Archive for the ‘Isaiah 25:6-9’ Category

The Stone is Rolled Away!

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

“And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back-it was very large.” [Mark 16:3-4]

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INRODUCTION: Around the year 1930, a Communist leader named Nikolai Bukharin journeyed from Moscow to Kiev, Ukraine.  His mission was to address a huge assembly with the aim of advancing communism. His subject for the evening was atheism. For a solid hour he aimed his heavy artillery at Christianity, hurling arguments and ridiculing the Christian faith. At last he was finished and viewed what seemed to be the smoldering ashes of men’s faith. “Are there any questions?” Bukharin demanded. A solitary man arose and asked permission to speak.  He mounted the platform and moved close to the Communist leader. The audience was breathlessly silent as the man surveyed them first to the right, then to the left. At last he shouted the ancient Orthodox greeting, “CHRIST IS RISEN!” The vast assembly arose as one man and the response came crashing like the sound of an avalanche, “HE IS RISEN INDEED!”  

The tomb where Jesus was laid on “Good Friday” is now a completely different tomb… it requires a different type of watchman.  It does not need a cemetery caretaker or a company of Roman soldiers assign to protect the dead but an angel from the realms of light and life. The servant-angel appears first; then his Master will soon be seen. This is the signal that a new time has come; an era where heaven and earth are now joined, because Jesus Christ, our Savior, has risen!  CHRIST HAS RISEN!  The wall of separation has fallen; God has reconciled Himself to sinful men; the sacrifice of the Son has been accepted by the Father. This is the supreme Easter truth…CHRIST HAS RISEN!

I. St. Mark tells us that it was very early in the morning after the Sabbath was over, while it was still dark, when the women went out on an errand of love; they would finish anointing the body of their Lord.  The work of anointing His dead body was only hastily done on Friday late afternoon, and now it must be completed.  Some of them had witnessed Jesus death…they witnessed His passion for them, and now it was time for them to give to Him, even if in death, their own passion… their own service of love.  As they arrived at the tomb the sun had just risen, and they were faced with a problem, one that they had not thought of before they set out: Who would roll the great stone away from the entrance of the tomb?  (They did not know that there was a Roman guard assigned to protect the grave from tampering).  They probably blamed themselves for not having thought of the huge stone before.  “How could we have been so stupid?!  We should have insisted that Peter, John, or one of the other men come with us!”

The other gospel accounts tell us that before they arrived at the tomb, angels appeared with the power of heaven and hurled the stone from its groove and that it landed flat upon the ground.  We also learn from these other accounts that the Roman guard witnessed this and trembled with fear, latter running for their own lives.  As the women arrived, they discovered the stone resting in front of the tomb and they were afraid that grave robbers has disturbed the resting place and the body of their Lord!  Suddenly and angel appeared to them, sitting quite comfortably upon the stone, and he had a miraculous story to tell and an even greater mission: “Don’t be alarmed.  You’re looking for Jesus, right?  Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified and died, well He’s not here!  He has risen!  Go inside the tomb and see the place where they laid Him.”  And they did go inside; they noticed that the grave close were exactly as they would be if the body were still laying inside, but there was no body!  The angel continued, “Go tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee.  There you will see him, just like He told you.”  Now they remembered.  How could they be so ignorant?  After all, the Lord had told them about this so many times.  He said that He would rise from the dead, and indeed He has risen!

II. Why didn’t the women know that Christ would be resurrected?  Jesus continually explained that He would suffer, die, and be resurrected in many different ways to them.  Why was the resurrection a surprise?  Why did it take an angel with the power of heaven moving the stone away to get them to remember and believe?  Jesus must rise from the dead because His own Word promised that this would happen.  Jesus could not be contained by a tomb because He was the very Son of God.  True to His Word, on the third day He did rise from the dead, and with His glorified body He immediately left the sealed tomb in order to prove to our dying, sinful world that God did love us, and that through His passion, His very life, death, and resurrection He reconciled all sinful men to His Father.  Now through His love we can now experience the love of God. 

Dear friends, the stone was not rolled away so that Jesus could leave the tomb; but rather it was rolled away so that the women and everyone else could see that He had been resurrected and was no longer confined by a grave!  The stone was rolled away because Jesus knew that the sinful flesh of His disciples still could not fathom the power of God that was His because He was God’s only begotten Son! 

The stone has been rolled away for us as well.  What are some stones that prevent us from seeing the resurrection power of God in our lives?  For some, perhaps it is a sinful life that you feel prevents God from loving you or accepting you.  “Do not be alarmed.  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified for you!  See the place where they laid him.  He has risen!”  For others, perhaps it is time.  There is only so much time in a day and so many days in a week.  You work so hard, and you just can’t seem to find time to rest.  Sunday is the only day you can do that.  To this God’s Word reminds you of what Jesus said: “Come unto me you who are weary and I will give you rest!”  Friend, learn to rest in the Word of God and the company of others who have learned to do the same.  This morning, God is asking you to hear the words of the angel and let it be your truth, “Do not be alarmed.  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified for you!  See the place where they laid him.  He has risen!”

