Eyes on Jesus: Angel Eyes, John 20:1-18, Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020
The phrase “angel eyes” may conjure up different thoughts based on your age and interests. Older music lovers will think of the 1946 jazz standard popularized by Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. Another generation might think of the ballad of the same name released by The Jeff Healey Band in 1988. Listeners to modern country radio might think of the 2012 song “Angel Eyes” by the band Love and Theft. And any dog lovers will recognize “Angels Eyes” as the brand name for products that help clear up tear stains around the eyes of dogs.
But for now, push all those other kinds of angel eyes out of your mind, since today you and I should focus on only one set of angel eyes, and through those eyes see the greatest sight this world has ever seen. I’m talking about the eyes of the Easter angels in the empty tomb of Jesus.
It’s funny that we call it the “empty tomb,” since the tomb seems a bit overcrowded on the first Easter Sunday. First of all there were the two angels, then the disciples, then Mary; they were shocked to discover the large stone rolled away from the tomb, and they went inside to investigate.
They were startled to find not a dead Jesus inside but two angels dressed in white, angels of the Lord. Their alarm was most likely twofold: first, they were distressed that no Jesus was to be found, and second, angels of the Lord are scary! Despite what you see in figurines and artistic depictions, God’s angels usually appear as majestic creatures who strike fear into the hearts of onlookers.
On Easter morning, this is exactly what happens. The angels say to Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She didn’t need to fear these angels, since they had come in peace to be the bearer of Good News.
The word we translate as “angel” means “messenger,” so bringing the Gospel is their main job! They convey that she didn’t need to fear what happened to the body of Jesus, because He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Mary could see with her own eyes that Jesus wasn’t there. She had gazed upon Jesus suffering for the sin of the whole world under His Father’s wrath on the cross, and then she had looked on as Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus, but that’s all she had seen.
Later that afternoon, Jesus would appear to ten of His apostles and prove His identity by showing them the nail and spear scars on His hands and side. The next Sunday, Jesus invites doubting Thomas to touch those scars, which turns him into believing Thomas as he cries out “My Lord and my God!”.
Still later, St. Paul would encounter the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus and then write to the Corinthians, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified”. Paul characterized his preaching to the Galatians this way: “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified”.
You might be thinking, this is Easter, why should we still be so focused on the crucifixion? Because the cross must always be the center of our theology, the focal point of life. A God who has not been crucified on your behalf would do you no good.
Look through an angel’s eyes and see that Jesus is the Crucified One, put to death for your sins. The cross is our life! St. Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me”; and “far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world”.
Of course, the resurrection is essential too. You also need to see through your own eyes that Jesus was raised on Easter for your justification. Good Friday and Easter are like two sides of the same coin. You can’t buy anything with a one-sided quarter. Jesus couldn’t pay for your salvation only by dying or only by living but by both.
He had to actively obey God’s Law on your behalf and passively suffer for your sins against the Law. He had to actively fight Satan, whom you couldn’t defeat, and die for all the times you have fallen for the devil’s temptations. He had to go into the grave and deposit all of your sins there, but He had to come out alive in order to grant you forgiveness of sins and His own righteousness.
And after His resurrection, Jesus continues the pattern established on the first Easter by hiding Himself from the sight of His disciples, for a moment. Though you are like Mary at the tomb and cannot see Jesus with your own eyes right away, the reliable testimony recorded in Scripture is precious Gospel that you should keep before your eyes at all times.
Though Jesus remains hidden from our physical sight, He has continued to send us angels ever since His resurrection to testify to His presence among us. No, I’m not talking about angels from heaven, but earthly angels who proclaim the Gospel. Remember, angel simply means “messenger.”
In the Bible, “angel” doesn’t necessarily imply a heavenly being. The very human and mortal John the Baptist, for example, is called God’s “angel,” or messenger.
After His resurrection, Jesus sent His apostles out to be His angels, His messengers, to preach the Gospel to the whole creation. And those “angel apostles” appointed others everywhere they went to be pastors and teachers and continue sharing the Good News of Good Friday and Easter.
Just as the heavenly angels visited Mary before she recognized the wonderful news that the Lord was with her in the incarnation, now earthly angels or messengers proclaim to all who believe and are baptized that the Lord Jesus is with them until the end of the age. Just as the angel of the Lord brought glad tidings of great joy for all people to the shepherds at Christmas, now earthly angels proclaim the glad tidings of great joy that Christ has died for all, for the sin of the whole world, and has risen to declare all humans righteous so that they may be saved by believing this message.
There was nothing particularly angelic about Christ’s apostles then or about Christian pastors today. We are a pretty sorry lot, really. Nobody would look at me and say, “He’s got angel eyes.” But what apostles and pastors of Christ do have are beautiful feet. Not literally, but according to the prophet Isaiah and the apostle St. Paul, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
In other words, the footsteps of angels who preach the Gospel to us are beautiful because they proclaim the beautiful message of Christ, and Paul continues, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”.
Today receive this word of Christ through the messenger He has called to preach to you for the sake of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven. Baptized into His death and resurrection, you are now clothed with His righteousness, which grants eternal salvation.
And recognize that Jesus comes today to feed His followers with His true body given and true blood shed for the forgiveness of sins, hidden under bread and wine. We don’t see Jesus with us, but through His angel messengers He announces that He has promised to be here, so we see Him through the eyes of faith.
After Communion, we often sing, “Lord, now You let your servant go in peace… My own eyes have seen the salvation.” But before that, we see under the bread and wine and worship Christ through angel eyes, as we gather “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven” around Christ’s glorious throne.
On Easter, Mary asked the angels where she could find Jesus; today I have a message for you: Jesus has promised that you may find Him in His Word and Sacraments. May your eyes always stay fixed on Jesus Christ, crucified for your sin and raised for your salvation. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
(This sermon based on the Sermon series “Eyes on Jesus” by Carl Roth)