Easter Sunday

Preached: April 12, 2009

What's the Verdict?
Romans 4:25

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus is Romans 4:25

He was handed over because of our sins and raised because of our justification. (Romans 4:25)

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

In the novel Bleak House Charles Dickens tells of a court case, named Jarndyce and Jarndyce, that lasts for generations. Those who were children when it began have had children and grandchildren of their own and had passed on. In our own country we hear of cases that seem to drag on forever. How long don't murders sit on death row as their appeals wind through the legal system? Even when speed seems vitally important, such as determining who's the Senator from Minnesota, the courts seem so slow.

How agonizing that can be for those who are waiting! What will the verdict be? Will I get the inheritance or not? Will I be found guilty or innocent? Will some new evidence or star witness tilt the case for me or against me? Who can know the verdict until the gavel sounds?

But all that uncertainty and doubt is the opposite of faith. Yes, some people might say: “I believe he'll be found innocent.” But they really mean “I think,” or “It's my opinion,” or “This is what I want to happen.” They don't know for sure. But Biblical faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). Yet if my certainty is based on my wishful thinking, my wanting something to be true, then that's a very silly certainty. In the end it's damning stupidity.

All this takes a very serious turn as we enter God's courtroom. For what hangs in the balance is not a Senate seat, or jail time, or even the electric chair. Your eternity hangs in the balance: heaven or hell, eternal life in the blessedness of our Lord's glorious presence or burning torment separated from love forever. There's no in-between, no second-chance, no slap on the wrist. Heaven or hell. Innocent or guilty. How many wish for the Judge to go easy on them or at least give them credit for trying! How many seem hopeful, even certain, they'll be found not guilty because they've paid off the judge with their prayers and offerings and good deed! So many may think themselves quite certain that all we be okay, but how dreadfully surprised they will be!

So are we to agonize our entire life wondering and worrying? Are we to live in that constant doubt and uncertainty, like in court case that drags on? What will the verdict be? Will you be found guilty or not? The evidence of our guilt stares us in the face. How often we have doubted God! How often we have neglected his word! How often we have dishonored his name by the way we live! To deny our guilt adds to the charges against us. For to deny our guilt calls the divine Judge a liar. And what kind of verdict will that get you?

How can we have faith if the verdict is uncertain? Or to be honest, how can we have faith that we will be acquitted, declared not guilty, when all the evidence clearly points to a guilty verdict, damnation, hell? How can you be certain of acquittal? How can you have faith? Because, dear friends, the verdict is already in. This is not a long drawn out case spanning our entire life. The verdict is in. The Easter verdict.

Listen to what the Lord, your God, says to you through the Apostle Paul in Romans 4:25: “[Jesus] was handed over because of our sins and raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:25). Jesus has risen from the dead. Why? Because the verdict was in. What is that verdict? Justified! Acquitted! Forgiven! Jesus has risen from the dead because you have been justified.

But how can God do anything else but declare me guilty, condemn me? Look at all the evidence against me? How could he acquit me, justify me, thousands of years before I was born? Has he turned his back on justice to forgive a guilty sinner like me?

Listen again, dear friends, to the first part of that verse: “[Jesus] was handed over because of our sins” (Romans 4:25). God did not leave your sins unpunished. He punished Jesus in your place. Justice has been satisfied. And now just as all your sins were counted against Jesus when he died, so also when Jesus rose that verdict counts for you.

But how can I know for certain that I am included under that verdict? Because, dear friend, Jesus carried the sins of the world. That includes you. He was handed over for all sins, including all of yours. So his resurrection is God's verdict for every sinner, including you. Believe this Good News. The Easter verdict is for you.

Yet sad to say, many stand before God arguing their case based on their life, their prayers, their efforts, their sincerity, their fervor. They ignore this Easter verdict of full and free forgiveness. So God will judge them as they have asked based on their life. And there verdict, too, is sure and certain: Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!

But faith pleads: “Jesus! Jesus! Only Jesus! He was handed over because of my sins and he was raised because of my justification. Jesus paid for all of my sins. In him alone I am forgiven, because he has risen.” Plead that, dear friends, with all confidence, with all certainty, with all sureness. For the verdict is in. The gavel has sounded. Jesus has risen. You are forgiven.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

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