Good Friday: Easter Sunday

April 8, 2012

Good Friday
The night before the Israelites fled from Egypt the Angel of Death visited leaving the first born of the entire nation dead.  It was the darkest day in the history of Egypt.
Friday, October 13, 1307 the soldiers of King Philip of France arrested and executed the leaders of the Knights Templar, it was the darkest day in the history of the Templars.
On November 9 & 10 1938, the brown shirts of the Nazi Party instigated what would become known as “The night of Broken Glass” it would signify the beginning of the holocaust that would eventually leave 6 million Jews dead.  It was the darkest day in the history of the European Jews.
December 6th, 1941 the American city and naval base of Pearl Harbour was devastated by a surprise attack from Japan, a day described by President Franklin Roosevelt as “A Day that would live in Infamy.”   It was the darkest day in the history of the United States.
Today we come together to pause and remember the darkest day in history of the Universe, today was the day that mankind took it upon themselves to kill God. 
It Began When He Was Ignored by His Apostles
The events of that day began under the cover of night and finished when God plunged the world back into darkness when his Son took the sins of mankind upon himself.
For many the darkness was sudden and almost cataclysmic, perhaps there was even talk that this was the beginning of the end.  I’m sure there were those who were able to connect the dots. The one called the son of God is humiliated, beaten and mocked and as they nail him to the cross the noon day sun disappears under a veil of darkness.  Coincidence?  I think not. 
But the reality is that long before the sun disappeared at noon time darkness had already begun to descend into the final pages of the story of Jesus.
We are all familiar with the story, it had only been hours before that Jesus had gathered with his apostles to celebrate the Passover.  Only hours since they had stopped and moved away from the busyness of life to pause and remember what God had done for their people when he delivered them from the slavery of Egypt.  The Passover was a celebration, a time of joy and then Jesus dropped the bombshell. 
It wasn’t a new subject, time and time again Jesus had told the twelve that he would have to die, but it had always seemed vague, a someday kind of thought.  It had always been, “the time will come”, now it was “The time is now.”  And to add insult to injury he told them that he would be betrayed by one of them and denied by another.  And they response was classic, there was denial and there was anger.  “Not me” they protested, “this can’t be happening, we won’t let it happen.”
Only a week before they had seen him ride into Jerusalem surrounded by his supporters, cheered by the crowds as he rode through the streets. That was what they wanted, to be a part of a victory parade, not a funeral procession.   And with the meal finished and the news delivered he led them out of the upper room.  We are told in Luke 22:39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.  Historically we are told that there were no public gardens as we know them in the city of Jerusalem two thousand years ago.  This wasn’t a park or a flower garden; this was an olive grove, a working garden and apparently a place frequented by Jesus and his disciples, perhaps a place of solitude away from the crowds and demands of his ministry.  And it would explain how Judas knew where to find him.
And then he asks his closest friends to do two things.  Not difficult things, not dangerous things.  He simply asked them to watch and pray.  He didn’t tell them to stand guard, he didn’t ask them to fend off the temple guards when they came for him he just asked them to watch and pray.
For three years they had been together, for three years he had poured his life into theirs, for three years they had listened to him teach, watched as he healed and witnessed his miracles.  It had now come down to the end, and all he wanted them to do was to watch and pray while he prayed alone.  And when he returned they were asleep.  Asleep, all he had asked them to do was to watch and pray.
Have you ever been disappointed by your friends?  Let down by someone you love?  Then you know how Jesus felt as the darkness began to descend. 
Song
When Religion betrayed him and His Friends Denied Him
Two thousand years before the Son of God was born in Israel His Father called Abraham and promised that his descendants would become a great nation.  Fifteen hundred years before the Son of God would be accused of blasphemy His Father gave Moses and the people of Israel the Ten Commandments.  A thousand years before the Son of God would stand in the temple being mocked and humiliated the temple had been built to honour his Father. 
The very religion which had its birth in the worship of the Father now conspired together to kill the Son.
Sometimes you will hear people say “I love Jesus, it’s religion I have a problem with.”  This past winter a video went viral which was entitled “Jesus Hates Religion”.   But when we condemn religion we fail to understand that for Jesus the Religion of Israel was foundational to whom he was as a man and who he was as God was foundational to the religion of Israel.  If God had hated religion he would never have instituted it and he would never have blessed it. 
