Easter brings us victory over death and gives us new life.
Joshua E. Stahmann
The young man across the table from me was in tears. There was no doubting the depth and sincerity of his pain. “I’m tired,” he said. “I’m tired of the struggle. I’m tired of the temptations. I’m tired of the devil’s attacks. Sometimes, I wish I was dead.”
His anguished words hit home. Memories of my own guilt came flooding back into my mind. I could not help but think of the times when I was similarly disgusted with my own weaknesses and my own failures. He and I both know we are supposed to be dead to sin and alive for Christ. He and I both know the weariness that comes from repeatedly falling short.
In a moment like that, it’s easy to be at a loss for words. What do you say to someone who is so spiritually beat up that he wishes it would all end? If I could find the words, they were not going to be all that useful anyway. Instead, in that moment, both of us needed to hear something more solid and more powerful: the Word of God about how Christ’s resurrection defeats sin and gives us life.
Easter is life to all who deserve death
This man was feeling something that every sinner knows: God’s expectations are nothing short of perfection, and we sinners don’t even come close to that. Our conscience is sensitive to every mistake. This man confessed his sins numerous times before—to me privately and alongside his fellow Christians in public worship. He didn’t hesitate to acknowledge his sinfulness, and he frequently poured out his soul to God in prayer over that tragic fact. He could have been the poster child for the broken and contrite heart of Psalm 51.
His problem was that in the midst of that guilt, he kept returning to his own actions and to God’s law. Every time he did that, all he could see was more guilt, more disobedience, and more deserved punishment. But God’s law was never designed to bring comfort. Instead it simply was to expose sin. This man needed the gospel in all of its Easter glory.
The empty tomb is the sign and seal of heaven to sinners who on their own have no such hope.
For people who are beaten and broken by their own guilt, there is only one thing that can provide hope. We need to stand at the foot of the cross of Christ on Good Friday and see Jesus, the Lamb of God, who willingly takes on all of our guilt and makes it his own. We see atonement and redemption, as Jesus is punished for our sins and redeems us with his own blood. Christ declared from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). His saving work is completed for all eternity.
Then we turn our attention to another place. We travel with the women and the disciples to the empty tomb. We hear the angel announce that Christ did not remain in the grave, but he has defeated death. We listen to the assurance of God’s promises that, just as Christ conquered death, so we also will rise again to eternal life. The empty tomb is the sign and seal of heaven to sinners who on their own have no such hope. The words of Jesus ring in our ears as we celebrate his victory: “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25). Here, at the empty tomb, we hear God’s gracious pardon: Easter is life to all who deserve death.
Easter is life for all who denounce death
The contrite young man across the table needed the message of Easter. In Christ, God gave him life instead of death. The change in status is a priceless treasure: God justified him in faith and brought him over from death to life. But there is more. Easter is also about a change in attitude, as God teaches us to denounce sin and empowers us to live for him.
During our occasional conversations, the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 7:15-20 frequently came up: The good things that I desire to do, I don’t do. And the evil actions I don’t want to commit? Those are the things I keep on doing! How reassuring it is to know that the great apostle struggled with the same things that we were discussing. How comforting was Paul’s answer to this anguish over the continual battle with his sinful nature: Jesus Christ still rescues us, and we can rely on that comfort each day!
In fact, that comfort is what empowers us to keep fighting. We’re not fighting to save ourselves or to prove how we’ve become better people. We’re fighting the struggle against sin and temptation because we know we’re not dead anymore. Through faith in Jesus, we’ve been made alive. In our baptism, God buried our sinful natures alongside our sins in Christ. In addition, just as God raised Christ from death, he raises us to a new spiritual life of faith. That new life depends on him for strength, and we seek to please him by living as if we are completely dead to sin. The very fact that our attitudes have been changed from embracing sin to denouncing it is clear evidence that God has already begun shaping this new attitude of faith and spiritual life in our hearts.
Yes, this daily life for Christ has its challenges. We still lament how every time we knock the sinful nature down, it’s already jumping back up to begin the fight again. We still experience days that feel more like we’re moving backward instead of forward. But that very struggle drives us back to the truths confirmed at the empty tomb: Our sins are forgiven, our Savior has claimed us as his own, and he continues to assure us that heaven is ours. The life we live now, we live to God, for the sake of his Son who died for us and was raised to life again. In this way, Easter is life for all believers. We have the power to turn away from sin and death and live as his disciples.
As for the young man who felt more dead than alive? He is slowly coming to realize more clearly just how much he needs the comfort of his living Savior. The thought of his living Savior, ascended and seated on his throne in heaven, eager to pardon and quick to forgive, gives this man a steady source of strength and comfort during good days and bad. He knows that his daily life of faith is a work in progress and always will be. There are still tearful moments and conversations prompted by his aching conscience. But there is also increased hope, as God helps him hold on to the cross of Christ and the empty tomb. Why? Because Jesus is still alive. Because Jesus still forgives. And because Jesus keeps holding the truth of his resurrection before our eyes: Easter is life, now and eternally.
Author: Joshua E. Stahmann
Volume 107, Number 04
Issue: April 2020