The Second Sunday of Easter
The Second Sunday of Easter
St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Oconomowoc, WI
“Signs and Wonders”
“Signs and Wonders”
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
I've just returned from my first visit to Singapore, where I will be serving to establish the first LCMS congregation. And while I can tell you plenty about the place, one of the things its known for are its strict laws. There are signs posted everywhere, it seems, telling people what to do and not do – watch your step, don't litter, don't smoke, no chewing gum, don't eat food on the train or in the taxi. And these signs often carry a warning – that breaking the rules brings a fine, $100, $500, even $1000. It's so prevalent that entrepreneurs sell souveniers proclaiming Singapore a “fine” city – and listing some of the more humorous fines - “don't feed the monkeys - $500 fine”.
We're familiar with signs, too... telling us what to do and not do. One old rocks song laments, “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign - Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind - Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?” Signs tell us what to do, and what not to do – Stop, Yield, Watch, No firearms allowed. Unattended children will be given espresso and a free puppy....
Signs. Signs in our world are often an exercise of the law. They curb disruptive and chaotic behavior. They keep the peace, to an extent. They enforce the will of the authority. But where there is a sign, there always seems to be someone who wants to break the rule.
In a way, the law of God is a sign. The ten commandments tell us what to do and not do. Have no other gods. Remember the Sabbath. Thou shall not murder or steal or commit adultery. These sorts of signs not only tell us what to do, they show us what we fail to do. They are a sort of mirror into which we can look and see ourselves sinning. They leave us in quite a predicament, for they show us our sin. The law always accuses. And its proclaims what we deserve – death. These are the signs of the law. And they are signs that leave us all without hope.
But there are other signs – like the signs and wonders mentioned in our readings today. In Acts, the apostles performed signs and wonders which confirmed their testimony concerning Christ. But as the angel said, the main job of the apostles was not to perform the signs, but, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”
Likewise in our Gospel reading, John makes this tantalizing comment at the end, that “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples”. One wonders what wonders he showed them. Curiousity begs to know. But the Holy Spirit decided it was enough for us to know the ones that were written, for the purpose of the signs and wonders is not to wow us with Jesus' power, or satisfy our curiousity But the purpose is that we might believe and have life in his name.
This was always the purpose of everything Jesus did. That we might believe and have life in his name. The signs and wonders he performed, the healings and miracles, were never the main thing. They were the calling cards of the Messiah, they were fulfillment of prophecies, they were theh Savior simply acting in character and having compassion on people. But they played a supportive role to his chief activity: proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, the grace of God for sinners, and the salvation that he himself was to accomplish at the cross.
Some of his detractors wanted a signs: Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:38-40)
The resurrection itself is the chief sign of Jesus. It is the sign that confirms all of his signs and wonders, and especially his words. It is the seal of the Father's approval on his sacrifice. It is the proclamation of his victory over death and the grave. It is the promise of resurrection for all who die in Christ and will rise again in glory on the last day.
It is the sign given that you may believe and have life in his name. It is the sign of the Gospel, the good news, that in Christ there is life for you.
And there are other Gospel signs, too. The cross itself is a sign, but much more – a symbol of Christ's great sacrifice, but a blessed reality rooted in a historical event with everlasting ramifications. Christ crucified for sinners like you and me. A sign never separated from his resurrection, really, or else neither would mean a thing.
And there is baptism – by which you were buried with Christ into death and raised again to new life. A sign – but more than a mere symbol. Baptism actually saves you. It is the washing of rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit. It is a blessed reality, a faith-generating gift of God, that he who believes and is baptized shall be saved.
Another sign - the Holy Absolution. Forgiveness by the authority of Christ himself, "If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven". A sign which proclaims us free and clear of sin, as if Jesus himself said it. And therefore the same peace he breathed on his hiding disciples, is a peace that rests upon us.
And there is his Supper – a sign and wonder we too often take for granted. Much more than the mere symbol some Christians sadly believe it to be, here in this great sacrament Christ is truly present for the forgiveness of sins and to give life to you, his people. His body and blood are purest gospel, good news for the dying sinner.
For Luther, the Word of God and the Sacraments were the “marks of the church”. These precious signs, but so much more, are where you can find the people of Christ. These gospel signs are the banners around which the church militant gathers, the means by which God delivers to us the blessings of salvation in Christ.
Though the signs of the law proclaim our sin, and that we deserve death, the signs of the Gospel, the word, the sacraments, rooted in the cross and resurrection of Christ – these signs are written that you might believe, and believing have life in his name.
These are the signs proclaimed here at St. Paul's, and throughout the world, in any place where God's people gather around his gifts. Signs that bring life. Believe in these words. Trust in these signs, and live. In Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.