Purchased and Won from Death

The following is Pastor Jon Bruss' sermon from our Advent Series: Purchase and Won...
Pastor Bruss preached over how we are purchased and won from death through Jesus Christ.

Genesis 2.15-17, 3.1-6, 22-24; Romans 5.12-17; Matthew 4.12-17

Christ’s victory over death.  Portion of “An Allegory of the Old and New Testaments” by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1530

Christ’s victory over death. Portion of “An Allegory of the Old and New Testaments” by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1530

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Beloved in the Lord: grace be unto you and peace from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

There’s one thing I know about every one of you. A deep, dark secret about each one of you. You do a great job of disguising it. I do, too. But I know what your greatest fear is. And it’s death. Sure, the surveys say that Americans are more afraid of public speaking than death. But death isn’t that scary when it seems like it’s far off. Whereas…who knows when you’ll be called upon to give a speech?

But after you take away the confounding factor of immediacy, death floats to the top. You fear it more than being in a terrific car crash—because at least that way you could watch your kids grow up and get married, even if severely injured.

You fear it more than not getting this opportunity in life or that—that’s why you’re so hungry for adventures and travel and success in your career, and so on. This is your only go-around. Get it while you can! More frightening than that?

You even fear it more than you fear your own sins, because you know you’d commit sin to avoid it. Pray that such a temptation never befall you.

Think about that. You’re like a caged bird. With no way out.

Worse, the death sentence has changed and warped you from inside out and turned you into what you never wanted to be and what God never intended you to be. You’re a captive of your own condition.

*****

You know, it’s very easy to boil Christianity down to just an ethical fix. God’s holy. I’m a sinner. God doesn’t like sinners. In fact, He hates them. So He fixes it in Jesus: He forgives me my sins.

We’ll come back to that in a moment.

But let us never reduce the Faith we proclaim and believe to just that. Because Jesus has purchased and won me not only from all my sins, but even from death, and from the power of the devil!

St. Paul talks about that in 1 Corinthians 15. He says, “If we have believed in Jesus Christ for this life only, we are more to be pitied than all men!”

That’s the kicker. Wherever there’s forgiveness of sins, there’s a whole host of other stuff, too. Great stuff. Remember the explanation of the Sacrament of the Altar? Luther says, “For wherever there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation.”

On the benefits of Baptism, he says, “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this.”

See the pattern? If you find the end of death, there’s also the forgiveness of sins and salvation. Find salvation, and there’s also forgiveness of sins and the end of death. Find forgiveness of sins, and you’ve got salvation and life. Life, in the place of death.

And that’s what Jesus came to bring and give. Life in the place of death.

Just look at what happens in the reading from Matthew today. It was one of many of Jesus’ little advents. One of his many little comings.

He went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in Naphtali and Zebulun. Seems like a dull detail, doesn’t it. Why in the world would Matthew mention it?

Aha! So that the word of the prophet might be fulfilled, that “for those dwelling in the region of the shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

Light in the midst of darkness. Even more, life in the midst of death.

And we all live in the shadow of death.

It’s as if Matthew were saying, “If you have Jesus, you have eternal life. And if you have eternal life in Jesus, all fear of death is put to flight. You’re set free. It no longer controls you and your impulses and your feelings. You have been purchased and won…from death.”

And this is how Jesus did it. God made a promise to Adam: “In the day you eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will surely die.” But Adam ate. And God executed the death sentence and consigned Adam, Eve, and all their descendants to die, and then cut them off from the tree of life. More, He cut off Adam and Eve and all their descendants from Himself, because that’s where they were to commune with God. And now they and we live in the valley of the shadow of death.

But into this valley of the shadow of death God sent a Second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Where Adam was disobedient, the Second Adam was obedient. Where Adam sinned, the Second Adam was tempted but without sin. Where the first Adam rightly died for His own sin, the Second Adam died in His own righteousness. For the first. And for Eve. And for all their descendants. And where the first Adam lies in the womb of the earth from his death until this very moment, the Second Adam sprang the doors of His own grave and rose in triumph over death.

And so everything He touches imparts…life. He touches a little a girl and says, “Talitha kumi.” And she rises. He touches a casket. And the dead man it holds comes to life. He gets 10’ from the grave holding Lazarus, and Lazarus comes forth. His holy cross is stuck in the earth of Jerusalem and it so trembles with life that the graves of the saints open up and they come forth at the very moment He dies for them.

And that’s exactly the moment Matthew describes for little Capernaum. Jesus comes. And death goes. The bright rays of Jesus’ life penetrate the shadow of death that hangs over Capernaum.

A few minutes ago I mentioned that we sometimes boil Christianity down to just an ethical fix. God’s holy. I’m a sinner. God doesn’t like sinners. In fact, He hates them. So He fixes it in Jesus: He forgives me my sins.

Unfair and untrue. And yet all of Christianity hangs on just that.

It’s true: Jesus comes. Death goes.

But look at how Jesus comes: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

When He wants to deal with your sins, He brings the forgiveness of sins. Naturally. But get this: when He wants to rescue you from the power of the devil, He brings the same thing. Forgiveness of sins.

And so what do you suppose He does when He wants to give you life? Nothing different. Same exact thing. He brings the forgiveness of sins. In His Word and Sacrament. So that you can say, when you hear His Word and receive His Sacrament: For me, here in Topeka, dwelling in the region of the shadow of death, on me a light has dawned. Jesus has come. This is His Advent to me. And He’s brought with Him nothing less than what He brought to Zebulun and Naphtali:  the forgiveness of sins, and life, and salvation.”

Gloria patri, etc. Amen.