3-31-24 The Resurrection of Our Lord

Bible Text: John 20:1-18 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The prophet Isaiah tells us how, when the Babylonian armies were surrounding Jerusalem to destroy it, the people took out their wine and slaughtered their oxen, and feasted and danced and laughed and said, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” The prophet Daniel records what happens 70 years later, when the Persian King Cyrus is surrounding Babylon, about to take it that very night, and King Belshazzar is holding a feast inside the walls, drinking wine, laughing, making the best of life while he can. This is the best men can do in the face of death – get as much enjoyment as possible before death comes and takes it all away. Solomon, the great wise man, even says this in Ecclesiastes, the most depressing book in the Bible, “a man has nothing better under the sun than to eat, drink, and be merry.” And he doesn’t just say it once, it’s the theme of the book. This is what all human learning taught him, that death is a horrible curse and there’s nothing we can do about it, so just enjoy life while you have it. The pagan poet Horace made this answer to death famous with the only Latin words people still know, still spoken today and tattooed on people’s bodies, “Carpe diem,” Seize the day, pluck as much pleasure as you can out of life, because death is waiting in the end. A bit less cultured is the common acronym used by the kids today, YOLO, you only live once. And all the obsession with bucket-lists, I have to get this done, enjoy this, see this, before I die, fits right into this hopeless response to death – the best I can do is enjoy myself now. Because death ends it all.

And so St. Paul, in his glorious sermon on the resurrection, concedes the point, joins the chorus. “If the dead do not rise,” he says, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” IF the dead do not rise.

But here stands Jesus alive. He was dead. He was crucified. He was tortured for the sin that kills us. He passed through the death that claims us. And He is alive. The dead do rise. He is the firstfruits, and we follow. This changes everything. It is not, Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die, it is what Jesus says, “If anyone eats my flesh and drinks my blood he will live forever, and I will raise Him up on the Last Day.” It is what Isaiah prophesied to those despairing in Jerusalem, “On that day the Lord will provide a feast of fine food. … He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever.”

St. Paul preaches his sermon on the resurrection (which begins/ends with our epistle for this morning), because there are some in the Corinthian church denying the resurrection. But they aren’t denying Jesus’ resurrection. No one was denying that. St. Paul lays out the evidence, the witnesses, the hundreds who saw their Lord crucified, dead, and then risen; the Corinthian Christians have seen the miracles of an apostle, a witness of Christ’s resurrection, in Paul. They know Jesus rose from the dead. What they don’t know is that they will rise again, when they die. What they’re denying is their own resurrection.

This is very common with Christians today, especially in America. It’s not simply that people have no hope except in this life, so they hopelessly pursue their pleasures before death robs it all from them; it’s that they have false hope in some future life. These Corinthians didn’t think there was no life after death. They thought there was no body after death. They thought their souls would go to heaven and their bodies would rot in the ground, and that was the end of it.

And what did they base that on? That’s the question. What do people base their hope of heaven on, of everlasting life? Socrates and Plato dreamed of souls living forever in some spirit world, released from the prison of this body. And pagans imagined something darker but similar, souls living forever, bodies staying dead. Because God has placed eternity in the heart of man, and we can’t get it out. It’s impossible to imagine not existing, because your soul will always exist. We know this intuitively.

But we sure can imagine a body not living. We’ve seen it, again and again. And there is nothing in our experience of death that would make us imagine a resurrection. So you get the pagan religion, the American religion where no one’s looking for the resurrection of the dead, but everyone’s looking for some heaven of their own dreams. And there’s nothing but uncertainty and presumption there. It’s belief based on nothing.

Against this false and baseless hope, and against all the hopelessness of a world that cannot deal with death, comes the trumpet blast of the angels’ one-word sermon, “He is risen.” There is man’s hope. There is certainty. There is our victory over death. There is our everlasting life. And there is no phantom, no mere spirit, there is a flesh and blood man. There is the resurrection of the body that death could not hold.

Death could not hold Him because He is the God-Man. Death could not hold Him because He was innocent. Death could not hold Him because He paid fully its wages and it had nothing more to claim, not of Him and not of us who belong to Him. Where O death is your victory, where O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and Jesus bore it and He drank to the bitter dregs all that death and hell demanded from us sinners. And now He lives. And He calls Himself our Brother, calls His Father our Father, and our God His God. His victory is our victory, His life is our life.

So there is no despair in our eating and our drinking. There is no imagining that we need to fill up all our pleasures while we have time. Death cannot end our gladness. We are baptized into Christ, and so we share in His resurrection. There will be no end to our eating and drinking and to our joy. Those are the first words that Jesus speaks to the women at His resurrection, “Rejoice,” because everlasting Joy is risen from the dead, and then Jesus’ next words, “Do not be afraid.” Of sin, because Jesus has borne it. Of death, because Jesus has conquered it. Of loneliness, because Jesus is risen and is with you always. Of some uncertain future, because Jesus has secured your future forever, won you an eternal inheritance as sons of God.

We do not build our future on sand that can be washed away by the winds and the waves of life. We do not build our life on things that moth and rust destroy. We do not search in ourselves for hope of eternal life. We build on the Rock, the foundation, that nothing can move. We lock our eyes on the crucified Jesus Christ, who lives, Lord over death, Victor over sin’s wages. And there we see a sure future, because ours is inseparable from His. He is the Head. We are His body. If He lives, we live. And He lives, not in some spiritual, ungraspable existence. He lives body and soul. And so will we. This corruptible must put on incorruption. This mortal must put on immortality. It is a divine necessity. Because death is dead. Jesus conquered it. And as the Head is, so must His body be.

Your Redeemer lives, and therefore you will stand on this earth, as Job confessed so long ago, and in your flesh you will see your God, with your own eyes, you and not another. Therefore, there is no pain, no bitterness in life that Christ’s resurrection does not sweeten, there is no cross you bear that is not followed by resurrection and life; there is no good thing Jesus gives you now that will not be greater and better in the resurrection; there is no work you do in Him that will not follow you to everlasting life.

So let us eat, drink, and be merry this Easter Day, because tomorrow and forever we live.

Alleluia. Christ is risen.

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