We recently got a cat.
I know. I know…this sounds like a confessional.
But, it’s true. After 33 years of claiming that I would never own a cat, I caved, and I did.
And it’s been fun.
She enjoys keeping us safe from any fuzz balls and dust balls that she sees.
She loves to go hunting for leaves.
She even enjoys a playful, piercing bite to my front toe.
But the other day, my wife told me that she had done something crazy. Julianna texted me that we needed to close the windows so that the cat couldn’t climb the screen.
I said, “Yeah. How could she do that?”
Julianna said, “I see holes in the screen right now.”
I said, “Those are probably from bugs or some severe storm.”
She said, “I’m pretty positive it’s from the cat.”
I said, “Oh yeah. Prove it. How do you know?”
My wife texted me a photo of the cat climbing the screen.
Eyewitnesses are important. They are verbal proclaims of the visual truth. They are the difference between…
Fiction and non-fiction.
A fairy tale and history.
A lie and truth.
Over the next couple of weeks, we will be starting our sermon series called EYEWITNESS. It’s all about the eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. I think we need to do this because the resurrection of Jesus is too big a deal to rely on hearsay, to trust maybes and to listen to theories.
Our goal today is to look at a real eyewitness accounts…
Of real people…
Who had real interactions…
With the really risen Jesus…
As real proof of your real salvation.
Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Mary’s Background
The first eyewitness account that we are going to look at comes from a woman named Mary Magdalene. What interesting about Mary is that she doesn’t play a big part in Jesus’ three years of ministry on earth. In fact, there’s very little that is written about her except for this:
Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus had driven out seven demons. (Mark 16:9)
It’s not even a full sentence. Just a passing adjective comment.
But…one that’s pretty heavy.
She had been possessed by 7 demons. Evil spirits. Fallen angels. Powerful. They had taken hold of her mind. Something that Bible theorists will suggest happens from dabbling in the demonic activity (the occult, psychics, blood sacrifices) and excessive drug use.
Regardless how it happened to Mary, we know it was terrible.
She had no control of her personality.
She was a prisoner in her own mind.
In a state of deep depression.
With a helplessness that doesn’t go away.
Except, it did.
Mary was possessed.
Jesus healed her.
I don’t know exactly how, but if it is anything like Jesus’ other miracles, then it was probably as simple as Jesus lifting his hand and saying:
Which…Can you imagine?
If you’ve ever had a counselor help you with a breakthrough.
Or a pastor help you grasp God’s forgiveness.
Or a fatal diagnosis that a doctor diagnosed, prescribed medicine and helped you defeat.
You know the kind of deep connection that Mary had with Jesus.
That’s why she had become a follower of his:
She had been trapped, Jesus freed her.
She had been guilty, Jesus brought her forgiveness.
She had been depressed, Jesus brought her joy.
She had been lonely, Jesus brought her family.
She had been hopeless, Jesus made her hopeful.
He was violently, publicly, cruelly crucified on a cross.
And all of her hope?
All of her joy?
All of her sanity…
Started to slip away….
She could feel the devil’s grip tightening on her again.
II. The Eyewitness Account
That’s why she got up so early Sunday morning.
You see -- Jesus had been killed Friday evening. They buried him. She would have gone to his grave to mourn, but they have this Sabbath rule where you can’t go to visit the dead on a Saturday.
But Saturday was over.
It was still dark.
It’s not like she was sleeping anyways.
She threw on her sandals.
Fastened on her cloak.
And walked off to her friend’s house.
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
“What do you want?”
“It’s Sunday. We were going to go to his grave. We were going to go to Jesus’ grave so that we can honor him.”
“But Mary. It’s not even light out yet. It’s still night time. It’s…just gonna take me a second while I get ready.”
As they walked through the slowly evaporating darkness, it was mostly quiet.
Whenever her friends tried to make small talk, Mary quieted them. “We’ve just gotta get to Jesus’ grave.”
As they approached the garden, Mary worked into a sprint walk.
She began opening up the bottle of perfume she had brought to pour on his grave and anoint his body.