Religion was never intended to be a road block between God and Man, instead it was supposed to facilitate man’s journey to meet God, it was there to provide direction and guidance.  The laws and regulations that had become restrictive had been put into place as guard rails and guidelines.  There were to keep God’s people from straying from his path and to protect them spiritually and physically.
But that had changed, religion had become a dirty word and instead of being doormen to the throne room of God the priest had become gate keepers.  And then Jesus had shown up and thrown the doors wide open.  And he was inviting in people that the priests had spent their entire careers trying to keep out. 
Jesus threated everything they taught, he threatened their very life style and position.  If God wanted us to come freely, if his grace was extended to all then the Gate keepers were irrelevant. 
And so it was that the darkness descended as God’s religion turned its back on God’s Son.
And it got darker when the religion that taught “thou shalt not lie” lied about the Son of God.  When the religion that taught “thou shalt not take God’s name in vain” called the Son of God the devil, when the religion that taught “thou shalt not kill” plotted the murder of the Son of God.
But it wasn’t just religion that betrayed Jesus, his life became even darker when those he called his friends betrayed him and turned their backs on him.
First it was Judas, who set a price on the head of Jesus and when it was met turned him over to the authorities.  We’ll never know why Judas betrayed Christ, was it for the money? For the thirty pieces of silver?    Was it to advance his political ambition or was it more diabolical?   In Luke’s account we are told that Satan entered into Judas and some would argue that negated the guilt of Judas.  And he may very well have been an instrument of Satan but there is absolutely nothing to imply that he was an unwilling instrument of Satan.    If indeed there is a battle in the spiritual realm between light and darkness we will each choose which side we will align ourselves with.
As one commentator said “It remains true that Satan could not have entered into Judas unless Judas had opened the door. There is no handle on the outside of the door of the human heart. It must be opened from within.”
But if Judas’s motive was questionable it was at least understandable.  The desire for money and power is as old as mankind.  What must have hurt even more was when Peter denied that he had ever known Christ.  He had even been warned, less than twelve hours before Jesus had told Peter to pray for the strength of his convictions.  And Peter had blustered that Jesus would never have to worry about his conviction, his strength or his courage.  “Don’t worry Jesus, I have your back, I would go to prison or go to the grave before I denied you.”
But deny him he did, not once not twice but three times.  And for Jesus the day got even darker.
Song
When The World Rejected Him  Probably one of the most quoted verses of the New Testament has to be John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  The Bible doesn’t say “for God so loved the people of Israel that he gave his Son”, or “for God so loved the religious people that he gave his Son.”  But “for God so loved the world that he gave his Son.”  And in turn the world rejected his Son.
Perhaps there was reason for the religious leaders to turn their backs on Jesus, he was shaking up their world, turning things upside down.  But the world, for three years he had taught those in the world, he had fed those in the world, he had healed those in the world.  And for three years it seemed as if the world had embraced him, only the week before they had shouted “Hosanna, Hosanna” as he had ridden into Jerusalem.  But not now, now they chanted “crucify him, crucify him.”  On Palm Sunday they had cried out “Hail to the King of Israel” but now they screamed “We have no King but Caesar.”
They had the chance at his trial to see Jesus walk away free.  Pilate, trying to find a way to not crucify Jesus, offered to let him walk away, “Just say the word” Pilate challenged the crowd “And I will set Jesus free, it’s up to you.” 
But instead of choosing the Prince of Peace thy demanded the release of a Servant of Violence.  They were offered Jesus but they choose Barabbas.  The Bible tells us that Barabbas was a criminal, a murder a terrorist. 
But that day he was chosen by the world as their champion. 
Jesus had left heaven for the world he had created, Jesus had offered himself up for the world he would judge and they had not only turned their back on him they had turned against him.  “free Barabbas” they cried, “Crucify Jesus” they demanded.
In an attempt to mollify the crowd Pilate ordered Jesus flogged, beaten with a lead tipped whip. 
And the soldiers did as they were ordered, they stripped away his robe and he was held by some and beaten by others. 
And as the crowd jeered, and as the soldiers counted out the cadence of the whip and as the lash took its toll upon his flesh, it was as if he was saying all over again “This is my body which is broken for you.”   And the day got darker. 
The Body of the Lord.
