It’s Easter Sunday, which is a day of celebration.  It’s often a busy day of family get-togethers, Easter baskets, and Easter Egg Hunts.  For many, it’s a day to dress a little nicer to go to church, and for some, it’s a tradition to go to church on bigger holidays like Christmas and Easter.  So, for many inside their churches, it’s an exciting day with visitors and more attendance and energy around the church services.  And all this stuff is just fine, but what we cannot do is miss the reason this is such a big day.  This is a big day because Jesus won, He has risen and because of that we all have an opportunity for a different eternal destiny, and that’s not all.  We not only have heaven to look forward to, but we can also enjoy life on this Earth, living our best lives, because God loved us so much, that He sent Jesus to this Earth to lay down His life, defeating sin and death, crucified on that Friday, and on the third day rose again, so that we can now live our best lives.  So, because of God’s great love for us, and the fact that Jesus won we can live differently, we can live victoriously because He died and rose again.  With the God of the Universe madly in love with us, on our side, loving us to the point where He would send His one and only Son as a sacrifice, to win the ultimate victory for us, our lives can be so different.  It’s why Paul asks this series of questions in Romans 8…

Romans 8:31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?  NLT

These are great questions for those of us in the Spiritual Family, celebrating our risen Lord and Savior today.  If God is for us, who can be against us?  No one.  Who dares accuse us?  No one.  Who will condemn us?  No one.  Can anything ever separate us from God’s love?  Nothing can.  He goes on to tell us not even death, the dumb things we do, or the worst sins listed in Scripture, could push God away.  So, the Good News of Christ’s victory just gets better and better, and because it’s a gift given to us by God, we can’t mess it up, or push God away!  Because of Jesus’ life, death, and victory, we can live our best lives, standing in that victory.  The heart of today’s message comes from Paul, in Roman’s 8…

Romans 8:37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. NLT

Overwhelming victory is ours through Jesus, who loves us.  This is amazing, but it leads to the real question of the day.  Do we live this way?  Do we live in the overwhelming victory we have because of Jesus?  I mean, let’s be honest here.  Life is hard.  It’s full of challenges and pain.  We don’t always feel like we are walking in that overwhelming victory, do we?  I mean we will tell others about it, and we sing songs about it in church, but we struggle to experience it in our own lives.  Frankly, it is rare to see anyone living in this “overwhelming victory” we have in Jesus, so while it sounds amazing, it’s just rare to see.  Now today, on Easter Sunday I want to talk about that, because the issue isn’t that the victory was completed, it’s done…Jesus won.  The issue is all about what is happening in our hearts and minds as we walk through this brutal life on Earth, making mistakes, and dealing with all that life throws at us, from adversity to pain and wounds, to so much more.  It makes overwhelming victory seem unreachable.   So, let’s talk about why we struggle to live in this overwhelming victory we have in Jesus.

The first issue we have in standing in the overwhelming victory is this.  We know ourselves.  You know you, and I know me.  We know our thoughts, and our issues, we know our motives behind why we do things.  We know our sins.  We look back over our pasts and see all the wreckage of our lives, we have regrets from all we didn’t do, and maybe some regrets over things we did do, and it’s just so hard to believe and accept that what Jesus did covers the mess that is our lives.  Now I’m not just talking about someone who is not a Christian, but this is the state of many Christian lives.  They love God and are so thankful they are going to Heaven, but they still know themselves, and all their junk and just can’t comprehend that this victorious life is theirs too…because they are still beating themselves up over things that God has taken care of for them.

Romans 8:35 Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture…37 None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. 38 I’m absolutely convinced that nothing — nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, 39 high or low, thinkable or unthinkable — absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. MSG

So, I get it, you messed up, you sin, and will continue to mess up and sin…welcome to the club, but it’s time to believe Scripture to be true, and to stand in the enormity of God’s amazing victory.  It’s bigger than all your junk, and while you tell others that, it’s time to understand it to be true for you too.

