God-breathed 14: Witnesses Clothed with Power

Except for the World War II years of 1942, ‘43 and ’45, and in 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Tournament of Roses Parade has been held every year since 1890 on January 1, or January 2, if the first is a Sunday.  The original purpose of the parade was to promote the mild climate of Southern California to snowbound Americans in the Midwest and on the East Coast. While people in most of the country are freezing in the middle of winter, there are buds emerging and flowers blooming on the West Coast, and to promote that fact, it is a requirement that “every inch of every float must be covered with flowers or other natural materials, such as leaves, seeds or bark”.[i]

Companies began sponsoring floats to promote their businesses. The blossom-covered floats would attract the attention of tens of thousands of viewers in-person and millions more when the Parade started being televised in 1947. On at least one occasion, however, a float communicated a very different message than what was intended. 

At a parade around the time of World War II, one of the floats ran out of gas. The whole parade was held up until somebody could go and get a can of gas for the float. The ironic part of this embarrassing situation was that the float that ran out of gas was owned by the Standard Oil Company of California, the company that we now know as Chevron. It had vast reserves of petroleum, its float was beautifully decorated with the company’s name, and yet, because someone forgot to tap into those vast reserves of petroleum, the company’s beautiful float was going nowhere.

The same thing can happen in our lives. The God of all creation has unlimited reserves of power available to us, but unless we tap into God’s power, we will never be able to have much of a lasting positive impact on the world around us. How do we tap into God’s power? That is the question we are thinking about today as we dig into our passage: Luke 24:1-12, 36-49. If you have a Bible or Bible app, I invite you to turn there now.

Jesus has Risen from the Dead

And what we find as we turn there is that it is Sunday morning, but it is a very particular Sunday morning. It is the Sunday morning after Jesus crucified on the previous Friday. You may remember that there was a rush to have his dead body buried before sundown on Friday night because that is when the Sabbath began and no work could be done during the Sabbath. And perhaps it is fitting that Jesus Christ, after he completed his life’s mission of opening the kingdom of God to all who believed in him by paying the full cost of everyone’s forgiveness, rested in his tomb that Saturday. For just as God the Father rested on the seventh day after completing his creation, so also God the Son rested on the seventh day after starting God’s new creation.

And this Sunday morning was the very first opportunity that some women who were close, dear friends of Jesus could do the last loving, noble thing that they could do for him: surround his body with aromatic spices. They had bought and prepared spices for this very purpose and very early in the morning, they headed towards Jesus’ tomb. But when they got there, the stone which had covered the entrance of the tomb had been rolled away. And when they entered into the tomb, Jesus’ body was not there. As they were wondering what to make of all this, two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning appeared beside them. Can you imagine how fearful the women must have been? In their fear, the women bowed down with their faces to the ground. Clearly, these were heavenly beings sent to them by God and they bowed before them in reverence and awe. Then the two men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5)

Let’s pause and think about that question for a moment. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” The women could have answered, “Because the last time that we saw Jesus, he was dead!” And so the question implies that something completely unexpected has happened. The heavenly messengers go on to say, “He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words. (Luke 24:6-8)  

It was important for the women to remember what Jesus had said when he prophesied his own death and resurrection because Jesus’ prophecy showed that this miraculous event of God bringing forth life from death was not a random event. It was part of God’s plan. It was for this reason that God the Father sent God the Son into the world to become one of us. This is why Jesus taught people about what life in God’s kingdom was like and then did miraculous healings of the sick, blind and lame. He was demonstrating the bursting forth of healing and life that happens when someone receives the divine life that God has for them in his kingdom. Then—Boom!—he opened the kingdom of heaven to everyone who believes in him through his resurrection.

It was also important for the women to remember that Jesus had said he would rise from the dead for another reason. He was the first, and only, person to say that he would rise from the dead and then actually do it and that changed everything for the women. Jesus’ resurrection meant that the plague of death, which had harassed and enslaved humanity from very early on, had finally been overcome. It meant that human sin, which is the cause of death and our separation from God, had been erased in one fell swoop. And it meant that the power of Satan over humans, which had been established when our first parent fell prey to his deceptive charms, had been broken, and we were set free. Free to live in God’s kingdom in a close, intimate, personal relationship with him.

