Sunday, April 26, 2015
John 16:16-22; 1 Peter 2:11-20; Isaiah 40:25-31
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
My fondest memories of childhood growing up in the Midwest most certainly include the numerous summer vacations my family took. We drove, by car, all over the western United States. I got to see the Badlands of South Dakota, Mt. Rushmore, the Corn Palace, and the infamous Wall Drug. I got to see Yosemite, Old Faithful, and Devil’s Tower. I visited California: San Francisco’s Lombard Street, the Japanese Tea Garden, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Los Angeles: Anaheim, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Disneyland. San Diego: The Zoo and Sea World, and even Tijuana. And, that’s just scratching the surface. All by car, mind you, without seatbelts, sprawled out in the backseat, and myself, most of the time, lying in the back window of the car. We traveled thousands and thousands of miles in several Oldsmobiles, leisurely driving from destination to destination, and each time the car would slow or there was an change in the rhythm of travel, we kids would cry out: “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” And, the answer was typically, “We’ll be there in a little while.”
Still, though we weren’t “there” yet, we were “somewhere.” We were somewhere different from where we started, and we were somewhere different from the last time we asked, “Are we there yet?” My Father used to say, “Getting there is half the fun.” He was right, of course, though I couldn’t see it at the time. So, my sisters and I bided the time by playing Mad Libs, playing games on invisible ink pads, the license plate game, etc., anything to make the time pass by more quickly. However, the truth is that, if we would only have paid attention and looked around at the landscapes and the scenery passing by, there were countless signs of us moving ever nearer and closer to our goal and destination, to the “there” of our question, “Are we there yet?” No, we weren’t “there” yet, but we would be eventually, in a little while. Still, we were “somewhere,” and “somewhere” might not be so bad if we’d just lift up our heads, open our eyes, and take a look around.
Our Christian faith and life is like such a journey. We have a goal and a destination – to live with the Lord forever in heaven, in resurrected and glorified bodies – but, often, the wait, the traveling, the distance, seems unbearable. Sure, we try to amuse and to distract ourselves to pass the time, but, too often, this causes us even greater suffering, as our enemy Satan is all too pleased to help us take our eyes and our minds off the goal and get sidetracked into any of numerous distractions, idolatries, and self-gratifying and selfish behaviors and activities. And, while sensual desires and attractions are very effective diversionary weapons in Satan’s arsenal, pain and sorrow, suffering, and loss are often even more effective. When they befall you, it can feel like you’re locked in a car on a long trip that will never end. “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? How long will this last? Will it never end?”
Truly, even in our Christian faith and life, my Father’s advice about vacationing rings true: “Getting there is half the fun.” Well, maybe “fun” isn’t the word, precisely, but the Lord would have you see your life in Him now as being every bit as important as your destination and goal to be with Him then in heaven. The Word of God became a man and made His dwelling among us as our brother; He suffered and died, was raised, and ascended back to His Father, as a man, not only so that your body will be raised from death to new and everlasting life, but so that you might begin living that new life in Him right now.
And so, Jesus prepared His disciples for this time, the time of their journey, the time of their lives in this world, now, until He would return and deliver them to their goal and destination, then, in heaven. Jesus prepared His disciples saying, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” Suffice it to say, they had no idea what He was talking about. “What does He mean by ‘a little while’?” they wondered. Jesus was speaking, immediately, of His impending death and resurrection. Very soon, His disciples would see Him no longer. But, then, in a little while, in His resurrection, they would see Him again. Then, Jesus said, they would have joy that no one – absolutely no one – would take from them. Likewise, Jesus would leave them again for a little while in His ascension, and then they would see Him again in a little while in the resurrection of their own bodies, and they would never be without Him again.
And, Jesus described for them what that time would be like saying, “You will weep and lament, and the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” This statement, just like “a little while,” has a now / not yet quality about it. That is to say that, even now, in the little while of Jesus’ absence, our sorrows can be turned into joy, and that, when Jesus returns, there will be no more sorrow. To illustrate this, Jesus uses the example of a woman in labor of childbirth. In the pain and distress of labor, she may well be sorrowful and think that it will never end and that, if it does, she will never permit herself to go through it again. But, when the labor is over and the child is born, she views her pain and distress and sorrow as but “a little while,” a little while of sorrow that, now, doesn’t seem so sorrowful, but a brief distress that she will gladly endure again for the joy of the new life she holds in her arms.
