It had been a week of emotion. There was the fever pitched frenzy of adoring crowds lining the streets, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” as they welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday. While the excitement lingered, the crowd gathered with clenched fists shouting, “Crucify Him!” Before they knew it the sounds of cheers had been replaced with the sounds of flesh being torn and the sound of steel against steel as nails were being driven into Jesus’ hands and feet. With every blow of the hammer, devastation pounded the hearts of those who watched their Lord die in agony. Who would have ever thought that one could experience such heights and depths all in a week’s time?
Life can be like that you know? One day you are riding the waves of satisfaction when suddenly the waves begin to beat so fiercely upon the hull of your heart that it breaks into shreds. One day you are enjoying life to its full and the next day finds you looking into a mirror and seeing nothing but emptiness and sorrow. Have you ever ridden that roller coaster of emotion that I am speaking of this morning? I have a few friends who have taken the ride.
Just this past week Bobby Ross from the Daily Oklahoman sat in my office. He was writing a story about Jason and Jill Mirikitani and wanted to ask me some questions. As we talked I focused on January 13th and January 15th. January 13th was a “Kodak Moment” for Jason and Jill and all of our church. I was away that morning, preaching at Village Christian Church as they had lost their pastor and we were helping them with their loss.
Jill sang the most beautiful song before Jason ever stood to preach. She sang the Easter story of the two followers of Jesus who were walking away from Jerusalem with their heads down, dejected, and feeling all alone after Jesus’ death. Before the end of Jill’s song Jesus joined the two men. As he took the bread their eyes were opened and their sorrow turned to exuberant joy…Jesus opened their eyes and they could see. Jill’s countenance changed as she began to sing the chorus,
Yes, I can see who walks with me
I can see who speaks my name
And I can feel something stirring in my heart
How His words ring strong and true
Like a once familiar strain
And I know that I’ll never be the same
I can see
I can see
I can see!
Following Jill’s song, Jason preached for the very first time at our church and it was a sermon that struck a chord in so many hearts. God used Jason to drive home one of the most important biblical truths that you and I can cling to in life – When you can’t see God’s hand you can trust His heart. He repeated that phrase over and over again. He told stories from his own life to illustrate his sermon, as well as stories from the lives of men and women who are written about in God’s Word. By the end of the sermon there was not a soul present who walked away wondering what God was trying to teach us.
I talked to Jason after he preached that day and he was so honored to have the opportunity to teach God’s Word. Sunday, January 13th was a glorious moment for Jason and Jill. Just two days later their joy, and ours, turned to sorrow. Deep, agonizing sorrow, that is still with us today. We learned on January 15th that Jason and Jill had been in a car wreck, Jill had died, and Jason was not expected to live through the night. Oh, there were so many plans, such a promising future, the sky was the limit for the ministry that God had given to these two, young, talented friends of ours.
How can you experience such different emotions in the span of three days? How can you go from the thrill of joyous celebration to the depths of devastation in less than a week? We all asked the question.
When I was in Plano, Texas I had a friend who was a sweet mother and a devoted wife. Dee Rodriguez loved her husband, Roderick, but he had a lot of problems. Problems that affected the whole family. Dee stuck by her husband even though her hope of enjoying a long marriage was fading. While Dee and Roderick were dealing with his problems Dee found out she was going to have a baby. When the little boy was born Dee was so excited and she poured her love and life into that little boy. It wasn’t too long until Dee noticed that something wasn’t right with the baby. She took him to see the doctor, but the doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong so he sent her to a specialist. Dee was scared, but she couldn’t turn to her husband since he was sitting in a jail cell in McKinney, Texas. Dee asked me if I would go to Baylor Hospital with her while they did some tests on little Roderick. We went to Baylor, the doctors took blood, and did their tests. As scared as Dee was for her little boy, she glowed every moment she was around him. His precious little smile lit her face like lights on a Christmas tree. Little Roderick was God’s gift to Dee and she was more than grateful. The day came when Dee called me — Broken, sobbing, and barely able to talk – she told me that the tests had come back on little Roderick and they showed that he had AIDS. The news sucked Dee down into the depths of devastation.
