April 1, 2018
“Getting It Right”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
I hope you feel sorry for me. I do. Let me tell you why. At our Good Friday service the preacher (me) didn’t stand a chance. I got up to preach and immediately Mr. Sandman arrived. It was tough for some of my most faithful listeners to stay awake. It was already sort-of-late, the sanctuary was warm, and I couldn’t entertain them with jokes – it was Good Friday after all. I think it was Jesus who said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Today is no better. You already know what I’m going to say. Let me prove it. He is Risen!! He is Risen Indeed!! See, there is no suspense in all of this. You come to church every Easter and you know what the preacher is going to say even before they have written it. It is no fair. I don’t have a chance. Though this year we have some very loud horn players and a couple of timpani, and if I see someone starting to doze (not simply meditating – I know the difference), I’ll give them the clue and they’ll wake you from your sweet dreams.
There is someone else you need to feel sorry for. You have to feel sorry for the person who really doesn’t know about Easter. Many years ago a new worshiper to my church had a simple question for me. Amber said, “I know that Christmas has some religious meaning to it. What about Easter?” Never open a door like that for some preacher!! On Thursday I was at Subway eating lunch and I saw the sign on the door, “Subway is Closed on Easter.” The notice was decorated with Easter eggs and bunny’s. I guess that is what Easter is all about!!
Paul says this about Easter, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time…” (I Corinthians 15:3-6a)
I feel sorry for those who haven’t heard. I feel sorry for those whose depth of this day is only as deep as Easter eggs and bunny’s and lots of chocolate (though I do like the chocolate part). But my heart especially goes out to those who don’t believe the matters that really matter. Paul said that these are matters of first importance. Now there are some things that really don’t matter in the church. If we have a pipe organ really doesn’t matter in the eternal scheme of things. If we speak the Lord’s Prayer at every service doesn’t make us saved, or not. If the pastor wears a robe or a suit or a pair of skinny jeans doesn’t make any difference.
But this is what matters – “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried and on the third day he was raised to life.” That matters. It matters right now. And it matters when it is decided where you and I will spend our eternity.
I like how pointed Paul is about the truth of the physical resurrection of Jesus, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise Him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (I Corinthians 15:14-19)
It is good to feel sorry for a preacher – they don’t have a chance late into the night of a Good Friday, or when everyone knows the answer to the sermon before it is asked – and I’ll take your pity. But I feel sorry for those who don’t know or don’t believe the most amazing and life changing events that ever came to the world – Jesus Christ died for sins and He came back to life.
I feel sorry when the matters that really matter in life become secondary. When we moved to Denver our kids were pretty young and they were playing basketball for the 5-6 grade Bethlehem Bobcats. I went to their games and hollered. I told the refs all the calls they had missed! If the game was close I became more vocal. If my kid wasn’t being treated right I let everyone know. My wife wouldn’t sit with me. I embarrassed her. Finally I embarrassed myself. We were up in Broomfield playing a Catholic elementary school. The referee, a lady, after hearing all my suggestions looked at me and said, “Anymore of this and I’m going to kick you out of the gym.” My!! I embarrassed my wife, my kids, our school, and me. If some 5-6 grade ball game didn’t get officiated to my standards did that really matter?
Do you have stuff in your life where you are getting it wrong? Do you make a big deal about the small stuff and the big things, the matters about you and God, matters about your soul, matters about whether you’ll be in heaven or in hell, are forgotten?
I know that you already know all about Easter and I can’t tell you any more – but this is what I think Easter is all about. It is about us living with God’s love confidently and securely. Easter is about living life knowing that when we die we will live the life God always wanted us to have. Easter is this: It is a matter of first importance: Christ died for our sins, He was buried and on the third day He came back to life.
Think of that – God loved us to such an extent that He would send Jesus to earth for this primary purpose – to pay the penalty for everyone of our sins. We have a whole bunch of sins. We have done some amazingly bad things – worse than hollering at a lady who was trying to help children enjoy a basketball game – and Jesus gave His life so that the curse of our sins would not be on our shoulders but on His back.
Some people don’t like Good Friday. It is too dark and too somber. It deals with death in a very matter-of-fact way. It is dark and somber and pretty direct, but isn’t it the news that matters? Isn’t it the news that gets things right? “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5:21) Paul says, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)
Do you want to get it right? Do you want to holler about things that really matter? Then this matters – He isn’t dead. He isn’t a martyr. He’s a Savior. When the women went to the tomb they were asked this question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5b) Jesus rose from the dead. And that means??? Death didn’t win. The grave is not all powerful. Life doesn’t end when a believer in Jesus Christ dies. Isn’t that good news for you? Isn’t that good news for all of us who have seen relatives, friends, children and spouses die, and we wonder if we will ever see them again? We can get this right because God got it right. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 15:55-56) Jesus got this right, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)
Easter is God’s victory. It is a spiritual resurrection for us. It is a life of faith and confidence that sins have been paid for and death has been destroyed.
Easter is our victory. We’re alive. We’re given hope. We live in faith. Matters of “first importance” matter to us.
Pastor Arnold Kuntz wrote a book called Devotions for the Chronologically Gifted (I think that means devotions for old people, right?). He said this, “Life narrows down, and crisis comes. And suddenly only one thing matters, and there, in the narrow place, stands Jesus.”
How does “narrowing down” come to you? Maybe it is an illness. Maybe life has changed in every way since last Easter. Maybe you are aware that you are looking at the end of your days. So when it narrows down, and it does that for all of us, can you see what this is all about? You see Jesus at all times, in every situation. Life gets more focused. Faith becomes more real. Matters that really matter really do matter.
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
That’s nothing to be sorry about. That is the best news, ever!! Amen!!