Three Things to Take With You This Easter
PART 1 – LET GO OF SIN (John 13:18-30)
Most of us have felt betrayed by someone at sometime in our lives, haven’t we? It is such a sickening feeling. Can you imagine how Jesus felt when Judas betrayed him? Even though Jesus knew in advance that Judas would turn on him, he still felt the pain that we all feel when someone we trust turns on us.
Judas was one of the chosen 12 apostles; he had spent three years living with Jesus; they were family. In John 13, we read the story of Jesus washing the apostles’ feet. Verse 12 says that he “finished” washing their feet suggesting that he left no one out. Why is that important? Because it means that he also washed the feet of Judas. Jesus washed the feet of his betrayer. He gave this traitor equal attention. In just a few hours, Judas’ feet will guide the Roman guards to the Lord. But at this moment they were caressed by Christ. That’s not to say it was easy for Jesus to wash his feet. That’s not to say that when a friend betrays you it is easy for you either. That is to say that God knows exactly what you are feeling.
In addition, Jesus should have given Peter a lecture about his mouth and attitude long before this last night together because in a few hours Peter would deny even knowing who Jesus was. He should have come down hard on all the apostles for their selfish, inconsiderate ways. But instead of telling them that he was about to die because they were so sinful, he spent his last few hours washing their feet – telling them how much he loved all of them. And he did this even though no one seemed to be paying attention and even though they would all scatter and run in just a few short hours.
In John 13:21 we are told that Jesus was troubled in Spirit because of what Judas was going to do. That sounds kind of righteous and spiritual but it means he was anxious and very sad. The idea that Judas would betray him really bothered Jesus, just like we feel when someone hurts us. Interestingly, “troubled in Spirit” is the same phrase used back in John 11 when Lazarus died. Do you remember how Jesus reacted from being anxious and sad then? The answer is the shortest verse in the Bible: John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” Jesus understands what it feels like to be hurt.
The last supper seems to be the point of no return for Judas. Perhaps he had been stewing about what he should do all evening and when Jesus dared him to do what he was going to do quickly, his pride would not let him back down. But more importantly, notice how John describes what happened: he said, “Satan entered into him.”
The most consistent and overwhelming trick the devil will play on us is to convince us that God won’t forgive us. He tells us that what we have done is so terrible that there is no grace left for us. Satan will not let us let go of our sin. He will haunt us, he will torture us and he will constantly remind us that we are not good enough. And when we wallow in the guilt of our sin we take our eyes off the cross. And when we take our eyes off the cross we will once again be trapped in our sins, we will eventually give up trusting and following Jesus and we will be lost again.
I think Jesus continued to obsess over Judas after he left. In fact, I believe he had Judas in mind when he said in John 13:34, 34 "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Why are we to love one another? It has nothing to do with being around good and lovable people but with God. We love because it shows how much God loves us. The question is: how long will we punish someone who has hurt us?
Have you ever burned a bridge? You know, messed up a relationship or slammed the door on someone so bad that you can never go back? We are told today that when a relationship is broken to move on and get over it. It is sad that it is broken but there is nothing we can do – time to go to plan B. But the cross makes a mockery of that worldly attitude. The cross restores and builds a bridge for us back to God. We can let go of our sins because God has nailed them on the cross. He has fixed our broken relationship with him, even though like Judas we have hurt him so much, and now he can restore our relationship with others when we learn to forgive and love.
PART 2 – CLING TO THE CROSS (John 19:1-30)
The story of the crucifixion is familiar to all Christians. We hear it in some form at least once a year. Even casual observers recognize the scene of Jesus hanging between two thieves. It has been written about, drawn and depicted in many ways throughout the centuries. The movie, “The Passion of the Christ” still, some fourteen years after seeing it, is seared in my mind because of the graphic portrayal in the film. It was hard to watch and I found myself closing and turning my eyes.
However, even a quick study about the pain, suffering, cruelty and agony of death on a cross will reveal that Mel Gibson’s movie was not only accurate but maybe even cleaned up a bit. The gospel writers don’t spend much time talking about the graphic nature of the cross, maybe because everyone knew what it was like in those days but maybe because what is more important than the blood and guts is the reason why Jesus died on the cross.
Actually, when you begin to understand why Jesus died on the cross, all the horrific gore of the act fades away and is replaced by something worse: our sin. Imagine all the bad things you have done hanging up on the cross. Imagine all the things that you have so neatly hidden in your life being exposed and Jesus suffering the punishment we deserve for that sin.
Isaiah 61:10 says, 10 I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.
John Stott wrote, “The question is not why God finds it difficult to forgive, but how he finds it possible at all.”
Sin is not just an unfortunate slip or a regrettable act; sin is a posture of defiance against the Holy God. Being holy and perfect, God demands that when His law is broken, a penalty must be paid. Every little lie we tell; every slip of the tongue; every idle and nasty thought; every loss of control and temper; every denial and bending of the rules deserve and in fact will, be punished.
Glancing through John 19 we notice that verse 1 tells us that Jesus was flogged; verse 3 tells us he was struck in the face; verse 17 tells us Jesus carried the cross; and verse 18 says he was crucified. I know that John says that all those things happened to Jesus, and literally he is right: it did but in God’s eyes, it happened to us.
