Third Sunday of Easter
April 26, 2009
Text: Luke 24:36-49
He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!
Christ is risen, and yet, life goes on pretty much like it always has. The Church is still in the midst of the Easter Feast, but we’ve eaten all the candy and the stores moved on to the next big thing two weeks ago. We’re all back to work and school… except some don’t have any work. The economy doesn’t seem to be getting any better and our elected leaders don’t seem to have any better handle on the situation. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead changes everything, and yet, in our eyes and to our minds it seems like it changes nothing. Because there is still sin and all manner of wickedness in this world. We, ourselves, still sin and struggle with the old nature. And there is still death, that old enemy, the last to be defeated. Death hit our congregation hard several days ago in one of our dearly loved families. It is a sobering slap in the face in the midst of our Easter celebration. Christ Jesus is risen from the dead, and yet…
It can almost lead you to doubt, can’t it? The devil has a lot of fun using the wickedness of this world and this generation, our own weaknesses and sufferings and especially sins to introduce doubt, which is the opposite of faith. Faith is trust. Doubt is distrust. The devil wants us to doubt God, doubt His love for us, doubt Christ, doubt His resurrection, doubt the salvation that we have alone in Him. This was certainly the case for the disciples in our text. They had just been through the traumatic events of Good Friday. He whom they thought to be the Messiah had been executed as a criminal on a Roman cross. The Messiah is not supposed to die, or so thought the disciples. Their whole world had been turned upside down. How could God allow this to happen? Is Jesus who He says He is? Because now He’s dead, and the disciples are huddled together, locked up for fear of the Jews. And now there are rumors about His resurrection. The tomb is empty and some are reporting that they have seen the Lord. At first it was just a few of the women, but now even two disciples on the road to Emmaus had seen Him and talked with Him and watched Him give thanks and break bread! It is simply too much to believe. They saw Him die. They know where He was buried. Dead men don’t rise. The disciples doubt.
But “As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’” (Luke 24:36; ESV). Can you imagine it?! There He is in the flesh, alive, walking, breathing, talking! He speaks to them His Easter greeting, “Peace to you,” which is as much as to say, “I forgive you all your sins. You have peace now that I am risen from the dead. Your sins are paid in full. You are reconciled to God. Eternal life is yours. You will rise from the dead just as I am risen.” Jesus suddenly appears speaking His holy Absolution. The disciples think it is a ghost. They are startled, frightened. If you think about it, you would be, too, if suddenly someone you knew to be dead was standing before you alive. But this is no ghost. Jesus points the disciples to His wounds. “See, they are the same wounds with which I was killed. Look at my hands and my feet. Would you like to see the gaping wound in my side? Touch me. I have flesh and bones. Behold, I bear my mortal wounds, and yet I live.” The disciples still doubt. They disbelieve, only now for joy. This is unbelievable. Dead men don’t rise. But here is One who has died, and behold, He lives. Jesus gives them further proof. He eats a piece of broiled fish. It’s not that He’s hungry. He’s proving He’s alive, bodily alive. Ghosts do not eat. You need a living body if you want to eat.
And now everything has changed. Jesus comes to His disciples in the midst of their doubt and despair and speaks His peace. He comes bodily among them, having died, yet risen. He comes to them on their darkest day and dispels the darkness. Sin is forgiven. Death is ended. Christ is risen. And yet, the disciples still aren’t quite sure. There is something more yet that is needed. Jesus delivers. Jesus gives them what they need. He preaches. He gives them His Word. “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” (v. 44). That is to say, it was divinely necessary, the very will of God, set forth in all the Scriptures, that the Christ should suffer at the hands of sinners, be crucified for the sins of all the world, and on the third day be raised from the dead. This is what Jesus taught all along. This is the content of the whole Old Testament. But the disciples had missed it. So now Jesus, in His preaching, opens their minds to understand the Scriptures (v. 45). Like the doors that are locked for fear, the disciples’ minds are locked in doubt and despair. But Jesus opens their minds to understand His Word. He does so by preaching.
This is what we need in the midst of our doubt, beloved. We need Jesus to come among us bodily and proclaim His peace, His absolution, and then open our minds to understand the Scriptures by the preaching of His Word. This He does for us right here in His holy Church. This He does by His good Spirit working in the Word and the Sacraments. You won’t find this any other place. Because remember, in this world there is still wickedness and sin. In your flesh there is still wickedness and sin. And all around us there is death. The devil uses these things to cause us to doubt, to distrust Jesus Christ, to despair of God’s love for us. But the cure for this doubt, this distrust, this despair is in the Word of God and His holy Sacraments, for it is by these means that our Lord Jesus Christ does come among us bodily in the Lord’s Supper, with His true crucified and risen body and blood, washes us clean in Baptism, speaks His peace in holy Absolution, opens our minds to understand the Holy Scriptures in preaching. Do you doubt God’s love for you? Do you doubt that Christ is risen? Do you doubt that your sins are forgiven and that you have eternal life? You will find reassurance and the peace of our risen Lord Jesus Christ nowhere else than where He has promised to be for you, forgiving your sins and enlivening you with His Spirit in His living and active Word.
Yes, life in the world goes on pretty much like it always has. But not here. Not where you encounter the risen Lord Jesus Christ in Word and Sacrament. Here you get a glimpse of the hidden truth that everything has changed since our Lord’s resurrection from the dead. Here you receive a foretaste of the eternal feast to come. And then you get to take that back with you into your life in the world so that even what seems like it hasn’t changed really has changed, all because Christ is risen. It gives us a new perspective. In Word and Sacrament our Lord strengthens us to live each day from the perspective that sin really is forgiven, even the sins of doubt and despair. Our Lord strengthens us to live each day from the perspective that death really is conquered, even though we have to walk through the valley of its ugly shadow. Christ is risen, and we, too, shall rise, and so shall all people, including our loved ones. And then all who believe in Christ Jesus, all who are united to Him by faith, will be given eternal life in their bodies, bodies perfected like unto our Lord’s glorious body. Well, this really does change everything. Because now we know the end of the story. And we can live even now as if everything that is wrong is really right, because it will be finally, because Christ is risen.
And now until that Day when the risen Christ returns to raise all the dead, the people of God have a noble task. Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in His Name to all nations (v. 47). That is why our Lord established the Office of the Holy Ministry. But this isn’t only my job. This is the task given to the Church, to you. Now you can go and tell people that the Scriptures have been fulfilled, that Christ has died for your sins and for theirs, and that Christ is risen from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. You can go and tell them and then bring them here to have an encounter with Him for themselves. And you make sure you are here too, as often as possible, because you need this encounter to strengthen you to bear up under the struggles of this life and your present sufferings, and to preserve you unto life everlasting. For here Christ speaks His peace to you, forgives you all your sins, and opens your minds to understand the Holy Scriptures. So now, without a doubt, we can boldly declare to one another and to the whole world:
He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.