St. Paul's Lutheran Church

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Third Sunday of Easter
Luke 24:36-49
April 14, 2024

How do we properly read and understand the Bible? And if you had to sum up the entire Bible, all 66 books, into one short sentence, what would it be?

I use Microsoft Bing for my web searching and one of the things that Bing has started doing is, when I do a search, not only does the typical search results show up in one column, but there’s another column where Microsoft AI provides an answer.

So, I typed “what is the main message of the Bible” into the AI, lo and behold, all sorts of possible answers appeared which the AI found on about a dozen different websites.

Well, this is sort of a reflection of how people think about and summarize the Bible, a lot of opinions, but very little consistency. And why is this? Is it because the Bible is so confusing and difficult to read and interpret? Is it because we need to have people with degrees in theology in order to tell us what the Scripture says?

No, I think the better answer is because people are sinful and people love wearing their rose-colored, stained-glass spectacles so they can read INTO the Scripture what they want, and only read OUT OF the Scripture what they like. People approach the Bible with presuppositions and preconceived notions, and they’ll pull a verse from here or from there and create all sorts of strange doctrines and teachings that really aren’t Scriptural. And boom, you got hundreds of church bodies each believing differently about what the Scripture teaches.

But you know, we don’t have to approach the Scripture this way. We don’t have to play guess work or preconceptions when we read the Bible. And this is because Jesus Himself tells us what the Bible says, what the Bible is all about, and He summarizes the entire Bible in a couple of sentences, and even tells us how to rightly read it.

Jesus opens the Scripture to us in the one, true, and right way – God’s way – and we need not look for other ways. So, to understand the Scripture, do not approach the text with your own opinions or look to get what you want out of it. Instead, approach the Scripture in the way Jesus says; approach the Scripture asking, “What is it that God wants me to know; what is His purpose in the Scripture,” and the only presupposition you should employ: God is not divided; He does not contradict Himself.

To understand the Bible, we seek not a personal, private understanding but we seek God’s mind and will for us. When Jesus opens the minds of the Apostles so they can understand the Scripture, this is precisely what He did. He silenced their opinions and presuppositions, of which they had many, and He revealed the truth.

To get to the truth, we must acknowledge a bit of truth about ourselves. We are sinners. This isn’t just a cliché but it’s the truth. Because of our sinful nature, our minds are in a state of corruption and totally lack the ability to understand anything of God, Scripture included. In our flesh, in our old nature, the Bible is a book that is tightly closed, locked, and no one can open it.

But we have also been reborn, washed, and received the Spirit of truth and understanding. Our Lord shines His light of the Gospel into our lives, and by His Spirit the veil of darkness is removed from our eyes, and He brings us into the truth, and we begin to grasp the purpose, true meaning, and right understanding which God gives us in His Word.

Last week, at the end of our Gospel reading from the Book of John, we read, “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may life in his name.” St. Paul says the same thing when he writes, the Scriptures “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

Understanding the Scripture, knowing the meaning of the Bible, its main message, requires faith, faith in Jesus, trusting in Him that by His death and resurrection, He comes to illuminate our minds to a true, right, godly, universal understanding of the things of God. Where there is doubt, it is satiated by faith. Where opinions seem to loom, those opinions are silenced by the Spirit of Christ who shines heavenly truth. Where the cry of “many interpretations” seems to permeate the pews, the Spirit of wisdom and knowledge comes and says, “nope, one interpretation and that’s God’s interpretation.”

And Jesus says the same thing in our Gospel reading today from Luke.

It’s the evening of Easter, the first day of the week, the day Christ our Lord rose from the dead. The disciples are fearful because the religious leaders had their rabbi crucified and they concluded they were next. So, they find a secure location, quite possibly the same “upper room” in which Jesus instituted His holy Supper, and they lock the door tightly so no one could get in. You can imagine that they’re probably trying to be as quiet as they can be so no random guards hear them scuffle around or arguing or whatever. Yet, in the midst of this their rabbi who’s supposed to be dead, appears fully alive, flesh and blood, before them. He doesn’t come walking through the door, but He just appears.

