Sermon for April 22, 2012

Luke 24:36-49 (Third Sunday of Easter—Series B)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

April 22, 2012

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

Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Luke 24:

36As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them. 44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

They thought they saw a ghost.  That is how the followers of Jesus saw Him.  Only dead people’s spirits show up and “haunt.”  They had seen Jesus crucified.  They saw Him dead.  They saw Him buried.  Since a dead person doesn’t come back to life on their own, according to the disciples understanding, they must be seeing Jesus’ ghost.  There is no other logical explanation.

The natural mental and emotional faculties of sinful humans have no real way of comprehending the resurrection of Jesus.  Over the course of history, people have indeed been raised from the dead by someone else.  In 1 Kings 17 we are told that Elijah the prophet raised the Widow of Zarephath’s son.  Jesus Himself raised Jairus’ daughter who had just died and Lazarus who had been dead in the tomb four days.  But of someone raising themselves from the dead—it was unheard of.  To fallen humanity’s reason, the disciples had to have been seeing a spirit, a ghost.

Just as fallen humanity on its own cannot comprehend the bodily resurrection of Jesus we also cannot understand on our own that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world who accomplished salvation for us.  We are by nature spiritually blind, deaf, and dead to the ways, works, and words of God.  We read in Romans 8, “the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so.” (Rom 8:7 NAS)  The Bible compares our sin-corrupted human hearts to a hard stone (Ezk. 36:28), to a block of wood (Hosea 6:5), or to a wild ferocious beast (Ps. 73:22).  Martin Luther commented, “In temporal and external affairs, which concern nourishment and bodily needs, the human being is clever, intelligent, and up to a point industrious, but in spiritual and divine matters, which concern the soul’s salvation, the human being is like a pillar of salt, like Lot’s wife, indeed like a block of wood or a stone, like a lifeless statue, which needs neither eyes nor mouth, neither senses nor heart, inasmuch as this human being neither sees nor recognizes the dreadful, fierce wrath of God against sin and death.” (FC SD: II.19-20)

In other words, when it comes to the things of God like His Word, faith, forgiveness, and eternal life, our human eyes, minds, and hearts are by nature closed.  As with the disciples, human eyes are blind to the reality of Jesus’ presence even when He stands directly in sight.  Ears are deaf to His words even when He speaks them audibly.  This is what happens in our case, too, unless Jesus Himself heals the spiritual blindness and deafness caused by our fallen human nature.  Our eyes, ears, minds, and hearts must be opened and faith created by God in order for us to understand the mystery of the preaching of Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead for our forgiveness and everlasting life.

Jesus appeals first to His disciples’ physical senses.  He showed them the hands and the feet with the nail marks plainly visible.  He tells them to touch Him and see that He has flesh and bone.  Ghosts don’t!  Then Jesus ate a piece of broiled fish in their presence.  But that isn’t enough.  The disciples needed to know that not only was Jesus alive but what it means for Him to be alive.  Jesus had to open their spiritual eyes and ears.  He had to open their hearts, their minds, to the divine Word.  “These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that it is necessary to fulfill all the things written in the law of Moses and in the Prophets and in the Psalms concerning me.  Then He opened completely their minds to understand the Scriptures.  He spoke and explained to them, ‘Thus it stands written—the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day and to preach repentance to forgiveness of sins in His name in all the nations beginning from Jerusalem.’”

Jesus opened that which was closed by sin.  Jesus opened and completely explained the very Word of God written in the Old Testament Scriptures.  He illuminated the darkness of the disciples’ minds and hearts and showed them from the very pages of the Books of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms how it was supposed to go.  The Messiah-Savior, the Christ, was to suffer and die on a cross and to rise again on the third day.  And behold, it was so!  The Risen Lord Jesus stood in their midst as living proof of the fulfillment of the Scriptures so that repentance to the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed to all nations.

Jesus’ entire ministry was one of forgiveness.  Jesus absorbed the fallenness of creation and then released it from its bondage by His casting out demons, His healings, raising the dead, and the forgiveness of sins that He regularly announced to people.  During His whole journey to Jerusalem Jesus constantly demonstrated this forgiveness through His teachings and miracles.  And when in Jerusalem, our Lord accomplished the once-for-all release of the whole creation as He was lifted up on a cross.  Jesus took upon Himself, once-and-for-all, the totality of the world’s bondage to sin and death.  Then He buried it in the tomb and left it to decay as He Himself rose from the dead on the third day.

Jesus Christ is indeed risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.  That means there is forgiveness of sins for you.  Jesus shed His blood to win your release from all your sin and guilt.  He rose again leaving your sin, guilt, and death behind in the grave to rot away.  Jesus now comes to you in His Word and in His Sacrament.  He comes with forgiveness and says to you in the Gospel, “Peace be with you.”  He stands in your midst with His Word and with His Body and Blood in the bread and wine and greets you with peace saying, “I AM myself, here to forgive, to strengthen, and to uphold you in the very gift of faith I have given you through the Holy Spirit.”

In Holy Baptism, the Father and the Son have sent us the promised Holy Spirit who guarantees the abiding presence of Christ with us.  The Holy Spirit bestows on us through the water and Gospel Word of Baptism all the gifts made possible by Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection—faith in Christ as Lord and Savior, forgiveness of sins, eternal life, salvation, and rescue from death and the devil.  And having given us His gifts through the power of the Holy Spirit, He sends us.

As Jesus’ forgiven disciples, filled with the Holy Spirit, we are now the messengers sent to proclaim Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection to others.  You also are witness of these things through God’s Holy Word.  Our eyes, ears, hearts, and minds have been completely opened by Christ through His Spirit so that we who have received His Word of salvation now share that Word.  It is a Word of salvation that is “for you,” whoever that “you” is with whom you speak about Jesus Christ.

The work of the Church—preaching repentance to forgiveness in Jesus’ name—is an extension of Jesus’ own work.  It is Jesus’ work that He does, but He does it through His Church.  And you and I are that Church, believers in Jesus Christ who have received from Him forgiveness and release from death and sin.  And so I remind you again of the Easter Challenge.  Speak about Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins to one person who doesn’t know the living Lord and Savior.  By the power of the Holy Spirit working in you, open the Scriptures to them so that through your testimony, they too might see the hands and the feet of Christ marked with the nails.  Open to them the Scriptures, preaching repentance to the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name.  Open the Scriptures and share the peace of God in Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.


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