Overcoming Life’s Greatest Challenges

What’s the True Meaning of Easter?

This Sunday, the scripture reading will be read from Matthew, chapter 20, verses 17 through 19. Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem on the way. He took the twelve aside and said to them, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flocked and crucified. On the third day, he will be raised to life.

Let us pray!

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for letting us come together on this special day to praise you. Thank you for sending your Son to teach us how to live and for sacrificing his own life for us. Be so close. Always remember what was done for us in Jesus’ name. Amen!

Well, good morning again, and happy Easter, or maybe more appropriately, happy Resurrection Sunday. As Christians, we have kind of grabbed onto the cross as the symbol of our faith. And I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. The cross or crucifixion was actually a very common way that people were put to death back in the time of Jesus. What it’s all about for us as Christians are fulfilling that promise of the empty tomb. And that’s really and truly what we celebrate as we come together on Easter Sunday. It’s great that we all get dressed up in our best clothes, and we probably have a yummy dinner waiting for you after this. I promise not to take too long this morning. Those things are all great, but as long as we don’t lose the focus of what we’re really talking about today, and that’s talking about the fact that after three days, Jesus overcame death just like He said He would, and that’s what gives us the hope. So, this morning, we’re actually going to start a four-part series. It’s going to be a little bit different. Instead of a four-part series that ends on Easter, we’re actually starting a series this morning called Resurrecting Hope, where we’re going to unpack four different things we see that give us hope in this story.

I want to invite you, if you’re here with us this morning or if you’re a part of our online audience, to join us again next week because next week we’ll pick up right where we leave off this morning with part two of this series. I want to set the scene for you. Last week we talked about Palm Sunday, and we talked about Jesus making his way into Jerusalem for what he knew was going to be his final days. Although many of his followers were still in denial of that fact, Jesus knew what he was facing, and he knew what he was walking into. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, and he spent what they call Passion Week in the city of Jerusalem. Then he was crucified. He was hung on a cross with nails through his hands and nails through his feet and wearing a Crown of thorns. Jesus was put to death. He was put to death by the people that just couldn’t stand the thought of Jesus and what Jesus was trying to do. I want you to put yourself this morning in the sandals, so to speak, of Jesus’ followers.

There are these folks who have been following Jesus, right, for three and a half years. They’ve eaten with him. They’ve stayed with him. They followed him. They’ve defended him. They’ve learned from Him. These were not only friends, they were family. Jesus was their mentor. They knew that Jesus had come to establish this amazing Kingdom. He was going to:

  • Take away all of their sorrows
  • Take away all of their worries
  • Take away all of their sins

that had overcome the world at this time.

All of a sudden, their friend, their family member, their brother, and their loved one is put to death on the cross. I want you to think about how Jesus’ followers must have been feeling at that time. Here this amazing man who had meant so much to them was taken from them. He was taken from them. Imagine what that must have felt like when Jesus was put to death. Remember that he was put to death before he established this Kingdom that they had been waiting for. All of a sudden, he’s put to death. It’s this whole idea of unrealized hope. I put some pictures up on the screen of some ways that maybe you might be able to relate to.

The top one, the guy looking a little frazzled with his laptop, is maybe he thought you were going to get the big promotion at work and you’d been working towards it. Maybe you’d even been promised it and you’d worked your tail off and you thought, this is it. This is my big moment. I’m about to get this big promotion, and somebody else gets the job. Or maybe even worse. Not only did you not get the job, but you lost your job. Or maybe it was a relationship. Maybe you’re in a relationship with that person that you just knew was the one. They were the one. They were the man or the woman that God had intended for your life. Something happened in that relationship. All that hope that you’d have of this perfect life with a white picket fence was dashed right before your very eyes or maybe it was your favorite sports team. Have you guys ever seen this right at the end of the World Series, at the end of the Super Bowl? What do they always show? They always show the losing players on the sidelines and they’re crying and their eyes are black and running all over their faces.