Distribution of the Bread
When God Forsook Him The Gospels tell us that when they had finished beating Jesus they took him out to be crucified.  Bruised and bloody they made him carry his cross through the streets of Jerusalem.   And when they came to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, they nailed him to a cross and hung him to die.  Suspended between heaven and earth, hung between two thieves he took upon himself the sins of the world.  His closest friend would later write, 1 Peter 2:24 He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross. . .
The sins of Denn, the sins of each one of you.  And as the those sins marked his soul, small sins and large sins, sins of omission and sins of commission, mortal sins and venal sins it was then that he also bore not just our sins but the consequences of our sins.  The Bible tells us that our sins separate  us from God, that in his holiness God hides his face from our sins, that with our sins we build a wall between him and us.  And as our sins were placed on his Son, on the one who had never knew sin, The Father turned away from his Son. 
And the sun went dark and Jesus cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  And then with his last breath He cried “It is finished!”
The bible tells us that to make sure that Jesus had died on the cross a Roman solider thrust his spear into his side and water and blood flowed out.  And it was as if Jesus spoke even in his death to say “My Blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.”
The Blood of the Lord.
Distribution of the Cup
Song
Easter Sunday
The night before the Israelites fled from Egypt the Angel of Death visited leaving the first born of the entire nation dead.  It was the darkest day in the history of Egypt.
Friday, October 13, 1307 the soldiers of King Philip of France arrested and executed the leaders of the Knights Templar, it was the darkest day in the history of the Templars.
On November 9 & 10 1938, the brown shirts of the Nazi Party instigated what would become known as “The night of Broken Glass” it would signify the beginning of the holocaust that would eventually leave 6 million Jews dead.  It was the darkest day in the history of the European Jews.
December 6th, 1941 the American city and naval base of Pearl Harbour was devastated by a surprise attack from Japan, a day described by President Franklin Roosevelt as “A Day that would live in Infamy.”   It was the darkest day in the history of the United States.
On Friday we came together to pause and remember the darkest day in history of the Universe, it was the day that mankind took it upon themselves to kill God. 
Most of us who are familiar with the Easter story know about the physical darkness that day, it is recorded in three of the Gospels.  Here is Luke’s account  Luke 23:44-46 By this time it was noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. The light from the sun was gone. And suddenly, the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn down the middle. Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” And with those words he breathed his last.
You ever notice that when Jesus died the darkness lifted.   It was as if the world had done its very worst to Jesus, but now they could do no more to him.  But even though the physical darkness was gone a spiritual darkness still covered the earth.  Mankind had turned its back on God, mankind had rejected him and mankind had sought to rid itself of the Son of God.  And so on Friday Satan was sure that he had won, the high priests celebrated their victory, Pilate quickly forgot the events of the day and the followers of Jesus hid in defeat. 
But the story was not finished on Good Friday, Jesus didn’t stay in the grave and the world didn’t stay dark.  Today we are here to celebrate the return of the light.
 
Songs
It began gradually, the light slowly pushing away the darkness of those horrible events.   The memories were still fresh in the minds of those who followed Jesus, his arrest, the mockery of a trial, his humiliation, the beatings, his crucifixion and death, and most shameful of all, their behaviour.   
The religious leaders plotted against Jesus but that was expected.  The world turned against him, Pilate sentenced him, the soldiers of Rome beat him and nailed him to a cross, but that was expected as well.
But where were his friends?  His followers?  One had betrayed him for money, one had denied him out of cowardice but there were nine that we have no idea where they were.  Only one of the twelve is listed as being at the cross and that was John. 
Where were those who had listened to his message with such eagerness?  Where were those who he had returned sight to?  Where were those who had been given back the ability to walk? Where were those who he had given the very gift of life to?  Even those who owed him the most had faded into the darkness.
For all practical purposes it appeared that Jesus’ ministry had been a waste of time and energy. On Friday afternoon it was apparent that his message, the message of love, the message of hope and the message of grace had died with him.  And if we closed the book right there that is exactly what it looked like.  The apostles had scattered, Jesus was dead and his message had been silenced.  But the story doesn’t end there, we have to keep reading. 
