Easter-b

Preached: April 5, 2015

Jesus Has Swallowed Up Death
Isaiah 25:7-9

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus is Isaiah 25.

On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever.

The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.

In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation” (Isaiah 25:8-9 NIV11)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Death is frightening. Maybe the best evidence of that is the effort we go through to cover it up. Cemeteries are well-cared for and on the surface look as pleasant as any park or garden. Funeral homes present that comforting, family, home-like atmosphere. And as soon as a person dies, the way we talk about them changes for the better. Even scoundrels are eulogized. “Speak no ill of the dead,” they say. And that’s not just an American thing. It’s from the Latin De mortuis nihil nisi bonum, and if it’s in Latin, you know it’s been around for a while.

Death is frightening and rightly so. God created Adam and Eve to live forever. Death was not his intention. Death came because of sin. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 NIV84), the Bible declares.

Maybe that’s why we feel compelled to talk well of the dead no matter how bad they were. Our conscience knows our own sinfulness. Our conscience accuses us. But if we pretend that even this scoundrel who died wasn’t all that bad, then maybe there’s hope for us as well. How often don’t people say, “They’re in a better place. They’re no longer suffering,” no matter who it si that died? Death doesn’t seem so bad then. And that takes the edge off for us. Maybe I don’t have to be so concerned about being ready for death if most everyone ends up in a better place.

But remember that passage, “The wages of sin is death”? Death is so frightening because of what sin rightly earns us. That’s what wages are: What is rightly earned. My sin earns me God’s righteous anger and just punishment. My sin earns me hell. And that’s what sin earns you, fellow sinners. “The wages of sin is death.” As excruciating as late stages of terminal cancer can be, that pain is nothing compared to the suffering of hell. Through the prophet Isaiah the Lord describes hell as, “Their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched” (Isaiah 66:24 NIV84). Jesus describes it as “the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30 NIV84).

Even though those words, “They’re in a better place,” are said no matter who dies, very few end up in a better place. Many suffer much more after death than they ever did in this life, and that suffering never ends. Jesus says, “Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13, 14 NIV84). Which path are you on?

Only one has conquered death. Only one has ripped the shroud and shattered the chains. Rather than the grave swallowing him, he has swallowed up death in victory. Jesus has risen! He has risen indeed! He alone gives, freely gives, us the victory. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NIV84), that passage concludes.

Now this does not undo Jesus’ words that many are on the broad and easy path to hell. The way to life is narrow. In fact, it’s only through Jesus. No other path, no other way, leads to life. Everything else brings death. Jesus alone is the Way. To say that someone is in a better place even though they did not follow Jesus is a dangerous, deadly lie.

But for you who follow Jesus in faith, you who trust in him as your crucified Savior whose blood has paid for your sins and redeem you to be his own, you who confess with Thomas that Jesus is your God and your Lord, for you there is a better place, a much better place. There he wipes every tear from your eyes. There you will be before the throne of God in his blessed presence. There you will be free from all that harms and destroys, from all that saddens and pains. There you will be with Jesus forever. Be certain of that for Jesus has risen. He has swallowed up death.

Easter celebrates our Lord’s resurrection. He has conquered death, swallowed it up. And he gives you that victory. For he has paid for your sins, suffering in our places the wages our sin had earned for us. His resurrection is God’s verdict that you are forgiven. You are justified in Christ. Believe and do not doubt. Believe with all your heart, for Jesus has risen.

Easter celebrates our Lord’s resurrection. Just as the firstfruit of the harvest promises that much more will be coming. His resurrection promises your resurrection and mine. Jesus has swallowed up death. So death has lost its power to frighten and terrify us who are in Christ. Jesus will raise us from the dead. We will see him with our own eyes., for our Redeemer lives. He will not abandon our bodies to the grave, for he has purchased you to be his own, ransomed and redeemed you. Believe that your Redeemer lives.

Those who fall asleep in Jesus truly are in a better place, no doubt about it. They are in a better place, not because thinking that makes us feel better, not because we can figure out something nice to say about them, but rather because of Jesus, our risen Savior. He has swallowed up death. He takes the souls of his faithful people to be with him in heaven at the moment of their death. When he returns, he will raise their bodies and glorify them like unto his glorious body. Then all God’s people will live with him forever in the eternal Alleluia.

So dear friends, keep your eyes on Jesus and say with Isaiah, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation” (Isaiah 25:9 NIV11). Amen.

The peace of god that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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