They’re so emotional. Here are these big, tough football players right these big, strong, muscular guys who spend their entire career right, trying to knock other guys down. What are they doing? They’re crying. Now, I say that not to make light of the situation, but I say that to think that’s probably exactly what Jesus’ followers were doing. I’m sure there was a lot of disbelief. I’m sure there was a lot of sorrow. I promise you, there were a lot of tears. There were a lot of tears because their friend and their mentor was gone. Remember, even though he had told them numerous times that this was going to happen, they still didn’t believe it. This still wasn’t what they had expected, despite his best efforts to put them in that right frame of mind. But see, that’s what happens when somebody close to us passes away, even at times where we know someone is sick and we know someone maybe is entering those last days of their life. It doesn’t make it any easier when they pass. That’s exactly what Jesus’ followers were going through. He’s gone. It’s over. What do we find out?

If we fast forward a little bit past the end of the story, we know what happened, right? What did his followers do? They all went back to their old lives. They went back to fishing, collecting taxes, the other things that they did, right. They went back to living their old lives because they thought it was over. It’s over. See, the beautiful thing about Jesus and what he did for us is that hope appears when we least expect it. That’s the story that you’re going to see here in just a few minutes as we get ready to follow this story of Mary going to the tomb, is that hope arrived when she least expected it. I want you to jump with me into John, chapter 20. Open your Bible. Your Bible app John, chapter 20. We’re going to start in verse eleven. Again, this is after that Jesus was crucified on the cross and after they had taken the body and they had taken it to the tomb and they had rolled the stone right in front of the doorway and they’d sealed the tomb. They put the Roman soldiers there to make sure that nothing happened to Jesus’ body.

We pick up in verse eleven, which says. Now Mary stood outside of the tomb crying, it says, as she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb, right? Because now we know in our story that the tomb is open, that the stone had been rolled away and that the tomb was empty. Mary is distraught. She’s distraught that she got there and the body was gone, says. They saw two Angels sitting in white seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot, it says. They asked her, woman! why are you crying? Now, remember, back in this time in this place to refer to someone as woman was not an insult. We often see Jesus doing this throughout the Bible. Sometimes today, right? We would not refer to our wives or our girlfriends or our mothers as woman, but it was not an insult. I just want to assure you of that. The Angels were not insulting Mary. They were simply saying, hey, why are you crying? And she says, they have taken my Lord away. She said, and I don’t know where they have put him.

On top of the feelings that Mary was already having of the fact that Jesus had died, now she goes to mourn him, right? And he’s gone. Now, on top of everything else, she thinks that somebody has done something terrible and stolen the body. It says, at this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. Now, that factor in and of itself tells you the amount of pain and the amount of heartache and the amount of sorrow that Mary was experiencing. She didn’t even recognize Jesus, and she was one of his closest followers. She had spent a lot of time with him, and even she didn’t recognize Jesus. Now, I would argue that there’s a whole other sermon we could get into right here about the fact that sometimes we don’t recognize Jesus, even when he’s standing right in front of us. But I digress because then you will miss lunch. But it says, she turned around and saw him standing there and she didn’t even recognize who he was because, A) right, he’s dead. And B) she is so overcome with despair. See, Easter comes at just the right time.

In this case, Jesus came at just the right time because see, when Mary was in the pit of her despair, when she was just beyond heartbroken, and now she had just had another thing put on her plate that the body is not there, Jesus shows up at just the right time. I love that. About this story. See, Jesus knew that Mary needed him and he showed up. Jesus shows up for you and me when we need him the most, but we have to know and be open to seeing him there. It says. He asked her, Woman, why are you crying? See, there we go again. Woman, why are you crying? It says, who is it that you’re looking for? I love this next line, but we’re going to impact this a little bit more later on. It says, thinking he was the gardener, I have to tell you guys a little side story. I spent almost a year walking our youth group through the Book of John. When we came to this verse, this was their favorite verse. So, to this day, if I asked one of those kids, hey, what did you learn from the book of John?

