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Summary: Deals with not just celebrating Easter but experiencing it by placing your faith in Jesus Christ who is alive!

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“EXPERIENCING EASTER”

TEXT: LUKE 23:32-43

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Now I will talk to the adults [sermon follows children’s message] about the meaning of Easter and having an Easter experience. There are three movies I want you to think about. The first one is It’s a Wonderful Life - George Bailey. How many have you seen the movie It’s a Wonderful Life? It’s a wonderful story of a man. He’s a good man, a self-made man. He has a lot of goals, ideas and desires for his life and he is frustrated that he never gets to accomplish them. He’s not a very religious man; he does his own thing. In a turn of events, his life just becomes a mess and, in humility, he finally turns to God and asks God, “God, I’m not a praying man but I need your help,” and God rescues him graciously.

How many of you have seen the movie Thelma and Louise? It is an awful movie and it’s depressing. It is a story about two women who, like George Bailey, live their lives their way and, as a result of their choices, are faced with the consequences. Rather than making a change in their life, they remain very self-destructive. They remain on that self-destructive path; they drive off a cliff, resolute, adamant that their life is their life to the end.

How many of you have seen The Matrix? In The Matrix, if you haven’t seen it, it’s a story about a messianic figure called Neo, who is referred to interestingly as “the one.” Only one person can save the world. He understands his purpose. He understands that he is the only one who can save Zion (which is figuratively the world); and he accomplishes his mission, but at the cost of his own life.

Why do I mention these three movies? Because although they are contemporary stories, they really do illustrate the gospel message; or they really illustrate the Easter story; in particular, the story of the three people on the cross. There are three people on crosses that we think of when we think of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Their experiences then are the same experiences we see in these three movies. What I am going to do is go through these three crosses and ask you this question: Of these people, who are you? Of these people, who do you resonate with the most? Which one describes your life and your Easter experience?

To help us look at this picture we are going to read Luke 23:32-43, look at these three characters, then ask ourselves who we are. Now probably from the get-go I should say that the third person, the person in the middle, is Jesus the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Now can we all agree this morning that none of us is Jesus the Messiah, Savior of the world? Does anyone here believe that they are Jesus the Messiah, Savior of the world? (If you do, you can see me following the service.) With that said then I think we can relate to one of the other two people, and I ask you which are you. [Reading from Luke]

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him along with the criminals – one on the right and the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

The people stood watching and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ, the Son of God, the chosen one.”

The soldiers also came up and mocked him and they offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” There was a written notice above his head which read THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him and asked, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him, “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly for we are getting what our deeds deserve, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

[Let’s pray.]

Let’s look at these two men on the cross. First is the man on the right, the one we read about first. When you look at him, how would you describe him? There are some things we do know about him. One, he has broken the law and he is being punished for his crime. He has not only broken the law of man, but he has broken the law of God - one of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not steal.” So he is, you would say, someone who is imperfect. He has made mistakes in his life and he is paying for those mistakes. His lifestyle has caused his life to be cut short. He is a man who when you saw him as a little boy, you saw how cute and how innocent and how full of potential he was. He has gifts and talents. God gave him a body, mind and a spirit, and he went and wasted them. He spent them, abused them and misused them. He is the picture of a person who lived his life his way and his life is a mess. He had made a mess of things. He is now faced with his mortality; and in facing his mortality, the surprise is, he doesn’t change at all! He remains resolute, unhampered, unaltered, unrepentant and unsorrowful. He keeps his life his own. Even though it’s a lifestyle that has ruined his life, he remains absolutely resolute. This religion thing is not for me, it’s a crutch for other people. I don’t need it. I’m my own man. I’ve made myself. I’ve chosen my way. I’ll reap the fruit. I still will not bow my head to any God because there is no God.

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