Midweek Lenten Sermon for April 6, 2011

Sermon: The Miraculous Raising of the Saints from Death

(Matthew 27:52–53)


In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text for today/tonight is Matthew 27: 52-53, “The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.”

Are you a curious person?  There was a lady whose curiosity was really peaked by our text.  Several times she asked her pastor questions about the text.  All he could tell her is that he couldn’t say anything over and above what Scripture says.  We are not told who “the saints” were, how many, whether they went back to their homes or walked the streets, whether they appeared once or many times, how long they lived, or whether they experienced death a second time.  Over the years, several others have undoubtedly asked questions about this text.  It seems like it is a natural for peaking our curiosity.

The people who were raised were no doubt believers in Christ when they died.  What a testimony these risen saints would have made about Christ to their family members and their neighbors.  But I cannot say they were believers with absolute certainty.  As I said, we are not told who exactly they were, how many, whether they went to their homes or walked the streets, whether they appeared once or many times, how long they lived, or whether they experienced death a second time.  In short, I really cannot say anything with certainty over and above what that pastor told the lady in his congregation.

One messianic Web site had something interesting to say.  Apparently there was a belief among the Jews in Jesus’ day that when the Messiah would come, bodily resurrections of the dead could be expected.  Assuming that this is true, the bodily resurrections of these people would have made a powerful witness to Jesus as being the Messiah.

The Web site of our The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod includes the following question and answer:

Question: “Could someone please elaborate on Matthew 27:52–53?  I don’t recall it ever being addressed in any of my Sunday School classes. It seems like a pretty significant event!”

Answer: “The significance of the event is well summarized by one of our LCMS New Testament theologians, the late Dr. Martin Franzman, who wrote, ‘The saints proceeding from their tombs and appearing in the Holy city indicates that Christ’s death is victory over death, that he is the firstborn from the dead.’  Matthew’s mention of this event, of course, was not intended to satisfy our curiosity about the details of what this event might have entailed at a personal level, but to impress on all readers in subsequent times that Christ is the Victor over death and that his resurrection guarantees our own.”

One thing we can say for certain is that these resurrections are connected with the death of Christ. For we read: “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit.  And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.”

Web sites also had these comments:   “How ironic that at the moment of Christ’s death, death loses its sting and is swallowed up in victory.”  These resurrections “point back to the sufficiency of Christ’s work, and forward to the future resurrection of all believers.”

This is supported by a countless number of Scripture verses. The following are a few:

•     In 1 Peter 3:18, we read: “Christ . . . suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.”

•     In 1 John 1:7, we read: “The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

•     In Hebrews 10:10, we read: “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

•     In 1 Peter 2:24, we read:  “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”

•     In 2 Corinthians 5:21, we read: “For our sake [God the Father] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Another writer wrote that these resurrections foreshadow the resurrections we in Christ will enjoy. St. Paul wrote the following in 1 Corinthians 15:50–58:

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.  Behold! I tell you a mystery.  We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not vain.”

So let us lay aside our curiosity for curiosity’s sake, and receive God’s Word of truth that Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.  Live now by faith in Jesus, looking forward to the day of our resurrection when we will live with Christ eternally in body and soul.  Amen.


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