Jesus was the gardener. Without fail, all that hard work. No, I’m just kidding. But it’s a way of thinking he was the gardener, right? Because again, she’s in so much despair, she’s probably not even really looking at him. She just assumes this is somebody else who’s bothering her. It says, sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go get him. See, Mary was dedicated to the cause, and Mary thinks Jesus is the gardener. We’re going to look at that a little bit closer because I feel like that verse is there for a reason. But as we continue with our story, it says, Jesus said to her, Mary, and she turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, Rabani, which means Teacher. See, when he spoke to her, when she heard the voice of Jesus, she knew who he was. Now, talk about your mood swing. Talk about your paradigm shift. Just a second ago, she was so distraught that she didn’t even realize it was Jesus. Imagine the joy that came to her when she realized that Jesus was standing there. Think about that flood of emotions. The prophecy was fulfilled.

Jesus was not dead. Jesus had not been taken. He was right there. See, that’s what gives us our hope, and that’s what Easter is really all about. It’s the hope we get. But Mary cried out. She recognized him immediately as soon as he spoke to her. See, Jesus knew that’s what she needed. He knew that he needed to speak to her, to get her to understand, to kind of snap her out of this grieving state she was in to say, hey, it’s me. I feel like sometimes Jesus works that way in our lives, too, right? We start this spiral, and we start this downward swing, then we just feel like our life is going off the rails. Sometimes Jesus has to say, hey, you to kind of shake us out of it. And I think that’s exactly what he’s doing in this verse. I love this picture. I chose this picture for a reason because Jesus is kind of waving at her like, hello! I think it’s a powerful example of the open tomb. It’s a powerful example of Jesus appearing to Mary and the look of surprise on her face as she’s like, oh, Hi!

Yeah. Because she wasn’t expecting him to be there. Because see, Jesus does the unexpected. Jesus overcame death that was not expected. People didn’t just die and come back to life. That’s not a normal thing. But Jesus can do the unexpected. As we continue with our text, it says, Jesus said, do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. It says, go instead to my brothers and tell them I am ascending to the Father and to my Father. Excuse me? And your Father! To my God. And your God. He’s saying, hey, don’t cry. Don’t be upset. It says, go and tell the others what an important job Mary was given? Can you imagine getting to be the person that gets to go tell everyone Jesus isn’t dead? He did exactly what he said he would. What an important and amazing job. But see, we talked last week about when we were talking about the lessons we learned from the donkey, and we talked about being available and being accessible. Mary was both because she was there. She was there, and God used her in a mighty, mighty, powerful way.

Says, Mary Magdalene went on to the disciples with the news, I have seen the Lord, and she told them that he had said these things to her. How fast do you think Mary ran? I would argue she probably set some new records when she took off from Jesus and went to go to tell the disciples that had already gathered that Jesus was still alive. I bet she could have walked on water, but she just couldn’t wait to share that news. We as Christians can’t wait to share that news about who Jesus is and about the love He had for us and the depths He was willing to go for saving us. That’s the true key to what we’re talking about today. Now, as I promised earlier, I want to unpack this gardener idea, because on the surface, it just looks like a little comedy thrown into the Bible, right? We think she thought he was the gardener, but I think there’s more to it than that, because what does a gardener do? A gardener plants a garden, and a gardener tends to the garden, and the waters and he pulls the weeds and he does the pruning to make something better and something more beautiful.

I hope that takes you back to the Book of Genesis. And if it doesn’t, I want you to turn back to the Book of Genesis with me. We’re going to start in Genesis, chapter three in verse eight. Genesis 3:8 says, then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day. And they hid from him from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Verse nine says, but the Lord God called to the man, where are you? He answered I heard you in the garden. And I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid. Now, that’s a very common story, I think, for most of us, right? We know that when God created the Earth, he created this beautiful, magnificent, and perfect place. He created this perfect place where he desired to have a relationship with men. I don’t think it’s a mistake that Mary thinks Jesus is the gardener, because depending on how you want to look at it, Jesus was a gardener.

He created this beautiful, and magnificent place. And what did we do? We messed it up. We broke the one commandment right back then. The one commandment was, don’t eat the fruit of the tree. What did we do? We ate the fruit of the tree. He knew he had to fix it. Just like a gardener might fix a plant might fix a tree. He knew he had to fix it. And see, he can do that, and he can fix our lives. I don’t think it’s a mistake that we have this reference to a gardener, because I think if we look at it, Jesus is the gardener. What is Jesus doing in our lives every single day?

