A Matter of Death and Life

by Jason Micheli

Length: 25:00

Colossians 2.20-3.3 and Mark 16.1-8  (click to see Scripture text)

April 17, 2022

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A Matter of Death and Life

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, you are our righteousness, and we are your sin. As you gave yourself to us in the flesh, come among us this morning cradled in your Word. Overcome our doubts and overwhelm our certitudes so we may simply trust that you have set us free to be. AMEN.

You have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God! 

What in the ______!? 

You did not wake up at an inconvenient hour, put on uncomfortable clothes, and spend approximately seventy-five dollars worth of gas money to drive down here to attend a funeral— that’s precisely why so many skip Good Friday. 

You came here this morning to hear the announcement that Jesus Christ, whom we crucified, has been raised. He is not here. 

You showed up today to hear that Jesus is alive not that you are dead. 

Sure, with all these flowers it certainly looks like a funeral, but didn’t Jesus come to rescue us from death rather than do death to us? 

You have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God! 

No wonder the women run from the empty tomb, terrified at the angel’s message, and tell no other soul a word. 

How else are they to react to the untimely news of their own demise?

You have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God!

O.M. Norlie was a Professor of Church History and a translator of the New Testament. 

Once, when he was about to preach a funeral sermon, as was his practice, he began by reading the deceased’s obituary in the local newspaper. 

So he read along to the very end of the clipping about how the deceased was survived by so many children, and “the funeral will be held tomorrow at 11:00 at First Church.”  

Befuddled, he stopped reading and looked up at the congregation and apologized. “No, no, I’m sorry, that’s today. We’re having the funeral now!” 

And so it is with us this Easter. 

We’re having the funeral now. 

Look at the bright side. 

Many people spend much time and even more money wondering when their end will come and worrying how that end will come. 

We’ve organized the whole world around that particular fear. 

At least, you now know. 

According to the scriptures, your funeral is not tomorrow or next week or twenty years from now or even fifty years hence. 

No, it’s today. 

We’re having it now, for here stands the Word of God, “You have died!” 

Talk about news still more shocking than an empty tomb. 

Try a church full of zombies. 

Evidently the dead can even live stream. 

Christ is alive. 

You have died. 

What a terrible Easter surprise. 

No wonder the women flee from the empty tomb. 

And notice the headline to this unexpected news. 

It’s not, “You will die.” 

No, it’s already past tense, “You have died.” 

As the formerly dead Jesus said three days ago, “It is accomplished.” 

“You have died.” It is finished. It’s past tense. 

It’s out of your hands. 

Indeed it was apparently never in your hands. 

“You have died.” It’s past tense. 

It’s already over and done. 

There’s nothing you can do now to undo it. 

And no— notice, the Word of God does not say today that you ought to die in some pious way. 

Who among us wouldn’t grab ahold of that as an alternative? 

Martin Luther said the Christian life is a daily dying to self— that sounds more appropriately spiritual. 

Unfortunately, this is not what the Word of God says. 

You have died.

It’s not a religious project to undertake. 

It’s not a spiritual practice to adopt. 

It’s not a path of renunciation to embark upon. 

It’s an accomplished fact. 

And as it is with any death, there’s nothing to do now but announce it. 

So I have to tell you: 

You, sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, have died. 

But, come on! 

Surely this is preposterous! 

The resurrection is one matter. 

I can make a straightforward, clear-eyed case that the crucified Jesus is alive. 

The fact is that I know Jesus is not dead because I’ve met him. 

But what am I supposed to do with this correlative news that you have died?

None of you look as nice today as you would had an undertaker gotten a hold of you, but you do look your Easter best. 

I know appearances can be misleading, but you all appear to be among the living.

You have died.

And how on earth can we make this awkward news work with our annual habit of twisting the message of Easter into a harmless metaphor for springtime renewal? 

The Word that stands before us today does not say simply that God resurrected Jesus Christ from death. 

It says that God resurrected Jesus from death and that Christ’s new life is the death of you. 

The pattern is not death then life. 

The pattern is death then life then death.

You have died.

Maybe we can dismiss it, ignore it, bypass it. 

The Bible is very big book after all and this is but a single verse. 

Too bad for you that the apostle speaks much the same way to the churches at Corinth and Rome and Galatia and Ephesus. 

Ours is a death-denying culture so this is no easy news to break to you, but there’s no way around it, I’m afraid. 

It would be difficult to thumb through the New Testament at random and not come across your funeral announcement. 

As Martin Luther liked to say, “Here stands the Word of God.” 

And here it is. 

The stone cold reality goes beyond the fact that we’re all terminal cases. 

The Easter news is that you’ve already reached the terminus. 

You have died. 

The death done to you cannot be undone. 

It’s the absolute finis.


And, you may have noticed, dead people don’t do much. 

Hardly anything— no— definitely not a thing. 

Therefore, your only obligation this Easter is auditory, which means there is nothing for me to do now but announce it. 

You have died. 

Paul says we all have the Law written on our hearts. 


That means we’re all hardwired to seek out prescriptions— steps we can take, spiritual exercises we can do, religion pills we can swallow— so that we can improve our condition, downgrading ourselves from critical to serious. 

