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Set Your Mind on Things Above. Funeral Sermon, May 3, 2018

ezekiel wheelFuneral Sermon for JoAnn Sallese

Blackburn-Giegerich-Sonntag Funeral Home

1 Corinthians 15:12-26; John 11:25-26

May 3, 2018

Set Your Mind on Things Above

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Tony,

Mary, Margie, and Tony,

All of JoAnn’s loved ones and friends, including her sister Genevieve, who was here only a week ago and is prevented from making the journey across the country again:

 

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

There are over 43 thousand radio stations across the world.  Each day, they broadcast their message into people’s ears as they work, drive, and sleep.  Each year, they produce 290 million hours of programming, and of that programming, 35 million hours are commercials, ads.

 

Those 35 millions hours of advertisements are designed to persuade listeners to set their minds on obtaining material things so that they will have happier and more fulfilled lives on earth.

 

But what the advertisers advise us to set our minds on is totally opposite what God’s Word, the Bible advises us.  Set your mind on things above, God exhorted Christians through the apostle Paul.  Set your minds on things above, not things that are on earth.  (Colossians 3:2). 

 

Why?  Because however good things are on earth, the things above are better, and the things that God promises us in His Word through faith in Jesus Christ are forever.  But the things on earth are only for a time, both the good things and the bad.

 

According to Bible scholars, one sixth of the New Testament is focused on the joy of heaven and eternal life at the return of Jesus Christ.  It was the hope and the joy that filled Christians throughout the two thousand years since Christ died and rose again.  Because they believed in Him, that He had died for their sins and risen again, they had a hope that extended past the pleasures of this life, and also its pains.

 

Although we live in this world where death still seems to rule over everything, and we are tempted to snatch pleasure while we can, where we can, God wants something better than that for us.  He wants us to have the certain hope of eternal life, of reunion with Him and with all the people we love who were united with Him on earth by faith in His Son.  He intends for that hope to give us joy in the midst of the worst pains of this life, and to give us a pleasure that is greater than the pleasures that may be found in “setting our minds on things below.”

 

It’s hard to think about all that right now.  It’s quite possible today that it’s hard to think or set your mind on anything.  Sometimes at funerals people sob and feel like they are about to break apart with grief.  But just as often there is a blank look on people’s faces, a look of lostness, of emptiness, shock.

 

That is the way people act when their loved ones die.  And also, sometimes, there is more.  Sometimes, guilt—they feel that they did not love or treat their loved one as they ought to have, or appreciate them as they should have.  Sometimes it’s anger—anger at the doctors who may have failed in treating their loved one, or anger at other people in the family for not doing more.  Maybe, even, anger at God for taking someone they loved, or allowing them to be taken away.

 

Christians grieve like this too.  They have the feeling of loss, of being lost.  Going to church doesn’t take that away when a loved one dies.  Yet I have noticed something in a decade of being a pastor in which I have ministered to many grieving families—usually those who are grieving who have stayed near to Christ, near to His Word when it is preached and taught, near to His altar where He gives us His body and blood—as they weep, they are held up, as though there were an invisible rock underneath them.  They are sustained by a life that is stronger than death.  In the midst of their tears they have an assurance, beneath their own weakness, that does not come from themselves.  They have an assurance that they have a gracious God, who is for them, and who loves them, who forgives their sins and takes them and their loved ones to heaven, and who in the end will raise their bodies from the dead so that they are like the glorious body of Jesus after He rose from the dead.

 

JoAnn was a beautiful woman in her youth, as anyone can see from her picture, and her husband of 29 years summed her up using that word: she always did things to appreciate beauty and practicality.  Which is a rare combination.  Quite often the poetic personality that notices beautiful things is not the person you count on to mow the lawn or paint the garage.  But JoAnn was the type who did both; who was ready to do anything the American Legion asked her to do, was willing to do the tasks necessary to have an organization that supports and honors veterans.  She opened her home to her step-children and when her mother was old she cooked her dinner and brought it to her every day.  And she did all this even though she had health difficulties and pain that would have made it easy to think of herself only.

 

Those who received these blessings through JoAnn can rightly give thanks to God for the blessing she was to them.

 

But what now, as you experience the feeling of loss and separation, the feeling of being torn from her or having her torn from you?  What will end that pain, console that pain, that feeling of loss, today, the next time you are confronted by death?

