PART 1 OF 2 PARTS
PART 2 OF 2 PARTS
“Resurrection Life Builds Understanding”
April 30, 2017
The Third Sunday Of Easter
Acts 2: 29 – 36/ Psalm 116: 12 – 19/1 Peter 1: 13 – 21/ Luke 24: 13 – 35
Fr. Gary W. Thurman
Happy Easter! It is still Easter, of course. Easter Sunday was a couple of weeks ago, but it is still Easter up until the day of Pentecost. For the year, our Church’s theme has been since the first day of Advent is: Building Up Itself in Love. It is how the Church, the Body of Christ, builds itself. Even the physical structure of our Church, just right down the street, is also starting to be built.
Every Season, we have been looking at the different aspects of being built up. During the Season of Lent, we analyzed love, how that we are being built up in love and the different ways love builds us up. In the Easter Season, we look at resurrection life as the central and core message, and how that resurrection life itself has its role in building up the Church, and the different aspects of an individual believer.
Building is a process. It doesn’t just happen at one time. It is a process, one stage to another. As our Cathedral is being built, the first thing that they had to do was demolished the existing structure. Next will be the digging up of some foundations. All these things are to be done in properly, in order, and in stages.
If we talk about how resurrection life builds understanding, our understanding of our faith also is an instantaneous thing. It is something that comes to us in stages. It is a good picture of that in the gospel reading today. The two men on the road to Emmaus on that Easter afternoon knew some things about what had happened. They knew about what had happened in Jesus’ passion; what happened in His ministry. They were His disciples, not apostles. They knew what He had gone through. They knew what happened in Passion Week. They knew about His suffering on the cross, and beyond that, they also knew that on Easter morning, His body was missing. They knew all of these things, but they did not understand them. They had a lot of knowledge about things, but the understanding wasn’t there. As they were walking along the road, Jesus explained to them.
When the two were describing their experience to the other apostles and people who were with them, they were telling them how Jesus explained the Scriptures to them. They said, “Isn’t it amazing how that when Jesus was explaining to us, our hearts were burning?” Jesus didn’t just leave it there. After He explained to them, He was revealed to them in a deeper dimension with understanding in the breaking of the bread. This is why that in liturgical services or sacramental services, the homily is not all. We also come to the Table, and among the many benefits of the Table is that the Lord opens our eyes in the breaking of the bread. It is a process; it is in stages. There is the explaining, and there is the opening of the eyes of understanding.
I would want to explain a couple of things this morning. First of all, I want to explain to us the difference between Lent and Easter. Sometimes, we don’t always get this, so it leads to a weakening of our Easter experience. In our nation, Holy Week is a big, big thing to us. On Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the country closes. You can’t get anything. Everything is shut down. In times past, the radio stations and the television stations were shut down. Now, it means nothing because there is cable and internet. When we get to Easter, it is like, “So, what else?” It is because we don’t understand how Easter and Lent are not two separates Seasons. Easter is a continuation and a fulfillment of Lent.
As an illustration, I would like all of you to stand up and to turn around 180 degrees facing the back. We are now in the position on March 1, 2017, which was Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. The priest placed the ashes on our foreheads and said, “Repent, and turn to the Lord.” Repent means to turn around. It is not all the way around, but only 180 degrees. The symbolism of this is that we were with God, but then, we turned away from God. In Lent, we are told, “Return, and turn back to the Lord. Turn your back to sin. Turn your back to selfishness. Turn your back to the kingdoms of the world, and turn to the Lord.”
Walking in our places now, we are then walking in the pilgrim way of Lent. In Lent, one of the big things we do is fast. Often times, we fast on something that is an enjoyable activity. Someone would fast on French Fries or on junk food. Someone might fast on their favorite website. During Lent, we give up; we fast. For the first week, we are okay; on the second week, we are okay; by the third week, we say “I’ve got to have French Fries. I am going to die.” On the fourth week, “Please, I want to log on to website for even just a tiny second!” We keep walking the pilgrim way of Lent.
Finally, we get to Easter, and we say, “Praise God! Lent is over! The fast is over. Praise, Jesus, pass the French Fries! Hallelujah, give me a Coke!” We stop the fasting. Now, we turn back around. As we turn our back around again, it signifies that Lent is over – no more facing the other way. Now, it is the same before Lent. We are facing the same way because we think that during Lent, we gave up stuffs; and in Easter, we get to have it back, so we turn back again. Nothing has changed. For forty days, we were denying ourselves, taking up our cross. Once Easter is here, the cross belongs to Jesus so we say, “Great! Let us have a feast!”
