St. John 20: 19-31
April 28, 2019 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Resurrection of Christ is the dominant content of the apostolic preaching in the book of Acts. St. Paul himself writes, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. . . and you are still in your sins.”
Nonetheless those same apostles were surprised by the Resurrection. Our Lord had, ever since the Transfiguration, labored to impress on them the fact of His betrayal, torture, death, and resurrection. The Resurrection should not have been a surprise, but it was. More than that the apostles resisted it even when it was revealed to them.
They had believed that Jesus was the Messiah and then He failed to act as they thought the Messiah should. He’d gone and died. The women are full of sorrow at the empty tomb. Mary thought Jesus was dead despite what the angels said and supposed that Our Lord’s Body had been stolen. The apostles, to a man, not just Thomas, were likewise unbelieving. They resisted the Gospel. They locked the door for fear. They refused to believe not only the prophecies of Jesus but also the women and the disciples back from Emmaus. Throughout the forty days and even on the mount of Ascension they were afraid and doubting. Even as last as the Ascension they were still thinking that He might be a military King come to restore political power to Israel and by extension to them.
The Father charges us at the Baptism and the Transfiguration to listen to Jesus. He does this because most of the time we’re not listening. Our minds are racing with thoughts utterly inappropriate and disgusting. And that, not only on our morning commute or during a boring presentation at work but even here, in this holy place, while God’s Word is being read. Repent.
Besides Our Lord’s direct promise to the disciples that He would rise on the third day and the witnesses they had already heard that Sunday afternoon, the Scriptures also foretell it. St. John records this as the base problem: “For as yet they knew not the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.”
In fairness, though, the prophets are relatively light on the resurrection of the Messiah. Their emphasis is solidly on the suffering and death of the Messiah as a substitution. This is the point of the suffering servant songs and of the Temple. The resurrection as shown in types is fairly thin. It is mainly escapes from death. Cyril of Alexandria rightly saw something of the Resurrection in the dove that was left loose while another was killed for the cleansing of a leper and in the scapegoat being exiled to the wilderness with the sins of the people upon it on the Day of Atonement, but I am not sure it was obvious to the priests that this meant the Messiah would rise from the dead.
Mainly the resurrection passages in the Old Testament speak of our resurrection on the last day. Job, for example, is not talking about the Resurrection of the Messiah on the third day, but Job’s own resurrection on the last day when he will see with his own eyes His Kinsman-Redeemer alive. So also the Ezekiel reading for today foreshows not the Resurrection of Christ but its effect upon us on the Last Day. Psalm 22, as quoted by Our Lord on the cross, foresees the Messiah’s reign in the land of the living, but He is described as being with the elect. It isn’t limited to the Last Day but includes it.
There is a sense then in which the Resurrection of Jesus right then was something new and unexpected like giving them Blood to drink and doing away with Sabbath regulations. In hindsight though, and with the entirety of the New Testament given to us, we can see, like Cyril, that it is only when the resurrection of the Messiah is known in time, before the Last Day, that any of the Old Testament, including the Temple services, can give any real and lasting hope and comfort. St. Paul’s point is obviously correct: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. . . and you are still in your sins.” But, of course, Christ is raised, the victor over death, and you are not in your sins because of this and because of this your faith is not in vain.
The Scriptures are opened to the apostles and there is a huge shift in emphasis. The character of the Church’s proclamation changes. This doesn’t undo the emphasis on payment for sin, sacrifice, blood, mercy, or the need for cleansing, but sets it all into its proper context. The chief characteristic and attribute of the God of Moses isn’t that He is holy or that He is merciful. It is that He is living. He is not like the idols of Pharaoh that have eyes but see not. He has eyes and feet and hands and a liver and lungs and a brain and they all work. He who was crucified is alive. The Israelites worshipped the living God. We do as well but with renewed vigor and emphasis. He is more alive, with breath in Him and meat on His bones, now than before. The angel’s question to the women is more profound that simply asking why they are looking in a grave for a living person. When He says to them ”Why do you seek the living among the dead?” He is really saying, “What God do you worship? Do you not know what He has done by His crucifixion? He has overcome death. He has ushered in a new age.” Eve isn’t the mother of all the living. Jesus is. Whoever believes in Him, never dies. Whoever believes in Him, who is living, lives.
Only a Risen and Living Christ, who has not just put a stop to the Law’s accusations and ended Hell’s claims upon us, but has actually conquered death itself could waltz back into the Upper Room and declare peace upon the unworthy disciples. Only a Risen and Living Christ can bestow the Holy Spirit and Institute the Office of the Holy Ministry and send them out to preach Him as the Savior, the Life, and the Life-Give for all people, even Gentiles. Sins are forgiven that we might enter again into paradise. We are cleansed that we might praise God and bring our petitions. And death is conquered that the entire debt and consequence of Adam’s fall would be undone and we would be reconciled back to the Father, at peace with God, and as alive as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Our God is not the God of the dead but of the living.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
This sermon is dependent upon the remarks and insights of Alfred Edersheim on the Resurrection as recording in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1896) page 629.