But I can’t help you with any of that. 

I’m a preacher. 

And contrary to what you may have been led to believe, preachers of the Gospel do not give out prescriptions. 

Preachers deliver news. 

Preachers tell the truth. 

And the truth is: It’s over. 

You have died. 

You’re through. 

But what a pity to meet such a premature end— some of you just when you were reaching your earning potential. 

And to think— others of you, a good many of you I’d wager, maybe most of you, (let’s be honest, probably all of you) done in by death before you ever had the opportunity to make right that wrong you did, before you had the chance to pay back all the debts you still owed, before you took the time to do something, to do anything, to do enough good things for you to be reasonably sure that death will not have the last word for you. 

You have died. 

Death is behind you. 

Some of us imagined Jesus came to save us from death but instead it turns out John the Baptist had it right all along. 

The axe did loom at the root of the tree. 

We’ve all been felled. 

Cut down. 

Not even our mask-wearing and social-distancing and vaccine-boosting could protect us. 

You have died.

The deed has been done to you. 

But how? 

Did anyone see Jesus do death to us? 

Scripture does not seem to think there were any survivors; therefore, there are no witnesses. 

And Jesus doing us in?

He seems an unlikely suspect. 


We’re supposed to believe the Prince of Peace of all people would do death on a mass scale?

When I was a student at Princeton, I took a course on the parables taught by Dr. Donald Juel, a tall, terribly thin professor with a Minnesota accent and an even more unfortunate resemblance to the actor who played Barney Fife. 

One afternoon in one of the first classes, Dr. Juel read the Parable of the Prodigal Son from the Gospel of Luke. 

A spoiled youngest son wishes his father dead and guilts the old man into cashing out half of his 401K and giving it to the punk who promptly burns through it on an online sports book and other activities on which I cannot elaborate in a worship service. 

But you know the story. 

The prodigal kid runs out of booze and blow and, while he’s waiting for a bed at the homeless shelter, reasons that he could always try his hand at manual labor back on the family farm. 

No sooner does the old man recognize the boy’s gait walking on the horizon than he runs like a fool to his son, tears streaming down his cheeks, and throws him arms around the loser before the kid could even get a worthwhile apology out of his mouth. 

Before you know it, the kid— who’s learned no actual lesson, mind you— is wearing the father’s robe and ring, a DJ has already been dispatched to the house, and somewhere a fatted calf is cursing the prodigal’s name. 

When the boy’s older brother comes back from work and hears all the happy chatting and china clinking, he’s outraged. 

His father pleads with him. 

The elder brother will have none of it. 

He seethes with righteous anger, “All these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” 

The story ends with the elder brother, arms-crossed, outside, refusing to be a party to the party.

Dr. Juel had been reading the story in a flat, matter-of-fact way. 

He had no affect on his face or haste about his manner. 

When he got to the end of the parable, he closed his little leather Bible and paused for what felt like minutes. 

And then he bounced on knees like he was about to take off into the air, he gazed at us, wide-eyed, like he was about to say the most important thing of his life, and at the top of his lungs he hollered at us:




And then he smoothed the part in his hair that had come undone and in almost a whisper he said, “It would kill that boy to go into his brother’s party. Absolutely kill him. Everything he believes about God, everything about how he sees the world, everything about how he understands himself— there would be nothing left of that boy if he went into his brother’s party.”

And then Dr. Juel paused again and smiled and said in a still, smaller voice, “Make no mistake, if we had to attend such a party, it would be the death of us too.” 

That’s how he does it. 

That’s how God does all of us in by vindicating Jesus from the grave.  

A few years ago I preached from the Gospel of John, the story of the woman caught in adultery. 

You know the story, how Jesus practically begs the Pharisees to stone him when he says to the sinful woman, “Neither do I condemn you.” 

“I just do what I see the Father doing,” Jesus says. 


After the service, I was standing stood in the narthex when a man a bit older than me took my hand to shake it but then he didn’t let go. 

He wore a blue blazer and faded jeans and the red stood out on his otherwise fair cheeks. 


His eyes were wet and righteously angry. 

“I’m the husband of a woman caught in adultery. I’m the husband of the woman in that story. Where’s my sermon? Do you have any idea how angry your sermon makes me? After everything I put up with— the humiliation, the shame, the learning that what I thought was my life was actually a facade, a fantasy! And then I come here looking for a little hope and peace and you’ve got the nerve (he didn’t say nerve) to tell me that God is gracious?! To her?!” 

He looked outraged, like he was ready to murder me. 

No— no, he looked like I’d just done him in. 

Contrary to popular misperceptions, Jesus did not die in order for God to forgive you of your sins. 

The cross is not what God inflicts upon Jesus in order to forgive; the cross is what God in Christ endures even as he forgives.  

Anyone who believes Jesus needed to die in order for God to be merciful has not read the scriptures. 

Right from the start, in word and deed— in the very company he kept, tax collectors and prostitutes and invading army officers— Jesus showed up on the scene proclaiming the forgiveness and mercy of the Father.

