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Acts 10:34-43 Resurrection Witnesses
Rev. Charles Schulz
The Lord is Risen! He is risen indeed!
Our passage today is the First lesson, picking as our theme the verse: “We are witnesses of all that He did” Acts. 10:39
So what’s on your bucket list? You know, that’s the list of things you want to do before you before you kick the bucket, that is, before you die. Some people have things they feel they just have to do. Skydiving, for example – Shirley Jones did this recently to celebrate her 80th birthday. Yes, that’s the same Shirley Jones we remember from the Patridge Family. Check, I’ve got that one done. (I bet you didn’t know that, did you? Yep, a static line drop from 3,000 feet. I was about 20 years old – the age of invincibility) For many people, the bucket list includes things you want to see – maybe the Great Wall of China or the Taj Mahal, maybe St. Peter’s in Rome. Some people will want to see the Luther sites in Germany – His birth house, the door where he pounded the 95 theses, the room where he translated the Bible into German. With the 500th anniversary of the Reformation right around the corner, you know that the tourist traffic to Wittenberg is going to really pick up. History buffs particularly like to see the places of their favorite events: maybe Gettysburg or Independence Hall. Bucket lists can be quite personal. As an amateur genealogist, my own bucket list of places includes an obscure county in southern Pennsylvania where some of my ancestors lived 200 years ago – and there might still be records about them in the historical archives there. Of course, many Christians do hope to go to the Holy Land, exactly to see the places where the Lord walked, where He taught and healed, where He died and where He rose again.
We can go to the historic sites – even visit the traditional site of the empty tomb where a beautiful church now stands. But one thing we won’t see is the Lord Himself rising. Like all historical events, it’s closed off to us in the past. In fact, even in the first century, when the Lord Jesus rose, He didn’t show Himself to the world – only to chosen witnesses. St. Paul gives the list – it’s of considerable length. Because some church members in the city of Corinth were doubting the resurrection, he writes to the Corinthian Church saying, “Jesus appeared to Peter, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” Like an attorney providing a list of evidence and calling witnesses forward, St. Paul provides such a full range of testimonies – including some that could be verified because they were still alive – that many inquiring historians since have been convinced: the resurrection is a historical fact. The story of Easter isn’t just a story. It’s not about butterflies emerging from cocoons or the importance of looking on the bright side and thinking positive. Easter is the Feast of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ – a man who truly died and who has truly come to life again, physically left His tomb. It’s an event with world changing consequences, and this has been the focus of the church’s proclamation ever since.
But wouldn’t it have been nice to have seen it? Many would prefer to see than to believe because by seeing then we can know what’s true, right? How much more certainty we would have if only we had been there, maybe like that old spiritual laments: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? Where you there when he rose up from the dead?” Actually, no, we were not there; we can never get back there, and so many people feel we’ll just have to move on without it. They leave the resurrection in the shadowland of doubt or they even chalk it up to mythology. They want to live by sight and not by faith.
So why didn’t the Lord Jesus, show Himself to the world? Why didn’t He just walk back to Pilate and say, “Remember me?” Or he could have strolled into the High Council of the Jewish Sanhedrin who had condemned Him to death and said in Arnold Schwarzenegger style, “Told you I’d be back.” But He did none of those things. As God in the flesh, now risen from the dead, He could have hung around rather than going back to glory. Everyone would know He’s alive. There would be no debates, no unbelief, no atheism – there He would be, walking on earth, the only Man to live century after century. With His divine power, with angelic armies at His command, He could have taken over humanity with a single word. “I claim earth. Submit to me now.” But He did none of those things.
We will, of course, see Him again. As Peter said to Cornelius that day, Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. Then indeed all will see Him. Every knee will bow and acclaim Him Lord. Then He will take up His reign in glorious power. At that moment all unbelief will pass away, and all faith will pass away, too. It will be too late to call on Him faith, because there will only be direct knowledge and pure sight. Then those who have believed in Him will enter eternal life and those who have not will know the consequences of denying their only Savior.