 

Maybe alcohol, temporarily, or getting busy with work or a project.  These can help temporarily.

 

But the only lasting answer is to Set your mind on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  To be able to say, I have a place in heaven with God, where there will be no more crying, no more death, no more grieving.

 

But why don’t people do this?  Even Christians don’t do it well.  Why not?  Because we can’t see heaven.  And even worse, who can be certain that if it exists, they will go there?  Who knows if I have done enough to have a place in heaven?

 

People say this all the time.  “I hope God forgives me, and I go to heaven.”  There aren’t many people who say with confidence, “I am going to heaven, and I know that God forgives my sins.”  And when people do say it, most people think they sound arrogant.  Because we think that such people are bragging about how good they are, or how strong their faith is.

 

But God tells us to set our minds on things above because He has promised the “things above” as a free giftto the world.  He has promised eternal life because He has already taken away our sins.

 

This is what Paul kept saying in the reading we heard earlier.  Because Christ was raised from the dead, we also will be raised from the dead.  Christ’s resurrection from the dead is the proof that God has forgiven the sins of all human beings, beginning with the first one, Adam.

 

Mary told me that she and JoAnn traced JoAnn’s family tree and took pictures of headstones for a genealogy website.  I signed up for that website too, but I didn’t take that many pictures.  But to do it you have to spend a lot of time in cemeteries.  We think of cemeteries as places of the dead.  But the word actually is similar to the word “dormitory”—it refers to a sleeping place.  Christians named them that because of their faith that the dead in Christ would rise again to eternal life.

 

To rise again and live forever means your sins have been forgiven.  When the first man died and was buried, it was not the way it was supposed to be.  It happened because the first man disobeyed God and bought into the lie that if he took the one thing on earth that God had forbidden, he would be happy.  He would be “like God”.  Instead of becoming a god, he became mortal.  But if you rise from your grave, it means that God has forgiven you, set you free.

 

When Jesus rose from the dead, God was publicly announcing that He was forgiven.  Not that Jesus sinned.  But when He died on the cross, He was dying for the sins of the whole human race, from the first man on down.  That’s why Paul says that if Jesus has not been raised from the dead, we are still in our sins.  When Jesus was raised from the dead, God was announcing that He had forgiven the sins that Jesus died for.  And if He has forgiven the sins that Jesus died for, it means He has forgiven the whole human race.  And if He has forgiven us, we too will rise from the dead like Jesus and live forever with Him.

 

But this is not the end of it.  The eternal life that will belong to us when Jesus returns also belongs to those who believe in Him in this life.  When Jesus went to visit his friends Mary and Martha, their brother Lazarus had been in the grave for four days.  You heard what He said to Martha: Your brother will rise again.  She said, “Yes, I believe He will rise again on the Last Day, when God will raise up all the dead and judge them, and give eternal life to the righteous and eternal damnation to the wicked.”

 

But Jesus doesn’t let it rest there.  He says, I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in Me will live, even though He dies, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.  He is saying, “Whoever believes in Me shares in the life I will have in My resurrection.  On the last day everyone will rise from the dead, but whoever believes in Me shares my resurrection and my life.”

 

That is how we receive a certain hope in this world of death—that one day we will have life and no more crying and no more death, but that even now that life is ours.  We have it through believing in Jesus—not merely believing the fact that He was crucified and rose from the dead.  But believing that His death and resurrection is, as He promises, for us.  He died and paid for our sins.  He rose again as the certification that God accepts the sacrifice of Jesus’ life for our guilt.  That He settled our account with God.

 

It is not possible to make yourself believe this so strongly that you are confident in the face of death.  It takes divine power for anyone to believe it.  But God works His divine power in the word that I am preaching today, in the words of the Scripture when they are read at home and proclaimed and taught in the Church.  Through the preaching and teaching of this Word He makes us recognize that death comes as a result of sin, and that none of us is free from it, no matter how well we live in our own eyes or in the eyes of others.

 

And through the preaching of His Word He also gives us eternal life.  He causes us to believe that through Jesus, and through Jesus alone, our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled to God and He to us.

