He prays to the Father on their behalf: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.[2] This is indeed what Jesus meant when He said that the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.[3] Jesus, the sinless Son of God dying on the cross, praying for those who literally put Him there, is what St. Paul was describing when he wrote,

“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”[4]

One of those sinners, one of the condemned men hanging on a cross next to Jesus, repented. He acknowledged his sin, at this, the ultimate preaching of the Law. He acknowledges Jesus’ innocence, and His kingship. He does not deserve to enter into the kingdom of God by his own merits; he relies on the grace of God and the merits of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His prayer to Jesus is one of faith: Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.[5] The criminal’s indefinite, open-ended “when” is met with Jesus’ very definite and specific “today”: Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.[6]

For all sinners in the whole world the Lord has opened the doors of paradise by His life, suffering, and death, and whosoever believeth on Him has complete salvation as soon as he dies. That is the glorious fruit of the Passion of Christ: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.[7]

You who think of sin but lightly
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view it’s nature rightly,
Here it’s guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed;
See who bears the awful load;
It’s the Word, the Lord’s Annointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.[8]

[1] Luke 23:28
[2] Luke 23:34
[3] Mark 10:45
[4] Romans 5:6-8
[5] Luke 23:42
[6] Luke 23:43
[7] Kretzmann, Paul E. 1922. Popular Commentary of the Bible: New Testament. Vol. 1. 2 vols. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. Page 395.
[8] Kelly, Thomas. "Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted." In Lutheran Worship. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1986. Stz. 3.