Archive for the ‘Easter C’ Category

It’s a Fact Jack!

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter Sunday C, March 31, 2013

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“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” [1  Corinthians 15:19, 20]

He is risen.  He is risen indeed?  Are you sure of that?  Can you be sure?  And so begins the incessant drip, drip, drip, of doubt and the voice of skeptics and atheists.  If you don’t believe  me, turn on the Discovery or History channels on your televisions and see how they pick apart our hope in the empty tomb.  See how they love to cast doubt on the completed work of  our crucified and resurrected Savior and King, Jesus Christ, the Son of God!  I say, through the power of God, let them babble on, because I know by faith my Savior lives.  He IS risen!    He HAS risen indeed!

And yet, even good Christians like yourself, when you hear the Easter story, the report about a man who is also God, whose tomb was empty when his friends came to visit, and who  was claimed by two angels — in dazzling white to be risen from the dead, you may be tempted to dismiss it — or if not that, to doubt it, and attempt to come up with a rational  explanation; attempting to make the miraculous scientifically palatable. Why do people do this?  One reason may be that, they feel it’s just too good to be true and therefore it can’t be t  true.  It must just be a preposterous hoax. But wait just a minute there.  Isn’t the promise that all of our tears will be dried, that all our sorrows will be turned to joy, that all our  tragedies will be transformed to triumphs, that beyond our death there is life, isn’t that really the universal hope of all people?  Then why should we dismiss that hope it if it might just be true?

Another reason for dismissing the resurrection may be because nothing like it has ever been reported before or since.  Most thinking people will gladly tell you that precedents are always indications that thinking people must proceed with caution and really dig into the facts. “Don’t be so gullible” the unbelievers tell us. “It’s an event without comparison. No one else has ever been raised from the dead never to die again; this story about Jesus’ resurrection is just to unique.”  But why should that surprise or confound any of us? History is, after all, a collection of unique events. No two wars are the same. No two works of art or musical compositions are the same. No two sunrises are the same. No two earthquakes are the same. Think of your friends; are any two of them the same? Only machines — like the copier in the church office, are able to duplicate documents and pictures precisely, and that has nothing to do with human interactions that make up events that, in turn, make up history. Yes, Jesus’ resurrection is a unique event — perhaps a little more, but certainly no less than any other. We must get over the truth that it can’t be repeated for scrutiny by scientists, but does its uniqueness disqualify it from having happened in history?

Now another reason, some of your doubting friends will encourage you to reject the miracles recorded in scripture, especially the resurrection of our Lord is the fact that the gospel accounts don’t seem to be reporting the exact same pieces of information.  They will tell you that obviously either the witnesses or the recorders of the witnesses statements didn’t get all of the facts straight. They want the testimonies to mesh like fine gears in an expensive watch, and if they don’t, “Well” they’ll tell you, “you’ll just have to agree that the story is mostly fable.” But these differences in witness statement shouldn’t surprise us. I was a law enforcement officer for 30 years, and I can tell you with certainty that eyewitnesses at the scene of a major accident or crime seldom agree precisely as they relate their impressions of what happened. And if they did, the investigating officers are always suspicious, and then they begin to look for another crime, collusion or witness tampering.  You see, perception is always colored by emotional involvement. And yet all witnesses of a crime can agree that the crime really happened and what’s more, they saw it! And so it is with the Easter stories — the women, the disciples, whoever else were involved — they didn’t see Jesus actually rise, but they saw that He had risen, because they saw and spoke to Him!

Others may shy away from taking Easter too seriously because if they did take God at His word, they’d react just like the women at the tomb — with their eyes cast down. That is to say, if it is real, that Christ really did rise from the dead, well then He must really be the Son of God, and if He really is the Son of God, then all of those who doubt or attack His death on the cross and the resurrection are really attacking God Himself; in other words, they’re in big trouble!

You see, if the resurrection is for real, then it brings sinners face-to-face with a perfect and righteous God. Like the women at the tomb, they too may think that no one can see God and live, so they stare at the ground so as not to see God and die.

For all of our talk about Easter joy, there is a certain amount of terror that Easter strikes.  The first ones who knew the resurrection was a fact, were “terrified,” says St. Luke. They ran away “afraid”, says St. Mark. Indeed, the resurrection means that God really has forced His way into our reality, and His mighty arm has struck a deadly blow—to death. The fact that God has used divine power, can and should make weak and sinful men shudder.  It should make sinners fall over in terror.  Because you see, if Jesus really did die on a cross and rise from the dead, then that means that death is not the end, and if death isn’t the end, then there really is a place that we will live eternally.  And because there is an eternity, then there must really be only two places that we will spend that eternity… in Heaven, or… in HELL!  If that is true then that means that we really are accountable for how we live; we are accountable for every sin we have ever committed.  And if all of this is true, then that means we really do need God’s intervening help; we really do need a Savior who dies on a cross for our sins, on our behalf.

