A Passion for Sins
The theme for Lent this year has been "A Passion For the Sacraments." We end today with an Easter theme of "A Passion for Sins."
Sin, sin, and more sin is what we find at the Easter tomb. While Easter morning always dawns bright with promise for us, this was not the case for Salome, and the two Marys. They don't hasten early to the tomb as believers but as rank unbelievers. They don't believe their Jesus has risen. No, they think He's stone cold dead behind a huge stone. They believe His beaten, whipped, nailed and speared corpse lies lifeless on cold, grey rock.
These 3 women are passionate in their unbelief. As soon as the Sabbath was over, which would be at sunset Saturday evening, they went right out to buy the spices to give their dead Jesus a proper burial. Once the Sabbath ended merchants made use of the brief twilight period to open, and these 3 were there. On Friday Josephus and Nicodemus had only used dry powder on the body of Jesus. The women want to anoint it with perfume-like spices.
Sin, sin, and more sin. Though these 3 women wish to do a good deed for Jesus, it comes from unbelief, but at least they're doing something. The men in the their unbelief do nothing. Comparing all the Easter accounts, we're not sure how many women went to the tomb early on Easter. We're only sure that no men did, and the men are the ones who had been given the promise of the resurrection personally. Jesus said on more than one occasion that He would rise on the third day. Jesus had told them as late as Thursday night that He would be raised and that He would go before them to Galilee. Yet they moved not a sandal in that direction.
Sin, sin and more sin. Even after the women see a young man dressed in a festal robe and are told by him that the same Jesus they saw crucified has risen, they don't believe. They're told to go tell the disciples the good news, but, "They said nothing to anyone." We know they eventually did, but right now they don't. The resurrection wasn't news to make them shout Alleluia. No, it left them trembling and bewildered.
Sin, sin and more sin are found on the first Easter, but what do you find in you this fine Easter morning? I find sin, sin, and more sin. Jesus is history to me too. I live as if Jesus is a past tense, not a present reality. I come to Church on Easter to commemorate something that happened in the past, not to celebrate something in the present. It's an exercise in history not reality. In my heart of hearts, I hear myself saying what a fellow chaplain always said to me when we talked theology. He would begin sentences with, "If Jesus were alive today..." I hear that in my heart because I no more believe in a risen, living Jesus than those first Easter disciples did.
Does that shock you? I'm just being honest. If I really believed in a risen Jesus, then I wouldn't be bothered by my sins, chased by death, and afraid of the devil. Jesus would be alive to deliver me from these. A living Jesus would be my Advocate in God's court of absolute justice. A living Jesus would be my Life when I feel death's cold hand on my heart. A living Jesus would be my Defender when Satan slithered into my life with his threats, his fears, his flaming arrows.
I would pray to a living Jesus. I would run to Him not just for forgiveness but for help with all my troubles. As it is, I don't do that. I don't remember to pray as I should. Would even a sinful spouse put up with me talking to them as little as I talk to the holy Jesus? Neither do I meet Jesus where He has promised to meet me. He doesn't tell me to meet Him in Galilee but in Baptism, the Word, and Communion. But my Baptism seems like simple water only, the pastor's sermon like mere opinions and boring ones at that, and Communion nothing more than eating and drinking bread and wine.
Baptism, Sermon, and Communion aren't places where the living Jesus meets me the most sinful person ever. They're just old ceremonies the church still does. No living Lord is present in them to my wretched unbelieving heart. The most that happens to me in Church is that I get the tar scared out of me at times because my sins are big, ugly, worthy of hell. So I run away from the Church of the Empty Tomb like the women did from that first empty tomb, afraid and confused, telling no one. Since I don't meet a living Jesus here, what's there to talk about? Who wants to speak of a dead Jesus? Who wants to speak of a Jesus who did cool things in the past but in the end went the way of death, decay and the grave? There's no forgiveness, no victory over death, no defeat of the devil in a dead Jesus, so there's not much to talk about.
Sin, sin, and more sin is all that I find in my wretched heart this Easter morning, and that's all the first disciples found in their hearts too. They came to the Easter tomb having given up the faith that Jesus was the Messiah; having given up that Jesus would or could deliver them from sin, death and the devil; having given up that He was their Lord and their God. He was just a dead Jesus decaying in a cold tomb like any other corpse.
They came to the tomb with their sins but what did they find at the tomb? They didn't find the stench of death or some leathered faced grave tender. They found a young man, Matthew tells us it was an angel, clothed not just in a white robe but in a magnificent festal robe like that worn by priests and noble people of that day. Where these women had expected to find a dead body, hoping that it had not decomposed too badly, they find a heavenly being whose body and dress speak of light and life!
