Summary: God came a long, long way to enter our world, endure the cross and triumph over death. He did it for you.

Sermon for Easter Sunday – April 12, 2009 – The Power and Triumph of Easter

The story of Good Friday and Easter is when you really pay attention, the most dramatic and intense story imaginable.

It is a story of the world’s Creator having become a part of His creation. Look at your hands for a moment. The story of Good Friday and Easter is the story of the manifest glory and majesty of the Creator of the universe having taken on human flesh.

Sharing the same flesh as you and me; it is the story of all of God’s wisdom and knowledge and understanding, the Logos, the Word becoming tangible in a Jewish rabbi, a first century Palestinian carpenter. It is the story of holiness Itself inhabiting human flesh.

It is story of the God who fellowships with His Creation…of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit…the only perfect community, this one that exists as Trinity, who reaches out in love, casts the stars into being, creates the planets and their systems, and forms humanity in His image with a critical likeness to God: He makes us free.

It is the story of God who lets us use our freedom ultimately to choose whether or not we would live in relationship with our Maker. Isaiah sums up, in a tidy sound-bite, what we chose to do:

Isaiah 5:6 “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way”.

And in our going astray, in our turning from God to our own way, we have eventually committed acts of selfishness and evil.

Self-destructive acts. Environment-destroying acts. Poverty-inducing acts. War inducing acts. Immoral acts. Justice-denying acts.

And then, of course, as the ultimate act of going astray, we then blame God for our actions. “Why don’t you come down and stop people from doing evil? Why don’t you stop my hand from doing evil? A-hah. It’s because either you don’t care or you don’t exist. Ahah!”

So goes the logic of the human heart when it has lost its way. When it goes astray and turns to its own way.

The story of Good Friday is the story of God who willingly bears the blame for our sin, who takes on Himself the shame and the guilt and the consequences of our actions, or our waywardness.

The story of Good Friday is the story of God who is actually ok with being blamed. He is ok with being misunderstood. He is ok with being called a ‘friend of sinners’. Probably likes that one. He’s ok with being falsely accused of wrongdoing.

He is ok with being called a blasphemer, a breaker of the Sabbath. He’s ok with being falsely accused of somehow being in league with the devil.

He is ok with being misunderstood and reviled. He’s ok with people welcoming Him with a King’s welcome into the holy city one day, only to have the same people contort their faces with contempt and scream out for His blood days later, crying out with passion for His murder: “Crucify Him!!!”

He is ok with being beaten, with being [Isaiah 53:3] “…despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering”.

He’s ok to, while taking up our infirmities and sorrows, be thought of as one who is rejected by God.

He is ok with being oppressed and afflicted, led like a lamb to His own slaughter. He is ok with being crushed and with suffering, with being a guilt offering. With being convicted on trumped-up charges.

With, as a result of those charges and as the result of wrongful conviction, being scourged and beaten and then crucified…murdered out in public along with common criminals. He who did zero wrong is counted with sinners. He is ok with all this.

Let’s stop there. How could anyone possibly be ok with all this? What in the world could be worth this nightmare? Is it not almost unjust to not correct all this horrible abuse?

Come on! Why would He do this? Why would He endure this? What could possibly be the justification for Him being “OK” with this?

The story of Good Friday and Easter is the story of God who is ok with all of this if it will lead to you and me finding our way.

If it will lead to you and me chosing Him over sin. Choosing life with God over life without God. Choosing freedom in Christ over slavery to sin.

Like I said, the story of Good Friday and Easter is the most dramatic and intense story imaginable. The only question is, are we paying attention? If we don’t pay attention, we may find ourselves strangely unmoved, strangely indifferent to the story of God.

Since my atheist ears first heard of this story when I was 17 years old, I have been moved by it. Choked up by it.

And after taking quite an academic approach to the Christian faith in my first few years as a Christian, after scrutinizing and analyzing and talking to a great many people on both sides of the faith divide, I was still and am still choked up about this wonderful story.

So much so that I often wonder how people can simply not care. How people can come to a place where they feel they have enough knowledge and wisdom and experience to just dismiss the story of God in Christ.