In Matthew’s account we read what happened next.  Matthew 27:57-58 As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him.   The Light Was Reflected When Joseph Offered Up His Tomb.   From the accounts we know that Joseph was a rich man, we know that he was a member of the religious elite and we know that he was a secret follower of Jesus.  And it is in Joseph that we see the first glimmer of the light of the Kingdom.  Luke tells us that Joseph took a risk by going to Pilate and asking for the body of Christ to be released to him. 
It was a risk physically, it was only hours since the angry mob had demanded the death of Jesus and Joseph had no idea how the mob would respond to someone of privilege stepping up and identifying himself as a follower of Christ.  And yet that is exactly what he did. 
But the risk wasn’t simple a risk of physical harm there were the social and professional ramifications as well.  In Joseph’s actions he was condemning the very religion that he held leadership in, he was proclaiming that he didn’t agree with their actions and was willing to take a stand, even if it cost him everything. 
We know that it cost him his tomb.  Understand that this wasn’t some nebulous theoretical decision that Joseph made.  When he publically identified himself with Jesus it wasn’t the popular thing to do, those who had followed Jesus for three years were hiding in the shadow and for good reason.  Jesus had been crucified for being a traitor to the Roman Empire and to his religion.  And Joseph was basically saying “I’m with him”. 
When you take a stand today to seriously follow Jesus, not just call yourself a Christian because you aren’t a Muslim or a Hindu or a Jew, when you decide to let your light shine, then there will be consequences.  You will have to make decisions that may not be popular with your friends or your family; you may have to make choices that are at odds with your employment.   I don’t know the price that you will be called to pay but there will be a price.
But it wasn’t just a personal cost that Joseph had to pay; there was also a practical cost.   Matthew 27:59-60 Joseph took the (Jesus’) body and wrapped it in a long sheet of clean linen cloth. He placed it in his own new tomb, which had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance and left.
So you understand that this wasn’t just a loan this was a gift.  It wasn’t like giving someone a book to read and then getting it back, or letting someone use your car for the afternoon.  When Joseph put Jesus body in the tomb he no longer had the tomb.  He was going to have to go out and buy himself another tomb.  Don’t know what the tomb had cost, but it had cost something and people weren’t lining up offering their tomb.
In John’s account Joseph didn’t just ask for permission to bury the body of Jesus he actually came and claimed the body and took it down from the cross.  Under Jewish law he defiled himself by touching a dead body, perhaps he remembered Jesus’ teaching that it wasn’t enough to obey the letter of the law, there were times that the spirit of the law had to take precedence. 
And in that gesture the light began to shine again, in that visible, tangible display of love the words of Jesus and his teaching were proven to be true.  There was nothing to be gained by Joseph, Jesus was dead, his disciples were scattered and yet still he sacrificially gave of himself.  
The world had declared Jesus to be wrong, religion had declared him a heretic, the release of Barabbas showed Jesus to be a fool.  But the fact that one of his disciples was willing to give of himself with no hint or possibility of any gain showed that Jesus’ teachings had not fallen on deaf ears. 
And when Joseph showed the light of Jesus it wasn’t long before others were attracted to that light.   In John 19:39 With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes.  Nicodemus, another religious leader, another secret follower.  Do you remember Nicodemus?  He first shows up in the early part of John’s Gospel, in the dark he approaches Jesus and is told by Jesus John 3:3 “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”  
And then we don’t see Nicodemus with Jesus again until he appears in this closing chapter when he fearlessly steps out of the darkness to pay tribute to Jesus.   Satan thought he had extinguished the Light of the World, but here was a spark and that spark lit another light.  Joseph was no longer alone but he stood side by side with Nicodemus and the light of Jesus was reflected in their love and in their actions.
Songs
Let’s pick up the story in Luke 24:1 But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.  And so we discover that The Light Was Revealed When the Women Went to the Tomb
When Mark records his account of Joseph and Nicodemus taking the body of Christ to Joseph’s tomb he notes that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where Jesus’ body was laid.   And because the two women saw the light of Joseph and Nicodemus we see them returning to the tomb as soon as they were able after the Sabbath to deliver their final tribute and perform their final act of love.  As far as they knew Jesus was dead, they weren’t going to look for an empty tomb; they fully expected to find a body there, but still they went.  They went to show their love and appreciation for all he had done for them.  Do you see it happening?  More light breaking into a dark world.