“Mary, did you think about how we were going to get into the grave? There is that giant stone that the soldiers put there to make sure that no one could get in. I saw some of those guys. They’re built like models. It took about 5 of them to move it, I don’t see how we…”
She stopped talking.
Off in the distance was Jesus’ grave.
The giant stone?
It was moved.
Immediately, Mary burst into tears:
“What did they do? What have they done? They couldn’t just leave him alone. Those jerks! Those losers! How could they do this? How could they leave us like this? Without even a chance…to heal.”
She broke down.
Her friends tried to console her.
But Mary shrugged them off.
She turned around and sprinted back towards town.
She could barely see where she was going with tears clouding her vision.
She made her way to where some of the twelve disciples were staying.
She pounded at the door.
She screamed at the door.
She made a commotion till their let her in:
“They took his body. They took his body. They book his body…the tomb is empty!”
Two of the disciples rushed out.
They sprinted to see what she was saying.
And Mary tried to follow, but she grew too tired.
Her legs got wobbly.
She slammed her back against tree trunk.
And fell to the floor.
After sobbing for a good 15 minutes, She stood up.
She didn’t have any tears left.
She had to get to the bottom of this.
She had to get back to the tomb and find some kind of a clue…a witness…a footprint that would lead her to Jesus’ body.
She went back to the tomb.
Her friends were gone.
The disciples were gone.
The stone…was still gone.
This time…she took a deep breath…and approached the tomb.
Inside the tomb, she found some men.
Dressed in white.
A gleaming, blinding white light.
Radiating from their clothes.
Radiating from their faces.
Both sitting on the bier where Jesus’ body had been.
Between them? Grave clothes. Folded ever so nicely, ever so gently, as if they were no longer necessary.
“Woman, why are you crying?” they asked.
“They have taken my Lord away! And I don’t know where they have put them!”
Mary turned around. The men were nice. And it was strange that they were glowing, but…she didn’t have time. She needed to find his body.
Outside the tomb, someone else.
Hard to tell who – with the tears blurring her vision.
It was probably the gardener.
“Woman, why are you crying?”
This is the one. He must have taken the body. He must have moved it at the requests of the Pharisees!
“Tell me sir. Tell me…Please…Where did you take his body? Why did you leave the grave….empty?”
The air was still.
Mary’s breath paused for a moment.
She had heard that voice before.
She had heard that voice teach her about God.
She had heard that voice proclaim forgiveness.
She had heard that voice drive away her own demons!
It was Jesus!
“Teacher!” She cried as she grabbed a hold of him with a hug.
As she hugged, she knew it was real! She felt his shoulders.
She held him by the back.
She felt the warmth of his breath.
Jesus was alive.
III. Resurrection Truth
This is the eyewitness account of Mary.
It is an eyewitness account that is recorded for us in Scripture.
The guy who wrote it? John – he was one of the disciples that went running to the tomb after Mary told him it was open!
And the book of John? It was written down and passed around at a time when Mary Magdalene would have still been alive.
And she didn’t say “Nah, man. That’s wrong. It didn’t happen this way.”
She said, “That’s the truth.”
There are three really important divine truths that we need to take home with us today.
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
Granted. You might be skeptical of that truth.
Because most people when they are dead? They can’t do much. Their bodies just lie there and slowly decompose.
And even people who are living – they haven’t figured out a way to bring people that are dead back to life either.
But if this is true…
When Jesus was dead, he figured out one thing that no one else could ever figure out while they were alive – conquering death itself!
If you’re skeptical, Mary’s account is for you. Because think about how long it took her recognize that Jesus was alive.
She saw the immovable stoned – moved and her first reaction?
“They took his body.”
She went into the tomb and saw two angels –glowing with divine splendor. Her reaction?
“They took his body!”
She went outside the tomb and saw Jesus – but was so overcome with emotion that she says to Jesus,
“You must have taken his body!”
She wasn’t wrong.
It isn’t until Jesus…
Calls her name…
That she realizes the incredible truth right in front of her!
Friends, you might be dealing with sadness.
You might be dealing with difficulties in your marriage.
With challenges at work.
