The Story He Told


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In the 19th century, a band of explorers set out for the North Pole. They didn't make it. Their bodies were found in a tent. One of them had been keeping a diary. His last entry read: "Had we lived, what a story we would have had to tell." What adventures are hidden under those words? Those explorers didn't live and so had no story to tell. Jesus, on the other hand, did live, and what story did He tell?

Jesus came back from the grave telling no stories about the wonders and beauties of heaven. He didn't come back telling what the people in heaven did or didn't do. He didn't come back telling of bright lights, angels, or warm feelings. When it gets right down to it, Jesus didn't come back telling much of a story at all, did He?

The first words Jesus told to the disciples were, "Peace be with you." In the upper room Maundy Thursday night Jesus had said farewell to them leaving them peace. But that night and the next day, Good Friday, they had treated Jesus like their most bitter enemy not standing for Him or even with Him. They had deserted Him in Gethsemane, left Him to stand trial alone, and all but John had abandoned Him to the cross. Do you expect peace from someone you've treated like an enemy? But when Jesus appeared in their midst, the first words out of His mouth are, "Peace be with you."

Jesus doesn't come back from the grave telling stories about death, or heaven, or angels, He comes back telling the story of forgiveness. This was the same story He told in His ministry, isn't it? When the 4 men carried the paralytic to Him, Jesus forgave the man first. Jesus said He was a ransom for sinners. He was the Lamb who carried away the sins of the world. He ate and drank with sinners. Sinners and their forgiveness were the passions of Jesus in His ministry.

Look at the 3 great gifts Jesus gave us in connection with His suffering, death and resurrection. What do Communion, Absolution, and Baptism have to do with? Forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness. On the night Jesus was betrayed, when He made His last will and testament, what did He leave us? A meal of forgiveness in His Body and Blood. Before He ascended what did He send His disciples out into the world with? A washing of forgiveness for all nations. And here, on the night He rose from the dead, Jesus doesn't tell the story of being carried to heaven by angels, or of descending into hell to announce victory over the devil, He instead bestows upon His disciples the power to forgive sins. He sends them as He was sent by His Father: to forgive sins.

Do you know where our sin is in this? The story of forgiveness Jesus told on the night He was raised isn't good enough for us. We want to know about the glories of heaven. We want to know how it felt to be whisked away in angel arms. We want to know what it's like to rise from the dead. If our sins were our biggest problem, forgiveness would mean something to us. If we were plagued by the fact that we don't ever stop sinning, than forgiveness would be a joyous answer to us. But as it is we believe we are plagued by other things.

We believe we are plagued by health concerns. If Jesus had risen from the dead preaching diets or healthier lifestyles, that would have been a story to tell. If Jesus had come back telling how to add years to our life, well that would've gotten our attention. Health issues are practical issues.

So are wealth issues. If on Easter evening Jesus had appeared spouting principles for investing in the stock market, even E.F. Hutton would have listened. If Jesus had showed up telling people how to get the most out of their IRA's, people would have flocked to Him.

And they would've mobbed Jesus, had He risen speaking of relationships between people rather than between God and men. People want to know how to build healthy relationships with others. I know of no talk show on TV or radio that speaks about the real, eternal problems in the relationship of God and people, but there numerous ones that focus on people to people relationships. Had Jesus returned from the grave telling that story, O how we would cherish it, study it, tell others about it.

But Jesus didn't come speaking of health, wealth, or relationships. Neither did He rise speaking of parenting, marriage, the environment, or politics. Jesus rose speaking forgiveness to sinners and then sending sinners out with even more forgiveness, but this means little to us unless our greatest problem is sin. But it's not. No we've got the sin thing taken care of, so we think. We've got more pressing medical, financial, or economical issues than we do sin issues. Speak to me of these and you'll have my attention, my devotion, my dedication even. As for forgiveness, that's really only important to someone who still has problems with sin.

