Most people know the story of Easter…or so they think, but what was really going on behind the scenes and beneath the surface? What conflict finally came to a head there in Jerusalem that resulted in Jesus of Nazareth being nailed to a cross and laid in a borrowed tomb…to rise from the dead three days later? And more importantly, what’s our part in the story of Easter?
Feeling like you’re in a no-win situation can leave you feeling helpless and hopeless. Fortunately, God can be our foundation for hope and we can rely on him knowing His love is so great for us that he died for us even when we could never earn such a sacrifice. He is not surprised by current circumstances and will fight for his people.
Craig: Well, hey, welcome to Mission Hills Church Online, a little hard to believe, but we are only a couple weeks out from Easter. Easy to kind of lose sight of that in the midst of everything we’ve going on because of course, we’re about three weeks into this coronavirus pandemic. And I’ve just got to make, just a guess, chances are a few of you are feeling just a little bit done with this whole thing. Maybe a little bit worn out from all the worry. I think there’s a lot of people who are doing a lot of worrying right now. Maybe you’re worried about catching the virus, maybe you’re worried about catching it yourself. Or maybe you’re worried about you know, your kids or your spouse, or your aging parents, or friends, catching it. And if you’re worried about catching the virus itself, or somebody catching the virus can I just tell you, there’s a word for you. Normal, you’re totally normal.
I think a lot of us are dealing with those fears. I actually found myself a couple of nights ago, my oldest daughter wasn’t feeling great. She had a little bit of a tickle in the back of her throat. And she coughed a couple of times. And so I ended up laying awake way, way, way later into the night than I normally would. And I was like, “Hah, it’s interesting might like my heart’s gone a little bit faster, and my chest feels a little bit tight.” And I realized that it was just worry, it was worry about the virus and what it could do to our family. And so if that’s you, I just want you to know you’re not alone. And there’s nothing wrong with you for worrying about that. Maybe for you the worry isn’t so much about the virus, maybe it’s about what the virus is doing to our society, maybe it’s worry about what the virus is gonna do to your family’s finances. Right?
I think a lot of people are worried about that right now, if that’s you, you’re normal, right? Maybe you’re worried because you know, you’ve had your hours cut or you’ve been laid off or maybe you own a business and you’ve had to lay people off or you’re afraid you’re going to have to, maybe even close down the business. And there’s a lot of worries around that. And again, that’s totally normal. I feel that myself as a leader of a large church with a lot of staff that depends entirely on charitable giving, which always goes down in a season like that. I’m feeling some of that worry about the financial implications of this as well. Totally normal, you’re not alone, we’re all there. I think maybe what’s the hardest thing for me in the midst of all this is simply that it feels like a no-win situation. Maybe you feel that way. It just feels like we’re caught between a rock and a hard place. And there’s no easy way out of it, right? I mean, if we do what we have to do to keep the spread of the virus down, then it’s gonna trash our economy. And if we do what we need to do to keep our economy going, then the virus is gonna spread, we’re gonna get a lot more people sick and overwhelm hospitals and maybe even more deaths from that.
So it just feels like a no-win situation. And I hate no-win situations. I feel like I’m in way too many of them as a leader. But I can tell you that, you know, whether you’re a leader or not, we all have the same experience when we face what looks like a no-win situation. And that is we begin to experience despair, we begin to experience a sense of helplessness, we begin to experience a sense of hopelessness. And that’s the worst part, I think, of a no-win situation. It’s just feeling like we’re hopeless. And so what I wanna do today is I wanna give you some hope because there is hope. And I wanna share some of that with you. And I wanna do that by actually taking a look at an incident from the life of Jesus, where he faced what looked like a no-win situation. But in fact, he handled that situation in a way that brought and brings tremendous hope, at least it has for me, and I hope it will for you.
Why don’t you go ahead and grab a Bible, wherever you are, start making your way to the Gospel of Luke chapter 20. If you’re new to the Bible, I just wanna say I’m so glad you’re with us today. And let me just give you a quick, you know, maybe a little basic intro to what we’re gonna be doing. We’re gonna be looking at the Book of Luke in the Bible today. And Luke is one of four books in the Bible called Gospels. And what that means is good news. And it means that these are the four books that tell the good news of the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus. And today we’re gonna see good news from his life. This is about three years into the ministry of Jesus. So here’s what’s been happening for about three years now. Jesus has been gaining momentum, people have kind of flocked to him because of his teaching, but also, of course, his miracles and Jesus has become very, very popular. But not everybody is a fan. In fact, there are quite a few people, specifically the Jewish religious leaders in Israel in that day. They saw Jesus’s popularity as a threat to their power, and so they’re kind of looking for a way to get rid of him.
And so that’s kind of where we rejoin the story here. Luke 20:20, says this, “Keeping a close watch on him they,” that’d be the Jewish religious leaders, “They sent spies who pretended to be sincere.” They pretended to be followers of Jesus, but in fact, they were just working with these religious leaders who were trying to get rid of Jesus. “They pretended to be sincere, and they hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and the authority of the governor.” Now, the governor there would be a man named Pontius Pilate, he was the Roman governor who was ruling over this Palestinian province in that day and age. For about 100 years now the nation of Israel and Palestine had been under the occupation by the Roman Empire, Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor. So here’s what’s kind of interesting is the Jewish religious leaders who pretty much hate the Roman governor, they hate the fact that Rome occupies them, but they think they can probably get something that they want out of Rome at this point, they can kind of basically pass their Jesus problem off to the Roman governor. And because the way they see it is, if we move against Jesus directly, because he’s really popular with the Jewish people, then they’re gonna get mad at us and we don’t want that.
So what we need to do, we’re just gonna pawn the Jesus problem off on the Roman governor. And so they sent the spies to try to get Jesus to say something that will allow them to do that. Verse 21, says, “So the spies questioned him and they said, teacher, we know that you speak the truth, that you speak and you teach what is right and that you do not show partiality, but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” And let’s just be honest, what they’re doing there, of course, is insincere. It is what we call flattery, meaning they’re giving him compliments, but they don’t really mean them. They’re just trying to manipulate him into doing something that they want. And by the way, this is just kind of a bonus truth, but I think it’s worth saying. As a leader, I have come to understand that one of the most dangerous things that I face is flattery. It’s people who wanna say nice things to me, in order to get me to do something that they want me to do. I think all leaders face that, right?
It doesn’t matter what context you lead, and in what context you have influence, flattery is an incredibly dangerous thing. Maybe as a parent you’ve experienced where one of your kids comes and they give you a big hug, and they go, “Oh, Mommy, you’re the best mommy ever.” And immediately, you’re like, “Okay, what’s that about? Right, what are you trying to get me to do?” Or maybe you’ve experienced that your boss comes to you? And they say, “I think you’re my best employee.” And you’re like, “Okay, what’s this leading to?” Because flattery is really an attempt to get somebody to do what you want them to do. And I think as leaders, one of the greatest dangers that we face is making decisions under the influence. This is kind of bonus truth, here it is. Don’t DUI Don’t decide under the influence of flattery. Because when we’re being flattered, what happens typically, is that we kind of like it, we like when people say nice things about us. And we want more of those things to be said about us. And so it naturally kind of inclines us to do whatever the person who’s flattering us wants us to do. Okay, so that’s the bonus truth for today, don’t DUI, don’t decide under the influence of flattery.