With a financial crisis.
With a terrifying diagnosis.
With guilt, shame, and sin.
And sometimes that can all cover our hearts and close our eyes and make us say, “There is no HOPE in this world! This Jesus’ thing can’t be true.”
When that happens…
Hear Jesus’ voice…
He’s calling to you.
“I am alive.”
(2) The Work of Salvation is Finished
Check out verse 17:
“Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
The reason Jesus came to earth was to win your salvation.
He came to suffer death for your sins.
He came to earn your way to heaven.
He came to pay for eternal life.
If he’s heading up to heaven, guess what?
That work is done.
Granted – that can be hard to believe.
It’s like Easter weekend. Maybe you are planning on having relatives to your house. Maybe you wanted to clean for your relatives -- so you make a check list: Sweep the floor, dust the counters, disinfect the countertops, clean the bathrooms, do the laundry, make the beds, clean up the toys, etc.
And you go to work.
And you come home and….
Your husband says, “Surprise! I did it already. It’s finished. You don’t have to clean anymore!”
How do you respond?
Probably…by sweeping the floor, dusting the counters, disinfecting the countertops, etc.
When Jesus tells you that it is finished.
It is finished.
Your salvation is won.
Your sins are forgiven.
Eternal life is yours.
Heaven is your home!
“It is finished.”
You don’t need to try and earn his love.
You don’t need to complete your salvation.
You don’t need to pay your way into heaven by working hard and becoming perfect.
Jesus did it for you.
(3) Go and Tell
Because right after Mary realizes that Jesus is standing right in front of her…
Having conquered sin and death…
Renewing her hope again…
She’s overcome with emotion.
She holds onto him.
She doesn’t want to ever go back to guilt and loneliness and despair. Never again!
But Jesus says something interesting:
“Do not hold onto me. Instead, go and tell.” (v.17)
Because there were others who had lost their hope.
There were others who were in despair.
There were others who were shacked to guilt.
Mary’s eyewitness message – would change that.
She would give them hope.
She would give them joy.
She would give them freedom.
Friends, there are still people like that today.
There are people who don’t know their Savior.
People who don’t know the resurrection story.
People who think Easter is all about sugary yellow marshmallow chicks
They are overcome with guilt.
They are dealing with a lack of joy.
They are struggling with despair.
Can you do me a favor?
Listen to your Savior.
Go and tell.
Later today at your Easter party, turn to the people who didn’t come to worship to celebrate this message and share the story of Easter. Go and Tell.
Later this evening when you are on your phones, take a note or two from this sermon and share on social media. Go and tell.
Tomorrow morning as you head to work – gather around the coffee pot, talk with your coworkers about why you liked Easter and how amazing this message of the risen Savior is. Go and tell.
And understand this.
You won’t be just giving them a story.
You won’t be just telling them a fairy tale.
You’ll be giving them true hope.
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
Have you ever had one of those moments of sheer terror at being caught? I mean the total anxiety panic of knowing… there is no way out of this. If you know what I mean, it was probably when you were younger? Though maybe not, contrary to what we like to think of ourselves, the youth do not corner the market on stupid decisions.
Whatever it was you were doing or did, I’m sure it was very attractive. The thought of all you could gain from going down that path was irresistible. It was so simple, required so little effort, and the benefits, well, they were pretty amazing. I’m guessing that the thought of being caught or the consequences never actually entered your mind. Maybe you had to think about one or two ways to smartly keep it hidden, but the fact that it was just wrong never really was part of the decision-making process.
At least, until you were caught.
You were… not so clever as you thought. Or you over-reached out of greed and arrogance. And if you’re remembering that moment from your life right now just like I am, you can feel the panic. Feel the fear grip your heart as you face whatever might be coming.
And that might be the worst of it. You don’t know what might be coming. I suppose it depended on what it was, how old you were and the like? Maybe privileges would be taken away. Maybe it would just be the shame of letting someone else down. Maybe it would break a relationship. Maybe it would be legal action. But the fear of knowing you’d been caught and there was no getting out of it, that tightening of your heart… that’s what I’m talking about.
