The 2 Most Important Words in the Bible

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!easter angel

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, my goal today is to convince you that the 2 most important words in the Bible are found in the Gospel reading for today.

In fact, in confirmation class, when I teach on the New Testament, I ask my students to guess what those two most important words might be, and if they can guess it, they will win a prize. Now the rule is that they have to be successive words in the Bible. They can’t just be two words pulled out of different books or chapters, like “grace” and “Jesus.” They usually come up with some pretty good guesses. Inevitably, “Jesus wept” is guessed because of its familiarity. But that’s not it. I had one student guess “By grace,” and that was probably one of the best guesses. It’s hard to top that.

But I believe that there are two words that do top it, and I always do a big reveal in class, but for you, I have already given the answer away. Not only did I say that the words are found in the Gospel reading for today, but they are in fact the title of my sermon- “And Peter.” And Peter? Yes, and Peter from Mark 16:7 “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee.”

Transition: The big question obviously is: “Why are these the two most important words in the Bible?” Now I’ve got to make my case.

Consider what happened just a few days before Jesus’ resurrection.

Let’s start on Thursday evening after the Last Supper. Jesus and his disciples were on their way to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane. This is from Mark 14. And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.

Fast forward now to verse 43 in Mark 14. And immediately, while Jesus was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 45 And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 46 And they laid hands on him and seized him. 47 But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48 And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” 50 And they all left him and fled. The first part of Jesus’ prediction comes true. Peter and the other disciples fall away.

Fast forward once again to verses 66-72. And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

peter roosterPeter denies Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times. He doesn’t just deny following Jesus. He denies even knowing Jesus. And the rooster crows. Despair and dread fills Peter as he realizes that he has done exactly what Jesus predicted, exactly what he had emphatically promised would not happen.

Despite his best efforts, despite his promises and convictions, despite his well-meaning words, when His Lord needed him the most, he denied that he even knew him. He had let Jesus down and now Jesus was going to die. He had let fear overcome his convictions.

Fast forward to Easter morning. “Jesus is risen. He is not here.” The angel announces to the women. “Now go and tell his disciples and Peter to meet him in Galilee just as he said that night in the Garden.”

I want you to imagine the scene in the Upper Room before the resurrection announcement. The disciples are hiding in fear and in sorrow. I picture Peter sitting by himself in a corner- still despairing and mourning, not just about Jesus’ death but about his denial.

Suddenly the women burst through the door with amazing, unbelievable news! Jesus is risen! And he want his disciples and Peter to meet him in Galilee.

Now imagine if both the angels and the women had merely said “the disciples” without the additional “and Peter.” How do you think Peter would have reacted to their announcement? It would have been easy for him to conclude that he was not included in the invitation, that he no longer deserved to be called a disciple. Sure, the other disciples had run away from Jesus too, but only Peter had denied Jesus three times. The announcement that Jesus is alive might not be heard as good news to Peter. “Jesus is alive? Oh no! He was right all along. He truly is the Son of God, and I denied him. I rejected him. He won’t want me anymore.”

Instead though, imagine Peter sitting in that corner by themselves listening in as the women tell the story of the empty tomb and the angel. And the angel said, “He is risen. He is not here. Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going to Galilee.”

And Peter? Did Peter hear that right? Did you just say “and Peter?” Jesus wants me? Even though I denied him three times? Even thought I let fear and doubt overcome my faith and conviction? Jesus, the Lord of all, still wants me to be his disciple?

In that moment, the power of God’s forgiveness became very real to Peter. In John’s Gospel, he records that Peter, upon hearing the women, races to the tomb to see it for himself. Could it be true? Jesus is alive? And he still loves his disciples and Peter? Me?

Do you see now why these two words are the most important words in the Bible? Do you see how this is Good News, the greatest news, no matter what your name is?

After all, how many of you can identify with Peter’s fear and denial? I’m going to venture a guess that all of you have acted like Peter many times over, and I’m including myself in that.

We have all denied our Lord Jesus over and over again in our thoughts, words, and actions.

In our Rite of Confirmation, we ask our confirmands some tough questions.

“Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully?”

“Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, even to death?”

“Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?”

