Here is a sneak preview of some of my message for Easter at Gages Lake Bible Church. A few caveats: 1) I don’t spell-check my messages 2) I don’t edit them nearly as heavily as my articles and books 3) I write my messages for speaking, so it won’t all make sense.
Okay, here goes:
Why Easter Matters in 2010:
1) Easter Matters Because We Need an Answer for Evil
You don’t have to look very far to know there is evil in the world. You don’t have to be religious. You don’t even have to go to church or even have to believe in anything.
But flip open a newspaper. Read the news online. Watch your favorite news show. I’ll guarantee you that on any given night, 60-70% of the news is focused on evil, on injustice, on something wrong in society.
There is war, greed, unfaithfulness, cheating, death, rape, starvation. You wonder if the world can just continue to go on like this.
What is the answer for evil? Ironically, the characters in the story of Easter had those same questions.
Mary Magdalene, Peter, John – these were close friends of Jesus. For three years they had followed him. He had won them over and they believed, truly believed, Jesus was God. They had pledged their lives to Him.
And yet three days earlier, Jesus was unfairly tried, brutally murdered. Everyone knew Jesus was innocent, yet nobody in power did anything to stop it.
Jesus death was brutal. He was beaten beyond recognition. He was humiliated. Even the worst criminals in our system today are afforded much more dignity in their death.
All hope was lost. And it is interesting that Peter and John, even after seeing the empty tomb, didn’t know what to make of it. Had someone taken the body of Jesus? Was their mischief?
It’s hard enough to lose a loved one. But to see their body mistreated or even stolen is almost too much.
So as Mary stood outside the tomb, verse eleven says she wept. But in her grief she saw Jesus. At first she didn’t recognize Jesus. As the Son of God, Jesus can veil his presence. And he did. Why I’m not sure. But he asked Mary, “Why do you weep?” and “Who do you seek?”
And she shared her grief. ”They have taken my Lord. And I don’t know where they have put him.” Then Jesus called Mary by name. “Mary.”
And in that moment, Jesus met Mary in her grief. What Mary realized in that moment was that the answer for evil is Jesus. Because what was history’s greatest injustice, Satan’s greatest triumph, putting Jesus on the cross—was actually history’s greatest victory.
You see, the story of Easter didn’t begin that day. It began centuries before in the Garden. When Adam and Eve ate that forbidden apple, it ushered something into the world. It brought sin. And sin, the Bible says, brings forth death.
If you want to know why there is evil in the world, don’t go anywhere but the first book of the Bible, in Genesis. But even before man sinned, God had a plan to restore what we messed up.
You see, the story of Good Friday and Easter was conceived in the mind of God, before time began. It would take a perfect man. It would take God Himself to die upon the cross, assuming all of the worst of our sins.
When Jesus was on the cross, he paid the penalty for sin and death. But when that tomb was opened and Jesus rose from the grave, Jesus defeated sin and death. Later we read the words of Paul, who said, Death, where is they sting? Grave, where is they victory?
If the enemy could keep Jesus in the grave, we are as Paul said, “of all men most miserable.” But if Jesus is alive, then evil has no power. Death has no victory. And my friends, Jesus is alive and he’s calling your name today. Evil doesn’t win, because Jesus was victorious over evil.
2) Easter is Important in 2010, because mankind needs hope.
We live in a world desperately aching for hope. As one unknown author said, “Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope.”
Listen to our music. It reflects the aching hearts of people without hope. Whether you live in a third-world country or you live in the U.S.
Today, I want to say, that the empty tomb of Jesus offers hope. Not false hope. I think people today are sick of false hope. Hope based on some dreamy, false idealism that will never happen. Like the hope that this will be the year the Cubs win the World Series. That’s a false hope and not one worth basing your life around.
I don’t know about you, but I think the word “hope” is often misused. Its used in political campaigns. Its used in marketing campaigns.
People are tired of being offered hope by people or organizations that can’t deliver.
But I want you to see that Easter is not based on false hope, but on reality. What is this hope based on?
First, its based on the hope that Jesus really did rise from the dead. How do we know? Well, I won’t get into a lengthy discussion of evidence, but a few things we know even from this story.
- The stone was rolled away. The stone was large and heavy and sealed with the Roman seal. It was virtually impenetrable. Who moved the stone? The soldiers couldn’t have, they fell asleep. The disciples didn’t, they ran in fear. It would have taken an army. No, the soldiers later testified that there was an earthquake. Heaven came down and rocked the stone from its place. Not so Jesus could escape, but so that we could see that Jesus was indeed alive. And the angels sat on the stone in celebration.
- Notice Peter saw the linen clothes lying on the slab where the body had lain. They had not been touched. Certainly not unwrapped or cut to get them off from around the body as with Lazarus but simply Christ’s body had passed thru the strips and they laid flat on the slab.
- No human being could ever get out of them without leaving them strewn all around the tomb.
- And human beings taking the body would have taken the linen strips with them still wrapped around the body and take them off later if at all! I believe that was a sign to the disciples but also to us that Jesus did indeed rise again.
- Also, the head cloth which was bound around the head & face of the body lay in a place apart from where the body had been placed….not wrinkled and thrown quickly away….but was neatly folded. This implies order, that Jesus, being God, carefully planned his resurrection and was organized and neat after He arose, as if to show us that HE had everything in control.
- Also, Paul testified later that over 500 people had seen Jesus after he rose. And these were followers who had previously been scared and now saw Jesus alive. Those same scared disciples gave their lives for Jesus.
