Every year, Easter is such a high, singing hymns celebrating the victory Jesus has won for us. I pray you had a chance to get to church and enjoy the excitement of joining with others celebrating the gift of life we've been given.
But what happens now? What happens after that burst of excitement? What happens when you get home from church and the marriage isn't perfect? What happens when the Easter excitement is gone and the kids aren't behaving, and the finances aren't ideal, or the health won't cooperate and the family bickers? What happens to those songs of celebration then? Have you been there when the voices get raised in anger instead of praise and the stress grows as the solution to it (God's word) is put down?
What happens then? Well, basically, what is happening then is that we're going through what Thomas did that first Easter Sunday evening. We need some proof. Check out John 20:19-31 for the account of how Thomas didn't gather with his fellow believers and his faith wasn't ready to accept the truth of Jesus' resurrection and what that meant for his life. It also shows how Jesus gave him proof that overcame all his doubts.
Our text today is Peter's sermon about Jesus' resurrection recorded in Acts 2:22-32. He starts by reminding his hearers that they already had all the proof they needed: "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know." There was no doubt, was there? They had seen the proof. They saw God's power. They saw Jesus' work. So have we. That's what we celebrated on Easter.
So why aren't we always celebrating like that? Why was it so easy to relate with the other side of the high as life gets "real" again and our attention starts focusing on all our problems? You see, what's actually happening there is that we're looking less and less at the proof of all the things we know Jesus is - and we're looking more and more to ourselves. And then, inevitably, religion becomes less about faith and more about just "doing good."
That's what led to what happened to those people in the text who had at one time realized what a difference Jesus makes in life. Look at Peter's next words: "This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross." Have you ever thought of it that way? You put him to death. No, the Jews of Jerusalem didn't drive the nails physically, but they had rejected him as their Savior. Sure, they had shouted out "Hosanna" in their excitement on Palm Sunday, but by the weekend they had a much different cry. Jesus wasn't worth the hassle to them. They didn't get what they wanted from him because they hadn't paid enough attention to God's word to see what they needed. So they were ready to get rid of him: "Crucify him!"
The scary thing is, that's exactly where our sins place us. But look at what Peter says next: "But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him."
Did you follow the subjects in the sentences in Peter's sermon? You killed him. God raised him. You messed up. God fixed it. That's what makes this such good news. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This is exactly what the word always says, which is why, the longer we're away from the word, the more we start looking away from God and to ourselves. But, right here, in God's word, Peter states the truth. Look at Jesus. It was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
Why? Because Jesus didn't deserve to die. The Psalm Peter quotes makes that clear, calling him the Holy One, the one who would not be left in the grave. God promised that his son would defeat death and sin and the devil. And he did. Jesus took our punishment so that we wouldn't have to, and since he didn't deserve it, since our sins truly were paid for - death had nothing with which to hold him. So Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!
Look at how God gives us proof on that. Through his presence with Thomas, Thomas was led to declare Jesus "My Lord and my God." We read that the listeners were "cut to the heart" and 3,000 were baptized. And through his account of all these things, God resurrects faith in our hearts and compels the truth out of our mouths "Christ is risen!"
And if you still want more proof, read verse 32: 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. In the Gospel Lesson, Jesus had said "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." But then he goes ahead and lets some see. Why? They are to be witnesses of the fact. God did that for you - so that you would have proof - the Bible. We have their record, inspired by God, the word that has stood the test of time, that countless have died for because they were so convinced of its truth. This is Jesus saying to you: "Here is the proof...Stop doubting and believe."
Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.