Now why… why would I make you relive something like that this evening? It’s bad enough when those memories haunt us at quiet moments during the day or night. Why drag them up on purpose?
Well because that is exactly the feeling I want you to think of when you picture what it’s like to stand before God almighty and try to justify yourself to him.
To better appreciate this evening, I’d like to walk you through… well it’s a metaphor. This isn’t really how things will happen at the end, not literally. But the truth of it holds. So, imagine with me. Imagine the moment comes. Your earthly life has ended, and you are waiting to see what happens next. You’ve heard that Heaven is the place to be and Hell, well not so much.
Though there is some nervous anticipation, you’re feeling – pretty good about what’s to come. You’re a good person. You were a good son or daughter, a good spouse or a good parent. You did right by the people around you. You worked your job, you went to church, you helped those in need. This should go well.
And the time comes that your name is called. You are escorted from a waiting area into a courtroom. There is no jury, only the judge. And there are no witnesses, only the judge. God. One look from his piercing stare and it all comes crashing down. The intensity of that gaze opens your own eyes and you know. You know, and you remember everything he knows about you.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;
The façade of goodness that you wear becomes as flimsy and fragile as tissue paper. All the selfishness that backed all those “good” deeds. All the times that the cost of doing the right thing was a little too high for you so you just walked by on the other side of the street. The secret thoughts, the greed, the lust, the selfishness, the anger, and more than any of that all the times you just thought you knew better than God.
That’s the panic moment. You’re caught, there’s nowhere to go, and you are utterly guilty. You did all of it, thinking no one was looking, no one would notice, but he saw it. There’s nothing to say in your defense. Anything you could think of in your own mind falls so flat that you can’t even utter the words.
Is there nothing to be done? You survey the crowd. Surely someone could speak up on your behalf and ask for leniency, mercy, or just to ask the judge to let this one go? Someone some authority or power or charisma or money could maybe do something for you…
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
A man does step forward. Not the one you were looking for. He is not wearing anything fancy. He has no regal bearing about him. You do not recognize him as anyone rich or influential. He instead looks like someone in as much need of help as you are. If you were not simply frozen by the terror of the moment you might motion for him to blend back into the crowd.
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
He draws the judge’s attention. The man speaks.
“I did it.”
“Every charge you are about to read. That was me. I openly confess to every one of those crimes. I did it.”
“You are aware of the punishment?” the judge asks.
“I am. It was me.”
The confession is accepted. The man is bound and led away. What could you do? It might seem dishonorable to let him go in your place, but the terror of what waits at that end is too much to face. You let him go.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
You know what it means for that man. You know what you were expecting. The terror of hell itself. That the mercy and grace of God would be completely cut off from you. Absolutely lost in the outer darkness where there is no light and no hope and nothing but terror and pain forever. Maybe you didn’t grasp it before but you do now. That’s death. To be cut off from the source of life and creation is death.
It should’ve been you, but it wasn’t. What he suffers is of your making, no mistake. You earned and created the hell he is suffering now. You can’t help but stare at the door they led him through. It’s conflicting. You’re haunted by what he suffers in your place but there is still relief that it won’t be you.
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
As you muse, the judge speaks again.
“The guilty party having confessed and punishment rendered, the accused is declared not guilty. With no outstanding accusations, you are free to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Dumbfounded, you step forward. Heaven? You started with confidence you had no right to. It was quickly crushed and for what seems like an eternity you stood there with no hope, trying to accept the fact that you were going to die. And now so quickly that has changed to heaven? It seems so impossibly unlikely, but it’s happened.
You walk to the exit of the courtroom and the entrance of the kingdom. The reward is not just a perfect kingdom, it’s a perfect you. The last remnants of evil within yourself are stripped away and now you not only live in a place that will never cause you pain – you yourself will not be the cause of your own pain anymore.
This is your end. The eternal, loving, unchangeable God as your perfect king. The one who cares for you perfectly. You, made perfect, and living the life you were meant to live from the beginning. All the things from before that gripped your heart with fear are just… gone. There absolutely cannot be a better end. And this is your end.
