The End of Death’s Reign
Saint Mark 16:1-8
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
With that greeting we confess the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The same Man who was crucified by the order of Pontius Pilate, buried by Joseph and Nicodemus, has come out of the grave alive. The Evangelist Saint John, in his Easter account, is so careful even to record the placement of the burial clothes in the vacated tomb—so careful, in order to leave no doubt that Christ is risen! Some would doubt, though, because what we are here to celebrate this morning is not the natural rhythm of things, as though resurrection automatically follows death, just as day comes after night or spring follows winter. Surely the women who ventured to the tomb on Easter morning did not expect to find it empty; much less did they expect to see Jesus alive. When they find the tomb empty, they can only imagine the worst. They reason that Jesus’ grave has been violated and His body carried off. That would be the most reasonable, natural explanation for the empty tomb.
The women were not all that different from those in our world today who believe that death is natural and that resurrection is not only unnatural, but out of the question. Now it is true that the resurrection of the body is not according to the course of nature. The way of this world ever since the fall of our first parents has been the way of death. But culture that has given us the slaughter of the unborn through abortion and legalized euthanasia, thinks of death as natural—so deep is the blindness of sin. And in this spiritual blindness, rather than face death and recognize it for what it is, the world attempts to engineer death and place it under its control.
In the 1994 movie, Forest Gump, there’s a scene in which Forrest visits the grave of his mother and says, “Momma always said death was part of life. I wish it wasn’t so.” Forest Gump gives a voice to the longing that we hear so often expressed. Death is acknowledged, with regret, as just a part of life. But, my friends, it’s only a small step from that attitude to the conclusion that since death is inevitable, we might as well bring it about early through abortion or euthanasia. If dying is just a natural part of living, then we might as well justify abortion, euthanasia, and all other forms of murder. And, even more significantly, if it is true that death is as natural as birth, we have no need for Good Friday and Easter.
You and I, dear friends, are gathered here this morning as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the Resurrection and the Life. As believers we know the truth about death and about life. We know that the God Who raised Jesus from the dead is the God of life. He is the Creator of all that exists. Out of love, God created Adam and Eve to have life. And not just a biological existence, but a life that is lived in communion with the Triune God. Death is the result of sin. Adam and Eve set aside God’s Word that had forbidden them to eat of the tree in the midst of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eating of that fruit which God had forbidden was a communion in death. Their sin puts them under a death sentence. And so in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul says, “for the wages of sin is death.”
You see, dear friends, the real problem is not so much death as it is sin. Or as the Apostle says in 1 Corinthians 15, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” Sin fills death with terror, for sin puts us under the judgment of Almighty God. Death reminds us that there is no escape from that judgment. Well-spoken eulogies may render a positive evaluation of the life of the deceased, but they cannot overturn the judgment of God. Death is God’s own “No” to all human attempts to make ourselves “Lord” in His place. To sin, is to live under a divine death sentence. And so the Scriptures rightly call death “the last enemy.”
We are gathered together here in this Church on this Easter morning to celebrate the defeat of that last enemy. The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is not the affirmation of a vague and general belief in life after death. The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is God’s declaration that He has defeated our last enemy by dying as the Lamb of God Who takes away our sin. Luther puts it like this in his magnificent Easter hymn, “Christ lag in todesbanden”—“Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s strong Bands.” Verse four of this hymn has these words:
“It was a strange and dreadful strife
When life and death contended;
The victory remained with life,
The reign of death was ended.
Holy Scripture plainly saith
That death is swallowed up by death,
Its sting is lost forever. Alleluia!”
Where there is the forgiveness of sins, death has lost its sting. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ declares to all the world that He has purchased and won for all the world the forgiveness of sins. The very sin that would keep us out of heaven has been covered with the blood of our true Paschal Lamb. Saint Paul says of Jesus that He “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Easter announces to all the world that where there is the forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation.
Easter also signals the fact that we have been reconciled to God, and that, living by faith in Him, we are made partakers of His divine life. There’s that marvelous verse in Saint John’s Easter Gospel account where Jesus says to Mary: “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Did you catch what our Lord is saying in these words? His God and Father is now our God and Father! The sin that would separate us from the holy presence of our God has been removed. By His own blood Jesus has reconciled us to the Father. He has made us to be His brothers. His Father is our Father. His God is our God.
The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is God’s stamp of approval on His redeeming work. Easter makes it clear that Good Friday was not a failure and the cross was not a defeat. The crucified Lord is alive. And the life that He lives is the life that He imparts to you in His Gospel and Sacraments. Trust in Him, for His victory over sin, death, and hell is now your victory. Leave the sins of your past, that bring pain to the present and rob you of hope for the future—leave them with this Lord Jesus Christ as you receive His Body and Blood here today. Live in the confidence that Jesus lives and because He lives, you have life with God now and forever. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen.