Welcome to the greatest day of the year.  What happened today is the foundation of the entire Christian faith.  Today is the day we celebrate what God did.  He destroyed sin and the curse of sin over our lives.

Scripture explains what happened.

14 Because God’s children are human beings – made of flesh and blood – the Son also became flesh and blood. 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. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. NLT Hebrews 2:14-15

Last week we explained that we were all born with sin and that sin does enormous damage to us.  What does sin do?  Sin destroys our ability to be who we want to be.  If we are honest, we all walk through life and we struggle.  We struggle with sin.  We struggle with anxiety and depression.   We struggle with relationships and forgiveness.   We struggle with fear, control, and doubt.  Why?  Because of sin.

Paul wrote this.

I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.  …Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. MSG Romans 7:17-20

Do you connect with that?  Have you discovered something deep inside you keeps sabotaging your best intentions?  Have you discovered you struggle to be the person you want to be?  If the answer is yes, then I want to tell you, you are normal.  That’s what sin does.  And that is what makes today the greatest day of the year.  God saw our struggle with sin and wanted to do something about it.  So God enters earth in the form of Jesus to destroy sin and the curse of sin over our lives.

This is how the Bible puts it.

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.  With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death. MSG Romans 7:25-8:2

Would it not be awesome if God would come into your life and destroy the power of sin and the damage sin does?  Almost like God destroying the low-lying black cloud over your life, finally destroyed?  Wouldn’t that be incredible.

Well, God did.  We call it Easter.  Today is a celebration of what God did for us.  To celebrate God today, I want to walk you through the story.  This is a story of God’s passion for you.  This is how God destroyed sin and the power of sin.

In the days of Jesus, the Jewish people would go to the city of Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.  The Passover celebration is about what God did for the Jewish people in Egypt.  Do you remember the last plague God sent against Egypt?  It was the death of the oldest son.  God protected the Jewish people.  When they put blood on the doorposts, the Angel of Death ‘passed over’ their home.  That is why the celebration was called ‘Passover.’  And ever since that day in Egypt, God commanded the Jewish people to always celebrate Passover and never forget what God did to rescue them from slavery.  That is why Jesus and His disciples were in Jerusalem.

On Thursday evening of Passover, Jesus was with his disciples and they had their last supper together.  Jesus knew that this moment was the beginning of what He had to walk through.  I want you to stop for a second and imagine what it was like to be Jesus and walk into this moment.  He knew God asked Him to die a criminal’s death on the cross.  He knew he was about to walk into a nightmare of pain, exhaustion, and rejection.  He knew the sin of the world would soon fall on Him and it would crush Him.  And He knew it would happen in the next 24 hours.

At the last supper, what does Jesus do?  Jesus does a couple of very important things.  First, Jesus washes the feet of the disciples.  Even the feet of Judas who had already betrayed Jesus for around $300 in today’s value.  Secondly, during this meal, Jesus commands the disciples to love each other.  And lastly, Jesus walks them through the first communion service.  He broke the bread representing his body being broken.  He drank wine representing the blood he would spill.  He told them, do this in remembrance of me.

Think about the Last Supper for a moment.  Who would have all the authority and power in the universe and surrender it to wash the feet of 12 men who would later abandon him?  Jesus would.  Who would show love to someone who had already betrayed him for $300?  Jesus would.  Who would walk through humiliation, a beating by the Roman soldiers, 39 lashes with a lead tipped whip, and experience death by crucifixion for 6 hours to take on the sin of the world?  Jesus would.  That’s the ultimate picture of humility, sacrifice, and love.

After dinner, they leave the meal and go to the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus goes off to pray to ask His Father.

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

What a dark moment.  Jesus knows his time is moments away.  He knows the pain and rejection He will have to walk through.  So Jesus gets alone with God and begs God, “Please, is there any other way, I don’t want to do this.”  Heaven is silent.  It’s the only way.  Jesus continues to pray with so much intensity, scripture records Jesus begins to sweat blood.

Remember, this is Thursday after dinner.  It’s getting late, around midnight.  Jesus is praying and Thursday now turns into Friday.  Jesus is tired.  Jesus is emotionally exhausted.  And then this happens.  Jesus hears people coming into the Garden.  It’s this moment when Jesus knows, there is no turning back.  There is no rescue.  And to do what His Father wants, Jesus is going to have to walk through this.

The crowd Jesus hears is Judas, one of His disciples, showing up with the temple guards.  Judas kisses Jesus.  That kiss was the signal to the guards, ‘This is the guy you want to arrest.’  Imagine that feeling for Jesus.  You have loved Judas as a friend for years.  Judas watched you do miracles.  Judas was a part of every moment around the fireside talks.  Judas sat and listened to every teaching you gave.  What is your reward for offering your friendship to Judas?  He betrays you for around $300.

The guards arrest Jesus in the garden and take Him away.  It’s early morning, still dark.  Jesus is exhausted.  The guards take Him to a house of one of the Pharisees.  Peter, one of Jesus’ key disciples, is close enough to see what is happening but far enough away from being noticed by the guards.  A girl comes up to Peter and identifies Peter as a disciple.  Peter is terrified and denies ever knowing Jesus.

