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Worship Theme: The risen Christ gives his Church understanding

Sermon Theme: It happened . . . for you . . . for your forever

Recently, someone said to me, “Easter is my favorite holiday. I like it even better than Christmas. Spring is in the air. The grass is turning green. Birds are chirping. Families head to church in nice clothes and gather for a nice meal.” I can understand why a person would say that. But the reality is that after Easter it doesn’t take long, and relatives return to their hometowns, people get back to work, kids go back to school, leftovers get eaten or frozen, and the nice clothes get packed away or go out of style. If we consider Easter to be only one wonderful day in spring, we are missing the boat. The apostle Peter puts his finger on it. Some time had elapsed after our Lord’s resurrection. The Bible writer tells us that one day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer (Acts 3:1) and at the temple gate healed a beggar who had been crippled his entire life. All the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade (Acts 3:11). Peter then addressed the crowd, helping them and us understand that Easter is more than a fun day in spring: Easter goes on and on.

 It happened

The facts are here. When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers – Did you notice that Peter is referring to people who lived long ago as if they are still living? Thanks to Jesus, they are still alive with God in heaven. This same God – has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life. Peter stuck in the knife and twisted it. You, you, you handed him over, disowned him, asked for a murderer, killed the author of life.

But then Peter pulled the knife out and healed the wound by pointing to a miracle greater than the healing of the crippled beggar. “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.” Doesn’t the first part of that sentence sound odd? How can the author of life be killed? Yet he was. Picture our relationship with God to be like one of those old-fashioned, two-sided scales you see on a courthouse. If we want to go to heaven, we have to be light and rise up. But every little sin is another brick on our side of the scale and weighs us down. Jesus put himself on the other side of the scale. If he did not do that, we would sink all the way down to hell. But Jesus sank down on his side all the way to hell so that we rise up and can jump off the scale to live with God. God canceled out the weight of our sin by Jesus’ death and raised us to new life by Jesus’ resurrection.

Did you ever wonder why we don’t greet each other in the Easter season, “He rose,” “He rose indeed,” but instead we say, “He is risen,” “He is risen indeed”? That’s because “He is risen” indicates not only the historic, one-time fact but also underscores the certainty and joy that Easter’s message – Jesus lives and because of that we are living with God – goes on and on.

Peter adds, “We are witnesses of this.” Witnesses tell facts. They are not supposed to make stuff up. The disciples of Jesus did not suffer from hallucination, nor did they cook up a mass hoax. The facts of the resurrection were seen and witnessed by them and are as real as the leaping and jumping of the healed beggar. “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.” Easter is not a fictional movie or play or novel. It is a fact that you cannot undo any more than you can go back in time and shove Jesus back into his tomb. Easter goes on and on because it happened.

It happened for you

Why do some people receive a birthday gift and ask, “For me?” Aren’t you tempted to say, “No, it’s not! I just happened to buy it, wrap it up, put your name on it, and put it into your hands. There must be some mistake. It’s really for the neighbor.” Duh! Of course, the gift is for the birthday gal or guy! But what if that person has been lazy, made messes, or wasted money and still receives a nice gift? What if a person is caught breaking company policy and still gets a bonus? What if you have not paid attention to a person close to you and has been made to feel insignificant by you, and you still give a gift? Then, “Is this for me?” would be a logical question.

“You, you, you!” pounded on the hearts of the Israelites listening to Peter. Thankfully, he went on, “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” “Times of refreshing.” You’re walking outside in ninety-degree heat with the humidity pushing ninety-five percent. Your shirt sticks to your back. Sweat beads up and drips from your forehead. Then you step into an air-conditioned mall. Ahhh! The heat of hell is far worse, but the message of Easter brings a breath of fresh air, times of refreshing. Peter made it personal and touched their hearts. “So that your sins may be wiped out. It’s for you!”

And he’s touching your heart and mine. When I fudge the truth, when I get caught up in my stuff and forget about others, when I nod at the truths of God but don’t apply them to my own guilt, I need to listen to the apostle. You, you, you! I, I, I handed Jesus over, disowned him, asked for a murderer, killed the author of life, and I feel awful. But the apostle states the facts. Jesus paid for all of my misdeeds and failure, and he paid for yours. Then he rose to prove that God is not a gruff, scruffy, scary, old man down the block trying to make kids like him with bribes of Easter candy but a loving Father with arms extended to wayward children. “Come!” he says. His smile is not candy. His arms are not money. His love is not a bribe. The living, loving Lord is smiling, extending his arms, beckoning you to be hugged in his love. Easter goes on and on because it happened for you.

It happened for your forever

As far as I know, every person here is a human being. That means we all know that all things must come to an end. This sermon will eventually end. This worship service will end. This day will end. This Easter season of the church year will end. This calendar year will end, and eventually our life on earth will end. But Easter changes everything. Easter says, “Your life on earth may end, but your life with God will never end.” That’s not a toss away line. “You have life with God.” Do you realize what that means? Picture the love, care, protection, sense of worth that Adam and Eve had in Eden. That’s what Easter guarantees as a fact, a fact for you, and a fact for you that goes on and on.

Peter put it this way, “that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus.” I thought Jesus already has been sent. Yes! That did happen, the first time, in Bethlehem. But there will be a second time on Judgment Day. The apostle is pointing us to the future. When Jesus comes in all his glory, we call that the last day, but “last” only for this created world. There is something more! There is something after! There is a “forever!” The Holy Spirit caused this same apostle to write these words in his second letter, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare … But in keeping with [God’s] promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness lives” (2 Peter 3:10,13). Peter lifts our eyes to heaven and eternity. Easter goes on and on because this happened for you for your forever.

Martin Luther was summoned to appear before the emperor of Europe at a city called Worms. Led into the Diet (official meeting) in the late afternoon, he stood before all the politically powerful of Germany. The table in front of him was piled high with his books. Two questions: “Did you write these? and “What part of them will you recant?” The answer to the first question was easy. “Yes.” For the second, Luther asked for time and was granted twenty-four hours. The next day, April 18, 1521, exactly five hundred years ago today, he stood before the emperor again. Same two questions. Luther responded: I am bound by the Scriptures … and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me. Amen. Where did he get the courage? Here’s what he later wrote in a sermon (about a rich man and poor Lazarus): The true, supreme, and best blessing … is not temporal possessions but the eternal blessing that God would forgive sin and eternally save us … To the one who properly appreciates this … everything else is a trifle, even though he ... is poor, sick, despised, unfortunate, and burdened with all sorts of adversities … If he has no money and possessions, he knows nevertheless that he has a gracious God; if his body is weak and sick, he knows that he has … eternal life … The same thing is true with respect to other temptations and burdens. He … has this constant consolation: Only a short time, and everything will be better, and so much better that no one shall take my joy from me; for through Christ I have a gracious God, who is my Father and will take me to the eternal heritage (Plass vol III, #4012). Have you been despised, unfortunate, and burdened with all sorts of adversities? Have you had financial struggles? Have you been weak or sick? Have you been bothered by temptations on the inside and burdened with everybody’s cares, complaints, and concerns from the outside? Easter, which is all joy and life with God, goes on and on for you, for your forever! Christ is risen! Amen.

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