Bible Text: John 20:1-18 | Preacher: Pastor Andrew Richard | Series: Easter 2020 | Alleluia! Christ is risen! “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24). For Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Cor. 15:20). Death is swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:54). Jesus has engulfed the funeral pall that was woven over all nations (Is. 25:7) and has prepared for us a feast of everlasting joy. “Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright” (Ps. 33:1).
There is no praise in death. As the psalmist says, “In death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?” (Ps. 6:5). And again, “Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?” (Ps. 30:9). On one occasion Hezekiah, king of Judah, was sick, and by the grace of the Lord he recovered. He said to the Lord, “Sheol does not thank you; death does not praise you; those who go down to the pit do not hope for your faithfulness. The living, the living, he thanks you, as I do this day” (Is. 38:18-19). And we join Hezekiah in his thanksgiving, for Christ has today brought us all back from the brink of death, indeed, Christ has destroyed death.
So give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endureth forever. And his mercy endureth forever because Christ liveth forever. When Christ emerged from the tomb there emerged with him the eternal voice of praise, and our Alleluias were resurrected with our Lord. What gloom could darken this sunrise? If not even the tomb can shut up the sound of the organ and harp and lyre and the sweet singing of God’s people, then our praise shall have no end, and we shall have no end.
The devil cannot resurrect death. Death is dead, and all who go into the tomb will come out. Again, the devil cannot resurrect death. But he likes to pretend he can. He cannot make death rise from its grave, but he haunts people with death’s ghost, that is, the devil haunts people with the fear of death. The fear of death is in some ways worse than death itself. Once you’ve departed this life and gone to be with Christ, you won’t fear anything ever again, and you and Jesus and all the glorious saints will mock death together. But the fear of death is crippling. The devil seeks to control you with it. He wants to make you like the disciples on Easter evening who had the doors locked where they were for fear of the Jews. And they only feared the Jews because they feared the Jews would kill them, and so the disciples really feared death.
That fear of death killed their joy. The fear of death killed their hope. And the fear of death killed their praise. The disciples had no delight in life when they were afraid. They had only dread for the future and no songs were upon their lips. But then Jesus appeared to them, and he said, “Peace be with you” (Jn. 20:19). Peace. With that word from his living lips Jesus drove out the fear of death. “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (Jn. 20:20).
We don’t have to wait for Easter evening to enjoy this gladness. Alleluia! Christ is risen! And he is no ghost, but a living body. Death is no ghost either, but is nothing, a lifeless corpse. Why fear death when Jesus is alive? Why return to the slavery of fear when our Lord has conquered all his enemies? Our God is not far from us, but has become one of us, our own brother, our own flesh and blood. As it says in Hebrews 2, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:14-15).
Because the devil had the power of death, he had formerly enslaved us through the fear of death. But now by his death and resurrection Jesus has delivered us from that fear of death. On the day of our Lord’s resurrection, death lost the power to haunt us, and the devil lost his chief weapon. So do not return to fearing death. There is nothing there to fear, and if it seems there is, then rebuke your mortal flesh and make it sing praises to the Lord who will raise it on the Last Day: “Now no more can death appall, / Now no more the grave enthrall; / You have opened paradise, / And Your saints in You shall rise. / Alleluia!” (LSB 633:6).
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55). You have lost your power since Jesus crushed you in the dust. “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord” (Ps. 118:17). Praise be to you, O Christ, for you have taken the wages of our sin and died our death and swallowed up death forever! Praise to you, dear Jesus, for leaving the tomb empty and its door wide open. Praise to you for treating your grave clothes as if they were bedsheets, for folding them up neatly as if making a cozy resting place. Teach us to live that we may dread the grave as little as our bed (LSB 883:3). Praise to you for granting us your eternal life.
Dear saints and blessed heirs of eternal life, “The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence. But we will bless the Lord from this time forth and forevermore. Alleluia!” (Ps. 115:17-18). Christ is risen! Amen.