Preached: April 22, 2012
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word form God through which our risen Savior speaks to us is Luke 24
Jesus said to his disciples, “These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you: Everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms had to be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
He said to them, “So it stands written: The Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:44-48).
This is the word of our Lord.
“God is light.” You heard those words in the Second Lesson from 1 John. You see them illustrated on the cover of the bulletin. God is light. Picture the earlier morning darkness of that Sunday after Good Friday. Such darkness and gloom! Then the rising sun shatters the night. It’s rays reveal an empty tomb. Light fills the land. “Morning breaks upon the tomb; Jesus scatters all its gloom” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, 159:1 “Morning Breaks upon the Tomb”).
But darkness still fills this world. Darkness fills the human heart. How does the Easter light penetrate such darkness?
Jesus completed the work he came to do. He died for the sins of the world and rose from the dead in victory. And now as the risen Savior, he sends out his followers to shine with his message of light that scatters the darkness. He sends out you and me on our Easter mission. That’s the theme today. How does Jesus enable us to carry out this mission? By opening our minds to understand his written word -- part one. What does the Easter mission send us out to do? To herald Jesus’ words of repentance and forgiveness -- part two.
The young man was brilliant. He considered the Bible the greatest piece of ancient literature. He learned Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic to go back to the original. He studied the Bible, analyzed it, memorized long sections. His academic papers about it were getting noticed. Many began considering him one of the leading scholars of the Scriptures.
But you, dear Christian, know the Bible better than he did. For he did not believe. All the human learning and wisdom of this world cannot penetrate the mysteries of God’s love hidden in the Scriptures. They can see human drama played out in the Bible stories. They can see man’s record of the battle between good and evil. They can see Jesus in his goodness teaching us to be loving. But they cannot see their Savior, the only Savior, the Savior they desperately need to rescue them from sin and death. No amount of human wisdom, insight, or learning can discover that.
Only Jesus can open our minds to understand his written word with a believing heart. That’s what he did for his disciples on that first Easter. That’s what he continues to do for you and me as he sends us out on our Easter mission.
How does he open our minds? Not by putting us into some sort of meditative trance. Not by us emptying our thoughts. Not by us being religious or doing religion, like sitting in a pew even as we drift off elsewhere.
How does he open our minds? How does he enlighten our hearts? Well, how did he do it for his disciples? Let’s look at what Jesus is doing as he opens their minds. Look at the verses before and after that. What’s he doing? He’s speaking to his disciples. And he’s not just speaking any old thing. He’s speaking the words of the Scriptures, the words written down and recorded in the Old Testament, which he refers to as the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms (Luke 24:44 NIV84). “He said to them, ‘This is what I told you … Everything … that is written about me …’ He told them, ‘This is what is written …’ ” (Luke 24:44, 46).
That, dear friends, is how he opens our minds and enlightens our dark hearts. Through his written word, the Bible. His word opens our minds not because we have such great insight. His written word opens our minds because Jesus sends the Holy Spirit through that written word. His written word is the sword of the Spirit to cut through our stubborn resistance and pride. His written word is the Spirit’s light that shatters the darkness of our ignorance and unbelief.
Through the Scriptures, the written word of God, the Holy Spirit exposes our true fallen nature in all its filth and darkness. Yes, I am that godless lawbreaker the Commandments declare me to be. I am that powerless, helpless sinner, damned by even my best attempts. Who can rescue me from this pit of death and hell?
And the Scriptures, the written word, declares to you, “Here is the One, the only One who can rescue and save you, dear sinner. Here is your Jesus, God’s Son. He’s the payment, the only sacrifice, that ransoms and redeems you. He’s your righteousness that brings your God’s verdict of acquittal. For look, he who died for you, now lives. In him you have forgiveness and eternal life.” Through that message the Holy Spirit has kindled faith to burn brightly in your heart. That’s how God’s light penetrates the darkness of our hearts. Through the Scriptures, the written word.
That young, brilliant man had high regard for the Bible as literature. But he rejected it as the truth about his own sinfulness and rejected it as the truth about the Savior he desperately needed though refused to admit.
But before we shake our heads at that young man too much, we do have one thing to learn from him. Look at how dedicated he was to learning the Bible even though he thought it was just great literature. You, dear Christian, know and believe that the Bible is so much more. You are convinced that these are the words of eternal life. You are convinced that these are the words of your God and Savior. You are convinced that these words endure forever. Does your dedication to learning the Bible match that conviction?
Dear friends, God’s Easter light shines in your heart. Don’t put it out by neglecting his written word. The more you study his written word with a believing heart, the more he opens your mind to understand it, and the better equipped you will be to carry out the Easter mission he sends you on. He does not send you out unprepared. He has prepared you and continues to prepare you by opening your mind to understand his written word.
Now, what is this Easter mission he sends us out on? It is to herald his words of repentance and forgiveness.
Another young man a few centuries ago, road on horseback into the village. He wore what to us would look like a long sleeveless shirt or a short coat, going about half-way down to his knees. It was called a tabard. Emblazoned on it in bright colors was a regal lion, the coat of arms of the king. All knew he was the herald bringing the message from the palace.
When Jesus says in the text, “repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached” (Luke 24:47 NIV84), the Greek word translated “preached” is the word used to refer to what a herald does. If you want to use a more modern comparison, think of an ambassador.
Heralds or ambassadors do not make up their own message. They speak what their king or president or government sends them to speak.
Your Easter mission, dear Christian, is to be the herald of God’s Son, the King of heaven. What is the coat of arms you wear on your tabard? Your devotion to your Savior as you gladly hear and learn his word confessing his truth, and your love, kindness, and forgiveness toward others as you serve one another -- these are the coat of arms that mark you as heralds of your King. They show your true country, your heavenly citizenship.
Now the herald's mission is all about the message. What’s the message from your king? The entire Bible is filled with this message as Jesus clearly explains: “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” (Luke 24:46, 47). Does that sound familiar? It's the same message that shown into your dark heart.
What Good News is yours to share! The same message that enlightens your hearts is the message for you to share. The same message that works repentance in you showing your sin and revealing your Savior is the message for you to proclaim. The same message that brings you forgiveness in Jesus, the crucified and risen Christ, is the message for you to herald.
That’s why you are not only heralds but also witnesses. Jesus told his disciples, “You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48 NIV84). Your not eye-witness in the same sense that the Apostles were. They saw him, touched him, talked to him; they had been taught by him personally and sent out by him directly. You are not eye-witnesses like they were. But you are witness of what the words of Jesus have done in your own heart and life. You are witnesses of how God’s law convicted you of your guilt, crushing your human pride, destroying any hope in your own strength. You are witnesses of how the message that Jesus suffered and died for you and rose to give you the victory -- you are witnesses of how that message transformed your heart and brought you real peace and hope and strength. For in Jesus you have full and free forgiveness. His suffering paid for your sins. His resurrection declares your acquittal in God's courtroom. You have new life in Christ. What joy!
All this is based on his name, on what he has done for you. That's what Jesus says, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be breached in his name” (Luke 24:47 NIV84). It’s not based on our efforts or attempts. How all would fail! It’s based on his name, his promises, his accomplishments. That’s why you can be sure and certain that his forgiveness is real and true. That's why you can proclaim it with full confidence. He won the victory. He has defeated sin, Satan, and death. He has risen in glory. He has done it for you. Now you are heralds of that victory. You are witnesses of how his victory has brought you life, eternal life. That’s the Easter mission he sends us out on. That’s how God’s light shines out from his written word into this dark world, like the rising sun. His truth shines out through you. So herald his written words of repentance and forgiveness.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.