But, Jesus’ point here is not only that you have strength to endure pain and loss and suffering for the joy that will be revealed “in a little while” when He returns – though, it is most certainly that – but, Jesus would have you count it all as joy. For, in Christ, you are a new creation, the old has passed away. And, the new life you live, it will never die. It is Christ’s life into which you have been grafted, as a branch is grafted into a vine and draws life and nourishment from it and is made fruitful. For, you are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection: Jesus’ death is your death, and Jesus’ resurrection is your resurrection. Jesus’ life is your life. The Father has given Him all things, and Jesus shares all things with you, His beloved, His body, His Church, His Bride. Therefore, not only will you endure and persevere through pain and loss and suffering, but also you may find joy in these travails. For, there is a great difference between joy and happiness: Happiness tends to be fleeting and depends upon temporal factors like circumstances or other people, whereas joy is everlasting and not dependent upon circumstances, but flows from baptism into Jesus Christ and faith.
Thus, St. Peter urges you as “sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” See, my family vacation analogy wasn’t that far-fetched. St. Peter’s point is that you recognize that you are on a pilgrimage, a journey, towards a goal and destination – an eternal reign with Christ in heaven – and that, even though you have not yet reached your goal and destination, you have already begun to live this new life that will never die. Therefore, how you live, and what you do now, in this life, matters. First, passions of the flesh and worldly pursuits are weapons in Satan’s war against your soul. He will use them to divert your focus from the way you should go, to distract you, or even to cause you to lose interest in your goal and destination. Second, how you live and what you do is a witness and confession of what you believe in your heart. Thus, St. Peter exhorts you to “keep your conduct among the Gentiles [among unbelievers] honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” And, third, you miss out on the joy, the contentment, the peace, and the freedom that Jesus died to give to you by washing your guilt away in His holy, innocent shed blood and by forgiving your sins and justifying you before the Father.
Yes, we have a goal and destination – eternal life in heaven with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – but, getting there is half the fun! Don’t permit yourself to be defined by things that are passing away. You are not your career, or your marriage, or your family. You are not your friends, or your neighbors, or what the television, movies, and magazines suggest you should be. But, you are children of the heavenly Father, purchased and won in the holy, innocent shed blood of His Son Jesus Christ. Live your life in this victory, this freedom, and this joy knowing that, even the dark and difficult times are for but “a little while,” and that the victory is already yours in Jesus Christ. Moreover, you are not alone. Though you do not see Him during this “little while,” He is here. He has promised to never leave you or forsake you, but to be with you always, even to the end of the age. He is here to fill you to overflowing with His grace, mercy, love, peace, and forgiveness. Not only will you want for nothing, but you are filled to overflowing with His rich and boundless gifts. He blesses you. You are blessed to be a blessing.
Are we there yet? No, and yes. The victory is yours in Christ Jesus now, but you do not yet get to enjoy it in its fullness. You are on a journey, a pilgrimage, and life with Jesus in His kingdom is your goal and destination. Do not be afraid. You will get there. Only, do not get sidetracked and distracted and miss out on the kingdom goal. But, take heart, you are not alone. Your Lord Jesus, who has already made the journey for you as your brother, is with you now, though you do not see Him, and He will comfort and strengthen you along the way. You will see Him again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, April 19, 2015
John 10:11-16; 1 Peter 2:21-25; Ezekiel 34:11-16
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Whenever I hear a Christian say, “You’ve got to have a personal relationship with Jesus!” I admit that I have a physical reaction. My flesh crawls, my neck hairs bristle, I get angry, or I get depressed. I react this way because, bound up in this seemingly pious, faithful, and biblical statement, is our First Parent’s fall in the Garden of Eden, and every lie and deception of Satan from that point forward, even now. For, just as Satan tempted Adam and Eve to believe and to desire something that the LORD had not promised, instead of what He clearly had promised – The LORD promised that they were made “in His image and likeness” – so, in the statement, “You’ve got to have a personal relationship with Jesus!” Satan tempts you to believe and to desire something that the LORD has not promised, instead of what He clearly has promised – For, you already have a personal relationship with Jesus. In the Incarnation, the Word of God, the Word of Creation, God’s only-begotten Son, begotten of the Father from eternity, took up your human flesh and became a man, became one of us, became your brother. There’s nothing more personal than that! Moreover, the LORD did all of this wholly despite you and your will, and your intellect, and your decision, and your choice. That is part of the significance of the Virgin Conception and Birth. That is part of the significance that Jesus was conceived without the participation of a human father. Your personal relationship with Jesus is a relationship that the LORD chose to have with you when you did not know Him, when you denied Him, when you were serving Satan, while you were still sinners, while you were dead in sin and didn’t even know it. “You’ve got to have a personal relationship with Jesus?” You HAVE a personal relationship with Jesus, thanks be to God alone! Recognize this truth! Receive this truth! Believe this truth! That is to say, repent! But, don’t ever, never ever, rob God and try to take credit for it. For, that is a sure way to wreck it and to lose it.