When somebody does to you what they’re doing to Jesus, what you wanna do is you wanna go, “Okay, I’m not making any decisions right now. I’m just gonna step back and wait until I’m able to make a clear-headed decision.” Now, Jesus has a little bit of advantage as the Son of God, he’s able to remain kind of immune to the influence of flattery, kind of to rise above it, and so he doesn’t have to step back from it, but we’re gonna see that he doesn’t really respond to it either. Okay, so they flatter him, and that sets them up for asking this question. They said, “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” That’s the big question. And that’s the trick question, right? Because there’s really no way for Jesus to answer it. If he says, “Yeah, go ahead and pay taxes to Caesar,” the Jewish people are gonna be really upset with him because they hate Caesar. He’s the Roman governor. Not the Roman governor, he’s the Roman Emperor. And they hate the Roman Emperor. They hate the Roman Empire. And they especially hate the Roman taxes. They’ve been under Roman occupation for about 100 years now. And the taxes were significant. Some estimates actually put Roman taxes as high as 40% of the average person’s income. And that’s really high, obviously. But beyond that, it’s also kind of adding insult to the injury in that they’re paying taxes to a group of people that they don’t feel that they should be loyal to.
They’re basically enslaved to the Roman Empire. And every time they pay taxes, they’re being reminded that they’re not a free people. It’d be a little bit like if China or Russia somehow came to occupy the United States of America, and then they taxed us and every time we send them 40% of our income, we’d be reminded we’re not free anymore. The Land of the Free is no longer the free. And that would add insult to injury. And so the Jewish people hated the Roman taxes. They hated the Roman Empire and everything that the taxes reminded them about the Roman Empire. And so if Jesus says, “Yeah, yeah, just go ahead and pay taxes to Caesar,” they were gonna be like, “I thought you were one of us. I thought you’re with us. I thought you were God’s man, I thought you were gonna lead us to more freedom.”
And so they would have basically withdrawn a lot of their public opinion or their favor from Jesus. Right? On the other hand, if Jesus says “No, don’t pay taxes to Caesar, why should we do that? We’re God’s people. Why should we give money to a foreign…why would he take from God’s people to give it to a foreign emperor?” If he does that, then the Roman governor is gonna be like, “Yeah, that’s not okay.” There’s a word for that. It’s called rebellion. And Rome dealt very severely with rebellion, any hint of rebellion Rome responded to by killing the people involved in or what they thought was fomenting that rebellion. So, Jesus is between a rock and a hard place here, right? He’s in a no-win situation, at least it seems like that. They say, “So is it right, pay taxes to Caesar or not?” And you’re kind of done either way you go.
Verse 23 says this, “He saw through their duplicity.” He saw exactly what they’re trying to do. He’s never surprised by anything that happens. And he said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?” “Well, Caesars,” they replied. Now a denarius was a Roman coin, and it was the coin that was typically used to pay the Roman tax. It was worth about a day’s wages. And on the Roman coin, on this denarius, there was an image and an inscription. That’s what Jesus is asking. “Hold one up,” he says, “and take a look at it. What do you see on there, whose image and inscription?” And the image was of Tiberius Caesar, that was the Roman Emperor at that point. And so it had sort of a profile of him. And it also had some words, it had an inscription, it said “Tiberius Caesar, son of the Divine Augustus.” And so a denarius, a Roman coin had the Emperor’s image and his inscription on it. Now, on the surface, what Jesus does here isn’t really all that interesting. It’s not really all that significant. And Jesus saying “Show me a coin, whose image and inscription are on it?” And they’re like, “Oh, it’s Caesar’s,” right? But on another level, what Jesus is doing here is actually really deep. And to understand that we have to go back into the Old Testament a little bit. And we have to understand how Jesus’s original audience, his Jewish audience, would have understood what he just said because he just used a couple of loaded words.
From a Jewish perspective, the two words that he just used, image and inscription, were actually loaded words, because they feature very significantly in the Hebrew Bible in what we call the Old Testament, both of those words, image and inscription, they’re very significant. So for instance, I’m gonna go all the way back to the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, Genesis 1:27, when God is describing his act of creating human beings, Genesis 1:27, says this, “And so God created mankind in his own image,” you see that word? It’s the same word. “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.” Interesting, right? So Jesus said, “Show me a denarius, whose image is on it.” And they’re like “Caesar’s,” but that word would have immediately reminded them of this verse and they would have gone like, “Well, so, Caesar’s image is on the coin, but God’s image is on us. It’s on me.” Same thing is true for that word inscription. In the book of Jeremiah, Old Testament prophet named Jeremiah wrote this, Jeremiah 31:33. “God says this, he says, ‘This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will put my law on their minds and write it on their hearts.'” And that word right is built off the same root for the word inscription. Literally, he says, “I will inscribe it on their hearts. I’ll put my words on their hearts, I will be their God and they will be my people.”
And so Jesus says “Look at that coin, who’s image?” “Caesar’s.” And they’re like, “Yeah, but whose image is on me?” And then he says, “Who’s inscription, whose words are on that coin?” Like, “Well, Caesar’s,” but they would have immediately thought, “And whose words are on me, whose words are inscribed to me, whose inscription is upon me?” And the answer is God’s. So he’s basically saying this. He’s saying, “Well, so whose image and inscription is on the coin, but whose image and inscription is on you?” It’s really significant, right? Basically what Jesus is doing is he’s asking another question, a much more significant question. On the surface, the question is, whose image and inscription are on the coin? But underneath the surface, he’s asking a much more profound question and his audience would have understood it. And the question is this, Jesus is asking, “Whose image and inscription are on you? Whose image and inscription are on you?” Here’s why this matters. Because as Jesus goes on, they say, “Well, Caesar’s image and inscription are on the coin,” He says this, “He said to them, ‘Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God, what is God’s?'” He says, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what’s God’s.” He says, “Whose image and inscription are on the coin?” “Well, Caesar’s image and inscription?” “It’s his coin, give it back to him.”
But remember that other question, whose image and inscription are on you? Well, if it’s God’s, then you need to give God yourself, right? What he’s basically saying is he’s saying, “Give your taxes to Caesar and yourself to God. Give your taxes to Caesar and yourself to God.” Pretty cool. There’s depths to what’s going on here that we can easily miss. He basically says, “I don’t have any problem with giving Caesar his taxes, his coins back. We’re not taking from God to give it to a foreign emperor. It’s his coin, give it back to him, but a much, much, much more interested in whether or not you are giving to God what is God’s, which is yourself, are you giving yourself to God?” That’s what Jesus is asking. “Are you giving yourself to God?” They didn’t know what to do with that. It says, “They were unable to trap him in what he said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.” I love it, right?