Obviously, we missed something about Lent and Easter. We think that Lent is all by itself there and Easter is a different message. When it says, “Repent,” it means a 180 degrees. When we come to Easter, it never said, “Okay, stop repenting and start following the world again.” The core of fasting is not really giving up stuff you like. This is helpful in practicing self-discipline, but this is not really what Lent fasting is all about. Lent fasting is about turning back on sin. Lent fasting is about turning to the Lord and turning away from the ways of the world – from the old man; from the old self; from the old lust of the flesh.
Why would you turn to those things once Easter shows up? Real fasting is fasting those carnal works; those things that are not pleasing to God. This is also the message of Easter. Easter is not saying, “Now, let us change the record and do something new.” Actually, one of the Easter messages preached was on the day of Pentecost, the 50th day of Easter, by St. Peter after he explained what happened to Jesus and with the Holy Spirit and when he was asked by the disciples what they were going to do. Peter said, “Repent!” Isn’t this supposed to be in Lent? In the middle of Easter, Peter said, “Repent and be baptized!” The next sermon that he preached was after he and John healed the man in the temple and the first thing that he said was, “Repent and return. You have turned away from God, now return towards God.” Again, it sounds like Lent, but it is in Easter.
At the end of that sermon, Peter said, “God has blessed you by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to turn you from your wicked ways.” In 1Peter 1, it says, “Turn away from those lusts which were yours in your ignorance.” Peter is talking about the desires for the wrong things, for the things of the world, for the things of the devil. He said, “Turn away from those lusts and lust for the things of God.” Lust is ignorance. If you want to lust for the wrong things, that is ignorance. This is part of 1Peter 1, which scholars said was part of an Easter sermon for the first century.
All these things are Easter things, and yet it talks about turning your back on sin. In the Epistle reading for the Easter vigil, in Romans 6:10, it talks about you being baptized and being dead to sin. Turn away from sin because you have died to sin. “How can you be alive to sin if your body has died in baptism?” All these messages are Easter messages, and they all talk about repenting and turning away from sin.
What we picked up before as the message of Easter is that Jesus forgave us. Jesus died on Calvary. Sin is forgiven. Now, sin doesn’t matter anymore. However, this is not the Easter message. That sin doesn’t count anymore is not the Easter message. The Easter message is not that sin doesn’t matter anymore, but that sin is dealt with. It is the continuation of the Lent message. The Lent message is repent; and Easter continues that message; but it doesn’t just stop there. It doesn’t tell us that sin is okay and that sin doesn’t matter. It tells us that sin is dealt with, and this is what Jesus did. Sin can never be okay. Yes, it is forgiven, but just because it is forgiven, it is okay. Why? It is because sin always hurts someone, and this is what makes it sin.
God said, “Certain things are sin. These are things that you shouldn’t do.” Is it because He doesn’t personally like them and personally offend Him? This is not what sin is. Sin is called sin by God because it hurts people. If you steal from someone, it hurts them. If you commit adultery with someone, it hurts that person’s spouse and your spouse, and you and the person you committed adultery with. Eventually, it destroys the family.
Every sin that you can think of in the Ten Commandments or wherever else hurts people. It hurts those we sinned against, and it hurts the one doing the sinning, which is why the Lord said, “Turn your back on sin!” It hurts people. It doesn’t matter whether you go to heaven or hell. Jesus dealt with this and brought forgiveness, but it is a matter of whether you still want to hurt people and still keep hurting yourself. This is what makes sin wrong.
This is why the message of Lent and the message of Easter is not that sin is okay, but that sin is now dealt with. It is not just a 360 degree turn where first, we stop sinning, and then in Easter, we turn around and keep doing it because it is okay now. This is a wrong idea. It is a 180 degree turn. Turn your back on sin, and face the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
Easter is not a whole new thing. It is a continuation of the Lent message of turning back on sin, and it brings us to something higher. Jesus dealt with sin in two different ways. One, He redeemed us from sin. In 1Peter, it says, “You were redeemed not with perishable items of silver and gold, but with the most precious blood of the Son of God, Jesus Christ the Lamb.” Redeemed, and what does redemption mean?
