Sermon for Easter Sunday
Isaiah 52:13-15 + 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 + Mark 16:1-8
Today we celebrate. Today we rejoice. This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Christ is risen. And it matters.
In an age of doubt like the one we live in, in an age like ours where everyone creates his or her own version of “god,” in an age in which facts and reality don’t matter as much as feeling and personal experience, it’s more important than ever for us Christians to emphasize that Jesus Christ truly and bodily suffered, died, and rose again from the dead. In an age of denial and twisting of God’s Word, it’s important for us to know and believe and proclaim the Scriptural significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
First, that Christ truly died and was raised from the dead. The women were the first witnesses of it. They had been there when Jesus breathed His last and was pierced by the spear, when blood and water flowed out. They watched as His body was taken down from the cross and wrapped up quickly and laid in the tomb. And they were the first to make their sad and fearful way to the tomb on Easter Sunday. How would they remove that heavy stone? How would they go on living now that Jesus, their Lord, was dead?
But they found the stone rolled away. They found the tomb empty, except for the angel who greeted them. “He is risen. He is not here,” not here in the place of death, not here in the place where His dead body once lay. Mary Magdalene and the other faithful women were the first to hear the good news and the first to see Him with their own eyes, but they would not be the last. As the Apostle Paul says to the Corinthians,
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
Christ appeared with His risen body to hundreds of people, on several occasions. And it was the fact of the resurrection of Christ that strengthened Paul and Cephas (Peter) and all the other apostles to sacrifice everything, even their lives, for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. What, were they all lying? What kind of fools would make up a fictional story about seeing Jesus raised from the dead and then lay down their own lives for the sake of their own made-up story, for the sake of a lie? No, the Church exists because of the blood of the eye-witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, who willingly faced death, not for a lie, but for the truth.
Now, what does it mean? What is the significance of the resurrection of Christ? Why does it matter? Well, that is the subject of every Christian sermon you will ever hear, because the whole Christian faith is wrapped up in the resurrection of Christ.
Why does it matter? Because Jesus told His disciples. He told them. He said He would be crucified and rise again on the third day. He told them He would meet them in Galilee after He had risen. He promised them that He was the resurrection and the life, and that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. The fact that Christ is risen means Christ was telling them the truth all along. You can trust Him. His promises are more certain than death itself.
Christ is risen. Why does it matter? Because God has made Him—the crucified and risen One— both Lord and Christ, as Peter said to the crowds on Pentecost. Because He is the man through whom God will judge all nations, as Paul told the Athenians. And He will reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians.
Christ is risen. Why does it matter? Because sin is a terminal disease, infecting the human race. Everyone born of Adam not only inherits Adam’s sin, but also puts it into practice. And because all sin, all die, and it’s a death that doesn’t end with the death of the body. It’s the eternal suffering of God’s wrath against sin.
Jesus’ own disciples were evidence that no one keeps God’s commandments to earn salvation by their obedience. Could Peter claim any merit for himself after he denied the Lord three times when it mattered most? Could any of Jesus’ disciples claim a place next to Jesus in heaven after they all abandoned Him on the field of battle? Could the Apostle Paul merit a righteous status before God after he had persecuted the Church, imprisoned believers and given his approval to their executions? No, neither they, nor any of you, can be justified by anything you do.
God had to become man, if any man was to have a place in God’s family. And so the Son of God was truly conceived, born, suffered and died for the sins of the world. Look at Christ’s suffering on the cross and see God’s wrath unleashed against idolatry and all of our self-worship; against the misuse of His holy name as it rolls off the lips of men in vain; against the way men despise His Word and don’t believe it and don’t gladly hear and learn it; against the dishonoring of parents and others in authority; against murder and abortion and abuse of our neighbor’s body; against sexual immorality and adultery and homosexuality and lust; against greed and stealing and lying and gossiping; against coveting and the depraved desires of the human heart. For all these things and for the people who do them, Christ, the God-Man, has suffered and died.
And now satisfaction has been made, for these sins and for any others that may exist. God’s holy law has been satisfied—the punishments it requires have been meted out; the righteousness it requires has been lived out, has been acquired, has been obtained, a righteousness that counts before God. But that satisfaction for sins and that righteousness obtained by Christ is wrapped up in Christ. If He is dead, if He is buried, then we have no Savior, no Christ, no one to believe in. Faith in a dead man is worse than worthless.
That’s what the Apostle Paul says. If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty…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 the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.
It is written in the prophet Isaiah, When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days… He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities.
You see? After His soul was made an offering for sin, “He shall see His seed; He shall prolong His days.” The resurrection of Christ was prophesied all along. And who are His seed? How shall He justify many? How does this happen, that we become the seed or the descendants of Christ? How do we enter into Him and receive the benefits obtained by His suffering, death and resurrection?
The risen Christ Himself accomplishes it. He has given this ministry of the Word. He has given His own living Spirit in the Gospel to call all men to repentance, that all men should gaze into God’s holy commandments and see that they have offended the holy God with their disobedience. But He also calls all men to believe that a sacrifice has now been made to atone for those sins. A sacrifice has been made, and God the Father is appeased by it and has raised His Son to life again for our justification—that we may hear this Gospel and believe in the risen Christ, who bore our iniquities, who was wounded for our transgressions. And by believing in Him, we are born again in Him, and so receive from Him all the benefits He has won for us: the gift of forgiveness, the gift of a gracious Father and a heavenly family, the gift of eternal life and an eternal inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.
You heard in the Old Testament reading today: So shall He sprinkle many nations. My dear family in Christ Jesus, Christ has sprinkled you with His blood by sprinkling you in baptismal waters. Christ has pulled you into His death and now into His life and feeds you with His life in the Sacrament of the Altar. Where He is, there you also shall be. Christ Himself will see to it. So He has promised. And because He is risen from the dead, it’s a promise He lives to keep.
Christ is risen. And it matters. Sin, death and hell have been vanquished by your Savior. And while the devil, the world and your sinful nature will rage against you as long as you live in this world, you have a living Savior to shield you from harm and to walk with you safely through this vale of tears, and through this valley of the shadow of death. You will still face many trials and doubts and fears in this world. But let this never be one of them: “Maybe Jesus is still dead.” He is not dead. Christ is risen. He lives forever. And so will you who believe on His name. Amen.