The phrase “personal relationship with Jesus,” by the way, appears nowhere in the Scriptures. Indeed, this is the way the Scriptures speak of the relationship your God desires to have with you in today’s Gospel: “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Likewise, from today’s Old Testament lesson: “For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” And, as the LORD continues, continue to pay attention to the subject of the verbs, listening for who is doing the doing: “And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. […] I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak. […] I will feed them in justice.” Who’s doing the doing? Who’s doing the seeking and the calling and the feeding? Who, I ask you? That’s right. It is all the LORD’s doing. You do not come to Him, but He comes to you. You do not find Him, but He finds you. You do not choose Him, but He chooses you. You are the lost, but the lost can be found. You are the transgressors, but transgressors can be forgiven. You are the dead, but the dead can be raised.
Of all the images our LORD provides us that we may know His nature and His intention toward us, the image of the Shepherd is, perhaps, my favorite. The Shepherd is strong, but He is also vulnerable. The Shepherd loves His sheep with a fierce and selfless love, but He is not their friend. The Shepherd will do what is necessary to protect His sheep, even to the point of sacrificing Himself for them, and He will seek and find the sheep that has strayed and will restore him to the one flock. In Jesus, the LORD says, “I AM the Good Shepherd.” There are many other shepherds. There are even many other good shepherds. But, there is only one Good Shepherd – the Shepherd that is the norm and ideal of what a shepherd should be – and that is the LORD, and your Lord Jesus Christ.
In contrast to all other shepherds, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because the sheep of His flock are His sheep. The Father has given you to Him, and Jesus has purchased and won you in His holy, innocent shed blood, and in His bitter suffering and death upon the cross on your behalf and in your place. When confronted by the wolf, Satan, seeking to devour you, your Good Shepherd threw Himself into the wolf’s jaws and permitted him to tear His flesh and to take His life that yours would be spared. That is why He is the Good Shepherd; “The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” In contrast, other shepherds are but hired hands. The sheep are not theirs, but another’s. They care nothing for the sheep, but only for the honor and prestige the flock may bring them, or for the paycheck they may receive for tending them. Therefore, when the wolf comes, they flee. They will not sacrifice themselves for sheep that are not their own. They will not lay down their lives for someone else’s flock. They care nothing for the sheep, or for the One who owns them, but they care only for themselves and their egos and their bellies.
The hireling shepherds Jesus had in mind were the Pharisees, and they knew it. It was their job, their divine calling, to shepherd the LORD’s sheep, the children of Israel. But, they would not. Though they were given the key to open the Scriptures for the people, the key to unlock the Gospel and set the people free from their sins through faith in the sacrificial Lamb of God’s self-offering, Jesus, not only did they refuse to proclaim the Gospel to the LORD’s flock, but they refused to make use of the Gospel for themselves as well! They had no love for the Father, the owner of the sheep, or for the sheep of His flock. But, their love was for themselves and for power and prestige and wealth. Therefore they played nice with the wolf, the Romans and the Judaizers and, yes, with Satan, in order to secure for themselves a comfortable living. And, when the Lamb of God, Jesus, came, they knew who He was, and they handed Him over to the wolves. It is expedient that one man should die for the people, and the whole nation not perish.
