From Moses, to Patsy, to Gordon
I could've titled this sermon "From Moses, to Hippocrates, to Tolkien" rather than from "Moses, to Pasty, to Gordon", but I wanted to capture the note of song because Easter is a day fit for singing. Even now? Especially now. "The one who can celebrate Easter without being filled with joy is not worthy of being called a human being let alone being called a Christian" (Walther, Word of Grace, 230). So said a 19th century Lutheran. Is that still true in the 21st century?
The first song we come to is that of Moses. We heard it in the OT reading. It's about how the horse and rider of the Egyptians were thrown into the sea and God's people delivered. Rev. 15 says this song is sung in heaven along with the Song of the Lamb about the righteous acts of God. Hard to think of Moses having a song to sing from 1500 BC to eternity? Well, what's hard is to think of Moses singing at all. John is clear: The Law came through Moses grace through Jesus (Jn. 1:17) . Paul is likewise clear: "Through Jesus everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses." (Acts, 13:39). Mention Moses and cue the dark, foreboding music.
begin our Easter song with Moses because of our text. The last verse of Luke 23
and the first verse of 24 contain the word Sabbath. The Jews didn't name days
of the week. The Sabbath, the last day of the week was the only one with a
name. The others were referred to like our text says:
"On the first day of the week" is literally "on the first of the Sabbath." The last line of chapter 23 is, "and on the Sabbath they did rest according to the commandment." These 2 verses our a Greek men-de clause that puts 2 contrary things forth and asks the hearer to consider them simultaneously. Greek scholars say it's all but untranslatable in English, so we're left to Randy Travis it: "On the one hand, they rested on the Sabbath as the OT commanded. On the other hand on the First of the Sabbath they went to the Tomb." What we've done is jump from OT into NT in a sentence. The Sabbath was the 7th day; the first after is the 8th. Augustine said that the "first day" is really the 8th day which represents eternity (ACC, III, 374).
We've jumped into is a new creation, a whole nother reality. This new reality was foreshadowed in Moses: On the 8th day after birth clean animals were given to the Lord (Ex. 22:30) and babies were circumcised (Lev. 12:3). When you were excluded from the congregation for ceremonial or sinful uncleanliness, you were brought back in on the 8th day (Lev. 14:10, 23; 15:14, 29). This is why some Early Church baptismal fonts were 8-sided. Easter is the 8th day that all those 8's foreshadowed. Easter is the dawn of a new creation; don't you feel like singing?
Are you crazy? Patsy Cline sang that she was and we feel that way. And that's what the Good News of a risen Jesus and an empty tomb was to the Eleven apostles. It's right there in the text. The words of the women "seemed to them like nonsense." The Greek says after the angels caused them to remember, "They remembered Jesus' rhema." This is what they kept on telling the apostles. To the apostles "These rhema appeared to them as nonsense and they kept on not believing them." Two things: rhema is not "words" as the NIV and most everyone translates. What the women remembered is that Jesus had spoken particular words. They remember what He said and that it was none other than Jesus that said it. Second, the handpicked apostles kept on not believing that Jesus said these things. In the entire Easter account Jesus doesn't rebuke Peter for denying or the rest for fleeing. He only rebukes them for this right here. Read Mark 16:14: "Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; He rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen Him after He had risen."
Ouch, but it's worse than that. They were not just unbelieving. They thought the women's words were nonsense. This Greek word leros means "idle talk", "silly joking", "humbug" (B.A.G). This word is found nowhere else in the Greek NT or in the Greek translation of the OT. It's a medical term for the wild talk of the sick during delirium. Dr. Luke's use of it much resembles that of Hippocrates (Hobart, Medical Language of Luke, 177-8). So, to the apostles the first witnesses of the resurrection were like Patsy Cline, crazy, and that's how we feel when the least little inkling comes over us that, "Hey, I believe this stuff."
Believe that the dead do rise when all of medical science tells us that can't be? No, medical science can tell you this virus can kill and that this kills that virus, but if the virus kills you, "Bye, bye happiness. Hello loneliness. I think I'm gonna cry." I'll go one better: Believe that Jesus' resurrection is proof positive that the death I fear for me and mine, the depression, recession, or poverty I fear coming; the upending of normal life I fear continuing, can't be to pay for my sins or anyone else's. If we'd believe the rhema of the women, we'd know this. The text tells you that the rhema the women remembered was this: The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and on the third day be raised again." It was necessary that Jesus be betrayed, that's the word here, not just by Judas but by God the Father, into the hands of sinful men to be beaten, abused, tortured, crushed says Isaiah, damned, dead, and buried. It was necessary because Jesus was sent by the Father to carry away the sins of the world and to give His life as a ransom.
