What Exactly Do We Profess?
The ancient Collect we used today was originally appointed for Easter Tuesday. In it, we pray that the Almighty and Eternal God would "give us the will to show forth in our lives what we profess with our lips"? So, what exactly do we profess with our lips that we want to show in our lives?
We profess a physically resurrected man not a ghost. A physical resurrection is played down by liberal theology, and often denied. Notice in our text how Jesus goes out of His way to show He's physically present. He commands them. "You must handle My hands and feet. Feel the nail holes. You must see the wounds on this body." Then He eats food with a physical mouth. Luke records Jesus saying, "You must handle Me." And John records that "we did handle [same word]" the Word of Life (1 Jn 1:1).
The spiritual presence of Jesus is not enough. Paul explains why in I Cor. 15:17, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins." The object of the Christian's faith is the physical resurrection: That the same Body nailed to the cross for the sins of the world, buried in the dank, dead tomb, passed out of the tomb on Easter morning. Paul connects the two very clearly in Romans 4:25. "Jesus was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification."
The physically resurrected body of Jesus is what we profess with our lips because this is the proof that our sins are paid for. Death couldn't hold God in flesh and blood once God has finished paying for sins in that flesh and blood. The physically resurrected body of Jesus is the receipt that proves your sins are paid for, forgiven. And the physically resurrected body of Jesus proves that He is not done with these bodies of ours decaying, aging, though they be. No, the risen Jesus institutes Baptism to put Him on our body. He institutes Absolution on Easter evening to put the forgiveness He breathes out of His body into your ears. And on the night His Body is betrayed in place of yours, He institutes a Meal of His Body and Blood to feed your body and blood.
Because we profess with our lips a physically resurrected Jesus, we do things in, with, and for our body. Some make His sign of the cross over their bodies. Some bow with their body before His Body on the altar. Some kneel with their body before His Absolving Word. We all stand with our bodies when He speaks His Gospel to us again. And some bow in body at the mention of His incarnation and suffering.
That's something else we profess with our lips. We profess a suffering Jesus not a conquering Jesus. We do this because of what Jesus says here, "All the Old Testament is about Me." Jesus names the Old Testament according to the original Hebrew order: The Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Here is the only place in the New Testament that does this. There is no part of the Old Testament that is not about Jesus.
He, as the ancient Proper Preface for Easter says, is "the very Paschal Lamb that hath taken away the sins of the world." The Passover Lamb whose blood Moses commanded be painted on the door so that the Angel of Death would pass over pointed to the real Lamb of God for whose sake God passed over sins and whose blood would not be painted outwardly but drank inwardly. We profess that Jesus is also the true scapegoat. Once each year, Moses commanded the high priest put his hands on a goat; confess the sins of the Old Testament Church, and then drive that goat into the wilderness to carry sins away. Jesus is the true Scapegoat, as John the Baptist sees once he's baptized Him saying, "Behold the Lamb of God carrying away the sins of the world." And Jesus is the Suffering Servant written about by the prophet Isaiah: "He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering." The Psalms too testify to a suffering Jesus. Psalms 22 says He would be a worm on the cross, ridiculed by men, and forsaken by God there.
We profess with our lips a Jesus who conquers by suffering, and this shows up in our life in a strange way. We who profess with our lips a Savior who saves by suffering ought not count it strange when we suffer says Peter. How many times does Jesus warn us, prophesy to us, that if the world hated Him, it will hate us? How many times does Paul call us to suffer hardship with him as a solider of Christ? How can we expect anything less than suffering when Hebrews says, "Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood."
The faith in our heart in a Savior who saves by suffering, shows up in our lives when: we embrace the crosses in our life and let the nails go in deep; when we see that we don't conquer despite those crosses but through them; when we lift up broken, fallen, sick hearts to the Lord knowing that it is meet and right to give thanks to the Lord our God. It is fitting to give such thanks even when Sin, Death, and Devil are knocking at our door because they are the ones who have been defeated by the cross and we are the ones who've been saved by it. The Baptismal Water that washes them away in defeat washes away our sins for life. The words of Absolution that sends devils screaming from us are Spirit and Life in our ears. The same Body and Blood that has defeated Sin, Death, and Devil raises our body and blood from the ashes of despair now and death and decay later.