The second issue I want to discuss on why we don’t stand in overwhelming victory is that we don’t understand God’s love AND we struggle to believe it to be true for ourselves.  This is where we spent our time last week, really focusing on just how pure and flawless God’s love is, it’s perfect and so far beyond our human understanding of love, that it makes it so hard for us to grasp and accept in our own lives.  Why do I say that so confidently?  Well, it’s because every part of our human condition screams at us that we couldn’t be worthy of this kind of love, because again…we know ourselves, and all our junk.  God’s love is so pure, it’s so unconditional, that we can’t push Him away or mess this up, and it’s in understanding and accepting God’s love for ourselves that truly becomes the key to you and I living our best lives…to finding this and standing in this overwhelming victory we have because of Jesus.  This is why Paul’s prayer is so profound in Ephesians 3…

Ephesians 3:16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. NLT

While God’s love is too great to ever grasp completely, we must get to this place where we begin to understand the purity, enormity, depth, and true perfection of God’s love, and more than that, we need to understand that it is true for ourselves.  I know this is so hard for us because we know ourselves so well, and life is so painful and challenging but we must accept and believe that it is true for ourselves, that is when we are made complete, and experience this overwhelming victory we have because of Jesus.  Now, I want to spend some time in the Easter story showing you the last challenge we have in standing in that overwhelming victory and to do that we would look at a beautiful interaction on that incredible Sunday morning, when Mary Magdalene discovers the stone rolled away, and an empty tomb.

You don’t stand in overwhelming victory because of what you are focused on.  You may need to simply turn around and focus on the right thing!  So today, I wanted to focus on a specific person around the Easter story, her name is Mary Magdalene.  She is the first person Jesus appears to after rising from the dead, and the interaction and imagery of that moment are just so beautiful.  So, let’s go to the story and set the scene, and to do that we will hang out in John.

John 20:1-10 Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. 2 She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 3 Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. 4 They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. 6 Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, 7 while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. 8 Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— 9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home. NLT

First, we need to see something here.  No one had loved Jesus as much as Mary Magdalene loved Him.  Jesus had redeemed, healed, and loved her, and she would never forget it…because Mary Magdalene’s life was in shambles.  We find in Luke that Jesus had cast out 7 demons from her and she becomes a major support to Jesus.

Luke 8:1 Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, 2 along with some women he had healed and from whom he had cast out evil spirits. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; 3 Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples. NLT

Many believe that it’s this Mary who broke the alabaster jar at Jesus’ feet, and while theologians can debate that, what they can’t debate is the heart, the love, and the gratitude of a truly redeemed person. So, we will stay focused on the heart here.  Jesus has redeemed her, and she now supports and loves him with all she has, because he gave her new life, and she gives it all back to him, a true sign that someone has been redeemed.  Remember this pattern I keep referring to?  Loved so we love.  Comforted so we comfort.  Here she is living out what happens to someone who is flooded with and filled with God’s redemptive love, she gives, she serves, and she loves on Jesus.  Now here we are, Jesus has been crucified horrifically right in front of her on Friday night…

John 19:25 Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” 27 And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home. NLT

She is there with Jesus at The Cross, with Him through it all.  Now remember, we talk a lot about the disciples and their loving relationship with Jesus, but where are they right now?  Most of them ran in fear.  They scatter, but where is Mary Magdalene?  She is with him all the way through this horrific, violent, bloody death…and is the first to the tomb to attend to his body.   Do you see her heart for what Jesus had done for her here?  She can’t stay away because Jesus has changed her life.  So, in those times and in their tradition, people would visit the tomb of their loved ones for three days after they were laid to rest because they believed the spirit of that person would hover there around the tomb for three days before departing for eternity.  But they couldn’t go on Saturday, because that was their Sabbath day which they strictly observed, but here comes Mary, very early Sunday morning, while it was still dark, still loving, supporting, and tending to Jesus.  Again, when you truly have experienced Jesus as she has, this is what you do, you were loved so you love, she can’t stay away.  Think about what she walked through Friday night.  How heartbroken she is, how hard it must have been to see Jesus torn to pieces, beaten, mocked, and killed…the trauma she must have felt, those memories flooded her mind, those visuals seared into her mind, I’m sure flooding back every time she closed her eyes.  She arrives at the tomb, to find the stone rolled away, which was impossible, and the tomb is empty.  She runs back to the disciples, Peter, and John races back and John makes sure to tell us that he beat Peter there, so he is faster…good job John.  It’s interesting because the last few lines that we read, again express Mary Magdalene’s love of Christ.

John 20:5 He (John) stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. 6 Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, 7 while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. 8 Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— 9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home. NLT

So John and Peter race to the tomb, John looks in from the entrance, Peter as only Peter can do, heart first rushes into the tomb, the grave clothes folded neatly, the sealed stone rolled away, and Jesus nowhere to be found, and they started to understand all Jesus had been saying and as He would point to the Scriptures and explain that He must rise from the dead, then did you notice verse 10?  They went home.  But not Mary Magdalene, let’s pick up our story here because this is truly what I want you to see today.

