“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” [1 Peter 1:8]
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! When those words of joy were first spoken, they declared a truth; it was a truth that took all of Christ’s disciples, including the apostles by complete surprise. Jesus had warned them; He prepared them over and over again that He would come back. He had made it clear that it was His life to lay down into death and it was His to raise back up again, but all of them missed the meaning of His promise. But who would have understood? The truth is, in this life people just don’t come back from the dead. Isn’t it true, that there seems to be nothing as permanent as death?
I believe that our common experience tells us that…
Death is simply inescapable.
But Jesus Christ did rise from the dead. His power over death was declared over and over again throughout the Old Testament, and His resurrection is the very reason we have the New Testament; it’s the reason we have the Christian Church, and presumably, it’s the reason you are here this morning.
The day Jesus rose from the dead, He proved that He had power over sin, death, and the devil.
Easter Day took all of Jesus’ disciples by surprise, and it became the focus of their lives and the center of their thinking; it defined how they lived, and how they died. It became the very center of their beings. Christ had escaped death and brought new hope for the world and new life for those who would trust His cross and the message of the empty tomb.
To St. Peter, Jesus’ resurrection was life changing. You can hear his joyful exclamation of it’s effect on him in the opening words of our Epistle lesson [1 Peter 1:3-9]: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”.
Imagine with me, that Jesus has allowed St. Peter to return from the dead for just an hour simply to tell his story one more time, in the flesh. Now imagine that we’ve been allowed to ask him any thing. Maybe we might ask him why the resurrection was so central in all of his writings. Now let’s allow him to answer that question and tell his story.
“Well, to understand why the resurrection is so important to me, you’d have to remember just who I was before Jesus rose from the dead; you’d have to remember the terrible things that I did.”
“I guess you could say that I was the spokesman for the other disciples. I was with Jesus from the beginning when He called me away from the family fishing business. I dropped everything and followed Him. Oh, how I loved the fact that the Holy Spirit first spoke through me, in order to declare that Jesus was the Christ, the very Son of God. Later, I even bragged that if all of the others left Him, I never would. Then when Jesus really needed me, I the great Peter let Him down! On the night when Jesus was betrayed and arrested, I the strong and dependable Peter denied Jesus three times, and I ran away and hid for fear of loosing my own life, just as Jesus warned I would.”
“Three times—I still feel sick to my stomach when I think about it—three times I the great Peter denied my Lord. I denied Him while He was getting ready to die for my sins. And while he hung there dying, John and the women were there with Him, but I did not have the stomach or the faith to watch it. You see, I had pinned all of my hopes on Jesus, and now He was dead. But even worse, instead of being thankful to God for being a part of Jesus’ life, I felt nothing but bitter shame and a sense that my entire life had been a complete waste of time and an utter failure.”
“But you can imagine how my life changed when the women came back from the tomb with the unbelievable news. Jesus was alive. He’s risen! At first I did not dare believe it, but then they spoke a message from the angels, and it changed everything. They said that Jesus told them to tell the disciples and Peter to meet Him in Galilee. Think about what those Words meant to me—and Peter! At that very moment, every doubt was erased from my worried mind and I not only believed that Jesus had defeated death, but that He truly was my God and my Savior! From that point on I was a changed man, I was forgiven, and the entire world had changed, and for the first time I knew that my eternal future was set and certain.”
At this point we might be tempted to ask Peter what he means, when he says that the entire world had changed, and that he knew that his eternal future was set and certain. Well, let’s let Peter answer us in his own words from verse 4 of our epistle reading: “(Friends, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have been born again to a living hope) to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us.” This is a strong declaration of faith; it’s a God given faith that learns to acknowledge our sins of the past, but then by grace, that same gift of faith teaches us to let go of the past and then simply trust in the completed work of Jesus Christ; a completed work that has given us a new identity as one who is “born again” for an eternal life in heaven.
Our sinful flesh fights this truth, as it attempts to set our eyes on anything else other than Christ’s cross and empty tomb.
Isn’t it true that we would rather think about how Peter let Jesus down instead of how we ourselves have abandoned Him time and time again? Isn’t it easier to see the darkness of Peter’s regrets rather than looking at our own darkness? Just as Peter was tempted to go back into his old life of fishing rather than waiting on Jesus, haven’t we also been tempted to go back to our old sinful ways, in fact haven’t we actually done that many times?
And when we go back to our sinful ways, isn’t it true that like Peter, we too have felt that we were letting the best of who we were, that is our relationship with Jesus just slip away through our fingers? Doesn’t it become easier to feed on our failures, that is our sinful weakness rather than repent; turn to Jesus in confession of those failures? Don’t we too, at times feel like Jesus has abandoned us?