How many of you have stood in this church and promised to continue steadfast in your church attendance, in your godly living, in your confession of faith, rather than fall away from it? Maybe you didn’t quite have the passion of Peter, but you promised, “I do so intend by the grace of God!”

How many times have you also made promises to God privately? You resolve to do better in your Christian life. I am going to read God’s Word regularly. I am going to go to church more often. I am going to quit that habitual sin. I am going to stand up for what I believe and even witness to my friends and neighbors. I can’t even remember all the promises I have made to God, and like Peter, had every intention of following through on.

broken promisesAnd then I failed. Over and over again. I failed to keep my promises and convictions. I failed to follow Jesus and walk in his ways and live according to God’s Word. I failed to read God’s Word and pray according to the schedule I made. I chickened out and didn’t share God’s Word to someone who desperately needed to hear it. I am Peter.

And if you are honest with yourself, you will admit that you, too, are Peter. Probably more often than you want to admit. You are, like Peter, a denier of Jesus. You see, every temptation to sin is, at its root, a temptation to disbelieve the Gospel. John Calvin once said, “Christian are in perpetual conflict with their own unbelief.” We sin when we are dissatisfied with the all-satisfying Christ, when we do not fear, love and trust in him above all things. Every time we sin, we deny Jesus the rightful place in our life.

Peter denied Jesus out of fear of the consequences of following Jesus, that he might be treated just like Jesus was and put to death. He doubted Jesus’ words of promise that he would rise again and that he is Resurrection and the Life for all who believe in him. When he was confronted with his sin and disobedience and unfaithfulness, he broke down and wept bitterly. He had failed. What hope was there for him? What hope is there for us?

Then came the Good News declared by the angels that changed Peter’s life and changes your life too. The Good News that is not just for those had not denied Jesus. It is Good News for them, and Peter, and you.

Despite his denial, his unbelief, his sin and failure, Jesus loved Peter and wanted him as a disciple. He forgave and restored him. Jesus died and rose again for Peter. That Good News was delivered to him personally. And Peter. There was no doubt. The Good News of forgiveness through Jesus’ death and resurrection was for him! His very name was spoken.

You have that same confidence. The same Good News delivered to Peter is also delivered to you personally.

Fittingly, it is delivered by Peter in Acts 2. Upon receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter preaches a sermon. He concludes with this, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

You crucified Jesus. Your sins put him on the cross. Peter knew that his sins had put Jesus on the cross. And like Peter, the crowd, upon realizing their sin, were cut to the heart and asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter got to deliver the same Good News that was delivered to him on Easter morning. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” For you! For me? A denier? A promise breaker? A sinner? Yes, for you!

baptism called by nameAnd in Holy Baptism, God spoke your name and washed your sins away. I have called you by name. You are mine. You were buried into death with Jesus and raised to a new life in him and became his disciple. In the Lord’s Supper, you hear the words of Jesus repeated, “This is my body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” For me? Yes, you, as often as you need it, forgiveness is yours. Take and eat. Take and drink. Be forgiven. Be strengthened by my death and resurrection for you.

Have I convinced you? The two most important words in the Bible are “and Peter” because you can insert your own name in Peter’s place and have the confidence that Jesus died for you and rose from the dead for you. He comes to meet you in His Word, in baptism, and in the Lord’s Supper to declare that he loves you and forgives you and that he can still use you as his disciple no matter what. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! For you. For me. And Peter. Alleluia! Amen.

Apparently there is a Skit Guys sketch on this very topic that I was unaware of until my sister was actually able to guess the two words because she had seen their video. They do a great job of highlighting God’s grace as well. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhoFEuw2GPA

 

 

Easter Sermon- A Cinderella Story

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He is risen indeed! Amen!

