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3rd Sunday of Easter

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Grace and peace are yours from Him who is, who was, and who is to come, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, dear friends in Christ, I’m usually a pretty heavy sleeper.  When I fall asleep at night, I’m out.  And it usually takes quite a bit to wake me up.  Well, I remember one night about four years ago.  I woke up startled at some point in the middle of the night and I can’t remember exactly what happened, but I think my wife who was lying next to me was saying, “Help, help!” and all I remember is seeing her crying next to me.  I was immediately seized with fear, my heart pounding, my arms shaking and instantly I jumped out of bed without saying a word and ran into the other room because as a new father I had to check on our infant daughter Megan because I thought something was wrong.  Well, it turned out Megan was sound asleep and Katie had just had a scary dream where people were chasing her or something.  But wow! Was I startled and my heart was pounding, mind racing and I was just frightened.  It happened in a matter of moments, but was I ever exhausted!  You ever experienced that?

Well, think for a moment about how the disciples felt that first Easter Sunday.  It was quite a day for the disciples; I’m guessing their emotions had just about completely exhausted them.  Think about all the strange stuff that just happened: the events of Good Friday- an earthquake, the sky going dark, then a Saturday experiencing the awful thought that their Savior and friend was dead and lifeless in a tomb, then Sunday they locked themselves behind doors for fear of the Jews and the same fate as Jesus, can you imagine that chain of events?

But now on Sunday morning there’s been a whirlwind of witnesses telling them that the tomb was empty!  Jesus wasn’t there!  Some women had seen angels who said that Jesus wasn’t dead, but alive!  They were also saying Jesus appeared to them and talked with them…alive!  And now two of their friends had just arrived back from Emmaus, probably out of breath, saying that Jesus had appeared to them and explained the Scriptures to them.  You can just imagine the whirlwind going on these disciples’ minds and the torrent of emotions tearing through their hearts.

And so while the disciples are still trying to put this all together and make sense out of it all, here’s Jesus.  And He just appeared and stood right among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Imagine being there… the butterflies in the stomach, the heart pounding and racing, the jaw dropping, the knees shaking.  And the only thing they could think was, “Is it a ghost??”  So Jesus calms their fears and doubts and essentially says, “Don’t be troubled, come on and look at me, it’s really me, put your hands on me and touch me, see that I have flesh and bones, I’m not a ghost, it is really and truly me!”  No doubt some of the disciples did put their hands on him.  Quite likely John was one of them remember what he wrote in our second lesson today, “Which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched- this we proclaim concerning the Word of life” (1 John 1:1).

And yet at the same time they were still filled with doubts and skepticism while Jesus was standing there.  They were so excited in joy and amazement that they just couldn’t process it all and were thinking “This can’t be true, it’s just too good to be true!”  So what did Jesus do?  He ate a piece of fish right in their presence to drive it home to them that He is in fact bodily, fleshly, physically, gloriously, 100% ALIVE.  You see, Jesus didn’t want them to have even a shadow of a doubt about His resurrection because they would be His witnesses who would carry this message on and pass it on to others.  Notice that Jesus did not say, “Ok, that’s it I give up, you never believe anything I tell you!”  But rather in love Jesus Himself appeared to them so they would see with their eyes, then He spoke to them so they could hear His voice in their language, then He invited them to touch Him so they could feel with their hands, then He ate a piece of fish for them to squash their doubts.

We too have doubts and fears and wonders and skepticisms.  “How can this or that be?  If I were God, I sure wouldn’t have allowed this or that to happen.  Why doesn’t God just take this or that problem from me?  How could God possibly forgive that terrible thing I did, I can’t even forgive myself!”  We doubt and fear because we fail to trust Him.  Ought not Jesus to have just given up on these disciples?  Ought He not just give up on us?  But He doesn’t.  He comes to us again and again and shows us His love and mercy and power over all when we hear His Word in worship, in Bible class, in our family devotions, in our personal Bible study.  No, He doesn’t give up on us, He directs our eyes away from the visible circumstances of our lives into the promises of His Word.

