In the early Church, when one follower of Jesus would greet another, oftentimes the greeting went like this: “Christ is Risen.” And the response would be, “He is Risen indeed!” The phrase was spoken at Easter, but it was spoken throughout the year as well. Throughout the centuries, for almost two thousand years now, the reality of the resurrection of Jesus has been the comfort and strength of God’s people. It is the resurrection of Jesus that has provided a new understanding of life, removed the fear of death, and strengthened Jesus’ followers in even the hardest hardships of life.
It was thirty years ago, when the communists of Romania, under dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, lost their stranglehold on the people they had been oppressing and abusing for almost 60 years. Ceausescu’s government had brought the people of Romania to their knees. The people had lost their freedom, but worse still, they were starving, fearful of being turned in by their neighbor or even family members, disease was rampant in cities, clean water was becoming more and more difficult to find, and the nation was without hope. So many of the citizens who were perceived as a threat to the government were thrown into prisons where they died from torture or starvation.
Just two years earlier, in 1987, Laszlo Tokes had become the pastor of the Hungarian Reformed Church in Timisoara. He preached the Good News of Jesus Christ as the hope of the Romanian people. He did so unashamedly, no-holding-back, regardless of who was listening. The church grew to more than five thousand under his leadership. Ceausescu knew he had to silence the preacher. Ceausescu’s men threatened anyone who would enter the doors of the church, but they just kept coming. They decided to deny Pastor Tokes his ration book so that he couldn’t buy food, but the members of the church fed him. Ceausescu’s men attacked him at his apartment, but church members were keeping a close watch on their pastor. Ceausescu knew that if he killed Pastor Tokes it would only make him a martyr, so they decided to evict him from his home and his church.
In December of 1989, word spread like wildfire that Ceausescu’s men were going to evict the pastor. Church members as well as Christians who belonged to other churches turned out in droves to demonstrate in the streets. They sang hymns, as well as patriotic songs, and called for freedom from the communist regime. Ceausescu sent his armed men in and they killed hundreds of people, but those who lived refused to back down and leave.
The resistance continued to grow the week before Christmas. The people were growing more and more bold. They weren’t afraid any more. They called for the end of Ceausescu and the end of communism. Then, on December 22, 1989, it was announced that Nicolae Ceausescu had been arrested and executed. The people of Romania were free and the people of Timisoara flooded the streets. The people chanted, but it wasn’t what you might think. Nobody led the chant of “Ceausescu is dead!” There were no shouts of “Merry Christmas! The Savior is born!” The people lifted their voices and shouted at the top of their lungs: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” Christ is Risen! He and He alone is the hope of all humanity.
The resurrection of Jesus from the grave has been the anchor, the comfort, the assurance and strength for Jesus’ followers in every kind of situation, whether it has been a nation unraveling, a man or woman in the trials of tribulation, or a person sitting in the midst of the ruins of their life, created by their own decisions. This has been true for people from every walk of life, from every country of the world, since it was first announced, “He is Risen!”
There were those in Jesus’ day, following His resurrection, who doubted it to be true. Folks like Cleopas and his friend who had been followers of Jesus. They were walking on the road to Emmaus when Jesus came to them. After their eyes had been opened they immediately headed back to Jerusalem. Luke tells us,
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” (Luke 24:33-34 NIVO)
Many today still doubt. There’s no doubt some of you who are here this morning have your doubts, but my friend I’ve come to tell you “Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!” I want to take some time this morning, as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, to open God’s Word and show you some things that are vitally important for you and me to understand.
First of all, Jesus knew all along why He had come to earth. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus told those who were listening in,
45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 NIVO)
Isn’t it interesting? We hear lots of talk today about our willingness to serve Jesus, but Jesus said He came to serve us. What kind of service did He offer? Well, He was the greatest Teacher that ever walked the earth. People from all walks of life, even those who don’t believe in Him, recognize the truthfulness of what He taught. The teachings of Jesus have been a service to the entire world throughout human history, but this is not His greatest act of service. Look at the Scripture again with me. Jesus said He came to “give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus made it very clear, He could not have been more clear, He had come to die. Not only had He come to die, but His death was full of purpose and meaning. Jesus was not a victim. He willingly gave His life as a ransom for many.
When we hear the word “ransom” today we think of someone who has been kidnapped. The Greek word for “ransom” literally means “ransom” or “redemption.” The word was used frequently to describe payment given for the release of slaves, prisoners of war, or debtors. Jesus saw His coming death as a ransom that would provide release for many from bondage. He would pay what they, you and me, could not pay, so that we might be freed. Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, would later write in 1 Peter 1:18-19.
