Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
April 4, 2021
“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”
On Thursday night this congregation gathered to observe the annual remembrance of the night when the Lord Jesus was betrayed into the hands of evil men, so that he could begin his passion for our sins. It was on that night when Jesus told his disciples that he would rise from the dead and go before them into Galilee (Mark 14:27-28). But the disciples weren’t paying attention to what Jesus said. They were too busy vowing emphatically that even if all others fell away, even if they must die, they would not leave Jesus. Of course, they couldn’t even wait up with him one hour to pray with him in his agony. And when danger came, they all fled.
Now these women, at the command of the angel, are to tell these same disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee. The last time they saw Jesus, they were abandoning him to death. They were breaking their word. Now, they are to see Jesus victorious over death, hell, and Satan. How do you think they feel?
Imagine a troop of soldiers marching with their commander and king off to battle. As they go, each one pledges his loyalty to this king and promises to die on the battle field rather than leave him. They wave his banner. They rattle their swords. They sing their king’s praises. Yet, when they reach the battlefield and see the green valley below them darkened by the bodies of well-armed soldiers, they freeze in their tracks. They watch as their commander and king walks forward without them. Paralyzed in fear, they stand watching until their king meets the opposing army in the center of the battlefield and they see him struck down to the ground, and every one of the king’s men flees in the opposite direction, leaving their swords and shields, even their clothes behind them.
They go and hide. One of them gets interrogated by a peasant woman, and he denies his loyalty to his king with an oath. The cowardly soldiers go and hide behind locked doors, confident that their lord is dead. Then they hear the cries of women. They declare the news that their king did indeed win the battle, what’s more, he has sent a message to meet him at their old camping grounds. Can you imagine how those cowardly soldiers would feel to go and meet him, whom they abandoned? If they can get over the shock that he isn’t dead, they would assume he would rebuke them for abandoning him; that he would tell them that they are worthless soldiers, not worthy of waving his banner; that they deserve death for deserting him on the battlefield; that their offense was as bad as treason!
That’s certainly what you would expect in such a situation. Yet, that is not how our Lord Jesus dealt with his disciples when he met with them after they abandoned him to death. Rather, he said, “Peace to you.” And to assure them that it was he and that he truly was risen from the dead and not some ghost, he ate with them and bid them to touch the wounds on his hands and feet. Yes, he rebuked them, but only for their unbelief. Instead, he focused on forgiving them and strengthening their faith, so that they could forgive others and bring others into his kingdom.
This truly is a marvelous thing. Jesus fought; his disciples fled. Jesus laid down his life; his disciples saved their own skin. Jesus won the battle, but he gives the victory to those who fled the battlefield. It is as we heard in our Epistle lesson, “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54b-57)
And this very much describes our situation as well. Each Sunday, we begin our week by worshiping our Lord and King, confessing him as Lord. We confess our sins and remember the name he has placed on us in Baptism. We confess to not be of this world, but of his kingdom. We pledge never to leave him, that we will do better this week than we did the week before. But quickly our eyelids grow heavy when we should be keeping watch. We fall asleep when we should be praying. We abandon Christ’s teaching and flee from our responsibilities as Christians, to confess Christ and not be ashamed of him and to love others, even those whom we think hate us. And many of us fail to even come on the Lord’s Day to make such a pledge and confession, because the world has so sucked us in to those things which will pass away. And then we come again to the old camping grounds, where Jesus invites us to meet him, to our Galilee, and we’re ashamed. We’re ashamed because we didn’t stay true to that prayer we sang to put to death the sin within us. We’re ashamed, because we forgot Jesus and didn’t abide with him throughout the week or weeks since we last gathered before him. We’re ashamed, because he fought for us, but we did not fight for him.
And yet, whenever we gather, our Lord does not deny us. Rather, he renews his love for us, he gives us the victory we do not deserve, he joins us to himself. He forgives us our sins against him and he strengthens us to continue the course.
Yet, this shame is real. And it keeps us from going to Galilee, so to speak, to see our risen Lord. That's certainly what happened to Jesus’ disciples. If you read the Easter accounts from the four Gospels, you’ll notice that although Jesus tells them to meet him in Galilee, they don’t meet him in Galilee until the third time Jesus appears to them! Because of shame and unbelief, they ignore Jesus’ invitation to meet him in Galilee. So, it is Jesus who has to appear to them, in the closed room in Jerusalem, to encourage them and invite them once more. When they finally meet Jesus in Galilee, it is after Jesus has caused them to catch a great catch of fish. And after their meal, Jesus asks Simon Peter three times whether he loves him, so that he who denied Jesus three times may confess his love to him three times again. And Jesus commands Peter to preach the Gospel to his sheep.
And so, we learn that we should not let shame or unbelief keep us from meeting our Lord. He did not excommunicate Peter, who was mournful over his sin. He forgave him. And he forgives us. He forgives us, who fail him. He forgives us, who are attacked by the devil, wooed and manipulated by the world, and ruled by our sinful flesh. We lose the battle, and we go to meet our Victor, who gives us the victory.
Now this does not mean that we can go on sinning and abandoning Jesus and ignoring his preaching and Sacrament, because whenever we do happen to return again, he is sure to forgive us. We can’t constantly flee the battlefield and expect to receive the victory when we constantly deny him. No, Christians must repent of their sins. In fact, we must die with Christ as often as we fail him, so that we may rise with him to new life. Remember that Jesus did rebuke them for their unbelief. We must have faith in order to receive Jesus’ victory.
Before his crucifixion, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)
We cannot continue to deny Jesus and then receive his kingdom from him. We cannot be ashamed of Jesus now and expect him to confess us before his Father in heaven. Rather, if we are to be Jesus’ disciples, we need to be willing to pick up our cross and follow him. This again is why it is so important that we meet our Lord for forgiveness and strength.
After Peter confessed his love for Jesus, Jesus made a solemn prophecy of Peter’s end. He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” And St. John adds, “This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.” (John 21:18-19) Now, at first glance, this sounds like very sad news. Peter is going to be killed. Yet, if you have been paying attention, this is very happy news. Peter, who on Thursday night wept bitterly, because to escape death he denied his Lord three times, is now being told that he will confess his Lord to the end. On Thursday night, our Lord told Peter that he would deny him three times before the rooster crows twice and Peter didn’t want to believe it. Now at Galilee, Jesus tells Peter that he will die to the glory of God and Peter is glad to know that he will be with his Lord forever.
This is how we should be. We should gladly die with Jesus, because he has died for us and promises to give us eternal life. We should be willing to lose all earthly treasures and pleasures and praises to be found in Christ. We should desire the courage to follow him, even if it loses father, mother, son, daughter, house, and lands on account of him. Because Jesus is our God and Lord, who has risen from the dead to give us the victory over death and an eternal kingdom to inherit.
Our Lord is not dead in the tomb. He is risen. His body and blood are not dead, but alive. And he bids us not to seek him among the dead, but meet him where he promises to be. Go to Galilee, where he promises to be, as he told you before. Our Galilee is where the Gospel is preached and where the true body and blood of Christ Jesus are administered faithfully. That is where our Lord promises to be with us until the end of the age. There, in our Galilee, our Lord does not condemn us or reject us for abandoning him. Rather, he forgives us and strengthens us, even to die for him, that we might live forever with him.
Our Lord Jesus is with us today here in our Galilee. And he invites us to come to him frequently for forgiveness and strength. Our Lord has won the battle. He is not dead, but living. And he gives us the victory, so that we have the strength to die and rise with him. Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed. Alleluia. Amen.