John 20:11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her. “Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?” She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.” 16 “Mary!” Jesus said. She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”). 17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” 18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message. NLT

This is so beautiful and the imagery, and I wanted you to see it.  Everyone is gone, the disciples return home, and here is Mary Magdalene, the redeemed, just weeping outside the tomb.  She looks inside and sees two angels, and they ask her an interesting question.  We see a lot of these questions in Scripture where Jesus asks what seems to be obvious questions.  Like saying to a Cripple, do you want to be healed?  Here the angels ask her, why are you crying?  It’s funny to Mary, this would seem obvious but there is a reason they ask the question.  She goes to leave, and Jesus is now standing there, but she doesn’t recognize Him and He asks her the same question.  Why are you crying?  Now, here is the woman who loved Jesus and has given her entire life to Him and has supported and followed Him all the way through the Cross, and is the first to the empty tomb, now the first to see Jesus…but she doesn’t recognize Him.  She thinks he is the gardener there to take care of the place and I want you to see why that is…because it’s where so many of us are stuck in our lives.  She loves Jesus.  She is so grateful for Him.  But she has also been through so much in her life, now has gone through the trauma of watching her Savior, the only person on the planet to love her be murdered horrifically, and now the trauma and confusion of where Jesus’s body is, I mean, maybe grave robbers have stolen his body.  In all her pain, confusion, grief, and regret…with questions in her mind of why she didn’t do more or why she wasn’t there to protect His grave…she can’t see that He is standing right beside her.  Let’s stop and talk for a moment.

We can struggle to stand in and live lives in the overwhelming victory that we have because of Jesus.  We can do this because we know ourselves so well.  We can do this because we don’t understand the purity and perfection of God’s love for us, let alone that we could be loved that much.  But the biggest catch is, we can struggle to stand in this overwhelming victory because our focus is on the wrong thing.  When we sin, when we mess up, when we deal with painful and emotional things in life… (and I always like to point out, I say…WHEN not if…but WHEN) it can consume us.  We focus on it, it occupies our thoughts and emotions, and in all the grief, pain, and confusion that comes with life’s difficulties.  We tend to lock in and focus on it and where we have been rather than Jesus and where we are going.  For Mary here, maybe instead of focusing on what happened, she needed to focus on what was happening!  You know, many of us who had difficult, messy pasts or those of us who grew up in Churches would hear of Jesus’ amazing sacrifice, and it is just that…amazing!  But our sins and hurts pushed us towards the guilt over Jesus having to do this, or for others growing up religious, we may have been led to the Lord through that feeling of guilt and shame over what we did to nail Jesus to The Cross.  So, we tend to focus on the bloody cross and all Jesus had to walk through for our sins, when our focus should be on the empty grave and who Jesus is today!  I want to tell you a personal story about this for me, and something that changed my life forever.