18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18-19 NIVO)
The second important truth I want to share with you is that Jesus told His disciples what would happen before it ever took place. Jesus didn’t keep what He would go through a secret from those who were closest to Him. Turn with me to Matthew 20:17-19 and let’s read together.
17 Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Matthew 20:17-19 NIVO)
And the events Jesus shared with His disciples happened just as He said they would. Of course they did. God had planned it all along. God had promised His people in the Old Testament that a Redeemer would come…and the day came.
Some of you are like me, you didn’t grow up in church and so this is all new to you, maybe even confusing to you. You may be thinking to yourself, “I don’t need a Redeemer. I’m good.” The Bible says we’re not nearly as good as we think and that we are in desperate need of a Redeemer whether we are aware of it or not. Paul wrote to the people of Rome and said,
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 3:23-24 NIVO)
We are all sinners, we’ve broken the laws of God, we’ve created such a break between us and God that none of us can bridge. God sent His Son to bridge that gap by offering His life for you and me, for all of those who will receive Him as Lord and Savior of our lives. Jesus is the Redeemer sent from the Father for all of those who will believe and trust in Him. Every detail of His life had been foretold by the prophets. Even as Jesus hung on the cross Scripture was being fulfilled. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about.
The Roman soldiers drove nails, more like spikes, through the wrists of Jesus and hoisted Him above the earth for everyone to see. Matthew tells us that from noon until 3 pm “darkness came over all the land.” Read it with me from Matthew 27:45-46.
45 From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. 46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”– which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:45-46 NIVO)
Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That is a quote from the first verse of Psalm 22. Jesus knew Psalm 22. More than that He knew that Psalm 22, written long before Jesus was born, was written about Him. There are other phrases in Psalm 22 that find their fulfillment at the cross. From Psalm 22:7, “All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.” From Psalm 22:8, “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” The reality of those sentences, those prophecies, happened as Jesus hung on the cross.
Jesus’ words, words found in Psalm 22 and cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” are startling to hear aren’t they? Did God really forsake Jesus on the cross? The answer is “Yes!” The weight of your sin, my sin, was laid upon Jesus on the cross. The world had turned away from Him. His closest friends, His disciples, had turned away from Him. And now, the Father turned away as the weight of our sins were laid on Jesus. Jesus wasn’t wondering “Why?” because He knew why He had come, He knew what lay ahead of Him. Jesus was experiencing the full weight of abandonment, the horror of carrying the sins of the world upon His shoulders. Jesus knew it was a momentary abandonment by the Father, but the costliness of the experience, the weight of our sins, were costly, so costly. Jesus was willing to endure the momentary abandonment of the Father because He knew it would result in the salvation of many. Look at the last two verses of Psalm 22 with me.
30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. 31 They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn– for he has done it. (Psalm 22:30-31 NIVO)
“Posterity,” their children, “will serve him…They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn–for he has done it.” I love that last phrase, “for he has done it.” Done what? Let me take you back to the cross. Turn with me to John 19:28-30.
28 Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:28-30 NIVO)
Jesus said, “It is finished.” Most people read this and think, “Jesus knew that His life had come to an end. He knew His life was over.” Yet, there was much more than this going through Jesus’ mind my friends. Jesus had finished everything the Father had given Him to do. He had made it known over and over again that He had come to do His Father’s will. In John 6:38, we read,
38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. (John 6:38 NIVO)
More than anything else, Jesus came to do His Father’s will, which was to offer His life as a ransom for many. On the night in which Jesus was arrested, while He was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed. Let me read to you a snippet of the prayer Jesus prayed. Turn to John 17:4-5 and read with me.
4 I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. (John 17:4-5 NIVO)
Jesus prayed to God the Father and said He had completed the work God gave Him to do. On the cross, when Jesus said, “It is finished,” He was thinking of something much more important than His final breathes. He had done it. He had broken the chains of sin which have bound humanity since the Fall in the Garden of Eden through the sacrifice of His own life on our behalf. Jesus had established a way for you and me to experience peace with God, whereas before His death and resurrection, we were at odds with God, enemies of God. Paul wrote,
1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (Romans 5:1 NIVO)
On the cross, Jesus paid for our sins so that we might be forgiven for all that we’ve done or may ever do. By His death and resurrection we no longer need to fear death. The writer of Hebrews reminds us of this truth in Hebrews 2:14-15. Read it with me.