Tell me. Anyone in this fallen, sinful, greedy world, ever made you pay twice for something? Does Costco or Walmart drag you back to the register once you've shown them your receipt? Not even the IRS makes you pay taxes twice if you can prove you've paid once. Scripture is quite clear: you are not crazy for believing your sins are payed for. John says Jesus is a wrath-removing sacrifice not only for our sins but the sins of the whole world (1 Jn. 2:2). And Peter says Jesus even bought and paid for the sins of those who deny Him (2 Pet. 2:1). Not one of those body bags, graves, or suffering people the media seems delighted to show you is payment for sins. How could that be if Jesus paid for them already? How could that be if the Father showed that He accepted that payment for all sins by raising Jesus from the dead. Isn't that the plain truth of Romans 4:25? "Christ was put to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification."
Fourth century church father, Chrysostom, says this about the unbelieving apostles. "They clearly understood nothing about the resurrectionThey were still confined to the ground and not yet able to fly" (ACC, III, 375). Gordon Lightfoot can help us fly. Fly to the crazy, dizzying heights Luther writes from saying, Christ "slew human death transforming it into something that does no harm and is beneficial and salutary" (LW, 43, 27). That's crazy talk, but from such heights, you can't hear the hysterical cries in the media, particularly social media, of, "We're all going to die!" which is as wrong as shouting "Fire!" in a movie theater. But how to reach such heights? Gordon does in song; He sings of the Pony Man too good to be true in this fallen world who arrives at night with magical horses "who live on candy apples instead of oats and hay" and there is one for each girl and boy and adventuring they go. You probably all have a song like that on your playlist. One that gets you away from the heavier mood of real life, and for most of us it's probably not a hymn.
I told you I could've used Tolkien for this instead of Gordon. Tolkien coined a word for what I'm going for here: Eucatastrophe. It's Greek for good destruction.' It's that sudden happy turn in a story that pierces you with joy. It's peculiar effect comes about from a sudden glimpse of Truth. He said the Resurrection was the greatest eucatastrophe' possible because it releases us from the material cause and effect that leads inevitably to death. This is preached to everyone by their aging body, their diseased body, or by an deadly, unseen virus stalking the land. But to all but the dead in conscience, the spiritual cause and effect preaches louder still. This is the mortal pain of knowing that your sins and sinfulness deserve not just a death but an eternal dying in the Second Death, an everlasting dying in unquenchable flames. Death, both kinds one and done and one and forever, march relentlessly towards us to the soundtrack of Darth Vader's Imperial Stormtroopers. Our sins are too many to promise doing better. Our sins are too guilty to promise paying off. We're done. And it's crazy to believe otherwise. That's what the apostles thought. Not the women.
They've been to a tomb and found not death and corruption but living men clothed in light brighter than even eternal death. And these men' were announcing that Death had died not Jesus. A "good destruction" indeed, a "eucatastrophe" of the highest order according Paul's equation: "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law" (1 Cor. 1'5:56). If Death is destroyed that means sins are because sin is the sting of Death. And sins can only be destroyed, legally before God if the Law is kept both its requirements and it's punishments. The power of sin is the Law. God couldn't just choose not to require it, to forget about its penalties. He promised there would be hell to pay for every infraction and only one who never broke the law could pay it. Jesus both fit the bill and paid the bill. Remember He told you all of this long before it happened. He promised that He would suffer, be crucified, dead, and buried, but He also promised He would rise.
We're at the sudden turn to joy in the story. Good Friday seemed to be the destruction of our hope, our help, our Savior. Today we read, "They did not find the body of the Lord Jesus." How sad the first trek to the funeral home is to see your dead loved one. You expect it. Don't want it. Must have it. What if when you got there, the funeral director said, "He's not here. He's risen! You can stop looking for the living among the dead." Once you believed that, something would be destroyed: Your grief, your fear, your loss. And it would be a good destruction. Death is the answer Job's wife offers to his misery; no death is Jesus' answer. And now we sing. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Resurrection of our Lord (20200412); Luke 24: 1-11