And what of that man that so boldly confessed to your crimes? The one that was led away to die in your place?
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
He lives. He is your king. He is the judge. He is your God. He died. He lives. You live.
There was something wrong with the night.
I mean, they knew that, they had been told that, but even so, even if you didn’t know – it just felt… off.
Maybe it was a chill beyond the usual that settled on the desert when the sun dropped beyond the horizon. Maybe it was the way all the people in the homes around them were also rushing about to make their final preparations, to make sure nothing had been overlooked. People were just a little more frenzied than usual for the end of the day. Even if you hadn’t been paying attention, you’d notice – something was wrong.
And something was wrong, after all. Death was coming that night. Not that their lives were any picnic either. Slavery in the desert was all they knew. Many of them each day were worked to death before night ever fell. But this was different. This time, there was a statement from God. This night, the oldest male of each generation, the firstborn son would be struck dead before dawn. The threat, the warning of God hung in the air like a fog that refused to move. And so the Israelites faced down this evening of death on their last night in Egypt.
There is something wrong with your life.
Maybe you know that already, maybe you don’t. But if you don’t, I doubt hearing that really shocks you.
Even if you don’t know it as head-knowledge, you can probably feel it already, can’t you? Something about your life just feels… off.
Maybe it’s just a feeling, like something just out of the corner of your eye that you just can’t see.
Something ominous and looming out there in the shadows – dangerous, but it’s never there when you turn around. I don’t mean there’s something literally stalking you though, I just mean this sense that there’s something wrong, there’s some danger there just out of perception but you can never quite look at it.
In fact, maybe you could see it if you tried, if you turned and looked. But the truth is you’re terrified to. After all, who knows what it might really be. No, no better to ignore it, better to stay distracted by what you’re doing than try to figure that out. Focus on what you’re doing right now, on the job, the wife, the kids, the checkbook. It’s probably just a trick of your imagination anyway, stop thinking about it and it will go away. Or at least, if you concentrate hard enough on what you’re doing, you won’t notice it anymore.
But even that doesn’t quite work. Rolling up your sleeves and plunging in elbow-deep to the work in front of you, it works sometimes, but it really doesn’t. It’s still wrong. Something is still wrong! Why? All the promises made to you when you were a child never seem to come true. You work hard, you try your best, you have at least some of the things you were promised would make you complete, right? A family, a home or a few nice things… where’s the peace? Where’s the contentment? Why does it still feel wrong? Maybe you’re still missing part of the puzzle. You search for the one missing thing – each one you think, “this is it, now that I have this, I’ll be good and that feeling will go away.” A vacation, a nicer house, a new home theater, a stronger relationship, a better paying job with less stress, each time something else and this time it will work.
But it never works. I told you, there is something wrong with your life. A statement from God himself hangs over your life like a fog that refuses to move. Death is coming. And not just any death. Not just the end of this life, the end of your life forever. God has programmed into you this truth; those who do evil will be punished. Evil, huh? Well then why am I nervous? I’m not evil. Aren’t you? The world around may lie to you, tell you that’s not you, but the disquiet within you says otherwise. You would never really ask those closest to you “do you think I’m evil?”, but even if you did they would say “of course not.” That doesn’t mean they’re right.
But you know things they don’t know. You know there’s not a perfect record stretching back across your life. You’ve worked hard, done your best, but it’s not been perfect. There were moments when you gave in and did what you wanted and maybe the cost for you or someone you cared about was high. Maybe there didn’t seem to be any cost at all, but you could tell it wasn’t right. And now you drag the guilt of that behind you.
I invite you to stop shifting your eyes away from it, to stop seeing this just out of the corner of your eye and look square at this; our God describes for us exactly what it is. It is ugly and it is scary, but we cannot deal with it if we do not know what it is. There is something wrong with your life; there is a hole running through you, a tear in your very self that we call “sin”. That doesn’t really tell us enough though.
What is “sin”?
Sin is what God is not. Sin is shadow and darkness when God is light. God is good, God is perfect. Sin is not. God operates on one driving principle; selfless love. God seeks the good of everyone else above his own at all times, regardless of what it costs him. Sin is the opposite; sin is to grab for yourself regardless of what it costs others. I hope you see that you do not qualify on your own for holiness.