14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death– that is, the devil– 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15 NIVO)
“It is finished.” Jesus had done it. He had accomplished all of these things for you and for me, for all of those who will surrender their lives to Him and trust in Him. That little three word phrase is just one word in Greek. It’s the Greek word, “Tetelestai.” It means, “complete, fulfill, or carry out.” The word was used by servants when they had completed their master’s task. It was written across a promissory note in the ancient word when a debt was paid off. If you were a Roman citizen who broke the law and convicted of your crime, you would receive a “certificate of debt” listing your crimes and nailed to your prison door. Once you had served your time, paid your debt to society, the debt was taken down and the judge would sign the indictment and write, “TETELESTAI” across it. The freed prisoner could show it to anyone who had questions about his release. This is the word Jesus spoke from the cross–Tetelestai!
I don’t want to be too technical, but it’s important to know that this word is in the perfect tense in Greek. The perfect tense describes a past completed act that has a present effect. Jesus died in a certain place at a certain time, but what He has done has implications for all of eternity. I love what Dr. Erwin Lutzer wrote in his book, “Cries From The Cross.” He writes,
This means that my sins are on Jesus, not on me. Yes, there is sin within me but not on me. My sinful nature keeps luring me toward sin, and even in my best moments my works are tainted with selfish motives. But legally, I am accepted on the basis of the merit of Jesus. Figuratively speaking, I have a new set of clothes and a clear record in heaven. The righteousness of Jesus has been successfully credited to my account. (Lutzer, Erwin. Cries From The Cross.)
It’s the greatest news ever! Look what God has done on your behalf, on my behalf, on the behalf of all of those who will trust in Jesus, who will receive this free gift of grace. Now, before we leave, you need to know that none of this would be true if it were not for one thing–Jesus is Risen! God has literally raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus is not like so many other supposed Saviors, ascended masters, wise sages, and religious leaders who have risen to prominence throughout time. Many have come. Great leaders and teachers throughout history, but they are all dead. Jesus is alive. Many want to hold onto the teachings of Jesus, the story of Jesus, but they dismiss the resurrection of Jesus. I can understand why. Afterall, dead people don’t come back to life, not after three days anyway. Yet, this is exactly what has happened.
If you have questions, if you have doubts, then you need to know that doubters are more than welcome. Thomas was a doubter, but the evidence was more than compelling so he believed. Cleopas and his buddy were doubters, but they too were overwhelmed by the evidence. In our day, Lee Strobel, an atheist, decided he would examine the evidence, and he too became a follower of Jesus. Lee writes,
In short, I didn’t become a Christian because God promised I would have an even happier life than I had as an atheist. He never promised any such thing. Indeed, following him would inevitably bring divine demotions in the eyes of the world. Rather, I became a Christian because the evidence was so compelling that Jesus really is the one-and-only Son of God who proved his divinity by rising from the dead. That meant following him was the most rational and logical step I could possibly take. (Lee Strobel)
I have talked with many people through the years who have had their doubts. Those who were willing to at least explore the evidence realized that the resurrection of Jesus is one of the most verifiable facts of history. Everything about the claims of Jesus really do hinge on the question: “Did God in fact raise Jesus from the dead?” Pastor Tim Keller writes,
If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead. (Tim Keller)
If God didn’t raise Jesus from the dead then none of this matters in the least. Let’s just leave now and go hunt Easter eggs. But, if God did raise Jesus from the dead then His life, death, and resurrection radically changes everything. Everything! He will give you purpose you never knew. He will give you strength to endure the difficult times of life you could have never mustered up on your own. He will give you His peace for those anxious times of life. He will remove your fear of death and replace it with an assurance that He will come for you in His time and take you to be with Him forever. Jesus changes everything.
I want to give you an invitation this morning. I can’t think of any better day for someone here who has never believed in Jesus, never trusted Jesus, to make that decision today. I was texting with a friend on Thursday morning who is going through a tough time in life. My friend said, “I need something to believe in because I can’t do this.” I said, “You already know how I’m going to answer you. Jesus has been my Anchor since I trusted in Him.” My friend said, “I don’t know how to believe.” There are many today who face that same dilemma. We weren’t raised in homes where we were taught about what it means to believe. We weren’t taught about God, Jesus, what Jesus has gone for us, and what it means to follow Jesus. The first step is to confess that we don’t know anything, but we are willing to learn. “Teach me Lord. I’m willing to learn your way.” Will you take that step this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
April 21, 2019