Summary: Palm Sunday is a good news/bad news kind of day. It is a day of celebration, as the people come out from Jerusalem to give Jesus a royal welcome.

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Did you hear about the pastor who had been sick? Somebody visited him with a message. They said, “Pastor, the good news is the deacons just voted to pray for your speedy recovery. The bad news is, the vote was 12 to 9.”

Palm Sunday is a good news/bad news kind of day. It is a day of celebration, as the people come out from Jerusalem to give Jesus a royal welcome. Yet there is already bad news present, as the religious establishment makes its plans to get rid of this itinerant preacher who threatens their comfortable identities. The good news of Sunday’s hosannas would become the bad news of Friday’s “Crucify Him!”

We see how it all begins in John 12:12-19.

Thus began the most important week in human history. Much as a door swings back and forth on its hinges, so this remarkable week became the hinge on which history swings.

The pivotal events that would make such an impact on our lives actually began a few days before Sunday, as Jesus was making His way to Jerusalem. Along the way, He received urgent word from Bethany; his dear friend, Lazarus, was dying. Could he come quickly and do something?

It’s the kind of announcement we all receive at some time in our lives. Someone we love may not be here much longer; come quickly. I still remember receiving word that a friend and former co-worker had been diagnosed with cancer. I knew I needed to call, and planned to do so. Yet somehow time got away, and I knew I needed to make contact soon – but before I did, the call came, all too soon, that she was already gone. Hesitation and delay have a way of creating regrets, don’t they?

Now Jesus has received word that Lazarus is ill unto death – come soon. (11:3-6) Sure enough, when Jesus and His companions finally arrive, they get the bad news: Lazarus is already dead and in the grave four days. The mourners were still in place, weeping and lamenting the passing of this good man. In frustration, Martha said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (11:21)

Have you ever felt that way: Where were you, God? If only you had been here; if only you had acted. Where were you when our child died? Where were you when my marriage came apart? Where were you when the doctor said it was cancer? Where were you, God? We’ve all had moments when we asked those kinds of questions out of the hurt and anger of a breaking heart.

Yet even with Lazarus gone, his sister Martha knew that somehow Jesus could turn their bad news into good news. She said: “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask." (11:22) Even as she unloaded her hurt on Jesus, she knew that Jesus would always have the last word. Though we feel the pain of sorrow, of loss, don’t forget that grief is never the last word. Bad news can somehow become good news in God’s hands.

So we come to one of the most remarkable scenes in the gospels, a scene that combines the tender humanity of Jesus with His awesome power, as he turns tragedy into celebration. Listen to how John describes it: (11:32-46)

When it says in verse 33 that Jesus was “deeply moved,” it means more than that he was sympathetic. The word that is used is an ancient Greek term that describes a horse snorting. What it tells us is that Jesus so shared in their sorrow that he let out an involuntary gasp. He really did feel their pain with all that He was. And He wept.

When we are in pain, it helps to know that Jesus weeps with us. He is not a distant deity, aloof and apart from our burdens. He will not always step in when we want or solve our problem as we want Him to, yet even when we must go through difficulty, God shares in our sorrows.

Jesus stands at the entrance to the tomb, and a miracle takes place. He calls Lazarus from death into life. The pain of Mary and Martha is instantly swept away and replaced with joy. The mourners’ weeping is turned into dancing. Grief is replaced with hope.

It doesn’t happen that way every time, though, does it? If you’ve stood by the graveside of a spouse or a child, by the hospital bed of a loved one, you know that sometimes the grief doesn’t pass away so quickly. And yet, the truth of what Jesus did at the tomb of Lazarus is a truth that makes all the difference for us in times of sorrow and loss: death is not the last word. The One who called Lazarus forth with a word is the same One who holds our lives and our futures – in life or in death, in comfort or in pain. Our hope does not lie in the good news or bad news of circumstances; our hope is in Him.

Even our deepest sorrow will ultimately be turned to joy. As Revelation 21:4 promises, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Though we experience sorrow and grief for a time, God will take our worst and transform it into His best.

Did you notice what happened at the end of that passage, in verse 46? While most of the town was celebrating, and many came to believe in Jesus because of this wonderful miracle, there were a few who weren’t celebrating. There are always a few like this, aren’t there? They go to the Pharisees to report on these events, and in the next few verses of chapter 11 we learn that the religious establishment – the chief priests and the Pharisees – decide that this Lazarus episode is the last straw. If they don’t do something soon, the people are likely to rise up and declare their belief in Him, and then where would they be?