And here we have the key to why the Lord appeared only to a select set of chosen witnesses. God arranged things this way so that there might be faith and so that through faith millions and billions more might come to salvation in Christ. God has left you without seeing the risen Savior because God desires you to believe, so that by believing you may come to know new life in Him. That’s why God has not given you sights to see but witnesses to hear.
In our first lesson, we listen in as Peter comes to the house of the Gentile Cornelius. For the first time, the Jewish Apostles were breaking the race barrier and, led by the Spirit of God, they were proclaiming salvation in Jesus not to Jews alone to Gentiles also. There in that house which many Jews would have taken to be unclean and defiling, talking to people considered dirty and debased, Peter explained that God has sent out witnesses to proclaim the good Word. His message was that everyone, everyone, everyone who believes in Jesus receives the forgiveness of sins through His name. It’s good news. Christ has come – He who is Lord over all, Peter says, indicating Jesus’ eternal divinity. He has come and He died on a cross – indicating His true humanity. And He came doing good and delivering people from sickness and from Satan – indicating Jesus’ power to transform us and His desire and His ability to bring about amazing good in people’s lives. And He came full of the Spirit of God, with the Father working through Him – indicating even how the proclamation of salvation is a revelation of the Holy Trinity, the one true God.
That summary of Peter’s preaching to Cornelius is the Resurrection witness of the Church. God entrusted it to original Apostles to proclaim to the world, but the world was too big and their lives were too short. The task has passed on from generation to generation and the church is still proclaiming: “The Lord is Risen…”
We yet still have the witness of the Apostles – it’s recorded for us as the New Testament. And they weren’t alone, for they had the prophets. As Peter mentions in his message that day, all the prophets bear witness to Jesus – and that’s the Old Testament. We have the whole Sacred Scriptures witnessing to us so we too can believe. As we believe, the Holy Spirit also makes us witnesses of the resurrection.
The proof of Christ’s living is the power of His giving new life to you. You come to know the reality of His resurrection through His Word – that very Word which resounds through the witness of the Church. The risen Jesus Himself is present in His Word and so His Word is full of the Holy Spirit and His resurrection power. But this is a gracious power, not forcing you to acknowledge Him but calling you to faith – it’s gently effective power to awaken you from the death of your sins by the sweet message of the forgiveness of sins given you by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
This is exactly what you need. If God had given you more – if He had given you the raw, unmitigated presence of the risen Jesus standing bodily before you, you would not be receiving forgiveness but judgment – judgment that you did not repent and believe before. But God has prepared this time that you may believe. Now is the day of salvation. Now is the time when the witnesses of Christ are announcing forgiveness in His name. Through the Sacred Scriptures, through the faithful pastors in the holy ministry, through missionaries and evangelists, through the faithful laypeople of the church, through us here at St. Thomas, the message rings out with the same points Peter made in Cornelius’ home so long ago. The Savior has come. He lived a perfect life of love and righteousness. He died His holy death to atone for your sins. He rose bodily from the grave. And now He lives on and He is coming to you through His Word through His Church, bringing you faith, forgiveness, and new life in His Name. Hear His Word. Believe in His grace. Far more important than any bucket list item of something you want to do before you leave this world is the Lord’s own wish for you. He longs for you to share in His life and salvation.
When Peter spoke this message– that proclamation of the forgiveness given in the risen Jesus – while Cornelius and his household were yet listening, the Holy Spirit came upon them. They came to faith and then they were baptized into Christ.
Maybe you are here today and for the first time you perceive the Word of God calling you. You are hearing and understanding that you too have forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Christ because He came for you. Will you let me join you in thanking and praising God for the Gospel coming to you today? During our offering, the friendship pad will be passed down the pews and we’ll ask everyone if they would share their names. If this is a new day for you Christ with brand new realization of the meaning of His resurrection for you, please put a star next to your name. That will give me an opportunity to get in touch with you so we might talk about what it’s like to live with God in your life. And if you haven’t been baptized but you’d like to do that or even just learn more about that, put two stars by your name with some contact information. I’ll get back to you this week.
Proclaiming salvation, sharing the faith, washing away sins through Holy Baptism: this is the how our Living Lord is demonstrating His resurrection power in the world and among us, until all His chosen ones will be gathered to Him and say: “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”