You see, it wasn’t his death that Jesus died; it was ours. It wasn’t because of his sin he suffered; it was because of ours. It wasn’t because of something he did that he was punished; it was because of what we did. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
As a child I could never understand why my father, before he punished me, would often say, “This is going to hurt me more than you.” After all, I was the one that felt the sting of his belt; I was the one who lost privileges – he lost or felt nothing. But now, as a father, I know that is not true. He lost and felt a lot more than I, a rebellious child, felt or lost. When Jesus went to the cross, God said to all of us, “This is going to hurt me more than it is going to hurt you,” and he meant it.
The good news of the gospel and the reason we need to cling to the cross is summarized in Romans 5:8 - 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
When Jesus died on the cross, not only was the debt we owed canceled but we received what we do not deserve. When Jesus hung on the cross, God did not see his holy son but he saw each one of us. And when Jesus died, God saw our sins being paid for. As a result, when God looks at us, he does not see our sinfulness but he sees his righteous son. That’s why we cling to the cross.
Sing with me:
What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
O precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
The cross has become a piece of jewelry, an ornament at church. In reality, it is a very ugly and a shameful thing but we cling to it because it was on the cross that our sins have been forgiven.
PART 3 – CELEBRATE! (John 20:1-18)
A party was the last thing Mary expected as she approached the tomb on that Sunday morning. The last few days had brought nothing to celebrate. Mary had been there. She had heard the leaders clamor for Jesus’ blood. She had witnessed the Roman whip rip the skin off his back. She had winced as the thorns sliced his brow and wept at the weight of the cross.
She was there when Jesus breathed his last and saw him removed from the cross and hastily thrown into the tomb. So it’s not surprising that she wants to be there again. In the early morning mist she arises from her mat, takes her spices and leaves her house, past the gate and up the hillside. She anticipates a somber task. By now the body will be swollen. His face will be white. Death’s odor will be strong.
A gray sky gives way to gold as she walks up the narrow trail. As she rounds the final bend, she gasps. The rock in front of the grave is pushed back. “Somebody took the body!” she thinks as she runs to awaken Peter and John.
Peter comes out of the tomb bewildered and John comes out believing but Mary just sits in front of it weeping. The two men go home and leave her alone in her grief. But something tells her she is not alone. Maybe she hears a noise or maybe she hears a whisper or maybe she just hears her own heart telling her to take a look for herself.
Whatever the reason, she does and as she stoops down, sticks her head into the hewn entrance and waits for her eyes to adjust. She sees what looks to be a man, but white – radiantly white. “Why are you crying,” he asks.
“Why are you crying?” What a strange and rude question to ask someone in a cemetery. That is, unless the questioner knows something the questionee doesn’t.
Her crying moves Jesus and he moves close behind her. So close, in fact, that she can hear him breathing. She turns and there he is but she thinks he is the gardener. Now Jesus could have revealed himself at this point. He could have called for an angel to present him or a band to play but he did not. “Why are you crying?” He asked again. “Who is it you are looking for?”
He doesn’t leave her wondering long, just long enough to remind us that he loves to surprise us. He waits for us to despair of human strength and then intervenes with heavenly. God waits for us to give up and then – surprise! Has it been a while since God surprised you? It’s easy to reach the point where we have God all figured out.
We think we know exactly what God can do. We think we have broken the code and we can chart his tendencies and know all the right buttons to push to get exactly what we want. When we do, that’s when God likes to surprise us. God is at his best when our life is at its worst. After all, God planned a celebration in a cemetery. Get ready because you may be in for a surprise too!
Listen to a partial list of God’s surprises. Listen as the rocks meant for the body of the adulterous woman drop to the ground even though that kind of woman is not a good example for our children. Listen as the thief dying on the cross next to Jesus is promised heaven even though he did not follow the proper steps. Listen as the Messiah talks to the Samaritan woman at the well even though we don’t associate with that kind. Listen to the widow from Nain eating dinner with her son who was suppose to be dead. And listen to the surprise as Mary’s name is spoken by a man she had buried.
“Mary,” he said softly, “Surprise!”
Whoever heard of celebrating in a graveyard? That is a place of sadness and bittersweet memories. The irony should not be missed because Jesus changed sadness into happiness. He changed death into life. While everyone else said, “it’s over” Jesus said not yet. Mary probably still cried but now her tears were tears of joy.
Don’t miss this important hope that Easter brings. God can do anything. That’s not just a childish statement – that’s the message of Easter. We think it is impossible but nothing is impossible with God. Don’t stop praying for the miracle you need; don’t give up and be like the world thinking there is nothing we can do; our God turned a funeral into a party! What can he do for you?
But the party Mary had in the cemetery and the party that we have when God hears our cries and answers our prayers is nothing compared to the great party waiting for us. It will be similar to Mary’s but a lot bigger. Many more graves will open. Many more names will be called. Many more knees will bow. And many more seekers will celebrate. It’s going to be some party. I plan to make sure my name is on the guest list. How about you? (adapted from Max Lucado)