Maybe you like to think of yourself as a pretty selfless person; but have you been at all times to everyone? Don’t lie to yourself, it does no good. We are all of us, unholy. Sinful.
Now understand this. Holiness and sinfulness are not just choices or lifestyles. In a sense, they are like forces of nature, light and dark, magnetic poles and gravity. Sin cannot exist in the presence of the Holy. And that is where the fear comes from. God is Holy. You are not. This life will end, and God tells us that you will either be brought in to be with him or you will be thrown out to spend eternity without him.
If you are sinful, and if sin cannot exist in the presence of the holy, then which will it be for you? This is what is wrong with your life. A sentence of eternal death hangs in the air….and there is nothing you can do about it.
But the Israelites in Egypt were not panicked. Frenzied, hurried, maybe even a little fearful, sure. But not panicked. God told them, warned them what was coming. But he also told them exactly what was needed to escape the death that came that night. It would take the blood of a lamb. A single ewe lamb, one year old, spotless and without defect. The lamb would die instead, the blood was to be painted on the door frames of their houses. God would see the blood shed, and spare those inside.
So they did this. That night, as God promised, an angel of death passed over Egypt as by God’s decree, the firstborn son of each household was struck down in his sleep. But wherever there was the blood of the lamb, the angel stayed his hand. The angel saw the household through the blood, and they were spared. God had given the warning to all of Egypt, and he had given his directions just the same. Those who ignored the feeling that something was wrong; those who did not listen and did nothing about it – there was death in that house that night. Those who listened to God, who trusted his words of warning and deliverance were safe.
And so, I am not panicked either, and neither should you. Yes, there is something wrong with our lives.
We should feel the weight of how important this is. Yes, we should maybe even be a little fearful just because of the stakes involved. But truly afraid? No. God has warned us about this hole in our lives, about the holiness we are missing not to terrify us, but so that we pay attention, because of just how important this is. He shouts that this is life and death to get eyes on him. Because God tells us exactly what we need to escape the death that’s coming for us. It will take the blood of a lamb. A single ewe lamb, spotless and without defect. The lamb will die instead and his blood will cover you; and death will pass over you.
As a remembrance of what he had done for them, God commanded the Israelites to observe the Passover every year. At the same time of year, at the same day, at the same hour, each household would again sacrifice a single ewe lamb, one year old, without defect or blemish, to remember how God spared them from death. Then, over a thousand years after the first Passover, on Friday of that week, the day that the lamb was killed, just before the moment when the sound would resonate from the Temple informing everyone that now was the time to sacrifice the lamb; the following happened:
After this, knowing that everything had now been finished, and to fulfill the Scripture, Jesus said, “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine was sitting there. So they put a sponge soaked in sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished!” Then, bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.
The time had come, the lamb was to be sacrificed. But not just any lamb. The real Lamb. The one who was intended all along. Everything that went before it was a show, foreshadowing. It had no real effect.
Only an equal sacrifice could count for you. It had to be another person. Yet if it was just another person, what good would that do? Even if that person didn’t need saving themselves, their sacrifice would only save you. But what if God himself were both a person and God? How could you ever tip the scale of human life to outweigh that? You can’t. The one sacrifice would pay for everyone. And the Lamb did just that.
You are not holy? Jesus is. You committed crimes against God? Jesus didn’t. The Lamb had no defect and no blemish. He is what you are not. He has what you lack. God was ready to pour out his justice against all the evil ever committed, all in one fell swoop. Jesus, his Son, the Lamb, stood up and took your place. He climbed on the cross and there he took everything that your sin earned. He became your sin, he became your curse. And when it was done, he uttered those words. “It is finished.”
One word really, and I’d like to render it a little differently tonight if you’ll permit me. “Complete.” That is what happened on the cross right then. God’s plan to stand in your place so you would not suffer was completed – he died in your place. The foreshadowing he’d been showing the world since the first Passover meal was completed – the Lamb was sacrificed so that death would pass over you. You, missing the holiness God requires to be in his presence forever, you are completed. At that one moment, everything was made complete, everything was made the way God intended from the beginning.