We profess not only that our Jesus has physically risen and that it was necessary for Him to suffer and to rise, but we profess that it is necessary that both repentance and forgiveness be preached in His name to all nations. No more is Jesus only for the lost sheep of the House of Israel. No more do you have to go through Israel to reach the Christ. The risen Christ, the suffering Christ is for all nations. We don't know any nation, tribe, or people that repentance and forgiveness in Christ name can't be proclaimed to.
The trend in our society is to preach one or the other. If you preach repentance without forgiveness, you preach despair. If you preach, first you put away your sins, first you make yourself acceptable to God, then you can be forgiven, you are making repentance the cause of forgiveness. What then of Jesus? What then of His holy life in your place? I mean if you first have to do better before you can be forgiven, why was Jesus born under the Law to keep it in your place? And if you first have to have enough sorrow for your sins before you can be forgiven, why did Jesus come as a Man of sorrows? If you have to suffer first before you can be forgiven, why did Jesus need to go to the cross at all? If you preach repentance without forgiveness, you will either leave people in despair of ever being forgiven, or you will leave them self-righteously certain they have done enough, been sorry enough, suffered enough to be forgiven.
We don't profess with our lips that repentance without forgiveness is to be proclaimed or that forgiveness without repentance is. Forgiveness without repentance is a dream; it doesn't exist. You can keep either your sins or your Savior not both. Our world has never believed this, and now a good many churches don't either. As long as you are sorry for your sins, you can remain a member in good standing. You can sin against the Third Commandment week by week neither gladly hearing preaching and God's Word, nor holding them sacred, and still consider yourself a member of the Body of Christ. That's always a hard one, because what the pastor assumes, because he can't read hearts, is that the person who shows up to church after an absence is specifically repenting of his sin of despising preaching and God's Word. The same is true of any First Table sin against God. If you're worshipping here, I assume you are renouncing all other gods. If you're calling on God praying, praising, and giving thanks, I assume you're repenting of misusing the name of God.
Second Table sins are where forgiveness without repentance is accepted. Particularly with 6th Commandment sins. A person who is an open hater of men, a thief, or a liar, would probably not be communed at most Christian altars. But living together which use to be called shacking up, which before that was called living in sin, and before that fornication, is now considered normal by the world. So, it can no longer be considered sin by the church. It's the popular lie, that if two adults consent to something, it can't be wrong in the eyes of God. It's the useful lie that you can be sorry and forgiven for something that you consciously engage in day by day, don't consider sin, and so cannot want forgiveness for. I don't want forgiveness for killing squirrels because I don't believe that is sin. Those living together without marriage, homosexuals, or any other sinner doesn't want forgiveness for what they don't consider sin, embrace, or defend.
Because we profess with our lips that both repentance and forgiveness are to be proclaimed to all nations, we bring our bodies to where this is going on. Visit other churches; listen or read sermons on line. See how rare it is that people hear both. O you'll get lots of repenting of being poor neighbors, or not as loving as we should be, but you'll hear little that man is sinful by nature and separated from God at conception. And you'll hear lots of God healing brokenness, woundedness, and how we are all sinners, but little of a call to turn from your sins and embrace the perfect life of Jesus that was sacrificed to pay for sins and raised to life to justify sinners.
Notice what exactly we're praying for in the Collect: not to be hypocrites. The will to show in life what we profess with lips. This changed will comes from being assured that Jesus has completed your redemption and it's a whole new ballgame. It's open, empty graves; it's the Phoenix soaring from ashes; it's caterpillars into butterflies. Resurrected people don't live in tombs, sit in ashes, or crawl around in the dirt. They live and fly beautifully. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third Sunday of Easter (20180415); Luke 24: 36-49