How do these things happen? How can we be moved from the mountaintop to the valley in the blink of an eye? I could share many, many more stories with you this morning of people who may not know “Why?” but they know the terrain of the mountain peak and the desolation of deep, dark valleys because they have been in both places.
The emotions that we are talking about were experienced by all of those who loved Jesus so much while He was walking the planet healing the sick, comforting the hurting, confronting the Pharisees, and teaching all people about the heart and will of God.
By the time they watched Jesus take His last breath it had been a week of constant change. Their hearts had danced and broken within a week’s time. Jesus had promised that He would overcome death and the grave, but they couldn’t understand how sorrow and heartache could ever result in joy and salvation. As you read the Scriptures following Jesus’ death all you can find is despair and devastation. Peter was getting his nets ready to go back to fishing. Mary wondered how they could have done such a thing to her son. Then Sunday came. The stone was rolled away, sin and death were defeated, and Jesus was alive…but who knew?
Even though the resurrection had happened, Jesus’ followers were still living in Friday’s fear and sorrow. Let me show you what I mean.
1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 3So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. (John 20:1-11 NIV)
The tomb was empty…and so were the hearts of Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter, and John. They had no idea that it was Resurrection Sunday; they simply thought that someone had stolen Jesus’ body. Did you notice Peter and John’s transformation in just a few verses of Scripture? They “ran” to the tomb, but once they saw that it was empty they just went back to their homes. I can only imagine their disposition as they drug themselves back to their homes. I’m sure Peter and John were much like the men who were walking on the road of Emmaus, away from Jerusalem, after Jesus’ death – dejected, faces downcast, and all hope gone.
After the men left, Mary just stood outside the tomb crying. Not only was Jesus dead, but someone had played a cruel joke on those who loved Jesus so much…they had stolen His body. All she could do was cry. Mary just couldn’t believe that it was true. Jesus had changed her life, she was just getting to really know Him, but now He was gone…He couldn’t be gone. Like a loved one going back to the casket for one more look, Mary bent down just to make sure. John tells us,
As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15″Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). (John 20:11-16 NIV)
Can you picture it in your mind? Mary is looking at Jesus. Jesus is talking to Mary. Mary still doesn’t realize that it is Resurrection Sunday. Mary is still broken. Mary is still frantic over the fact that someone has stolen the body of her Lord and Savior. Did she not recognize Jesus because she had been crying so hard that she couldn’t see clearly? Did Jesus look different than the last time Mary had seen Him hanging on the cross? Was it Jesus’ resurrected body that led her to believe that He was just the gardener? There are a thousand questions that we could ask, that have been asked throughout the past 2000 years. As a matter of fact, some theologians have spent so much time asking questions and mulling over in their minds all of the details of Mary Magdalene’s encounter at the Garden Tomb that they miss the most important aspect of the story John has shared with us. What was it? Which verse holds the key, the pivotal point in John’s story? What makes this one point so special, so unique over all of the other details John shares with us? I am so glad you’ve asked. I want to caution you not to get bogged down in the details, but listen, listen closely as I share with you the turning point in Mary’s life…Jesus said, “Mary.” Just one word. No erudite scholarship here. No parsing of Greek participles. Just a word. One word. Not just any word, but “Mary.” Jesus called Mary by her name and Mary was instantly transported from being a Friday kind of gal into the glory of Resurrection Sunday.
Still to this day that is all it takes, just one word. When Jesus calls you by name the tears of anguish are changed into tears of joy. When Jesus calls you by name the depths of devastation are changed into the rejoicing of resurrection. When Jesus calls you by name the stone is rolled away and you are free to come out of your tomb of sin, shame, and despair. When Jesus calls your name you are freed from the prison of trying to fit in, trying to stack up, trying to get ahead, trying to make a name for yourself, trying to prove your worth, your value to society.