From this we see that the first key to living in the power of Jesus’ resurrection is Remembering what Jesus has said and done.

The women were transformed from being grief-stricken to being joyful and they hurried back into the city of Jerusalem to tell the rest of Jesus’ followers that he had risen. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. (Luke 24:11) So the fact of Jesus’ resurrection was true, and the women’s testimony about Jesus’ resurrection was true, but the rest of Jesus’ followers did not believe them because their framework for understanding reality had no place in it for someone rising from the dead. That is why the women’s words sounded like nonsense to them.

I recently finished reading the book When Breath Becomes Air, the autobiography of Paul Kalanithi. Paul records his journey through life from being filled with all the potential of what he could do as a neurosurgeon to being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and dealing with the implications of all that as his life in this world drew to a close. Paul was raised in a devout Christian home and followed Jesus himself in his younger years. But in his twenties, he left the Christian faith. But later on in life, Paul became a Christian once again. He writes, “Yet I returned to the central values of Christianity—sacrifice, redemption, forgiveness—because I found them so compelling…. The main message of Jesus, I believed, is that mercy trumps justice every time.”[ii]

What do we take from all this? The second key for living in the power of Jesus’ resurrection is that Our framework for understanding reality must include room for Jesus’ resurrection. And if there is no room in our framework of understanding for the resurrection of Jesus, then our framework needs to change.

The disciples’ framework for understanding reality was about to be transformed. Peter ran to the tomb and saw that it was empty for himself. Two other disciples had an encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus. They were so excited that they ran back to Jerusalem to tell the others that they had seen him.

And then, as all these excited followers of Jesus were gathered, and the testimony of the women was confirmed by Peter and the disciples from Emmaus, Jesus appeared and stood among them, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36) There is that word again. Just as we considered last week, Jesus came to give us shalom peace. Luke tells us what happened next.

But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. (Luke 24:37-43)

Through his words and actions, Jesus is telling us that the third key to living in the power of his resurrection is to believe that he physically rose from the dead. It is only by believing that Jesus died on a cross and experienced a physical resurrection from his grave that we comprehend all that this good news means for us. Jesus not only gives us forgiveness of all our sins, and eternal life with him. We are also going to experience our own physical resurrection from the grace through him.

And then Jesus forcefully addresses each of these important things with his followers. First, Jesus helps his followers to remember what they need to remember by saying, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44) Then he helped them to understand what they need to understand. Luke tells us, Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, (Luke 24:45) Finally, Jesus helps his followers to believe what they need to believe about him when he said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:46-47)

We are Witnesses to the Work of the Risen Jesus

And having transformed what his followers remember, what they understand and what they believe about him, Jesus then says these words to them. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:48-49) With this, Jesus brings us to the point of it all. It is important for us to allow Jesus to transform what we remember, what we understand and what we believe about Jesus because we have a very important purpose. We are witnesses. Now, you might say to yourself, “I’m not a witness. I wasn’t present when the risen Jesus appeared to his followers nearly 2,000 years ago.” To that I would insist that you are a witness. You are a witness to the impact that the risen Jesus Christ has had on your life. And you have an important role to play in the redemption and restoration of all things by bearing witness to that transformation as you share with others, through your words and your deeds, the love, grace and compassion he has poured into your life.

But you do not want to try to do this on your own. You need to be clothed with power from on high, and when Jesus said that, he was referring to the pouring of the Holy Spirit which would happen seven weeks later on Pentecost. It was the Holy Spirit who helped Jesus to teach and heal and drive out demons with authority. It was the Holy Spirit who enabled Jesus to resist the temptations of the devil to bail on his mission to save the world. It was the Holy Spirit who gave Jesus the strength he needed to endure the cross and pay for the sins of the whole world.