The very first thing He says to those 10 apostles who are likely quite shocked at His appearing is “Peace be with you.” We know Thomas isn’t there because he shows up a week later. And to quell all doubt that He is truly their Lord risen from the dead, Jesus shows them His hands and side and feet, and He even sits and eats with them. Ghosts don’t eat. It’s truly Jesus their Lord.

Then He opens the Scripture to them. In other words, Jesus performs a miracle by wiping their minds of all of their fears, inhibitions, doubts, and opinions, and He speaks the truth. He draws their attention to the prophets of old and the Psalms and explains how He is the fulfillment of it all, that everything taught in those ancient texts must be fulfilled in Him. “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you.”

And it wasn’t just one of many possible ways of saving the world from sin. This was the only way, the necessary way, in fact God sending His only Son to die was the one way from before the foundation of the world. God created all things in the way He did so that His only Son would die on the cross and rise again. This is BIG stuff, isn’t it, it’s mind-boggling, right? And yet we believe it because God’s Spirit has revealed it to us this way.

And everything we read in the Scripture, every story, every event, every work of God, all of it, even the bad stuff, the stuff we don’t like, all of it is given to us so that the message of Christ’s suffering and death and His resurrection be proclaimed to the nations, that the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins be clearly preached to all.

And there you have it! It’s the summary of the Scripture. “Thus, it is written,” and thus it is written.

First, that the Christ would suffer. They didn’t understand this. The disciples were so full of fear and doubt that seeing their rabbi die on the cross just didn’t click. They saw it as a tragedy, all hope lost. And in fact, even today the Jews believe that the true messiah isn’t a sin-delivering messiah, but a political-leader messiah coming to restore the glory days of the Davidic kingdom. It’s why they continually reject Jesus – because messiahs don’t die on the cross.

And yet, what does the Scripture say? “He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities; by His stripes we are healed.”

Christ had to suffer to atone for our sins. He had to die so we could have life and peace and no longer be separated from God. What is written is written.

But what else does He say to his 10 fearful disciples? He says, “and on the third day rise from the dead.” Jesus came to pay for our sin, and to destroy death, so of course He had to rise, because no one can keep God locked away in a dark tomb.

See, we are, by nature, dust and ashes. We remember Ash Wednesday where we each receive a mark on our forehead using the ash of palm branches. We are dust and to dust we shall return. This is a fact, but it does not mean all is lost. See, Jesus is risen, and because He is risen from the dead, all who believe in Him shall rise. Our bodies will be glorified and made into eternal bodies, perfected bodies without disease or pain, and we will be made whole again and live lives of perfect joy and peace with God forever.

This is the promise, this is the blessing of being in, abiding in Christ and believing on His name. And this promise comes through the proclamation. And the proclamation isn’t just this gushy message that’s easy on the ears and delightful to the stomach. In fact, the proclamation is one of both REPENTANCE and FORGIVENESS.

Yes, fellow believers, God calls you to repentance. He calls you to give up on yourselves, to stop trying to present yourselves as worthy. For every single sin you commit, from the smallest little sins to the whoppers, every one of them condemns you. But this is our NATURE, and unless you can reach into your own inner workings and turn dials, it is simply not a nature you can change through commitments or promises or the power of the will. When it comes to sin and the sinful nature, mind over matter changes nothing.

Repentance means to acknowledge the truth, that you are a sinner, guilty as charged and there isn’t a thing you can do about it. But repentance is also turning and crying out to God for mercy. And guess what? God showers down mercy like you wouldn’t believe! This is what Christ your Lord has done by dying and rising again, He has opened the floodgates of mercy, and in repentance, God kills the old man, the sinful nature, and awakens the new and eternal nature, the nature of Christ in you.

You are dead to sin; you cannot live in it any longer. Sin is not your master.

When it comes to this message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins which we are commanded to preach and proclaim to the ends of the earth, be aware that speaking this message, preaching this message will necessarily lead to stone-throwing.

Look at how the world hates Jesus. They don’t hate Jesus because of His hair color or His choice of clothing, His political ideologies or whether He’s pro-this or anti-that. No, the world hates Him because of His message. He preaches the TRUTH, and every word that proceeds from His mouth is the truth. But the world does not like the truth and since He is the God of truth, the world rejects Him. And if the world rejects Jesus for speaking the truth, how much more will the world reject you and I for speaking the truth?