I made a lot of mistakes in my life.  I made poor choices in my life.  I can look back at my life, and my past with many regrets and many moments that I spent most of my life wishing would have gone differently than they did.  Years ago, I went to a conference with MRC, and at the conference one of the speakers stopped speaking and said instead of speaking I just want to give you some time and space to just be with Jesus tonight.  He read some Scripture, and I sat and prayed, and I realized something about my life that I had lived with my whole life, that changed right there and then.  When I would close my eyes and picture Jesus, I picture Jesus on The Cross, bloody, beaten, and in total agony…because of me.  I put Him there.  I to this day struggle to get through singing the song “Amazing Grace, and that one particular line.  “That saved a wretch like me.”  Because I’m the wretch who put my Savior there.  As I sat there on that night, thinking of Jesus, and seeing Him torn to pieces, bloodied, beaten, exhausted, and in agony because of my sin, and what I did…something happened, that changed my life.  I sat there with my eyes closed thanking Him for His sacrifice, and I had one of the clearest visions of my life.  Jesus, healed, whole, clean, glowing white, smiling peacefully looking straight at me, stepped through that bloody scene reached out His hand, and said, “Sam, that isn’t me.  I’m ok.”  My entire life I had spent focused on The Cross, and what I had done to Jesus, that was my focus.  My sin, my pain, my idiocy that put Jesus there…that I was overlooking the most important part of the story, the very thing that could set me free…and that is that Jesus didn’t stay on that Cross…no He won.  He is fine.  And while I was holding all that over my own head, He was not holding that over me.  I had not realized this about myself.  I knew what Jesus had done for me, and I was so thankful for it…but my focus was not on the Risen, Victorious Jesus it was on that bloody scene on Friday and my role in putting Him there.  And up to that point in my life I would hear about this abundant life to the full that Jesus came to provide for me and was so thankful for all He had done for me, but I truly hadn’t experienced my best life, because I wasn’t focused on the right thing.  I wasn’t walking and living a life of overwhelming victory in Jesus because my focus was on my junk, issues, and the cross, rather than the redemption of Christ and the fact that He is whole, healed, and complete, and madly in love with me today, just as I am.  It just overwhelmed me and changed the direction of my life.   So, think about this, you are here at church, celebrating the greatest victory that ever could have happened, the literal greatest thing that could ever happen, and that is the gift of Salvation we have through Jesus.  Yes, this happened through His loving and painful sacrifice on The Cross, but that day has happened, it’s over, He won, and that torn-up, bloody scene is not who He is today.  He is ok.  He loves you, and doesn’t hold all your junk over you…so the question becomes, if Jesus doesn’t…why would you?  So, think about this, can you see God’s love for you?  Do you see and recognize Jesus?  What are you focused on?  How do you view Jesus?   Let’s go back to our story, and what did we see, Mary Magdalene who loves Jesus, is so hurt, grief-stricken, confused, and can’t stop focusing on the tomb, that she isn’t able to identify Jesus…until something happens…did you pick up on what that was?

John 20:14…It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?” She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.” 16 “Mary!” Jesus said. She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”). NLT

Mary couldn’t see Jesus in the middle of this whirlwind of life until He called her name.  Her focus is on her pain, her crisis, her grief, and her loss, and she can’t see Him standing there talking with her.  Until He called her by name and immediately, she recognizes Jesus.  This is so beautiful, and I want you to understand something here today.  You may be thinking, well that must be nice, that He spoke to her, kind of heaps more on me, I mean first this Pastor guy tells me about some vision where Jesus spoke to Him, well that must be nice, that’s never happened to me, and here now we see Mary having Jesus call her by name, that must be nice, but that doesn’t happen for me.  But I want you to know something, we all can hear from Jesus.  He loves you as much as He loves Mary as much as He loves me, and He truly is pursuing you.  The question is not if you are this loved, and if He would speak to you and pursue you, the question is are you able to believe and accept His love and be open to listen to His words and accept Him in your life.

So, as we start to close here, I want you to process this today, this is a big moment for us here at MRC.  Ask yourself if this could be true for you.  Could Jesus speak to you, or could He be pursuing you?  Do you slow down in your life and spend time with Him?  Could He truly be standing beside you through all this roller coaster you call life?  Could it simply be that you struggle to get your focus off all that life throws at you to see that Jesus is truly with you today?  Just like Mary on that Sunday morning?

Can I ask you; do you believe that you are this loved?  Do you wish you could hear from Jesus?  Could Jesus really know your name, and love you this individually…yes, you despite all you have done and all your shortcomings?  We can believe Scripture, this is the truth…you are that loved, Jesus is calling you by name.

John 10:2 The shepherd walks right up to the gate. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice.” MSG

Do you see it?  It isn’t that Mary Magdalene was lucky, or some rare thing a Pastor can experience, you are this loved by Jesus, and He is calling your name.  The struggle isn’t whether or not He is there with you, or whether He cares for you, the struggle is accepting that it’s true, and then slowing down and allowing Him to lead you out of the mess you are in, and into your best life possible, this life lived in the overwhelming victory we can have because of Jesus, and what we celebrate on this day. So just a moment or two of reflection as we close.

Are you focused on the wrong things?  Do you know you too well to think Jesus could love you this much?

Do you truly understand God’s love, it’s so much purer and more perfect than we humans can believe.  So, do you understand it, and more importantly, do you believe that it is true for you?

Do you believe that Jesus is calling for you right now by name?  Is it possible that Jesus is literally pursuing you or is that something for the more spiritual people and amazing characters of Scripture like Mary Magdalene?

Have you ever truly accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

Have you ever truly accepted the fact that Jesus won, that victory is complete and that while our sin may have been why it had to happen, that isn’t held over us anymore?

How would you describe your life?  Are you living a life in the overwhelming victory of Christ?  Why or why not?

Romans 8:37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. NLT