 

JoAnn heard this word from God when she was young.  When she was six years old or so, she was also baptized, and God took His powerful word and joined it to the water of Baptism, so that she was joined to Jesus by faith.  She entered into His life.  When she was older, after being taught more of His Word, she professed her faith in Jesus and received the bread and wine that are joined with His Word, and she received the body and blood that He gave on the cross for the forgiveness of her sins.

 

A lot of time has gone by since then.  Those words of Jesus that sustain our faith in Him, that make us believe in Him and share in His life—it has been a long time since she received them last.  That is the favorite trick of the devil and our sinful nature—to separate us from the words of Jesus, because those words communicate to us His divine life as a free gift.  They tell us that heaven is ours when we die, and that God forgives us and gives us eternal life now in the midst of this life.

 

The devil has a long history of this, of deceiving us into setting our minds not on the things above, where Christ is seated, where He suffered to make a place for us, but on things below.  But Jesus overcame Him for us.  He took away our sins.  He gives us life as a free gift, now and forever, through His death on the cross.  He proclaims this free gift to you now in your grief, and encourages you to come with your grief to His house, where He will give you life and wipe away your tears through His Word, until He does so with His own hand when You see Him on the last day.

 

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

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He Is Not Here. Holy Easter Day 2017–Mark 16:1-8; 1 Cor. 5:6-8

he is not here.jpgHoly Easter Day

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Mark 16:1-8 (1 Cor. 5:6-8)

April 16, 2017

He is Not Here

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Jesus is risen from the dead!

 

During the weeks of Lent we have seen Jesus our Lord without form or comeliness, with nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.  He has been humiliated, cursed by man and God.  Crowned with thorns, beaten and bruised, spit upon, rejected, pierced by nail and spear, forsaken by God, embalmed and entombed.

 

But now, here on Easter morning in the church, we see splendor. Our women have adorned and beautified the sanctuary and the altar just as Mary Magdalene and the two others went to honor and care for His body.  Beautiful easter lilies cover the altar.  The processional cross which was veiled last week, just as Jesus’ face was hidden under bruises, spit, and blood—now it is uncovered.  We see Jesus on it, ascending in majesty.

 

But in the Gospel reading we see no Jesus.

 

We see through the eyes of the three women who have come at the break of day on the first day of the week to anoint the corpse of Jesus.  They are worrying as they walk.  “Who will roll away the stone from the tomb?”

 

But as they walk past the place where Jesus was crucified on Friday, where they saw Him die, into the garden nearby that held the tomb where they laid Him, they look up and see: the stone is already rolled away.  Someone has opened Jesus’ tomb.  Was it in the night?  Did grave robbers come?  But how would they have gotten past the guards that were placed there?

 

Then entering the tomb, the dark cave cut out of the rock, they see that Jesus’ body is gone.  No Jesus!  Instead there is a young man sitting there on the right side, dressed in a white robe.

 

You can imagine why they were startled!

 

The young man begins to speak to them.  “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus, the Nazarene, who was crucified.  He has risen.  He is not here.  Look and see the place where they laid Him.”

 

It is empty.  The women see, and we see.  Jesus is not lying there like He should be.

 

“Go,” the young man tells them.  “Say to His disciples, and to Peter, that He is going ahead of you all to Galilee.  You will see Him there, just like He told you.”

 

So we are left this morning smelling the lilies, seeing the gold on the altar, but not seeing Jesus.  We are not shown the glory that replaces the shame of His crucifixion.  We don’t see the power that replaces His former weakness, the life that replaces the death that claimed Him.  We do not see.  We only hear, “He is not here.  He has risen.”

 

Even if we read a passage from one of the Gospels where Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, we would be hearing, not seeing.  We would not see Him alive with our own eyes.  We would not see His majesty, power, His glory that He now has in place of the weakness and shame in which we saw Him die.

 

So let us talk about what we don’t see.

 

 

The women came by the place Jesus was crucified, Golgotha, on their way to Jesus’ tomb.  They had to walk by “the place of a skull.”  You might easily see why they would want to avoid that place, not only because of its grim name, but because of the suffering inflicted on them there as they watched their hope die.  But they could not avoid it, just like we cannot avoid death.  The tomb in which Jesus was buried was there in a garden nearby.