  • He’s preparing us
  • He’s pruning us
  • He’s feeding us
  • He’s getting us ready

so that we can be the best versions of ourselves for Him and for the Kingdom. I think that’s exactly why we hear this reference to the gardener. In a way, Jesus was a gardener, not just a case of mistaken identity, but there’s a lesson we can learn.

A quote from Martin Luther says,

“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection not in the books alone, but in every leaf in the springtime.”

Now, most of you know, I am not a Californian. I was not born and raised in California. I’m a transplant. I grew up in the Midwest. I grew up in this little, tiny, tiny small town in Illinois in the middle of a cornfield. I’m not joking when I say that, but we actually had seasons. We actually had the four seasons. Now, it wasn’t like California, where springtime is like one day and the next day it’s 100 degrees. It’s not like California, where we get like a really cold day and it’s like 50 degrees, which is cold in California. We say, oh, winter’s here, and the next day it’s 70 degrees. We actually had the four seasons in my hometown. Now, where I grew up in Illinois, winters were pretty miserable. It was very cold. It was usually very gray and it would snow. We would get ice. It would be miserable and everything would die, the trees would die, the grass would die, the flowers would die. Everything died in the winter, which just led to that feeling of kind of gloom and doom.

I always thought, just when is this going to be over? Then something really cool would happen, usually somewhere around March, maybe April. That’s when we’d get that first really nice, sunny, warm day. When I say warm, it’d be like 50 degrees, and we’d break out the shorts and the tank tops and all that. But what would happen each, and every Spring? It was the start of a transformation. We would see a transformation from Winter to Spring, and the grass would start to get green. For those of us, we are people that love taking care of lawns. It was really cool because we get to mow again. The flowers would start to bloom. Just when we thought, man! I just can’t handle one more day of Winter, Spring would hit. Now, of course, Spring also means baseball. There were other things involved. Every year, just when you couldn’t quite take any more of this gray, cold, windy, miserable weather, Spring would come. It’s the same thing with Easter. It’s the same thing with the resurrection. See, since back in the garden, we started this cycle of sin, it just continued and continued to get worse and it got worse and worse until God knew he had to do something.

He knew he had to fix it. He knew Spring had to come because the path we were on was not going to lead us where he wanted us to go. Sin just kept growing and kept overtaking the world, just like how Winter overtook the land. Then Spring comes. Then Jesus came out of his love for us, not because we deserved it. Half of the world at this point didn’t even believe in Him or who He was. Because of His love for you and me, He went to the cross. More importantly, just like He said He would three days later, He rose from the grave. See, that’s what gives us hope. That’s what proves that Jesus is who He said He was. He wasn’t just a man. Because a man just can’t be crucified on a cross, can’t be killed and come back from the dead. It just doesn’t work that way. But Jesus can. If He can overcome death, if He can be raised from the grave after three days, imagine what He can do in your life. He can break those chains.

He can help you get out of those bad relationships. He can help you break those addictions. If He can rise from the grave after three days, He can do anything and He wants to. That’s the kicker, He wants to do those things in your life to give you hope. What you’re doing now or where you’re headed now doesn’t have to be where you end up. There’s nothing sadder than when I hear somebody say, I’m too far gone. I’ve made too many mistakes. I’ve made too many sins. God could never forgive me. God could never love me. The story we just read tells us a different story. It tells a story of hope. That’s the hope that you and I have because Christ was willing to die for you and for me. And because of that, none of us can ever be too far gone.

If we’ll devote our lives to Christ, if we’ll follow Him with every ounce of our being, we can never be too far gone, regardless of our past.

See, the resurrection was a victory over death. It was a victory. When Jesus went to the cross, there were two camps, right?

There were Jesus’ followers

How were they feeling? They were distraught. They were in despair. They were in tears. They thought it was over.

And what was the other camp?

The people that wanted Jesus killed were celebrating. They were high fiving Woohoo! We did it. We got rid of that Jesus guy, and they thought they had won. Just imagine them, they’re celebrating. They’re breaking out the wine, having a good old time. We did it. We got rid of Jesus.