I mean, not only did he get out of the impossible situation, not only did he escape the trap, but actually he turned their attempt to trap him into an incredibly powerful accusation, right? Because remember the people that are talking to him, and the people who sent them, they’re fake, right? They’re hypocrites, they don’t think he’s a good teacher. They don’t think he speaks the Word of God. They don’t think he represents God. They’re pretending to follow him. But of course, they don’t actually mean any of that. And so he’s seen through all that, and he’s turned their attempt to trap him into an accusation. He’s saying, “Hey, you claim to be God’s people, but are you actually giving yourself to God?”
And here’s where it gets really interesting for me. And here’s where I begin to see so much hope in the story. Let me try to unpack it. See, here’s the thing. Jesus is asking this question, so important, “Are you giving yourself to God?” That’s the question. And what we need to begin to process and work through is what happens if we don’t? Because what happens if you don’t give Caesar what is Caesar’s, what happens if you don’t give the Roman Emperor what is his? What happens if you don’t give him the taxes?” The answer is you die. That’s how Rome dealt with treason. That’s how Rome dealt with rebellion. They killed you. So if you don’t give Caesar what is Caesar’s you die. But what happens if you don’t give God what is God’s? And the answer is he dies for you. He dies for you. That’s the story of Easter.
And interesting enough, this story is right smack in the middle of the story of Easter. It took place between two key events in the life of Jesus. The first one we call Palm Sunday. That was the day that Jesus came into Israel and came into Jerusalem as King. He came in riding on an unridden colt as the King. And then, of course, just a few days after that, on what we call Good Friday, he was crucified as a criminal, buried in the grave, and three days later, he rose from the dead, to offer us salvation by faith, salvation, forgiveness, relationship with God and hope to give it by faith because of what he did for us. And so this event, interestingly enough, it happens right in between his triumphal entry as a King and his death and his resurrection. And what Jesus is doing in the story is he’s actually beginning to set the stage. He’s beginning to raise this question, right? If you don’t give to Caesar what is Caesar’s what does he do? He kills you. But if you don’t give to God what is God’s yourself, what does he do? He dies for you, right?
That’s what the story of Easter is. It’s crazy. It’s that he dies for you. It really is the story of the whole Bible, right? God is King. He’s King of kings and Lord of lords. He sits above every other throne on earth. And he created us as his image. He put his inscription, his words on us, we’re his, but we rebelled. We said, “God, thanks for life and everything, but I think I’ll take it from here. I think I’ll do life on my own,” and everything fell apart. That’s when all the bad stuff came in. That’s when things like the coronavirus actually got their foothold in the world and in our lives. It’s when we rebelled against our King. We brought all that upon ourselves. Because we didn’t give God what is his, we didn’t give God ourselves, we rebelled against him. But God in his infinite love for us, rather than allowing us to face the ultimate penalty of that, the ultimate death that is separation from him for all eternity, rather than doing that, he sent his own Son, the King. And what did the King do? He died for his people. He went to the cross. He died as a sacrifice for our sins and then he rose from the dead and he offers salvation by faith.
So what will Caesar do if you don’t give Caesar what is Caesar’s? He’ll kill you. But what will God do when we haven’t given him what is his, ourselves? He dies for us. That’s an incredible truth, right? It’s an incredible truth. It’s this crazy truth and sometimes I struggle to wrap my head around it, but we can’t lose sight of it, especially in the midst of all the craziness that’s going on right now. And especially in the midst of all the worry and the fear that the coronavirus is spreading. We cannot lose sight of this truth. God purchased us with love. He purchased with love what was his by right. He purchased with love what was his by right because of his love for us. Even though we were his and we were living in rebellion deserving death, he died for us. He purchased with love what was his by right, us.
That’s a very different king, right? And, Jesus, he’s beginning to set that up. He’s beginning to point people to that reality that God is a very, very different King. And I began to see in this such a tremendous source of hope. I see it in two ways. The story gives me hope in two ways. It lays a foundation for hope in two ways. The first one is just this. It’s that God always wins. And the second one is that he always fights for his people. That’s the foundation of hope. God always wins and he always fights for his people. He always wins, right? This is an unwinnable situation, but Jesus won. He turned the tables, he got out of the unwinnable situation, that’s always true with God. God always wins.
This coronavirus situation might look like we’re caught between a rock and a hard place between, you know, health concerns and economic concerns and how can we possibly get through this. With God, with God who always wins. He’s never surprised, and he’s never trapped, he’s never caught. God always wins. And even in the midst of this coronavirus crisis, I see signs of God winning. I have this privilege of just being connected to a lot of different pastors around the country. And as we’re sharing stories, one of the incredible things is, we’re all seeing an increasingly large number of people giving their lives to Jesus, saying yes to faith in Jesus through online broadcasts. Because in the midst of all of this scary, weird, worrying situation, a lot of people are looking for hope and they’re finding it in the God who always wins. We’re seeing a lot of people come to say yes to faith in Jesus. That’s an incredible fact. God is winning, even when it feels like it’s a no-win situation, we’re in. God always wins. And he’s gonna win this too. He’s going to win this too. God is not caught, he’s not trapped. What we see is a rock and a hard place, God sees as things that can be used to shape his people into more and more of what he intends them to be, okay? God always wins.
Secondly, God always fights for his people. He always fights for his people. How can we ever worry about whether or not that’s true, right? This is a God who we rebelled against, and he paid the price of our rebellion on his own blood. That’s a God that you can be confident is fighting for you. He is always fighting for you. He purchased with love what was his by right. That’s a God who will always fight for you. And there’s hope in this, right? God always wins. And he always fights for us, for his people.
So what are we gonna do? We’re gonna do two things. First, we’re gonna remember that God always wins. And second, we’re gonna refocus on giving ourselves to God and giving ourselves to the God who has given himself for us. That’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna remember God always wins and we’re gonna refocus on giving ourselves to God. Okay. So I’m gonna ask you two questions. And I’m gonna ask you to really push into these two questions this week, I want you to really pray about them. I want you to really give some thought to them because I believe that they’re gonna be the basis of a surge of an upsurge of hope in your life. Okay, the first question is just this. How will I remind myself that God always wins? How will I remind myself that God always wins? I don’t know what it would do for you, I don’t know what it would look like for you. But you need to figure out some kind of a rhythm of reminding yourself that God always wins. Maybe it’s that you find some passages from the Bible that you’re gonna read on a regular basis throughout this coronavirus pandemic. One of them, let me suggest to you, one of them would be Psalm 91, incredibly powerful reminder that God always wins. I love this.
Let me just give you a hint of it. Says Psalm 91 “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, he’s my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust. Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare, from the deadly pestilence.” It’s interesting, pestilence means sickness, it means disease and that shows up over and over again in this Psalm. “He will cover you with his feathers and under his wings you’ll find refuge. His faithfulness will be your shield and your rampart, you will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. If you say the Lord is my refuge, and you make the Most High your dwelling no harm will overtake you.”