By his death and resurrection, Jesus made it possible for everyone who believes in him to receive the Holy Spirit. Prior to Jesus, God gave the Holy Spirit to specific people for specific roles or tasks. By standing in the place of sinful humanity and more than paying the full cost of forgiveness for all sins of all people throughout all time, Jesus has removed the barrier of sin between us and God and opened the door for all the riches of heaven to shower down upon us through a loving relationship with the living God.

How Do We Tap into God’s Power?

So how do we tap into God’s power? By clothing ourselves with power from on high. In other words, clothing ourselves in the Holy Spirit. And how do we do that? By immersing ourselves in the ways that we know the Holy Spirit works. Yes, the Holy Spirit can work through powerful, even miraculous experiences in our lives, and those experiences are great blessings to us when they happen. But the foundation of our life with the Holy Spirit are those things that we call the means of grace: the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, and God’s Word to us, the Holy Bible. Our natural way to live is for our soul to draw direction, wisdom, strength and energy from our own thoughts and physical abilities. Clothing ourselves with the power of the Holy Spirit means disconnecting our soul from those natural sources of wisdom and strength, and connecting our soul to the promises God gave us in our Holy Baptism: that we are washed clean of all our sins, adopted into the family of God, given new life with Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit. We also connect our soul to the promises Jesus has given to us in Holy Communion, which we will celebrate in a few minutes. In the Bible, Jesus tells us that through that sacred meal, he is present with us in a special way to cleanse us and to nourish and strengthen our faith. We also connect our soul with what God tells us in the Bible for it is God’s Words in the Bible that feeds our soul and transforms us through the renewing of our mind. We immerse ourselves in God’s words and promises to us, allowing the Holy Spirit to impact our memory so that we remember what we need to remember, to impact our understanding so that we have room for resurrection life in our understanding of reality, and to impact our heart so that we believe what we need to believe about Jesus.

Today, on this Easter Sunday, you have a golden opportunity to immerse yourself in God’s promises for you. Every Sunday, God blesses us with his Word, but today we also have the blessing of Holy Communion. Jesus has promised that he is present with his Body and his Blood in the bread and the wine of Holy Communion. And he is inviting you to come and share in this sacred meal so that what you remember, understand and believe will be transformed so that you can be witnesses for the resurrected Jesus who are clothed with power from on high.

Resting on Certainties

Michael Faraday was a renowned philosopher and one of the most influential scientists in history. He discovered the principles underlying electromagnetic induction, diagmagnetism and electrolysis, and he established the concept of the electromagnetic field.[iii] Aldous Huxley wrote of Faraday, “He is always the natural philosopher. To discover truth is his sole aim and interest…even if I could be Shakespeare, I think I should still choose to be Faraday.”[iv]

When Faraday was dying in 1867, he was asked by some journalists for his speculations about life after death. Faraday replied, “Speculations! I know nothing about speculations. I’m resting on certainties. I know that my Redeemer lives, and because He lives, I shall live also.”[v]

So the challenge that I am setting before you today is this:

  • Rest your life on the certainty of Jesus resurrection and
  • Draw on God’s power through the Holy Spirit.
  • Be a witness to what Jesus has done in your life.

As you rest your life on the certainty of Jesus’ resurrection and draw on God’s power through the Holy Spirit, you will find that being a witness to what Jesus has done in your life with be a natural result. Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on April 9, 2023. To view the podcast of this sermon, click here. For more information, go to wglc.org.)

[i] “Rose Parade,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia (Internet; available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rose_Parade; accessed April 8, 2023).

[ii] Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air (New York, Random House, 2016), 171.

[iii] Michael Faraday, Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia (Internet; available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Faraday#cite_note-91; accessed April 8, 2023).

[iv] Aldous Huxley, “A Night in Peitramala,” Along the Road: Notes and Essays of a Tourist (New York: George H. Doran, 1925) quoted in Michael Faraday, Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia (Internet; available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Faraday#cite_note-91; accessed April 8, 2023).

[v] “The Resurrection is a Certainty,” Ministry 127 (Internet; available at: https://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/the-resurrection-is-a-certainty; accessed April 8, 2023).

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