Summary: The emotions felt by the disciples on the day before Easter mirror the way we react when we don’t understand what God is doing.
What we celebrate today is the central, defining event of the Christian faith. On this day, for the last twenty centuries, Christians have gathered together all over the world, in remote villages and in crowded cities, in cathedrals and in rented schoolrooms, just as we are doing here this morning; bearing witness to the world that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. This simple statement of faith is the key distinction between Christianity and every other religion or philosophy known to man. It sets us apart. Buddha didn’t rise from the dead. Confucius is still in the grave. Aristotle and Socrates and Plato are all still sleeping the sleep of death. Mary Baker Eddy, Joseph Smith -- every man or woman in history who claimed to have discovered the meaning of life, who claimed to know the way to God -- every one of them is still dead. But Jesus Christ lives.
This fact not only makes Christianity unique. It also makes it good news. But to call the gospel of Jesus Christ "good news" is to be guilty of a gross understatement. It’s not just "good" news. It’s great news. It’s fantastic news. It’s unbelievable news; wonderful, amazing, incredible news! In a few moments, I’m going to talk about why Resurrection Sunday is such great news, why it’s more to us than just an interesting historical event. We’re going to see how something which happened two thousand years ago can still have meaning and significance for us today. But first, I’m going to talk about a different day. Holy Saturday, the day between the death of Christ on Good Friday and the discovery of the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. Because the good news of Christ’s resurrection life can only be appreciated against the bad news of his death.
Consider how the disciples must have felt as the sun came up on that cold, gray Saturday morning. Just the day before, they had witnessed the brutal execution of their leader; they had watched him suffer as his life slowly drained away. His wasn’t a calm, peaceful passing. And it wasn’t a noble, heroic death. It was the agonizing, shameful, humiliating death of a condemned criminal, nailed to a wooden cross between two murderers. They listened as Jesus took his final, tortured breaths; they saw the Roman soldier thrust his sword into Jesus’ side to make sure he was dead; they watched as his lifeless corpse was pulled down and dragged away to be placed in the tomb.
How must they have felt? Grief-stricken. Heartbroken. Shocked. Horrified. Traumatized. As any of us would be, seeing someone we love treated this way. But most of all, confused. Only a week before, they were walking proudly at Jesus’ side as he rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, surrounded by adoring crowds. Crowds shouting, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!" They were all convinced that he was the Messiah, the one who would save his people. He was going to re-establish Israel as an independent nation, he was going to give them, his disciples, positions of honor and authority in his new kingdom. But then everything came crashing down around them. Jesus was arrested, and brought before Pilate, and the crowds suddenly changed their tune. "Crucify Him!" they shouted, "We have no king but Caesar!". And now this. A dead teacher. A lifeless savior.
"How could it end this way?", they must have thought. Everything Jesus taught had seemed so right, so true. Was it all a lie? If so, then how could they have been so mistaken, so deceived? How could they have ever thought that this uneducated carpenter was right, and all of the religious authorities were wrong? What fools they had been! But then again -- didn’t Jesus perform miracles? -- heal the sick, open the eyes of the blind, cast out demons? Could a man who did those things really be a liar and a fraud? Or perhaps they had been following a madman, a lunatic who thought he was God’s Son, but who was really just an ordinary man. Was that it? Or was he just tragically misguided? A sincere man who got carried away, who started to believe the things that people were saying about him, and who didn’t realize where it was all leading until it was too late? Who was Jesus, anyway? They thought they knew him, but now their whole world had been turned upside down, and they weren’t sure of anything. They couldn’t reconcile what had just happened with what they thought they knew about Jesus. Surely, the Son of God couldn’t die, could he?
Yes, try to imagine how confused and distraught they must have felt. Now, let me ask you a question: You’ve felt this way too, haven’t you? You thought you understood what was involved in following Christ. You thought you knew what was supposed to happen. You had hopes, plans, expectations. And then something came out of left field and knocked you right off your feet. You never saw it coming. And not only that, you never imagined that it could come. "What’s going on!" you cried out, in pain and confusion. "This isn’t supposed to happen! This isn’t supposed to be part of the Christian life! I never expected cancer. I never expected failure. I never expected my wife to have an affair. I never expected to lose my job. I never expected my child to die. Something is terribly wrong. I thought I knew who Jesus was, but the Jesus I was following would never allow this." Have you ever felt that way? If so, you’re in good company. Because those are exactly the kind of thoughts that were going through the minds of the disciples on that Saturday morning. It seemed that God had abandoned them, and they didn’t know what to do, where to turn.