IN NOMINE JESU
Christ is risen! HE IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA! AMEN!
I have for a long time loved the iconic television series “M*A*S*H.” One particular episode of the series came to mind as I was preparing today’s sermon. In this episode, the doctors treated a number of Greek soldiers, and the Greek unit commander wanted to show his appreciation by treating the 4077th with a Greek Easter feast, complete with a real lamb. When “Radar” O’Reilly learned that this lamb was going to be the main course, he was upset because he didn’t want to see it killed. Radar was able to set this lamb free…and on a plane to his family’s farm near Ottumwa, Iowa. Radar conned Colonel Blake to sign a medical release for one “Private Charles Lamb.” He gave a medical discharge to a sheep. In Col. Blake’s frustration, he said, “I've got Command on my tail! And a hospital full of Greeks waiting on a lamb that’s on a plane on his way to Iowa to become Radar's little brother!” Hawkeye and Trapper took it upon themselves to save the day. They brought a platter into the mess tent, and an ouzo-filled Col. Blake wondered what in the world they set on the table. Hawkeye said, “A Spam® lamb,” a bunch of that luncheon meat shaped into the form of a lamb. Far from sober, Col. Blake didn’t seem to mind that Hawkeye and Trapper provided the lamb, fake though it was, for the Easter feast.
In the northeastern part of the United States, as well as in the Mediterranean countries, lamb is the centerpiece of the Easter meal, a tradition dating back to the book of Exodus, when the Jews first ate the Passover meal, a meal the Jews still eat every year at the Passover Seder. But for them, it is nothing more than a memorial meal. But as some converted to Christianity, they made lamb part of their Easter meal, celebrating the resurrection of Christ, the Lamb of God. For Christians, this celebration is not for an event stuck in time; it is for an act that changed the world forever, to this very day, for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead means that all who believed in Him—and who believe in Him now—have the promise of eternal life. We have that promise signed, sealed, and delivered by the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Yes, heaven is ours. We don’t need to go out and watch some feel-good movie to hear that heaven is for real or that God’s not dead…we have the very Word of God. You get to hear God say in His inspired and inerrant Word that heaven is for real…and heaven is FOR YOU, thanks be to God, who has given us the victory in His Son, our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, for God’s not dead. You heard it when He forgave your sins. You heard it in the Readings. You hear it in the sermon. And soon you will taste heaven on your lips, as you will partake of a Lamb supper, when Jesus feeds you on His Lamb-of-God crucified-dead-and-resurrected body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, for the removal of the old leaven from you—the leaven of malice and evil.
We are loaves of leavened bread, full of yeast. This yeast is the infection of sin, the sin we were conceived and born in, and the sin we have committed since. If you’ve ever watched a loaf of bread dough with yeast in it, you’ve seen it grow and grow; you’ve seen the dough rise and get bigger. That’s was sin does inside us. All those things we’ve said and done to disobey God have come home to roost. Whenever we do what God forbids and whenever we don’t do what He commands, we sin, and the bad leaven—the bad yeast—grows in us and overtakes us. It spreads in us like cancer, and it kills us. Without the Lamb of God—without Jesus as our Lord and Savior—we are dead, dead in our trespasses and sins, and the stone is not rolled away from our hearts, for we remain closed to Him. Without the Lamb of God in our hearts and on our lips in confession of Him, feasting on Him at His Supper is pure poison, as we would eat and drink judgment—condemnation—upon ourselves, and for this reason we retain the Scriptural practice of closed communion. This is not something I want to talk about, especially and a day for of joy and celebration, for Jesus has risen from the dead. However, as a pastor, it is my duty to remind us all—you and me alike—that there can be no Easter without Good Friday, and there would be no Good Friday if there was no sin.
But the reality exists that sin is in the world, through the work of the devil, the unbelieving world, and our own sinful nature, all of which want nothing to do with the things of God. Yet God demands payment for our sins. In the Old Testament, God demanded a sin offering be made every year on the Day of Atonement. The priest would offer up the sacrifice on behalf of the people, slaughtering the unblemished lamb upon the altar in the temple, and the blood spills out. They atoned for their sins, but they had to repeat this sacrifice every year. The writer to the Hebrews says, For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. [Heb. 10:1-4]
Those sacrifices were not perfect. The people were still sinners. They had to sacrifice again and again to avoid God’s wrath. God said that the soul that sins shall die. Even our own death is not an adequate payment for our sins. Something more is needed, something purer. Enter the Lamb of God Jesus, the Lamb without blemish or defect. Hear again from Hebrews: Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He [Jesus], having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. [Heb. 10:11-14]
Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf was perfected when He spoke one Greek word from the cross: Τετέλεσται, which means “It is finished,” “It is completed,” “It is perfected!” Christ, our Paschal Lamb, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed—perfectly!—for us, for me, for you, and for the life of the world. “Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God” (LSB 155:1). This is He of whom John the Baptist spoke, saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). Jesus is our sacrificial Lamb, having taken our place by being sacrificed on the altar of the cross at the temple called Mt. Calvary, where His holy and precious blood poured out His thorned head, His nailed hands and feet—filling the cup—and with water from His pierced side—filling the font. That ground was made holy by His blood and His innocent suffering and death. The prophet Isaiah said of the Suffering Servant, the Lamb of God Jesus, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth…. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors” (Is. 53:7, 11-12). and again, “Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:4-6).
There it is: the perfect sacrifice, executed perfectly for you and me, and for the whole world. But the story doesn’t end there, does it? Not a chance, thanks be to God! It doesn’t end with the cross; so we don’t cling to the old, rugged cross. It doesn’t end at the tomb, either. An angel of the Lord came with the message that the story didn’t end there, for he told Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome that Jesus was no longer there. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you” (Mk. 16:6-7). The women at the tomb couldn’t believe it. They were full of fear and joy, and that fear turned to total joy when they saw their risen Lord. “And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, ‘Rejoice!’ So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him” (Mt. 28:9). Job knew the story didn’t end, for he said, “I know that my Redeemer lives…whom I shall see for myself…. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25a, 27a, c). “I know that my Redeemer lives”—words we will be singing during the Communion distribution. The Lamb of God Jesus bled and died, but He did not stay dead. The Lamb of God lives! Christ is risen! He has defeated sin, death, and the power of the devil forever! Jesus lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, “for the Lamb who was slain has begun His reign. Alleluia” (LSB 155:5).
The story doesn’t end because it continues today, for the risen Lord has come down to you today in His Word and in His body and blood. He announces that His Father (and yours by His grace) forgives you on account of His Lamb-of-God sacrifice, and out of His love for you He invites you to come to His Supper and feast on the Lamb of God, to eat His body and drink His blood, to taste and see that the Lord is good, that He is risen, for, on this side of heaven, this is the feast of victory of our God! Alleluia! So let us celebrate the festival, that you would be unleavened, the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, forgiven once again and empowered by the Holy Spirit to tell others the good news that is Jesus—crucified, dead, and risen, that we would have life with Him into all eternity. You don’t need a movie to tell you God is not dead; He gives you His Word, and He gives you the Lamb-of-God body and blood of His Son. This is no Spam® lamb, no blemished or defective lamb…this is THE Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, has mercy on us, and grants us His peace, the peace that comes only through His death and resurrection, given to us in Word and Sacraments, thanks be to God!
Christ is risen! HE IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA! AMEN!
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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