Sermon for Easter Monday, April 13, 2020
Preacher: Rev. Prof. Adam Koontz
Dearly beloved of God, our Lord Jesus Christ has arisen in great power and might, and what a change has come to pass in the world. Death is defeated now, the grave is open, and heaven indeed is open, not only to our Lord Christ but also to all who love His appearing. All these things have changed now because of His mighty resurrection. Everything is new, this is THE day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
But that change is not always apparent in our lives as it was not apparent in the lives of the two disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, heads down, perplexed. Not necessarily so fearful as the disciples, the twelve, who would be locked in an upper room for fear of the Jews, but like them, too, in not understanding what it means that Easter has come to pass; what it means that Jesus has defeated death; what it means that your grave, and heaven – God’s heaven – are open now. That they will yield to Christ’s mighty Word and He will not let His beloved see corruption forever.
They did not understand. And we can sympathize. This was probably the strangest Easter that you have ever celebrated, if “celebrate” is the right verb for what happened yesterday. You prayed, you read the Lord’s Word, you trusted in His promises, but even if you were able to go to church, you did not do it with all the faithful. Even if you were able to go to church, strange things were going on in the world and you knew it. And you knew that the world had become very odd, very strange, and you know that will not end.
There are no promises given on the way to Emmaus or anywhere else that everything will always be alright. This is not what Jesus did for His disciples, and it is not what He does for us today. He does not promise them the future will be richer than the past—that the future will be better or more enjoyable or more comfortable for the past. Instead, when he prepares us for the future, for all the things that are in His mighty heart to do and to accomplish through His disciples, through His Church on which He will send his Holy Spirit in a few short days.
When He considers those things which will come to pass through the growth of His mighty Word, He does not consider and does not teach us that that growth – that change – will be easy. But He does promise us that it shall change; that the change that has begun in the cosmos, because of His mighty resurrection from the dead, must also take place in us, dear friends. For on the way to Emmaus He does not miraculously change the weather or something equally strange that would’ve got their attention.
There is indeed something strange about how He keeps them from recognizing Him, how He puts them in a place of strangeness themselves, so that they realize how much they don’t know. Let us, therefore, not be fearful now. Let us accept that right now we are walking in a strange and dark time and place, and let us consider it a good thing, a profitable thing, a wholesome thing, an upbuilding thing for His Church that, for now, we have open to us only the Scriptures. Let us consider it a good thing that we should now understand more deeply what our Lord Christ would teach us.
For he teaches us this, most of all: that change must begin with His Church. There is an attitude which is fine before change occurs, of having known everything and knowing everything and you hear it in the words that the disciples say to the man (what we called in our hymn we sang just now, “unknown stranger”) how they speak to this man whom they do not recognize. They talk to Him like he’s a kind of idiot. And you can image that later on, having known to whom they were actually speaking, they thought back (as you do after you say something you regret) and they thought “what an idiot, instead, I was, for how I spoke to Him.” Because when He asked what’s going on, they say, “Are you the only person who doesn’t know?”
We can also, here, sympathize, for if our Lord Christ came to us right now and said, “What are you so afraid of? Are you afraid of illness? Are you afraid of economic collapse? What are you so afraid of?” And we said, “Are you the only person who hasn’t seen these things? Are you the only person who hasn’t been inundated with news reports (true, partly true, false, who knows?) about what is going on—are you the only person who has not heard?”
We could say this to Him and we could act like we knew everything that was going to happen, and we would be at least as foolish, if not more, than these two disciples. They say, “Are you the only one who hasn’t heard what’s going on?” And then they recite what you could summarize as most of the Apostle’s Creed, a short summary of what’s happened in the Gospels, up to and including the crucifixion of Jesus. They know His death; but they do not know that the world has changed because of His mighty resurrection. They know everything up to death. They know everything up to misery and fear and the darkness of the Friday past. They know all of that; they do not know His resurrection.
So what has to change? What has to change about us as we go through darkness? As we are well acquainted with sadness, whether now or in years to come—what must change in us so that Easter makes a change not only in the world but also in us, in His own believers.
I love how patient Jesus is with us. In answer to their arrogance, to the fact that they know it all already, He does not rebuke them at length. He says, very simply – very simply – that they are foolish and they are slow of heart. This means that, prior to Easter, the human heart is not big enough to contain the amazing joy and love that Easter brings. This means that what has to happen now is not that the way has to be made safe for us or everything made secure for us or everything comfortable in life promised to us, it means that our hearts must grow, more than they have ever before to understand all the love and the joy that the Lord has promised in the Scriptures and fulfilled in His Christ.