It’s not even the whole thing, it goes on and just gets better. Maybe that’s a Psalm that you need to remind yourself of, or you need to read on a regular basis. And in that Psalm by reading it, you’re gonna remind yourself that God always wins. Maybe you read the story of Easter, we’re coming up on the celebration of Easter. And so maybe you need to read the story of Easter in the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John consistently. Maybe one a day for the next foreseeable future, right until this pandemic is at an end to remind yourself that God always wins. But you need to remember that, you need to find a rhythm, reminding yourself that. So how are you gonna do it? How am I gonna remind myself that God always wins?
Second question is this. How will I refocus on giving myself to God? How will I refocus on giving myself to God? How will I refocus on giving myself to the God who has given himself for us, who has purchased with love what was his by right? Who died for us when we rebelled against him? How will you refocus on giving yourself to that God? Because that’s the question that Jesus really wanted to get at in the story, right? Are you giving yourself to God? So how are we gonna refocus on doing that? I’m gonna give you just a real quick framework that I think might be helpful as you think about this question. And I’m gonna suggest that we can refocus giving ourselves to God by focusing on what we say, what we seek, and what we surrender. Say, seek, and surrender. I think it’s a kind of a triangle, and we wanna keep ourselves right in the middle, giving ourselves to God by paying attention to what we say, seek, and surrender.
So what we say. Like for instance, what are you doing with your mouth in this season? What kinds of things are you saying? Are you reporting to lots of other people in your family around you all the bad news? You can stop that. That’s not helpful to you. It’s not helpful to them. Are you expressing your worry and your concern and your fear and your frustration? Maybe you’ve been cooped up a little bit long and your words are getting sharp? Maybe your words are getting a little bit unkind with your family. Maybe you need to step back from that and go, “Am I honoring God? Am I giving myself to God with what I say?” Maybe you replace some of those negative things with some positive, maybe you’re gonna start praising God, maybe take some time right now to just actually give God some worship, put a worship song on and sing it, incredible power in that. Maybe you’re gonna suggest to your family at dinner the next time because maybe you’re all having a lot more family dinners than you used to, maybe you’re gonna say “Hey, let’s all say three things that we’re thankful to God for in the midst of this thing.” Okay. You may find that by speaking those thankful things, by speaking praise that you find yourself letting go of fear and grabbing a hold of the hope that you have in a God who always wins and who always fights for you. So pay attention to what you say.
Also pay attention to what you seek, you know. Maybe right now in the midst of this whole coronavirus thing, you’re desperately seeking security of some kind, you’re trying to exert some kind of control over things because you feel like everything’s out of control. Maybe instead of trying to seek your control maybe what you need to do is you need to seek God. Maybe you need to seek time with God, right? Maybe you need to go “Hey, I’m not in control God but I know you are. So let me get to know you better.” If I can’t control the situation, maybe I need to know the God who is in control of the situation better. And so you’re gonna spend more time seeking God by reading his Word and praying throughout this season. Or you know what, maybe you’re seeking connection. Maybe you’re an extrovert and you’re just like you’re dying to get connected to people and you’re kind of frantically trying to connect to people. And maybe you’re gonna go, “You know what? I’m gonna seek time with God in the midst of this time when I don’t have as much connection.”
Or maybe you’re an introvert, right? And maybe you’re in your happy place. Not only are you allowed to stay home, but you’re told by the government you have to stay home. Okay, fair enough. But how about this? Do you have people in your life who need to hear that you still care about them? That need to hear that you’re still thinking about them, that you’re praying for them? Maybe as an extra extrovert in life, you need to actually seek to connect with them and speak the truth of God’s Word to them. Maybe you need to connect them, you need to seek connecting with some people right now in this season and letting them know about a God who always wins and who always fights for his people. Maybe you need to reach out and do that in some way.
And third one is that surrender business. How do you give yourself to God by what you surrender? I already mentioned control. But you know what? I think for me at least, that’s the one thing that I feel like is lost in this. It’s control. And that’s hard for me, I wanna be in control, I wanna make sure that I’ve got everything under control. As a leader, as a father, just as a human being, I think we’re all kind of inclined to want control and it’s lost. And then a lot of us are trying really hard to get it back in various ways. And that’s probably creating some conflict in some of our relationships right now. Because what we’re doing, is we’re just trying to reassert control, we’re seeking control. And maybe what we need to do is we need to surrender. We need to surrender that need to be in control to the only one who should be, to God. Maybe we need to surrender control to the God who always wins, and the God who always fights for his people. In fact, let’s pray right now about doing that, would you join me in prayer, wherever you are, would you just close your eyes, take a deep breath. Let’s have a conversation with God.
Hey, God, things are scary right now. A lot of us are scared right now. We’re worried and we’re worn out from the worry. We need hope. We thank you that the hope that we have, it doesn’t come from an end to this pandemic. It doesn’t come from the arrival of a vaccine. The hope that we really need comes from you. It comes from a relationship with a God who always wins. Who has never encountered a no-win situation. And who always fights for his people. Lord, as your people we come to you and we ask for the hope that only you have. Would you pour hope into us. And Lord, not only may we receive that hope, but may we become agents of it, to those who are around us, who are in desperate need of it. Lord, we simply take a moment right now and we acknowledge to you the truth that we know that we see in this story from the life of Jesus, you always win. And you always fight for your people. Lord, fight for us. And we will give ourselves to you. But help us to give ourselves to you in what we say, what we seek, what we surrender. Because in you alone is there hope. And so we look to you alone for hope.
And if you’re a follower of Jesus, if you have this hope, would you do something for me, would you begin praying for the people around you? Maybe they’re in your home, maybe they’re in the neighborhood around you. Maybe they’re on the other side of the world watching this, but I know right now, there are a lot of people watching this who don’t have a relationship with God. They don’t have the hope that you have. So would you begin praying for them right now? And if that’s you, if you don’t have the hope that we’re talking about, if you don’t have a relationship with Jesus, with the Son of God who always wins and who always fights for his people, and if you would say, “That’s great news, but the reality is, I’m not one of his people.” If that’s you, I just wanna speak to you for a moment. Because all that can change right now. Everything can change right now. You can have that hope, you can have that relationship. All it requires is saying yes to the God who paid in his own blood the price of your rebellion. All it requires is putting your faith, your trust in the God who has bought with love what was already his by right, you.