The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Jesus laid down His life for you. It doesn’t get more personal than that. Your Good Shepherd went like a lamb, silent, to the slaughter, for you. “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.” In His death, the wolf thought that he’d made the ultimate kill. But, in His resurrection, your Good Shepherd broke the wolf’s jaws and knocked out his teeth. His greatest weapon, death, was defeated. Therefore, if even death cannot hold you, then what have you to fear? Nothing. Absolutely nothing! The Good Shepherd says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch the out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
Yes, you have a personal relationship with Jesus, but not because of anything you felt or experienced, decided upon or chose, or even believed, but you have a personal relationship because of the Incarnation of God’s Word of Creation, His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ. Your Good Shepherd assumed your flesh and became a sheep, even the sacrificial Lamb of God, that He might lay down His life for you and die the death you earned, merited, and deserved for your sins. And, being innocent, Jesus took up His life again, destroying the power of death, that your life might be raised up out death too and that you might live with Him forever in a life that cannot die as sheep in His Father’s fold in heaven forevermore. Truly, there is nothing more personal than that. Even now your Good Shepherd is present with His flesh and His blood that He has raised up anew to share with you His victory over death and the grave, His eternal life, sonship with the Father, and a reign with Him over heaven and earth and all things. Here are the mountain pastures of Israel. And, here is the Good Shepherd to feed and shelter His sheep. It doesn’t get anymore personal than this.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, April 12, 2015
John 20:19-31; 1 John 5:4-10; Ezekiel 37:1-14
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Who were the people of great faith in the Bible? Truly, there are only a very few that are so designated. There was Abraham who “believed the LORD, and the LORD credited it to Him as righteousness.” There was Jacob, who wrestled with the LORD and would not let go. Even though the LORD wounded him, Jacob would not let go without the LORD’s blessing. There was Mary who, at the angelic announcement that she would conceive and bear the Son of God, faithfully replied, “LORD, may it be to me according to your Word.” And, there was the Canaanite woman, whom Jesus first ignored, and then rejected, and then insulted, but who refused to let go and give up so that, finally, Jesus exclaimed of her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” Yes, there are a few others, but precious few. Indeed, most of the people of faith in the Bible are not people of great faith, but they are people of little faith, of weak faith, and of struggling faith, faith tempered by lukewarmness, hypocrisy, and not a small amount of doubt. And, that’s a good thing! That’s a good thing for you! For, are not you such a person of faith?
“Lord, I believe! Help me in my unbelief!” Those were the words of a father who brought his demon-possessed son before Jesus to be healed. However, the man was lukewarm in his faith. He said to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus mildly rebuked the man saying, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Now, of course, this is true. Your Lord Jesus said so! But, does that make you feel any better? It doesn’t make me feel any better, at least, not if I understand Jesus’ words in the way they are commonly misunderstood.
You see, these words of Jesus are commonly misunderstood to mean that you simply have to believe more, or to believe better, and then, then the miracles will really begin to happen for you! This is the misunderstanding that drives televangelists like Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Paul Crouch, Oral Roberts, T. D. Jakes, and Joel Osteen. They preach and teach a “Name It, and Claim It” doctrine in which the onus is on you to really, really believe and make the miracle happen. Faith becomes a force – “Use the Force Luke! – whereby you can get what you want, rather than an abiding trust in God even during times of trials and suffering. But on the other hand if you think positive thoughts or just have “enough faith,” then you can have health, wealth, and happiness now, when you want it, on your terms. But, this doctrine is unbiblical in at least two ways: First, it makes faith a work that you do instead of the gift of God the Holy Spirit worked in you. Second, and worse, it places man above God, in that man manipulates and controls God by his work of faith.
So, what does Jesus mean when He says “All things are possible for one who believes?” Well, it’s pretty self-explanatory when you jettison the nonsensical and unbiblical misunderstanding that faith and belief is a work that you perform. It most definitely is not. Belief is something that you come to, or are lead to, based upon evidence and your personal experiences. That is why some things that you used to believe as a child, you no longer believe, and, likewise, you may come to believe new things, and other things, throughout your life. However, Christian belief, commonly called faith, has its origin in the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.” Jesus Himself teaches, “No one can come to me unless the Father calls him.” Thus, we confess in the Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Thus, “all things are possible for one who believes,” not because belief is a work that you do, but because of the object of your belief, Jesus.
“All things are possible for one who believes” in Jesus, for whom all things are possible. It is not your believing that “makes all things possible,” but it is what you believe in that “makes all things possible.” That is why the LORD credited Abraham with righteousness. Abraham wasn’t righteous, but he believed and trusted in the Word and promise of the LORD, which is righteous. Thus, Abraham received an imputed righteousness, an alien righteousness, a righteousness that came from outside of Him, received through faith, which itself came from outside of Him and was created within Him by the Holy Spirit of God through the Word of God. Likewise, Jacob had great faith in the LORD who wrestled with him, who even seemed to be against him at the time. I know, someone will want to say, “See, Jacob had to hold on. That was a work!” No, you are wrong! It was the LORD’s Word and promise to which Jacob clung and would not let go. That Word and promise was given to Abraham and Isaac before Jacob’s birth. It was the source, the origin, and the substance of Jacob’s faith, and entirely the work and gift of the Holy Spirit of God. Likewise, Mary believed, received, and conceived by the Spirit-bestowing Word of God, and the Canaanite woman, like Jacob, refused to let Jesus go, even when He seemed to be against her.