Look at the cross. Realize what the sacrifice there has done for you. There may have been something wrong with your life once, there may have been a hole, something missing, something terrifyingly wrong, but Jesus has filled that with his death. The blood of the lamb was shed for you and so death holds no power over you. You are complete with Jesus’ gift of himself. You are given what you once lacked. God the Father will gladly welcome you into his kingdom when this is all over. You are complete in him.
Tonight, we gather in reverent awe to pay our respects for the tremendous sacrifice our Lord went through on our behalf. There is sadness, yes, because when I look at him hanging to die I know it is my fault he is there. When his lifeless body is removed and placed in the grave, it is because of me that this happened. But we are not here to leave this evening morose and depressed. We know that God did this willingly, out of love for you, individually. He knew you. He knows who you are. He could’ve spared himself that much more suffering by not including you in his sacrifice, but he didn’t. He wanted to do it. And as we close the tomb and walk away tonight we needn’t pretend we don’t know what Sunday will bring. If Sunday did not bring what it does, then tonight would be meaningless. We may leave tonight somber and reverent, but we still leave with hope and joy in our hearts. We know what this night means for us. Jesus made us complete. In him, we are what we are meant to be forever.
I cannot tell you what will happen in your life in the days between now and the time you are called eternal rest in him. I can tell you that in Jesus and his sacrifice, it doesn’t matter. In him, your end is set and will not be changed. Your life is complete. In Jesus, your sins are paid for, the gift of holiness is given to you, heaven is yours. There is nothing else to chase after. There is nothing else to fear. There is nothing else wrong with your life. The Lamb has made you complete. Amen.
I’m sure it seemed like every other, run of the mill crucifixion.
As the Roman soldier adjusted his cincture and wiped his brow after hoisting the heavy cross under the hot Middle Eastern sun, he was prepared for things to go just as they normally did. There would be cries of pain and moan of agony from the convicted. There would be crowds of people gathering to watch, more for the sport of it, than out of compassion. There would be curses hurled at the criminals, blood splattering the dust, and a few tears from the loved ones of the condemned. Slowly, just as always, he would have a front row seat as he watched the life of another human being gradually drift away from him.
At first, it looked like every other crucifixion he had been a part of. But then, it became very different.
It started with the criminal. Usually they were no good, scum of he earth types. They would curse those who were cursing htem. They’d spit and spew forth insults as their dying breath enabled them.
But this guy, this Jesus, remained silent. He didn’t say much. He didn’t sweat. He didn’t insult. In fact, the first time he spoke, he said words of kindness.
“Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
This Jesus had a sign above his head. It was common for crimnals to have signs which explained their crimes. But the sign above Jesus didn’t say, “Murderer,” or “Adulterer.” It didn’t say, “Thief,” or even “Tax Evader.”
It said: “King.”
And the crowds. Never before had so many come to watch a crucifixion. The tone of this crowd was violent too. They vehemently hated this man. They despised him. It seemed that they couldn’t get enough of hurling insults at him.
But others…others loved him. As the soldier stood at his post, he couldn’t help but overhear some of the things they called him, “Savior,” “Redeemer,” “Messiah,”….”Friend.”
Then things got very strange. It was the middle of the day, the hottest part of the day, the part when the sun is the strongest.
That’s when it grew dark. Nighttime dark. Can’t see your hand in front of your face dark.
While the soldier couldn’t see; he could hear. He heard the voice of this JEsus. Strong. Convicting. Careful. Loving. The gentle words of this Jesus penetrated and haunted his brutal, Roman heart.
Then, Jesus cried out. He cried out and shouted, “It is finished.” With finality. With authority. With joy…almost.
Then, he spoke once more, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Then, he died.
And as he died, at that exact moment of his death, the One who controls earthquakes, seemed to respond. The earth began to shake. It trembled. It trembled a powerful tremble – and as the soldier braced himself against he foot of the cross – he saw rocks splitting into two.