So, what do we do? Well, what is most common in our modern Christian culture is to avoid scenarios where we might upset folks, right? We don’t want anyone throwing stones at us; we don’t want people mad at us or hating us; we don’t want to be laughed at or besmirched, right? So, to avoid suffering and persecution, we zip our lips. We come up with excuses to not speak the truth so that we avoid the earthly consequences for being a Christian.

Jesus says in many different ways that in this world, in this life, we will suffer on account of the faith. He says that our own family members will despise us, that friends will abandon us, church members will get angry and stomp out the front door, classmates will laugh at us and call us names IF we mention Jesus or church.

When we open our mouths and we proclaim the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins, trouble will come. Consider our reading from the Book of Acts, and go a few verses forward, right after Peter preaches to the people who witness him heal the lame man. He and the other apostle with him were taken custody by the temple guards and thrown in jail. Annas and Caiaphas came to Peter and John the next day and told them to stop talking and preaching about this Jesus fellow, to zip the lip, keep it to themselves, that it’s to be between them and God and no one else.

It’s sort of like what the unbelieving world tells us today, isn’t it? Zip it! Don’t talk about Jesus in the public square, don’t confess Christ to your friends or family, no Jesus in the classroom, no Jesus at the dinner table, keep Jesus to yourself…private…personal…

We are inundated, day in and day out, every moment of our lives with gay rights, abortion rights, racial rights, political propaganda, consumerist propaganda and constant sales pitches, but to even mention the name Jesus, to even say to someone, “Change your thinking, repent of your sin, turn away from the world and look to Jesus,” is an offense worse than treason against the United States it seems. And we zip our lips, we stop confessing the faith, we keep it to ourselves…and then we say, “Our church is dying, we don’t have members…Pastor, pastor, you have to do something…”

Well, I am doing precisely what you ask: I am here to tell you that the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins does not stop inside your mouth behind closed lips. The message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins does not stop at the front door to this church. And you know as well as I do that the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins does not stop up here at the pulpit.

YOU are the church and YOU are called to open your hearts and minds by the power of the Holy Spirit and to learn the whole council of God, the whole message of the Scripture, the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins and to rejoice in this message because you are an heir and recipient of the promises given in this message, and then to take this message home with you, to work with you, to school with you, to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins, YES around the dinner table, YES, even at work, in your classrooms, in your dorm rooms, in your summer cabins on the lake, in the boats.

Will you get in trouble? You just might. Will people hate you? Probably. Will they laugh at you and call you a stupid, ignorant believer in fairy tales? Likely. But then, one person in a crowd of 1,000 will repent and believe and you’ll know that one person is living under the mercies of God in Christ, and it’ll all be worth it.

The message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins is to be the message which occupies your minds and your hearts…not politics, not sports, not advancement or pay raises…Christ and His cross. Christ and His cross.

And when God gives you opportunities to share this message, to call sinners to repentance and faith, you use those opportunities. Are you scared you’ll offend others? Don’t be! You will likely offend people; the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins, is offensive. But it is the only message that brings with it salvation and eternal life.

“Oh, but pastor, we are all sinners and none of us is better than anyone else,” and this is absolutely true. But, just because I am no better or no holier than any of you doesn’t mean I have an excuse to not speak the message God commands us all to speak. Pastors preach for themselves just as much as they do for you. When I call you to repentance, I am also calling myself. When I proclaim the forgiveness of sins to you, I am also preaching the forgiveness of sins to myself.

And God has forgiven you. He has given you the gift of His Holy Spirit which has enlivened repentance in you so that you no longer seek to cherish and protect your sins, but you acknowledge them and run to Christ for mercy and help. He has opened paradise to you and made each of you heirs to His eternal kingdom.

As His dear children, abide in Him, repent of your sins, acknowledge just how dark and evil your sins truly are and hold on tightly to the sure promise given to you in Jesus who died for you and is risen for you and will return for you very soon. And while you wait for His appearing, do your duty and proclaim the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all, using every opportunity to do good and help the lost and afraid, because the Lord is at hand. Amen.