John of Damascus writes a beautiful Easter hymn (LSB 487), called “Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain.” The hymn is glorious as it depicts God’s wonderful plan to bring His holy people into joy from sadness. I’ve used the first stanza to drive home the story of the drowning of Pharaoh and his whole army in the Red Sea (what’s most magnificent is that the sea floor was dry ground for the Israelites and mud for the Egyptians). But nothing tops the fourth stanza:
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the first born of the dead. Nothing was capable of holding him. Death couldn’t chain him, the tomb couldn’t sting him, the devil couldn’t defeat him. Now he reigns over every enemy. The immortal becomes mortal to save mortality and then defeats death so that he becomes immortal. Oh glorious Lord Jesus. You make all things new by your cross. Through your blood we have been made immortal. Death no longer has any mastery. Alleluia! Now we cry to our King immortal. Jesus, triumphant, burst the bars of the tomb’s dark portal. Come, you faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness! God has brought you into joy from sadness!
Our sin puts us on the ground with our noses in the dirt. “Depart from me!” we say to God. The sinner cannot stand in the presence of the living God. We may think it would be different for us, but time and time again the seemingly strong become weak in the presence of God Almighty: Adam, Isaiah, Peter, John, etc. It is, after all, our own sin that has destroyed us. But God will not let his crown be lost to our own works and wickedness. He sends Jesus to redeem us. Jesus redeems us by paying in blood. In the first chapter of Revelation, John is knelt down before Jesus as a dead man. This is the same God that John reclined with on Maundy Thursday. It is the disciple that believed at the tomb. Yet he kneels with his face to the ground. It matters not who he is. It takes Jesus to touch him (like on the mountain of transfiguration) and help him realize what has happened. Jesus says to him and he says to you, “Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last; I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen.” Like on Easter day, “Peace be with you!” Death has been defeated. Death no longer has mastery over Christ and therefore no mastery over John or you either. You will live like Jesus for evermore. Wow. The firstborn of the dead has made the weak strong for evermore. Alleluia!
Praise the Lord, the King has returned to Zion. Your King is strong to save. He bares his holy arm and with it he has won the victory. Our faith is not in vain, dear Christian, for Christ has risen from the dead. He is victorious over all your enemies. Who are your enemies? Death, sin, and the devil…and the devil, the world, and your sinful nature. How beautiful are the feet of those that preach to you this good news: these enemies are defeated in the blood of Jesus. How beautiful it is that this victorious King sends his heralds out that you would hear and believe. How beautiful it is that in your hearing, God creates faith. So lift up your voices with the watchmen–together we sing for joy. Break forth into singing and know that the Lord has comforted his people (Isaiah 52).
The prayers of God’s saints are never a bother to him. It doesn’t matter the immensity or the complexity or the simplicity. Don’t try to protect God from your feelings. Don’t act shy and self-conscious. Don’t think yourself humble or pious. Coming to God in prayer is intimate. To hold back is to say you don’t trust him or that he doesn’t care for you. If what you want is a good parking spot or to win the game or even your husband back from the dead, but you won’t ask God for it, it means that you think He will laugh at you or that he doesn’t care about you or will think your request stupid. Either that, or you don’t think He has the power to give it. God desires you to open your heart to Him in prayer, to lay yourself vulnerable, to reach out and touch his garment, to kneel before him and ask. Why won’t you trust Him? Repent. Do not be afraid. He loves you. He loves your prayers. Faith is bold.
We begin the study of John’s Gospel this Sunday in 4:12 Bible Class. The Word becomes flesh. The greatest event in the history of humanity is this moment. God becomes part of his creation to save you and redeem you. “We have beheld his glory,” John says. They were all eye witnesses. Their testimony would hold up in a court of law. There was no hearsay–their very own eyes saw these things take place. Indeed, the Son of God died on the cross and there he is glorified. He glorifies the Father. He dies and rises again to have dominion over death and the devil. This class should be pretty fun as we dive deep into John’s testimony. These things were written that you may believe and that by believing you might have life in his name. If you are in high school, join us for the 4:12 this Sunday at 10:45AM.
Part of being a sinner is guilt and terror over our sin. The disciples had fled from Jesus when they had promised to die with him. They were locked in an upper room for fear of the Jews. Then the unthinkable happens. Jesus walks through the locked doors and stands in their midst. The same shock and awe manifested itself in Joseph’s brothers when they realized their brother was alive and in power over them. We feel the pain of our sin in our heart (the BIG Lutheran word for that is contrition). The Law shows us our sin and we feel it in our heart. We feel this terror striking the conscience through the knowledge of sin. Jesus comes into the upper room and he comes to you, too. He comes not to strike terror, but to take your terror away. He strips the guilt from you and leaves you with peace. “Peace be with you!” Don’t be afraid. So you, too, lay your sins before the One who has died and rose again to conquer death and the devil. Confess these heavy sins and let Jesus take them to his cross, and you will have his peace. You know, he doesn’t give peace like the world gives. His peace lasts forever.
They believed in the resurrection, but they didn’t think that it was now. They expected a dead body in Lazarus’s tomb and they expected a dead body in Jesus’ tomb. But the time was exactly right for the reign of death to end that morning (St. Paul says, “the fullness of time”). Instead of what they expected, they got an ear full from angels. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Everything has been turned on its nose. The reign of death is over and the reign of life has begun. This Jesus can’t be in the grave. He is alive and alive is not right for tombs. “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” Ah, yes, all of the Law is completed in this Jesus and all that the Prophets spoke concerning him pointed to this day. This is the long awaited Messiah. This is the one promised in the Garden of Eden that would crush the head of the ancient serpent. Alleluia, the resurrection is now, the resurrection is for you. Alleluia, Jesus is alive and he gives eternal life, his life, to you. So let us meditate on the word of the Law and the Prophets. Let’s ruminate on the stories of the One who conquered death and the devil. Let us rejoice in the resurrection now applied to us in our baptism. Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
Mortality can now take on immortality in the victory of Jesus. We who were once under the curse of Adam, now have eternal life because Jesus has won the victory for us. Death is swallowed up in this victory and the sting that so many feel is taken away. Death is just a sleep for us and we mourn with hope…knowing that we will be transformed to be like Jesus and we will live with him forever. So we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus for in it we live with him forever.
Jesus kept the Law perfectly. It started on the 8th day after his birth and it continues even after his crucifixion. He rests on the Sabbath. He keeps the Law for you and me. He keeps it perfectly. He offers a perfect sacrifice to His Father and takes away the sin of the whole world. Now the wrath of God has been stilled. Now we are called children of God. Now we are the Father’s delight. He sleeps in the belly of the Earth. He will awaken. He is the Lord of Life and he gives his life to you.
The servant of the Lord has acted wisely. He has taken on the sin of the world in order that he would free the world of sin and death and the power of the devil. It was the right time, the perfect time, that God sent forth his Son to the cross to die, to redeem you, and to restore life to humanity. To hang on a tree is a curse, but Jesus takes this on that he might become lowly and you would be exalted. So he bore our sorrows and griefs. He was stricken, smitten, and afflicted for us. For our transgressions, he was wounded and crushed. God dies that the reign of sin would be over. The great reversal, the great exchange has taken place. You were low and Jesus exalted, but for your sake he becomes the lowest so that you would be raised up. How great is this love?! You have been showered in the blood of the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Now they call you children of God.