Easter is my favorite holiday. In my opinion, no holiday can match the joy and celebration of Easter Sunday. Sure, Christmas is definitely more popular. That probably has something to do with all those gifts we give and receive. Christmas in our culture has a lot more pomp and circumstance. Christmas is typically considered the biggest holiday of the year. And the birth of Jesus is certainly a noteworthy celebration. But Christmas is nothing without Easter. Easter is the height, the climax, of the church year. Everything in Jesus’ life and in your own life is building up to Easter, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. To summarize St. Paul, “If Christ has not been raised from the dead, our faith is worthless and pointless.” For sure, Holy Week for me means a lot of extra time and work, but it is totally worth because of the celebration of Easter. As the theologian N.T. Wright has put it: “”We should be taking steps to celebrate Easter in creative new ways: in art, literature, children’s games, poetry, music, dance, festivals, bells, special concerts, anything that comes to mind. This is our greatest festival. Take Christmas away, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke, nothing else. Take Easter away, and you don’t have a New Testament; you don’t have a Christianity… This is our greatest day.”

One of my other favorite times of the year just ended last week. Monday night was the culmination of March Madness, the men’s college basketball tournament. I have always loved March Madness. In elementary and high school, I was so eager to get home for those first round afternoon games. I would plop down in front of the TV with my bracket and consume college basketball. In college, since I had a little more freedom in my choices, I admittedly would skip any classes that interfered with March Madness. A guy’s got to have priorities, right?

Even mild basketball fans often get caught up in the excitement of March Madness. They will fill out brackets and predict a winner for the office pool and even try to watch some of the games, especially those first round games. I believe the reason for this is the anticipation of a Cinderella story. It seems we cannot get enough of Cinderella. We love to root for the upset, the David versus the Goliath, the tiny school against the tradition-rich, larger superpower. We get caught up in the classic tale of rags to riches.

This year, of course, the super-powers won out in the end. There weren’t too many extended Cinderella stories. But we did have a few upsets, a couple of Davids taking down Goliath. Who didn’t find themselves pulling for little Lehigh University against the giant everyone loves to hate- the Duke Blue Devils? We also had Norfolk St. (who had ever heard of that school before) taking down one of the best teams in the tournament in Missouri. Those Cinderellas had their moment of glory. We remember with fondness their rags to riches journey.

What is so compelling about a Cinderella story? I think it is the element of surprise. The victory is completely unexpected. We love to root for the underdog, but we don’t expect them to win. If they were expected to win, they wouldn’t be an underdog and it wouldn’t be an upset. The Cinderella team always gets to claim, “Nobody believes in us!” They use that thought as motivation. “No one thought we could pull it off!” No one believed David could beat Goliath, especially since he wasn’t wearing any armor and was armed with a few rocks and a sling. They were busy planning his funeral. Cinderella’s wicked stepmother and sisters never thought she could get a handsome prince to fall in love with her. When the slipper fit, they were stunned. A couple of years ago, no one believed that Butler, a small university in Indiana, could make it all the way to the national championship game and almost win the March Madness tournament. They shocked the nation. And we loved them for it.

Hollywood certainly knows that the rags to riches story is compelling. From Rocky hanging with Apollo Creed to a slumdog from India winning a million dollars, we eat these stories up. Even shows like American Idol are based on the premise that an unknown talent who never had a shot at making it to the big time finally has a chance to prove themselves. Why do you think thousands of people show up for those auditions? They all want their own Cinderella story. They want to beat the odds, to take down Goliath, to shock the world. You see, that’s another reason why we love the Cinderella story because it gives us hope. We think, “That could be me someday.” We could have our own rags to riches journey. We could be that average person toiling away, waiting for that big break, and we just hope that it comes. The Cinderella story is deeply personal.

I mentioned before that Easter is my favorite holiday. Why is Easter such a great celebration? Maybe because it is the greatest Cinderella story ever told. 

Think about it. It has all the classic elements that make a Cinderella story. After all, it was completely unexpected. The story of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is more unexpected than Cinderella marrying a prince, Rocky beating Apollo Creed or David taking down Goliath. Why? Because dead people don’t come back to life! We all know that! All those other people had to overcome some pretty great odds. None of them died however. The chances of someone coming back to life after they have died are 0%. Dead is dead. There is no coming back from that.

A few years ago, a bunch of brilliant minds got together to have a discussion about the Easter story. They had a press conference to present their conclusions, and they announced that the resurrection didn’t happen because it couldn’t. It was impossible. They even took with them a local young woman who worked at the morgue so that she could bear witness, in case anyone was in any doubt, that normally when people died, they stayed dead.