And this is really what Easter is finally about.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s final physical miracle to prove the ultimate spiritual truth… we need God and His intervention; we need His Son our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Yes it’s true that if the resurrection were not true, we Christians of all people are to be pitied above all others, because while we were living a life of sacrifice under the cross, we could have been living a life with no rules which daily sought to pursue all manner of pleasures, just like the rest of the unbelieving world.

It is as if we have been living our lives like a mountain climber making a long and painful approach to the summit, clinging to the face of a giant mountain, following a very small ledge for most of the climb, while all others have been walking on a spacious road, complete with safety rails.  Below us is death, and above us are only clouds and more rock.  We know that we can’t go back, because the path has crumbled behind us.  So we push on ahead, and because we will not give up, the others on that broad and spacious path laugh at us.  But we know what lies ahead of us; where some might see uncertainty, we see and push on towards the promise of God; the promise of rest and reward.  Yes, we push on following our resurrected Lord, until one day, maybe sooner than we think, the ledge of suffering will lead to a wide path, which will connect to solid ground; to a meadow of lush and inviting vegetation.  And there in front of us at the end of a short path, will be the beautiful city of Zion.

And as we enter our new eternal home, we will hear our Savior King, Jesus Christ declare, “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But (here in your eternal home), be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create (a new) Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.  I will rejoice in (this new) Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.”  [Isaiah 65:17-19]

Oh what a day that will be; a day when we will finally see our God and Savior face to face.  It will be a time where we rejoice in His presence and He rejoices in gladness that we are finally home.  But for now, we must live our lives by faith; faith in the promise of what is to come.  We must hear the Words which proclaim, “He is risen” and know that “as in Adam all in sin die, so also in Christ all (people of faith) shall be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ (as) the firstfruits, then at His coming (again) those who belong to Christ.” [1 Corinthians 15:22, 23]  Oh what a glorious day that will be.

Of course no one can really describe precisely what it means to say that Jesus rose from the dead. Language itself breaks down when the barriers of space and time are broken down. And I suppose that it really wouldn’t do anyone any good if we were to try to describe what happened as He rose or what he was like once He was risen.  But what does do a person good is to grab ahold of this risen Son of God — to cling to Him alone, and to use him as the Lord of life, your Lord over death, even your own death!

And that is precisely what Easter is all about. It is in using Jesus Christ — grabbing onto and clinging to His promises of mercy, His grace, His forgiveness, and His love for you who are baptized in His name.  This is how doubts are overcome, this is how questions are answered, and this is how death itself is finally defeated. For He is risen.   He is living and reigning to all eternity.  He is inviting all of us who may sometimes think the Easter story is nonsense to make sense of it. And how? By using him as our point of access to God. If we know by faith that He is alive and in our midst, behold, we can not only look at God and live, we can in fact live a life of abundance, right here and now. And as we go on living our lives of faith in this sinful world, our fear of sin, death, and the devil, especially our fear of finding and truly knowing God will melt away once we sense God’s own joy at our future return to Him. And that return will be complete when we, too, are raised from the dead — like Him who really did go before us on that first Easter Sunday to prepare our new heavenly home.  Yes, it really is a fact Jack; He has risen.  He has risen indeed!

He is Risen!

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010
Click here for audio of this message

“He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” [Luke 24:6-7]

 He is Risen!  He is risen indeed!  It’s funny, but that phrase is probably the key to most of my meaningful Easter memories!  Oh I remember other things as well.  Things like watching the Easter Parade with my parents, and afterward enjoying a delicious Sunday dinner with many of my family members.  But without at doubt that phrase, “Christ is risen, He is risen indeed” stands out in my mind.  What Easter memories come to mind for you?  For some, maybe your clearest memories aren’t necessarily centered on Christ.  Maybe, you even have unhappy memories?  This morning, our Heavenly Father tells us that through Christ, He has created a new heaven and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind, because “Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!”  [Is. 65:17]

 Over two thousand years ago, on the first day of the week, at early dawn, some of the disciples of Jesus went to His tomb to finish preparing His body for its eternal rest, and they were women!  Even then, women were the practical ones of the church.  They didn’t sit around talking about what must be done… they got up and did it!  So there they were at the tomb and they discovered that the stone had been removed from the opening, and even more surprising was the fact that the body of their Lord was gone!  “Thieves and grave robbers have taken Him” they must have thought! 

 And then in perfect time, God’s time… Jesus sends His Holy messengers with a challenging announcement and a question that puts all things into their proper prospective: “Why are you seeking the living among the dead?  He isn’t here, but He is risen!”  “Wait” they must have thought.  “Did you say He’s risen?  As in risen from the dead?”  “Yes” the angels must have been smiling.  “(Don’t you) remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee, that (He) must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise?” [Lk. 24:5-6] And then, they remembered!  They remembered that God was indeed faithful, merciful, and abounding in steadfast love.  They remembered that God did promise them that He would never leave nor forsake them! [Josh. 1:5]

 Up until that point their hearts were centered on death.  They were lost within their own grief!  And this is the exact thing that happens to us when we forget the gospel.  When we are so focused on life and it’s pain and suffering, we forget that in Christ we don’t just have a friend and a master we also have a Savior.  When we are focused on death, we forget His promises of life!

