Sermon for Easter Sunday
(Catechism emphasis: The Apostles’ Creed, Third Article)
Mark 16:1-8 + Job 19:23-27 + 1 Corinthians 15:51-57
Those faithful women – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome – were some of the very first eye-witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. In the Gospel we heard a moment ago, they witnessed the stone rolled away, and the empty tomb, and the angel who first announced the good news: “He is not here. He has risen!” We preach Christ crucified, a Jesus who truly died on a cross as the payment for the sins of the world, a Jesus who truly came back to life on the third day, Easter Sunday, whose body was raised from the dead and glorified, never to die again. The most basic truth of the Christian faith is that Jesus Christ died and now is no longer dead.
And because he lives, he can finish his work of salvation.
But, didn’t he say, “It is finished!” before he died on the cross on Good Friday? Of course he did, and it was finished, once and for all – his work of becoming the perfect Substitute for sinful man, his work of redeeming the world – suffering the punishment for all sin, paying the price to purchase mankind for God. Every work that ever needs to be done to satisfy God’s righteous law has been done by Christ. It is finished. Every drop of blood that ever needs to be spilt for sin has been spilt by Christ. It is finished. Forgiveness of sins, life and salvation has been acquired by Jesus for the world.
The part of the work of salvation that remains is not your part of the work. This work is Jesus’ work, too. The part of the work of salvation that remains is for his salvation to be delivered to men, one by one. You don’t go searching for it. You don’t try to run back to Calvary’s cross, or even to Jesus’ empty tomb. Jesus brings his finished work of redemption to you. He brings it to you by his Holy Spirit, which brings us to our final Catechism focus on Easter Sunday, the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
“I believe in the Holy Spirit.” What does the Holy Spirit do? Oh, his work is absolutely critical. Jesus said, “The one who believes in me has eternal life.” Or you may know this Bible verse, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” It’s faith – believing in, relying on Christ the Redeemer that saves and justifies a person and allows you to stand before God innocent and holy and righteous.
Here’s the problem: Faith is something you can’t come with. And we confess that in our catechism explanation of the Third Article, “I believe that I cannot, by my own thinking or choosing, believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him.” You have no strength or ability to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, or that his death paid for your sins or that he will give you eternal life as a gift.
But faith doesn’t come from you. It’s God’s gift to you, given by his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. Faith comes by hearing the message, the Word of Christ. Because he lives, Jesus now sends his Holy Spirit into the preaching of his Word, so that whenever you hear this Gospel of Jesus – the Good Friday/Easter Sunday Gospel, you can be sure that the Holy Spirit is calling you and convincing you to repent of your sins and trust in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
He does that for unbelievers and turns them into believers. He does that also for believers, to sanctify you, to convince you no longer to live for yourself, but to live for him who died for you and was raised again. The Holy Spirit keeps you in the true faith. Because Jesus lives, he sends forth his Holy Spirit into the world to gather and keep a Holy Christian Church, a great congregation of people who believe in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.
But the Holy Spirit doesn’t do it magically, and he doesn’t do it automatically. He calls you to faith and keeps you in faith through what we call the Means of Grace. We summarize it this way, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”
“I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” Stop and think about that. If you believe in the forgiveness of sins, then you must also believe several other things. You must believe, for example, that you have sins that need to be forgiven, as well you should believe. On the first Easter Sunday, when Jesus appeared to his disciples, he opened up the Old Testament Scriptures to them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.” To preach repentance is to proclaim to all people everywhere, “You have sinned against the Holy God. It doesn’t matter who you are or how good and decent you think you are. God doesn’t see you that way. You have not worshiped him as God, but instead you have followed your own ways, and you must surely die for your sins.” That simple truth, by the power of the Holy Spirit, convicts people and brings them to sorrow over their sins and to fear God’s righteous judgment. That’s repentance.
But to believe in the forgiveness of sins is to believe that God forgives sins – not anywhere and everywhere, but in Christ Jesus, who has borne the punishment your sins deserve and has risen from the dead to give you forgiveness.
To believe in the forgiveness of sins is to believe that he really and truly gives forgiveness where he says he gives forgiveness – through the preaching of the gospel: through the mouth of his called servants whom he has authorized to apply forgiveness, through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism where he promises to give forgiveness, through the Sacrament of Holy Communion, where he promises to deliver his forgiveness for your sins, not for some of them, but for all of them. In this Christian church he daily and fully forgives all sins to me and all believers.
What a load off! What a burden removed! It’s what gives us the courage to say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”
Understand what that means. It’s not just the resurrection of Jesus’ body you’re confessing here. Whether you believe in Jesus or not, your body will be raised from the dead. Whether you believe in him or not, you will stand before God on your own two feet, with a brand new, restored body that cannot die again. The resurrection of the body is for everyone. “There will be a resurrection of the righteous and the wicked.” But the “life everlasting” is only for the righteous. Death everlasting awaits those who deny this Jesus, who live in rebellion against this Jesus, who die in unbelief in this Jesus.
Who are the righteous who will share in the life everlasting? They are the ones who claim only the righteousness of Jesus before God, and not their own righteousness. They are the ones who rely on Jesus’ sacrifice to cover their sins. They are the ones who believe in him who is the resurrection and the life. These believers, these saints will inherit the life everlasting. On the Last Day he will raise me and all the dead and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.
On this Easter Day, you take a good, hard look at your young, healthy, beautiful body that won’t stay that way for long. You take a good, hard look at your ailing body, your broken body, your old, old body that is tired and worn out and almost dead, and then you remember the new, glorified, ever-living never-again-dying body of your Lord Jesus who promises to give you one of those so that you can be like him and spend the life everlasting with him, and with all who have believed in him. (Sigh.) That’s what you have to look forward to because Jesus rose from the dead.
Only hold on, just a little bit longer. No one can take that promise away from you, but you can forfeit all this by foolishly neglecting the Means of Grace by which the Holy Spirit keeps you in the one true faith unto everlasting life. You can foolishly get all tangled up again in the dying things, in the dying life, in the dying routine of a dying world, in sins that lead to death. On this Easter Day, hear the Word! Repent and believe the good news! Jesus Christ is risen. You who have been baptized, give thanks to the risen Lord who gave you this gift. If you have not been baptized, then put it off no longer. If you’re a communicant member here, then come to the feast today and often – the Holy Supper of the risen Lord. If you’re not a member here yet, then take the time to take the classes in order to join us here for this feast.
Because Jesus lives and loves each one of you here today, he has brought you into contact with his Easter Gospel, and so has sent his Holy Spirit into this sanctuary, into this place, to call and to comfort you, and to give you the strength to face both life and death with courage, and even with joy. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.