11 April 2021 (based on 2016)
Lord God, heavenly Father, we thank You for Your great, unspeakable grace in appointing through Your Son, our Lord Christ, the Holy Gospel and Holy Sacraments for our comfort, that in them we might find forgiveness of sins. And we beseech You to put Your Holy Spirit into our hearts, that we may heartily believe your Word, and that by the Holy Sacraments our faith may be daily strengthened until at last we obtain salvation; through Jesus CHrist, Your Son, our Lord. Amen.
God’s grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ is risen, Alleluia! Amen.
Mark 16:14; 2 Peter 1:5–11
Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.
But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
This is God’s Word. Sanctify us through the truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth. Amen.
Dear fellow redeemed:
We have before us only one verse from St. Mark. It’s parallel to passages from Luke and John, where Jesus appeared to His disciples assembled together on the very evening of the day He rose again. They had doubted several reports that day about His resurrection: the meaning of the empty tomb, the women’s report of the angel, the two disciples who had spoken with Jesus on the road to Emmaus.
This verse gives us two details. The first provides more evidence of Jesus’ resurrection and helps us to understand the worship life of the Christian church. The second teaches us what He expects in us as individual disciples of Christ, now that He has risen.
The first detail is simply that He appeared alive to them while they were eating. This continues a pattern throughout the Gospel: that Jesus was often present with His disciples and taught them in the context of meals. This meeting wouldn’t have been remarkable, except that the day before yesterday He had been crucified to death. It just doesn’t happen that a person who has been executed continues meeting with his friends. But Jesus did, just as He had predicted on the night He was betrayed, as John records (16:22), “Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.”
On that same night, Jesus had eaten the Last Supper with His disciples, but it was only the last in His earthly life. Now He had entered a more expected mode for the Son of God, which would last forever. He had taken up His divine power and glory to use it fully and constantly. He was exalted to fill all things at the right hand of the almighty power. So He still came the evening of Easter to be with them at their meal. Luke tells us that He asked for food and ate a piece of broiled fish with some honeycomb. He was no ghost.
Having a meal together with His disciples was still His desire. Some things would not change. He could still be present as often as they assembled together, and He would be, just as He said. He had even established a new dimension to their gathering when He said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” So it’s no wonder that His disciples made a habit of meeting weekly on the same day: the first day of the week, the day of the Lord’s resurrection. It wasn’t the Sabbath; but the new day for worship that heralds eternal rest through His victory. Now He is our Sabbath. He includes the Church in His victory by feeding us the peace offering when we come together.
All of this is contained in that first statement in our text from Mark, that He appeared to them as they sat at the table. The second statement tells us what He expects in the life of His disciples. “He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.”
They were supposed to believe the testimony of the witnesses, but they had not believed it. It’s a failing on their part: not because they were skeptical of what other people said, but because they failed to put it together with Jesus’ own teaching. Jesus doesn’t expect us to believe everything somebody may say about Him, or about God. Many things people say are wrong. But when somebody says something that matches up with what He says, you need to listen to it and believe it. If you doubt it, you are wrong, and deserve His rebuke for your unbelief and hardness of heart. The message is greater than the witness, when it comes from God.
God illustrated this Himself by revealing Jesus’ resurrection to the women first on Sunday morning. He sent the message through them to the other disciples. Luke writes, “And their words seemed to them [the other disciples] like idle tales, and they did not believe them.” At this time in world history, that was a problem for women witnesses. But the message from God is always greater than the witness who carries it. The other disciples should have believed the women by first remembering and believing the words of Jesus Himself. It shouldn’t matter that the messengers were women. As long as what they said matched what Jesus taught, the disciples should have believed it. That’s what He expects from you, too.
For our part, it was good that the disciples were skeptical, even when they shouldn’t have been. Why? Because we know it took some convincing. Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t a mass delusion or a conspiracy. They heard about Him, then they saw Him, and He gave them proofs. They are excellent witnesses for us.
Do you believe their testimony, or do you deserve the same rebuke? You have the rest of Holy Scripture. It’s up to you to pay attention to what He says, so that you can know whether the testimony of these eyewitnesses matches it. That’s your divine assignment as a human being. Don’t blame God for not giving you sufficient proof if you don’t make learning His Word a priority. That’s on you.
Mark wrote his Gospel as a summary of Peter’s apostolic teaching. So today we consider a supplement about faith from Peter’s second epistle. He exhorts us to add things to our faith that have the effect of making us certain about our Savior and our salvation. Hear the list of things, consider what each one means, and how it may be a part of your life. “… add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.”
Peter can’t praise and recommend these things strongly enough. He even says, “if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Peter knows a thing or two about stumbling, because he made more than one misstep during his training and afterward. So let’s look at what he recommends. First: virtue, or faithfulness to good and honorable habits. He would have you add deep knowledge of things that matter in the long run, and self-control, which is the highest kind of discipline. He adds perseverance, which we all need because our God-given work is often hard. Godliness means always having a worshipful mindset and constant reverence for the things of God. Brotherly kindness is the meaning of “philadelphia:” a committed love and personal concern for others. And finally, love. Here Peter uses the word “agape,” which means a love not earned, and not expecting anything.
The apostle Peter urges us to cultivate these things in our lives. It takes effort, but they bring great blessing for us through our faith in Christ. While faith and forgiveness are gifts from God, He expects us to be active in striving to grow in our faith. Peter’s instruction here adds to Jesus’ teaching that we need to be students of God’s word.
Peter’s instruction helps you to know the difference between those who speak truth about Jesus and those who speak what is false: diligently add virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. These are spiritual gifts that we can work toward. They come from the Holy Spirit, through the Word and Sacraments, received by faith, in response to our earnest prayers. They come with the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit and other spiritual gifts.
When you hear that list, maybe you think it already describes you, but I hope not, because it doesn’t. We all fall short. The disciples to whom Jesus appeared fell short, or else they would have believed the earlier witnesses of His resurrection. The virtues of a Christian are always a matter of cooperation between you and the Holy Spirit. Since some of it relies on you, it will always be affected by your sin. That’s why your conscience should feel uneasy with that list of virtues. You don’t have them, and can’t produce them yourself. Falling short, you need God’s forgiveness. So your Christian life must begin and end with Jesus. I have the joy and privilege of delivering this message from Him: your sins are completely forgiven. As He said to His disciples whose consciences were also troubled, so I say now: Peace to you. Jesus’ peace I give you. May you live and grow in it always.
There are Christians who don’t bother to pursue these virtues. But with the encouragement of the Church, the instruction of the Scriptures, and the diligent exercise of a godly life, we grow. Peter grew. Even then, Peter’s perfection was only found in Christ. But in the assurance of mercy, we may strive boldly and confidently, with genuine humility. Jesus’ resurrection and God’s justification have set the tempo and tune for our lives, and now it’s time for us to join the music and dance in faith, according to our gifts.
Your path as a Christian is set by your faith in Jesus Christ. In Him, you are like a tree planted by streams of water, yielding its fruit in its season (Psalm 1). He appeared to His disciples visibly, and now He comes in person to you as He gathers us together in His presence to feed us His sacred meal and teach us His Word. Your doubts are forgiven. Your damning imperfections are washed away. Now may you have joy in the adventure of faith to which we have been called.
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
Soli Deo Gloria