An Unexpected Sunday
April 1, 2018
Nobody had expected this.
It was only two days ago that the people of Jerusalem had watched as Jesus had been crucified as a heretic and a traitor to Rome.
For three years Jesus had travelled throughout Israel. Preaching, teaching, healing the sick and feeding the hungry. He had quieted storms and cast out demons. During that time, he had won the hearts of the people and alienated the religious leaders of the day.
And if there had been those present the previous Friday afternoon who were inclined to wager, they would have bet on Jesus being the loser.
After all they had watched him being beaten, they had watched as the crown of thorns had been pushed into his head and they watched as he was nailed to a cross and hung in the sun to die.
He was dead, and this was completely unexpected. They not only heard that he had died, they had seen him die.
When John listed those who stood closest to the cross at Jesus death this was his list, John 19:25 Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene.
And if we read Luke’s account we read what happened next, Luke 23:55-56 & 24:1-3As his body was taken away, the women from Galilee followed and saw the tomb where his body was placed. Then they went home and prepared spices and ointments to anoint his body. But by the time they were finished the Sabbath had begun, so they rested as required by the law. But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus.
Who were these women who went to the tomb? Well according to the other gospel accounts we know for sure that Mary Magdalene, Mary the wife of Clopas and Salome the mother of James and John.
And they went to the grave expecting to find the body of their friend which they intended to prepare for embalming, instead they found an empty grave occupied only by empty burial shroud.
And so, on that Sunday morning so many years ago victory was snatched away from the enemy. And tears of sorrow became tears of joy.
And so, a weekend that began in an unexpected way on Friday had An Unexpected Ending on Sunday.
Well, they weren’t expecting that on Friday. On Friday the hopes and dreams of the apostles had been dashed. Because when they saw Jesus die, those hopes, and dreams died with him.
They had been expecting something else on Friday, perhaps the people rising up to defend Jesus, or a flash of lightning that levelled the Romans or maybe, maybe an army of angels descending out of the clouds to rescue God’s son just in the nick of time. But none of those things happened
Instead, they watched as Jesus had been humiliated and beaten and ultimately he had died. And if Jesus could die then everything he said about being the Son of God, every promise he made about eternal life, every claim he made about forgiving people all of those things died with him and were all proven wrong.
It would be years before Paul would write to the Corinthian church, but I’m sure on the Saturday following Jesus death that these words were on the minds and weighing down the hearts and souls of the Apostles. 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.
But listen again to Matthew’s account of the resurrection story, Matthew 28:1-7 Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint. Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.”
Did you catch it? “He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen.” And that is why Paul could finish his words to the Corinthians with the word “But” because after the “but” comes the truth. Remember 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.
But Paul doesn’t stop with verse 19, 1 Corinthians 15:20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.
And if he could come back from the dead, just as he said he would, then all of his other promises are valid. The coming back from the dead thing, that was the tough one.
And so, the promises that Jesus had made, “the rest” that he promised, “the peace” that he promised, “the forgiveness” that he promised and “the eternal life” that he promised. All of those things are assured because of the resurrection.
And that was unexpected on Friday because Jesus had died and had been laid in a tomb, but because he didn’t stay dead but rose from the dead, just as he promised we have the assurance that he will keep all his other promises as well, So on Sunday there was An Unexpected Assurance
He wasn’t expecting this. After all, he had denied even knowing his friend when his friend needed him most.
Let’s go back to the resurrection story: This time in Mark 16:1-7 Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene and Salome and Mary the mother of James went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside. When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”
Did you catch it? “Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter. . .”
You remember Peter, don’t you? Peter who was one of the twelve. Peter who was one of the inner circle. Peter who was one of Jesus’ closest friends. Peter who walked on water, Peter who offered to die for Jesus. Peter who grabbed a sword in the garden and tried to fight off those sent to arrest his friend. Peter who denied he even knew Christ, not once, not twice but three times.
Jesus had been arrested and his followers scattered, all but two of them disappeared. John and Peter followed Christ, but not together. We don’t really know if John was challenged about knowing Christ, and if he was we don’t what his response was. But we do know what happened in the case of Peter.
Biblical Scholars tell us that the Book of Mark was probably the first gospel written. The same scholars tell us that even though it was written by a young man named John Mark, that he was probably just acting as a secretary for someone else. Someone who had been an eye witness to everything that Christ had done. And that somebody was in all probability Peter.
With that is mind let read Peter’s account of what happened on Friday, we find it in Mark 14:66-72 Meanwhile, Peter was in the courtyard below. One of the servant girls who worked for the high priest came by and noticed Peter warming himself at the fire. She looked at him closely and said, “You were one of those with Jesus of Nazareth.” But Peter denied it. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, and he went out into the entryway. Just then, a rooster crowed. When the servant girl saw him standing there, she began telling the others, “This man is definitely one of them!” But Peter denied it again. A little later some of the other bystanders confronted Peter and said, “You must be one of them, because you are a Galilean.” Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know this man you’re talking about!” And immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he broke down and wept.
Come on Peter, what is going on? This is Jesus, the same Jesus that called you from being a fisherman and turned you into a fisher of men. The same Jesus that walked on the water, feed the hungry, healed your mother in law and raised Lazarus from the dead.
You don’t know him? You practically lived with him for the past three years and you don’t know him? You ate together, travelled together, laughed together and you don’t know him? He taught you learned. Maybe you simply forgot that you knew him. What was it you couldn’t remember? Was it when you said in Luke 9:20 “You are the Messiah sent from God!” or was it when you said in Matthew 14:33 “You really are the Son of God!”
