Archives - April 2018

Already Clean

April 29, 2018
By Rev. David French

Today's Gospel again takes us back to the night Jesus was betrayed.  He has already instituted the Sacrament of the Altar and is again teaching as He and His disciples make their way to Gethsemane.

On the way He tells a parable that compares all who believe in Him to branches on a grape vine.  Jesus is the vine.  His Father is the vinedresser.  Just as a branch gets its sustenance from the vine, so also, He taught, we get our sustenance from Him.  Just as a branch dies when separated from the vine, so also we die spiritually when separated from Christ.  The point of course is that we are totally dependent on Jesus for everything and as we live in Jesus our heavenly Father, our vinedresser or gardener, prunes those made clean by His Word.

When Martin Luther wrote about today's Gospel, he wondered what kind of conversation you would have with the vinedresser if you were the vine.  Luther Writes: “Imagine that you are a vine and you see  the vinedresser coming along and chopping about [your] roots with his mattock or his hoe and cutting the wood from [your] branches with his clipper or his pruning hook, [you] would be prompted by what [you] saw and felt to say: "Ah, what are you doing? Now I must wither and decay, for you are removing the soil from my roots and are belaboring my branches with those iron teeth. You are tearing and pinching me everywhere, and I will have to stand in the ground bare and seared. You are treating me more cruelly than one treats any tree or plant." But the vinedresser would reply: "You are a fool and do not understand. For even if I do cut a branch from you, it is a totally useless branch; it takes away your strength and your sap. Then the other branches, which should bear fruit, must suffer. Therefore away with it! This is for your own good." You say: "But I do not understand it, and I have a different feeling about it." The vinedresser declares: "But I understand it well. I am doing this for your welfare, to keep the foreign and wild branches from sucking out the strength and the sap of the others. Now you will be able to yield more and better fruit and to produce good wine." The same thing is true when the vinedresser applies manure to the stock of the vine; this, too, he does for the benefit of the vine even though the vine might complain again and say: "What, pray (tell), is this for? Is it not enough that you are hacking and cutting me to pieces? Now with this filthy cow manure, which is intolerable in the barn and elsewhere, you are defiling my tender branches, which yield such delicious juice! Must I stand for this too?"

Luther continues with these words: That is how Christ interprets the suffering which He and His Christians are to endure on earth. This is to be an investment and a help rather than affliction and harm. Its purpose is to enable them to bear all the better fruit and all the more, in order that we may learn to impress this on ourselves as He impresses it on Himself. As though He were saying: "After all, this is the truth, and I cannot interpret it otherwise. I share the fate of the vine in every respect. The Jews will throw manure at Me and will hack away at Me. They will shamefully revile and blaspheme Me, will torture, scourge, crucify, and kill Me in the most disgraceful manner, so that all the world will suppose that I must finally perish and be destroyed. But the fertilizing and pruning I suffer will yield a richer fruit: that is, through My cross and death I shall come to My glory, begin My reign, and be acknowledged and believed throughout the world. Later on you will have the same experience. You, too, must be fertilized and cultivated in this way. The Father, who makes Me the Vine and you the branches, will not permit this Vine to lie unfertilized and unpruned. Otherwise it would degenerate into a wild and unfruitful vine which would finally perish entirely. But when it is well cultivated, fertilized, pruned, and stripped of its superfluous leaves, it develops its full strength and yields wine that is not only abundant but also good and delicious." [Luther's Works, John 15:2]

One of the best examples or foreshadowing’s is found in the Old Testament lessons from the patriarchs – or the twelve sons of Jacob who grew into the twelve tribes of Israel.  Eleven of the brothers all hated the one brother Joseph and eventually sold him into slavery to a caravan of Ishmaelites heading to Egypt.  God however used the experiences of Joseph as a slave to prune and prepare him for the work He had prepared for him to do. 

