Alleluia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!) Dear Christians one and all: Rejoice! For today Christ has burst the bonds of death for us and opened the doors of the prison. Today our greater Jonah has risen from the belly of the earth. Today our greater Joseph has appeared alive to His brothers. Today the Light that was darkened in death shines brightly once again. Christ is risen! Death could not hold Him. Life has triumphed!
On Good Friday all seemed to be lost. On Good Friday, it seemed as if the devil had won, and all the host of hell was celebrating when the Son of God gave up His life into death. It seemed as if all hope for salvation and deliverance was gone. It seemed as if God had forever closed the door to heaven and left all mankind in their pitiful and miserable state.
I say, “it seemed” because this was not really the case. To anyone with eyes of faith, Christ’s death was by no means a lost cause. It was on the cross that God made atonement for the sins of men once and for all. It was on the cross that God unleashed His anger towards us sinners on His Son, forsaking Him in our place.
The truth was, heaven was never more open than it was on Good Friday. The arms of the Father were never more inviting than they were on that day. For there the burden of our guilt was placed upon the shoulders of the Crucified One. The penalty for our lying and murdering, the penalty for our adultery and lack of love, the penalty for our greed and self-love, the penalty for our disobedience was laid on Christ so that we might be acquitted by the Father.
Make no mistake: Good Friday was absolutely necessary. Without it there would be no reason to rejoice today. The agony and death of Good Friday make today possible. Holy Scripture says that there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood. And so the Son of God who took on flesh and blood shed His blood for us in love. On Good Friday, Christ the Lamb of God took away our sins and drowned them in the Red Sea of His precious blood.
Equally necessary for our eternal salvation, however, is the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. Every year about this time there are many wicked and ungodly men who try to disprove the resurrection of Jesus. A few years ago a story came out that archaeologists had found what appeared to be a burial ground for Jesus’ family. Unbelieving scientists know that if they could just discover the dead body of Christ, then the entire house of Christianity would fall down around itself.
And of course they are right. They are right in believing that the Resurrection of Christ is the linch-pin in the truthfulness of Christianity. Take away Easter and no more do you have a living Christ. Christianity becomes just another religion among many. It might be true, but then so might Islam, or Buddhism, or any other religion for that matter. St. Paul said it in his Epistle to the Corinthians: “If Christ is not raised, then our faith is in vain.”
We will sing the same words in our closing hymn today: “Had Christ who once was slain not burst his three day prison, our faith had been in vain.” If Christ is not raised, then we might as well all go home. We can write off the words of Holy Scripture as the creative writing of a fanatic and Christianity as the biggest sham of all history. If Christ is not raised, then neither shall we rise from the dead.
“But now has Christ arisen!” preaches the same hymn. No scientist will ever find the remains of Jesus. Hundreds of eyewitnesses saw Jesus alive after His crucifixion. The disciples were not making this stuff up. Not a word of it. Joseph Smith claimed to have special revelation from God, but of course there was no one else around to see it.
Well, there were plenty around to see the risen Jesus. There were plenty who saw him, touched him, heard his voice, ate with him, and then saw him ascend bodily into the heavens. Our hope as Christians and believers rests upon this. If Christ is raised, which we confess that He is, then Christianity is not just another religion among many. It is the only true religion, and its God is the only true God.
If Christ is raised, then we know that we will live also. As Job confessed: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”
Though our lives may never reach the point of misery that Job reached, we do have our share of bodily and emotional afflictions. We have our share of suffering and crosses. Christ said that the cost of discipleship is the cross and suffering. If Christ hung on a cross, who’s to say that the Church won’t be found there as well? “A disciples is not above his teacher.”
Like Job, however, we also have the hope of everlasting life in heaven. We confess with all true Christians a bodily resurrection. We have the comfort and consolation of knowing that our sins are wiped away forever. The Words of the Prophets are true: “God has removed our sins as far as the East is from the West.” We too can confess boldly those words of Job: “I know that my Redeemer lives.” If Christ is raised, then there is a point and purpose for our lives, for our suffering, for the crosses that are laid on us.
If Christ is raised, then there is a reason to be joyful in the midst of pain and difficulty. There is reason to rejoice in the face of evil and death. There is a reason to put aside our petty squabbles with one another and our depression. There is a reason to reach out to others with the saving Gospel and there is a point to our preaching and teaching.
Our sinful nature tells us differently. It says: “There is no point to this misery we call life.” It shakes its fists at God and blames him for every problem in our life. The sinner in each of us says: “Suffering is for losers. I’m no loser. This shouldn’t be happening to me. Why does God have it out for me??” Easter turns such foolishness on its head and says: “The sufferings of this present life are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed in us.”
This doctrine of the Resurrection of Jesus is a powerful antidote against all doubt and uncertainty and the fear of death. Whenever a Christian begins to doubt God’s faithfulness or even the truthfulness of his Word, I say he should look to the tomb that once held the lifeless body of Jesus. And he should by all means leave the clothes of doubt and uncertainty buried in that tomb along with his sins and put on the clothes of faith and hope, seeing that the Lord is risen and now lives.
Indeed, one should learn to look with faith to his baptism and remember what Holy Scripture has said concerning it: “Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”
With these words the holy Apostle teaches that our connection to Christ’s death and resurrection is our baptism. By baptism Paul says we have already died and risen with Christ and thereby freed from sin. We now live a new life, a life that is marked not by the selfishness and ignorance of our old sinful self, but a life that reflects the image and godliness of Christ Himself.
We have been born anew by the washing of water with the Word, and that means that sin no longer has dominion over us, for we “are not under law but under grace.” The resurrection of Christ has sealed this life for us, and is the source of our life in the Spirit.
So let us, urges the Apostle Paul, “keep the Feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:7-8). The time of fasting is over, and the time of feasting has begun in earnest. Our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed for us. Death is no more. Christ has triumphed. He is risen. Alleluia! Amen!