given on Easter Sunday, March 31, 201
Scripture I: Matthew 25;31-36 from the NLT
31 “But when the Son of Man[a] comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations[b] will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
Part A: The Wait
Reviewing the chronology of the Bible opens up such a different perspective towards Christianity’s development. The timeline can create separation of historical events, but it also creates an understanding how critical faith is when battling evil influences. In a way, studying the timeline creates hope.
The 400-year gap between Malachi’s prophecies and the birth of the Messiah seems a long time to wait. Finally the word was out and the faithful heard that the Messiah had arrived. Some actually were able to meet Jesus face to face; some were healed and were raving over the powers of this man. The change in lives all around the region was happening and word was spreading. Finally, after waiting for 400 years, the King of the Jews was alive and with them!
Who would have thought that at the very time that Jesus was becoming well known to the people, the Jewish leaders were skeptical and feeling threatened. Rather than recognize the truth of who Jesus is, they battled it.
We can relate to that. Every time a major cultural shift occurs or some dramatic event happens or we experience a life-changing event personally, we face uncertainty. Our fears bubble up and we find ourselves fighting the change that is thrust upon us. We know that the change could be good, but it is so far from what we know and are comfortable with.
Jesus understands this. And knowing the work to be done, knowing all as God knows all, he was aware was going on in the minds of the Jewish leaders and the political leaders of Rome. Yet, he continues preaching, teaching, and healing. The crowds continue to grow. It is difficult to remain in the background. The stories travel ahead of him, faster than his can.
After all the centuries of waiting for the Messiah, the three short years were coming to a climax. And Jesus knows. It is almost Passover week, the biggest holiday in the Jewish faith. The story continues in Matthew 26:
1When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, 2 “As you know, Passover begins in two days, and the Son of Man[a] will be handed over to be crucified.”
Jesus says this right out loud to his Disciples. They are still trying to understand the words Jesus just said about the final judgment and now he is saying he will be crucified. Just imagine the confusion, the shock, even the fear.
Yet, Jesus, the Son of God, knew. The gospel of Matthew continues:
3 At that same time the leading priests and elders were meeting at the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest, 4 plotting how to capture Jesus secretly and kill him.
The 400-year wait for the Messiah has ended, and now in just these three short years of Jesus’ ministry, He is saying that He is going to be crucified!
The quiet, unassuming man that the people were flocking to hear, who teaches just one commandment, who heals people even raises them from the dead, who reaches out to everybody in love whether Jew or Gentile, is saying to those closest to him that he is going to be killed. Preposterous!
But Jesus knew and now it was time to demonstrate who he was in a way that others would see and marvel. The best time was a holiday, Passover, because everybody who was anybody was in Jerusalem for the festival. The timing is now!
In the NLT Study Notes of the chronological Bible, the story is presented in parallel, also. After telling the disciples what is to happen, another twist to the story is developing also included in Mark 14:1-2:
2 “But not during the Passover celebration,” they agreed, “or the people may riot.”
The study note for verse 2 reads:
The Jews were preparing to observe Passover, a time of remembrance for families to celebrate when the blood of lambs had saved their ancestors. But some of the religious leaders had another agenda. Jesus had disrupted their security, revealed their sham, and opposed their authority. Now they would put him away. But the world is controlled by our all-wise God, not puny politicians. God would turn the religious leaders’ murder plot into the greatest blessing that mankind would ever know. Another Lamb would be slain, and his blood would save all people. When grief or disaster seem to be dominating, remember that your life is in God’s hands and remember what Jesus did for you. (Emphasis added, p. 1453)
When we are suffering, when we face our challenges, we must remember that God is with us. He never gives us more than we can handle; and today we know evil lurks all around us, even within our closest ring of family and friends.
Scripture II: Luke 23:26-38
26 As they led Jesus away, a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene,[b] happened to be coming in from the countryside. The soldiers seized him and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large crowd trailed behind, including many grief-stricken women. 28 But Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the days are coming when they will say, ‘Fortunate indeed are the women who are childless, the wombs that have not borne a child and the breasts that have never nursed.’ 30 People will beg the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and plead with the hills, ‘Bury us.’[c] 31 For if these things are done when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?[d]”
32 Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. 33 When they came to a place called The Skull,[e] they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.
35 The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine. 37 They called out to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 A sign was fastened above him with these words: “This is the King of the Jews.”
39 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”
40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Sermon: . . . and Now This?
Yes, the story continues and includes evil and treachery. Jesus is betrayed, arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. The story seems so short after such a long wait. How could this be? For four hundred years we waited to see the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy, not to mention the 2,000+ years before Malachi. The stories told through the generation could not end like this.
Yet, woven into the prophecies of the Old Testament is the foreshadowing of the Messiah’s life. The prediction of betrayal, the prediction of death, and the prediction of defeating death are also in the prophecies, but those stories are not surfacing in the excitement Jesus’ work the past three years. And then there is the holiday—Passover.
Unfortunately the story continues right through a trial, on through the horrible journey to the Golgotha, the blood dripping from His brow, the nailing of his hands to the cross—even his feet. The long 400-year wait is coming to an end like this? How can this story end like this?
The story does continue, the death on the cross is not the end of the story; it is the beginning of the new life. Returning to Luke, let’s hear more of the story:
The Death of Jesus
44 By this time it was about noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. 45 The light from the sun was gone. And suddenly, the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn down the middle. 46 Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!”[h] And with those words he breathed his last.
47 When the Roman officer overseeing the execution saw what had happened, he worshiped God and said, “Surely this man was innocent.” 48 And when all the crowd that came to see the crucifixion saw what had happened, they went home in deep sorrow.[k] 49 But Jesus’ friends, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching.
For 400 hundred years, the Jewish people waited. What they expected was a powerful display of power, possibly wars fought, possibly a coronation, but now this! This crucifixion is not the ending to the reign of a king, it is the lowest form of punishment for petty criminals. Is this the way the story ends? No.
Scripture III: Luke 23:50-24:8
The Burial of Jesus
50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph. He was a member of the Jewish high council, 51 but he had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders. He was from the town of Arimathea in Judea, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come. 52 He went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took the body down from the cross and wrapped it in a long sheet of linen cloth and laid it in a new tomb that had been carved out of rock. 54 This was done late on Friday afternoon, the day of preparation,[l] as the Sabbath was about to begin.
55 As his body was taken away, the women from Galilee followed and saw the tomb where his body was placed. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and ointments to anoint his body. But by the time they were finished the Sabbath had begun, so they rested as required by the law.
24 But very early on Sunday morning[m] the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. 3 So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.
5 The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man[n] must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”
We acknowledge Jesus as the son of man, but more importantly the Son of God. The story continues even if the son of man is dead because it is the Son of God who lives. What lurks ahead is yet unknown. What happens during our week may be planned, but nothing guarantees that it will go, as we want it to go. God is in charge. If Jesus can trust God, then we can, too. The end result is the gift of eternal life with God. And that is the story that never ends, it is why we come together to celebrate the life of Jesus Christ this Easter morning.
Dear God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
We celebrate the gift of Your Son today.
We acknowledge His work during those short three years.
As we share in the warmth of our Christian family,
help us to strengthen our resolve to love one another.
As we face daily challenges at home, at work, or at play
help us to identify evil and turn away from its clutch.
As we look into the faces of family, friends, co-workers,
and strangers, help us to see You.
As we offer food, clothing, shelter, and love to those in need,
let the world see what a difference Your grace makes
and how loving one another transforms lives. –Amen