Eventually Joseph became the second most powerful man in Egypt and God then used Joseph to bring the Children of Israel out of Canaan into Egypt saving them from the physical and spiritual famine in the land.  And then God used Egypt as an incubator where the Israelites, His Children, would grow into a great nation.

The reality of that shadow is seen in the good God worked out of the evil endured by His only begotten Son Jesus who He called out of Egypt for all people. And what does this blind and sinful world do when it comes face to face with the Son of God?  As you well know, because of the sin we all bear we all had a hand in subjecting the Holy Son of God to a “so called” trial and there condemned Him to die on a cross. Sinful men used a crown of thorns to mock, rods to bruise, whips to shred, a spear to pierce, and nails to attach the body of God to a cross and there He was left to die.  Truly it is pure evil that hangs pure love on the cross of Calvary.

God however used the blood of Christ to accomplish His goal that was and is to bring sinful mankind back to Himself, to restore the relationship that had be shattered by that first sin.  The world in its wisdom thought it had defeated God, but God in His wisdom used Good Friday to pay for sin, overcome death and defeat the devil.  The world thought it had destroyed the Son of God, but God used His Sons destruction for our forgiveness and then raised Him from the dead for our justification. God the Father took the world’s most intense hate and used it to serve His love for you and me, to bring us back into His kingdom. My friends we live in a fallen, world - a world that hates Christ and so hates you. But take heart our God who never changes, continues to change the world's hate into blessings for His people.

Today's Gospel reading offers comfort when we’re feeling the weight of the world.  It reminds us that our God will use these times of sorrow for our good, that they are only a pruning for those who are already clean, that is all who are baptized in His name.  Know and believe that your pruning will lead to fruitfulness and the strengthening of your faith that you might hold ever tighter to His promises and share His gifts with all who come to know you in both word and deed.

All of us begin life as a branch separated from the vine … ready for the fire. Mercifully through the water and Word of our baptisms that fire is quenched as God the Holy Spirit, grafts us into His Son bringing us to life by giving us His life.  When Jesus tells us to abide in Him, He is simply telling us to live our baptism and to feast on the spiritual food that is His body and blood given and shed for you.  He’s telling you that He is all you will ever need to be with Him in heaven … forever.

In His Name, Amen.

Tags: John 15:1-8

No Other Name But Jesus

April 22, 2018
By Rev. James Barton

     The text for our meditation today is the First Lesson, from Acts, Chapter 4.  Especially we hear these words of Peter, “There is salvation is no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

     These are very controversial words to many people in our world - and even to many in our own country, these days. How dare Christians be so narrow and exclusive in their views, they say, as to claim that Jesus is the only way to salvation.  Don’t they know that the greatest virtue today is the celebration of diversity, differences of opinion - and the acceptance and approval of others, no matter what they think or do or believe? This seem to be the view of so many, today.

     Someone asked recently in a Bible study a very good question. What do you say, when people won’t accept the clear words of Scripture and openly challenge them? That happens so often. People seem to hear only the rules and regulations of the Bible, and they don’t like them.

     Maybe you saw in the news, this week, that a U.S. Senator directly challenged a nominee for office in our country, because he had once said that though he cared for all people and respected their right to their views, he still believed, as a Christian, that certain sexual behaviors were wrong, were perverse. The Senator then said, in effect, to him, that he was not qualified to serve in the government if he thought that any people in our country were perverse. You just can’t judge and say that! (Notice, though, that the Senator was judging, himself, as he spoke.)

     Contrast this Senator’s ideas with what the Scriptures say. Paul, in his own day, calls his own generation “a crooked and perverse generation” (Philippians 2:15), because of the reality of sin and evil in the world, (ever since the fall into sin, actually); and using the picture image of this Good Shepherd Sunday, Isaiah says that we all, like sheep, have gone astray. (Isaiah 53: 6) We are all sinners, who have done wrong; and we need to know and admit that.

