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April 23, 2017



4.23.17                                2 Easter                         - Acts 2:22-32ESV




Kettle River, Minnesota, had quite an event on Easter Sunday several years ago.  This small town of 190 residents near Cloquet southwest of Duluth was the site of what was promoted to be an appearance by Mary, mother of Jesus.  I recently saw a documentary film made on that occasion.  3000 people from all over the United States came, enticed by the claims of a local landowner-developer that he had received this message from God.  Some were looking for a miracle, perhaps a healing, a sign of sorts.  Others were merely curious, not knowing what to expect but wanting to be there just in case.  Of course, a few were hoping to make a fast buck.  At the appointed hour, 3 o’clock in the afternoon, as the multitude gazed into the sky, waiting with baited breath --- nothing happened (although some thought the sun shining through the clouds looked strange).  Despite the disclaimers of the regional diocese in charge of such proceedings, many wanted so badly to see something tangible to prove their faith that they were willing to do almost anything, go almost anywhere, even through snow and mud to Kettle River, Minnesota, on a cold, windy day. 


Well, all I’ve got to say is WYSIWYG.  Computer buffs know that stands for “What you see is what you get.”  (It’s not just a juice store in downtown Mankato.)  They didn’t see much in Kettle River and they didn’t get much there either.  However, in a different sense, that’s what the apostle Peter told the crowd in our text today: “What you see is what you get.”  If you see by faith what the Word of God tells us, you get the living Lord Jesus Christ. 


Actually, it was the Day of Pentecost when Peter preached this sermon, fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit had been poured out on the disciples in an extraordinary way.  And now Peter was explaining to the assembled audience what it all meant.  He began by telling them about Jesus who was “attested” by God to them by the wonderful miracles He had performed in their midst.  And yet, the religious leaders of the Jews out of envy had handed Him over to be killed, nailed to a cross by lawless men.  Although this was part of the plan God foreknew long ago, sinful people were still responsible for it.  Nevertheless, God raised Jesus from the dead because it was not possible for death to hold Him.


We’ve heard all this very recently in our church.  The smell of candles and flowers still lingers from Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  But interestingly, Peter now turns to a rather unusual source to prove His point.  No amazing apparitions, rather a psalm written by King David, Psalm 16 in our Bible.  (I just chanted these verses in a different translation).  Speaking in the first person, David said: “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope.  For you will not abandon my soul to Hades (that is, the grave), or let your Holy One see corruption.  You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.” 


These incredible lines were penned 1000 years before Christ but it’s like David took the words right out of Jesus’ mouth.  He saw these things by faith, obviously, but his description of the resurrection is remarkable.  And, oh, how that view of life after death instilled confidence in David who often was beset with struggles and difficulties and threats.  He could not be shaken from the certainty that the living Lord was with him.


Ironically, the mausoleum containing the remains of King David was probably nearby where Peter was making these comments – “his tomb is with us to this day,” he said, perhaps pointing in that direction.  David could not have been writing about himself, when he refers to the “Holy One” not seeing “corruption.”  But the tomb of Jesus was empty and that fact had been verified by several eye-witnesses, as we discussed last week.  If the enemies of Jesus wanted to nip the Christian movement in the bud, all they had to do was produce the body, “habeas corpus,” as lawyers say.  They couldn’t, however, because Jesus was alive and well, now ascended into heaven after 40 days of real life appearances.


That’s what David saw by faith a millennium before it transpired.  How many details he understood is debatable, but that he believed in the general promise of salvation is unmistakable.  One of his descendants would establish an eternal kingdom and the only way that could happen was if that descendant, who became known as the Christ, would live forever.  Also David was sure that he would live in the Lord’s presence one day as a result, asserting in his most famous Psalm 23, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” 


This is our faith, too, isn’t it?  Our bodies can “dwell in hope” because we trust that God will not “abandon” our soul in the grave.  We too know “the paths of life,” because God’s Word is “a lamp to our feet and a light to our path,” as Psalm 119 puts it.  For that reason we can look forward to “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting,” not because we repeat those phrases so often in the Apostles Creed, but because Jesus promised: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” (Jn 11:25)


Oh, we haven’t seen anyone rise from the dead lately.  But seeing is not necessarily believing.  We walk by faith, not by sight, Scripture informs us.  As Jesus told Thomas in the gospel lesson: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  This is our comfort at every funeral where we know the person died in the Lord.  They will live again, for “He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” as Peter declared in the epistle we heard, “to an inheritance that is imperishable . . kept in heaven for you.”  For you and for everyone who believes this promise.  This is not a “hollow” feeling like the Easter bunny candy pictured in this ad placed by Hobby Lobby in the Free Press last Sunday. They quoted the “living hope” passage from 1st Peter 1.  I love when they do that.  This is the sweet substance of our faith. 


For the people of Kettle River, many of whom no doubt were very sincere, devout folks, it’s just too bad that they were misled to look for the wrong sign.  It was a good chance to get together, some said in interviews afterwards, a chance to sing songs, a chance to pray (although repetitious “Hail Mary’s” aren’t helpful according to the Bible).  Perhaps more time spent studying the Scriptures, as Peter learned in this psalm of David, would be more beneficial in the long run.  For Jesus said: “Search the Scriptures because . . in them you have eternal life, and they testify of me.” (Jn 5:39)  In fact, John concluded this section of the gospel reading with these powerful verses: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” 


You see, it’s not so much WYSIWYG – “what you see is what you get” – it’s more WYBIWYG – “what you believe is what you get.”  When what you believe is based on the Word of Christ, what you get is eternal life with Christ.  Amen.