Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Lenten Midweek 4

Lenten Midweek IV: “The Miraculous Raising of the Saints from Death”[1]

April 6, 2011

Text: Matt. 27:52-53: “The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (ESV).

It is a great paradox: The death of our Lord Jesus Christ is actually His decisive victory over death. There is no little amount of sacred irony in the fact that Jesus overcomes death by submitting Himself into death. Death is dead because Jesus dies, and His death gives birth to eternal life.

And so in the moment of our Savior’s death, the tombs are opened and the bodies of many of the saints are raised from the dead. The grave can no longer keep its grip on them. Who are these saints? We don’t know. The Scriptures do not say. Are they disciples who came to believe in Christ during His earthly ministry, but who died before His crucifixion? Perhaps. More likely they are Jews who died in the hope of the coming Messiah, as indeed, God’s Old Testament people were saved by faith in the Messiah who was to come, even as we New Testament people are saved by faith in the Messiah who has come, even Jesus Christ. Perhaps these saints who were raised from the dead were great Old Testament figures, like Job or Abraham or David. We just don’t know. And really, it’s useless to speculate. Matthew leaves these details out on purpose, at the direction of the Holy Spirit. Because who these saints were simply isn’t important for us to know. What is important is this: Death has been defeated. In swallowing up our Savior, death has been swallowed up in victory. Jesus’ sin-atoning sacrifice is sufficient. He has delivered us from bondage to the devil and sin and to death and hell. The bodily resurrection of these saints is the physical testimony of Jesus’ victory, of His coming resurrection on Easter morning as the firstborn from the dead, and of the resurrection of all the saints, including you, on the Last Day.

Jesus dies and the tombs burst open. It happens in the same moment as the tearing of the Temple curtain, the great earthquake, and the bursting of the rocks. In that moment, everything has changed. The tombs are open, but no one is inside. Where are they? They are risen, presumably in their glorified resurrection bodies. We don’t know much about what has happened here. It is a mystery. Again, the Scriptures give little detail. But we know that these saints are raised in the moment of Jesus’ death, yet they do not appear to anyone until after Jesus’ resurrection. What’s going on here? Where are they hidden? Beloved, the resurrection itself is a mystery. Our fallen minds cannot grasp it. If these saints are in their glorified bodies, then even though these are the same bodies in which they originally lived and died, the bodies have been changed. They are like Jesus’ glorified body. And so their bodies are where Jesus’ glorified resurrection body is, in heaven. And yet, after Jesus’ resurrection, just as He Himself appeared at various times and places to the disciples during the forty days between Easter and His ascension, so these saints appeared to many in the Holy City of Jerusalem.[2] Imagine the witness they offered. They had been through the valley of the shadow of death and come out the other side alive, because Jesus has gone through the valley of the shadow of death and come out the other side alive.

And what a great comfort this is to us. Because by all appearances, death has not been defeated. We have all stood before the grave of a loved one, and staring into that grave, we stare into our own, for we, too, will go the way of all flesh. Unless our Lord returns first, we will die. Our souls will be separated from our bodies. Our bodies will go into the ground. Our souls will be with Jesus in heaven. But that is not the end of the story. The resurrection of these saints testifies to that blessed truth. For death has been defeated. Jesus did not remain in the grave. He is risen, as He said. And His resurrection is the basis of the resurrection of the saints in the event of His death, and the basis of our own most certain bodily resurrection from the dead. In spite of all appearances, in spite of your grief over loved ones who have died, in spite of your own fear of death, you have this blessed comfort that your body will be raised and reunited to your soul. You will see your loved ones again who have died in the Lord. Though they have died, they live. They join us at the altar every time we gather around it to receive the Lord’s gifts, along with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. The saints who were raised on Good Friday are gathered here, too. Their resurrection is a testimony that death really doesn’t have any power over us. Because death has no power over Jesus. And we belong to Jesus, who died, and is risen.

Many of the Jews of Jesus’ day expected that at the coming of the Messiah many saints would rise from the dead. So it happened, and so it is recorded in the Scriptures for our learning and comfort. “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54-57). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The theme and many of the thoughts contained in this sermon come from Miracles of Lent (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011).

[2] For more on this, see R.C.H. Lenski, Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, 1932) pp. 1109-1112.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home