     Our text for today gives us some help in how to respond to these challenges, for those early Christians faced the same sort of problems, and even worse, at times. Peter and John were in the temple in Jerusalem, taking with people and “preaching in Jesus the resurrection from dead.” (Acts 4:2)

     A crowd had gathered, because by a miracle of God, a man who was crippled all of his life and had never been able to walk, was suddenly healed. People wanted to see how this man could be “walking and leaping and praising God.” (Acts 3:8) And Peter and John took the opportunity they had to tell the people about Jesus.

     Suddenly, religious authorities and temple guards came and shut Peter and John down and arrested them and took them into custody. The next day, the authorities began to question them about how the crippled man was healed.

     Peter and John took the opportunity given to them, again. They could have said nothing or said nothing controversial; but they spoke boldly. They knew that Jesus had died and then had risen from the dead. They took no credit for themselves for the healing, the good deed done. They can only point to Jesus and say, “Let it be known....that by the name of Jesus Christ of Him, this man is standing before you well.” (Acts 4:10)

     They knew that what Jesus said in our Gospel lesson for today was really true. “I am the Good Shepherd”, (John 10:14) He said. There are lots of sheep, but only one Shepherd for them all, He says. (John 10:16) And he is that one Good Shepherd.

     Jesus also contrasts Himself with “hired hands” - people who say that they care about the sheep, but ultimately can’t help them and die and leave them alone - to try to do what they can for themselves, on their on. (John 10:12) Think about all the world religions and teachings - lots of ideas, some of them with bits of good - but no one can really live up to these ideas, no matter how hard we try - and Buddha and Mohammad and Joseph Smith and on you go with other names  - are dead and gone and can’t help and did nothing ultimately to save, to rescue other people.

     Yet we sheep do need help, as weakened as we are by our sins and failures. Our church choir director, Amanda, whose family raises sheep, was telling the choir on Thursday that sheep just don’t know how to care for themselves or for each other, or how to protect themselves, or do much at all for themselves. They are lost, on their own. That’s why Jesus and the Scriptures call all of us humans “sheep”. We are spiritually lost, on our own. We can’t rescue ourselves. We need a Savior.

     And that’s why Peter has to say, very bluntly, in our text, that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised One, and yet “you crucified Him”. (Acts 4:10) And quoting the Old Testament, Peter says, “this is the Stone that was rejected by you....which has become the Cornerstone.” (Acts 4:11) People had to be confronted and to know their sins, so that they could know their need for the Savior, and to appreciate Him.

     And Jesus did care for and love His sheep, including us, in spite of our failings, and He did exactly what He had promised, in our Gospel lesson.

“I am the Good Shepherd, Who lays down His life for the sheep, and I take it up again.” (John 10:11, 17-18)

     What we sheep could never do, Jesus did for us - dying on the cross, willingly, to pay for our sins and the sins of the whole world, and rising from the dead, taking up His life again, to show us that we are saved and have new and eternal life, simply by listening to His voice and trusting in Him. And even that saving faith is a gift from the Good Shepherd. Peter and John were arrested, but we still read that “many of those who had heard the Word (about Jesus as Savior, from them) believed.” (Acts 4:4) They believed by the working of the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God.

     And when you really think about it, the last words of Peter in our text are not narrow and exclusive, but are amazingly Good News for everyone in the world.  Listen again. “There is salvation in no one else.” (Acts 4:12) That means that there is salvation, and it is completed and available for anyone and everyone in Jesus Christ, And it is available now!

       “For there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) These are actually very comforting words. They mean that we don’t have to keep looking for or waiting for a Savior to come. We don’t have to try this or that religion or idea or try to work out things by our own goodness or efforts. We have everything we need, all we need - in Jesus Christ. And He has already come, in love, just for us sheep, to save us.