 

But at this very place named after the symbol of death, the place of a skull, death has been struck a mortal blow.  We do not see Jesus.  The women fully expected to see Him and weep when they saw Him. They expected to see His body lying still and cold beneath linen cloths.  They do not find Him.  Instead they find a messenger waiting for them to proclaim that He has come forth from death.

 

It’s true; but instead of telling them Himself, Jesus sends a messenger, an angel to announce it.  That is how Jesus does it now too.  A messenger tells you.  A messenger in a white robe is there, not a heavenly being, but a pastor—at the grave of your loved ones, at the birth of your children into this world of death, in the middle of the joy of this life where, nonetheless, like the ancient hymn says:

In the midst of life we are in death:

            From whom can we seek help?

            From you alone, O Lord,

            Who by our sins are justly angered.

            Holy God, Holy and Mighty,  

            Holy and Merciful Savior,

            Leave us not in the bitterness of eternal death.

 

Jesus is not there in the tomb.  He is not here either, not visibly, like He was before.  The reason there is a messenger telling you, and not Jesus Himself, is because Jesus is no longer in sin and death, in humiliation and weakness.  And so He sends a messenger.

 

He is risen, and so He does not do what He did before.  Before this He lived in this world that is filled with graves and tombs.  One day, your grave will add to the number.  This is the world that Jesus came to live in with us.  He was one of us in every way, except without sin.  And He came in our appearance, not in the glory which was His, which a man cannot see and live.  He looked like us—not glorious, but earthly, not above pain, weakness, and humiliation, but subject to it.  He lived here and carried out the task of a preacher. He looked like a preacher, like all the ones who have stood before you in white robes; some you liked, some you didn’t, some were talented, some less so.  But all of them were of the dust, of the earth.  Jesus looked just like that.  He went to town after town and preached that the Kingdom of God had come upon them.  Some believed Him; most were only interested in His miracles.  Many not only rejected His message but hated Him.  And finally they succeeded in putting Him to death.

 

Jesus doesn’t do this anymore.  Before He came in the form of a servant.  Though He was God in the flesh, He laid aside the glory of God, which was His from eternity.  He came in our image and likeness, shared our hunger, thirst, weariness, weakness, our pain.  He shared our obligation to obey God’s Law.  He was subject to death even though, unlike us, He had not earned death.  He preached and people were able to reject Him, turn away and laugh, or turn toward Him with clenched teeth and stones in their hands.

 

This can’t happen anymore.  Jesus can’t die anymore, or suffer anymore.  He cannot be rejected in His own person.  He no longer shares our weakness.  He isn’t subject to death.  He still allows people to reject Him, but only as they reject His preaching through the ones He sends.  But He will not share our mortal life, our humiliations, our guilt and our death anymore.  When He wants to speak with us, He sends messengers in our image and likeness.  He does not come Himself now with the glory that a man may not see and live.

 

Why does Jesus no longer share this life and speak to us visibly?  He has done it already, and it is finished.

 

He shared our image and likeness, and the suffering, death and weakness that covers us because He came to be the true Passover lamb, who was slain so that God’s judgment would pass over us, so that we would go free from His judgment, from death and hell.  Now He has been exalted, raised up to the highest place, to sit on the throne of God in His flesh and blood.  He reigns over death, over hell, over all things for us, binding them through the message of His resurrection.  He won’t and can’t dwell among us in lowliness, in the form of a servant who bears the sin of the world, because it can’t be done again.  It is already done.  He has already borne that image to its end—to the cross and the grave.

 

When Jesus was humiliated, cursed, and crucified, when He died and was buried, God was striking and plaguing Him for our sins, for your sins.  He suffocated and burned in the torment that belongs to us for eternity, which we have earned from the time we were conceived in sin.  He hung naked before this anger of God against us on the cross.  He had no defense against it; no excuses in His mouth.  He was silent like a lamb before its shearers and did not open His mouth.  He had no power to push this burning anger away, because He had laid His divine power aside to become like us.  He had laid aside His innocence by which He could have been scared God’s wrath and plunged Himself into the flood of our transgressions. The guilty conscience of the whole world was upon Him.  He sank in the depths of sin where there is no foothold, no ground on which to stand and cry out to God for help, only the full awareness that we have deserved God to cast us away.  On the cross, Jesus was thrown into the depths of this sea, like Pharaoh was thrown into the depths of the Red Sea, like the whole world outside of the ark sank in the deeps of God’s flood.  He did not say, “Father, I did nothing wrong.  Take me down from the cross!”  He had taken our wrongs as His own.

