|"This Is The Feast of Victory For Our God"
The Resurrection of our Lord
Pastor Aaron A. Koch
Mt. Zion Lutheran Church
One of the ways that people usually celebrate a special occasion is by eating. Events such as birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, weddings, and graduations are almost always associated with a special meal that is prepared as part of the festivities. Victories especially are an occasion for an abundant spread of food.
Well, we learn from our Easter text that the way the Lord celebrates is at least in some ways similar to our own. God's prophet Isaiah here proclaims that Christ's resurrection, His triumph over sin and death for us, is an occasion for a great victory meal. Verse 6 says, "The Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine--the best of meats and the finest of wines." In language that is both symbolic as well as literal, God tells us that this is a time for feastive rejoicing. The solemnity and somber meditation of Lent have now given way to the jubilation and joyous celebration of Easter. Indeed, this is the feast of victory for our God.
Of course, you recall that our primary problem as humans got started with eating. Genesis 3: "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it." Adam and Eve rebelled against God by disregarding His command not to eat the fruit of this particular tree. And the resulting curse of that sin was death, not only for Adam and Eve, but also for all of their descendants, right down to us. For we also have often swallowed Satan's temptation to be our own gods hook, line, and sinker. We too have rebelled against the Lord by disregarding His commands in a variety of ways. The Scriptures say, "Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned." Like Adam and Eve, we are all responsible for bringing on ourselves a terrifying problem which we simply can't solve--an invincible enemy called death.
Our fatal dilemma as humans got started with eating. And what we celebrate today with great joy is that it concludes and is destroyed with eating. But this time God does the consuming. The text says, "The Lord Almighty will swallow up death forever." That which would've devoured us eternally was itself chewed to bits for us in Jesus' resurrection. Christ made a meal out of mortality in order to give eternal life and immortality to all who believe in Him. Death is now dead, like so much digested refuse.
How did Jesus accomplish such an awesome victory? Well, it was certainly no cakewalk. Even though Jesus was truly God as well as truly human, swallowing death settled no better with Him than it would for any of us. Knowing this ahead of time, Jesus prayed to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, "If it is possible, let this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." In order to conquer death for us, Jesus had to fully ingest its poison. He convulsed with the world's sin until He expired with a loud cry on the cross.
By all appearances, it looked as if death had gobbled up Christ the same as it had done with all other people. For there He lay, cold and lifeless in the tomb. But what seemingly no one could perceive was that this was all part of the plan which He was willingly carrying out. Ironic as it may be, it was necessary for Christ to die in order to defeat death. He had to descend to its depths in order to break its chains for us. He had to be ravaged by death so that we wouldn't be. He laid there in the belly of the grave as our stand-in. And because He did all of this for us and in our place, when He exploded forth from the tomb on Easter morning, He won for you and for me a once-for-all triumph over death and the grave. He destroyed this haunting enemy of ours from the inside out. Jesus blazed the trail through death into eternal life for us. Easter, therefore, is not simply and only Christ's victory, it is also our victory. It is the victory of all who put their trust in Him who is the conqueror of death and living Lord of life. All of this is what Isaiah was prophesying when He said, "On this mountain the Lord Almighty will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; He will swallow up death forever." This He did for you.
However, the skeptic in us may want to say, "Excuse me, but everything seems to be going along the same as it always has in the world. People die now the same as they did before Christ came." We therefore need to be very careful to observe the order in which the Scriptures say that events will take place. Easter needs to be seen in the light of Jesus' second coming; for they can't be separated. In keeping with our food theme, the Epistle lesson said that Christ is the firstfruits of those who have died. That is harvest terminology for saying that Christ is the first of many more who will rise bodily from the dead. The order is first Christ, then at the last day all those who belong to Him through faith. Because of Christ's returning to life, our Easter is surely coming. Jesus' resurrection stands at the beginning and our resurrection at the end of this New Testament age in which we are living. But even though they are separated by time, they remain intimately connected--from God's point of view, one glorious event. Our resurrection is a foregone conclusion in Christ. Apart from Jesus' Easter, ours would only be a fairy tale. But basking in the beautiful reality of this day, we know that at Christ's second coming, we will rise from the dead as certainly as He did--by His resurrection power.
This tight and inseparable connection between Christ's resurrection and our own is firmly established in Romans 6, words which we spoke a moment ago: "Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? If we were united with Him in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection." In a very real sense, then, Jesus' Easter is our Easter. For by baptism we have been so closely joined to Him that the events of His life are ours. The Scriptures say that so intimate is our union with Him that we actually are His body. And as surely as you can't have your head go somewhere without taking your body along, neither can Christ rise from the tomb without us also following after. His life is our life. That's why this day simply overflows with joyful praise to our awesome saving God.
Therefore, we now face the ending of our earthly lives in a completely different way than before. What would have been at best an uncertain, and at worst a horrifying experiences now bears the certainty and comfort of Christ's empty tomb. Dying still hurts, losing loved ones is still painful; we still mourn, but not as ones who have no hope. For as surely as a person believes in Christ and is baptized into Him, that person's so-called death is only the passageway into eternal life. His soul is received into the joy of heaven with God, there to await the day when his body will be raised imperishable, to be rejoined with hsi soul. At Christ's return, the faithful will be bodily raised to life that is free from sin and pain and death, and is instead filled with the joy of being in God's very presence, praising Him and blissfully living in the glory of His new creation forever. And all of this because of Easter. As Jesus Himself put it, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die."
There is no starker contrast in all the world than that of a funeral of a Christian and that of a non-Christian. What can be spoken at the death of an unbeliever but empty and false words of comfort or painful and groping words of despair? A Christless funeral is humanity at its worst. But some of the most heartfelt and joyful worship in all the world take place at the funeral of one who belongs to the Lord. For out of the sorrow grows a sure confidence in what Christ has done for us and a certain hope in the solid words of promise of our God. Some funerals I've been to have even sounded like victory celebrations; and rightfully so. Easter hymns are sung. Joyous hymns of praise are voiced to the God who safely hold that one gently in His arms. We are never permanently separated fom our loved ones in the faith. So certain is our hope, that the Scriptures speak of the dead in Christ as only having fallen asleep! How marvelously Jesus has fulfilled Isaiah's words, "The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces. He will remove the disgrace of His people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken."
Easter then is all about the certainty of new life--Christ's, and therefore also ours. Its purpose is to remove all doubt from our hearts. If Christ hadn't risen, we couldn't be sure if He had really done the job on death. But since He has been raised, we can now be absolutely positive that He truly is the Son of God, that His words are true, that His sacrifice is complete, and that He has indeed eaten death alive.
So, the rebellious eating of Adam and Eve has now been transformed by God's comsumption of death into the triumphant feasting of rejoicing of His people, such as when we eat the supper of Christ's body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Receiving this foretaste of the feast to come, we now look forward to that final day when Isaiah's words will be fully realized in the great marriage feast of the Lamb in heaven. Then, with our resurrection bodies, all of God's people will jubilantly feast on the finest of the Lord's fare. Then, we will say, in the words of the text, "Surely this is our God; we trusted in Him and He saved us. Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation."
The Lord is risen; He is the victorious ruler of the universe. All honor and glory belong to Him. Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain, has begun His reign. Truly, this is the feast of victory for our God!
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