Preached: March 23, 2008

Peter's First Easter
John 20:1-10

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to our risen Jesus is John 20.

The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the Scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again unto their own home. (Jon 20:1-10 KJV).

This is the Word of our Lord.

We know welcome our guest speaker, Simon Peter, from Capernaum in Galilee.

Dear fellow heirs, chosen as God's elect through the blood of Jesus Christ:

“Grace and peace be yours in abundance” (1 Peter 1:2 NIV). Thank you for this opportunity to share with you the Easter joy.

What a day to praise our God! “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade -- kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice” (1 Peter 1:3-6 NIV)! For you have been redeemed, “not with perishable things such as silver and gold . . . but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18, 19 NIV). “You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23 NIV). What a day to praise our God! What a day for Easter joy!

When I went to that tomb with John on that first Easter morning, I did not have the same joy you have now. I was still confused and bewildered. But I'm getting ahead of myself. For to know the Easter joy that finally came to me, you must know what happened a few days earlier.

That previous week had been so eventful. It began with the praises of Palm Sunday, as Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem and the people shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” It was a week of conflict. Jesus drove out the money changers from the temple. His enemies tried to trick him with questions, but he answered with God's truth.

Then came the night of the Passover. The lamb was prepared along with unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and wine. We gathered in the upper room. Jesus himself washed our feet, even though I at first protested. He spoke many words that night -- words about love, about preparing a place for us in his Father's house, about sending the Holy Spirit to be our Counselor and Comforter, about himself as the Vine and we as the branches. That night he gave us his promises with his body and blood in the Lord's Supper.

Then we left to go to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus said that we would all fall away that night. Not me, I thought, not me. I said aloud, “Even if all fall away, I will not” (Mark 14:29 NIV). How my self-assured pride trapped me! I thought I was so strong, so bold. But Jesus warned me. He said that I would deny him three times that night before the rooster crowed. But I didn't believe him. My faith was too strong to deny him. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (Mark 14:31 NIV), I promised. How those words came back to haunt me!

In that garden Jesus asked James and John along with me to watch with him as he prayed. But I fell asleep. Then Judas came leading a band of men. They were going to arrest Jesus. Here was my chance to show that I would die with him. I drew my sword and cut off someone's the ear. But Jesus told me to put the sword away. He did not need that kind of defense. He had legions of angels to defend him, but then how would Scripture be fulfilled he said. Then it sunk in. Jesus was really being arrested. This was no dream, no mirage. All of us ran away, abandoning our Lord, leaving him in the hands of his enemies.

That alone made my words empty boasts. But it got worse. I and another disciple followed. In the courtyard of the high priest I warmed myself by the fire. Then a servant woman confronted me: “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus” (Mark 14:67 NIV). “I don't know or understand what you're talking about” (Mark 14:68 NIV), I said. I left the fire and went to the entryway. They followed, accusing me of being one of his disciples. I denied Jesus again, this time with an oath calling God as my witness “I don't know the man” (Matthew 27:72 NIV). Then a little while later, they pin me down. “You talk like a Galilean. Didn't I see you there in the garden?” If they had seen me cut of the man's ear, I would certainly suffer. So again I deny, “I don't know the man!” (Matthew 27:74 NIV). I call down curses on myself, “God damn me if I know him!”

Then the rooster crowed, and Jesus looked at me. His words came back to me. What had I done! Worse than the blows from the guards, I had denied him, I his disciple and friend. But he had also said to me, “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32 NIV). Wicked sinner though I was, yet in him there was forgiveness even for me. Overwhelmed, I went out and wept bitterly.

The women reported that Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. What confusion and sadness troubled my heart that Friday and Saturday. Doubts and bewilderment swirled around me. Wasn't he the Messiah, the Son of the living God? Then how could he have died like this? But hadn't he talked about betrayal and death? Yet it didn't make sense to any of us. Would they hunt us down now? What were to do? In terror and confusion, we hid.

Early that Sunday, the women went to finish the burial preparations. All of a sudden Mary Magdalene comes racing back. “They've taken him away” she shouts. “They've taken his body and we don't know where they have put him!” (see John 20: 2 NIV). John and I run to the tomb. What could this all mean? What has happened? How could things get any worse? John outruns me, but he hesitates before going in. I rush in. His body is not there. But this was no scene of a grave robbery. The linens that wrapped the body were still there. Who would unwrap a dead body to move it? In fact, the face cloth was neatly folded up separate from the linens. What could this all mean? How slow I was to understand! This was exactly what the Scriptures and Jesus himself had said. This was God's plan of salvation.

Later that day, Jesus appeared to me (Luke 24:34). He really had risen. He had truly come back to life. He even came to me, who had denied him. He had risen for me, even for me.

Now slowly I began to understand and my faith grew. That night we were still hiding behind locked doors, when Jesus appeared again. But slowly we began to understand. This is what the Scriptures had foretold. Jesus had fulfilled it all. In order for our sins to be forgiven, he had to die in our place. His resurrection from the dead on the third day proclaims forgiveness to sinners, even to you and to me. This is the Easter joy. This Good News of full and free forgiveness in Jesus' name. What joy! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

So dear friends, God's chosen people, don't let this Easter pass as just another holiday. Experience the Easter joy by seeing the depth of your sin, as I did. For in the end, every sin is rebellion against God. Every sin denies that we owe him total obedience. Every sin calls down God's curse on us and damns us to hell.

But then run with me to the empty tomb. He is not there. He has risen, just as he said. He has risen from the dead. For on the cross he took God's curse in our place. His blood has paid for all sins, yours and mine and everyone's. His resurrection proves that God has accepted Jesus' blood as full payment for us. By raising Jesus from the dead, God gave the verdict that Jesus is innocent and righteous. And since Jesus carried the sins of the world (including ours), since he is your Substitute, that verdict is for you. In Jesus you are acquitted. You are released, set free. Believe that your sins, all of them, are forgiven. And with forgiveness, you have salvation and eternal life. Such Easter joy! Live it today and every day.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

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