“If the Spirit of Him Who Raised Jesus From the Dead Dwells in You"

Lent 5
April 2, 2017
Romans 8:11

We deal with a lot of difficult things in our lives—worries, concerns, frustrations that consume our thoughts and our time.  There is the matter of dealing with various sicknesses and what seems to be an increasing number of maladies that we endure as we get older.  There are worries about financial security.  There is also that stress that we encounter when we have had a run-in with friends or family, so that we are upset, and even consumed, over the words that have been spoken and the offenses that have been committed against us.

But all of those concerns come to a screeching halt when news about a death suddenly is announced.  All idle talk is silenced.  Words of gossip, anger, or frustration cease mid-sentence.  Because, in a stunning moment of shock, a death immediately puts all things into their proper perspective.  And we realize that any petty disagreements we might have been dwelling upon or personal complaints we might have been voicing about our health or about some other upsetting situation doesn’t seem that important anymore.  For no aggravation in this world can be compared to the harsh reality of death.

And nowhere… nowhere does our Christian faith come to bear more vitally than when we are confronted with the matter of death.  And we pity those people who struggle to deal with its severity without having the promise and consolation of the Christian faith, wherein Jesus assures us, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”  

“Do you believe this?” Jesus asked Martha.   Brothers and sisters, “Do you believe this?”

Then, the important thing is that you live in that faith and confidence right now.  Don’t wait for a more opportune time to start considering your own impending death and resurrection.  Don’t keep those contemplations to yourself, so that those around you wonder whether or not they might share in the hope of a blessed reunion with you one day.

The greatest gift that you can possibly leave behind you is that intimate and direct conversation that you have with your loved ones in telling them, in no uncertain terms, that you believe in the forgiveness of sins, in the resurrection of the body, and in the life everlasting.

But, at the same time, don’t forget that those words are preceded by that other confessional phrase—that you also believe in the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints.  Meaning, God has set you apart.  He has called you into a holy fellowship through the washing of Baptism.  At that moment, He cleansed you from your sins, granted to you the gift of faith, and united you to His Son Jesus Christ, both in our Lord’s death and in His resurrection.

Again, in the words of Jesus to Martha, “Do you believe this?”

Then how is it that we can be so lackadaisical over our place in the Holy Christian Church?  How it is that we can neglect our spiritual nourishment, our personal devotion, our daily contrition and repentance wherein we drown the Old Adam in us so that the new man may rise forth to live before God in righteousness and purity forever?

For far too many, it takes that sudden, unexpected announcement of death to set them rushing toward more fervent spiritual concerns.  But the situation is far too serious to approach so casually.  In the words that close the fundamental Christian teachings in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism it says, “this is no mere child’s play…. Let each one take heed and likewise consider it a serious matter; for St. Paul says, to the Galatians, chapter sixth: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked.”  No, there is nothing frivolous about death or about the judgment which follows it.

And so, we hear St. Paul state in the Epistle, “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”  So much for those who would appease their consciences by telling themselves that the deceased was such a good person—as if that qualified them for heaven.

People, life and death can never be dealt with from our own personal perspective.  The God Who created us, Who redeemed us, and Who will summon each and every one us to appear before Him has commanded our obedience to His Law.  And His Law, rather than being a cruel stipulation inflicted upon us by an uncaring God, rather is just the opposite.  It is a matter of love.  As Jesus summarized the Commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets,” Jesus says.  (Matt. 22:37-40).

But that perfect standard of love that God has given to us also reveals just how far we have fallen from achieving that goal. That’s why, in contrast to pure, divine love, we are poor, miserable sinners, who deserve nothing but temporal and eternal punishment.  Try as earnestly as we might, we cannot please God by the things that we do; because even our most sincere deeds will always be tainted with sin.

And the consequences of sin is death.  And that’s what makes, not only death but also sin, such a serious, serious thing.  And even if we are unable to fully grasp that truth, be assured that it doesn’t change God’s thinking on the matter.

And that’s why God sent His Son into this world—in order to stand in our place and take His full wrath and punishment for our sins.  Jesus suffered hell upon the cross; that’s what it means to be forsaken by God.  It was a tremendous price that He paid to rescue you—not just from the grave but from eternal death.  But He was willing to pay it because of His great love for you.

And then, as was stated before, He poured out the benefits of Christ’s atonement upon you in Baptism.  You were born again.  And so, the apostle continues, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” It matters not how kind, good, amusing, or friendly the individual is who dies—without the Spirit, he or she is lost.

“But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

And there’s that little, but oh so important word, “IF.”  “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you…”

Please listen carefully.  God’s love for you is not conditional.  God doesn’t promise His love to us just long as we do this thing or that for Him, to show that we are worthy of His love.  No, He has given His love to us freely and fully, not because of anything that we have done.  God’s grace is completely undeserved.

Nevertheless, the only way that any of us can benefit from God’s grace is IF…IF the Spirit of Christ dwells in us; to enliven us with the faith to receive all the blessings of what Jesus has done for us.  And the only way that the Spirit of Christ can dwell in us, is if the Spirit continues to bestow those life-giving gifts upon us through the Gospel, through the promise of Baptism, in the pronouncement of Holy Absolution, and by the true body and blood of Christ given and shed for you.

These things that we engage in here at church—these aren’t merely things we do—no, these are the urgent works of God to prepare us for death and judgment by bestowing the saving gift of faith right now.

I can tell you something from a personal point of view—it’s a lot easier for me as a pastor to preach confidently and joyfully at the funeral of someone who has been faithful in their participation in the means of grace than it is for someone who has only made an appearance here occasionally.  But don’t let that be a determining factor for any of you.  This is all about Christ!  Nothing else.

No, death is not a casual matter.  Its impact can be devastating… for those who do not live in the assurance that death is one of the enemies that Christ soundly defeated, along with sin and the devil.  People, you can’t rid yourself of sin.  You are no match for the murderous attacks of the devil.  And you certainly cannot keep death at arms length.  But you can find victory over all three, in the presence of the Almighty Son of God Who loved you and gave Himself for you!

Martha was right.  “Lord, I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you… I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Dearly beloved, this Lord is your Lord.  This Christ still comes into this world to answer your most heartfelt cries.  This Savior is the One Who tasted death Himself, in order to free you from its clutches and assure you of a perfect life in His presence that has no end.

“Do you believe this?”  Then let all God’s people say, “Amen!”

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3234 Mishicot Road  Two Rivers, WI 54241  920-793-1716