Alleluia! Christ is risen.
Our Lord Jesus compares the Kingdom of heaven to a man who finds a precious treasure in a field, and he goes and he sells all he has to buy that field, because everything else has suddenly become nothing in comparison with that treasure. So St. Paul when he was traveling to Damascus and the risen Lord Jesus appeared to him on the road, he found such a treasure. He wasn’t even looking for it. He thought he had it all, he even thought he had God and a righteous life and a good reputation, but when he finds the resurrected Lord, or when the resurrected Lord finds him, it isn’t even a question, there is no comparison – he says it so beautifully, “I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection.” There isn’t a hint of regret here. Paul isn’t like Peter here, who before Jesus’ death and resurrection said, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you. What will we get?” No, Paul knows what he’s got and has no thought of losing out on anything. When faced with the choice between knowing the power of Christ’s resurrection or having everything else in all the world, fame, riches, my own righteousness, earthly pleasures, the scale isn’t even tipped, there is no comparison.
St. Peter says much the same thing in his famous words in Capernaum, when many left Jesus, offended at his words, and Jesus asks the question, “Will you also leave me?” Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” The question is totally sincere, it is a confession of impotence – he honestly doesn’t know where he could go if he were to lose Jesus. Where else can I go, what other greater treasure could I possibly find now that I have found Jesus, or rather now that Jesus has found me?”
The rest and peace Jesus gives to the soul, the communion with your Maker, the forgiveness of everything nasty and mean and wicked that you have ever done or thought or said or been, the release from the fear of death, the purity and security of being loved completely and totally by God, the happy expectation of living with your Maker forever, the knowledge of the truth – who you are, who God is: this is the treasure hidden in the earth that now rises and shines in the resurrection of Jesus and it makes all faithful Christians say with Paul, I count all things rubbish in comparison, and with St. Peter, to whom else would we possibly go now?
This explains the total confidence with which the apostles preach the resurrection of Jesus and the centrality it holds in everything they say. Peter spoke those beautiful words of honest dependence before Jesus had suffered and died: even then life was nothing without Jesus. There was nowhere else to go – this is the wonderful conviction the incarnation gave him, he saw that God had become a man, become his Brother, where else could he go to find something greater than God in the flesh? But when he sees and hears the risen Lord Jesus, finally he sees what no miracle showed him, what not even the transfiguration could tell him. His joy, Paul’s joy, Mary’s joy, is not to receive a friend back from the dead. It is not the joy of a Mary or a Martha at seeing Lazarus alive again. It is the inexpressible happiness of seeing life itself, unclouded by sin and death and corruption and decay, to see it in Jesus and to know that it is yours, that the life you see there, the purity, the innocence, the perfection, is all yours, to see it and finally know the depth of God’s love, what has made for your peace, what it means to have a Savior, a real Savior who bears your sins, who suffers for you, who dies for you, who faces hell itself for you, and now stands alive in pure love to give you the peace with God that no man can possibly take away.
We often think of seeing the resurrected Lord as the qualification of being an apostle – St. Peter insists on this. In order to replace Judas, who hanged himself, to get the 12th disciple again, Peter insists that he must be a man who was with Jesus the entire time up to his resurrection, witnessed the resurrected Jesus. But it’s a little off, a little too businesslike to think simply of qualifications here. Peter wasn’t simply looking for someone qualified, he was looking for someone compelled to preach Jesus. “How can we keep quiet about what we have seen and heard?” That’s what they say in Jerusalem in front of the same elders and priests who handed Jesus over to Pilate. This is what St. Paul calls his necessity, “But necessity has been laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.”
This is the power of Jesus’ resurrection on those who witnessed it. It presents to them the precious treasure that Jesus speaks of. And this remains the power of Jesus’ resurrection for us today. “Whom have I in heaven but You, and there is none upon earth that I desire besides you.”
It is so wonderful how Jesus answers both the mind and the heart in His resurrection. He answers the mind, the understanding, the intellectual piece. Peter and John look into the grave and see it empty, and they’re totally perplexed, their minds are racing, what does this mean, “For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He had to rise from the dead.” John and Peter are trying to figure it out, and Jesus’ resurrection finally shows it, what was so dark before, what Peter couldn’t understand, Mary couldn’t understand, what Paul totally misunderstood, now in Christ’s resurrection, His preaching of it, is clear as day: Here is the Passover Lamb, here is the Day of Atonement, here is the Temple, here is the suffering Servant, here is the Eternal God, the Prince of Peace, whose government will have no end. It’s all here. “O foolish ones,” Jesus says to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, “so slow to believe all that the Scriptures say.” And then their hearts burn within them when He explains it, when they see He is the explanation.
Jesus called Himself the Life of the world, said that whoever believed in Him would never see death, said that whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood will live forever. They had believed it, taken Him at His Word, and very beautifully so, like children, because their minds could not grasp it. But now the resurrection shows it. Now the faith that seeks understanding finds it. The resurrection satisfies the mind in the deepest way. He has conquered death, He has carried the sin of the world and now it is no longer, and you can see that it is no longer, because it’s not on Him anymore, He is justified and full of life. You see why He gives life, eternal life, purity and righteousness and peace and joy with God, because He is alive and He is pure and He is righteous and He is joyful and He is ours, our Brother, our Savior, our God.
And He answers not only the mind but the heart. His resurrection answers Peter’s terror and guilt, answers Mary’s loneliness and despair, answers Paul’s arrogance and anger and bitterness. Pick your sin, your heart’s emptiness, and Jesus meets it with His resurrection. If you are afraid of death see here your life. If you care like Peter what men can do to you, see what God has already done for you. See the Conqueror of death and in the light of His resurrection relearn the Psalm, “The Lord is my Helper, I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” If you are guilty because have betrayed your God by your sin, if you like Peter feel the gaze of your Maker on you, that He has seen you denying Him again by indulging your cowardly flesh, see your resurrected Lord, see that your sin that drove Him to the cross is now gone and His gaze of condemnation is now a gaze of pure peace and mercy and love. If you are alone like Mary – if you be by friends forsaken and must suffer sore distress – see here your dearest Friend who has laid down His life for you and is with you always and is a truer Friend to you than anything or anyone, who will never forsake you and joins you to the whole company of heaven, to all saints in heaven and on earth, in one body with one Head, who has called you by name in your Baptism and joined you to Himself in a union that cannot be broken. If you are sad because death has stolen from you the one whom you love, see again the proof of Jesus’ assertion: he who believes in me will never see death. Death itself is transitory, I shall lift my head in glory. If you like Paul find yourself so righteous in all you do and everyone else so very annoying and wrong, see what real righteousness is in Christ’s resurrection, see what real purity looks like, real justice, that it is not found in you, that all that is rubbish, because here you see the real thing, and the pride that you treasured before is not worthy to be compared with the boast you now have in Christ’s cross and resurrection.
The kingdom of God is like a man who finds a treasure in a field and he goes and he sells all that he has and he buys that field. You have nowhere else to look. Here you have what will satisfy your mind and fill your soul with good things all the days of your life; here you have the singular act of your God that turns sorrow into joy, fear into courage, pride into humility, guilt into righteousness, and death into life.
Now I will cling forever
To Christ my Savior true
My Lord will leave me never
Whate’er He passes through
He rends death’s iron chain
He breaks through sin and pain
He shatters hell’s dark thrall
I follow Him through all.
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
*The inspiration for this sermon came from John Brenz’s meditation de resurrectione Christi and Norman Madson’s beautiful sermon “Why am I entering the ministry?” preached in 1947 at Bethany Lutheran Seminary.