“Witnesses: From Jerusalem to Worms to America” (Luke 24:36-49)

Third Sunday of Easter
April 18, 2021

“Witnesses: From Jerusalem to Worms to America” (Luke 24:36-49)

The disciples were in Jerusalem. They think that Jesus, their master, is dead and buried. Then suddenly Jesus is standing there in the room, and they don’t know what to think: “Is that really him? Are we imagining this? Is that his ghost? What’s going on here?” Then Jesus speaks: “Why are you confused? Didn’t I tell you I would rise on the third day? Well, here I am. So you think I’m a ghost, do you? Look, see my hands and my feet. See the nail marks there. Yes, it really is me. You can touch me and see that I’m no ghost. I’ve got flesh and bone, just like you do.”

Yes, Jesus really is risen from the dead. Physically, bodily, risen. No ghost. No hallucination. The disciples are a little slow on the uptake, but if this is true–man, what a marvelous thing this is!

Jesus has more to say to them. He says that everything he had told them during his ministry–even predicting his passion and his resurrection–that this fulfills everything written about him in the Scriptures. They hadn’t gotten it up to this point, but now they will. Jesus opens their minds to understand the Scriptures. And here’s what he tells them to sum it all up: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

Brothers and sisters, do you want to know what the Bible is all about? Do you want to know what life is all about? It’s right here. It’s all about Jesus, who he is and what he has done for us and what this means for our lives. Jesus is the fulfillment of Holy Scripture. God’s plan for the ages, for this cosmos and all of humanity–it all comes to fruition in Christ. Jesus, the Son of God in the flesh, accomplishes God’s plan to redeem and restore sinful mankind. What was lost in the garden is regained in the cross and the empty tomb.

All the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament find their focus and fulfillment in Christ: The seed of the woman, who would stomp on the serpent’s head. The seed of Abraham, in whom all the families of the earth would be blessed. The son of David, the Messiah, who would usher in an everlasting kingdom of blessing–all these promises of God find their “Yes and Amen!” in Jesus.

Jesus’ death on the cross was not a defeat. It was not a disappointment or detour from the plan. No, it was the plan! The Suffering Servant foretold by Isaiah, the righteous one who would suffer for the sins of the people and be their healing–it’s Jesus. Now it’s all starting to come together. It was there in the Bible all along, but now their minds are being opened to understand it all. Without God opening our minds to understand the Scriptures, the Bible remains a closed book. But when God does open our minds, and gives us the key in knowing Christ as our Savior, then the Bible becomes God’s book of life for us.

His own suffering, death, and resurrection–that’s part of what Jesus says is written in the Scriptures. And then he adds something else: “and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” You see, this is how Christ’s work for us is applied to us: through preaching in his name. And what is preached is repentance and forgiveness. What this means for our lives is that we repent of our sins and receive the forgiveness Christ has for us. Repentance means that we acknowledge that we are indeed sinners, desperately in need of God’s forgiveness. Otherwise, we would be lost forever. We have broken God’s commandments, and there is nothing we can do to make up for that. Forgiveness means that God has had mercy on us, that our sins are not held against us, because of what God’s Son Jesus did on the cross, shedding his holy blood for us.

And who will do this preaching of Christ crucified and risen, of repentance and forgiveness in his name? Jesus tells his disciples: “You are witnesses of these things.” “You, my disciples, you will do this preaching. You will be my witnesses. You will testify to what you have seen and heard and know to be the truth. I am sending you out for this very purpose. I will establish my church on the basis of this proclamation, and it will go out to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

And that is exactly what happened. Beginning from Jerusalem, the apostles bore witness to Christ and preached what Jesus here told them to preach. Peter on the Day of Pentecost: “This Jesus, whom you crucified, God raised from the dead, and of this we all are witnesses. Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.”

“You are witnesses of these things.” And that can involve some danger, some risk. The people to whom you are bearing witness may not like what you are saying. Again, Peter, in Jerusalem, testifying before the Sanhedrin: “This Jesus, whom you rejected–there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” A bold confession of faith, at a real point of risk and danger!

And it didn’t stop at Jerusalem in the first century. The church’s witness and bold confession of the faith continued. Next stop: Worms, a city in Germany in the 16th century. Emperor Charles V, the head of the Holy Roman Empire, has called together a diet there, “diet” meaning an official imperial meeting, with the princes and rulers of the various territories present. To this Diet of Worms, the emperor has summoned a professor from the University of Wittenberg. His name is Martin Luther. The reason the emperor has ordered him to appear is because this Luther has been causing quite a ruckus over the past few years, challenging and denouncing the papacy and the Roman church in his writings. The emperor wants him to publicly take back what he has said and written. Luther, though, is hoping to have an opportunity to explain his reasons for writing these things. So the pressure is on. The tension could not be any higher.

And there was real risk here. A century earlier, a reformer named John Hus had been burned at the stake for challenging the Roman church. What would happen to Luther? Sure, the emperor had promised him safe conduct, but what if he changes his mind?

So Luther, this little monk and professor, is standing before Emperor Charles V, the most powerful man in the world. Luther is asked two questions: 1) Are these your writings? There’s a pile of his books and treatises lying on a table. And question 2) Will you or will you not retract what you have written? Luther was hoping for a discussion of the issues. Instead, he is limited to simply giving answers to the two questions.

First answer: “Yes, these are my writings.” But then the second question, Will you or will you not recant? Luther’s answer came on this date, April 18, 1521, 500 years ago today: “You ask for a simple answer. Here it is: “Unless you can convince me by Scripture, and not by popes or councils, who have often contradicted each other, unless I am so convinced that I am wrong, I am bound to my beliefs by the texts of the Bible. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Therefore, I cannot and I will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

Friends, this is a bold confession! Placed under enormous pressure, faced with real danger, Luther made the good confession. Why? What gave him this courage? He said it: “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.” It was the Word of God, the gospel word–this was the only thing that gave peace to Luther’s troubled conscience. This gospel word told him of a Savior who forgives sins and gives eternal life to those who trust in him. So how could he recant that? He couldn’t. God’s Word is more powerful than all the emperors and popes and councils who have come down the pike. You may burn me at the stake, but you cannot take my salvation from me. Here I stand. I can do no other.

“You are witnesses of these things.” The apostles were those witnesses in Jerusalem. Luther was such a witness at Worms. And now what will we do here in America? Friends, the risk is real here in our country, in these days. Cancel culture would like to cancel out the church’s witness. The world does not like to hear that this or that favorite sin of theirs really is sin. But we are called to preach repentance. And so when the church speaks the truth, our society will try to make us apologize and take it all back. Instead of “Here I stand,” they want us to say, “Here I cave.” So which will it be?

It’s not that we think we are superior or without sin ourselves. No, that’s not it. But Jesus has told us to preach repentance, so that people will then be ready to hear the gospel of forgiveness. If people don’t think they are sinners, they’re not going to feel much need for a Savior. But a Savior–this Savior, Jesus Christ–is exactly what we have. This is the Savior you have. He gives real peace to your conscience, the peace and forgiveness and eternal life he won for you by his death and resurrection. “You are witnesses of these things,” Jesus tells his church. Yes, we are his “Witnesses: From Jerusalem to Worms to America.” Here we stand. We can do no other. God help us. Amen.

Published in: on April 17, 2021 at 8:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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