All we need to do is acknowledge our rebellion, asked for forgiveness and put our trust in what Jesus himself did on the cross for us. And here’s how you’re gonna do it. If you don’t have that relationship, you can have it right now. And if you’re ready to receive hope, if you’re ready to receive that relationship, here’s how you do it. You’re just gonna have a conversation with God right now. Just I’ll give you the words, you’re just gonna say them to God with sincerity. Here’s what you’re gonna say. You’re gonna say, “God, I have rebelled against you. I’m sorry. I’ve sinned. I’ve tried to do life on my own and it hasn’t worked out so great. I’m so sorry. Jesus thank you for dying on the cross to pay for my rebellion. I believe you rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. And I understand for the first time that you’re offering me forgiveness, you’re offering me freedom from guilt and shame. You’re offering me hope. Hope that comes from a relationship with a God who always wins and who always fights for his people. I wanna be one of your people. So Jesus, I’m putting my faith in you. I’m putting my trust in you. Come into my life. I’m yours from now and forever. Amen.
I know a lot of you made that decision right now. I know a lot of you have just made the decision to put your faith in Jesus. Now you have begun to have hope, real hope. And I wanna give you more of that. I’m gonna give you some resources to help you begin taking hold of that hope. So if you made that decision, I’m gonna ask you wherever you are, to do something really simple for me, would you text the word “Jesus” To 888111. Text the word “Jesus” to 888111. And you’re not gonna get put on a mailing list, all you’re gonna do is you’re gonna get a link back. And in that link, it’s gonna take you to a page that’s gonna give you five very hopeful truths, five truths that will put hope into your life, that will pour hope into your life. Five truths about what is true of you now because of your relationship with Jesus, and what it looks like to walk in that relationship, through this pandemic. But beyond that, in whatever else the world may throw at us, what it looks like to walk with a God who always wins and who always fights for his people. God bless, stay strong. We’ll see you soon hopefully in person. But we will see you soon. God bless.
As believers, we’d like to give up our desire for control and trust in His plan, especially during times of crisis, but how do we move our trust in God from our heads to our hearts? We can move towards a confidence that we don’t need to be in control, because we have a Heavenly Father who is and who knows what he’s doing. Today’s message highlights a time when Jesus used an obstacle and turned it into His opportunity.
Craig: Well, hey, as Justin said, it’s a little easy to forget in all the craziness of the season right now, but this is actually Palm Sunday weekend. We’re one week out from Easter. And this is a special weekend all of its own. We call it Palm Sunday. And if you’re kind of new to this whole church thing, and maybe you’ve never heard that phrase, or maybe you’ve heard of it but you’re not exactly sure what it means, let me catch you up real quick. Kind of an interesting event in the life of Jesus leading up to Easter.
So for most of his ministry, Jesus was pretty low key about his identity as the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah, Savior, and King. But as he came into Jerusalem for that last time, on that Sunday, he did something different that he’d never done before. He came in differently. He came in riding on the previously unwritten colt that his disciples have procured for him.
Now, what’s interesting about that is in the ancient Near Eastern world, when you came in riding on a previously unridden colt, that was an announcement that you were a king. That was how kings went into their capitals. And so, Jesus kind of announced for the first time that he was, in fact, what people were beginning to suspect that he was, in fact, the King. And a lot of his people ran out from the city and they welcomed him as King. And the way they did that was they laid down palm branches. Palms are a symbol of peace. And so, by laying palm branches on the road as Jesus came in, they were saying, “We welcome you in peace.” In other words, “We really…we submit to you as our King.”
And so, they’re super excited about that. And it’s so interesting to me that in such a short span of time, things change so dramatically, right. On Sunday, he came in welcomed as King, and then just a few days later, he was arrested. He was subjected to a mockery of a trial. He was beaten and ultimately, he was crucified as a criminal. And that happened in just a few days. And it’s amazing, I mean, how often things can really spiral out of control so fast that we can hardly believe it.
A lot of you are probably feeling like I am like the same thing has happened to us around the world right now. It’s just a few weeks ago, everything was kind of fine, right? It was life as normal. We were going through our business. And then we began to hear rumors about something, and then very quickly we’re on lockdown. The whole world is on lockdown. And we’re seeing death tolls rise. We’re seeing the number of new cases around the world rise and that’s scary. At the same time, we’re seeing certain things drop, right? We’re seeing some of our supplies of food, or medical masks, or hand sanitizer, those things, those are dropping.
A lot of us are seeing that our retirement accounts are dropping because of the uncertainty in the economy. And there’s all kinds of things that it just kind of feels like it’s spiraling out of control. And it happened so, so fast. And I don’t know about you, but I hate when things get out of control. I don’t think I’m…well, I shouldn’t say that. I gotta be honest, I probably am a little bit of a control freak. But I think most of us, whether we would consider ourselves control freaks or not, we like to be able to exert a certain amount of control on our circumstances. And we’re in a situation where that’s just not happening. And a lot of us are struggling with that, maybe you’re struggling with that.
It kind of reminds me actually my attempt to bring control to things even when there’s really nothing I can do about it, or my feeling like I need to be in control even though there’s nothing I can do about it. It reminds me of something that my kids used to do when they were little. We’d go on these long car rides. And as we would…finally, we would end a long trip, we’re on our way home, it’s getting kind of late at night. My kids would be in the backseat and they would be doing what every little kid does in the backseat when they’re heading home. And that is they were piping up regularly with that ultra annoying question, “Are we there yet? Right? Are we there yet?”
And it actually was a little bit worse for me because for some reason, I have no idea why this is, but my kids…in addition to being obsessed with whether or not we were there yet, my kids were obsessed with the possibility that we might be lost actually. And they were constantly panicking about being lost. And so in addition to hearing, “Are we there yet?” I would also hear that mixed in with “Are we lost? Are we there yet? Are we lost? Do you know where we are, Dad? Do you know how to get where we’re going? Hey, we just passed the road, I wonder if that was our road? Did you know if that was our road? Did we miss it? Are we gonna be lost? Are we gonna make it? Are we there yet? Are we lost?” And it was so, so annoying, if I could just be honest with you.
It was so annoying because I was like what do you have to offer in this situation.? It’s like you’re trying to, like, make sure that I’m doing it right. But, like, I wanted to turn around and go “Can you drive?” “No.” “Oh, interesting that. Can you read a map? Oh, no, you can’t read it at all. Oh, interesting that. Do you have any idea where we actually live? No. Do you have any idea how to get from where we are to where we know? You don’t, then how about you just shut up?”
And there’s a part of me that really kind of wanted to say that, and I’m gonna be honest, there were sometimes that I said it. Kind of wish I hadn’t but I kind of did. I got on my nerves. I found myself this week as I was thinking about how out of control things are right now, and all of our need to kind of exert some control, and do what we can, and maybe even ask God some of those similar kinds of questions like, “God, are you really on the job? God, are you paying attention? Did you see that report? Are you watching the numbers, God? Are you here? Are you on it? Are you in control? Are you getting us where we need to go? Are we gonna get out of this? Are we there?” Maybe we’re asking a lot of the same kinds of questions.
