Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Of course, today is Easter Sunday, when we remember the empty tomb where Jesus Christ came to live forever and to give us eternal life as well.
So what is the relationship between our reading of the Old Testament and the Gospel for today (Mark 16:1-8)?
Angels, it is true. In the Gospel of Mark, the women who went to the tomb of Jesus in the morning met an angel in the form of a young man dressed in white clothes, who said, "Do not be afraid: You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, He is risen and is not here: behold the place where they laid him." In the book of Daniel, when they threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste and said to his counselors, Did not we cast three men bound into the fire? They answered and said to the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Behold, I see four men loose, walking in the fire, and no harm in them, and the fourth is like a son of the gods. This "son of the gods" was an angel of the Lord, too.
The presence of the holy angels, the messengers and servants of God, means that God's hand was working in both cases. However, it is more important to understand that in both cases, God showed his power is greater than the power to kill.
Our Almighty God has all authority over life and death in this world. So Paul writes in Romans 12.19, "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, rather, give place to wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."
However, God has delegated to the civil authorities the right of the sword, ie, to use the force of arms against wrongdoers. Paul also writes in Romans 13:4 in respect to government, "It is the minister of God to you for good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, it does not bear the sword in vain, it is the minister of God, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that does evil." Some people, in their unbelief, think that the power to end physical life is absolute power, with no respect for anything more. To restrain the exteriot acts of these criminals, to keep the streets safe, and defend the country's borders against invaders, the government was established by God.
But men in authority are sinners too. Therefore, we always pray for them, that God keep them in wisdom and justice. And according to the Small Catechism of Martin Luther, when we ask God this day for our daily bread in the Lord's Prayer, the petition includes the blessing of good and pious leaders.
Unfortunately, the temptation for princes is to believe in the power of the sword as absolute power as well. World history is the story of many empires and dictatorships. When a leader has the largest and most powerful army in the world, the temptation is to think "I have the power of life and death over millions. I decide who can live and who should die. I am a god on earth. I have no need to respect the true God or human rights. "
Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon, the son of the founder of the Chaldean dynasty. He conquered Syria, Lebanon and Palestine as well and took the Jews into captivity. He made a golden statue of himself and commanded them to worship him as the other gods of Babylon. The three Jewish men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were faithful ministers in the government of Nebuchadnezzar, but when the king told them, if you do not worship, you shall be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; Who is the God who can deliver out of my hands?" they answered, "Behold our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and of you hand, O king. And if not, know, O king, we will not worship your gods, nor honor the statue you have set up." And God saved them from the burning fiery furnace.
Many centuries later the Roman Empire had power over all countries around the Mediterranean Sea and the regions known today as England, Spain, France and Germany. Pontius Pilate was the representative of the Roman Empire in Palestine. When Jesus was presented to him for trial, because at that time the Romans did allow the Jews to put anyone to death, Pilate said, "Do not you know I have power to crucify you, and I have power to release you?" But Jesus said, "You would have no power, if it were given you from above: therefore he that delivered me to you has the greater sin."
Earthly kings only have the authority given by the King of kings, who will judge the abuse of power. We pray for our leaders and give thanks that we have religious freedom in our country. This past week was published a list of the 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted. Thank God, Venezuela is not in the list. We still have freedom of belief and to meet together to worship God. There are parts of the world where the soldiers, when they find the little children on their way to Sunday school, cut their heads and put them on sticks as a warning to parents. In Venezuela, it is not so.
And more, because the government of our country allows every day free for the weeks of Christmas and Easter. To what purpose? To meditate on the Word of God and participate in the worship of God throughout the week. Therefore, we consider the days dedicated to the worship of God as a privilege, not as a burden for us.
As the government, the church was instituted by God. However, the church has no power of the sword. The government may exercise the power of the sword under the law of God, but the threat of the sword or any weapon cannot change the hearts of the wicked, thus it can not save them. But, the gospel, yes. The gospel can change hearts and save sinners like us.
For the power of God is more than the power to end life on earth. God formed us in the wombs of our mothers, then so He has the power to create life. But there's more. God not only has power over life and death on earth, but eternal life and eternal death too. Our Lord tells us: "And fear not them which kill the body but can not kill the soul: but rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).
We are all sinners, then we deserve not just the physical dead, but also eternal life. But eternal life is the gift of God for believers, because Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins on the cross. He won for us victory over physical death and eternal death. For us believers, physical death is temporary and does not scare us, because after we enter eternal life, which is forever. This is only by the grace of God. It's a gift without price, offered without expectation of recompense.
The power to kill is not absolute, nor the power of death itself. We do not live in terror of the judgment of God, but in love and reverence to Him who can give new life in Jesus Christ.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Send Pastor David Ernst an email.