But, then there’s Thomas. Doubting Thomas, as he has come to be known. I like Thomas. Thomas is a saint I can believe in. I am Thomas. Thomas is me. Is Thomas you too? If you’re honest with yourself, I suspect he is. When the other disciples told Thomas that they had seen the Lord, Thomas infamously exclaimed, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.” You see, I don’t think that Thomas’ faith was all that weak or lukewarm. Rather, Thomas knew his faith and its limitations. He didn’t have faith in his faith, but he had faith in Jesus, and only Jesus. He knew that it would require Jesus, and only Jesus, for him to truly believe. He needed to hear, and to see, and to touch His Jesus. He was only being honest. Truly, Thomas’ faith was very much like the faith of the father with the demon-possessed son who pleaded with Jesus saying, “Lord, I believe! Help me in my unbelief!” Thomas had faith, but he didn’t have faith in his faith; and neither should you. Faith doesn’t save. Faith in Christ saves. But, again, it is not faith that saves you – only Christ does that – but you receive Christ’s salvation through faith, as through a channel or a means, by grace, that is, as a free gift, wholly apart from your works, and your worth, and your merit.
Thomas knew what he needed. I know what I need. Do you know what you need? You need Jesus. You need His Word, which you receive by hearing, which creates faith in you, which clings to and trusts in His Word. But, you also need Jesus’ wounds; that is, you need to see, and touch, and taste Jesus’ glorified and holy wounds that your faith and belief may be strengthened and preserved through good times and bad times, though death unto the resurrection to eternal life. Yes, it is true what Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” still, Jesus lovingly and mercifully and graciously invited Thomas to come and touch and handle His wounds. Still, Jesus lovingly and mercifully and graciously invites you to come and touch and handle His wounds. And, maybe Thomas did. Probably he did. But, not before he confessed, “My Lord and my God!” a confession even greater than St. Peter’s! In tribute to this, do you know what I say silently to myself each and every Divine Service as I kneel before the consecrated Body and Blood of Jesus in this Holy Eucharist? I say, “My Lord and my God!” just like Thomas.
I am Thomas. Thomas is me. Is Thomas you too? I pray that he is. Weak faith? Maybe. Struggling faith? Likely. Faith that receives Jesus and all His benefits and clings to Him only? Definitely. Yet, all of these are faith – faith that receives Jesus and clings to Him and benefits from all of His blessings: the forgiveness of sins, salvation, eternal life, sonship with the Father, and a reign with Jesus in His kingdom that has no end. Come here. Put out your hand. Touch Jesus’ wounds. Handle them. Eat His resurrected and glorified body. Drink His holy blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, April 5, 2015
Mark 16:1-8; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; Job 19:23-27
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Why do you seek the living amongst the dead?” the women were asked. And, so are you asked. What are the daily pursuits and goals that you strive and toil to achieve, and worry and fret over with anxious hearts that you will not achieve, or that you will lose? Do you not seek the living amongst the dead, too? That is to say, do you not seek life, and comfort, and security in fleshly and worldly things – in a career, a marriage, a home, a family; in your children’s careers, marriages, homes, and families; in your health, in your health insurance, and in a well endowed and diversified IRA? Do you not think, at times, that these constitute life and make life worth living? Do you not seek the praise, admiration, and envy of men, and appraise your worth and value by the estimation and admiration of others? These things do not give life. They cannot extend or preserve life. In fact, they are lifeless, dead, or dying. Careers are ruined by old age, or by skills becoming obsolete. Marriages are temporary and transient, dying for loss of love and life. Homes need continual repair and lose their initial appeal and value. Families drift apart and hurt each other and separate. Money can’t buy happiness, and it cannot extend life. All things decay, die, and are dying. Truly, you can’t take it with you. The decline of your own body and life is living, and dying, proof of that. Why do you seek life and living amongst such dead things as these?
The women weren’t looking for life either. They weren’t looking for the resurrection. The thought never crossed their minds. They came to the tomb looking for the dead. That’s what you expect to find in tombs, after all, isn’t it? The living, they’re at work, at table, or at play. No, they came seeking the dead. They came seeking the dead body of Jesus, to do for it what they failed to finish doing Friday night, to prepare His body for burial. If there was a glimmer of hope when He was alive, after the events of Friday, it was extinguished. For them, Sunday was just another day, the beginning of a new week of hunger and thirst, struggle and toil to put food on the table, clothing on the back, and a roof over the head; a new week of hopes diminished, dreams shattered, and laughter and smiles mixed with grief and sorrow, suffering and pain; a new week of aging and illness and death – that’s what the women woke up expecting on the day of our Lord’s resurrection. They weren’t looking for life. They weren’t looking for the resurrection. And, too often, neither are you.