And I wonder if God gets annoyed with us as I used to get with my kids when they were going, “Are we there yet? Are we lost? Are we there yet? Are we lost?” I wonder if God gets annoyed with our feeling like we need to exert control because we’re not entirely sure that he is in control. Probably not. Probably not. The reality is that God’s probably a whole lot more gracious with our fears than I was with my kids. I don’t actually think that God is upset with us for feeling like things are out of control. I don’t think he’s disappointed in us. And if that’s something you’re struggling with, I want you to know, I don’t think God’s disappointed with you. But I do think God wants us to be able to get to the place where we can trust that he is in control.
He wants us to actually get to that place that my kids used to get to. Eventually, they’d wear themselves out and then the “Are we there yet? Are we lost?” It would start to kind of trickle off, it’d be longer gaps between the times they said anything, and then it would just stop entirely. And we’d look in the rearview mirror and they were asleep. And not just like a little nap, like a deep, profoundly peaceful slumber. I mean, they were asleep asleep. And we would eventually get home because I did know how to get us where we were going. And my wife and I would get them out of the car seats, and we take them into the house, and we put them in their beds, and we tuck them in. And in the morning, they’d wake up at home, comfy and cozy in their own beds, safe and sound because their dad was in control and their dad was on and he did know what he was doing.
And I always thought it was interesting that they would go through this pattern of like, “I feel like I need to exert control, I need to make sure my dad’s paying attention. Did you miss that road? Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” But at the same time, eventually, they would get to that place where they could relax knowing that I was in control and fall asleep. And I really believe that God wants us to get to that same place. That place where maybe even in the backseat of this crisis, because we are in the backseat, we’re not in control, maybe even from the backseat, we can look at God and go, “Oh, that’s right, you got this. I don’t need to worry about this. I don’t need to try to be in control of this because you’re in control and you got this.”
You know, as followers of Jesus, I and I think a lot of us, we know that God’s in control in our heads, right? The problem is, sometimes there’s a gap between what we know in our heads and what we feel in our hearts, our ability to relax into that knowledge that God’s in control. And so, the question that we need to ask ourselves is this, how can we move our trust in God from our heads to our hearts? How can we move our trust in God from our heads and into our hearts? How can we move it from what we know to be true to what we actually feel to be true in the midst of a crisis? That’s what we’re gonna talk about today.
And I’m really excited to be able to share a story from the life of Jesus in that Easter week, that to me really helps me to bridge that gap between what I know in my head about God being in control and what I feel in my heart. And this is a story that’s really helped me over the years to be able to relax into the knowledge that God’s in control and stop trying to be a backseat driver. I’d love to have you join me. We’re gonna be in the Gospel of Matthew today. This is Matthew chapter 26. Matthew chapter 26, we’re going to be picking up in verse 1. And while you’re making your way there, let me just say this, if you’re new to the Bible or if you’re new to Mission Hills, we’re a Bible-driven church. And so, we always make sure that anything we say is actually coming out of the truth that God gives us in his Word.
Today, we’re gonna be talking about truth that comes from the Gospel of Matthew, as I said. Matthew is one of four books in the Bible that tell the story of Jesus’s life. And this particular story happens between Palm Sunday and Easter. And Matthew 26:1 says this. “Now when Jesus did finish saying all these things,” he just finished a teaching section, “when he finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, ‘As you know, the Passover is two days away and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” So interesting.
Two things here that we need to pay attention to, First, Jesus says, “As you know, the Son of Man is gonna be handed over to be crucified.” He had already told them that was gonna happen. But here’s the important thing to understand, the fact that he’s told them before and he’s telling them now means that he knew it. And this is so important. Listen to me. Jesus knew what was coming, okay? Jesus knew what was coming. Jesus was not surprised by the cross. Jesus had planned on the cross all along.
It was the plan from the very beginning, from the moment that the first human being sinned and rebelled against God and turned away from him. From the moment that we sinned and fell short of the glory of God. Unfortunately, as the Bible tells us, the wages or the consequence of sin is death. And we entered into spiritual separation from God that leads to our death, both in body but also in spirit eternally separated from God. From the moment that sin entered the world and the human race began to experience that, Jesus started out on his way to the cross. It was always the plan that he would come, and he would die as a sacrifice for our sins, to remove that penalty of death that we earned by our sin.
So, Jesus knew what was coming. He wasn’t surprised by this. It was the plan all along. So important we remember nothing you ever face is gonna take Jesus by surprise. Whatever we’re facing right now, Jesus knew it was coming. Whatever your family is facing right now, Jesus knew it was coming. Whatever you’re facing as an individual right now, whether it’s in your heart, your spirit, or in your finances, or in your relationships, Jesus knew it was coming. Okay? That’s the first thing we need to recognize here.
The second thing we need to recognize is this, Jesus wanted to die during the Passover. He wanted to die during the Passover, that’s what he says, right? “Two days away the Passover and the Son of Man,” that’s his favorite title for himself, “the Son of Man is going to be handed over to be crucified.” He knew that the crucifixion was coming. He wanted to do that. And specifically, he wanted to do it during the Passover, right, during the Passover.
Now, why is that? What is this Passover? Well, if you’re not familiar with it, I need to catch you up real quick because it’s really important understand this. So, there was a time in Israel’s history where Israel was enslaved in the land of Egypt. They were slaves to the Egyptian people. And at a certain point, God sent a man named Moses to go down and to tell the leader of the Egyptians, the Pharaoh, “Let my people go,” that’s kind of the famous line. So, Moses went down and he said, “Let my people go.” And Pharaoh basically resisted. He said, “No, I’m not gonna. You know, we’re getting a lot of good work out of them, we’re not gonna let that happen.”
And so, God began to send a series of plagues to convince the Pharaoh that he needed to let his people go, okay. Now, Pharaoh kind of did this sort of herky-jerky back and forth that a plague would happen. He’ll be like, “Okay, you can go.” And then he changes his mind “No you can’t.” And so, the plagues escalated until finally, the ultimate one was that an Angel of Death visited the land of Egypt, and it visited each household in the land of Egypt bringing some death to each of those households. But the Israelites, the people of God, they were told that this is gonna happen, and they were given a way to escape from it.
They were told that they were to sacrifice a pure, unblemished lamb. And they were to put some of the blood of that lamb on the doorposts over their homes. And when the Angel of Death came to that home and when he saw the blood of the sacrificed lamb on that doorpost, he passed over that home and no death came to it. That was the Passover then, that was the initial one, that the Angel of Death passed over the homes that had the blood of the sacrifice on them. And so, they continued to celebrate that and that’s why they called it the Passover.
And for thousands of years, the Israelites celebrated that. And what Jesus says here is that that yearly celebration of the time that death passed over the homes of God’s people is coming. And Jesus wanted to be sacrificed during the Passover because Jesus wanted everybody to understand that he was the ultimate Passover lamb. That the original event of Passover, that that lamb that was sacrificed and the blood put on the door that was just a foretaste. It was a foreshadowing. It was almost a prophetic event that pointed towards what Jesus would ultimately come and do in this moment. He would be the perfect lamb, the sinless, spotless, unblemished Lamb of God, the Son of God who would be sacrificed for the sins of God’s people.