And then three days later, what happens? Like any good movie, three days later. Plot twist, right? You thought you knew how the ending was going to happen. His disciples thought they knew how the story ended. They thought it already ended.

And three days later

Plot twist, victory. I always like to jokingly say, I’ve read the book. I know how it ends. We win! We win! When Jesus rose from the grave after three days, we won. I’m going to read one last scripture with you. That’s in John chapter eleven, verse 25. It says, Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. I am the resurrection and the life highlight that underline that, commit that to memory.

John 11:25

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die

Jesus says I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even though they die. See, that’s the hope. That’s the plot twist. That’s why my past doesn’t matter. Imagine a life without that hope. I want you to think, just for a second, if all the mistakes you have made in your life and all the mistakes you will continue to make because we’re all sinners, imagine if you still had to pay the price for each and every one of those mistakes you’ve made. I don’t know about you. There’s not a lot of hope there.

But because Jesus died and because Jesus rose on the third day, you’re no longer responsible for those. He took that for you. He took the punishment that you and I deserved on the cross. He wiped the slate clean. See, that’s the hope. That’s what Easter is all about. It’s the fulfilled promise and the hope that we will spend the rest of our lives with Jesus. A couple of things I want to leave you with here this morning.

There’s nothing that God cannot do. Nothing!

If Jesus can be raised from the dead, there’s nothing that He can’t do. That’s the feeling that I want you to walk away with this morning. When you walk out these doors and you get ready to go do your Easter egg hunts, eat your Ham or eat your lamb or whatever you’re going to eat this morning, I want you to remember that there is nothing that God can’t do. Absolutely nothing.

See, sometimes we say my problems are too big. I can’t go to God with that. My problems are too big. Well, I’m going to flip that script. Your problems aren’t too big because God is bigger. To him, your problem that is all-consuming, that’s keeping you up at night is a spec because He knows He can handle that for you if you’ll trust in Him and you’ll take it to Him. Here’s what I want you to think about, not only today but going forward. Death is the thing that defeats everyone. It does not, however, defeat Jesus. He overcame death to overcome the world. Not even death could stop Jesus and His mission to save the world. I want you to think about that.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, I want you to embrace the hope that is offered to you in Jesus Christ. Because maybe you came in the doors this morning and something’s heavy on your heart, and that’s true for a lot of us. This has just been unbelievable difficult few years. But maybe you came in today weighed down by something in your life. Maybe you’re feeling inadequate. You’re feeling that you’re not good enough. You’re feeling that you’ve made too many mistakes.

Maybe you’re even feeling that God doesn’t love you. But nothing could be farther from the truth because He loves you more than you could possibly imagine. He wants to save you. We talked earlier about leaving the 99 for the one, and that’s exactly what Jesus wants to do in your life. Maybe you’re the one. Maybe you’re that one. He’s willing to leave all the others to come chasing after you because He wants to save you. That’s the hope that you have this morning, regardless of the baggage you may have brought in with you here this morning. Know that you can leave that to Jesus and you can walk out of here this morning with the hope that Easter brings the hope of spending an eternity in heaven.

Maybe you’ve never had a chance to give your life to Jesus. Maybe you’ve never had a chance to be baptized so you can have those sins, those mistakes you’ve made wiped away so that you no longer have to be defined by who you were.

You can be defined in the way that God sees you. You have a chance to do that here this morning. You have a chance to be baptized, to have that slate wiped clean, to walk out of here and not have to worry about those mistakes you’ve made in the past.

Or maybe you’ve been a Christian your whole life and life just happens, and you’ve gotten off track. Or maybe you’ve got some things that are just weighing down heavily on you, and you would love to just talk about that and pray about it. The elders and I will be upfront. We’re also available after services as well.

We would love to talk with you we, would love to pray with you, we would love to help you in any way that we can. In just a moment we’re going to sing the song called reckless love and sometimes we say well God’s love isn’t reckless, true but what is reckless is that He would send his son to die for your sins and that’s the real meaning of the song.