 

And the Father punished those wrongs with agony of soul and body until He gave up His Spirit, died and was buried.

 

So look now.  Jesus is not here in this grave any longer.  We cannot see Him, because He has entered His glory.  We see only a young man in a robe sitting in the empty tomb, waiting for us with a message.  When we enter the young man looks up and says, “He has risen.”

 

And because you are not out of your mind with fright like the women that morning, you can reflect on the message that is spoken to you, what it means to you.

 

Jesus is free.  Every week you say: I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ…who was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.  He suffered and was buried.  And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures.

 

What does that mean for you, that Christ rose again, and is not seen in the tomb, not seen walking among us in our lowly appearance?  What does the message of the messenger mean for you, “He has risen?”

 

It means that He has been released from the punishment He received from His Father for your sins.  He has been released from the sentence of death, and therefore from the grave, the sentence He received because He offered Himself to bear our sin.

 

The Father did not release Jesus until He had tasted death.  Jesus had prayed, “Take this cup from Me.”  The Father did not; He had to be crucified and forsaken by God. He had to die and be buried.  It was clear.  The Father would not let Jesus go until He had paid the full measure of our debt.

 

But now Jesus is free.  In releasing Jesus from the chains of death, the Father is making a declaration.  The debt Jesus went to Golgotha to pay is now paid in full.  Jesus is released from death. The debt is paid.

 

Your debt is paid.  The Father releases you with Jesus from the guilt of sin, from His wrath against you, from the grave, from the fire of hell.

 

Our sins are no longer there to hold Jesus chained in death.  If they were still there, Jesus would still be in the tomb.  Or Jesus would still be among us as He was with His disciples, in the form of a slave.  He would still be serving us as our slave, with His glory put aside, and our guilt and lowliness and death still upon Him.

 

But He is not there in the tomb.  He is free.  And so are you. Unless you despise this.  Unless you refuse to believe it.

 

Victory has been won over the powers that ruled us and kept us chained; the old serpent has been crushed under the heel of the virgin’s Son.  The empty tomb of Jesus is the battlefield from which the enemy has been put to flight.

 

It is the courtroom, now empty after it has been adjourned, where the Father tried you together with all people, and announced His verdict: Not guilty.   Or: “I find the world to be righteous and just.  Set them free.”

 

It is the prison cell in which all people were held as condemned criminals, awaiting the order that would carry out their sentence.  But now, no one is there.  There is only a man in a white robe saying, “You are all free.”  He doesn’t say those words, of course.  He says, “He has risen.”

 

Paul says the same thing to the Church at Corinth.  “You really are unleavened.  For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”  The Corinthian Church was doing some very impure things.  A man married his father’s wife; and the Corinthians, instead of calling this man to repentance, bragged about how he had done this.  Yet Paul says, You really are unleavened, not permeated with the yeast of wickedness, but pure.  The reason is because the Passover Lamb that bears our sins has died and blotted them out.

 

At Passover, Jews were required by God to take all the yeast out of their houses before the Passover lamb was slain.

 

Even today, observant Jews do this. They search the house for any place there might be yeast, where crumbs of bread might have fallen.  They scrape out the dark places under the cupboards and the oven to get rid of every last bit of yeast that might leaven the unleavened bread they eat during Passover.

 

Christians also do this by daily repentance; we “cleanse out the old leaven” of the sinful nature in which we were conceived.  But trying to purge out your sins is not enough to cleanse us, as anyone who has tried it knows very well.

 

God must put away our sins.

 

And He has done it through the blood of Jesus.  Jesus has cleansed the old evil leaven of our sinful natures out of us.  He has buried it.  God has forgiven it, which means, God has released us from it.  Our sin no longer stands before Him.  He does not count it, or impute it.  This is what we mean when we say that God “justifies us.”  It means He counts us righteous for the sake of Christ.  He counts Jesus holy obedience and righteousness to us, just as truly as He imputed our guilt to His Son.  This teaching is the central teaching of the Christian faith.  It is, according to our Lutheran Confessions, the article of the faith “on which the Church stands or falls.”  This is what the Reformation that began 500 years ago was about.  Whoever has this teaching and believes it is righteous before God and saved from hell, even though he remains a sinner.  Where this teaching is lost, human beings are lost. Because there is no other way that human beings can be righteous before God than for Christ’s sake.