I wonder, but I don’t have to wonder long before I understand. Sometimes over the years I have become caught up in doing things my own way, in writing my own story, in trying to control things so that I can appear to be the author of my own story.

And I’ve found myself consumed in the story of Matthew. Not the gospel of Matthew. But the story of me (my name is Matthew). And in doing that I’ve at times lost track of myself as a part of the story of God.

So yes, I understand how it is that people dismiss the story of God in Christ. We all lose our way sometimes. And when we get lost, if we find the humility to realize and confess that we’re lost, we are then ready.

Ready to be found by the God who never actually leaves us. Never forsakes us. He just waits. And waits. And waits.

And while He’s waiting He’s loving you and me. He’s loving you and me back into the fold of God.

The story of Good Friday is a deeply painful one. A few days ago many of us met in this room.

We walked down the hallway and perhaps noticed that there were strange photographs, piece/parts of a picture which when put together, if we noticed, formed the image of Christ on the cross.

We were then welcomed into this space, given a pen and a sheet of paper and a nail.

We then walked around the gym visiting the Stations of the Cross, which take us on a journey from Jesus’ trial before Pilate through His humiliation and beating, to the cross, to His death, and finally we saw Jesus being laid in the tomb.

And then our service began, as it did briefly today, with James portraying the Apostle John, known as the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved, as he stood at the foot of the cross, at the instant Jesus died. We stopped on Friday at the death of Jesus, and we meditated on His suffering in a variety of different ways.

We stayed there at the death of Jesus, for the most part, because that is the story of Good Friday.

The service is very much like a funeral. There were many tears. There were, I suspect, many poignant moments for us as we considered Jesus’ last day on earth.

When we approached the cross here and reverently nailed our sins to this cross. When we considered His agonizing suffering and death. And many of us experienced a fresh the almost incomprehensible truth that what Jesus endured on the day, the day of His passion,

He did for us, us quite personally.

And this takes us to today, Easter Sunday. More to the point, Resurrection Sunday. The day when death, spiritual death, died as Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

1 Corinthians 15: 55 "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is the day when the story of God turns from one of the death of Christ and the death of hope, to one of ceaseless hope, the triumph of love, the victory of resurrection and the humble, so very humble power of God.

This is the day when we discover just why it is that Christ was ok with everything that took place on Good Friday. Why He endured all that He did when He had the power to stop it.

Hebrews 12: 2 says “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”.

It was for the joy set before Him that He endured what He endured. What joy?

The joy of a certain possibility. The joy of your open response, your faithful response to His suffering. The joy of you believing and receiving Him and thereby becoming a redeemed child of God.

The joy of a community, a people who once had no reason to know each other, now coming together with a singular purpose…to live as the Body of Christ, to live as lights that point the way out of darkness to a world lost in darkness; a world so accustomed to the darkness, so accustomed to living in the dark, to living without a relationship with the Almighty, that when just a glimmer of light is visible, it casts an entirely different perspective on life.

You know it. I know it. The first Christians I met and befriended lived in such a contrasting way to the manner I experienced life. The first Christians I met lived differently, breathed differently it seems to me, definitely thought differently and definitely stood as blazing lights, penetrating the darkness that bound my soul.

Jesus endured Good Friday, gave His name to Good Friday, because of this possibility:

John 1:12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The story of Good Friday and Easter Sunday is the story of your hope, your redemption, your salvation. It is critical that we take this story personally, that we make it our own.

That we allow the Author of life to write us INTO the story of God. Not as observers who analyze and criticize and scrutinize and thereby neutralize the impact of God’s story. But as participants in God’s story, as ones who embrace on the one hand the deep, mournful sadness of Good Friday…IN ORDER TO then fully embrace the hope and the power of Christ’s resurrection.

To experience afresh the loving mercy of a Saviour who is ok to suffer murder at the hands of people He created, if it means that you, today, now, will open your heart and make God’s story, your story.