And yet today, we are gathered together to hear the story about the women who came to the tomb expecting to find the very much dead body of Jesus. Instead they found a stone rolled away and an angel sitting inside the tomb who announced to them, “Jesus is not here. He is risen!” What was their response? “Oh yeah, that’s what we thought would happen.” No! They were shocked. Mark says that trembling and astonishment seized them. They were terrified. They didn’t know what to think! This was completely unexpected. What does the angel mean “He is risen?”

But later on, they see Jesus with their own eyes. Paul says that over 500 witnesses saw the risen Jesus with their own eyes and could confirm his Cinderella story. But this isn’t simply a rags to riches tale. This was a death to life event. This wasn’t just a small boy taking down a giant. This was a dead person taking down the greatest giant of all time- death.

Just think about this. As a human race, we have been able to overcome all sorts of obstacles and opposition using our reason and intellect. But one enemy we have not been able to beat is death. Sure, we’ve been able to delay death for a little bit longer thanks to medicine and technology, but sooner or later, death is not going to be denied. It’s going to win. But Jesus beat it.

Jesus could even claim that no one believed in him. He told the disciples three separate times that he was going to suffer and die but then rise again. They didn’t get it. He told the Jewish leaders that he was going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. He was talking about his body. They said, “Sure you will.” Again, no one expected Jesus to defeat death by rising from the dead- not even the devil himself. Easter is the greatest Cinderella story ever.

Yes, Easter is my favorite holiday, but not just because of the great Cinderella story of Jesus’ resurrection. What makes Jesus’ Cinderella story even greater is what it means for you and me.

Remember when I said that one of the most compelling aspects of a Cinderella story is that it makes us think “That could be me someday!”? It gives us hope for our own Cinderella experience. Well, Easter means that you and I have our own Cinderella story. Jesus’ death and resurrection, his rags to riches journey, was done for you and for me. Jesus’ unexpected victory becomes our unexpected victory. It means that Jesus has also taken you from rags to riches and from death to life.

You see, you were once dead in your trespasses and sins. That’s how God’s Word describes you before conversion. You were dressed in filthy rags, stained by sin. You were powerless to save yourself. It was impossible. But through the waters of Holy Baptism, you have passed from death to life. As Romans 6:4 puts it: “We were buried therefore with Jesus by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Jesus’ victory has been given to you. He has clothed you in the rich robes of his own righteousness. You were dead in sins, and now you are alive in Christ. You were clothed in dirty rags, and now you are dressed in a  pure, white robe of righteousness.

A real Cinderella story has taken place in your life. The giants of sin, death and the devil have been defeated, not by you, but by Christ for you. And you can relive your Cinderella story every single day as you confess your sins to God, and then remember your baptism where God forgave you and washed your sins away and promised you the riches of eternal life. You have won the victory through Jesus. All this is because of Easter. If it were not for Jesus’ Cinderella story from death to life, Paul says your faith is futile and you would still be in your sins. Easter is the greatest celebration for a Christian- so far.

That’s right. So far. Because a better day is coming. You will be part of another Cinderella story someday because of Jesus. One day, you are going to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and rise from the dead.

One day, you will die. Death is not completely done away with yet. You will die and your body will remain here on earth, subject to decay and rot. Your spirit will be with God in heaven. But that’s not the Cinderella story. That’s not the end. Jesus is coming back to this earth someday and when he does he will raise all people from the dead. You will experience resurrection. You will go from death to life. Jesus will take the rags of your decaying body and give it new life so that you will have a new, glorious body that will never die again. And Jesus will take the rags of this earth, and he will remake it into a new creation for us to live on forever. Now that is a Cinderella story to look forward to. Just as Jesus defied the odds and defeated the giant enemy of death by rising from the dead to eternal life, you too will rise from the dead when death is completely finished off on the Last Day. And we will live happily ever after.

Let us pray: Lord God, we praise you on this most special and holy day! Christ is risen! Alleluia! You have changed the whole course of human history by raising your Son, Jesus Christ, from the dead so that those who believe in him would not perish but have eternal life. Help us to continue to trust your promise that because Jesus lives, we too shall live. Fill our whole lives with the joy and the hope of Easter victory, our Cinderella story from the rags of sin to the riches of your grace. Amen.