Then, the earth calmed. The soldier thought. He thought about what had happened. He thought about who this Jesus was.
He came to a terrifying conclusion: “Surely this was the Son of God.”
Can you imagine the terror going through his mind? He had just participated in the killing God’s divine Son? He had killed the divine Savior. He had murdered God Himself!
I’m sure his mind began racing. “What have I done? How will I ever be forgiven? I won’t. I killed God’s son. He’ll come after me. The Lord of heaven and earth will come after me, find me, and obliterate me.”
The soldier beat his chest. This was a terrible realization.
But to be fair. This soldier was not alone in killing God’s Son. He wasn’t the reason Jesus had died. Nor was it the fault of the other soldiers, the crowd that chanted “Crucify,” Pontius Pilate who condemned Him, or even the chief priests who plotted this whole death months in advance.
These people didn’t killed Jesus.
Romans 4:25 says this, “Jesus was delivered over to death, for (or “because of”) our transgressions.”
Do you understand what that is saying? It says that the reason Jesus was up there, the reason Jesus died, The reason he hung on the cross was your sins. He hung as a substitute. He hung to take the brutal punishment that your sins deserved.
It really forces you to rethink sin, doesn’t it? It’s so easy for us to go through life and think of sin as “no big deal.” “I’m not perfect.” “Everybody sins.” “I’m not as bad others.”
But you are bad enough that your sins resulted in Jesus dying on the cross.
I don’t care what kind of sin it was either. Your sins led to this. Whether “big sins” like adultery, murder, or brutal violence – or “smaller sins” greed, a white lie, a little name calling, not really worshipping God with all your heart.
Sin is Sin. Sin caused Jesus to die. Sin killed Jesus. Your Sin killed Jesus. My sin killed Jesus.
Our sins killed God’s Son.
The soldiers was right. Surely this was God’s Son. It’s a terrifying thought.
But we are gathered here today, not because what happened thousands of years ago is terrifying. But because it is good. Good Friday.
Consider Romans 4:25 again, “He was delivered over to death for our sins.” He was the substitute. He took the brunt force of God’s wrath against sin and there is no force of wrath left for you.
It’s true that you deserved to be on that cross 2000 years ago, but it’s also true that Jesus died for you. The punishment that happened – is over. There is no punishment that remains.
How do you know it’s true for you? How do you know that it’s not just true for his followers – his really good followers – the people who haven’t done as much wrong as you?
Remember the words of the soldier: “Surely, this was the Son of God.”
Jesus’ life was no ordinary life. His death was no ordinary death. His blood was no ordinary blood.
Jesus’ death covers your sin. And your sin. And your sin. And your sin. It covers every last one of your sins.
It covers the big sins that haunt your heart. It covers the repeated sins that you struggle against.
It cover the sins that have ruined relationships. It covers the sins that have kept you from God.
The Son of God is powerful. Just as he had done miracles all his life, so he did miracles on that Good Friday. As he had cleansed men from leprosy, so he cleansed you from sin. As he cast out demons, so he cast out the devil. As he made the mute to speak, so he causes us to shout in joy. As he restored the health of the sick, so he restored our spiritual health. As he stopped storms, so he stopped death. As he brought people back to life from the dead, so he brought us back from the dead—he gave us spiritual AND eternal life.
I read the first part of Romans 4:25 earlier, “He was delivered over to death because of our sins.” Now…let me read the second part, “He was raised to life because of our justification.”
Keep this in the back of your mind. Jesus’ substitute worked. The Father looked down at his Son and said, “Well done.” He looked down at the world and said, “Be at peace.”
He looked down at you and said, “You are forgiven.” He said, "You are my child." He said, "One day, by faith in my Son, you will join me in heaven...forever escaped from the very things that made Good Friday so sad."
No more Sin. No more sadness. No more pain. No more sorrow.
No more death.
And Jesus? Don't worry about him. In fact if you look at the words of the soldier one last time there is reason to rejoice:
"Surely this is the Son of God."
"Surely death cannot hold him."
"Surely he will rise."
Please join us for Easter. Amen.