Easter Sunday                                                                      
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 24:44-57 Sermon                                                                                   
April 12, 2009

Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
92 "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today"
105 "The Day Of Resurrection"
100 "Alleluia!  Jesus Lives!"
387 "I Know That My Redeemer Lives"


TEXT:  "[Jesus] said to [his disciples], 'This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.' Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, 'This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.'"

This past Sunday evening, I sat down to read my Email.  Amongst my various messages was a short note from a friend in Minnesota, informing me that an old and dear friend of mine, Robert Gallus had passed away, and his funeral had been on Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday.

I have known Bob and his family for over twenty-two years.  They were members of Bethany Lutheran Church in Princeton, Minnesota where I served as a vicar, and I have remained close friends of the family ever since that time.

The members of the Gallus family are absolutely delightful people, and a lot of fun to have in a congregation.  I remember lots of stories.  For example, there was the time when the whole family sat in the back pew of our small church.  I happened to be preaching; so to try to make me lose composure, every one of them put on those costume Groucho Marx glasses-the horned rimmed glasses with a big nose and moustache attached. 

Then there were the times when Bob would usher.  We didn't use offering plates; instead we had little bags with small wooden handles attached to each end.  Bob would bring the offering forward with the other usher, and they were supposed to give the bags to me to put on the altar.  But Bob wouldn't let go; instead he'd hang on to his side of the handle.  Of course he was snickering all the time; and when the other usher caught on to what he was doing, he'd start to chuckle too.

I have many stories, and I have had a lot of good times.  But the serious side of all this is Bob's faith which permeated every fibre of his being.  This was the faith he passed along to his family as well.  And this is the faith that took him from the vale of tears on this earth into his heavenly mansion.

So anyway, after hearing the news of his death, I immediately telephoned his wife, Phyllis, and we had a very long conversation.  Bob was 75 years old, and he and Phyllis had been married for 52 years.  His death was completely unexpected.  He had recovered from a stroke, and he had some stents put in to open up his arteries around his heart, but he was doing very well.  All of his vital signs had been excellent, and his outlook was very favorable.

It was on March 31st that he had just finished his lunch.  He was feeling a bit tired, so he went into the bedroom to lie down for a short nap.  He never woke up.  Phyllis said, "Jesus just came and got him.  He never told me, he just came and took him home." Now how beautiful is that?

As our conversation continued, Phyllis talked about making the funeral arrangements and what she told their pastor.  She said (and of course I'm paraphrasing):  "There's going to be a lot of heathens in the crowd, a lot of people who don't know Jesus.  I don't want you to hold back or mince any words; I want you to tell them exactly where Bob is and how he got there." And then Phyllis went on to say that the pastor did exactly that, and he was only too happy to do so. 

Today on this Easter Sunday, we have a glorious ending to a complex series of events.  The message is one of sin and grace, of law and gospel.  The sin that has permeated the entire human race ever since Adam and Eve has been eradicated, and the Easter message is proof positive of that fact.

In our text for today from Luke's Gospel, Jesus speaks the following words to his disciples:  "The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations..." Suddenly all of the prophecies concerning Jesus had been fulfilled; and with this came the sure and certain hope of eternal life through faith in Jesus.

In the short time following Jesus' crucifixion and death, the apostles and other disciples were confused and befuddled.  Their hopes had been ruined.  Just a bit before our text for today in Luke chapter 24 verse 21, we find the disciples saying, "We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel."

But how could a man who died under the curse of God accomplish that?  What good is the anticipation of God's forgiveness and restoration if the only view we have of Jesus is of him dying on the cross according to God's curse?  After all, the Bible says in Deuteronomy chapter 21 verse 23: "Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse."

Certainly Jesus was under God's curse.  His entire purpose on this earth was to take all of the sins of humanity on his shoulders-everybody's sins, from the beginning of history all the way through to the end of time.  That includes your sins and mine as well.  All the way through the Lenten season, we focused upon Jesus pleading before the Father in heaven on our behalf, asking him to forgive us.  On Good Friday, we saw all of this come to a very dramatic conclusion.  The final sacrifice for sins had been made.  Christ's work of redemption had been finished.

But the story doesn't end there, because the Easter message begins after Good Friday ends.  The grave wasn't the end of Jesus, but only a dramatic illustration that death and the grave could not hold him.  Jesus showed his victory by his descent into hell, where he basically thumbed his nose at Satan and announced his defeat of sin and evil.  And then he left--the gates of hell could not hold him.

Then to bring everything to a dramatic climax, Jesus took up his life again, showing that he was completely victorious over even death itself.  He proved himself to indeed be the promised Messiah, the Saviour of the world, the very Son of God himself.

I find it interesting how people have regarded the physical resurrection of Christ down through the ages.  Many have taken Christ's resurrection as merely metaphorical, where the resurrection just symbolized a type of living faith.  Such people assert that people back in Jesus' day simply lacked the intelligence to know that dead people cannot come back to life.  But the Bible tells us that this was very hard for people to grasp, especially Jesus' disciples.  The grave was every bit as foreboding then as it is to some people now.