Dear friends, when we forget the Easter message, we end up looking for God in all of the wrong places.  While God is certainly there with us in tragedy, pain and suffering, He is also leading us out of these things; away from fear and trembling and into faith and hope.  In the middle of life’s challenges, He challenges us by asking, “Why are you seeking the living among the dead?”

 Many of you know what I’m talking about don’t you?  I’m talking about that perfect peace that comes to you when you know that even in the middle of a tragedy, Jesus… Emmanuel… God is with you!  You can’t explain it, it just is!  Well this morning, God doesn’t want you to be perplexed, He wants you to be amazed.  He doesn’t want you to be frightened with your head down low; He wants you to know that the peace you feel when others are terrified is because you have the living Word of God within you!  You have the very presence of Christ strengthening and leading you!  So get up and go on.  Don’t hang around with the dead!  You’ve got some living to do; you need to live in the victory of the resurrection, not the defeat of the grave!

 But I hear some of you now, “But pastor, it’s hard to live the life of a believer when there are so many doubters out there.  It’s hard to live the resurrection victory when so many of my family members and neighbors think that I’m crazy.”  Friends, I know how it is when people close to you are telling you not to take your Christian faith so seriously.  They say, “Sure Christianity is a good model to follow to help you live a good life, but don’t go overboard.  Live a little; enjoy your life.”  I know what it’s like to share the resurrection story with them, and they ask, “Do you believe in the Easter Bunny too?”  But most importantly, our Lord knows about the doubters, and He talks about it this morning in our gospel reading.  Listen: “Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” [vs. 10-11]  How could the apostles forget all of the promises that Jesus made to them?  How could they forget the joy that being with and listening to Him brought them?  Because friends, they had drifted away from the living Word of God; because they were not walking in the joy of the gospel, but instead they were engulfed by the fears of death!  But when God’s Word becomes central in your life, His miraculous presence takes over and you can’t help but rejoice at the Words, “He is not here, but has risen.”  He is risen.  He is risen indeed!

When we remember these wonderful Easter Words we also remember that Jesus is both the Son of Man and the Son of God.  We remember and we know that the resurrection of Jesus Christ marks a new era. Heaven and earth have been joined, because Christ, our Savior, is risen! Our sins, our doubts and our fears that were once like a mighty wall of separation between us and God have been torn down; God is reconciled to men; the sacrifice of the Son has been accepted by the Father. This is the supreme Easter reality. 

This Easter truth loudly proclaims that Jesus is not the “Great I WAS” but instead He is the “Great I AM!” He is not only a historical figure but also a present-day, living reality. Our wonderful faith rests upon the truth that Jesus Christ rose from the grave and is now seated at the Father’s right hand as our personal advocate.  He is now a God who is for us and not against us!

The thrilling news from the empty tomb is that life has triumphed over death! This is a message that dispels our fears and gives us the sure hope that because Christ lives, we shall live also (John 14:19). Alleluia! He is risen.  He is risen indeed!

 Dear friends, the truth is that our lives can’t help but be changed once we return from the reality of the empty tomb!  Once you see and know that the tomb is empty through God’s most Holy Word, faith begins to change you completely.  Because once “you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” [Rom. 10:9]

 That unconditional word of grace transforms us. It swoops us into Christ’s death, and then it gives us new life with Jesus within His resurrection. Within this relationship of love with God, His re-creating word justifies us and completely destroys our sinful past before God the Father. It sets us completely right and innocent before Him.  Our names have been recorded in the indelible ink of Christ’s blood within God’s book of life’ [Phil. 4:3]  But just like the woman who went so early to the tomb, we who now hear the Word, also remember and we are changed in the here and now; just as they were given heaven on earth, and exchanged their sorrow for joy, our lives also are changed as well.  Through the Word of life God daily leads us to live out our baptismal hope.  We are not among the dead but among the living.  Through Christ, God calls us every day to put to death our old sinful nature and the habits of sin, and work with the Holy Spirit, cultivating the new resurrected nature… a heavenly minded nature.  He is risen!  He is risen indeed!

 What a wonderful message we have been given.  But this message isn’t just for us; it has been given to us so that we will share it with everyone.  You see, neither you nor I could ever know anything about Christ, or believe in him and receive him as Lord, unless this Easter message was first offered to us and made real within our hearts through the preaching of the gospel and the witness of others through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Oh it’s true that all of the work for our salvation is finished and complete; Christ has acquired and won the treasure of salvation for us by his sufferings, death, and resurrection. But if this wonderful work of God had remained hidden, then none of us would have ever known about it; Christ would have died in vain and all would be lost for us. But to ensure that God’s greatest gift to this world would not remain buried and hidden, He has commanded that the Gospel Word be published, proclaimed, and witnessed to!  So always remember the truth of this Easter message and share it with everyone who will hear.  HE IS RISEN!  HE IS RISEN INDEED!