 

This cleansing that happened by Jesus’ death and resurrection also becomes effective in you.  We sang about it in Luther’s hymn:

 

Then let us feast this Easter day

On Christ, the bread of heaven. 

The Word of Grace has purged away

The old and evil leaven.

 

Christ purged human beings of sin before God; but the purging away of sin within us happens through the Word of the messenger of Jesus.  Through that word, God works faith that Jesus has purified us.  And God counts that faith as righteousness before Him; and at the same time, He gives the gift of His Spirit, who each day purges away the sin that remains in us, so that it no longer works through the whole lump of our bodies, families, congregations, but goes into remission.

 

The angel said, “Christ is risen.”  Go tell His disciples and Peter.

 

But to you the Word comes differently.  It says, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  It says, “As a called and ordained servant of the Word, I forgive you all your sins.”

 

When the pastor says these words, he is just proclaiming the same word as the angel; he is announcing what God has done for you and to you in raising Jesus from the dead.  He is saying, “God has released you, together with the whole world, from your guilt. God has justified you.”

 

God has not done this only for believers, and this message is not to be proclaimed only to those who already believe and are righteous.  It is to be proclaimed to the unrighteous who grieve because of their sins.  It is to be proclaimed also to Christians who have fallen from Jesus.  “Go tell His disciples and Peter,” says the angel.  Peter had denied he knew Jesus; his own voice had condemned him.  He had said, “I am not a disciple of Jesus.”  You may be here this morning and have done the same thing, by your words or actions.  You may have said, “I am not Jesus’ disciple” by willfully doing what you know to be sinful.  And you may be thinking, “Now that I have denied Jesus and bathed in the mud, and made myself unclean with Jesus’ name on me, how can I become pure and clean again?  How can I undo my falling away?”  You may not be thinking this, and yet you may be one who should think this!

 

You cannot undo the shame of turning away from Jesus, and allowing yourself to be filled again with the leaven of malice and evil.  But the angel specifically says, “Tell Jesus’ disciples, and Peter.”

 

Perhaps Jesus would have the whole congregation of St. Peter hear these words as His Word to this St. Peter.

 

Tell Peter: “He is risen.  God has justified Him.  God has let these sins go; they are paid for, the bonds of those sins are broken.  The guilt is removed.  The shame wiped away.”

 

Let us believe the word of whatever angel comes to you from Jesus with this message, for it is Jesus who sends the message to all who are bound by the chains of sin and hell.

 

Let us rejoice that we no longer see Jesus bearing our weakness.  That means our sins have been removed forever, once and for all.

 

And if we grieve over the weakness we still bear, let us receive Jesus’ pledge that we share, even now, in His glory, as our glorious, risen Savior gives us the foretaste of our resurrection.  Let us eat His body and drink His blood which have purged away the old, evil leaven from us.  See, His blood now marks our door, faith points to it.  Death passes oer.  And Satan cannot harm us.  Alleluia!

 

Amen.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Holy Easter 2014 + St. Mark 16:1-8 + “The Very Flame of the Lord”

resurrected-christHoly Easter Day + St. Peter Lutheran Church Joliet, Illinois + St. Mark 16: 1-8 + April 20, 2014

“The Very Flame of the Lord”

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  (etc)

 

First we consider the history of our Lord’s glorious resurrection from the dead, and second, the meaning of His resurrection for us.

 

First of all it is necessary to emphasize that this is the history of the resurrection of Jesus that St. Mark presents to us.  It is clear that he understands what he is writing to be fact rather than fiction.  He presents us with historical, public figures interwoven into the story, men that people knew and could possibly talk to at the time the Gospel was published.  None of these men tried to deny that Jesus was crucified and was buried.  People in Jerusalem could show you the place of the skull where he was crucified and knew the place where the guards stood watch.

 

Why is it important that this is presented to us as history, as the accounts of witnesses?  Because the Gospel of Jesus has no meaning if He didn’t really rise from the dead.

 

Jesus’ resurrection is either a fact that makes claims on everyone who lives in the real world where people die, or it is a lie that would be laughable if it had not had so much influence on the world’s history.  It really can’t be something in between.