And that when we trust in faith, by his sacrifice, his blood is upon us, and so death passes over us. We’re set free from our sin, and we’re forgiven. And we’re adopted into the family of God, we have eternal life with him. Jesus wanted to die during the Passover so that everybody understood that connection, okay? So Jesus wants to die and he wants to die during the Passover. And then it gets really interesting. Watch this.
And then it says, this is verse three, “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people,” those were enemies of God at this point, they were enemies of Jesus in particular at this point, “the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest whose name was Caiaphas. And they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. ‘But not during the festival,’ they said.” Isn’t that interesting? “‘But not during the festival,’ they said, ‘or there may be a riot among the people.'” So interesting, right?
Jesus wants to be sacrificed, but he wants to do it during the festival so people see the connection between him and the lamb. His enemies also want Jesus to die. To that extent, their plans are kind of in lockstep. But they say, “But not during the festival.” They’re afraid of the popularity that Jesus has with the people. They’re afraid there might be a rebellion among the people against the Jewish religious leaders.
And so Jesus wants to die, but during the festival. Now his enemies want him to die, but not during the festival. And it begins to raise this kind of interesting question, there’s a tension here that we’re gonna see throughout this entire story. And the tension basically revolves around this question, who’s in control? who’s in control? Is it gonna be Jesus? Is his timing gonna win out? Will he be able to sacrifice himself on the Passover? Or was it his enemies’ desire, are they in control? Is their desire gonna be the one that wins out in the end that he will not be sacrificed during the Passover? That’s the tension that runs this, who’s in control?
“Now, while Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. Now, when the disciples saw this, they were indignant. They said, ‘Why this waste?’ They asked, ‘This perfume, it could have been sold at a high price and then the money given to the poor.’ Now aware of this, Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you bothering this woman?'” I love that? “‘Why are you bothering this woman? She’s done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. And when she poured the perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.'”
So at first the story might seem like it’s kind of unrelated, but now we see no, it’s still part of this continuing narrative of the story. Jesus is trucking towards the cross. He’s moving deliberately towards his willing sacrifice for our sins. And so, even in the midst of this, he says, “This is still about that. It’s about my death and my sacrifice.” What I think is interesting, though, is that he says that she did this to prepare him for that sacrifice and for his burial. Because I’m gonna guess she had no idea that’s what she was doing. Like I’m gonna guess that she didn’t get up that morning and go, “I gotta go get Jesus ready for his burial?” I don’t think so.
I think what happened was she experienced a prompting. She had something in her heart in her spirit that said, “Jesus is in town and I love Jesus. And I wanna show him how much I love him. I want to show him how devoted I am to him.” And so she had this expensive jar of perfume. It’s perfumed oil and she wanted to go and she wanted to anoint Jesus, she wanted to pour it over his head, which is the declaration of love. It was a declaration of her devotion to him. That’s all she wanted to do. She just wanted to show him how much she cared for him, how devoted she was to him.
But it’s interesting that, ultimately, she was doing this larger thing of beginning to prepare him for burial whether she realized that or not. And I love it, she just responded to a prompting and yet, check this out, this is what Jesus finally said, he said, “Truly I tell you, wherever the Gospel is preached throughout the world, what she’s done will also be told in memory of her.” I love it. She responded to a prompting, probably felt like a fairly small thing to do, maybe a little bit of a strange thing like “That might be weird.” She probably debated “Should I do it, should I not.” But at the end of the day, she responded to that prompting. She came and she did what God had laid in her heart to do, that thing.
And Jesus says, “Because of what you did, your story is gonna be told when my story is told.” And I love that because here, this is so important, church, when we respond to God’s prompting, we get to be part of his story. When we respond to his prompting, we get to be part of his story. When God lays something in our hearts and we respond to it, we get to be part of the bigger narrative of what God’s doing. We get to be part of the bigger story of what God’s doing. We may not always understand how what we’re doing is part of that, we may not understand how exactly God’s gonna use it, but when we respond to God’s prompting, we get to be part of his story.
You know, and right now we’re in one of those seasons where there’s a tremendous opportunity for us to respond to God’s promptings. And it may be that you find yourself stuck at home alone, and you have this thought “I should call so and so and just check on them, see how they’re doing. Or maybe I should find out if my elderly neighbors do need some groceries, and maybe I could step in and do that. Or maybe I just need to make a plate of cookies and take them over to a neighbor and hit the doorbell and dash.” Right? Maybe leave a note saying, “I was just thinking about you, I just want you to know I cared about you.” Maybe it’s just some tiny little thing. And it’s just, it’s there and you’re like, “I don’t know, I don’t know if it would really do any good. I don’t know how valuable it is.” But if it’s a prompting to do a good thing, I’m gonna encourage you to do it. Because when we do that, when we respond to God’s prompting, we get to be part of his story and we don’t wanna miss out on that.
Just yesterday, I had one of those promptings. I felt like God was saying, “Hey, you know what, you’ve got some mentors that have spoken into your life and they’ve continued to do that throughout this crisis, but I wonder if anybody has reached out to them. I wonder if anybody’s checking on them.” And so I had that prompting, and I just grabbed my phone and I texted a couple of these guys, “Hey, I just checking on some of the people that God has used powerfully in my life, you guys doing okay?” And one of them responded back, “You have no idea what a tremendous blessing that was to me today to hear that, that God had used me and that you were thinking about me.” And I was just like, “I’m so glad I did that.” It’s such a small thing. But when we respond to God’s prompting, we get to be part of a much bigger story that we’re only seeing the outside edges of.
And so she does that right. She responds to that prompting. Unfortunately, one of his closest disciples, one of the 12 is responding to a very different kind of prompting, not from God. And verse 14 says this, “And then one of the 12, the one called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver him to you?’ And so they counted out for him 30 pieces of silver. And from then on, Judas watched for an opportune time to hand him over.”
Now I just wanna push in on a word there. I said that they began to look for an opportune time. A lot of translations, the Bible wasn’t originally written in English. Matthew was originally written in Greek. And so we’re reading English translations. And a lot of the modern translations, they don’t say opportune time, they say an opportunity. But I think more literally what is said here is that they begin to look for an opportune time. And I think it’s important to be literal, because what Matthew is saying is that Judas and the enemies of Jesus, they began looking for…basically, they were looking for the, I guess, the ideal time, the perfect moment to do this.
Now, what would the perfect moment be? What would the ideal moment be? Well, it depends on your perspective, right? From Jesus’s perspective, the ideal moment, the opportune time, is right during the festival, so that nobody can miss this connection to him being the Passover lamb. But from the enemies of Jesus’s perspective, it’s not during the festival. And so Judas is looking for a way to hand Jesus over that’s not gonna happen during the festival.
And so we have this tension again, what’s really going on here is it’s a control battle. Who’s in control? Who’s gonna win out? Whose timing is gonna actually play out? “And then, on the last…or the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and they asked, ‘Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ And he replied, ‘Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The teacher says that my appointed time is near. I’m gonna celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover. Now, when evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the 12. And while they were eating, he said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.'”
