Texts: Acts 5:29-42; Psalm 148; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
Context: The season of Easter continues for seven weeks, until Pentecost, a Jewish festival celebrated 50 days after Passover. The Gospel reading continues to focus on the events after Easter morning, while the other readings flesh out the implications of the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth for you and I today.
Acts 5:29-42 — This reading picks up in the weeks after Pentecost, as the body of believers continues to grow and spread, facing the Jewish authorities with a problem they thought they had gotten rid of in crucifying Jesus. The disciples who were once timid and fearful for their lives are emboldened by the Holy Spirit, willing and able to teach and testify to the Son of God even if it means suffering. Suffering—while we don’t search it out—is not our ultimate enemy. Life involves suffering, and in this situation the suffering is on behalf of the Gospel, so that the disciples are able to give thanks and glory to God for their suffering.
Psalm 148 — This psalm of praise is rooted in the reality of God’s creative power. All creation is called to praise God because He is the maker of all creation. Such praise would be difficult, however, were not creation to be restored to the glory it enjoyed prior to the fall into sin in Genesis 3. This psalm anticipates the response of creation once again, when all things have been restored to their proper glory and function, a direct result of the death and resurrection of the Son of God, to be fully realized in his Second Coming.
1 Peter 1:3-9 — Peter begins his letter in praise of what God has done through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the good will of God the Father to bring people to faith in God the Son through God the Holy Spirit, thereby granting them forgiveness, grace, and the eternal life that flows out of proper relationship with the Creator. We are to rejoice in this, even though we do not experience it fully yet. Suffering is not the disproof of God’s intentions towards us, rather suffering is an opportunity to have our faith grown and strengthened. Our eyes are fixed on the day of our Lord’s return, trusting that God will do what He has promised to through Jesus. Jesus’ resurrection is our proof and evidence of God’s promises, and so we can endure the suffering of this life (as the Apostles endured their suffering in Acts 5) knowing that Jesus is victorious over every power that sets itself in opposition to him. We may suffer and even die at the hands of those powers now, but those powers possess no real power at all because Jesus has conquered even death itself.
John 20:19-31— Jesus has instructed his disciples to go to Galilee to meet him there. However He does not keep them in suspense. Easter evening He appears to them in Jerusalem as they met behind locked doors. The fantastical reports of the women, and later of Peter and John, are now substantiated firsthand for all of the disciples except Thomas.
Jesus’ message is powerful. Peace. Instead of fear and uncertainty, they are to receive peace. Instead of huddling in fear, they are to be sent. We often think of peace and peacefulness as a lack of activity whether positive or negative. But here peace is equated with carrying out the Father’s will as directed by the Son.
They go empowered for their work, further adding to their peace and confidence. They receive the Holy Spirit so that they are able to pronounce forgiveness to people. No longer is forgiveness attained through the blood of animals. The blood of Jesus has bought forgiveness once and for all. Jesus is therefore able to delegate that authority to his disciples. To this day the most important work of the Church is announcing forgiveness of sins to those who place their hope and trust in Jesus the Messiah. This is serious work. If the Church does not do this, the implication is that people remain in their sins. They have no forgiveness, no peace, no hope.
Sometimes we are inclined to relegate the blessings of Jesus’ resurrection to the end of our lives. We look forward to the Get-Out-of-Hell free card, and the promise of eternal life. But the implications of the resurrection are to be enjoyed here and now as well. We have forgiveness. Grace. Not just for those things that we know of that we’ve done wrong. Not just for those things we’ve done wrong and have overcome. But forgiveness here and now, where we stand. As we come in faith before our Lord and plead our weakness, our brokenness, our hopelessness apart from him, we are assured of forgiveness and grace.
What a blessing this is to the troubled heart and mind! And how easily we dismiss it almost before we consider it. How easy it is to let our minds wander during Confession on Sundays, and to let the words of Absolution float over our heads while we check out what so-and-so is wearing today. We hear it so often, we begin to quit thinking about it.
Forgiveness is the heart of the Gospel message, and the Church must always remain the place where no obstacle is placed in the way of forgiveness. Where repentance is taught, modeled, and received, and where forgiveness is announced and assured and embodied. This is Christian freedom! Not the freedom to indulge our sinfulness without fear of repercussions, but the freedom to let go of our past sins and guilts and to begin new lives in God’s grace. Lives where we can be sent as agents of forgiveness and grace to the people around us.