And this is what is recorded.

61 At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” 62 And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly. NLT Luke 22:61-62

It was only a few hours earlier Peter told Jesus, “I am willing to go to prison with you, even die with you!”  Peter is crushed. He just can’t be the guy he wants to be.  Peter desperately wants to be there for Jesus.  He wants to be the guy who stands for Jesus.  And he crumbles.

There is an early morning trial in front of the Jewish religious leaders.  The same group who for years hated Him now have the upper hand.  They finally got Him.  Jesus has to surrender to these awful, hard hearted, religious, jealous leaders.  It’s in the meeting when some of the Jewish religious leaders spit on him and punched him.  Jesus allows them to play their games and manipulate the system to have Him sent to the Romans for crucifixion.

After this fake trail before the Jewish leaders, Jesus is then sent to Pilate.  There is a trial before Pilate.  This is when the Roman guards spit on Jesus.  They punched Jesus.  They hit him on the head with a stick.  They dressed Jesus in a purple rob and mocked Jesus.  They made a crown of thorns and slammed it on His head.  He was finally whipped 39 times.  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, too exhausted.  The Roman soldiers get someone to help carry the cross to Skull mountain.

We have to stop and ask, who would walk through that punishment so that someone else doesn’t have to walk through that punishment?  Jesus did.  Jesus walked through that so that you wouldn’t have to experience any judgement.

It’s now Friday morning at 9 am.  No sleep.  Emotionally exhausted.  Humiliated.  Whipped and beaten.  The Romans stretch Jesus out of a cross and spike His feet and hands like a criminal.  They lift the cross, slam it into the ground.  Now in torment, Jesus hangs there.  His beaten, broken, and bloody body is waiting to slowly run out of oxygen.  His mom and a few friends are watching this and weeping.  With every breath out, you can’t get a full breath of air back in.  It is slow.  It is painful.  It takes 6 hours.  Friday at 3 pm he dies.

This is how scripture explains what happened:

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

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.  He took our sins and He gave us His righteousness.  That punishment Jesus walked through was supposed to be for you.  It was supposed to be for me.  But Jesus walked through it so that you and I would never have to experience that punishment.

Scripture says:

God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public-to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it’s now-this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness. MSG Romans 3:25-26

Jesus dies.  He 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.

That’s the God story.  It changed everything.  We call it Easter.  What does the empty grave mean to us today?

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, have you ever felt like you have failed so many times, God will give up on you?  Have you stopped reaching out to God in prayer because you feel like you are a lost cause?  I am happy to tell you, you couldn’t be more wrong.  God 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 nuts?’  ‘Have you read the story?’  He didn’t hang there broken and bloody, for 6 hours, to give up on you.

Third, do you think bad things happen to you because God is punishing you?  If you believe that, you don’t understand grace.  You don’t fully understand what Jesus did for you.

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.

If you believe bad things are happening to you because God is punishing you, you are still stuck in religion.  You still believe God’s love is based on how you behave.  You are stuck in a life that is struggling to behave to earn God’s love.  The judgement, the punishment, the hammer that was supposed to fall on you, fell on Jesus.

Paul explains this.

God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. MSG Hebrews 12:7

I want to be clear about bad things that happen to us.  First, bad things will happen to us.  When you ask Jesus to rescue you, that doesn’t mean you will live a pain free life. Secondly, sometimes bad things happen to us because we made bad choices.  If I hit my hand with a hammer, it will hurt.  That’s not God’s fault.  Third, scripture tells us that we can’t earn God’s love through our effort, we are free.  That doesn’t mean we have a permission slip to sin or live sloppy or lazy lives.

Let’s recap.  What does the empty grave mean to us today?  You are free from the spiritual curse of sin.  The curse of sin and death has been broken.  When you struggle with sin, anxiety, depression, relationships, forgiveness, fear, control, and doubt, that means you are normal.  You can bring that to God.

The empty grave means God will never get tired of loving you, pursuing you and forgiving you.  He didn’t walk through what He walked through to give up on you.

The empty grave means that Jesus took the punishment, the judgement, the hammer that was supposed to fall on you.  Based on scripture, when bad things happen, it’s not God’s punishment.

Last thing I want you to know.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

In this one act, Jesus breaks the curse of sin and death over you.  And, if you pray and reach out to Jesus, Jesus fills you with the righteousness of God.  That means when you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, something spiritual happens.  God reaches into your life and pulls out all the sin, guilt, and shame.  He then pours it onto Jesus that day.  God then reaches into Jesus and pulls out His righteousness and pours it into you.  It’s almost too good to be true.

Today, you can be spiritually transformed.  Filled with the righteousness of God.  Then everyday after today, you go back to God again and again and again to stay in that relationship.  And that’s why Jesus came.  Not only to take away your sins but fill you with the righteousness of God.