And this had better be you and I, for we remain sinners till we die, and at death especially what we will want and need to hear about is forgiveness. On your deathbed medicine has nothing more to say to you, neither do bankers, or therapists. You're dying; what help can they be to you? The key is to realize that you're dying today, will be dying tomorrow, and have been dying ever since you came into this world. Satan, the great illusionist, hides that from you, so you think you have nothing but time. There's plenty of time to think of the hereafter; it's what's here and now that needs attention, your health, wealth, and relationships.

These are the kinds of things that churches advertising practical sermons preach and teach. They claim to find in the Bible, "5 Ways to Live a Healthier Christian Life," "10 Principles for Christian Money Management," and "12 Biblical Steps to Better Relationships." People flock to this. "This is practical; I can use this," they exclaim. They invite their friends, tell their coworkers, and Satan laughs with delight because this is the day the music of the Gospel has died. The only message Satan can't bear to hear preached, the only message Satan marshals his forces to fight against it being preached is the Gospel, the free forgiveness of sins for Jesus' sake. This Satan can't bear to hear. This Satan must flee from or plug his ears and attack.

This is the message I have for you today and every single Sunday. Luther said while preaching on this very text, "I as a preacher and ambassador of Christ, have no business teaching you about home economics, or agriculture, or about marital rules, or about nutrition, or other things...My mandate and realm of authority concern sin alone." What's going on in this text, says Luther, is that Jesus is instituting an office to deal with sins. "Christ is instituting here an office through which all the sins of the entire world may be forgiven and taken away."

Do you want to know how to lower your blood pressure? Go to a doctor. Do you want to know how to invest your money? Go to a financial planner. Do you what to know how to relate better to people? Go to a counselor. Do you want to know what to do about sin? Go to Church. Here's the institution the Lord has established on earth for dealing with sinners. If sin is your greatest problem you've come to the right place.

Jesus rose from the dead proclaiming the forgiveness of sins in Him. He showed His disciples His body. He showed them the body they knew to be good and dead was alive and well. He had gone to the cross carrying their sins. He had died for those sins. But look He lives. God the Father had accepted His suffering and death in place of the suffering and death of all sinners. Jesus had suffered and died enough to pay for the sins of the world, so death couldn't hold Him. Jesus arose proclaiming the forgiveness of sins in His name to His disciples and then sent them out to the world with that message.

Jesus joined peace, that is forgiveness, to His Body. He showed them His hands and side. Jesus always ties forgiveness to His Body. On the night He was betrayed, He said that Communion was His Body given for their sins and His Blood shed for their sins. On Easter evening, He said that the forgiveness spoken by His disciples' mouths was as if He spoke it in heaven. Later He said that Baptism brings a person into His Body and into the Father and Holy Spirit too.

Having Jesus in your mouth in Communion, in your ears in Absolution, or on your body in Baptism guarantees your sins are forgiven. You may have a poor body, but you're rich in forgiveness brought to you by the body and blood of Jesus in your mouth which pledges to you a new, resurrected body. You may have financial problems, but you have the forgiveness of all your sins through my words of Jesus'forgiveness ringing in your ears. And you may have lousy relationships with others, but being joined to the Body of Jesus by Baptism guarantees your sins have been forgiven and so there exists a perfect relationship between God and you.

Friend, the message of the Christian Church is being perverted into this: In Christ you can have health, wealth and relationships. A young man, not a Lutheran, knew that was what he was hearing in his church and could not reconcile that with what he knew of the world. He would say to me, "But what about the terminally ill? What about the ugly people? What about the poor people?" Yes, my friends what about them? The real message of the Christian Church is this: In Jesus your sins are forgiven; therefore eternal life and God's favor are yours too regardless of whether you are healthy or sick, poor or wealthy, popular or unpopular. This is the story that Jesus rose from the grave telling and what a story it is to tell and retell. Amen.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Second Sunday of Easter (4-18-04); John 20: 19-31