That’s what Jesus did here with His disciples.  He directed their attention from His visible presence to the Scriptures- everything written in the OT was fulfilled in Jesus.  Jesus is the center of all of Bible.  Jesus opened their minds so they could understand that He had to die and rise to pay for sins in full and that this message of law and gospel, sin and grace, repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached everywhere.  Jesus opened their minds to understand this.  You can almost picture Jesus pointing them to the Garden of Eden where God promised Adam and Eve that one of their descendants would crush the devil’s head, destroying his power, or how through one of Abraham’s descendants all nations on earth will be blessed, or in Passover celebration an innocent, pure lamb’s blood was shed to rescue people, or in all the sacrifices blood had to be shed in order to come into God’s presence, or in Isaiah how God’s servant would be “pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us  peace was upon him, by his wounds we are healed,” or how he was to be buried in a grave with the wicked and the rich, or in the Psalms how he would not be abandoned in the grave, His body would not see decay, He would again see the light of life.  He opened their eyes and their minds to see the full picture!

And that’s exactly what He does today, too, through the Holy Spirit.  You see, as far as your soul goes there is no plateauing or remaining on the same level, your faith is either growing stronger or getting weaker.  Your faith grows stronger through your connection with God through His Word and the Sacraments.  As you spend time in God’s Word, God opens your mind, He works a miracle and strengthens your faith, you view the world in a clearer light, He gives you more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control.  There is always more to learn.  God’s Word is like a mine – the more you dig into it, the more you discover beautiful and awesome treasures.

As Jesus explained the Scriptures to His disciples they grew in their knowledge of God and His love through His Word and then Jesus sent them out.  He said, “You are witnesses of these things.”  Do you think that after Jesus appeared to His disciples they simply said, “Hmm…that was nice, now where were we?”  And went back to business as usual?  I’m thinking not!  Seeing Jesus alive had a profound impact on their lives!  A message this awesome they couldn’t keep to themselves!  They just had to share it and spread it!

The same is true for us.  As Jesus comes to us again and again and again through His Word and opens our eyes and our minds to the depths of God’s love for us it has a profound impact on our lives!  Think about it!  God loved you so much to give you His prized “possession,” His own Son, to die on a cross in your place, God thought you were worth it, and Jesus rose to prove His victory over sin, death, and hell for you. And God planned this from the very beginning, He wanted you to get it so He had the entire Bible focused and centered on Christ for you!  And He comes again and again to you through His Word to make sure you get it and keep it!

Is it even conceivable for us to now face life with a sort of “hum-drum” attitude and think same old, same old?  How can we bottle this news of our resurrected Savior inside of us?  How can we, who have the message of eternal life, the soul saving message, the only answer to everyone’s accusing conscience, the only message of sins forgiven, how can we who have such great news just sit on it?  Just keep it to ourselves?  We can’t help but be witnesses in our lives of what we have seen and heard!  We have seen the resurrected Savior through faith.  No, He hasn’t visibly appeared in your home when you had the doors locked.  But He has opened your mind to understand.  Over and over again Jesus directed His disciples away from His visible presence to His Word.  Why?  Because He has inseparably connected His power and presence through that Word.  You see, the very fact that you believe and know the main message of Scripture is evidence that Jesus has opened your mind to understand, He has revealed the truth to you.

So today, too, our hearts are pounding.  Not because of fear or because we’ve been startled but because of a miracle that WE are a part of.  The fact is you, too, are a witness of Jesus’ resurrection!  Jesus has appeared to you!  Jesus has come to you!  Jesus has opened your mind to understand the Scriptures!  Through His Word Jesus has appeared to you and you’ve seen Him!  What great news!  Let’s hear it!  Let’s learn it!  Let’s share it!  Amen.