It means that the only thing wrong with yesterday is that our hearts were too small to understand how mighty and how joyous and how loving He is, and has been, and shall ever be for our sake. It means that the only problem in the world is not the world or the Christ who reigns over all things for the good of His body the Church, it means that the only problem in the world was those who could not believe or did not believe or were too foolish to believe all that God has prepared for them beforehand. So he opens up the Bible so that their hearts may grow. He opens up the Bible so that their minds may be opened.
Friends, we are not called to fear, but to hope. And our hope is not based on wishful thinking, or statistical projections about what the future might contain for us. It is founded on God’s Word, which has come true time and time and time again, which promised that the Christ would die for our sins according to the Scriptures, would be buried and would rise again on the third day, according to the Scriptures.
And has not all this come to pass? Was the man not walking with them resurrected? Did He not have the marks in His hands and His feet and His side to show His love, and that the Scriptures had been fulfilled? Are not all these things true? Is not the Bible so chock-full of Christ that I can’t turn a single page without finding Him upon it, showing His hands and His side and His feet, scarred for me forever?
What must change is me and my heart. Not Him and His plans. And what is the effect of all this? Where is he going with all this, as he explains the Scriptures, as we are opened up more and more and more, our minds and our hearts growing day by day in His love? What is changing? What is He preparing us for?
I will not tell you this morning things I, nor any other mortal man, knows. I will not tell you everything will be wonderful or easy or that when we go back to normal, normal will be normal. I cannot tell you any of that, and I don’t need to, even if I knew (even if I could know), because I know Christ. And I know what He has in store for His Church: they are not promises of ease and promises of riches forever and prosperity, such that our hearts should grow cold and our minds small for lack of exercise, for lack of knowledge of the Scriptures, that His people should become malnourished because they are enduring a famine of the Word.
Rather, we can feast now, friends. We can open the Scriptures now, and we can find in them riches that will stuff us more than we can imagine. Rather than getting sick or fat because we’re eating too much Easter candy, let us grow fat and contented and joyous and happy in His will, through knowing Him in His Word. For He prepares you, not for ease, but for fire.
There is a little preview of Pentecost here on the way to Emmaus. He reserves the right, at any time after His glorious resurrection, to hide Himself. To be a man who is hard to understand at times, to be a man who keeps His own counsel. And that is good. That is as it should be. Let the King rule in His might. Let Him rule according to His good will. For when have His promises ever failed us? When has He ever sent us anything that was not ultimately to our blessing? But let it be clear that He prepares us for fire.
For when He opens the Scriptures, fire begins. The disciples say it so clearly. Listen to the change that they undergo. After He has vanished, they wonder to one another – instead of wondering what should have happened but didn’t according to what they think – they now begin to wonder something else. They think, “Did not our hearts burn within us when He opened to us the Scriptures? Were our hearts not changed? Did we not become altogether new men?”
Is it not true that, if anyone is in Christ, behold, there is a new creation and all things begin now to change? The world begins now to change from the Church outward where the fire starts, spreading always. It cannot be stopped. The Word of the Lord must grow and grow and grow. Behold, our God is a consuming fire and He would have all the heavens and all the earth. And here it begins, friends, the day after Easter, with us.
Do not be afraid of His fire. Do not shrink back from what He prepares for you. It is a joyous and a blessed thing. Let the fire spread now, from heart to tongue. Let the tongue speak of Christ, more and more and more. Let it be stopped by nothing. When the Sanhedrin forbid you to speak in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, speak anyway. You must obey God rather than men.
And as the fire spreads, marvel only at this – not that you couldn’t have predicted this, not that you did not have the life that you had prepared for or thought you would’ve had – marvel rather at this: that the Christ is mighty and the whole world must change and the fire must spread until He is all in all. Until every knee bows. And until every tongue confesses what we know to be true—what His resurrection has proved to be true. What the world must change to show, that Christ is Lord. And to Him, both now and in days to come, and in the life everlasting, shall be and is, all glory, now and forever. Amen.
Please note: this is a transcription, typed up on the fly. If you notice any typos/errors, let us know in the comments and we’ll fix them here. Prof. Koontz doesn’t write up his sermons in full but rather has on hand several points that he refers to as he preaches, to make sure he’s staying on track.