I can’t think of a better way to start today than by reading what Jesus said.
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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned. NIV John 3:16-18
Did you know that? God loves everyone. That means, God loves you. And because He loves everyone, He did not hit the reset button, wipe out civilization, to start over. God did the most unexpected thing. God sent His Son Jesus to die on a cross to pay for your sin so you could enjoy a relationship with God. That’s unbelievable. It’s almost too good to be true.
Last week we talked about what is happening in our world of chaos. We said that it feels like we have lived for one year but aged 10 years. One of the questions we answered last week was about God. What is God doing as we walk through chaos? We explained that God sent Jesus to rescue us. As real as it was in the days of Jesus, it’s just as real today.
Today, I want to walk you through the story of how Jesus died to save us. Specifically, Jesus’ life between Thursday and Sunday morning.
To begin we need to remember how the Children of Israel were saved from slavery. Do you remember that story? The Children of Israel were slaves in Egypt. God sent plagues against Egypt as punishment for not freeing them. The last plague God sent was the death of the firstborn son. God told the Children of Israel, put blood on the doorposts of your home and the angel of death will Passover your home and your firstborn will be saved. Ever since that day, the Jewish people celebrate Passover. That is why Jesus and His disciples were in Jerusalem, to celebrate Passover.
During this week celebration, Jesus was staying in a nearby town and would walk into Jerusalem each day and then walk back to the town to sleep. On Thursday Jesus prepared for the last supper he would have with his disciples. This is when Jesus broke bread and drank wine. It was the first communion. It’s when He washed the feet of His disciples. When Jesus did that, He attached greatness with serving. It’s when Peter said, “I will never deny you!”
We call Thursday, Maundy Thursday because Maundy means commandment. It’s at the last supper when Jesus gave the commandment to His disciples to love each other.
Let’s read about it in Luke and John.
14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” NIV Luke 22:14-19
2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. NIV John 13:2-5
Jesus knew, this moment was the beginning of His life on earth coming to an end. The disciples had no idea what was about to happen. Think about how confusing this had to be for the disciples. They walked with Jesus for three years. They saw God miracles and believed Jesus was the Son of God would rule as king. Then in moments they saw Him crucified. They were devastated.
And the backdrop to the last supper was Judas, one of His disciples, had already cut a deal to betray Jesus. A lot going on.
Stop with me for a second, enter the story and try to imagine – Jesus knew all of this and He willingly walked into it.
Supper ends. They move into the garden. Jesus prays.
Scripture says this:
He went on a little farther and fell face down on the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine.” NLT Matthew 26:39-40
This moment is so intense for Jesus, it’s recorded that while Jesus prayed, he sweated blood. I must point out that Jesus didn’t get an answer from His Father. Heaven was silent. Again, enter the story, imagine knowing what you are about to walk into, praying with intensity, and getting ‘no’ for an answer.
It’s now around midnight, Thursday becomes Friday. Jesus is praying. He hears a crowd of people coming. He knows this is the moment of no return. He is about to enter into the worst moments of His life. As much as He asked God to take away crucifixion, heaven is silent, there is no rescue. And for Jesus to surrender to what His Father asked, Jesus had to walk through this.
The crowd Jesus heard is Judas showing up with the temple guards. Judas kissing Jesus. That kiss was the signal to the guards. This is the guy you want to arrest. Imagine that feeling. You are about to give up your life for your friend and he betrays you. This is after years of spending time together. Years of you investing friendship and kindness into Judas. As an act of surrender and love you just washed his feet a couple hours ago. Your reward for friendship? He betrays you for 30 pieces of silver. Today, that’s around $600.
The guards arrest Jesus in the garden and take Him away. Peter, one of Jesus’ key disciples, is far enough away from being noticed by the guards but close enough to see what is happening. A girl comes up to Peter and identifies Peter as a disciple. Peter is terrified and denies ever knowing Jesus. Actually, Peter denied Jesus two times already, so this time made it the third time Peter denied Jesus. And at that moment, the rooster crows and Jesus’ eyes connect with Peter’s eyes. Peter is humiliated and runs away. Jesus is alone.
Now remember, this story moves into the Friday morning hours and Jesus has had no sleep. He is exhausted. There is a trial before the Jewish leaders. First thing in the morning, the Jewish leaders sent Jesus to the Romans. There is a trial before Pilate. Pilate wanted nothing to do with this. Under the Romans, Jesus is physically beaten. The Roman guards spit on Jesus. Punched Jesus. Mocked Jesus. They made a crown of thorns and slammed it on His head. He was whipped, and because of Roman tradition we think, 39 times. Then, He is forced to carry His cross to be crucified. He doesn’t have the strength to do it. He is too weak, too broken, so the Roman soldiers get someone to help.
On Friday morning, Jesus is stretched out on a cross like a criminal. He is nailed to the cross at 9 am. Now in torment, He hangs there, beaten, broken and bloody waiting to slowly die. What kills a person being crucified isn’t the whipping before or the nails. It’s suffocation. When nailed to the cross, the weight of a person begins to pull them down and their chest squeezes and makes it hard to breath in.
Jesus, hung on that cross for 6 hours. At 3 pm. Jesus dies.
Isaiah the prophet explained what is happing spiritually.