Date: Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014
Texts: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 16; Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 28:1-10
Context: Properly speaking Easter is the most important day of the liturgical year. Or any year. While Christmas gets all the press, Easter is truly the pivotal point of the entire Christian story. Without Easter, there is no Christianity. Without the resurrection of Jesus as proof of his doings and teachings, He would remain another fascinating dead person. Inspiring, enigmatic perhaps, but not a Savior. We would have no hope, and we might as well sleep in on Sunday mornings because we would still be waiting for the Messiah. Easter changes EVERYTHING.
Acts 10:34-43 — What do we say about our faith to those who are outside of it? Peter’s profession of faith here is a beautifully succinct example. He speaks to the centurion Cornelius and his family. He believes in God, but he does not know about Jesus. He begins with what Cornelius and his family have undoubtedly already heard from their interactions with Jews. He continues to what Cornelius may not know—that Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared to many, but not everyone. And he concludes by directing Cornelius to the Hebrew Scriptures for specific information about what God’s intentions through faith in Jesus Christ are.
Psalm 16 — This is a psalm of faith and trust in the Lord. On Easter Sunday we can well imagine Jesus himself giving praise to his heavenly Father using this psalm! Truly, as Jesus himself knew, we have no good apart from God the Father. While others may seek after other gods to meet their needs, those gods cannot help them. In the Lord we are blessed beyond measure—not simply or primarily in this world and life, but in eternity. Through our adherence to his guide for living, our lives are rooted firmly and cannot be shaken from our faith in him. Even in the hour of death we can give thanks that the grave cannot hold us—He will redeem us from the dead to enjoy his blessings forever!
Colossians 3:1-4 — Because the Scriptures testify, as Peter told Cornelius, that faith in Jesus results in the forgiveness of sins, the faith the Holy Spirit creates in us really does make us into new creations. We are set free from the mastery of sin, though not entirely from sin itself. In the waters of baptism our sinful natures have been killed and we have been resurrected with Christ as a new creation. Therefore, our thoughts should reflect this. It would be unfitting to have been raised in Christ, yet allow our thoughts to constantly dwell on all the ways of thinking and being that dominated over us through sin! We are to consider and focus on other things! In doing so, we will find that our actions begin to change as well as we look forward to our final, bodily resurrection in Christ when He comes again.
Matthew 28:1-10— Guards and seals couldn’t keep the Son of God inside the tomb. This is the single most important event in all of human history. In the history of the universe. Nothing since the creation of all things has had as much significance as the assertion that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead.
It is a mind-boggling assertion. We have no way of explaining it beyond what Scripture tells us. We have no way of duplicating it, and we have no other examples of someone raised from the dead outside of the ministry of Jesus. If what the Gospels assert is true, then the implications of all that Jesus said and did prior to and after his death and resurrection are the most important message the world has ever heard. If the Gospels are not telling the truth, nothing else that Jesus said or did makes any difference in the least.
Those who would like to find in Jesus a moral model, an ethical idol, someone showing us the way to live miss the resurrection entirely. Moral teachers and ethical exhorters are not uncommon. Nor are the messages of morality unique to Christianity (though Christianity gives them a unique authority). If all Jesus did was show us how to live right, then there is no reason to place our hope in him. It is his resurrection that makes all the difference.
His death and resurrection assure us that there is a God who loves us and cares for us, a God who welcomes us with forgiveness and grace. We can know true peace in our lives, despite the maelstroms that may rage about us, because we know our future is secure in Christ.
That future is also depicted as new life. Physical, bodily new life. Our hope is that even though we die, yet we will live in Jesus Christ. While death may separate our spirit and body for a time, there will come a day when Jesus returns, and we will be reunited in body and spirit. We will be whole in a way we have never been whole before—wholly and completely who we are supposed to be. Fully human, but perfect. Never to be afflicted with sickness or disease or aging again.
This is the message that we bear to the world. Our message is not one primarily of morality and ethics. Morality and ethics work themselves out in the light of the Gospel. Our job is to preach Jesus the Son of God crucified and resurrected. The message hasn’t changed since Pentecost, or since Peter preached it to Cornelius and his household. And now as then, when that message is preached the Holy Spirit is already at work in the hearts and minds of the hearer.
The Church has nothing new to bring the world. The world does not need something new. The church brings a 2000 year old message to the world. It is the only message the world has ever or will ever need, the good news that in Jesus Christ, all things are being remade new. This begins with the empty tomb of Jesus of Nazareth 2000 years ago. It begins with Easter Sunday. We live in the light of that glorious first Easter Sunrise, and all our lives should be a living out of that blessed refrain:
He Is Risen!
He Is Risen indeed! Alleluia!