In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sometimes you just have to wonder: is it enough? Is the gospel that Paul preached to the Corinthians, which they received, in which they stood, and by which they were being saved—is it enough? Is that gospel, which Paul received and which he delivered to them: that Jesus was crucified according to the Scriptures, that He was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to hundreds of witnesses after He was raised—is that gospel enough? The gospel that Peter preached on the day of Pentecost—and, really, throughout the Book of Acts, almost whenever he opens his mouth—that you crucified Jesus, the Lord, but God raised Him from the dead, and now this death and resurrection can be yours. Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the Holy Spirit, and this promise is for you and for your children—is that gospel enough? Is it enough for you? Is it enough for the Church? Is it enough for the world?
Now obviously Jesus says and does other things besides dying and rising. But if you read the Gospels on their own terms, you see that everything revolves around those three days of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. And Paul says that what he received, he delivered to the Corinthians as of first importance: that is, if you don’t get the death and resurrection of Jesus right, you will get everything else wrong. He says it, later in the chapter: if Jesus is not risen from the dead, then empty is our preaching and empty is our faith, all of it. If Jesus is not risen from the dead, then no dead will rise, and we are still in our sins. And if we are still in our sins, then death is the final word. So if Jesus is not risen from the dead, then eat and drink, because tomorrow we die and that’s it. Jesus’ death and resurrection are everything, or they are nothing.
But as we look around at the world, it does seem as if they are not enough. We still see violence and warfare and bloodshed; we still see sickness and disease; we still poverty and hunger. We still see death. What has changed in 2000 years? Things may even appear to have gotten worse. Just this past week, 140-plus Kenyans were killed, many, if not all, of them precisely because they were Christians, and others were taken hostage because they were Christians, while the Muslims were released. But this is nothing new. Go back to Paul in Romans 8. He says that “for Your sake we are being killed all day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” Those Kenyans were regarded as sheep to be slaughtered, because they were the sheep of the Good Shepherd. But it goes back further than that. Isaiah the prophet speaks for exiled Israel when he says, “We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth; the inhabitants of the world have not fallen” (26:18). The enemies of God are still here, and they seem stronger than ever. What of that, God? What of that, Jesus?
Well, perhaps we could look at it the other way around, from the other side. Is there anything else, anything at all, that could be enough for us if Jesus is not risen from the dead? When we look at all the problems around us, and all of the solutions that have been proposed, and all of the causes that have been undertaken, are any of them enough for us? We see gun violence, and war, and hatred, and we say that we need to ban guns, or get rid of nuclear weapons; put an end to war and stop the fighting. We need to work for peace. Have any of those initiatives worked? Has war and violence and bloodshed become more or less? Or we look around and we see that people feel guilt and shame because they have to deal with the consequences of their actions. So we do our best to make the world safe for people to do whatever they want without regard for the consequences, so they feel no guilt and shame. How has it worked? How has it worked for the family and for society? Are people happy now? Or are they just putting on a brave face as they try to stave off despair? Or there are those who claim to follow Jesus and obey His Word, and that if we could all just do what Jesus commands, everything will be great. Jesus has shown us how to love, how to be fully human, how to act when we are confronted with oppression and intolerance. But then people have trouble distinguishing between Jesus and, say, Gandhi. And it’s no surprise if they both preach non-violence; if they both show us how to act in response to oppressive regimes; if they both show us the highest way to be human. If only more people would follow their teaching, then we could get rid of all the bad stuff in the world.
The problem with all of these approaches to life is that they cannot take seriously the depths of sin in human hearts. They think that sin is simply a matter of bad decisions, or unhealthy choices, and if we could get people to make the right choices, everything would be good. They do not realize that sin runs far deeper than that, and that sinners will get what they can, if they can. They will get away with what they can get away with, if there will be no consequences. Appealing to people’s better natures never works, because we have no better nature within us. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can trust it? And all those approaches refuse to take into account the reality of death. There has never been, and there never will be, any solution proposed by sinners that can solve the problem of death. Death is the great equalizer. It doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, young or old, oppressor or oppressed, persecutor or persecuted, bigot or tolerant, Christian or not, whether you’re trying to do what Jesus said, or not. Death comes for all of us in the end, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Eat and drink, for tomorrow you die.
