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. The excitement had barely died down before another crowd had formed with their fists clenched and s 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 joy and sorrow 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.
Over ten years ago, it was January 13th, 2002 to be exact, we had a “Kodak moment” at Britton Christian Church. One of the most talented and godly young couples that I have ever known were an important part of our church. I had known Jason Mirikitani for several years before he and his wife agreed to move to Oklahoma City to become the Executive Director of the brand new Shiloh Summer Camp. They immediately got involved in our church and were incredible young leaders.
On January 13th I was away, preaching at a church that had lost their pastor, so Jason preached and Jill sang a solo. Jill had an amazing voice and she sang before Jason stood to preach. Jill sang the Easter story of the two men on the road to Emmaus. The men 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 that were so dejected. Jesus shared a meal with them and when 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! (I Can See. David Meece)
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. He told stories of people from God’s Word to illustrate his sermon as well. By the end of the sermon there was not a soul present who walked away wondering what God was trying to teach everyone.
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, Jill, and our church family. Just two days later their joy, and ours, turned to sorrow. Deep, agonizing sorrow. We learned on January 15th that Jason and Jill had been in a car wreck. Jill died at the scene of the accident, their daughter Abby had survived, 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 little Roderick. 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 joy of standing on top of the mountain 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 was looking at Jesus. Jesus was talking to Mary. Mary still didn’t realize that it was Resurrection Sunday. Mary was still broken. Mary was still frantic over the fact that someone had 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 shared 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.
I read an interview with the greatest boxer of all time, Muhammed Ali. The person conducting the interview asked Ali what his faith meant to him? He said,
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 Ali is right about hell being a very real place, a place that God wants none of us to experience. Muhammad Ali 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. God’s Word is very clear about our “goodness.” We may convince ourselves that somehow we are more noble, more moral or somehow better 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 and therefore there is no possibility that we ever will live a “good” life if left to ourselves. 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 of us. 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 their name and cry out like Mary did will see salvation break forth in their lives like the morning sunrise, but those who reject His voice are condemned already because of the hardness of their 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 wrote to the Romans and told 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, a Catholic priest who was imprisoned by Hitler, many times, 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 come to the knowledge this very morning that Someone died in our place in order that we might live. Mr. Gasovnachek was a stranger to Father Kolbe, but you are no stranger to the Lord. He is the One who knit you together in your mother’s womb, He has given you every breath you’ve ever breathed in this life, and He has been the unseen Hand that been there for you every day of your life, even when you’ve felt all alone. Won’t you allow Him to open your eyes this morning so that you see your need for Him? Won’t you allow Him to come into your heart and began to transform your life?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
April 5, 2015