 

Too often not only non-believers but also Christians act as if this belief in the resurrection of Jesus is a non-threatening, domesticated belief that can safely be brought around unbelievers and taken for a walk in polite society.  Such a Christianity doesn’t make any claims on people.  It says, “Jesus lives in my heart” without at the same time insisting that He also lives outside of our hearts at the Father’s right hand.

 

No, if Jesus rose from the dead, it means nothing in the world can remain the same.

 

It meant in the days of the early Church that it was wrong to worship Caesar as a god.  In fact, it upset the status quo by claiming that all of the old gods worshipped by the Romans and all the other nations of the earth were idols.  And the Jews, who had the Scriptures from the true God, had nevertheless not known their God.  They had actually called for His crucifixion when He visited them.

 

The preaching of the resurrection of Jesus was an announcement that all the people of the earth, especially the wise and noble ones, had not known God.  And now they were to repent.

 

Now they were to turn and worship the true God, who was a Galilean who had died the scandalous death of the cross.

 

To both Jews and Greeks this was blasphemy.  To say that God would allow Himself to be spit on, put to shame, torn by whips, cursed and suspended naked from a gallows by nails pounded through his hands and feet was like saying that God was not God at all.  That’s why the early Christians who died as martyrs were condemned for being “atheists.”  They said everyone else’s gods were not gods.  Then they proposed as the one true God a man who had come from a miserable town in Galilee and was crucified.

 

The Gospel of the resurrection of Jesus is no less earth-shattering today.  If Jesus rose from the dead, the idols of our time are exposed for what they are.

 

Islam is shown to be a false religion that not only brutally oppresses women and adherents of other religions, but also leads people to worship a false god and be damned.

 

The worship of reason, knowledge, earthly prosperity and pleasure—which is the dominant religion in the West—is shown to be foolish idolatry if Jesus is risen.  Because if God was crucified, prosperity and pleasure can’t be the highest good.  If this crucified man is God, that means human reason is not the final authority about where human beings came from and where we are going.  Human reason would never have looked for the eternal God in a man nailed up to die naked, suspended above a public place of execution.

 

Jesus rose from the dead.  He will return to judge the living and the dead.  This message is an attack on politeness and tolerance as our age defines it, claiming that all religions are equal.  It means God is calling the world to repent, because the world in all the great things it has done has not known God and has been giving His worship to idols.

 

The history of Jesus’ passion and resurrection as Mark has written it does not put the disciples of Jesus in a favorable light either, though.  It tells us that the three women, as they went to the tomb of Jesus to finish embalming him, were worrying aloud about who would move the stone that sealed the tomb shut.  The disciples had abandoned Jesus and weren’t even around to ensure that He got a decent burial after His death, and now they seem to have been too afraid to go out with the women to help them open the door of the tomb.

 

As the three women walked by the place of Jesus’ execution to the nearby garden where He had been buried, they saw, unexpectedly, that the stone had already been rolled away.  And when they came to the tomb, they were startled to find no mangled corpse of a man who had been crucified, but instead a young man in white clothes sitting where Jesus’ body had been.

 

Imagine the terror you would likely have felt if you were there.  What is a young man doing sitting in Jesus’ grave?  As though he had been waiting for you to come?

 

And the young man said, “Don’t be alarmed.

 

You’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the crucified.

 

He isn’t here.  He is risen.

 

Behold the place where they laid Him.”

 

And there the women could look and see—no Jesus.  Only the cloths in which He had been buried lying there, unoccupied.

 

“But go and tell his disciples and Peter that He is going before you into Galilee.  There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

 

And the women fled from the tomb.  They were trembling and in a trance-like state.  And they were afraid, and said nothing to anyone until later.

 

The women were expecting what the disciples expected, and what human reason expects today.  They were expecting to find the body of Jesus of Nazareth, who had been crucified, lying cold in the grave.

 

But Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified, was no longer there.  And the young man who met the women said, “He is risen and going ahead of you to Galilee.  He is not only alive, but He is ahead of you.”

 

Now regarding the significance of this for us.

 

Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified, is no longer in the tomb.

 

He is now no longer suffering and put to shame, but has been raised from the dead.

