Early Easter morning, some women remembered the awful things of Friday—the death of Jesus—and that the usual preparation of a body had not been completed. So their action was to make their way, sadly and somewhat fearfully, to the tomb. They were fully expecting to find a body. They were not expecting a resurrection. Luke says, “And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” Jesus is gone. The only thing remaining from Friday were the linen cloths that wrapped His dead and lifeless body. And now, that body is gone – missing, stolen, dare I say it, resurrected. Regardless of what happened to Jesus’ body, the women were perplexed. How did the stone get rolled away? Who rolled the stone away? Who would be vile enough to take Jesus’ body from the tomb?
The women failed to understand what has happened. It took two men in dazzling apparel to convey what has taken place: “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.” Behold the man who died and who now lives. Behold, the man, Jesus, God and man, lives. He rises triumphantly from the dead and strolls out of the grave into His creation. Christ is no longer dead and lifeless as we remember Him from Friday. Now, He is risen from the dead, full of life, continuing to be who He has always been – the Lord of life.
As good news as it might be, God’s people forgot that Jesus would rise from the dead. The women forgot. The apostles forgot: “but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” How unfortunate that they forgot the resurrection! How unfortunate it is that you forget the resurrection. St. Paul tells the Corinthians,“If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” There were those in the Church that forgot the resurrection, that they were solely focused on the Jesus that lived and walked among them. He says prior to our Epistle reading, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” That’s the worst thing right there, to still be in our sins, separated from God, guilty of judgment, with no hope for eternity and little hope for the present.
But St. Paul goes on to talk about the importance of the resurrection for the future, for eternal life: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” The word firstfruits is very important, for it implies that there will be more to follow. As Christ was raised from the dead, so will those who are united with him by faith.
If you came today looking for the dead, then you’re in the wrong place. If you’re here this morning looking for the living, then you’re right where you need to be. Today we come to celebrate the fact that the greatest promise God ever made has come to fruition. The promise is of a Savior. The promise is of a Savior who was born into this world. The promise is of a Savior who lived in this world. The promise is of a Savior who died for this world. The promise is of a Savior who rose again for the sake of this world, for your sake. What was Jesus’ role? “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
There is a reason this is necessary. When you and I die, we die eternally. We do not survive death – we are annihilated by it. When we die, we remain dead. That’s the way it is, unless God chooses to do something to dispute the power of death. And He does just that with Christ. He has conquered death. He has destroyed sin and crushed Satan. With His life, death, and resurrection, He has rescued you from the grave. Although your sins should have made you die, and stay dead, yet Christ broke death’s power, so that you will live and rise to eternal life. Christ has been raised in the flesh so that you will be raised.
Christ is risen from the dead. He is risen before His people know it. He is risen before His people believe it. He is risen to give them faith and life; and so He is risen for you. But this you can know for sure – of this you can be certain: Christ has died and Christ is risen from the dead. You haven’t seen Him face to face yet, but He tells you it is so in His Word. Faith comes by hearing, not by seeing.
This is what makes our celebration today so very different from the many other celebrations taking place today. We don’t just gather to joyously commemorate a past victory, as awesome as it was. We don’t gather to commemorate the fact that once upon a time Jesus came and triumphed and then went back home to heaven where He now resides, far removed from us and our everyday lives. No, we gather today to celebrate the living, triumphant present-tense Immanuel King! We gather today to celebrate the marriage feast of the living and triumphant Bridegroom, who laid down His life for us and who today, in a very real and present-tense way, brings His victories over sin, death, and the devil to us to celebrate with us in our midst!
What we celebrate today is your salvation. You have a written guarantee of the resurrection of your body from your grave. You will not simply die and be gone. Some will wish that it were so, for they have forsaken God and rejected His gifts and chosen death and hell, like the leaders of the Jewish Church in the days of the first Easter. But those who believe the Gospel have a resurrection to life and joy and glory, not pain and sorrow and corruption without end. How are you going to respond? What does it mean that you will rise to eternal life? The question is not about defining terms, but how this truth transforms your life. What difference does it make? Does it mean anything to how you face and approach death? It should. It should change your fears to confidence. It should change your sorrows to comfort. He is risen – and we too shall rise. You shall rise again because Jesus has risen.
Do not be afraid, for the joy of Easter Sunday is not just that Jesus died and Jesus rose, but that Jesus died for you and Jesus rose for you. He has borne your sin to the cross, and He has suffered for it there. He has died your death and been laid in the tomb, but now the tomb is empty. So will yours be, for Christ is risen to raise you, too. He declares that He no longer holds your sins against you, because they are gone. He has taken them away in death, and He has not brought them back with His resurrection. So where your sins would confuse you as to God’s attitude toward you, whether or not He loves you, do not be afraid and have no doubt. If God has paid such a price as to sacrifice His own Son to redeem you, He has nothing but grace and mercy, love and life for you now.
St. Peter calls this the living hope that we have obtained through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. As Christ prevailed victoriously, so shall we. As Christ lived, so we live. Because Christ is awakened from the dead and is seated at the right hand of God and intercedes for us, so now nothing can divide us from the love of God: neither death nor life, neither angels nor kingdoms, nor strengths, neither present things nor future things, neither height nor depth, nor any other creature can separate us from the love of God in the crucified and risen Lord.
This is your inheritance, not because of anything you have done. No one is worthy of these awesome, infinite gifts of Christ, for all are sinners, from youngest to oldest. But all is given freely by Christ, the Firstborn from the dead, the Crucified One who lives and can nevermore die. He has given you everything. Christ has risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.