Here we are in Church on Easter Sunday. We probably feel pretty good about ourselves. We could be anywhere, doing anything – having fun, spending time with family, or getting in a nice afternoon nap. But we decided to give some time to God. Surely He ought to be pleased with us.
But is it enough to sit in the pew? Does simply being here make God smile? I declare to you today that being here like a lump will not help you. In fact, the simple act of being here to hear the Word of God for any number of days will not help you. It is a good start, but it is not enough.
The difference is faith.
In the Holy Gospel today, the two men journeying to Emmaus had heard the Easter message, but had not believed. The women had reported to them the great Gospel news that is announced to you also today: Christ has been raised from the Tomb! Death is conquered!
But they did not believe, so the message did not benefit them at all. They moped along down the road to Emmaus, dejected and defeated.
Well, perhaps if we are happy today, then everything will be okay! But no, mere emotion is not the answer.
These two men were not especially wicked. They were not especially foolish or stubbornly close-minded. That is to say, they were no more foolish and unbelieving than the normal state of every human being.
These two men were simply doing what people naturally do: They did not believe. No man comes into the world trusting God. No man comprehends the Gospel by his own powers. We are all of us slow and hard of heart. We are slow to believe. In fact we would never believe at all unless God does His tremendous miracle in us.
So merely parking your pants in the pew will not help you. You must hear and believe.
We are also the foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe. We need to hear the words of Christ and trust the promises that they offer us. What God has promised in His Son, He indeed gives us, namely, forgiveness, life, and resurrection from the dead.
Well, how do we get faith to believe? Only from the Spirit, who works in and with the Word, whether it is preached, taught, proclaimed, or given with the water of Baptism. In these things, the Holy Spirit gives us faith to receive the precious gifts of salvation and grace that come in this Word.
This Word that we need is exactly what Christ compassionately provides for us. As with the two men on the road, He sees our great need. He does not ignore us. He could have watched the men walk down to Emmaus, and He could have said, “I died on the Cross. I suffered for their sins. I even rose from the dead to prove My victory over death. Is it my fault that they have unbelieving hearts?” No, He does not say that. Christ goes to them. He speaks to them. He patiently explains the Scriptures. Through His words, the Spirit works, until their eyes are opened, and they believe.
Until He opens our eyes to see Himself in the pages of Scripture, it will be a closed book. It will only be a set of principles for living, or soothing words to give emotional peace or happiness, or whatever emotion a person desires. For such people without faith, Church may be merely a place for the togetherness of family. Or Scripture and Church become places to learn rules for how to behave.
These views of the Word are all dismal failures. The Word is alive and active, and gives justification to all who have faith. All the rules and families and emotions in the world cannot compare to the gifts of the Lord of Life.
He is the meaning of all Scripture, both Old and New Testament. All pages point to Him and His work to save us. We have greater difficulty understanding how some places in the Word point to Christ, but they do. For this purpose He came, to fulfill every syllable of God’s revelation. For this purpose, the Word was given, so that it could speak to us about Christ, and by speaking of Him, bestow faith when and where the Spirit decides to give.
How will you know if you have faith? That is not the right question to ask. As soon as we go looking for whether we have faith, we look in the wrong places.
For instance, do not look for a burning in the bosom (as certain people will direct you to look). The burning you feel may deceive by coming at the wrong time, or it may not come when truth is there. The two men on the road to Emmaus did not feel the burning the first time they heard the message, but they did the second.
Sometimes your emotions will follow what the Spirit is doing. You will receive forgiveness, and you will think, “Wow! This is great!” But other times you may hear the Gospel and feel nothing at all, perhaps because you are distracted. But neither case is necessarily evidence of faith, or evidence of the lack of faith.
Instead of looking for faith, look for Christ. Where is He? He is speaking His Word to you. Not me, the stupid, bumbling slave who speaks to you His words. No, He is the true speaker behind this pathetic man. These are not my words, they are His.
This means everything. I tell you that Christ has conquered death, and that His victory is yours. Therefore, you will also rise, as He did. You will beat death for all eternity, because He promises.
See Christ in this breaking of bread. He promises that He gives His Body and Blood in this holy Meal, and with them, forgiveness and eternal life.
See Him everywhere His Word is. See Him not as a dead Man, or dead information, or mere rituals of remembrance. He is alive, and He is here. He is not a historical man, or worse, a mere fable. He is the Man who is God, the Savior who has paid for the salvation of all men. For you, He suffered. For you, He proved that His suffering has paid for your sins by rising from the dead.
He promises that He will abide with you in the evening of your lives. In these dark, uncertain times, when so many forces of evil can strike without warning, He is with you, and your life is safe with Him. In the dark times of personal hardship and pain, He is with you; not to make everything all right, which He has not promised. Instead He reminds you that you must suffer first before entering glory. That is what He did, as He told the disciples on the road. You also must follow His road, His path.
There is glory waiting for you because He has cleared the path for you. He has taken away the sting of death, so that even in the dark valley of death He will be with you. There is glory for you, because death is temporary. Death is mortally wounded by the strongest Man, Christ Jesus. A time is soon coming when no death shall remain, because the Man from Nazareth stepped out of His own Tomb.
There is glory for you, because redemption has been purchased by the crucifixion of Christ. He paid for all your sins. That is what the sting of death was all about. Sin brought death into the world, and death hunted and terrorized mankind ever since. But now Christ has won by dying on the Cross for your sins. He suffered the punishment. He died the death that should have killed you. Therefore death has no lasting claim on you. It cannot hold you for long. You will burst out of the grave just as Christ has done.
So death has lost. You have won, because Christ won for you.
Believe this, because it is true. Trust the promise that God has given in His Son. God cannot lie to you. All who reject His promises call Him a liar, and receive none of His gifts. But you who trust His promises can rest assured that you have eternal life in Christ.
In His Name, the Risen Lord of Life, the Conqueror of the Grave, the Majestic Son seated at the right hand of the Most High. Amen.
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