 

He really and truly died.  His life in the flesh ended.  But He has been given a new life in the flesh.  And this life is not the same as the one before, where He was subject to weakness and humiliation, shame, and death.  In short, subject to sin.

 

He is now free from sin and death and all the suffering that comes with them.

 

Instead He is glorified.  He lives forever.  The nature and life of God is not hidden any longer but radiates from His body.

 

And why is this significant for us?  Because the life of God that raised Him and that is manifested in His human body is communicated to us.  He shares the life and glory in His flesh with our flesh.

 

When God wanted Moses to hear Him He had Moses see a bush that burned and was not consumed.

 

That is the nature of God.  He is a fire that does not burn out; He burns forever.  God is love.  The Song of Solomon says, “Love is stronger than death; jealousy is fierce as the grave.  Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord.  Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.”  [Song of Solomon 8:6-7]

 

God is love.  God is the fountain of life.  He burns with love and life and never burns out.  And He does not consume those who are in His fire.

 

That fire of the divine nature always burned in Jesus, the man from Nazareth, but it was not clearly visible.

 

And it was not yet visible to the women, because they did not see Jesus yet.  They only heard the report of Him—just as you and I do not yet see the glory of Christ face to face, but only hear the report of Him in preaching and the Scripture.

 

But because Jesus had truly died for sins that were not His own but ours, now that He is risen, the divine fire that Moses saw now burns in Jesus without being concealed.

 

And it burns in Him, this immortal life of God, so that every human being might also burn with this fire of God’s life.

 

This happens not because we choose it but because Christ has done it.  He has laid our old nature in the tomb and raised a new man who is united to God and shares His nature.

 

Moses looked at the fire of God from outside.  The resurrection of Jesus means that the fire of divine life that never burns out is inside everyone who hears the word of Jesus’ death and resurrection and believes that his sins are forgiven on account of it.

 

What does this mean for you?  It means you are reborn in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

 

He lived our life under the law, bearing our sin.  He died under the penalty for our sin.  And after His life poured out in water and blood from His heart, and He was buried, God raised Him up, not to live the old life under sin, but the new life, in which He lives and reigns forever, true God and true man, the unquenchable fire of the divine nature burning in full glory and strength and brilliance in Him forever.

 

From His risen body He pours the divine flame into us in the Word of Him—when it flows over us in the water of Baptism, when it enters our ears in preaching, when we eat and drink the word with the bread and wine.  You could say we eat fire at the altar—the body and blood of Jesus, and the unquenchable fire that is God’s life and passionate love.  Like Isaiah, whose sinful lips were touched with a coal from the heavenly altar when He saw the Lord on His throne and heard the seraphim singing the Sanctus—Holy, Holy, Holy…

 

That fire does consume our sinful nature.  But it does not destroy us.  Because when our life in the flesh is over He will raise us up and we will have not just a little gospel light burning in the darkness of our sinful bodies in the great gloom of a sinful and dying world.

 

We will be flames in the blazing fire of God’s love and life.  That fire will illuminate our bodies forever, but not consume them.

 

What does this mean?

 

It means if you do not believe that Christ has been raised from the dead you are cut off from the God of life.  You bear your own sins, and the fire of God burns against you instead of for you.

 

But if you do believe that He rose from the dead, you must also know that He was raised for you, for your justification, your being counted righteous, just as He was handed over for your sins.

 

He is the righteous one with whom God is pleased.  He stands before the Father in human flesh not simply for Himself but as your advocate.  Because He is before the Father as the righteous one who was crucified for our sins, the Father no longer counts your sins against you.

 

Yet just as the women were terrified when they heard about Jesus’ resurrection, so it is often with us. 

 

We are afraid.  How can it all be finished, without my choosing, or willing, or changing?

 

Don’t despair because of your doubt and fear and because you feel how your flesh doesn’t believe, how it wants to go on living as though Christ were still in the grave.

 

He is risen.  His new life is ours.  His righteousness is counted to us.  We will have this life in its fullness in the resurrection.

 

So as we experience weakness and draw closer to death we are really drawing near to the day when these mortal bodies are consumed completely and we put on bodies that are glorious not with earthly splendor but with the glory of God.

 

That fire does not burn out.  It burns in you now, but then it will burn from within you like the sun.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

SDG

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