Which brings us back around to the original question: are the death and resurrection of Jesus enough, even for death? Are they enough for Kenyan martyrs? Are they enough for you and for the whole world? The claim is that they are. Jesus claims that His death and resurrection are enough; in fact, that He is the resurrection and the life. Paul claims that they are enough; all the apostles say the same, as well as the whole Church throughout the world. What is Paul’s answer to the fact that Christ’s sheep are being slaughtered? That nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Because that love took on flesh, suffered, died, and is now alive forever. And if you are joined to the Christ who is already on the far side of death, then what do you have to fear, now or at the hour of death? When the exiles look around and say that they have accomplished no deliverance, and that the enemies of God still appear to rule, what is the answer that comes from the very mouth of God Himself? “Your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust of the earth, arise and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead” (26:19). The bones will take on flesh, and the Spirit of God will be breathed into them, and they will stand up and live. This has always been the hope of God’s people. Resurrection has always been the promise. There is a reason that Christians confess every single time they gather together that there will be a resurrection of the body and then will come the life everlasting. Because that is the goal and end for all those who belong to Christ. Where Christ is, so will you also be. It is the answer to everything, including death.
This death and resurrection of Jesus are enough, and more than enough. Otherwise, there’s no reason to be here this morning. But if we believe the words of Jesus, then they are enough for you, because the resurrection means that everything that is wrong in your body and your mind and your soul will be made right. Missing limbs? They will be restored. Sight will be given back to blind eyes, hearing to deaf ears. Sick? Suffering? All disease will come to an end. Under the oppression of the devil? He will be banished forever. The resurrection means an end to the weakness and sin that you bear in your body in this world. It is enough.
It is enough for the Church. In fact, if it’s not, then we really don’t have anything else. If we cannot or will not preach the death and resurrection of Jesus, what do we have? Everything else can be done by anyone else, even by unbelievers. But if we let the death and resurrection cease to be of first importance, then we cease to be the Church of Jesus Christ, which receives that gospel, stands in that gospel, is being saved by that gospel, if we hold firm to it. It is enough for the Church, because it is our future—Jesus is our future—or we have none. This is the only thing we have to preach in the midst of the world.
And we preach that it is enough for the world. The whole creation is going to be made new. The earth itself groans with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God, for your revealing as what God has made you in Christ: holy, perfect, restored and whole again. Christ died for the whole world, and for the whole world He was raised again.
If Jesus is not raised from the dead, then all our good works are simply rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, because we’re all going down. But if He is raised from the dead, then we can serve our neighbors in all their physical and spiritual needs, because their bodies are going to be raised. If Jesus has begun a new creation in His own flesh and blood, then we can care for this creation, precisely because it is going to be restored in Him. The death and resurrection of Jesus are enough, and more than enough, and in that hope we wait for the day when we will be joined with the prophets and apostles and martyrs, with angels and archangels, in the new creation around the throne of God. So we can sing with full confidence: “Jesus Christ, my sure defense and my Savior, now is living! Knowing this, my confidence rests upon the hope here given, though the night of death be fraught still with many an anxious thought. Jesus, my Redeemer, lives; likewise I to life shall waken. He will bring me where He is; shall my courage then be shaken? Shall I fear, or could the Head rise and leave His members dead? No, too closely I am bound by my hope to Christ forever; faith’s strong hand the Rock has found, grasped it, and will leave it never; even death now cannot part from its Lord the trusting heart. I am flesh and must return to the dust, whence I am taken; but by faith I now discern that from death I shall awaken with my Savior to abide in His glory, at His side. Glorified, I shall anew with this flesh then be enshrouded; in this body I shall view God, my Lord, with eyes unclouded; in this flesh I then shall see Jesus Christ eternally. Then take comfort and rejoice, for His members Christ will cherish. Fear not, they will hear His voice; dying, they will never perish; for the very grave is stirred when the trumpet’s blast is heard. Laugh to scorn the gloomy grave, and at death no longer tremble; He, the Lord, who came to save will at last His own assemble. They will go their Lord to meet, treading death beneath their feet. O, then, draw away your hearts from all pleasures base and hollow; strive to share what He imparts while you here His footsteps follow. As you now still wait to rise, fix your hearts beyond the skies!” (LSB 741). Because from there your Lord shall come and raise the dead and gather His own. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/4/15