"Dawn of New Life and New Creation"
Job 19:23-27 and Mark 16:1-8
Talk about turning the tables! Talk about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat! On Good Friday it all looked hopeless and lost. Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God—through whom the universe was created—fought Satan in a duel to the death. It was the culmination of a cosmic battle that began in the Garden of Eden and has raged through the centuries.
It was also the culmination of a thirty years’ war that began way back at Christmas. Accompanied by angel armies, Jesus entered time and space to reclaim and retake His world from Satan and death. Then Jesus went underground, appearing as a helpless baby born to obscure parents. But Satan saw the plan unfolding and strove to extinguish the threat. The battle was joined when Mary and Joseph had to flee to Egypt to avoid Herod’s attempted assassination of their newborn baby. The fog of war openly intensified when Satan confronted grown-up Jesus in the wilderness, trying to bring Jesus over to his side just as he did with Adam and Eve. And the battles flared every time Jesus expelled an evil spirit, healed a broken body, and raised someone from the dead.
The D-Day of this ages-long war took place on a hill called “Skull Place.” Jesus was crucified and put to death. The Son of God died. Then He was buried in a borrowed tomb. To the naked eye, Satan had won the war. Sixteenth century reformer Martin Luther describes it as Satan dragging the Son of God off His throne, killing Him, and then burying Him under his feet. Nineteenth century pastor C. F. W. Walther expressed it vividly in his Easter hymn, “He’s Risen, He’s Risen.” Describing Jesus’ death, Walther sings:
“The foe was triumphant when on Calvary
The Lord of creation was nailed to the tree.
In Satan’s domain did the hosts shout and jeer,
For Jesus was slain, whom the evil ones fear.”
But it turns out to be a short-lived victory. As it happens, Jesus turned the tables on Satan. Walther then sings:
“But short was their triumph; the Savior arose,
And death, hell, and Satan He vanquished His foes.”
What does this mean for us? Everything! All of our life and all of our hope hinges on this one event that changed the course of history forever. A few years ago, the well-known church historian Jaroslav Pelikan died. It’s been reported that he said these last words: “If Jesus has not risen from the dead, nothing else matters; if Jesus has risen from the dead, nothing else matters!” Let me repeat that: “If Jesus has not risen from the dead, nothing else matters; if Jesus has risen from the dead, nothing else matters!” It’s why we call ourselves Christians. It’s why we call out to God in confidence. It’s why we eagerly anticipate eternal life in the age to come!
When He rises from the dead, Jesus opens up the future. From the earliest days of the Church, this day has been known as the eighth day of creation, also called the first day of the new creation. That’s why our baptismal font, and many others, have eight sides to them. It’s in our Baptism where we are born anew and given life in the new creation. Jesus’ resurrection is the vanguard of the new creation.
And because Jesus rose from the dead, so shall we. That’s the joy of Easter. “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). When we see the first flower bloom in spring, we know that all the rest are soon to follow. So it is with Jesus. Just as He has risen bodily from the dead, so shall we. And God will complete what He first began in the Garden of Eden. There He raised a human being from dust of the ground. Adam and Eve had access to the Tree of Life. But then they sinned. And God had to expel them from the garden…and from access to the Tree of Life. They were doomed to die, as are we. But now we will be raised again from the ground in the resurrection. “Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:23). We were deprived access to the Tree of Life, but now we have access to the Tree of Life forever. That tree looks like the cross and all that Jesus achieved for us there.
And because we will rise, the earth will also be renewed and restored. We become the first fruits of God’s entire creation. “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). You see, when we are raised from the dead, creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption. It will live under the gracious and benevolent rule of God’s children—us—along with Jesus. So it goes from Jesus to us to all of creation.
What does this mean for the art of living by faith? Does it mean life will be easy for us from now on? Does it mean the prospect of dying one day is easy and no longer fearful? Not necessarily. In fact, the resurrection may even make things more difficult. It might just destroy our illusions and our attempts to avoid, evade, or even sugarcoat what death is.
Lutheran theologian Hermann Sasse once pointed out that the message of Easter is not, “Jesus lives,” but rather, “Jesus has risen!” What’s the difference? In our culture, we have become comfortable talking about departed loved ones this way: “So-and-so lives on in our hearts and memories.” Or we say, “They will always be with us.” Huh? What does this even mean? The hard, cold fact is, they died. They’re dead. They’re buried in the earth. Do we mean some kind of disembodied consciousness, floating around somewhere, finally free from the physical world? Do we mean some sort of immortal soul, once entrapped in a body but now freed from that cage?
The resurrection does not necessarily make our dying easier, as if we are moving to some higher form of being with death as a natural portal. No, the resurrection actually makes dying hard. The resurrection clearly shows that death is not a friend at all. It’s not natural at all. It’s an enemy. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). Why else do we constantly try to avoid thinking about death, try to cheat death, or try to stem the tide of death? We instinctively know that death is the enemy to life.
That’s why the message of Jesus risen is the message of bodily resurrection. It’s not natural for the body to die and go to the grave. It’s not right for death to rip our body and soul apart. The resurrection is a celebration of bodily life! It’s the celebration of a body given new life, a body enlivened with breath once again, a body that walks on the earth—a body that will live forever. And remember Jesus’ Ascension. When He ascends into heaven, He does not leave His body behind. He ascends bodily!
So Jesus’ resurrection, just like His incarnation, is a wonderful and unqualified affirmation of bodily life. And this is great Good News when we now go through all the pains and sufferings, the aches and pains in our own bodies. The problem is not our bodies; they don’t cause the suffering. The problem is the sin and death that causes the aches and pains to our bodies.
And to what shall we rise? What is this future that Christ has opened for us? What kind of world will we find ourselves in? A feast prepared for us by God Himself! Let’s think of it as a grand welcome-home party. (Remember the parable of the prodigal son?) A feast that we will see, and hear, and feel, and taste.
Perhaps we can think of it as a winery. You’ve heard of Robert Mondavi, the famous California winemaker. It’s been said that whenever he came out with a new wine, he would throw a fabulous party and feast at his winery. He would invite the who’s who of the wine world, the tasters and reviewers. He would invite the rich and the famous, the celebrities and movie stars.
Well, let’s think of Jesus as the One who plants a vineyard, carefully tends it, prunes the branches, manages the canopy cover, tastes the grapes, harvests the grapes, presses them, ferments them, and makes the wine. When all is ready, He sends out the invitations to join Him at His eternal party of food, music, and wine. But these invitations go out not just to the rich and famous; they go out to sinners and rebels, that is, you and me. He has prepared this rich, fabulous feast for you and me in fellowship with Him. This is what awaits us!
Until that day, let’s celebrate Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil with the Lord’s Supper! That’s why we worship on Sundays. Here we get to celebrate our Lord’s victory—the first day of the new creation, the first day of the rest of our lives! Amen.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!