The Apostle Paul had to deal with this very same issue in I Corinthians 15.  Verses 12-14 read:  "But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." And then verse 17 continues, "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins."

The very fact that Christ physically rose from the dead is the absolute proof that our faith is not futile, and that our sins have indeed been forgiven.  Christ's life, suffering, and death paid for those sins, and his resurrection shows that his work has been completed.  Through faith in Jesus our Saviour, his forgiveness becomes personal; it becomes ours.  Jesus is not only the world's Saviour, but also our personal Saviour.  That's the message of the Gospel for us.

Okay, now that the facts have been firmly established, there is more that needs to happen.  If people don't hear the message of Jesus, if people don't know about the resurrection, if people aren't aware that their sins are forgiven, then the empty tomb becomes nothing more than an object of idle curiosity.  Everything Jesus accomplished won't do any good if people don't believe it.  If people don't know about the message of sin and grace, they cannot benefit from it.  It's something like having a banquet table loaded with food.  If a person doesn't eat it, they will wind up starving to death.

When my friend Phyllis was talking to her pastor as she made Bob's funeral arrangements, I know that this is what she was thinking when she told him that he shouldn't mince any words.  Bob's faith in his Saviour is what took him to heaven, not a whole lot of good works and intentions.  That was the faith that needed to be shared. 

Phyllis's concern was that there would be a whole church full of people, many of whom were not Christian, and did not know Jesus.  The opportunity was there to share Jesus and the hope of the resurrection, the faith upon which Bob's hope was built.  She wanted to be sure that nobody left that service without having heard the message of love and forgiveness that Jesus had for them.

As I heard this, I was reminded of an instance that happened to a pastor friend of mine.  There was this elderly lady in his congregation who was a very faithful Christian lady.  She knew and believed the message of sin and grace, and she had absolute trust in Christ alone.  She proclaimed this faith even with her dying breath.

But when it came time to plan her funeral, her son very indignantly told my pastor friend that he was not to use the word "sin" even once in his sermon.  He wanted his mother to be remembered as a good person, and not a sinner who needed forgiveness. 

My pastor friend tried to explain things to this man, but he remained adamant about it.  So my friend had to refuse to do the funeral, and miss the opportunity to share this devout woman's faith. 

Had he gone ahead and proceeded according to her son's demands, he would have been a hypocrite.  The message of the cross would have been empty.  Jesus would not have been preached, and as our text for today indicates, repentance and forgiveness of sins would not have been preached in his name to all nations.  What a sad situation.

Jesus sent his disciples out to the entire world to proclaim the good news of the resurrection, and he sends each of us as well.  What does that message mean to us?  Is this the message upon which all of our hopes depend?  What kind of witness do we make with our lives?

I read a story recently about a man whose mother had died from a lengthy illness.  As he stood there looking at her in the casket, he remembers thinking:  "Mom was in church every Sunday; she was the organist and choir director.  Every Sunday I remember her standing and saying the Apostles' Creed, especially the words:  'I believe...in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.'  She held fast to his hope right to the end.  This was the promise Jesus had given her, and the hope she taught and shared with me."

The Easter message is the message of forgiveness with a guarantee.  When our sins seem so great that we feel God could in no way forgive them, remember this guarantee.  When we encounter others whose sins stand in the way of their relationship with God, share this guarantee with them.

In Princeton Minnesota, the Gallus family can celebrate a special blessing this Easter.  Robert Gallus was taken to his heavenly home in the arms of his Saviour Jesus Christ.  It was the desire of his wife Phyllis that this faith be shared in no uncertain terms with those left to mourn his passing, with the hope that the Holy Spirit would work the miracle of faith in the hearts of those who were assembled at his funeral.  Bob was able to cash in on that guarantee Jesus made on that first Easter.  And it was Phyllis's hope that everyone who heard the message would be there to share eternity with him someday.

In our own congregation, it has been just a day over two months ago that we conducted the funeral service for Bob Reiling.  He is also celebrating his first Easter with Jesus.  What a joy it was for me as Bob's pastor to be with him as he breathed his last, and then to be able to share his faith with his family and friends.  God has also made good on that guarantee of forgiveness and salvation for him.  And I know this means so much to Helen and the family.   

The Easter guarantee is for you and me too.  What does that mean for us?  The answer is simple.  Jesus has paid the price for our sins so that we might be forgiven.  We have this forgiveness through faith in Jesus our Saviour.  Through faith in him, our names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life.  And because death and the grave could not hold Jesus, we know it cannot hold us either.  Our forgiveness, our salvation, and our eternity in heaven is guaranteed. 

Therefore according to our faith, we can exclaim with all of the saints on earth and hosts of heaven, "He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!