It is at this point that Christianity stands alone, a world apart, from all of the other religions of the world. Religion is an effort to get to God. To live good enough, long enough, so that hopefully when it is all said and done you will be allowed to go to heaven or experience the bliss of Nirvana. We, who follow Jesus, recognize that we came empty handed, separated from God by our sin, and yet God came to us in Jesus to offer His life for the forgiveness of our sins. It is God’s determined plan, His will, that has saved us and not ourselves.
Last year, Reader’s Digest asked the great fighter Muhammed Ali what his faith meant to him. Ali replied:
It means a ticket to heaven. One day we’re all going to die, and God’s going to judge us, our good and bad deeds. If the bad outweighs the good, you go to hell; if the good outweighs the bad, you go to heaven. I’m thinking about the judgment day and how you treat people wherever you go. Help somebody through charity, because when you do, it’s been recorded. I go to parties, see good-looking girls. I take a box of matches with me. I see a girl I want to flirt with, which is a sin, so I light my matches, [touches his finger] oooh, hell hurts worse than this. Buy a box of matches and carry them with you. Put one on your finger and see how long you can hold it. Just imagine that’s going to be hell. Hell’s hotter, and for eternity. (Face to Face with Muhammad Ali. Interview by Howard Bingham, Reader’s Digest, December 2001.)
Muhammad Ali is right about a few things. We are accountable for how we live the life God has given us. We will have to stand before God’s throne one day and give an accountant of what we did with the life God has so graciously given to us.
Muhammad is right about hell being a very real place, a place that God wants none of us to experience. Muhammad is wrong about one thing, the most important thing that you and I need to understand and that is eternity. How do you gauge, how do you determine, the likelihood of your spending eternity in heaven or hell? Muhammad Ali says that you can know whether or not you will go to heaven based upon the final tally of your good deeds verses your bad deeds. I disagree. If you were to keep a record of all the good deeds you did throughout your life and they far outweighed the bad you did, that would not necessarily mean that you would go to heaven. If your bad deeds outweighed the good that you had done during your lifetime that would not necessarily mean that you would end up in hell.
God’s Word is very clear about our goodness. We may convince ourselves that somehow we are more noble than the next person, but God’s Word tells us,
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; (Isaiah 64:6 NIV)
Religion and society may try and convince us that we need to live a good life, but when we come to know the truth we will understand for the first time that we have no inherent ability to live such a life. Paul wrote to the Romans and said,
21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:21-25 NIV)
The glory of Resurrection Sunday is that God has done for us what all of us together could not do for even one. God sent His Son into this world to save us from ourselves, from the sin that is killing us, and from spending eternity separated from the One who loves us. God is calling your name this morning. Like Mary, God desires to speak your name and have you realize that Friday is over and Sunday has come, condemnation has been swallowed up by salvation – if we would only believe and trust in the One who came to save us. John wrote and said,
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. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18 NIV)
Those who hear Him call our name and cry out like Mary did will see salvation break forth in our lives like the morning sunrise, but those who reject His voice are condemned already because of the hardness of our hearts. This was God’s plan from the beginning. Long before Jesus ever came to die for our sins, God had already determined that He would intervene in history to reconcile us to Himself.
The prophet Isaiah preached over 700 years before Jesus was born and yet Isaiah writes as if he were watching the events of Holy Week take place. Listen to these passionate words in Isaiah 53.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But 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. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6 NIV)
God’s love for you and me is such that He has chosen to do for us what we could never have accomplished. This is why Paul writes to the Romans and tells them that Jesus came “at just the right time” to save us from our sins. Read with me from Romans 5:6-11.
6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11 NIV)
I have read this section of God’s Word more times than I can count, but I have no greater understanding of its depth today than I did the first time I read it. I still stand in amazement, I bow my head in humility, and I glory in the love that God has showered upon my life…but I do not understand it. I don’t understand, but I am grateful. My gratitude causes me to want to live my life in honor of the One who laid down His life for me.
I’ve read the story of Father Maximilian Kolbe many time, but this past week I gained a different perspective on his story as I heard about the man whose life was saved as Father Kolbe died in his place. Let me share with you the story.