So even as Jesus approaches Jerusalem a few days later – even as the people come out with palm branches and cries of Hosannah – the storm clouds of opposition are forming.. As the week progressed, they would watch Jesus as He made His way about Jerusalem. They questioned Him, tried to trap Him, yet nothing they could do seemed to make a difference to the crowds that followed Him and listened to Him teach. In the next several days, plans are laid, deals are made, bribes are paid. Soon Jesus would be taken care of.

And so the disciples gather with Jesus to celebrate Passover, not knowing what was about to happen to Him. Jesus tries to prepare them for the tumult of events that are about to take place, and as usual, Simon Peter steps in to object. “I’ll go with you anywhere, Lord,” Peter insists. “I’d even lay down my life for you.” John describes the scene for us: (John 13:36-38)

Simon Peter is a good news, bad news kind of guy. His heart is in the right place, but so often he just doesn’t get it. He is the disciple who speaks more than any other in the gospels – sometimes he even says the right thing! At Casesarea Philippi he’s the first one to recognize Jesus as Messiah – then he tries to correct Jesus and divert Him from His mission and gets compared to the Devil himself! As Kent Hughes says, “Sometimes he only opened his mouth to change feet. At other times his words were priceless.”

Now, at this strategic moment before Jesus prepares for His trial and crucifixion, Peter speaks up again to guarantee his support, no matter what happens. Jesus responds, “Really? The fact is, Peter, that before the rooster crows tomorrow, you will have denied me three times.”

Did you know that the word Jesus uses here, to deny, is the same word He used when He asked His followers to “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” Jesus is saying, “Peter, I know you think you are strong and capable, but you’re not as strong as you think. Tonight you won’t be denying yourself as I’ve asked you to do; you’ll be denying me.”

In the hours ahead the group will go with Jesus to the garden to pray. There the soldiers and the religious leaders, led by Judas, will arrest Jesus and take him into the city to await trial. Peter follows and waits outside the home of the chief priest. John seems to know the doorkeeper, and he and Peter are admitted to the courtyard. That’s where Peter’s encounters takes place: (John 18:17, 25-27). Luke’s gospel tells us that just as Peter loudly denies Jesus for the third time, the Lord is there, and their eyes meet. And Peter runs away weeping.

The man who had been so confident of his faithfulness a few hours before, now realizes that he has failed his Lord miserably – not once but three times! What happened? Did he fear that he would also be arrested, or did he simply fear that he would be ridiculed by a hostile crowd? Whatever the reason, Peter found that his confidence in his own strength had been misplaced.

Have you ever felt that way? We all have. God gave you an opportunity to stand for Him, and you passed. You had an opportunity to offer a positive witness for Christ, but you didn’t really want to stand out, so you went along with what everyone else was saying. You had a chance to share Christ with someone, but you were afraid you might sound odd or different, so you kept your mouth shut. And the rooster crowed.

Something died inside Peter that night. That’s why the story we find in John 21 is so exciting, as Jesus takes Peter’s worst moment and transforms it into God’s best for his life. It is several days after that first Easter day; Peter and some of the disciples had taken their boat to go fishing on the Sea of Tiberias. Coming ashore, they are met on the beach by Jesus. Like the other disciples, Peter had been there when the resurrected Christ appeared to them – but in his heart, he still felt like a failure. He wondered if he would ever be of use to the Lord again.

In one of his books on leadership, Warren Bennis observes that "Almost invariably, great leaders have had a significant setback, crisis or failure in their lives. Many of the leaders I studied faced adversity early in their lives.” He gives the example of John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach at UCLA, who was grateful that he had opportunities to fail early in life because he was convinced that failure helped prepare him for future success.

Now Jesus speaks to his defeated disciple: (John 21:15-17)

Jesus doesn’t call him Peter, the name the Lord had given him; He calls him Simon, the name he carried before he met Christ. This conversation wasn’t meant to be gentle and comforting; it was a confrontation. It is as if Jesus says, “Do you remember what you were like before we met? Tell me, do you love me more than these other disciples?” Standing there by the fire, don’t you think Peter’s mind flashed back to that night in the courtyard, standing by another fire?

Weakly, Peter answers, “Yes Lord, you know I care for you.” Peter uses the word phileo, a word for affection. No more braggadocio about his faithfulness. And Jesus says, “Tend my lambs.” Then serve me.

Now Jesus asks again, “Do you love me?” No comparison to others this time, just cut to the chase: do you really love me? And again Peter responds, you know I care for you Lord. Then shepherd my sheep.