“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” Truly, each Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord, each Easter Sunday, is an opportunity for you to cleanse out the old leaven of malice and evil; of cynicism, resentment, and unbelief; of indifference and self-righteousness and self-security; of pride and contempt, and more. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Those things are of your sinful past. They are dead and buried. They died with Christ and were buried with Him. They can no longer bind you. They do not define you. Why do you seek the living amongst the dead?
Job had it all. He had great wealth, a large family, a devoted wife and children. He was respected in his community and had many friends. Moreover, he was righteous in the sight of the LORD. Job was righteous, not because he was perfect, sinless, and holy, but because, like Abraham, he believed and trusted in the LORD, and the LORD credited his faith to him as righteousness. Still, the LORD permitted Satan to afflict Job and to take everything from him – his wealth, his family, his respect in the community, his friends, and, finally, even his personal health and well-being. And, let’s face it, sometimes the LORD permits Satan to afflict you and those you love, and to take from you wealth and family, respect and friends, health and well-being. Therefore, receive Job as an example. For, in the midst of all his suffering and affliction, Job refused to curse God and die. Job refused to seek the living amongst the dead. Rather, in faith, Job confessed, “The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away; blessed be the Name of the LORD.” Job did not look for nor find life and the living amongst the dead, but he looked for the resurrection, confessing, the bodily resurrection of his Lord and Redeemer Jesus Christ, and his own bodily resurrection in and through Him, over 1,500 years before Jesus’ birth saying, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”
Yes, truly, Job shows you what it means to look for life and the living amongst the living. Job looked for life, then, and now, in the Word and promise of the LORD, not in his wealth and family, his reputation and friends, or in his personal health and well-being. He knew that these were but transient, ephemeral, and temporary things – here today, and gone tomorrow. Those things were passing away, even as his own life was passing away. But, Job looked for life, then, and now, that does not pass away, in the LORD of heaven and earth, who created all things and provides all things necessary for your body and your life, just as He has promised, and who will preserve and keep you through life, and through death, unto the resurrection to life that never ends.
“This is the day that the LORD has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” For, we are not merely remembering that Jesus was raised from the dead on this day, but we are remembering, and we are celebrating, and we are renewing, and we are reconfirming that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, then, now, and always. Jesus was the resurrection and the life promised by God the Father to our First Parents in the Garden just after they rebelled and sinned, plunging themselves, us, and all of creation into sin and death. And, Jesus was the resurrection and the life confessed by Job even in the midst of his suffering and affliction. And, Jesus was the resurrection and the life for the Apostles, and Stephen, and Ignatius, and Polycarp, and all the Christian Martyrs who would die, and are still dying today, for their confession of Christ. And, Jesus is the resurrection and the life for you, today, and tomorrow, and for as many tomorrows as the LORD may grant you.
So, why do you seek the living amongst the dead? Why do you look for life in things that are dead, or dying, and that are passing away? Seek the living, yes! But, seek the living with intention and expectation. That is, do not be like the women who came to the tomb early that first Easter morning. They were not seeking the living, but they were seeking the dead. But, Jesus is not dead. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! And, that has changed everything! In His resurrection, Jesus has cleansed you of the old leaven of malice and evil, selfishness, and self-righteousness. You are a new lump. Jesus has removed the leaven of sin from you and from all who trust in Him.
You are a people called to seek the living with the intent searching and firm expectation of the woman who lost her coins, or the parents who found their boy in the temple. You are called to look for resurrection. Acknowledging the death in all created things, you are to seek, and even to expect, the restoration of relationships, the rebuilding of ruins, provision in sickness, blessing from burdens, and life after the grave. For, after the resurrection, there is life in the world to come, and a promise that seeds, dying now in the ground of the earth, will spring up to new life in the fields of Eternity.
“You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.” Now go, not in fear and trembling, saying nothing to no one, but go and live and tell. Go and seek the living, go and seek the resurrection, not in the things that are dead or dying, but amongst the Living One, Jesus. He lives. He is not dead. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! And, you live in Him. Your life is hidden with Him. Therefore, the life you live, you live to Christ. Your life is a new life, a life that will never die.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.