When our marriage fails, when our family ties are falling apart, when our financial base has seemingly been destroyed, when addiction rears it’s ugly ahead once again, or when death takes the very one we love the most, aren’t we too tempted to run from God and His Church, or lash out at Him in anger? But then like Peter, we too receive the call to come to the empty tomb, and then everything is changed. Jesus is alive, not dead. Jesus is with us in His Word and Sacraments, He has not left us as orphans. Mankind’s greatest enemies, your greatest enemies, sin, death, and the devil have been defeated and destroyed.
On the cross we see how our enemies were defeated. Jesus died to save sinners, all sinners. He died to take away Peter’s sins, and He died to take away your sins. Upon the cross, the Son of God Himself made full payment for our sins. But in the empty tomb, we see how the power of our enemies has forever been removed from our lives. The empty tomb proves to us who have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, that when we were washed clean in the waters of our baptism, the empty tomb is also our reality. In our baptism Jesus resurrection becomes our resurrection. Death has been defeated and the dark wall that divides this life from our eternal life has been penetrated. Or, as St. Peter puts it in verses 4 and 5…
Our eternal destiny has been assured (as) “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for (us who have been baptized), (and) by God’s power (we) are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” What these Words declare to us is simply this, no lie of the devil and no attacks from this sinful world can jeopardize our salvation and our eternal home with Jesus, because nothing can put Jesus back into the grave and nothing can undo what God has done for you upon the cross and within the waters of your baptism. No enemy can cheat you out of your inheritance; it can’t be stolen or destroyed. It is being kept for you by the fact that Christ has risen!
Now we could end our message right here and most of us would go home happy and at peace, but some of us would not. Some of us still have questions. And I believe that the primary question that holds us back in sorrow and prevents us to leave in joy is this: “If Christ’s resurrection makes such a difference in our lives, and since the future holds such glory, and since Christ has overcome all of His enemies, then why is there so much suffering in this world? Why is there so much suffering in “MY” world?” Now to this question, let’s let St. Peter answer once again in verse 6 from our Epistle lesson…
“Yes it is true, we still experience pain and sorrow just as every other person does in this world, but for we Christians, these experiences are only temporary.”
“And while we go through these things, we keep rejoicing in the hope of our inheritance because the Holy Spirit reminds us that “though now for a little while we may have to suffer various trials, (this is necessary so) that the genuineness of our faith, which is more precious than gold (may become evident to all), a faith, which though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
You see friends, Jesus is not only with you, through the Holy Spirit He is working in you. He is working to transform you everyday into what you will be for eternity, holy, perfect, and righteous. He is transforming your character. And like old Job, we may at times be asked to go through some times of testing so that others can see our faith in Jesus and the transforming power of the cross and the empty tomb. As Jesus allows us to enter into these times of testing He is also calling the attention of others to notice how we handle these times, but also how God brings us through them. And as we pass through these times, we prove to others that our love for God is not fleeting and we are not fair weathered friends of Jesus Christ, but we have been transformed forever unto eternal life.
The resurrection tells us that suffering, our suffering is only temporary. We can make it through those periods, because we are not alone. We can pass through it and not let it destroy us or take away our faith in Jesus Christ. Even if the suffering drives us to the very door of death, we know for certain that beyond that door our risen Lord Jesus Christ is waiting to receive us. We who have been baptized into the cross and empty tomb of Jesus, have been baptized into His death and into His resurrection. We who trust Him may loose a skirmish sometimes, that is we may fall into temptation and sin, but we are not defeated, because Jesus has won the war. Jesus’ resurrection tells us that suffering can never have the last word for those of us who belong to Him.
As we close our message this morning, I think that we should address one more challenge to living out our lives as baptized Christians, and it is this. We can read our Bibles, especially the stories about St. Peter and the others that were in Jesus’ inner circle and think, “I wish that I could have known Jesus and learned to love Him like they did.” And to that, I believe that St. Peter would say… “What do you mean youmwish?! You can. That’s the point of the resurrection. He lives now as certainly and as personally as He did then. You see Him by faith, which is the most precious gift of God that you could ever receive. Through the Word of God, all of it “has been written so that you would believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God” by faith. Listen friend, your vision of Jesus is more precious than mine. I believed in Him because He allowed me to be with Him for three years; He allowed me to touch, handle and eat with Him after His resurrection. But you believe because of the awesome power of God that has filled you through His supernatural gift of faith. “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
Dear friends, the resurrection of Jesus is the gospel.
It’s the gospel because He assures you that soon enough you to will follow Him and rise from the dead. Your own resurrection will be like Jesus resurrection in that it will be the final act of God upon your old flesh which proves, that God loves you so much that He has done everything that needs to be done to save you. It’s no wonder that Peter declared, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The resurrection meant to him that we had a sure inheritance, encouragement in suffering, and the joy of constant friendship with our Savior, Jesus Christ.
For Peter the resurrection was an historical fact. He was there when it happened and it changed the history of sinful men and women. Christ is risen… that is history. Christ is risen for you… that is your part in history in the making that only you can witness to. Now go out and tell anyone who will listen this gospel message that includes them too… AMEN!