But that is when we discover that the light wasn’t extinguished and the light that we saw in Joseph and Nicodemus was simply a reflection of the Light of Christ.    Do you see the light spreading?  No amount of darkness can extinguish even the smallest of flames.  Light always wins.  That why we were told in John 1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.  As long as there is even a flicker of light the darkness is broken and Jesus promised his followers that light, he told them in John 12:46 Jesus said “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.”
On Friday evil thought that it had won, evil truly believed that the light had been extinguished and that darkness had prevailed.  But as long as there was a glimmer of light, the light was still alive.  The reality was that even before the women discovered the tomb was empty the light of Jesus was destroying the darkness of the world. 
The love and grace that Jesus had preached about was being revealed in the ones he had left behind. The apostles had come together again their common bond was still Jesus; the women who had supported Jesus in his life were still there and still committed to showing the love they had found in him.  His light was still shining.  But instead of the body of Jesus what the women found was an empty tomb and a question. 
You know the story, they arrive at the tomb, the rock that sealed it has been rolled away and slowly they make their way through the open door, not sure what to expect.  Had his grave been desecrated by his enemies?  Were his enemies not content to simply kill him did they have to pursue him to the grave?  But when their eyes adjusted to the dimness of the tomb it was empty,  and the scriptures tell us that they just stood there, puzzled, they had no idea what had happened.  And suddenly we are told that two men appeared in dazzling clothes and the women we are told were terrified, these guys must have been new angels because they forgot the standard angel greeting, you know the one “Do not be afraid.”  Instead they jump right to the question at hand,  Luke 24:5-6 Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? And before the women can even think up a reply they continue and say He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead!”  He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! 
The light was still shining, the darkness may have thought it won but its victory was as temporary as the victory the darkness of the night claims before it is scattered by the early morning dawn.
Jesus had promised his followers eternal light in John 8:12 Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”   The promise was alive again because Jesus was alive again.
Lee Strobel was an atheist as well as an investigative reporter and legal editor for the Chicago Tribune. Strobel’s wife became a Christian at Willow Creek Community Church and he began to investigate the claims of Christianity.  An investigation that would change his life.  He decided to begin with the lynch pin of Christianity, the resurrection.  After looking at the evidence for the resurrection Strobel then lists the various people whom the bible said Jesus appeared to after the resurrection.  He said that if you called each of them to a witness stand to be cross examined about what they saw and allowed them 15 minutes to explain that the total testimony time would be 129 hours.  In other words it would take you from breakfast on Monday until Friday at dinner time listening around the clock to hear the testimony of those witnesses.  
Lee Strobel’s conclusion was that the resurrection was indeed fact and he writes “As soon as I reached that monumental verdict, the implications were obvious. If Jesus overcame the grave, he’s still alive and available for me to personally encounter.”  The Light was still shining.
Songs
Let’s go back to the beginning of the story of Jesus, eight days after Jesus was born Mary and Joseph took their new born son to the temple in Jerusalem to present him for dedication.  And at the temple they met an old man named Simeon, the bible tells us that Simeon was a righteous man who had been eagerly awaiting the coming of the Messiah.  When he saw the baby Jesus he took the child in his arms and praised God saying Luke 2:30-32 “I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!”
The Light Was Released When Jesus Rose from the Dead.  If Jesus had of remained in the grave then Christianity would have remained simply a footnote in human history.  Another deluded messiah whose followers scattered when he died.  But Jesus didn’t remain in the grave and his light shines through those who choose to follow him. 
Jesus told his followers in John 12:46 I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.  All those who put their trust in him are promised an escape from the darkness of this world, an escape from emotional darkness and an escape from spiritual darkness.  He was talking about everyone who chooses to follow him, he is inviting you from the dark to the light, the promise is as real today as it was for the Christ Followers two thousand years ago because the resurrection is as real today as it was two thousand years ago when Paul wrote to the early Christians in the city of Ephesus and told them Ephesians 5:8-9 For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.
On Good Friday the darkness celebrated it’s victory but today is not Friday today is Sunday and the tomb is empty the darkness has been dispersed and the light has been given to those who believe that Jesus is the Risen Saviour and choose to follow the light.  Here is your promise for Easter Sunday 2012, and it comes in two parts 1 John 1:5 This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.   And the second part is found in 1 John 1:7 But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.
Are you living in the light today?  You can be.  The promise is still there and it is still real.  If you have never stepped into the light I encourage you to take that leap today.