     Remember that Jesus prayed from the cross, as He laid down His life for His sheep, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

(Luke 23:34) That’s the essence of our being sheep. Too often, we don’t know what we are doing or what to do about situations in our lives. And it is especially true of those who don’t yet know Jesus as Savior and as the Center of life. They are lost and confused, on their own, and really need forgiveness and hope and new life and salvation that come through no other name but Jesus.

     Even as baptized believers, we continually need that reassurance in Jesus, too, as we tend to be wandering sheep, ourselves, at times, and need to hear the Law of God calling us to repentance, too. We hear in our Epistle for today, “Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything.” (1 John 3:20). He knows exactly why He gave all those rules and commands in the first place, for our own good; but He also knows His own Son, Jesus, Who has done His saving work for us and will forgive us, as we humbly return to and trust Him, by His grace, and will give us strength to try to do better.

     And now, humbly and lovingly, as forgiven sinners, we try, as we have opportunity, to share Jesus Christ with other sinners, even though they can sometimes be very resistant.

     Martin Luther once said that all we really are as Christians is to be beggars who have found bread in Christ and now want to help other beggars find that bread - but it is the Bread of Life, eternal life, in Jesus, that we have received freely from Jesus, and that everyone desperately needs, whether they know it or not. And so we keep trying to share both Law and Gospel, the bad news of our sins, but the Good News of our Savior.

     “For there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) No other Name, but Jesus.

Tags: Acts 4:1-12

Killing the Lord of Life

April 15, 2018
By Rev. David French

The appearances of Christ after His resurrection are so packed with meaning.  You not only have the obvious teaching that Jesus rose from the dead, but you also have teachings that focus on the life of the Church.  Last week we not only learned that Jesus rose from the dead, but we also learned that Jesus established the office of the Holy Ministry and gave it the authority to forgive sins.  Today’s reading again shows us that Jesus rose from the dead, and it also teaches us how to interpret the Bible and what His Church is to proclaim.

Today Jesus is again showing Himself to the disciples.  Again, Jesus invited the disciples to examine the wounds of the crucifixion saying: Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.  Touch me and see.  For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have (Luke 24:38–39).  A verse later He asks for something to eat.  You see, Jesus really wants the disciples to understand that they’re not just seeing things, that He is with them, the real flesh and blood Jesus, risen from the dead. (just like He told them.)

After Jesus had reinforced the reality of His resurrection, He began to teach His disciples a very important principle for the proper understanding of the Scriptures.  Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).  And so He teaches that the only way to know Him is to look to those to whom God had revealed Him in the Old Testament.  That is, the entire Old Testament is about Him.

He then gave the disciples the precise meaning of the Scriptures as He opened their minds: and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:45–47).  Now when Jesus says: Thus it is written, He’s saying that this is what the inerrant, infallible Word of God, the Bible, says.  Since Jesus is the Christ, He Himself accomplished the suffering and the rising from the dead.  He also continued to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins until He ascended into heaven.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus passes the responsibility of that proclamation on to His disciples.  And each generation since has passed that responsibility on to the next, down to our own generation today.  This is the mission statement that Jesus gave to the church … proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in My name until I return.  Christ opening their minds and giving these instructions guaranteed that when the apostles wrote the books of the New Testament, those books would, without error, proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in the name of Christ.

But what does it mean to proclaim repentance?  The Augsburg Confession says, “Repentance consists of two parts.  One part is contrition (or sorrow) … through the knowledge of sin.  The other part is faith that believes that, for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven.” (AC: I, art. xii, par. 3–5).  So step one in the proclaiming of repentance is preaching the law so that the punishment you deserve for your sin becomes very clear and real to you.  The second step is to point you to Christ and His sacrifice that saves you from the fires of hell that are the punishment we all deserve.

And what does it mean to proclaim forgiveness?  Again in Augsburg we read: Even though you are guilty and deserve punishment here on earth and forever in hell, God, for Christ’s sake, declares you righteous.  By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins (AC: I, art. iv, par. 2).  So the proclaiming of forgiveness begins with the gospel or the good news of Jesus paying for our sins on the cross.  Through that gospel the Holy Spirit works faith in you so that we receive all the blessings of the gospel which begins with forgiveness.