As a simple illustration, redeemed is like you are car, and the Lord God is the driver. He owns you; He owns the car. The Lord is driving along. Just like in the movie “Herbie, the Love Bug” the car, Herbie, had a mind of its own. The driver would turn on one side, but Herbie would turn it the other side. The driver would step on the gas, but Herbie would stop. The driver would step on the brakes, and Herbie would go.
As the car, although the Lord is trying to give you a direction, you don’t stop at all. You do things your own way, so you are driving all over the place, all over the road in the wrong lane; driving on the sidewalk knocking the stop signs, running over the mailboxes and doing all sorts of terrible things. The police catches you and the first thing he does is, “Sir, I am going to impound this car.” It wasn’t the driver’s fault because the driver tried to lead you in the right way, but being the car, like Herbie, with a mind of its own, it did things the way it wanted to. This is called sin, and because of sin, the police calls the tow truck, and it tows you away to the impound lot. This is not because of the driver, but because of you, the car. The car is still owned by the driver, but if he wants to get the car from the impound lot, he has to pay a price. Unless the fine is paid, even though it is your car, it is impounded because of the way it was acting. If you want it back, pay the money.
This is what the Lord did with us. We were that selfish car, and because of us, we got impounded. We still belong to Him, but to get us out of the impound lot, He had to pay a redemption price, which is the blood of Jesus Christ. In Romans 6:10, God paid that price for us once for all. One sacrifice for sin, which paid the price for all, because the wages of sin is death. Death was there because sin entered. If no one had ever sinned, death would never have happened. This is clear from Genesis chapter three. When man sinned, death entered, and every man after that sin, except Jesus.
Jesus could not have risen from the dead unless He first lived a sinless life. If He ever committed even one little sin, resurrection was impossible. It couldn’t have happened because death would have been the wage for this sin. Jesus died not for His sins, but for ours. He paid once for all the redemption price. He got us out of the impound lot where we were because of our sin and it is once for all.
The wonderful thing about God’s redemption is that if we drive crazy again, we can’t be impounded anymore because the redemption price that the Lord paid through the blood of His Son lasted for eternity. For anymore sin and anymore crazy driving, it is covered. We can’t be impounded anymore.
Redemption was the first way that the Lord did in dealing with our sin. Redeemed from the sins of the past and redeemed from the sin in the future. One price covered all. Sin cannot separate us from God anymore because the price of sin has been paid. Jesus gave us that redemption as a gift.
There is the second way Jesus dealt with sin. He not only dealt with sin as far as redeeming us from the effect of sin, which was death, but He also empowered us so that we don’t have to walk in sin anymore. He elevated us. In Romans 6:5, it tells us that we died to sin, and we are united with Christ in His death. 1Peter 1:4 says that we have received the divine nature of Christ, and elevated human nature which was His, and we now receive it as a gift through our baptism. In baptism, we are united with Christ in His death. As He died to sin, we also died to sin.
In Colossians 3 and in 1Peter 1, it says that we don’t have to go following those desires of the flesh, those wrong directions because through Christ, we have entered into His death. We are dead to those things. We are now dead to sin. I have heard a preacher even say, “We know the Bible says that but it is not true. I am tempted all the time so I tell you that the Bible is not true.” It came out later that he was speaking the truth. He did a lot of things that were just plain sin.
I am telling you that the Bible is true. When the Bible says, “You can be dead to sin when you are united with Christ in baptism and united in death, and you can live in that.” Yes, we can receive His forgiveness, but we can also receive the second way Jesus dealt with sin, which was to live His life. The resurrection life which He received is also ours. He has raised our human nature to a higher level.
Jesus walked this earth with two distinct natures: the divine nature and the human nature. All man and all God. As He lived with these two natures within Him, they never got mingled, but the divine nature elevated the human nature. This is why Jesus could live a life with no sin. We could also live in this life because we are also now united with Him in this life. We also have a life that is empowered by that divine nature because we also share that divine nature.
The extra part of the Easter message, where Easter takes up where Lent left off is: yes, we have been redeemed not just for our past sins or our present sins, but even our future sins; and the price has been paid. We are forgiven. Now, we can move on and we don’t have to say, “Oh, now that the price has been paid, we can still sin. We can turn around all the way.” No, we take the next step in Easter, which says, “You now have the power to turn your back on sin and to reject it and to be dead to sin and alive to the life of Christ in us.”
