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04.01.18 Back to Life Romans 6:1-11 Sermon Summary

by on April 2, 2018

Every preacher envies the young man dressed in the white robe. He was the preacher on the first Easter morning. The congregation, three women according to Mark, expected to find a body. What they discovered was an empty tomb and this young preacher dressed in white. He delivered the Easter message: Jesus who was crucified has been raised; he is not here.

The response to the sermon that first Easter was what every preacher hopes for. People were talking about it long after it ended. We still are. It was life transforming and world changing.

One of the reasons the sermon that first Easter was so momentous was that the expectations of the congregation were so low. The women came to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. They expected to find a body.

THIS Easter morning, everyone going to a church expects there NOT to be a body. What is more, they EXPECT to hear, again this year, about the resurrection. That first preacher had it easy. What he had to say so transcended the expectations of his congregation, he couldn’t help but succeed. What could we preachers possibly say today to exceed the expectations of our congregations? All we can offer are variations on the theme.

In the hearts of his first followers, Jesus’ wasn’t the only death that Friday afternoon. Their hopes died with him.

They hoped in the long-awaited restoration of their nation as the Kingdom of God. The hoped in deliverance from Roman occupation. They hoped in renewal of religious purity. They hoped in peace and providence and protection. They hoped in justice for the poor, and righteousness for the oppressed and exploited. These hopes died with Jesus on the Cross.

His body, and all those hopes, were expected to be in that tomb Sunday morning, the day after the Sabbath, when the women came with anointing spices.

And that’s when they heard the first Easter sermon. Jesus was alive. But what about all those hopes?

The Resurrection of Jesus didn’t revive the nationalistic hopes of his first followers. It did change the nature of them, however. They still awaited the fulfilment of God’s Kingdom, for example. They envisioned that would come with the return of Christ. But they didn’t wait for the return of Christ to begin living in the Kingdom of God. That’s because they would make an important discovery about the resurrection.

Nearly three decades after the resurrection, the apostle Paul wrote a letter to the churches in Rome. He wrote about the death and resurrection of Jesus. He didn’t talk about the death of their nationalistic hopes. Paul wrote about the death of something that would change the world. Nationalistic hopes don’t change the world, even if they are fulfilled.

No, what Paul talked about with the death and resurrection of Jesus was not the death and resurrection of hope, but the death and resurrection of humanity itself. Paul saw Jesus as the “second Adam.” In Paul’s Jewish upbringing, the first Adam was the symbolic father of all humanity dating back to the creation of the world. This first Adam, and all of humanity ever since, came under the power of sin, an overwhelming dark force that opposes light and love and life and God.

Sin enslaved the world. And sin leads eventually and inexorably to death. It is so powerful, it even overcame Jesus and caused his death.

But then, according to Paul, the whole story changes. Because God resurrects Jesus from the dead, undoing the power of sin. In resurrecting Jesus, God reveals that sin and death are not the end of the world’s story.  In the resurrection of Jesus, the story of the world changes direction. From the path of destruction, it is now set on the path of redemption. Our destination ends where our origins began—with God. God brings it all back to life.

In other words, what the resurrection of Christ as the second Adam reveals, is that when Jesus died, our hopes didn’t die with him. Sin died with him. We ourselves died with him. Sinful humanity, and the whole world subject to sin, died with Jesus on the Cross.

How? Because the Easter message: God raised Jesus from the dead. Just like God brought the world into existence out of non-existence in creation, so God brought life from death in Christ. That, for Paul, is the definition of grace—something good that only God can do—create life where there wasn’t life before.

God’s grace, Paul argued in chapter five, overcomes sin, it outlasts sin, it outpaces sin. So Paul imagines someone asking the question: “What are we to say? Should we continue in sin so that grace may abound?”

For Paul, it is an absurd question. The Latin roots of the word “absurd” mean “coming from deafness.” If you ask this question, Paul says, you haven’t heard or understood the Easter message. You are deaf to the Easter message. The Easter message is that Christ has been raised from the dead. Sin and death no longer have dominion over him.

The resurrection reveals that sin and death do not have final dominion. They never have, and they never will. So Paul speaks of the meaning of baptism, that we have been united with Christ in his death and resurrection. Sin no longer has dominion over Christ; sin no longer has dominion over us. “We have been buried with Christ by baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

So many of us walk in “oldness” of life. Instead of hearing the Easter message, we are still trying to outpace sin and death on our own by adhering to a moral code, or doing good deeds, or hoping for the best, or practicing our religion. We think that with enough education, or hard work, or luck, or prayer, or study we can overcome sin on our own.

If we refuse to hear the Easter message, that God has done for us in Christ what we can’t do for ourselves—overcome sin—then we will continue to live in sin. And we will discover we are enslaved to an overwhelmingly powerful taskmaster—Sin. Grace will abound, and eventually we will die and be free of sin.

The Easter message invites us to recognize that we are already free of sin. The Christian is simply the one who accepts that what God declares is true: United with the resurrected Christ, we are free from sin. The Christian simply lives as if this is true, because the Christian believes simply that it is.

This Easter, may you not be deaf to the message of that first preacher. May you hear that Christ is raised from the dead, and recognize that God has overcome sin and death in Christ. And may you consider yourself dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.

 

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