Or perhaps, you are more like Peter.  Something in your past is making you feel like God no longer wants you as part of His family…part of His mission team.  If so, then remember the angel who told the women to go and tell His disciples even Peter that He still loves you and that you are still part of the team.  Dear friend, Peter denied Him three times, but it could have been 3,000 x 3,000 times and it would not have mattered in the least.  Jesus died for Peter and He died for you!  Return to your first love.  Return to Him who first loved you!  He still wants you in the family and He still wants you as part of His church!

ILLUS: The story is told about an organist named Carol. She was an outstanding musician, but she did something no organist should ever do.  She overslept on Easter morning and missed the sunrise service. She was so embarrassed. Of course, the minister and the church forgave her. They teased her about it a little, but it was done lovingly and in good fun. However, the next Easter, her phone rang at 5:00 in the morning. Jolted awake by the loud ringing, she scrambled to answer it.  It was the pastor, and he said, “Carol, it’s Easter morning! The Lord is risen! … And I suggest you do the same!” The message is clear: We too can be resurrected. If your spiritual life has lost its passion, and you don’t feel close to God like you once did, then God’s Word makes it clear to us this morning, Jesus Christ is sharing his resurrection with us right now. He rises, and so can we. We too can have new life.  We too can make a new start. We too can rise out of those tombs that try to imprison us!  

III. There is one last lesson to be learned in our time together this morning and it can be introduced with this question: Why were the women the first to learn of Jesus’ resurrection and why were they the first to see Him alive?  Another way to ask this is why weren’t the remaining 11 apostles the first to experience Jesus’ resurrection?  A learned Biblical scholar long ago offered five reasons.  He said: God chooses the weak; overwhelmed most by their sorrow, they should be first in Christ’s joy; the presence of the women at the tomb silenced the Jewish lie that the disciples stole the body; as death came by woman, so salvation and life should be announced by her; and finally God wanted to reward the woman’s active love. But why is our learned scholar ignoring the obvious? It was the women alone who went to the tomb on Sunday morning, the women, and none of the men, not even John. They weren’t detained by fear or grief.  They weren’t allowing their busy schedule to stop them from serving God.  They made time because God was worthy of their time.  They continued to love their Lord because He first loved them.  This is why they were honored by being made the messengers of the Gospel to the men. If the Eleven men had also gone out early that morning, the story would have been different, but the love of these women receives its fitting reward. 

CONCLUSION: Are there any men here this morning who might learn a thing or two from the experience of 11 other Christian brothers who lived more than 2000 year ago.  If so, let them mentor you.  Let them speak to you and teach you about how life changing a real relationship of service to Jesus Christ can be.  You can meet with them any time you like.  They are always waiting to teach and guide you.  There words and experiences inspired and guided by Jesus Himself have all been recorded for you in the New Testament.  Let God teach you through those who went before you.  Let this be the day that you live a life that celebrates the fact that the stone has been rolled away.  Let this be the day that you meet your risen Lord and say with sincerity and excitement: CHRIST HAS RISEN FOR ME!

The Invitation

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

  Twenty Second Sunday in Pentecost, October 12, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church. San Diego, CA
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 Our Gospel lesson this morning is another parable that comes to us in a string of parables Jesus used to teach about the kingdom of heaven.  In each story, his audience was forced to find themselves in one of the characters (usually the one that pridefully rejected God’s kingdom and His Messiah).  In our reading this morning Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who threw a wedding party and then told his servants to go out into the streets and invite anyone they could find so that they could celebrate with the king.  It’s a wonderful story that illustrates how badly God wants everyone to turn to Him, on His terms and enter into a relationship of love and trust.  It is a story that invites us all to be friends with God, children of God through Jesus Christ…but..there is tragedy in this story too! Sadly, Jesus story teaches us that many will reject God’s invitation.

There are three classes of persons who reject God’s Invitation.

First there are those who are too busy.  In Jesus day, people were much the same as our day.  There were businesses to run, farms to tend, jobs to report to, and families to raise, so many of his listeners would have identified with those who were just too busy to attend the kings banquet.  But this was not just any banquet; no this was a banquet that would honor the Son of the King and His bride.  Do they dare turn down the king’s invitation?  Yes, because there just wasn’t time.

Then there are those who are offended and angered by the invitation
because it represented their lack of authority; these people represented the religious establishment of Jesus day.  In the story, it made no sense for these people to get angry and abuse, even kill the servants that thought they were bringing “good news”.  But that is exactly what they did, and that is precisely what Jesus was telling the religious leaders that they were doing and would soon do by persecuting, punishing, and even killing his disciples. 
Finally, there are those who respond to the invitation in a self-serving manner. “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment.  And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.” [Matt. 22:11-12]  And he was speechless!  What a sad state of mind to be in when approached by the King!  He knew the rules, one simple rule actually… “In order to sit at my table, you must wear the attire that I provide.  Friend, you chose to come into my presence on your own terms, and because of that you have rejected my hospitality and a chance to enter into a friendship with me.”  The man couldn’t argue, because the king was right.  The king is always right, because you see the king in Jesus’ story represents God the Father.  And the son of the King is none other than Jesus Himself.  And the feast well, that’s a little different, because you see; it represents a couple of things. 

