Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
April 17, 2022
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
So what? No, I’m not being flippant. For every what, there needs to be a so what, or better yet, for us Lutherans, a “What does this mean?”. The what is precisely what the angel said, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen.” That is the what. Well, what does this mean? It means that our sins are forgiven, that we are justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ apart from our works, that we are at peace with God, as St. Paul says in Romans 4 and 5, “Jesus Christ was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus died for our trespasses. He was raised for our justification, meaning, that his resurrection proves that the sacrifice Jesus offered for our sins has been accepted by God. Jesus’ resurrection means that God is at peace with us, as Jesus’ first words to his disciples on the night of that first Easter prove, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)
So, on this Easter morning and every day you must believe that your sins are forgiven, that God declares you righteous in his sight, and that you are at peace with God for the sake of Christ’s death and resurrection. You must believe this for two reasons. First, because Jesus did indeed die for the sins of the whole world, as the prophets, John the Baptist, the Apostles, and Christ Jesus himself declared, and he rose from the dead on the third day, proving that what he proclaimed is true, that he is indeed the Son of God, that all our sins have once and for all been washed away in his blood. Second, we must believe that our sins are forgiven and that we are justified before God on account of Jesus’ death and resurrection, because Jesus himself has promised us this, and Jesus is not a liar (John 3:15-16; 6:57; Mark 16:16; Titus 1:2).
So, now we have the so what, or rather, the meaning of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Now, we need the therefore. What must necessarily happen on account of the resurrection of Christ? Jesus himself gives us the therefore: therefore, repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations beginning with Jerusalem. (Luke 24:47) Repentance and forgiveness of sins must be proclaimed in Jesus’ name. Because Jesus has done all the work, (he labored on the cross, and he rose from the dead) there is nothing for us to do in order to be saved except to believe the promise. And whoever believes the promise is saved. But how can they believe in him of whom they have never heard? (Romans 10:14) So, in order for people to be saved by Jesus’ death and resurrection, this Gospel must be preached to them. This is why Jesus prayed to the Father the night he was betrayed, “I do not ask for these only (that is, not for his Apostles only), but also for those who will believe in me through their words.” (John 17:20) Faith comes by hearing the words of Christ. (Romans 10:17) Without hearing these words, no one can come to saving faith.
The content of Jesus’ message is repentance and forgiveness of sins. Now, repentance properly speaking consists of two parts: 1. sorrow over sins, and 2. faith in the forgiveness of sins. This is why the Gospel is not properly preached when the bare message that Jesus died on the cross for sinners is preached without any context. Sinners must know that they are sinners before they can believe that Jesus saves sinners. A sick person must know that he is sick before he will take any medicine. So, those who preach the Gospel must always first preach the Law. They must make sinners aware that they have offended God, that they deserve to go to hell for their sins, that they are by nature no good. You must know that you have offended God, that you deserve to go to hell, that you are by nature no good.
This sounds mean and impolite, but it is as impolite as a doctor telling his patient he has cancer. It is only when a sinner feels remorse for what he has done wrong and fears God’s punishment that he will then take hold of the Gospel that God forgives all sins for the sake of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. Then the Gospel is the most wonderful message in the world. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Your sins are left nailed to the cross. Everything has been accomplished. This salvation is a free gift received through faith alone.
The ‘so what’ of the resurrection is that salvation is a free gift. The ‘therefore’ of the resurrection is that this Gospel should be preached, so that sinners may repent of their sins and receive this forgiveness and salvation through faith alone apart from works. Yet, fruits of faith are bound to follow this faith, that is, the person who repents and believes in this Gospel will do good works, as St. Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of yourselves; it is a gift of God, not of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, that God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10) This is why John the Baptist preaches, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” (Luke 3:8), and why Jesus says, “Every tree that does not bear good fruits will be cut down and throne into the fire.” (Matthew 7:19)
Yet, these good works are called fruit, meaning, they are not produced on account of compulsion, not forced, but done willingly because of a new heart born of the Spirit. This is why Martin Luther writes (and this is quoted in the Formula of Concord article on Good Works):
Faith, however, is a divine work in us that changes us and makes us to be born anew of God, John 1[:12-13]. It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; it brings with it the Holy Spirit. O, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. … Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire. [LW 35:370:370-71]” (SD IV:11-12)
To have faith in Christ’s resurrection means to die to sin and to live to Christ. When you trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, your new self desires to do what is right. This is why St. Paul answers the question, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”, by saying, “By no means! How are we who died to sin still to live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:1-3) He then explains, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:8-11)
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! You must not say that if you do not believe it! You must not say that and go on living as if Christ is still dead. You must not go on living in sin, hating your brother and refusing to be reconciled, living sexually immoral lives, being greedy and covetous, speaking ill of others, going weeks and months without hearing the Word of God preached, of which Christ said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciple.” If you believe that Christ Jesus is risen from the dead and that he has put away your sins, then you must also die to your sins and live to Christ. Of course, if you believe that Christ Jesus is risen from the dead after having died for your sins, then you want to put away your sins and do what is right. You want to die to sin forever and live to Christ forever. That is the desire of the new man. That is the fruit of faith.
Yet, the old sinful Adam still hangs around. He fights against the Spirit within you. Have you checked your fruit and seen that it doesn’t look too good? In this life, Christians produce good fruit in great weakness. They’re always imperfect. So, although true faith does produce good fruit and Christians should be busy doing good works, when we examine our fruit, we always see that we are still sinners. When we compare our fruit to God’s Law, we see that we still deserve to go to hell. This is why we must never forsake the ‘therefore’ and the ‘so what.’ We need the proclamation of the Gospel today. We must hear the call to repentance and the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake today. As long as we live in this life, burdened with our sin, with our old Adam drawing us to rebel against God, we need to be brought to repentance. We need to hear that Jesus died for our sins and rose, so that we are forgiven, so that we may be justified in God’s sight and have peace with him.
Whatever keeps you from hearing this Gospel is from the devil. Our Lord Jesus bore the sins of the whole world. This was not a small task. He suffered hell on the cross in order to pay for our sins. And he rose again, having vanquished sin, death, and hell for us. And what does he say after he wins this victory? He says that repentance and forgiveness of sins must be proclaimed to all. That is the only way people can be saved through faith in what Jesus has done. That is the only way that sinners can be brought to repentance. That is the only way you can be saved. Jesus is not done preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins. He’s not done preaching for your sake, because he desires your salvation. And so, for the sake of your salvation, you must not be done listening. You’re still a sinner. Satan is still trying to destroy your soul. You need to hear what your risen Lord has to say to you in order for you to be saved. And what Jesus has to say is the most comforting message.
As important as they are, your fruits of faith do not save you. Only Jesus’ suffering and death for your sins and resurrection does. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead means that your salvation has been accomplished for you. Your sins have been atoned for. You are forgiven. Satan has been defeated. You’ve been rescued from hell. Christ has made heaven your home. You too will rise from the dead and live forever with Christ. That is what Jesus’ resurrection means. God grant that we believe it. Let us pray.
Thou hast died for my transgression,
All my sins on Thee were laid;
Thou hast won for me salvation,
On the cross my debt was paid.
From the grave I shall arise
And shall meet Thee in the skies.
Death itself is transitory;
I shall lift my head in glory. Amen.