It was February 1941, Auschwitz, Poland. Maximilian Kolbe was a Franciscan priest put in the infamous death camp for helping Jews escape Nazi terrorism. Months went by and in desperation an escape took place. The camp rule was enforced. Ten people would be rounded up randomly and herded into a cell where they would die of starvation and exposure as a lesson against future escape attempts. Names were called. A Polish Jew Frandishek Gasovnachek was called. He cried, “Wait, I have a wife and children!” Kolbe stepped forward and said, “I will take his place.” Kolbe was marched into the cell with nine others where he managed to live until August 14. This story was chronicled on an NBC news special several years ago. Gasovnachek, by this time 82, was shown telling this story while tears streamed down his cheeks. A mobile camera followed him around his little white house to a marble monument carefully tended with flowers. The inscription read: IN MEMORY OF MAXIMILIAN KOLBE HE DIED IN MY PLACE. Every day Gasovnachek lived since 1941, he lived with the knowledge, “I live because someone died for me.” Every year on August 14 he travels to Auschwitz in memory of Kolbe. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). (Victor Knowles, Peace on Earth Ministries. Adapted from Crossroads Family Circle.
My prayer for all of us on this Resurrection Sunday morning is that we will be so moved by the Spirit of God that we will, this very morning, lay down our lives and cry out to the Lord in desperation so that He might save us, break the shackles of sin that hold us, and set us free to live as Resurrection people. Step out of Friday and into the glories of His Resurrection this morning!
I don’t know the details of your life or where you have been in the past, but I can assure you that if you will cry out to the Lord this morning He will forgive you of your sin, grant you the salvation that your soul craves, and set you free.
About four months ago a friend of mine called me and wanted to know if his family could come to see me. He was broken and could barely talk as he and his wife had learned that their son was on a downward spiral. Something they had never imagined could ever take place was happening and they were broken. Their son had been their joy and delight. He was a young man who had been blessed with a bright mind, a wonderful personality, and he had been raised in a Christian home. All of these things didn’t shield him from giving in the temptations he faced while he was away at college.
He had completed three years of his college education. He had made good grades. He was headed to Law School once he graduated, but now his mother and father feared for his life with the news they had received. Their son, so full of promise, was now dealing drugs and neck deep in the lifestyle of the dark side.
I remember when they walked into my office. The young man’s eyes were empty. He didn’t want to be sitting there with us. His mom and dad cried. They felt betrayed. They were hurt. They were fearful of their son’s future. They did not know what to do. We talked for quite awhile and discussed things that could be done to help him get his life back on track, but the main thing we focused on that day was his need to cry out to the Lord. Before they left we joined hands and cried out to the Lord together for His grace and mercy.
The young man checked into Clay Crossing Treatment Center and I went to visit him not too long after he had checked in. He wasn’t thrilled to be there, but he was there. I told him that if he would take advantage of the opportunity the Lord had given him then he would learn more in the 90 days of being at Clay Crossing than he had learned in three years of being at the University of Oklahoma.
This past Tuesday I went back to Clay Crossing for that young man’s graduation exercises. Family members had come from as far away as Kansas. The men who are currently going through treatment were seated in a big circle. Bruce was at his side at the head of the circle and his dad was seated on the other side. Bruce allowed people to share their hearts with the young man and “church” broke out at a drug treatment center. The Spirit of God came down and visited us in such a powerful way.
At one point Bruce asked the young man to stand in the center of the circle because his father wanted to speak to him. When dad stood and faced his son he put his hands on his boy’s shoulders and he began to cry. As the tears began to flow the two men melted in each other’s arms and we all began to weep tears of joy, tears of gratitude, and tears of love for the man and his son. The father said, “Son, there has not been one moment of one day of my waking hours that I have not thought about you and prayed for you.”
I heard the voice of God on Tuesday. As I watched the father engulf the son in his arms I saw a picture of God engulfing you…and me. I want to invite you this morning to fall into the arms of the Father so that He might restore what the Enemy has tried to destroy in your life.
I witnessed a resurrection on Tuesday of this past week, but there are other resurrections that God desires to bring about this morning. Won’t you fall into His arms so that He might turn your devastation into resurrection?
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)