Peter do you even have the slightest recollection of saying to Jesus in Mark 14:29 “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.” Or Mark 14:31. “Not even if I have to die with you! I will never deny you!”
But Peter did deny him, not once, not twice but three times. And if Jesus had stayed in the tomb than Peter would have lived a life of defeat.
Wallowing in guilt, self-pity and grief, this was how Peter expected to live out the remainder of his life, haunted by his failure. And he would have, if Jesus had remained in the tomb,
but Jesus didn’t stay in the tomb.
And when the women found the tomb empty, it wasn’t enough that the angel told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead, the angel also told them in Mark 16:7 Now go and tell his disciples, and especially Peter, . . .
That wasn’t expected.
Especially Peter. Peter who denied him, Peter who swore that he didn’t know him, Peter who turned his back on him when he need Peter the most. Jesus didn’t need Peter to fight for him, Jesus didn’t need Peter to try and rescue him from the Roman Centurions. Jesus just needed Peter to be there.
Jesus needed to see Peter in the crowd, needed to know that those three years weren’t wasted. He didn’t need Peter to die for him; he simply needed Peter to live for him. And Peter denied he ever knew him.
And when Jesus hung on the cross, with the blood from the crown of thorns dripping into his eyes, and he pulled himself up by the iron nails driven through his wrists and said
Father forgive them, he was looking for Peter. Mark Twain said, “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” And that was certainly the case here as Jesus looked out at those who betrayed him, denied him. Those who demanded his death, and those who gave in to those demands.
But that forgiveness is powerless unless it comes from one who has the power to forgive. Unless it came from one who had the power to say, defeat death. Without the resurrection that forgiveness would have been worthless, simply more words from a prophet proved wrong by his death. But when he stepped out of the tomb everything he said, everything he taught was proved to be right. And his forgiveness became a certainty.
Have you ever denied Jesus? Perhaps with your words or with your behaviour? Have you wondered whether or not Jesus could ever forgive you? The answer is “Yes”, not only can he forgive you, he wants to forgive you and his resurrection proves that he has the power to forgive you, if that is what you want.
When Peter realized what he had done, the Bible says he broke down and cried, that was remorse, he was sorry for what he had done. God’s forgiveness is there for each one of us but first we need to acknowledge our wrongs, and be sorry that we did it, not just sorry we got caught doing it, but sorry that we disappointed Jesus.
For Peter and for each of us, Sunday brought An Unexpected Forgiveness
They hadn’t expected this, well maybe they expected something but not this.
It was the day after the crucifixion, the day after Jesus died and the day after Jesus’ body had been laid in the tomb and we read this in Matthew’s account, Matthew 27:62-66 The next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate. They told him, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’ So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.” Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.” So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it.
Did you catch that? The next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate.” The priests and Pharisees actually defied their Sabbath, the very thing they had accused Jesus of several times when he healed on the Sabbath.
Remember the woman couldn’t even go to prepare the body of their friend for fear of breaking the Sabbath.
After Jesus was arrested we read this account John 18:28 Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas ended in the early hours of the morning. Then he was taken to the headquarters of the Roman governor. His accusers didn’t go inside because it would defile them, and they wouldn’t be allowed to celebrate the Passover.
On Friday morning they wouldn’t meet with Pilate because they were afraid they would be defiled and yet on Saturday morning, the Sabbath, we find the religious elite standing in front of Pilate with cap in hand and not just any Sabbath, we read in John 19:31 It was the day of preparation, and the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath (and a very special Sabbath, because it was the Passover). So they asked Pilate to hasten their deaths by ordering that their legs be broken. Then their bodies could be taken down.
Pilate must have sensed how important this was to them, to him it was just one more favour to tuck away in the favour box for later repayment. And so, the tomb was secured with the seal of Rome, to break that seal was a capital crime. And then guards were posted to make sure the tomb wasn’t tampered with. The priests and Pilate were taking this seriously.
And once the guards were posted, they didn’t expect that anything could go wrong. And then we pick up the story in Matthew 28:11-15 As the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and told the leading priests what had happened. A meeting with the elders was called, and they decided to give the soldiers a large bribe. They told the soldiers, “You must say, ‘Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body.’ If the governor hears about it, we’ll stand up for you so you won’t get in trouble.” So the guards accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say. Their story spread widely among the Jews, and they still tell it today.
And so the authorities had to come up with An Unexpected Explanation
And there are some today, even in churches who still believe the explanation.
They weren’t expecting this. When Jesus died and was buried the apostles figured the story was over that the mission was kaput, that’s German for broken, dead or done. I’m just trying to impress you with my linguistic prowess.
They were going to head back to their fishing nets and tax booths, back to their families and jobs. For three years they had believed the promises of Jesus and allowed themselves to dream of what could be instead of what was. But now, the eternal had been put to rest and now they would return to the everyday.
Let’s pick up the resurrection story again, this time in John’s account. John 20:19-21 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”
Did you catch that? He wasn’t letting them go, he was sending them out on a mission. Sending them to do all the things that he had been sent to do. And today, Easter Sunday 2018 Jesus is still telling those who follow him, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”
And so, while Friday may have presented us with an unexpected ending, the gift of Sunday is An Unexpected Beginning.
The resurrection is an invitation to experience his grace, an invitation to change the world.
Where are you at this morning? Are you ready to accept Jesus’ invitation, to claim the assurance that his promises are true, are you ready to accept his forgiveness?