He [Jesus] took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. NIV Isaiah 53:4-7
Later, Paul wrote:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. NIV 2 Corinthians 5:21
All this happened on Friday. We call this Good Friday. Not because it was good for Jesus, but because of what Jesus did, it was good for us. It was an unfair exchange for Jesus. For those who believe, God reached into us and grabbed our sin and guilt and poured it into Jesus. And, in the same moment, God reached into Jesus, grabbed His righteousness and goodness and poured it into us. The unfair exchange.
This is what is recorded.
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. NIV Luke 23:44-46
At 3 pm, Jesus dies, is taken down and His body is prepared for the grave. Holy Saturday is when Jesus rested in the grave.
Sunday, today, is Easter. Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb and it’s empty. In fact, she sees Jesus is alive and He talks to her! It’s all too good to be true.
What does this Easter story mean to us?
First, in Jesus’ resurrection, He defeated the curse of death. Scripture explains what happened like this:
God’s children are human beings – made of flesh and blood – Jesus also became flesh and blood by being born in human form. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the Devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he deliver those who have lived all their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. NLT Hebrews 2:14-15
There is a curse on us. It’s sin. That sin always leaves us feeling like a slave or prisoner. It wears us out. We feel defeated. So, Jesus came to break that curse. For those who believe in Christ, that curse is broken. Sin no longer has power over you. It no longer has the power to make you feel like a slave or prisoner. You are free.
If you have never asked Jesus to come into your life to break the power of sin, today you can. ‘I confess that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus, forgive me for my sin. Please come into my soul and destroy the curse of sin and fill me with the Holy Spirit. Free me to follow You.’
Secondly, everything you are walking through in life, Jesus has walked through. He understands what you are dealing with.
It’s obvious, of course, that he didn’t go to all this trouble for angels. It was for people like us, children of Abraham. That’s why he had to enter into every detail of human life. Then, when he came before God as high priest to get rid of the people’s sins, he would have already experienced it all himself – all the pain, all the testing – and would be able to help where help was needed. MSG Hebrews 2:16-18
Jesus knows what it’s like to be exhausted and worn down. Jesus knows what it’s like to give nothing but love and kindness to a friend and that friend then betrays you. Jesus knows what it’s like to be humiliated. Jesus knows what it’s like to be praised when He entered into the city and one week later, the same people rejected Him. He knows what it is like to pray and ask God for something and the answer is ‘no.’ He knows what you are going through.
It’s important to know that every time you go to God in prayer, He knows what it’s like to walk through what you are walking through. God empathizes with you. When you pray, you aren’t praying to a cold hearted God who is indifferent to you. God entered your world to empathize with you.
Third, Jesus walked through all of it to send you a message, ‘I love you.’ And, you need to know, He will never get tired of loving you, pursuing you and forgiving you.
God showed how much he loved us by sending his only Son into this wicked world to bring to us eternal life through his death. In this act we see what real love is: it is not our love for God but his love for us when he sent his Son to satisfy God’s anger against our sins. TLB 1 John 4:9-10
Jesus didn’t hang on that cross for 6 hours to give up on you. He sent you a message that He is all in. I often meet people who think, “God is angry with me.” Or, “God is going to give up on me.” Or, “God has forgotten me.” I want to respond with, ‘Really! Are you crazy?’ ‘Have you read the story?’ He didn’t hang there broken and bloody, for 6 hours, to give up on you.
If you think God has given up on you or will give up on you, I would tell you, re-read the story because you don’t fully understand God’s love and grace.
Fourth, you need to stop trying to earn your way into heaven. You need to relax and enjoy God.
Paul wrote this:
What magician has cast an evil spell on you? For you used to see the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death as clearly as though I had shown you a signboard with a picture of Christ dying on the cross. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the law? Of course not, for the Holy Spirit came upon you only after you believed the message you heard about Christ. Have you lost your senses? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? NLT Galatians 3:1-4
If you could earn your way into heaven with your human effort, then Jesus never had to die for you. The reason the Jesus story is epic, is because He did what you could never do. So today, if you are striving and struggling to be a ‘gooder’ person to earn your way into heaven, you are wasting your time. Paul would say you have lost your mind.
Maybe for you, you need to stop looking at your human effort and accept what Jesus did for you. Maybe now you can relax and enjoy God. This isn’t a license to sin, it’s a new beginning to surrender your life to God.
Lastly, Jesus invites you to rest and heal.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” MSG Matthew 11:28-30
Knowing the story of Jesus, doesn’t this invitation mean more to you? Jesus enters into a story of pain for you. His body is torn apart. He is broken. He is bruised. He is rejected, humiliated, betrayed. Why? He paid our price to heal you.
Today, you can accept Jesus’ invitation. You can invite Jesus into your life. Tell Him, ‘I confess that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus, forgive me for my sin. Please come into my soul and destroy the curse of sin and fill me with the Holy Spirit. Free me to follow You.’
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. NIV John 3:16
Easter means, Jesus broke the curse of sin in your life. You can live in freedom. You can pray to Jesus and know that everything you are walking through, Jesus has already experienced. You can be reassured, that God will never give up on you. You now know, you never have to earn your way into heaven, you are free from religion. Now, you can enjoy a meaningful relationship with Jesus.