“He Is Risen: No Fooling!” (Mark 16:1-8)
Alleluia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)
Yes, it’s true! This is no April Fools’ joke. Jesus really is risen from the dead! Just like he said he would. Just like the angel said he had. But who believed this? Do you believe this? This is no joke. This is the most serious–and yet at the same time, the most joyous–fact in the history of the world. And it is the most important reality for you, when I say, “He Is Risen: No Fooling!”
No, this is no prank, this is no joke. Our Lord went to great lengths, both before the resurrection and after the fact, to let his followers know that he indeed would rise, and had risen, from the dead. And yet who believed it when it happened?
The women went to the tomb, expecting to find a dead body. But the angel tells them: “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here.” They are astonished. They are afraid. They don’t know what to think. And then the angel tells them: “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”
So then the ladies go and tell the disciples what the angel had told them, that Jesus was risen and that they would see him, just as he, Jesus, had previously told them. You see, Jesus had told the disciples in advance that he would rise from the dead. Just a few days earlier, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus had told them, “After I am raised up, I will go before you into Galilee.” “After I am raised up.” Jesus had even said it would happen.
And that was not the first time he told them. Jesus had predicted his resurrection prior to that night in the garden. At least three times he had told them, “We’re going up to Jerusalem, and there the Son of Man will be killed, and after three days he will rise again.”
So the disciples ought to have known this. They ought to have remembered Jesus’ words and thus believed the report of the women. But no, they didn’t. It says in Luke that the women “told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” An idle tale! Either the women are hysterical, or they’re pulling some sort of a prank, or someone has pulled a prank on them and they fell for it, but no, this just can’t be!
That Sunday afternoon the Emmaus disciples were sad and their hopes were crushed, because they thought that Jesus was dead, even after the women had told them that Jesus was alive. Then when Jesus appeared to the main group of disciples on Sunday evening, they thought they were seeing a ghost. And of course, when those disciples in turn told Thomas that they had seen the Lord, he didn’t believe it either. What is this, some kind of a joke?
You know, Isaiah had prophesied that this would happen. He said that the Servant of the Lord would suffer and die for the sins of the people. He said that the Lord would then raise his Servant up and prolong his days. Isaiah said that the Lord would swallow up death forever. So all this was prophesied centuries earlier. But Isaiah also said, “Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” No, not all believe the good news.
In fact, none of us would believe the good news, if the Holy Spirit does not work in us the faith to believe. “Faith cometh from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” It is the preaching of the gospel, and the administration of the sacraments, by which faith is created and nurtured in us. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” With the preaching of the gospel comes the power to believe it.
And thank God that you do believe the good news! For this is the gospel–this is the life-giving, powerful gospel–that will save you and give you eternal life. You were dead in your trespasses and sins. You had fallen and could not get up. You were dead in the water. But in the water of Holy Baptism, God raised you up to life. You have been raised with Christ!
If Christ has not been raised, you would still be dead in your sins. Your faith would be futile. And we of all men would be most to be pitied. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. Christ really is risen! Your sins really are forgiven! You really have been given life in his name! There is no better news, there is no greater joy, than to know that Jesus Christ is risen and that your life and destiny and your eternal future are tied to his!
So this Easter gospel is no joke. It is the most important and most joyful good news you could hear. And it’s a fact, Jack. This is no prank. This is no April Fools’ joke.
In fact, if this is a joke on anyone, it’s a joke on the devil. The devil may have thought he had won the victory. Jesus was dead. His followers were defeated and dispirited and had lost all hope. “Yippee! I won!” the devil could have said. But really, the joke was on him. In the very act of Jesus being crucified, the devil was being thwarted and his power was becoming undone. The devil’s grip over you, a sinner–his hold was being broken, precisely by Jesus’ death on the cross. The Son of God has atoned for your sins. Therefore Satan has nothing with which to accuse you. Therefore there is nothing keeping you from entering into eternal life. And the resurrection of our Lord is the proof of this. It proves that what Christ has done for us is sufficient to win our salvation.
Luther’s great Easter hymn puts it like this:
It was a strange and dreadful strife
When life and death contended;
The victory remained with life,
The reign of death was ended.
Holy Scripture plainly saith
That death is swallowed up by death.
Its sting is lost forever.
No, the joke is on the devil. He is the real April fool. He thought he had won, but in the very act by which he thought he had won, he really lost.
Many of the ancient church fathers delighted to ponder this marvelous irony. For example, St. Augustine wrote: “The devil jumped for joy when Christ died; and by the very death of Christ the devil was overcome: he took, as it were, the bait in the mousetrap. He rejoiced at the death, thinking himself death’s commander. But that which caused his joy dangled the bait before him. The Lord’s cross was the devil’s mousetrap: the bait which caught him was the death of the Lord.”
Likewise, Luther compares the death of Christ to the image of a fisherman putting a worm on a hook and casting it into the water. A fish comes along and snatches at the worm, gets the hook caught in his jaws, and the fisherman pulls him out of the water. So Luther writes: “Even so has our Lord God dealt with the devil. God has cast into the world his only Son as the hook, and upon the hook has put Christ’s humanity as the worm. Then comes the devil and snaps at the man Christ, and devours him. But therewith he bites the iron hook, that is, the godhead of Christ, which chokes him, and all his power thereby is thrown to the ground.”
So you see, the joke is on the devil. In the resurrection of our Lord, it is as though Jesus is saying to Satan: “Surprise, devil! I am not dead! You did not win! Look, death did not defeat me. No, really, my death defeated you! Your reign is over! April Fools’!”
Dear friends, fellow baptized believers in Christ, our dear Lord holds the keys of death and Hades. He has conquered death and the devil for you! He has won the victory for you! You shall not die but live! Your Lord, Jesus Christ, has risen first, and he will lead you into everlasting life. It’s a fact. No fooling. This is most certainly true.