Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Easter (May 8, 2011)

Wordle: Untitled

“Jesus Lives … Now What?” (Acts 2:36-41)

Have you ever had the post-Easter “blahs”? Have you ever felt a bit of a letdown the week or two after Easter? Lent was so meaningful. Then Holy Week was the highlight of the Lenten season. The services of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday were emotionally draining because of the deep, rich, and moving themes and accounts of our Lord’s betrayal, arrest, suffering, and death. Then came the Vigil of Easter, the Saturday night preview of Easter, followed by the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord on Sunday morning. The refrain “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” is heard. The word “Alleluia,” buried on Transfiguration Sunday, returns and is sung over and over again in the Easter liturgy. Joyful Easter hymns fill the church with their rousing music and meaningful texts.

But then, Monday comes. You woke up in the morning. You remembered that you are God’s baptized child. You made the sign of the cross and said those baptismal words, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” You remembered that every day is resurrection day. You are united with Christ in his death and resurrection. You have new life in Christ. All this came to mind. Still, things weren’t very different in your heart or in your life.

Two Sundays into another Easter season, the question we are all inclined to ask is: JESUS LIVES … NOW WHAT? Our reading from the Acts of the Apostles this week and next week will help us answer that question. This morning we heard the conclusion of a sermon Peter preached and the immediate response of the people. Next week, we will hear about the Church’s response to what they now knew about the Risen Jesus and the Lord’s blessing upon the Church.

First, we want to focus on the conclusion of Peter’s sermon. He preached it in Jerusalem fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, ten days after Jesus had ascended into heaven. Jews and converts to Judaism from all over were gathered together in Jerusalem. It was the Festival of Pentecost, a celebration of the harvest and God’s blessing upon the land which was promised to Abraham and his descendants. In this message to the crowds gathered for the festival, Peter proclaimed the death and resurrection of Jesus. He explained how Jesus is truly the Messiah they were looking for, the King whom God had promised would reign on the throne of David forever. When Jesus rose from the dead, God fulfilled His promise. And then, Peter concludes with these words:

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:36-41)

As he concludes his sermon in today’s text, note how Peter does not mince any words. He wraps things up by saying, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

The crowd’s response is similar to the question under consideration: JESUS LIVES … NOW WHAT? St. Luke writes that they were cut to the heart. They realized their part in the crucifixion of Jesus. They had rejected and killed the promised Savior. Since he is now alive, what else must he but their judge? And so they cried out to the Apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” JESUS LIVES … NOW WHAT?

If you’ve ever had to have a major surgery, you know how helpless you are after you come out of the operating room. You are still under the effects of anesthesia. You are groggy. Lethargic. Not quite sure where you are. Depending on the severity of your procedure, you may have to be in the intensive care unit for a while, with a tube in your throat doing the breathing for you. Weak, helpless, unable to care for yourself, you are completely reliant on nurses and aides and family members for all your physical needs. And you can forget about having any privacy or dignity. That’s completely out the window. That was all taken away from you the moment you had to strip off all your clothes and put on one of those gowns that never quite close properly in the back. There’s nothing like a surgery and a stay in the hospital to leave you feeling exposed and vulnerable.

Likewise, God’s Word has a way of doing its own special kind of surgery. It’s heart surgery, to be sure … not performed on the heart that pumps blood, but performed on the heart which is the seat of our thoughts, our desires, our passions, our affections. Hebrews 4:12 says that God’s Word is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Have you ever been cut to the heart by God’s Word? Have you ever felt as if you were naked and ashamed because some sin in your life was uncovered? Has God’s Word ever left you feeling exposed and vulnerable?

Peter blamed the crucifixion of Jesus on the crowd gathered to hear him. That’s a bit unfair, isn’t it? Many of those folks weren’t even there that day when Jesus died. But it was still their sin that sent Jesus to the cross. And so Peter’s words are directed to us, too. We all crucified Jesus. We are exposed. Our rebellion against the holy God has been uncovered. “What shall we do?” Listen to Peter’s answer. His reply to the crowd is for us, today, as well: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Your life has been headed in the opposite direction to where God wants you to go. Turn around and face him. Turn around and face the cross. Admit that you are a sinner, for Christ died to save sinners. Renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways. Turn back to your Creator who became part of his own creation to redeem you. In Baptism, all that the Incarnate Christ accomplished for you is credited to you. Your sins were buried with him in the tomb. When the stone was rolled away, you rose to new life, too. And this is for every one of you. Young. Old. Man. Woman. Infant. The Bible places no age limits on the gifts given in Baptism. All are sinners. All need what Baptism gives. “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And Peter frankly declares, “Baptism … now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). It saves you because it connects you personally to Christ’s saving work at the cross where he died for the sins of the world. It saves you because the Holy Spirit comes to you through water and the Word and instills faith in your heart which trusts in Jesus as Lord and Savior, the one who died for your sins.

God’s Word from the mouth of Peter did its work. Three thousand people were baptized and added to God’s kingdom. They returned to their homes and presumably began to proclaim Jesus as risen from the dead and the Savior from sin and death. For most of us here, we have already been baptized. So is there no more need, then, to repent? “Repent and be baptized,” Peter said.

“Okay,” we reply. “Been there … done that.”

That’s a wrong view of repentance and baptism. Baptism is certainly a once in a lifetime thing. But repentance is daily. Repentance is lifelong. Repentance is a lifestyle. The answer to JESUS LIVES … NOW WHAT? is to daily turn from our sin and turn to the Lord who paid for our sins at the cross. Each new day, we remember who we are as God’s baptized, beloved children. Each new day, we return to the promises that God once bestowed upon us in baptism and still gives us in His word of absolution. Each new day we renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways. In the power of the Holy Spirit, each new day we return in trust to our Redeemer. Every time we hear the Good News of Jesus, every time we hear that our sins are forgiven, it’s as if we are brought right back to the font and washed clean once again by the one who first called us to himself when we were baptized.

There’s your answer to the question JESUS LIVES … NOW WHAT? There’s your answer to the post-Easter blahs. Remain in the promises of your Baptism. Live a lifestyle of repentance. Remember how you were once far off, but now God has called you to himself and brought you near to him in love and mercy.

Just like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, who recognized Jesus when He broke the bread with them, this is where you sit at table with Jesus and you personally encounter the Risen Lord in the breaking of the bread. Their faces were downcast at first, but they returned with joy to the other disciples, telling them that they had seen the Risen Christ.

Is your face downcast today? Do you have the post-Easter blahs, or the blahs for whatever reason? Come to the Lord’s table today. Eat and drink with joy and gladness. Know that your sins are forgiven. The Lord is risen indeed. The One who called you to himself in Baptism is with you at the Table, and walks right alongside you as you depart in peace from this place today.


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