Jesus did not die in order for the Father to forgive you. 

Jesus died because he insisted the Father forgives you. 

All your sins, even that one. 

The idea of God’s unconditional grace and absolute mercy and zero strings-attached-forgiveness is one thing, but when God actually does it? 

When God did his grace and mercy and forgiveness to us in Jesus Christ we could not stand for it. 

I mean— 

What about the adulteress’s husband? 

What if the prodigal leeches still more money from his father and returns to the far country. 

He can’t come back home again, can he, to a father’s welcome and a fatted calf celebration? 

It’s one thing for us to talk about Jesus befriending a tax collector like Matthew, a collaborator with the Roman military invasion. 

It’s another thing to push that grace two thousand years into the present and think of Jesus partying with a participant in the Russian military invasion. 

Put Matthew in Mariupol and see how well you think this Jesus guy speaks for God the Father. 

“You’re wrong, Jesus,” we said as we hammered into a tree. 

“You don’t speak for the Father, Jesus. 

You’ve got God all wrong. 

Of course, God shows partiality between people— that’s the whole point of the commandments. 

You don’t understand the world, Jesus. 

Your message is irresponsible, Jesus. 

When it comes to sinners like Matthew, Jesus, your message is immoral even. 

There’s got to be a limit. 

There’s got to be lines. 

There’s got to be exceptions and conditions. 

We’ve got to make distinctions, between good and bad, saint and sinner, righteous and unrighteous, forgivable and not. 

Otherwise, the world could not survive,” we insisted, between noon and three on a Friday afternoon. 

Jesus did not die in order for God to forgive you. 

Jesus came into the world declaring that God forgives you. Full stop.

And we were so absolutely certain he was wrong that we put a stop to him. 

We nailed him to a tree and shut him up in a tomb. 

But on the third day…

God gives him back. 


Never forget— 

If God wanted, God could resurrect someone from the dead today. 

Or tomorrow. 

In Jerusalem or right outside in our cemetery. 

Never forget— 

The resurrection of Jesus is the resurrection of Jesus, the one who came among us preaching the grace and pardon of God. 

And we were so wrong about everything we think and believe, about ourselves and the world and God; we were so ultimately incorrect that we crucified him. 

How does God respond to his message? 


God plucks him up from the grave where we put him. 

The empty tomb is Exhibit A, evidence of how wrong we got God, so wrong— so absolutely, utterly, nullifyingly wrong— that there is no language to express it other than the language of death. 

You have died. 

Scripture says the Old Adam, the Old Humanity, meets its end in the empty tomb of the Crucified Christ. 

All the convictions and certitudes, all the morals and laws, all the righteousness and piety, all the worldly wisdom and political savvy that led us to put him there— in the end, they all added up to nothing more than the murder of our Maker. 

Therefore, there’s nothing left of them. 

You have died. 

I was standing in the narthex staring at the fury on the face of the man who had introduced himself to me as the husband of the woman caught in adultery. 

Normally, I’ve got my go-to responses for people who complain about my sermons. 

But with Dan— his name is Dan— I did an odd thing. 

I apologized. 

“I’m sorry.”

He dropped my hand from his grip like it was garbage and he straightened his entire posture.

“Sorry? What in the hell are you sorry for? I said it made me angry. I didn’t say I don’t accept it. Don’t apologize. Why would you apologize— it’s all true, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it’s true,” I said. 

Which is to say, the tomb is empty. 

The vacancy in Jesus’s grave is the vindication of Jesus’s message. 

He was right about God all along. 

His Heavenly Father is like that prodigal’s father. 

Admit it, that just kills you. 

It kills us because even if we’ve spent time of our own in the far country, when it comes to how the world should run and how our standing before God should work, we are all elder brothers who want a father who operates according to ought and should, a father who doesn’t toss the ledger book into the fire for the fatted calf. 


It kills us. 

Indeed, it has killed us. 

You have died. 

I realize the Word of God today says you’re dead, and I know dead people don’t do a thing, but just imagine for a moment. 

Imagine living your life believing that our Father is like that prodigal’s father, who never stops looking down the driveway and is always ready to say “I don’t care what the rotten kid did. He’s here. We’ve no choice but to party.” 

Imagine putting your whole trust in the message that God never gives us what we deserve and always gives us more than we deserve, that God forgives even when you know exactly what you’re doing. 

Imagine grabbing hold for dear life onto the the promise that there is nothing you can do to make God love you less and there is nothing you can do to make God love you more. 

Imagine betting your entire life on the news that you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, yet more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope. 

Imagine living your life confident that no matter what you do or leave undone the Lord will never leave you or forsake you. 

Imagine silencing all the accusing voices in your head, imagine putting down all the ways you try to justify yourself, prove your enoughness— imagine being able to rest in the word that you are just for Jesus’s sake. 

If you could trust that good news— grab ahold of it like you do bread or wine— if you could live your life taking Jesus at his word, then it would be a miracle. 

It would be like getting born all over again. 

No small feat for a stiff. 

Colossians 2.20-3.3:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, 21‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’? 22All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. 23These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence. So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 

Mark 16.1-8:

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.


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