A third question – one for each of Peter’s denials – and this time Jesus uses the same word Peter has used. Do you really care for me? And with a broken heart, this big, tough man – who now knows that his own strength is inadequate – says, “Lord, you know I do.” Then tend my sheep.

Three denials. Now three confessions, and three commissions. The restoration is complete, and once again Jesus calls Peter to become His disciple as he says, in verse 19, “Follow me!” Jesus wants Peter to serve, but first he wants him to love.

Can you look back in your own life and find times when you have failed in something –in a marriage, as a parent, in a profession? Just as he did with Peter, Jesus wants you to know that you can be restored to usefulness. Just come to Jesus as you are – with whatever you have to give – and He will provide what you need to be whole once again. God can take our worst and transform it into His best.

The hours following Jesus’ arrest were a swirl of accusation, a trumped-up trial, and then the moment before Pilate when the crowd shouted “Crucify him!” No palm branches; no hosannas – just the hate-filled shouts of an angry mob. And Pilate delivered Him to them to be crucified.

During those hours on the cross, a cosmic battle took place. The sinless Son of God took on Himself the world’s sin, paying a price that was rightfully ours. The prophet Isaiah described it like this: “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isa 53:5-6)

First the first time in his earthly life, Jesus was utterly alone – the Son, bearing the burden of our sin, was separated from the Father. As John Stott put it, “The darkness of the sky was an outward sign of the spiritual darkness that enveloped him.” Then the darkness lifted. Jesus uttered a last word, tetelestai -- “It is finished.” It was an everyday word in that day. When a servant completed the task assigned by the master, he would report back, tetelestai – the work you gave me is done. When an artist completed a new work, he would step back, look at it and say, tetelestai – my work here is done. When the priest examined an animal that had been brought for sacrifice and determined it was without flaw aand acceptable for sacrifice, he pronounced tetelestai – it is complete.

Jesus said “It is finished!” “And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit.” (John 19:30)

During those hours, can you imagine the silence in heaven? Perhaps for the first time since creation, the songs of praise were stilled as the angelic host looked on, stunned, as the Son of God hung on a cross.

Not so in hell, where there was a demonic celebration underway. They had done it! They had destroyed the very Son of God! The shrieks of demonic delight went on and on, until finally they heard Him utter that word, tetelestai. Was it really finished, they wondered?

Then they heard it – a thunderous sound, like an earthquake, as the gates of hell began to shake. As the devil and his demons looked on in horror, down they came, crashing with a deafening sound, and standing there was the One who had conquered sin, conquered death. The demons heard him say it – tetelestai -- but they had misunderstood. They didn’t realize it had been a cry of victory. The work of redemption had been completed; death had been conquered. God had taken the worst evil could do and turned it into the best for you and for me. It is finished.

Because He died, we can experience life abundant and eternal. Because of His sacrifice, the Old Testament law has been fulfilled. Because of what He has done, the bad news of sin has been overcome by the good news of grace. In fact, that’s what the gospel is – evangelion, literally “good news.” It is good news for you and for me. Jesus Christ can take the bad news of our sin, our rebellion, our failures, and transform them by the good news of His love and grace.

I’ll never forget that Saturday, February 1. I was flying into Jacksonville, Florida, and as my dad picked me up at the airport he said, “Have you heard about the space shuttle?” Then I listened in amazement as he told me of news reports that the shuttle Columbia had apparently exploded during reentry, and the crew was lost. For the rest of the day we listened off and on to news reports.

Like most Americans, until that morning I had paid little attention to shuttle missions. We’ve become complacent about such things, haven’t we? I couldn’t have told you the name of a single crew member. But over the following hours and days, we began to learn about each member of the crew – about Willie McCool, Mike Anderson and Dave Brown, about Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon, and about Commander Rick Husband.

Most of us had never heard about Rick Husband until this terrible tragedy, but in the days afterward we learned that he was a committed Christian, a member of the choir at Grace Community Church in Houston. And millions of people around the world learned that in the documents he had to sign in case of something tragic happening on the mission. Husband wrote a special note to his pastor which said: "Tell them about Jesus. He means everything to me.”

The loss of Columbia was a tragic event, yet isn’t it amazing that God can take even such a tragedy and use it to share His love with millions of people, in a way they never might have heard otherwise? God can take our worst and transform it into His best.

He can do it in your life, too.

Michael Duduit is Editor of Preaching magazine and Director of the National Conference on Preaching, which will be held April 7-9, 2008, in suburban Washington, DC. ( Effective June 1, 2008, he will also serve as Dean of the Graduate School of Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, SC.