Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Real Question About Death

The Resurrection of Our Lord
Easter Day
March 27, 2016
We’re glad it’s here, aren’t we? We have gone through six weeks of Lent. We have meditated on and pondered the suffering and death of Jesus this past week in Holy Week. But today it’s all about rejoicing! It’s Easter! Celebration is the order of the day. Today is not about somber reflection but exultation in the risen Lord.

The Gospel reading today shows us this. The angel says there’s no need to be afraid. Jesus is not here, He has been raised.

At the same time, there’s something the angel brings up that almost seems out of place. He brings up the crucifixion. He doesn’t just say that Jesus was dead but now He’s alive. He brings up to the women that they are seeking Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified one. There’s something about Jesus suffering and dying on the cross that is resonant with the proclamation and the fact of the Resurrection.

The apostle Paul says in 1Corinthians 1 that we preach Christ crucified. This is in the same letter where he goes on for a whole chapter laying out the necessity of Jesus rising from the dead and what comes from that. Namely, our resurrection from death.

The angel stands at the tomb. The women have come there expecting to see the dead body of Jesus. They had seen Him die on the cross. They had seen Him being placed in the tomb. Now that they have returned the angel shows them that the one they are seeking is the one who was crucified. He is the one who had been laying here, dead. But He isn’t here any longer because He has been raised. The crucified one is the living one. In Galatians 3 Paul passionately defends the Gospel against those who seek salvation apart from Jesus, saying, “Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.”

In fact, when it comes to proclaiming the Gospel and resting on the only certainty there is for salvation, Paul exclaims later on in chapter 6, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” The apostles, after Jesus ascended into heaven, did not stop talking about the crucifixion of Christ. It was part and parcel of their Gospel proclamation. In Acts 4 Peter says, “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.” This lines up almost word for word with the declaration of the angel at the tomb of Jesus.

The resurrection of Jesus does not erase His crucifixion. It cements its power. The Roman Empire devised this punishment to make a statement. There’s no greater deterrent to crimes against the state than a brutal, public shaming and torturing of criminals. The Roman historian Cicero called it a cruel and disgusting penalty. The Jewish historian Josephus called it the worst of deaths. Jesus willingly and humbly endured this even though He was blameless. This worst of deaths has become His glory.

There’s a reason for this. There’s a reason the angel didn’t just say that Jesus was alive. There’s a reason the apostles continued to proclaim and the Church continues to proclaim Jesus as the Crucified One. It is because His death was not simply a crucifixion. It was a death that dealt with the real question about death. What Jesus did on the cross was not simply die a horrific death. He suffered something far worse than death. In the Collect of the Day which we prayed earlier we see that God the Father, through His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, has overcome death and opened the gate of everlasting life to us.

There are some people who do not fear death. Some people see it as a release from this life. Some fear it and go to extraordinary measures to prevent it. But there’s a reason Jesus went through what He did, suffering as He did, being crucified. Jesus did not suffer on the cross to prevent us from physical death. The real question about death is answered in what we prayed for in the Collect: “Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of our Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by Your life-giving Spirit.” The end of this life is not that we will die. It is that the death that awaits us is the death of sin.

This is why Jesus is forever the Crucified One. It is why He is extolled even now in heaven and for all eternity as the Lamb who was slain, as we see from the book of Revelation. When John the Baptist paved the way for Jesus he pointed to Him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” In the Epistle reading Paul says, “For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.”

The great victory of the Resurrection is not that you won’t die. It is that He has conquered the death of sin. In Christ you have life eternal even though you will die. In John 11 Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live.” Because Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, those who believe in Him, even though they die, will live because they are raised from the death of sin by the life-giving Spirit of God.

This was the confidence Job had in his Lord. In the Old Testament reading he said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” He knew he would die some day. But he knew it was not the end. He knew dying in his sin would separate him from his Lord. But his Lord lived. His Lord was his Redeemer. Even after he would die and his skin would waste away, he would be raised. He would see his Lord in the flesh.

The Lord who was crucified is the risen Lord. The Lord who was raised is the Crucified One. He is the Paschal Lamb who was sacrificed. He bore the sin of the world. This prompts Paul to say in the Epistle reading, “Let us celebrate the festival.” Before we will partake of this festival, the very Supper of our Lord, our prayer in the Communion liturgy will be, “And most especially are we bound to praise You on this day for the glorious resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ, the very Paschal Lamb, who was sacrificed for us and bore the sins of the world. By His dying He has destroyed death, and by His rising again He has restored to us everlasting life.”

These words point to the central act of what Jesus has accomplished in His crucifixion: He was sacrificed for us and bore the sins of the world. There is no sin that escaped the action of Christ in bearing sin. There is nothing you have done or could do that can undo what Christ accomplished in His suffering and death. It was in that action He accomplished salvation for the world.

When the women heard the proclamation of the angel that Jesus the Crucified One was now living they were met with a new reality. Nothing in life or death matters if you are left in your sin. If you reject what Christ has already accomplished for you, you will die and not just end up in the grave. You will be separated from God forever and suffer far greater than anything you could imagine in this life.

He doesn’t want that for you. That is why Jesus was forsaken in your place. He died in your place. He lives and because He lives you live. Free from sin. Free from death. In your flesh you will see God, the Lamb who was slain, the Crucified One, the Risen Lord. Amen.


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