In our reading from Acts, the Holy Spirit had just worked through Peter to heal a lame man.  After Peter healed the lame man, they went into the temple area.  The man who had been lame was jumping for joy, which of course drew the attention of the crowds.  As the crowd gathered, Peter began by pointing to their sin: The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him.  But you denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.  To this we are witnesses (Acts 3:13–15).  Clearly Peter flat out told the crowd that they were guilty of crucifying Jesus, who was not only innocent, but is the very Son of God.

Now listen to his proclamation of forgiveness: Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago (Acts 3:19–21).  Notice how Peter points to Jesus as he describes forgiveness with the words, that your sins may be blotted out.

The interesting thing about Peter’s sermon is that not everyone who heard his sermon actually participated in the plan to kill Jesus.  But then, when you study Peter’s other sermons, you find that he regularly accused his hearers of killing Jesus even if they weren’t in Jerusalem on Good Friday.  It doesn’t take long to realize that when Peter accuses people of killing Jesus, he’s not just talking about the people who were there on Good Friday, he’s talking about the sin of the world that led to God’s wrath being poured out on Jesus that Good Friday.  That means Peter is here and now accusing us, you and me, of killing the Lord of Life with our sins.

So, with what sins have you crucified your Lord?  Have you believed gossip without checking the facts?  Do you steadfastly defend your own opinion rather than steadfastly defending all the teachings revealed in God Word?  Are you foolish or arrogant enough to believe that you don’t need to join your fellow Christians in Bible study?

Honestly who is number first in your life, you or God?  If you said God, you deceive yourself and the truth is not in you.  And that should scare you.  Do you really understand that only the repentant will go to heaven?  Have you truly repented for your sin?  Are you sure?  The good news is true repentance like true faith come not from you, but from God.  As we read in Acts 11 … So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.  That is, rejoice for your salvation from beginning to end is a work of God.

It’s true that the proclamation of the forgiveness of sin begins in fear, but it ends with the peace that surpasses human understanding because it comes from knowing that you are forgiven.  Jesus has instructed His Church to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sin in His name.  That means, anything that doesn’t speak to repentance and forgiveness in Christ does not belong in Christian worship.  And so, together, our order of worship, our preaching and teaching, and our hymns all serve to assure you that you and all who repent are, by grace through faith, God’s precious and forgiven children.

In His Name, Amen.

Wrong Emphasis

April 08, 2018
By Rev. Peter Heckert


+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, specifically where John writes, Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

It’s tempting, as many have done before, to use this day and this text to harangue and scoff at the disbelief and lack of faith exhibited by Thomas. It’s tempting to use this time to emphasize how we are no better, but that at one point, we were no better – being spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God before He called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. But that’s not what we’re going to do today. Though those things may be correct, I think we should focus on a different emphasis in this text, and I think Jesus, Thomas, and certainly John would agree.

After the entire episode, starting with that first Easter evening when the disciples barricaded themselves in, to the eighth day afterward when Jesus appears to Thomas and tells him to stop disbelieving, but be believing, Thomas makes his great confession, My Lord and my God! I think it’s safe to say that Jesus is speaking to all His disciples, who exhibited no more faith than Thomas prior to Jesus’s miraculous appearance among them, when He responds to this profession of faith and adoration by saying, Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

This is a beautiful promise from the resurrected Christ that, although He would not be with His Bride on earth for much longer, the gifts and merits of His salvific work would likewise flow to all the spiritual progeny of the apostles. John records these words, and then in a 4th-wall break that would get even Ferris Bueler’s attention, he writes how Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name. THAT is the purpose of John’s Gospel – indeed, that is the purpose of all of Scripture: to point you, the reader, to JESUS.

