Summary: In this sermon we see that Jesus gives us a living hope in the face of discouragement and hopelessness.
Easter is the greatest celebration of the Christian Church.
But what does the word “Easter” mean? Where and when was it first celebrated?
The origin of the word “Easter” is uncertain, but the Venerable Bede claimed that the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ displaced ancient pagan celebrations involving the Anglo-Saxon spring goddess “Eostre.” That, he said, occasioned the term.
Others believe the word derives from an old German term meaning “sunrise.”
Whatever its meaning, it is the oldest celebration of the Christian Church.
A custom arose among the Early Church worshipers to keep watch on the Saturday night preceding Easter Sunday morning as many believed that Christ would return at the dawn of this day.
Another custom among new converts in the Early Church had them keeping watch and praying throughout Saturday night, and then they were baptized at sunrise on Easter Sunday morning.
And yet another custom, still widely practiced today, finds the pastor addressing the congregation on Easter Sunday morning with the glorious words: “He is risen!”
The congregation shouts in return: “He is risen indeed!”
For 2,000 years the foundation of Christianity has rested securely on this simple yet unfathomable truth: Jesus is alive!
And the resurrection of Jesus Christ has given rise to a living hope for those who believe it. Let me draw your attention to 1 Peter 1:3, where we read these wonderful words from one of Jesus’ own apostles, who was an eye-witness of Jesus’ resurrection:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3).
Surely no apostle felt the death of Jesus more agonizingly than Peter.
He had boasted that he would not leave him nor forsake him. He had bragged that he would stay true and fight for him even unto death.
Peter meant so well, but he failed so miserably.
When the moment came, a little girl’s question upset him, melted all his bravado, and he denied that he even knew Jesus.
All the apostles experienced the loss of hope when Jesus died. But Peter experienced additional shame and disgrace because of his denial of even knowing Jesus.
I believe that it is likely that there are some here this morning whose hopes have been crushed, whose dreams have been unfulfilled. Maybe just a few years ago you had glorious dreams of what you would like to be, and what you would like to do, and now they are all faded away, or collapsed about you. You meant to do well, but things ended up wrong, somehow.
But it is just that kind of loss of hope and disappointment that the resurrection of Jesus is designed to relieve.
Have you ever thought of it this way?
We celebrate Easter and the great triumph of Christ over the grave—and it is a great triumph—but I think we often forget that Easter also stands for the presence of Christ with us to meet the pressures of life as they come to us day by day.
I am sure Peter had that in mind when he wrote today’s text.
Jesus understood how Peter felt in the hour of his monumental failure and collapse of faith, and he sought him out, appeared to him, and reconciled Peter to himself.
You remember that Jesus appeared to the disciples on the shores of Galilee after his resurrection. He prepared a meal for them on a fire, and called them to come and join him.
Then Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me, Peter?”
Three times Peter affirmed his love.
And three times Jesus gave him something to do, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15-18).
That was an enormous encouragement to Peter. Surely that was on the forefront of Peter’s mind when he wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
Now, I want to bring us into the present. I want you to see that if Christianity is true at all, then Jesus is just as much able to meet us today and help us in the face of discouragement and hopelessness as he was in the first century.
If Jesus is not able to do so, then Christianity is a fraud, and we might as well pack it in and go home right now.
But, I want you to see that Jesus is doing exactly the same thing today as he did 2,000 years ago: he gives us a living hope in the face of discouragement and hopelessness.