First, it represent the great feast that will be held on our Lord’s return, on the Last Day, but it is also speaking about the great feast of eternal life that God has lovingly provided for us right now, here in this church; a feast that we call the Divine Worship.  At this feast we gather as one body to hear the life-giving words of Jesus; we gather to be baptized and to remember our baptism; we gather to not just confess our sins to our Lord, but to hear His sweet words of forgiveness…the absolution…the obliteration of those sins; and finally, we gather to feast upon the sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood, which is served to us upon the banquet table of His altar.  But as the words of our liturgy say, this is a “foretaste of the feast to come.”  But this feast of God’s Word and Sacrament is a REAL heavenly feast nonetheless, for as John the Baptist and even our Epistle reading this morning states, “The (kingdom of the) Lord is at hand.” But what kind of feast is this Divine Worship?  What does our Lord say?  “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4) and again He says, “I am the bread of life; unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:35, 53-54).  Yes friends, the kingdom of heaven has come to us and it is continually coming to us through the real presence of Jesus Christ, through His Word and Sacraments.   

 Now what do we make of this special garment that Jesus spoke of in the story? 

Well, it had to be supplied by the king.  I’m sure that the man in the story chose to wear his finest suit of clothes.  He probably paid a lot of money for that suit.  It represented his hard work and probably his style.  What’s the sense of having good things if you can’t use them, right?  I’ll bet the king will be impressed!

Wrong, at least not in Jesus story, because you see the clothes that the man insisted of wearing represented his own way; it represented a works righteousness that God will always reject.  The prophet Zephaniah spoke of this strange garment, which was foreign to God in this way, “Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests.  And on the day of the Lord’s sacrifice- “I will punish the officials and the king’s sons and all who array themselves in foreign attire.””  Friends, there is only one attire that is not foreign to God and if we want to understand what this garment is, then we need look no farther than the baptismal font. 

It was at the font of life giving water where the command went out to all of God’s servants to seek out anyone they found and call them to the feast of victory, the feast of salvation for our God, Jesus Christ.   It was there at the baptismal font that your King plucked you out of your life of sin and death and washed you white as snow in the blood of the lamb, the blood of His Son, your Savior.  It was there at the font where the general invitation to anyone found became a special invitation of love for you.  It was there at the baptismal font that Your King gave you your own very special garment of salvation.  St. Paul puts it this way, “for as many of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” [Gal. 3:27]  You have been clothed in Christ!  This is the same garment that Isaiah mentions when he says, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

What happened to the man in Jesus story who wouldn’t wear the right garment?  Well, this man and all of the others did not fare well. Jesus Words are clear, “Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [v. 13] Friends there can be no doubt that this man’s punishment was eternal separation from God!  Because when he chose to reject God’s robe of righteousness, he also chose to reject God’s invitation for salvation.  ILLUS: If you were told that you must enter an area that was contaminated with disease and sickness, but you would be in no danger if you wore a special biological suit and respirator, would you reject that personal protective equipment and go in as you choose, or would quickly put it on, wear it properly and be thankful that someone was looking out for you? 

Friends, we must learn to use our baptism in the same way!  In our baptism, God has clothed us with Christ’s holy, perfect nature; He has clothed us with Christ!  He has given us Christ’s protective suit if you will, to wear in our baptism.  If we will simply approach our own baptisms as a gift of love from God, and if we will just cling to it and allow it to save us, comfort us, and change us, we need never fear being thrown out of God’s presence where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!  But aren’t there times that we too have rejected God’s invitation by neglecting to wear our garment of faith in Christ?  Haven’t we allowed God to take second place, even third or fourth place in our lives?  Yes, we have, if we are honest with ourselves…but the invitation still stands for us to repent and return to God’s love and forgiveness, for remember this is but a foretaste of the feast to come.  The final feast will be when our Lord returns or when we go to him after our last day on this earth, and then it will be too late to put on Christ.  Until then, we gather at houses of worship, we gather here at Trinity, and we cry out to God, “create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation and uphold me with Thy free spirit.” [Psalm 51]  Oh how sincerely those words pour out of a heart that realizes it has been living without being clothed in Christ!  How earnest, is the cry of a heart that knows it needs forgiveness because of sinful living!  Restore unto me the joy of Your salvation O, God.

Dear friends, this Wedding Feast we call the Divine Service has one purpose, and that is to re-clothe us in Christ and to restore our joy and confidence in the truth  that God still loves us and He has forgiven us! God has ordained worship so that it will strengthen your faith.  Dear friends, Jesus delights to answer the prayer of a repentant heart. He would never cast you out into the darkness. He hears your sorrowful cries and He answers you with mercy. He answers with His forgiveness and salvation. He answers us by clothing us in His righteousness.  Friends, when you leave here this morning, once again restored with joy, let this be your confidence that God will never leave or forsake you in a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, so long as you are wearing His heavenly attire; so long as you are living out your faith in Jesus Christ, because God is working in your life, and because of His work, you are righteous, innocent, and blessed forever because you are wearing His wedding garment.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit…AMEN!