The focus here is not Thomas, though we can certainly learn from his example. The focus is Thomas’s focus. The focus is his great profession when he says, My Lord and my God! The disciples had seen some pretty incredible things as they followed Jesus around for three years. However, nothing compared to this: a Man, Who had undoubtedly died, Who still bore the wounds of His execution in a way that should have kept Him dead, had risen from the dead. Not that this resurrection from the dead was so extraordinary that no one had seen it before – not long prior to this, the disciples had seen Jesus raise their friend Lazarus from the dead – but the fact that He had told them beforehand that it would happen, and now, here He stood, in the flesh (pun definitely intended). This does not just happen! This requires the work of God, to taste the bitterness of death and to spit it back out in defiance!

And John writes all this, as do the other Gospel writers, the writers of the Epistles, the prophets, scribes, and other writers of the ancient Tanakh, in order that you, the reader, the hearer, may come to believe in Jesus who is called the Christ, and all the promises given by Him and through Him!

Ours is not a blind faith – we don’t believe just because someone said something long ago, and no one ever questioned it. No, John speaks in our epistle lesson as well, That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, those who saw Jesus Himself, and who would not deny His death, His resurrection, or that these things demonstrated His divinity, and whose joy and privilege it is to proclaim this good news to others, even as they were being killed for it! Ours is a world in which seeing is believing – in that way, things haven’t changed much over the last two millennia. However, these words have endured over that time, and the veracity of those words have overcome barriers of language and culture, even down to this day! It endures because it is the truth – yes, contrary to the skepticism and nihilism of our culture, the objective truth … the eternal truth … does exist!

The truth is this: in first-century Judea, Jesus of Nazareth died upon a cross to take the punishment for sin that humanity collectively deserves. Because of His actions, we are no longer bound to the sins in which we once walked, nor will we suffer the punishment thereof! What’s more, to demonstrate His divinity and, consequently, that His sacrifice was sufficient, He rose from the dead three days later! Crazy as it sounds to those out there, to us who believe, it is the power of God! Jesus’s resurrection turned His disciples from sniveling cowards afraid of death … into loud and proud proclaimers of His resurrection, regardless of the punishment that would come from such preaching!

We have read these words in John’s Gospel, and thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit, we DO believe them! We see the miracles Jesus performs today when He yanks a child of darkness and washes him in the cleansing deluge of Holy Baptism! With Thomas, we are able to touch the very Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus in the Supper! We hear His Word proclaimed, and His absolution announced, declaring to weak sinners like us – those who believe yet long for help with our unbelief – that we ARE forgiven! These things keep, seal, and strengthen us in the faith and belief which the Holy Spirit first gave us, in spite of the deplorable state of our culture!

We do declare with Thomas and John, with Peter and Andrew, with all of the apostles and those who saw the resurrected Lord, with angels, and archangels, and all the company of heaven, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God! We know that God’s Word does not return to Him in vain – even in the craziness of our modern world, it still accomplishes the purposes for which it is sent, even if we don’t see it! Thus, with Thomas, we say, My Lord and my God! And we know that to be true!

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Just As He Told You

April 01, 2018
By Rev. David French


Most faithful translations of the Bible have a strange note right after today’s reading that says something like: Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include verses 9–20. And there is a lot of evidence that Mark stops at verse 8. Some commentators think that Mark’s account of the resurrection was so bland that scribes later added notes to the text to help explain the ending. A generation or so later, other scribes took these notes to be part of the text.

You can understand why they might have thought that when you consider the short version of Mark’s resurrection account. A few women purchased some spices after sunset on Saturday. The next morning they’re on the way to the tomb wondering who would roll away the stone, when they discovered the stone was already rolled away. When they looked for Jesus’s body, they see an angel who tells them that Jesus has risen and is not there. These women run from the tomb in fear saying nothing to anyone. And that’s it.

