Sermon for Easter, March 31, 2013

1 Corinthians 15:19-26 (The Resurrection of Our Lord—Series C)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

March 31, 2013

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

Our text is the Epistle Lesson, 1 Corinthians 15:19-26:

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

             What’s in it for me?  That’s a question we ask quite often, whether verbalized or kept to our own private thoughts.  What’s in it for me if I help dad with the lawn?  What’s in it for me if I take that job on?  What’s in it for me if I clean my room?  Or maybe today we ask, “Easter, what’s in it for me?”

            Easter.  It isn’t about what society celebrates.  Easter is not about completing a custom, not about fulfilling an obligation to go to church one more time in a year—the other time being Christmas.  Easter is not about the Easter bunny, although he’s nice.  Easter is not about baskets full of chocolates and candy, although those are really nice.  Perhaps you’ve seen this picture floating around the Internet and on Facebook.  It’s a spoof on the old Trix cereal commercial where children tell the Trix Rabbit, “Silly Rabbit!  Trix are for kids.”  In this picture, children are telling the Easter bunny, “Silly Rabbit!  Easter is for Jesus.” 

            Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus.  It’s about the historical fact that Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the very Son of God, is not dead and in the grave.  When the women went to the tomb of Jesus very early in the morning of the first day of the week, the stone was rolled away before they got there.  Luke, the physician who loves details, says that they did not find of the body of the Lord Jesus.  Could the body of Jesus been stolen?  No.  Remember that Pontius Pilate had the tomb sealed with the official seal of the Roman Governor.  He, at the request of the chief priests, posted a guard of Roman soldiers.  It was these Roman guards who were among the first human witnesses of the resurrection, for they reported what had taken place and were paid money by the chief priests to lie about it.  When the women arrived at the grave, finding no body, they did find two angels, asking them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  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: 5-7) 

            What’s more, the Risen Jesus appeared openly to His disciples after His resurrection.  In fact, on Sunday evening of the day He rose, Jesus appeared to the disciples behind locked doors, standing among them and saying, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)  He appeared to the two disciples walking along the road to Emmaus. (Luke 24)  St. Paul, who also saw the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, wrote at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1Cor. 15:3-8)

            So Easter is about the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  But, back to our question, “What’s in it for me?”  What’s in the resurrection of Jesus for me?  Let’s work now on answering that question. 

            The resurrection of Jesus from the dead proves a few things to us.  First, Jesus’ resurrection proves that He is the Son of God.  Romans 1:4, “[He] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.”  Jesus’ resurrection also proves that His doctrine, His teaching, is true.  In the announcement of the angels to the women at the tomb we have already heard how Jesus said that His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead were going to happen, and look, they did!  The empty tomb is living proof!  The resurrection of Jesus proves to us that God the Father accepted the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for the reconciliation of the world.  We read God’s Word in Romans 4 and 5, “[Christ] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. . . . If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.” (Rom. 4:25; 5:10)  That’s all well and good, I suppose.  From Jesus’ cross we receive the forgiveness of our sins.  We are no longer God’s enemies, no longer under His wrath and judgment.  And where there is forgiveness of sins there is also eternal life and salvation.  But . . . what about death?  People still die.  Christians, believers in Jesus, die.  I know, I’ve been at their bedsides and their gravesides.  And so have you.  We know from God’s Word that death is the rightful punishment against sin.  It is a hostile and destructive force.  As long as people continue to die as the wages of their sin, inherited from Adam, who rebelled against the Creator, God’s good and gracious will for His creation is not yet brought to completion.  But the resurrection of Jesus changes that. 

Jesus’ resurrection proves to us that, even though we die, yet shall we live.  Because of Jesus’ work done on the cross to remove our sins, and because of His resurrection from the dead, all believers in Jesus will rise to eternal life.  Jesus promised in the Upper Room before His betrayal and arrest, “Because I live, you also will live.”  And in our Epistle text today we read that, “In fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” 

            Do not doubt, dear sisters and brothers in Christ, what you get from the resurrection of Christ.  Christ Jesus is not the only one who would rise from the dead.  He is but the “firstfruits.”  What a striking image that is lost to us.  On the Sunday after the Passover the Israelites brought the sheaf of firstfruits to the Lord as a sign that the whole harvest belonged to Him.  Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples on Thursday.  On Friday, He was crucified, died, and was buried.  Today is Sunday, the Sunday after the Passover, and the Lord Jesus Himself acts as the sheaf of firstfruits, a pledge and guarantee that the whole “harvest” of believers in Christ would be physically raised just as He was. 

            Through one man’s disobedience (Adam’s), the tragedy of human suffering and death became the common lot of us all.  It was fitting, then, that it would be through the obedience of another man, the second Adam, Jesus Christ, that resurrection and life would come to all people.  We need to appreciate that Christ’s resurrection was not only for His own benefit, but that through faith in Him the resurrection from the dead becomes the destiny of all believers.  Just as Adam was the head of the old humanity, so that his fall into sin left a legacy of sin and death to us all, so Christ stands as the head of the new humanity to be made alive in him.  To use Martin Luther’s analogy from the birth of people and animals, “after [the head] is born, the whole body follows easily.”  So Christ, the head of the Church is raised, and His body of believers follows in their own resurrections.

            Because you and I have received the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, we are guaranteed eternal life because of the resurrection of Jesus.  Not only is it true, then, that when believers die, our souls are immediately with Christ in heaven, but it is also true that, because Jesus rose from the dead, we will rise from the dead also!  And this will happen on the Last Day, the day of Christ’s Coming!

            So we must be patient.  The end is not yet.  Our loved ones, and someday perhaps even you and I, must still rest in the grave for a time.  But everything will certainly happen in its proper order.  Christ’s resurrection is the first great step, the firstfruits holding the promise of everything else.  Then His resurrection yeast will work through the whole “churchly lump” as those who belong to Jesus by faith alone will be raised when He descends from heaven on the Last Day—the Day of Resurrection.  

And death is destroyed as the last enemy.  After all of Christ’s people have been raised to life at His Second Coming, there will be no more death.  We read from Revelation 20, “And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur . . . and . . . will be tormented day and night forever and ever. . . . Then Death and [the grave] were thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev 20:10, 14)  The result, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  (Rev. 21:4)

            Easter, what’s in it for you?  A huge promise and an eternal, everlasting guarantee!

–  The guarantee that Jesus’ death on the cross purchased and won your complete forgiveness from all your sins. 

–  The guarantee that Jesus is indeed the living Savior who rose from the dead in triumph over death and the grave.

–  The guarantee that when you fall asleep in death, your soul will be with Christ in heaven, awaiting the complete destruction of the last enemy, death.

–  The guarantee that you will rise again from the dead, just as Jesus did, when He comes again and death is destroyed.

Then you will live forever with all believers in Jesus, in resurrected body and soul, forever and ever in the new heaven and the new earth He will create just for you, His people.  That’s what you get out of Easter.  Amen. 

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