This is the day when we discover that Jesus has loving patience for the doubt and reservation we sometimes feel. The Apostle Thomas, rather than being an example of a doubter, is more truthfully an example of a true disciple who goes through periods of questioning and doubting, and who nevertheless, when wooed and loved by Jesus, returns to a place of deep trust and abiding in Christ.

Let me close an excerpt from Sharon Jaynes’ book, Celebrating a Christ-centered Christmas: An African boy listened carefully as his teacher explained why Christians give presents to each other on Christmas Day.

"The gift is an expression of our joy over the birth of Jesus and our friendship for each other," she said.

When Christmas day came, the boy brought the teacher a seashell of lustrous beauty. "Where did you ever find such a beautiful shell?" the teacher asked.

The youth told her that there was only one spot where such extraordinary shells could be found. When he named the place, a certain bay several miles away, the teacher was left speechless.

"Why … why, it’s gorgeous … wonderful, but you shouldn’t have gone all that way to get the gift for me." His eyes brightening, the boy answered, "Long walk part of gift."

God came from heaven to a manger, from a manger to a cross, from a cross to the grave and from a grave back to heaven. And we ask, "Why all this trouble, God?" And God would say to us, "Long walk part of gift."

What do you want to do with this gift? If you are a believer, like me perhaps you want to say “Yes” all over again to the giver of this gift. You want to re-embrace the gospel. You want to shed, perhaps RENOUNCE the sin that so easily besets us and that threatens to choke the life and faith out of us. You want to fall at the feet of the Saviour and pledge your sole allegiance to Jesus again.

What do you want to do with this gift? If you are here today and you are at a place where you want to take a step toward Jesus, either a baby step where you place the mustard seed of faith that you have into His hands, or a big step, where you choose this day to say “Yes” to the Saviour. To say “Yes” to the story of God that we hear and see in Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

If you’re here today and you are ready to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, then you for you, wherever you are at, let’s take a moment to simply offer ourselves to God.

You know, it’s a funny thing. For those who believe, in a very real way, no words are necessary. For those who do not believe, no words are enough. But if you are among those who choose this day to believe then:

Place your hands, palms down on your lap, on your knees. Close your eyes. In respect for those who are ready for this, I would ask all of us to our of respect also bow our heads.

Your hands are on your lap, palms facing down. If you, in your heart of hearts, want to BE a Christian; if you believe that Jesus did die for your sins, if you want to receive Him as your Lord and Saviour, then simply turn your hands, your palms, around, upward, still resting on your lap.

And perhaps pray along with me: Lord Jesus. Today, I believe that You gave your life for me. I believe that when you went to that cross, it was to take my place. I believe that you died for my sins. You paid the price for my sins. I turn away from my sin. I repent of my sins, and I turn to you now with my whole heart.

I now receive You as my Lord and my Saviour. I trust in Your grace alone, and I open my life to You. I ask that You would now receive me, that my story might join Your story. I ask this in faith and by your grace alone. Walk with me, daily, O Lord. Strengthen me daily to serve you, to follow you, to obey Your holy Word. This I pray in Jesus holy and precious name. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, may God richly bless you and strengthen you. May the “Yes” you have given God today be the first of a lifetime of “Yeses” to God. We want to encourage and support you in your new life in Christ, and in your renewed commitment to Jesus.

Either today or over the next few days, please speak with myself or Pastor Ronda or Pastor Jan or anyone on the lay-leadership team (their names are on the back of the bulletin). You may also want to talk to Rob or Gary. Tell them you’ve said “Yes” to God. Tell them you have become a Christian, a follower of Jesus. And we will rejoice with you, and walk with you to the best of our ability as a church, in your new life.

Let’s pray. Holy God, those who have found it in their hearts to say “Yes” to you today…will You watch over them. Will You strengthen them? Will you enable them to embrace the hope and the triumph and the peace of the gospel? Will You confirm in them a deep confidence that You have saved them.

You have set them apart. You have secured their place in heaven at the feet of Jesus. You have filled their lives with purpose and power. And may each of us follow you joyfully, with hearts lifted up, with our spirits and minds renewed and our wills set to serve You all of our days. In Jesus’s perfect name we pray. Amen.