As a simple illustration to show this, as Christians, when we come to the Lord in baptism, we say that we are born again. I think the Lord uses this terminology very purposely. It is like that we are babes in Christ, which Peter calls us sometimes. Babes, brand new, fully born again, fully Christian have a lot of growing up to do. They are not finished yet. God is not finished with them at all yet. There is maturing that has to be. Training has to be there.
One of the important things that you have to teach a child while he is starting from his first year is potty training. You have to teach a child to put his bowel movements where it belongs. When they are babies, they’ll just do it when they feel like it, and that is okay. They are still loved, and the parents love them and they will clean it up every time. The parent loves the child, so he will clean up after the mistake of the child. But do you think the parents are going to do this when the child is five years old? Ten years old? Twenty years old? Do you think they would say, “I love you so much? I will clean you up no matter what.” This is not real love!
Real love is training the child to put the bowel movement where it belongs. Think about this: what kind of a mess will this person leave behind in all of his life if he never learns to handle this thing? Do you think he is ever going to get a job? Do you think he is going to get a spouse? Would you hire somebody like him? Would you want to be in the same room with somebody like him? No! If we don’t train somebody beyond that, it is not really loving him. Do we say, “I love you so much I will fix all your mess,” or “I love you so much I will empower and train you so that you don’t make a mess anymore?” You can’t just say, “Love doesn’t matter anymore,” because it does matter at least behind messes. Don’t ever fall into that trap.
This is not the message of Lent or Easter. The message is: God has empowered us to go beyond. All of our sin messes, we leave around. Yes, God forgives them; God cleanses them, but in love, He says, “Let us come up higher.” This is love from God’s perspective. He is not leaving you to make those mistakes. Look at it from our perspective: if we really love God, do we say, “I really want to go to the Comfort Room, but I just don’t feel like getting up right now. I will just leave my mess right here. God will clean it up for me. He always has, He always will. He has redeemed me so I can just make a mess right here and let Him fix it.” Does this sound like a person who really loves God or the people around him? If we love God, we strive for that higher calling. We strive for that divine nature. We strive for not just taking the low road or to keep making messes and mistakes. We say, “It is okay. Christ has paid. Sin doesn’t matter anymore. It is not a problem; sin is okay.”
If we really love, we want to grow in grace and knowledge. If we really love, we want to ascend. This is the extra dimension of Easter. It is not just sin is forgiven, and certainly, it is not that sin doesn’t matter anymore. We go from the Lent message that Christ paid for our sin and redeemed us to the Easter message that Christ also empowered us. As we are united to His death in baptism, we are also united in His life, in His divine life, in that elevated human nature, which is that He not only has forgiven our sins, but we have the power to overcome it and not walk in those sins anymore. It is to keep that bearing 180 degrees; steadfastly towards the kingdom of God; steadfastly towards the presence of God; steadfastly towards the life of God.
This is what God made possible for us this Easter. This is what God made possible to us starting in Lent. It is a continuation. It is not one Season, then, we turn around and have something new for Easter. It is all progressive. It is building. It is building understanding that hopefully we can see the difference between just practicing self-denial in Lent, and then, turning around and not denying any more in Easter. We have a much higher calling than this. We have a much higher potential than this.
Elevating our human nature to the divine nature, giving us the power over sin, is one thing that Easter does. This is part of the Easter message, but there is much more. It is talking about eternal life. It is talking about the power of bringing a foretaste of the kingdom of God into our lives here and now. There are so many other things, but it starts with the simple message that began with the first day of Lent: repent from sin; turn and believe the Gospel. Union with Christ can do a lot, but it starts with that holy life. It starts with victory over sin. If we can get that far right, we can go on and tell the world, “There is an answer for your problem. There is an answer to that situation. The kingdom of God shows you a better way.” If we show that we can have control over our own carnalities, there is a chance that they will believe it; but if we can’t even get that right, they are going to say, “If you can’t even practice what you preach regarding your carnal lives, why should we believe anything else you say?”
We have to understand and come to the knowledge that Lent did not stop on Easter Sunday. It just took it to a higher level. It is not just about forgiveness, but it is also about empowerment to turn our backs on the carnal things of life, and to turn our hearts towards desire and passion for God.
This is what this time of year is all about – Lent coming in to Easter, Lent coming in to Pentecost, which is even more empowerment; but it all starts with that simple word in Lent that is continued, not stopped, in Easter, which is repent and believe the Gospel. Amen!