- Believing in Jesus requires faith, but its not faith based on just a fantasy. Its not false hope, but real, honest-to-goodness hope that you can take to the bank. This is what Easter is all about, my friends.
Secondly, there is hope in Easter, because if Jesus is risen, we also shall rise. Notice that Mary looked in and saw angels. Heaven had come down. Hell had not won. The enemy had been silenced. And so it is, when you come face to face with Jesus, the resurrection provides life, newness of life.
It was the first day of the week. And so it is that when you believe in Jesus, it’s the first day of the rest of your life. Jesus offers something new. The resurrection provides new life.
My friend, Pastor Bill Swanger reminds me:
Heaven’s representatives are one at head & one at foot like the mercy seat — the lid on the of the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies!..one at one end and other at other end-guarding. The blazing whiteness of the angels speaks of holiness & purity of Heaven..resting ……as the battle has been won. This house designed for death is now the doorway of
Heaven and filled with LIFE! Two witnesses earlier were the linen bands & head cloth but here are 2 witnesses from Heaven to also attest to the fact Christ has conquered death and is alive for ever more! Out of the darkness of death, Jesus Christ brought new life.
And so it is that out of the darkness of our lives, out of the evil of the world, there is the hope of freshness, of new life, of hope. There is hope in the world and that hope is Jesus Christ!
Why do we worship Jesus on Sunday? Because Sunday represents the first part of the week, when Jesus rose again. Why do we worship Christ at Easter, in the Springtime? Because after the long winter of the cross, when evil was on full display, the Resurrection provides hope and comfort, the freshness of new life.
Easter tells us that death is temporary and life is eternal. That there is hope beyond the grave.
Angela and I watched the Lifetime movie this week, Amish Grace. It is the story of the massacre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A milkman stormed into an Amish school and shot five girls in cold blood.
And yet in the midst of this massacre, the parents of these kids found a way to forgive. How is this forgiveness possible?
Only because Jesus forgave us and has given us new life and the power, the power to forgive others. Yes, the cycle of violence and revenge and hatred doesn’t have to continue. It can be ended, because we can forgive. We can love. We can have peace.
3) Easter Matters in 2010 because there is a God who desperately loves you.
The one thing you should know about Easter is that it is not just a story. Its not just another religious tradition. Its not just another holiday. Easter is personal, it is personal to you.
Notice three things about Jesus’ encounter with Mary:
1) He asks, “Why are you crying?” And Jesus asks you today. “Why are you crying?” In another place, Jesus asked those who were seeking, “Are you thirsty?” And maybe you put on a good face. Maybe you seem fine. But down deep you know one thing. You come to Jesus wanting, needing, hoping. Because God created you, my friend, with a God-sized hole in your soul that only God can fill.
- I want to say this to you. You don’t have to cry any longer. Because you have a God in Heaven, who left earth to come as a man, as a baby, to live among men, and died the most excruciating death, not for the masses, not for some people, BUT HE DIED JUST FOR YOU, SO THAT YOU COULD HAVE NEW LIFE. So that you could be forgiven your sins and could also rise again one day and live in Heaven forever. So that you could have peace and fulfillment and hope.
2) He called her by name. He said, “Mary.” And when he said those words, she knew it was Jesus. Jesus said that He is the Good shepherd and he calls his sheep by name.
- My friend, Jesus knows your name. Jesus loves you. Jesus cares for you. And Jesus wants to call you out of your despair and give you new life. The call to salvation in Christ is personal. Jesus is calling you, not your mother, your sister, your brother, the person next to you. Jesus cares for you and if you are to become a believer, it must be personal.
- Jesus is calling. Are you listening?
3) Jesus took her as she was. You see, what you may not realize is that Mary of Magdela was not a religious person when she found Jesus. She was a prostitute. On the lowest rung of society.
And yet who is the very first person to come to Jesus? Not a priest. Not a Pharisee. Not a good person. A sinner. And so it is my friends that when you come to Jesus as a sinner, Jesus calls you by name and becomes your Savior.
This is what separates what the Bible says from religion. Religion says, try really hard. Do good. Pile up good works.
Religion says that God doesn’t want to see you until you are good. But the Bible says, and God says this. God reached down “while you were a sinner” and offers his forgiveness.
Jesus says, “Come as you are. I’ve paid for those sins you’ve committed. I love you and am calling you by name.”
Those terrible sins that Mary Magdalene committed. Those sins were forgiven on Calvary.
You might think yourself, You don’t know what I’ve done. I’m a terrible sinner. And yet, Jesus says to you, I love you. I call you by your name. I want you to be my child. Grace covers your sins. Jesus paid for your sins and offers you complete forgiveness.
In fact, you can only come to Jesus if you come like Mary did. As a sinner. Because Jesus himself said that He didn’t come for the self-righteous, but for the sinners.
You and I are no different than Mary. We’ve sinned against a holy God. But that same God loves you and me.
Phillip Yancey wrote: “If I take Easter as the starting point, the one incontrovertible fact about how God treats those whom he loves, then human history becomes the contradiction and Easter a preview of ultimate reality. Hope then flows like lava beneath the crust of daily life.”
I don’t know how you came in today. I don’t now if you’re a believer or if you’re not. But I want you to do today what Mary did. Mary responded to the call of Jesus by simply calling him “Master, Lord, Savior.”
The offer is open to you today. Jesus loves you so much, he wants to be your Savior. He cares for you. He loves you. He died for you. And He’s calling you by name to a new and different life, a life of hope and purpose and peace. Will you put your faith in Jesus today as your Savior?
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. John 5:24 (ESV)