[This was shared with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio, during Easter worship services today.]
The message of Easter is one with which we absolutely must be careful. Here’s why: If we aren’t careful about how we hear and respond to the Easter proclamation, the message that God the Father so loved this world that He gave God the Son to die for our sin and rise to give us new, eternal lives, we might do crazy things.
Things like: doing for others without expecting anything in return; forgiving others as God forgives us in Christ; living voluntarily under the will of God and not under our own desires; following Christ and not following our hearts; risking being thought a fool for telling others that their lives can be changed forever if they trust in Christ of Easter--not in themselves, or their 401(k)s, or their looks, or their work ethic, or their supposed goodness. Our personal power, our money, our looks, work ethic, and earthly goodness are all things of this world that either die, fade, or give out. We will all be separated from them either in this life or when we draw our last earthly breaths.
Easter says that the God we meet in Jesus Christ has overcome death, and wants to share His victory with us, here, now.
In the eyes of a world that sees life on this earth as nothing more than an extended effort to make ourselves comfortable before we die, faith in the Jesus of Easter is a crazy thing. The risen Jesus, now enthroned in heaven, isn’t as tangible as a 70-inch HDTV, a well-appointed man cave, or a nice house.
Faith in the risen Jesus doesn’t dismiss any of those things. But it challenges us not to live our lives for the dead and dying stuff of this world. And it isn’t easy to live the life for the risen Christ we can’t see.
This world deems doing so as crazy. Hebrews 11:1, in the New Testament, teaches us: “...faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” For the Christian, faith is trust in a God we’ve never seen, faith in a resurrected Savior we’ve never seen.
Life with God through Christ is a free gift. But it isn’t an easy life! As one wise person has written, “It’s harder to believe than not to.”
But here’s how faith in Christ works: If you refuse to believe, you will never believe. If, on the other hand, you confess to God how hard you find it to believe in Christ, how hard it is to surrender to a Savior you’ve never seen, but that you want to believe, God will use the Word and the Sacraments (Holy Baptism and Holy Communion), to build faith within you.
God builds faith in the risen Jesus in the lives of those who are willing to believe.
Are you willing to believe?
Are you willing to trust in what the world counts crazy?
Sometimes our faith is tiny. But if we will keep listening to the words of new life, forgiveness, and call to surrender that comes from Jesus through the Bible, the words of other Christians about Jesus, and the Sacraments, faith will come to us and even sustain us in the darkest times of our lives. “I don’t know how I could have gotten through without Jesus to lean on,” a widow whose joy had returned to her several years after the death of her husband, even though her grief would never completely go away.
Luke’s account of the first Easter begins: “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. ”
The women went to the tomb without faith. They loved Jesus. They revered Jesus. They missed Him. But for all their devotion to Jesus, all they expected to find on that first Easter Sunday was His battered, wounded corpse. They weren’t expecting their worlds to be turned upside down.
But then, something crazy happened to them!
Luke continues: “While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.”
The women could have thought, “This is crazy. We’d better keep this to ourselves.” At this point in Luke’s account of Easter, they’re just like you and me: They had never seen the risen Jesus. They had never known anyone who had risen from the dead. They had never previously met these two men in dazzling clothes. Their message was crazy talk!
But hearing again Jesus’ words of promise created faith within them.
Why is that? Because the Word of God and the Word of God about the resurrection of Jesus has power. It doesn’t matter if the person speaking it is a classmate, butcher, computer programmer, retiree, housewife, basketball star, preacher, or angel. When the simple truth about Jesus’ death and resurrection is shared, it can create faith in those who hear it. It can create faith in those willing to believe it.
It may require years of hearing and reading the Word about Jesus for a person to have faith, as it did in me. I was thick of head and hard of heart. It took time for the good news about the crucified and risen Jesus to penetrate and give me faith. Others are fortunate in that they hear the Word from their moms and dads as children and always have faith.
But whether in a short time or a long time, it's the Word of God that creates faith in Jesus Christ within us.
Romans 10:17 says: “...faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.”
Romans 1:16-17, says that the Gospel about Jesus “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”
There’s nothing you and I can do to convince ourselves that Jesus rose from the dead and will give new and everlasting lives to all who believe in Him. Faith comes by hearing a Word you may not--like the woman on the first Easter--have expected or, like me for years, even wanted to hear. Your ability to hear it and believe it comes from the power of the Holy Spirit-propelled Word about Jesus, the good news.
When people come to faith in Christ or to the daily renewal of their faith that God gives to those who daily repent and entrust their lives to Jesus, they can’t explain it. They know that faith is a gift and are gratified to have it because they know that, as Scripture teaches, only those with faith in Christ live with God.
But like any gift, you can choose to open it up or push it away. Luke writes in our lesson starting at verse 10: “It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”
The apostles should have believed, shouldn’t they?
They should have been open to the gift of faith.
After all, they knew Jesus’ promises. In Luke 9:22, among other places, Jesus had told them: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
But here were the apostles pushing away the gift of faith in the risen Jesus being preached to them.
This was a perilous moment for the apostles. They had to make what Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor and theologian executed by the Nazis in the waning days of World War II, called in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, “the decision.”
We have to make the same decision every day. Will we receive the gift of new life promised by Easter through surrender to Jesus Christ? Or will we take a pass?
How we decide will determine the quality of our lives in this world and whether we spend eternity in heaven with Christ or in hell. It’s as simple as that.
Fortunately though, you don’t have to work to believe in the risen Jesus. If you and I will not push Him away when He comes to us in His Word--whether through the Bible, in the fellowship of believers, in His call to repent for sin, in His call to receive forgiveness, or in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion--we can have life-changing, eternity-changing faith in Jesus Christ.
But, be warned: When we embrace the gift of faith in the risen Jesus, we dare not keep it to ourselves! When the women received the angels’ word and faith that Jesus had risen from death to give second chances and new life to all who believe, they ran back to tell all the other disciples. The the real test of whether our faith in Jesus is real or just a hobby on Easter Sundays comes in just this, whether we share the Word about the risen Jesus. As one writer asks, “Can we say that we really believe in the resurrection of the Lord if we aren't willing to tell others about it?”
Jesus is risen from the dead!
Turn from sin each day and entrust your life to Him.
He will give you life that begins with Him at your side in this dying world and life that lasts forever in the perfect eternal world to come. That’s the good news of Easter!
No matter how crazy it seems, don’t push it away.
Take it into your life every day.
Dare to believe.
Dare to ask for the power to believe that comes from God to those willing to believe in God in the flesh, Jesus Christ.
Then watch your faith grow.
Happy Easter, everyone!