And what does this angel in the form of a young man say to these three women who are passionate in their sinful belief that Jesus is dead? "You don't have to continue to be alarmed." These women stand there not having believed Jesus' promise to rise from the dead and believing Jesus has not kept His promise to defeat sin, death and devil. Why shouldn't they be alarmed? Haven't you ever repeatedly made a promise to a child, and yet the child steadfastly maintained you wouldn't keep it? Didn't your temper rise at such unbelief? Something extraordinary must be going on here because we see no trace of judgment, condemnation, or anger at the unbelief of the women. But wait, it gets even better.
This heavenly being not only has no word of reproach for their sinful unbelief, he has comforting words for those good for nothing, faithless men who were now locked away in cowardly fear for their lives. The young man calls them disciples even though they had all fled from Jesus in Gethsemane. He even singles out Peter. He singles out the one who had blatantly and blasphemously denied the suffering Jesus. Something extraordinary has happened for the young man to regard faithless men as disciples and for Jesus to still want to see them. Where we would expect the words, "Get out of His sight," we instead hear, "You will see Him."
Now this next part is going to make your head swim and possibly your heart leap. The young man plainly tells the women to tell the disciples on behalf of the risen Jesus to go to Galilee. Yet no one sets out for Galilee. Even though the women delay in giving this message to the men, they do get it to them while it is still morning. Yet no one will make a move toward Galilee. Here's the part that should make your head swim and your heart leap: Jesus will still come to meet them, and won't even rebuke them for not starting toward Galilee. Something extraordinary has happened today.
This is what it is: Jesus is more passionate about forgiving our sins than we are about committing them. As deep, as hot, as intense as the passion for sin is in the fallen heart, Jesus' desire to forgive sins is deeper, hotter, intenser. Jesus was so passionate about forgiving sins that He went all the way into the womb of a virgin to pick up our sinfulness right then and there. He was so passionate about forgiving all our sins that He made sure that not a one of them fell off as He went to the cross.
Go ahead name those sins in your heart. Speak them in your mind. Put your unbelief up there on top. Put your treating Jesus as a has been next and then your failure to meet Him where He has promised to be. Heap up all those things about yourself that you try to hide from others. Put your pet sins, your secret sins, the sins you confess repeatedly only to do again. Put those sins you are sure God can't forgive as well as the ones you haven't been able to forgive yourself for. And lastly put on the back of Jesus those sins someone else holds against you. Put those sins of yours that others don't, can't, or won't let go of.
See that mound of sins on Jesus' holy back as He's on the cross, and then take great joy in reading Romans 4: 25 where Paul says that Jesus "was put to death for our sins." Jesus was put to death to pay for that pile of sins you just heaped up. He died so that you wouldn't have to die the death your sins deserve. He died so that you could put out the flaming arrows of guilt that Satan launches at your heart because of your sins.
But how do you know that Jesus succeeded in paying for yours sins, stopping death, and quenching Satan? Because He was raised from the dead. The only reason Jesus died was to pay for our sins, defeat death, and overcome Satan. Death only had a hold over the God/Man Jesus because He allowed it to, so He could take our place under our sins, in the jaws of death, and in the battle with Satan. Once Jesus defeated our 3 great enemies, what hold could they have on Him?
Baboom! The Easter tomb is unsealed. Jesus has risen. By doing this, the Father declares to the world He has put away all of its sins. Not just your pile of sins, but the world's pile has been paid for and swept out of the way. Do you understand this? Not this or that sin of some believers have been declared forgiven on Easter, but the sins of the whole cotton pickin' world. Unilaterally, without any help, cooperation, faith, or promises to do better, God for Christ's sake forgave the sins of the whole world on Easter. That's why the women could come to the tomb as sinners and yet be treated as saints. That's why without a word of rebuke Jesus could send for the unbelieving disciples, and that's why Jesus sends for you too today.
Though you have disappointed Him by your unbelief and sins He's passionate about meeting you in the Waters of Baptism, in the Words of this Sermon, in the Bread and Wine of Communion. The very same Body and Blood that Jesus took to the cross laden with your sins, He longs to use to wash away your sins in Baptism, to paint across your sins in Absolution, to give you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins in Communion. Though a passion for sin and unbelief always smolders in the hearts of even believing sinners, the resurrected, living Jesus has made provisions to come to us in Water, Words, Bread and Wine to keep those embers in check. Therefore in having a passion for the Sacraments of Baptism, Absolution, and Communion, we have a passion for our Savior Jesus Christ who even more passionately wants to save us. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Easter (4-20-03), Mark 16:1-8