At least in the other Gospels, the disciples see Jesus. They talk with Him. They eat with Him. They see His wounds. The other Gospels record the words of Jesus for us to consider. I can understand a scribe wanting the reader of Mark to get the rest of the story. When you hear Mark’s short ending, you hear the announcement of the resurrection from the angel in the empty tomb. And while it is true that Mark doesn’t give us a whole lot, he does give us something very important. Listen again: “Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, ‘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.’” … Did you hear that? … Just as He told you. The angel finished his message by reminding the women that Jesus keeps His promises; that Jesus was doing just what He said He would do. All four Gospel writers record Jesus promising to rise from the dead. The disciples heard these promises.  They didn’t understand them, but they did hear them.

It wasn’t until after Jesus actually suffered, died, and rose that the disciples could begin to understand what Jesus had been telling them. This angel is, if you will, shaking them out of their understandable resurrection stupor by saying in effect, “Guys, He told you He would be handed over to sinners to be killed and on the third day He would rise. He has kept His promise, so you really need to think back on His other promises and expect Him to fulfill those as well.”

This just as He said to the women at the tomb is in effect Jesus’s answer to Satan’s question to Eve in the garden: “Did God really say …?” But even with the question answered, Satan won’t give up.  To this day, satan wants us to believe that it doesn’t always turn out the way God says it will. He wants us to doubt God’s promises and to stop listening to God’s Word. Satan, in effect, whispers in our ears: “Look around.  This is not just as He told you.” But the truth is … this sinful world is just the way we have been told it will be. And yet, Satan, the world, and our own sinful flesh still try to lead us away from the truth, away from our salvation.

So, don’t be surprised if you have a hard time believing all of God’s promises. Don’t be afraid when doubts arise in your mind. These are but signs that God is with you as the struggle for your soul continues. (And while the struggle may continue today, we do celebrate that the battle is over. The victory for your soul has been won.)

The disciples also struggled with the truth of the gospel and they talked to Jesus face-to-face! He personally taught them for three years. Still, they were terrified when He died and shocked when He rose. The promises that Jesus made to you and me may seem too good to be true, but the resurrection of Jesus assures that He can and will keep them all. As we read in 2 Corinthians: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are all ‘Yes’ in Christ.”

And Jesus has made some amazing promises. In John 6 we read, “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Or in the Upper Room at John 14, “In My Father’s house are many rooms; if that were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

With these words and others, Jesus promised that the day will come when the universe as we know it will come to an end.  On that day He will return to judge the living and the dead. He has promised to take you and me and all believers to be with Him forever. But Jesus’s promises aren’t just for the hereafter; they’re also for the here and now. As we see at the end of Matthew’s Gospel when Jesus promised, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus also promised that in these last days He will come to us in a special or sacramental way so that we might know He is with us. In, with, and under the bread and the wine of His Supper, Christ’s very body and blood are offered to us for our forgiveness and strengthening each time we come to His table, even as we are proclaiming His death until He comes.

And yet, while a true means of forgiveness, the Holy Supper is not the only way God promises His forgiveness. Listen to another promise that He made to His disciples. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20). These words give the authority to forgive sins to all who believe, that is, as you forgive one another, Jesus also forgives.  Truly, His gifts are for all.

Listen to another promise Jesus made, this time about His Word.  He said, “If you hold to my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” His Word is living and active, and when you hear the words of the prophets and apostles from the Holy Scriptures, God sends His Holy Spirit to create or sustain faith in you through those words.  And the Holy Spirit reminds us through St. Paul, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing (comes) through the word of Christ.”

Jesus has even gone so far as to make us God’s children as we read in John, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1). And that happens as we “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18–20).

Yes, Jesus has made some amazing promises to you.  Promises you’d have no reason to believe except for one thing … He promised to rise from the dead, and He did. The words of the angel remind and assure us again this Easter morning that our risen Savior, Jesus Christ, will keep all of His promises just as He told you.

In His Name, Amen.

Tags: Mark 16:1-8
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