Easter 1a -- Easter Sunday

Preached: April 24, 2011

What Easter Joy, For It Is Just As Jesus Said!
Matthew 28:1-10

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word of God, given to the Apostle Paul, recorded for us in 1 Corinthians.

After the Sabbath as the first day of the week dawned, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.

Now there was a large earthquake, for an angel of the Lord had come down from heaven and was present. He rolled away the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightening and his clothes were white as snow. The guards quaked from fear and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, "Don't be afraid, since I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here. For he has risen, just as he had said. Come see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead. See he goes ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him. Now I have told you."

With fear and great joy they hurried from the tomb and ran to give the message to his disciples. Suddenly Jesus meet them, saying "Greetings." They came and held his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus told them, "Don't be afraid. Go, tell my brothers to go to Galilee. There they will see me." (Matthew 28:1-10).

This is the word of our Lord.

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

Come to the quiet garden. Come see the little cave, that new tomb. You don't need to plug your nose. There is no smell of death in the air, only morning freshness. For the tomb is empty. And though the sun is still pushing back night's darkness, brightness radiates. For there an angel of the Lord sits on the stone that once sealed the grave. Like lightening turning night into day, his face and body shine. His clothes blaze white.

Fear fills the women. Can you feel the tension in the air? Even the guards at the tomb had been overcome with terror. These women had come to pay their last respects, to finish the burial preparations. They had come expecting the silence and darkness of the grave, not the rumblings of an earthquake and the radiance of an angel.

What words this messenger from the Lord speaks! "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said" (Matthew 28:5, 6 NIV1984). And that, dear friend, is the reason for our Easter joy, isn't it? Because all is just as Jesus said. So keep this theme in mind: What Easter joy, for it's just as he has said!

Easter joy is a complex emotion. It certainly has those elements of happiness, gladness, celebration that we associate with joy. But don't neglect the majesty, wonder, amazement, reverence, and even solemness that also pulsate through Easter joy. For Easter brings us into the presences of the majesty of our God. Here his own heaven-sent messenger announces the good news. Here Life and Death have met, and Life has overcome. Here we meet Jesus, glorified in the glory that was is from before the creation of the world. When the women see Jesus, they don't slap him on the back with the joy of meeting an old pal they thought they'd never see again. No, they fall at his feet and worship him, their God and Savior. That's Easter joy.

Such joy, dear friends, comes as your faith grasps what it means that all this is just as Jesus said.

Now what is it that he had said? Three weeks ago in the Gospel, you heard Jesus tell his disciples: "[T]he Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28 NIV1984). A little earlier he had described how this would happen. He said, "[T]he Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!" (Matthew 20:18, 19 NIV1984). That's what he said, and that's what he did.

He came to serve as our Redeemer, the One who paid the ransom to redeem sinners. That's why he was betrayed, condemned, and crucified. Your Redeemer gave his life to ransom you. And now Easter marks that ransom paid in full.

Why does that bring us such joy? Because of what he ransomed, or redeemed, us from. A few days earlier those women had seen the cruel despair of death. The limp, lifeless body of Jesus taken down from the cross. His side pierced. His hands and feet punctured by nails. His hair matted with blood and his face ashen with death. Dead. Completely dead. He died because of our sins.

What a reminder of what awaits you and me! The last desperate gasps for air, the eyes glazed over, the face shrouded in death's pallor, rigor mortis setting in, the breakdown of our flesh, rot and decay. What a reminder of our sin! For that's why we die. That's why Jesus died, because of our sins, for he was sinless. How serious our sin is! Yet it's so easy to dismiss our sin as life flows along. Yes, our thoughts turn to God occasionally, especially if trouble or sickness strike. But even then do we consider how serious, deadly serious, our sin is? Even as the coldness of death stalks, how tempting to excuse my sin, to chase other remedies, to deny that death is my rightful lot, and not only death of the body but also the depths of hell, the fiery terror, where the worm does not die nor the flame go out. Who wants to think about such things?

Yet if you do not see your sin in its ugliness, if death and hell has not terrified you as the just and right wages you've earned, then there is no true Easter joy for you, no matter how loudly you might sing or how good you may feel. Then so what if Jesus rose? You don't seem to think your sins are all that bad. Why do you need him? Go pay the ransom yourself.

But you, dear sinner, you who know the terror of your sin, you who see the guilt staining your heart, you who wonder who could ever pay for what you have done, who could ever redeem you from death, who could ever ransom you from the hungry grave -- you, dear sinner, come to Jesus' tomb. "He is not here; he has risen, just as he said" (Matthew 28:6 NIV1984).

He is risen. So the ransom has been paid in full. You can be sure of that, for it is just as he has said.

He is risen. So your sins are all paid for in full. You can be sure of that, for it's just as he has said.

He is risen. So you too will rise. You can be sure of that, for it's just as he has said.

What Easter joy, for it is just as Jesus has said!

Faith clings to Jesus' words. Just as those women grasped Jesus' feet and worshiped him in Easter joy, so also faith grasps Jesus' words and worships him. If you let go of what he's said, then you've given up all that he ransomed you for. Only sin, death, and hell remain for you. But living faith holds on to Jesus' words with all sureness and certainty that it is just as he has said. Your Redeemer lives. The ransom's paid. What joy, what Easter joy, that brings us!

So hear your Redeemer's words, dear friends. Hear them preached from the Scriptures. Hear them read in your homes. Hear them taught in Sunday school and Bible class. Hear your Redeemer's word throughout the year with that same Easter joy. The ransom has been paid in full. Your Redeemer lives. It is just as he has said.

And share your Redeemer's words. The women were not to keep the message to themselves. They told the disciples. Speak your Redeemer's words to one another and to those who do not yet know him, so that they too may believe and share in your true Easter joy.

It is just as he has said. Yes, your Redeemer lives. Faith knows that truth with sure certainty. Faith trusts that truth and confesses it with firm confidence. For your Redeemer has kept his Word. He has paid the ransom in full for all. So for you who believe, death need no longer terrify you. Your Redeemer lives, just as he said. He has conquered death. He gives you the victory. So you too will rise from the grave. You will see him with your own eyes. For he will come again in his glory, just as he has said. Your Redeemer lives! What joy! What Easter joy, for it is just as Jesus has said! Amen.

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

Pastor Gregg Bitter

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