From Sorrow to Joy

Here is the sermon I gave for Easter Sunday, based on the Resurrection account from the gospel of Matthew.

In trying times some people try to offer consolation through the phrase, “things could be worse.”  As in ‘It could be worse, you could have lost your job completely.’ But for the disciples and all those who hoped and believed in the salvation Jesus promised it truly was on Good Friday the worst possible scenario.  In a matter of hours Jesus was betrayed, publicly condemned, humiliated and then crucified.

The disciples were all together with Jesus during the Last Supper and before they knew it, he was asking them to pray with him at Gethsemane, asking them to stay up with him and keep watch.   As they were falling in and out of sleep Judas, one of their own betrayed Jesus.

He was seized by a small army as if he were a criminal.  The trial was a mockery of justice and filled with deceit.  An unlikely alliance of various factions who conspired in the darkness against Jesus.  His own people soon called for his crucifixion out of fear of the authorities and hardness of heart.

And through it all they failed their Lord! Peter denied him three times for fear of the same cup of suffering Jesus was given to drink.  One disciple fled so hastily that he was in only his under garments.  How could things go so wrongly- how could evil prevail so completely?  How could Satan prevail?

The women who were on their way to anoint Jesus shared in this same sorrow. They had brought costly oils and spices to Jesus as the last gesture of love they could do for Jesus.

And then in a moment it all changed.  Christ is risen!  Death did not have the last word after all, evil did not triumph.  An earthquake announces the shattering change.  An angel descends from heaven to roll back the large stone covering the tomb so as to allow the women to get inside.  The angel shone in splendid dazzling white in the same manner of how Jesus shone in His Transfiguration.

The unbelieving guards are overwhelmed with fear, but the two women who came to see Jesus hear the message of assurance from the angel: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay”

The announcement was made, sorrow turned to boundless joy.  And it was just as God planned all along.  What seemed like Satan’s triumph, what seemed like the most bitter defeat, was all according to God’s plan, Jesus has risen just as he told them.  It was not the worst possible scenario- but actually the best!

Surely they must have began to feel how needless their doubt was- everything went according to what Jesus had told them.  Jesus taught about his death and resurrection to the disciples all along, with parables and illustrations from nature.  Now they could put all the pieces together as they saw for themselves what it meant for Jesus to willingly lay down his life and to rise again.

How wonderful to fully grasp for the first time that what seemed like tragedy, was actually an amazing demonstration of God’s great love for us.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

If their sorrow and defeat made disciples question everything about the past- every blessing from God they received, every moment of fulfillment and hope, then the news of the resurrection would now give them every assurance about the future.  Just as he promised, he has risen from the dead, just as he promised he will go before them to Galilee.

2 Corinthians puts it well: But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—

After the angel spoke Jesus himself appeared to the two women, and offered greetings.  It kept getting better.  Jesus told them to go and tell His brothers.  Because of the cross those who abandoned him, those who deserted him were now forgiven and cleansed of their sins so that he called them “brothers”.   Jesus considers us brothers, and sisters because we also have been cleansed of our sin by His death on the cross.

We heard in our short Epistle reading from Colossians how we ourselves through our baptism have died with Christ and have risen with Him.  We have been connected to His death and Resurrection because we have been joined with Him.  Like the disciples we have experienced the sorrow and bitter pain of this fallen world.  But no trials of this world can bring us down- because we already have died with Christ.  And since we have died with Christ we have the joy of Christ always hidden in us.

In this month’s Lutheran Witness magazine President Matthew Harrison wrote an article referencing Luther’s writings about the resurrection entitled: “Only the Christian’s left foot remains in the grave.”

Unbelievers are like those who are running backwards, they fall into the grave and death takes them suddenly and unawares.  But as Christians we have already experienced our death in baptism.

-And because of this death, our resurrection in Christ has already happened.  We enjoy the advantage of already having the right leg out of the grave.-

Luther writes that “when Christ was born from the dead (as in his resurrection) it was like a child’s birth, the hard part is the head, the rest comes shortly afterward easily – just a little travail remains and we too shall see the resurrection.”

1Corinthians chapter 15 declares: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”

As His brothers and sisters we confess with joy that because Jesus has overcome death we too shall rise with Him.  Our risen Lord has united us with him through the cross.  Together we confess that he has given us a hope that cannot be taken away.  We are now as his brothers and sisters equal heirs with Him.

As His heirs we alone have a correct knowledge of God in which to share with others.  Every year as Holy Week comes around you will see specials on the History channel, an occasional magazine cover article in Time or Newsweek that shares a secular perspective about Jesus.

Often the Biblical accounts about Jesus are described as part myth as compared to a secular viewpoint of who Jesus is.  Other times a view of Jesus is described that gives privileged attention to ancient writings about Jesus as far removed from the actual events as one or two centuries after the New Testament was written.

Tragically these media outlets are blind from seeing that the Bible itself is firmly grounded in the category of a historical writing- filled with countless references to geographical locations and people such as kings and governors that all are verified by Archeology and secular histories of the time.

In contrast, writing of other religions and heretical writing about Jesus that occurred many generations later, such as the gospel of Thomas, contains virtually no references to places and dates and known figures in history.  There is no comparison.

The only logical explanation for the folly of University religious studies departments and secular scholars that question the accuracy of the Bible or whether Jesus really was seen as the Son of God by the earliest Christians-  is the influence of Satan. The evidence itself gives no indication of what so many public university scholars teach.

We can see Satan’s influence in all those voices in our culture that imply that what Jesus really originally taught was different than what the early church recorded in the New testament about who He is as the Son of God.

But as heirs of Christ we testify to the truth of what the scripture teaches of who Jesus is and what his death on the cross and resurrection means to our world. A detail of fact that makes all the difference in the world to those who are on the fence questioning in their faith.

As heirs of Christ and brothers and sisters in Christ we do not proclaim the resurrection as islands unto ourselves, we do not live our faith in isolation.  We feast together in the marriage feast of the lamb.    The prophet Isaiah foretold how Christ would conquer the power of death with language of feasting together. We hear from Isaiah chapter 26

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.”

In just a short while we will feast together as the body of Christ.  We will receive the Lord’s Supper together, as fellow heirs of Christ’s resurrection.  Often we think of taking the Lord’s Supper as that which is important business between me and God.

But we also receive the Lord’s Supper together, a meal that unites us in the forgiveness and love of Jesus.  All the more reason why Christ has desired that we seek Him often in this meal.

Together we encourage one another, together we face the persecution of this world- the darkness of this world that despise the truth that Christ brings.  Together we live in the joy of the resurrection.   Together we press on with one leg already out of the grave, awaiting Christ’s return.

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