And if we can just stop for a moment, and recognize, like, how uncomfortable things must have gotten at that moment, right? I mean, they’re having this amazing time together. They’re with this amazing man that they’re beginning to understand is a whole lot more than just a teacher. He’s the Lord. He’s the King of kings. He’s the Son of God. He’s the Savior they’ve been longing for. He’s the King they’ve been awaiting. And then they’re beginning to realize that they’re having this moment where they’re celebrating God’s faithfulness in the past. They’re sitting in Jesus, God’s faithfulness in the present and for the future. And then all of a sudden, Jesus just goes, “Hey, just while you’re eating, don’t let me stop you. Keep going. I just wanna let you know, one of you is gonna betray me.” If you can imagine how that must have just killed the mood, right? Everything got silent all of a sudden.
Verse 22 says, “And they were very sad. And then they began to say to him, one after the other, ‘Well, surely, you don’t mean me, Lord?’ And Jesus replied, ‘The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him, but woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man,'” by the way, that was his favorite title for himself. “‘Woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man, it would be better for him if he had not been born.'” Again, it just gets heavier and heavier, right? At some point, after Jesus has dropped this bomb “One of you is gonna betray me,” one of the disciples, and if I had to guess I’m gonna guess it was probably Peter, that’s just who Peter is. He’s like a puppy dog with his feet a little bit too big for him. He’s enthusiastic. He’s always leaping forward. And I think Peter probably was the first one to go, “Hey, you’re not talking about me? Are you? No, okay, good.”
And then, of course, one has done it, it’s not like the others can pretend like they didn’t hear that. And so, Peter did it. And then another one’s like, “Well, you’re not talking about me, are you?” And then the other guys go, “Well, you’re not talking about me?” And they go around the table. And they’re all going, “Well, you’re not talking about me, are you?” And then it gets to Judas. And there’s a good possibility that Judas was actually next to Jesus. And so this conversation that happens next might have happened fairly secretly, the rest of the disciples may not have known much about it.
But verse 25 says this “And then finally Judas,” because it’s his turn right? Everybody else has done it. Everybody else has said “You’re not telling me are you?” What’s he gonna do? Pretend like that’s not happening? So verse 25 says, “And then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, ‘Well, surely, you don’t mean me, Rabbi?’ And Jesus answered, maybe even whispered, ‘You’ve said so?'” In other words, yeah, it’s you. And I can’t even imagine what was going through Judas’s mind at that moment. I mean, somewhere along the line, Judas’ understanding of who Jesus is has gone off track. He doesn’t see in the person of Jesus what the rest of the disciples see. He doesn’t understand who Jesus is. And so, in that moment, I think he must have been absolutely stunned. The other disciples at this point may not have been surprised that Jesus knew what Judas was planning. But Judas, I think, was surprised by it.
Jesus looks at him in this moment and goes basically, “You said it. You got it right, Judas.” And Matthew…we’re gonna stop right there in Matthew, we’re gonna pick up the rest of the story this Friday as we celebrate Good Friday and get ready for our Easter celebration next weekend, but we’re gonna stop there for now. Matthew actually kind of moves on in another part of the story, but some of the other Gospel say that at this moment, or shortly thereafter, Judas got up quietly and he left. And he went to the Jewish leadership. And I really wish I could have heard that conversation.
My guess is that it something like this, Judas went in, and he found them, and he said, “Hey, he knows. He knows that I’ve decided to do this. He knows that you’re working with me. He knows what we’re doing.” And they’re like, “Okay, what are we supposed to do about that?” And I think Judas probably said, “We’re gonna have to do it now. We can’t wait.” And they were, “No, no, we have to wait. We’re right in the middle of the Passover. We’re not gonna do it now. Remember, your job was to find the ideal time and this is not the ideal time. So no, we’re not gonna grab him tonight. No, we’re not gonna go through this right now.” And Judas said, “I don’t think you have any choice in the matter. He knows. He knows what’s going on. I don’t know how he knows, but he absolutely knows. So if you’re gonna do it, you’re gonna have to do it now before this thing gets out of control.”
And that’s not what they wanted to do, but they didn’t really have any choice. And so, as the story goes, as all the Gospels reported that night, they went and they arrested Jesus. That night, they subjected him to a fake trial with a lot of fake news and a lot of fake witnesses saying things about Jesus that were just lies. And early the next morning, they took him to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who ultimately had him flogged and crucified.
And all the Gospels tell us that Jesus was hung on the cross early the next morning and he hung there for a few hours until the ninth hour. The ninth hour as the Israelites thought about it, as the Jewish people thought about it, basically, you counted things from sunup to sundown and so sunup was about 6 a.m. So the ninth hour was nine hours from sunup, which puts you about 3:00. And the Gospels all agreed that Jesus, at 3:00, looked up to heaven and he cried out, “It is finished.” And then he died.
And you might wonder, what’s the significance of 3:00? Well, according to Jewish tradition, guess at what time the Passover lambs were sacrificed for the Passover celebration. Yeah, 3 p.m., the ninth hour. And so here’s the thing, let’s be really clear about this. Jesus died, not just in the festival, not just in the midst of it when you could maybe make the association, Jesus died right when the Passover lambs were being sacrificed. At that precise moment, as they were beginning the sacrifice of the lambs, the sacrifice of God’s Lamb, Jesus, took place. He breaths his last and he said, “It is finished.” Jesus died right when the Passover lambs were being sacrificed.
And here’s the thing, on one level…that alone is encouraging, right? On one level, all we need to do is say, “Hey, look, God is in control. God gets his way every single time.” As we said last week, God always wins. And on one level, that’s maybe all we need. But there’s something even more profound going on here. I wanna make sure we don’t miss. Yes, God always wins. Yes, God always gets his way. But did you notice in the story how he got his way? Did you notice what allowed him to go to the cross and to be sacrificed at precisely the time that he wanted to be sacrificed? It was Judas.
See, if Judas hadn’t agreed to betray him, if the Jewish leadership hadn’t recruited a spy from within the midst of the ranks of the disciples, Jesus couldn’t have pulled this off. Jesus couldn’t have forced their hand and forced them to do what he wanted to do at the time that he wanted to do it. He took this betrayer, and he turned that betrayal into an opportunity to do exactly what he wanted to do all along. Jesus wouldn’t have been sacrificed at this moment if it hadn’t been for the betrayer in his midst. And I love that because it tells me that Jesus accomplished his will by means of the very thing that was intended to obstruct it. Jesus accomplished his will by means of the very thing that was intended to obstruct it, not just in spite of, not just in the midst of, by means of. I love that. I love that.
Listen to me, you wanna move your trust from God from your head and into your heart. You wanna go from what we know to be true that God’s in control to really feeling it? Here’s what we need to focus on. We know God’s in control because he turns obstacles into opportunities. He turns obstacles into opportunities. Those things that look like they’re opposing his will, he uses to accomplish it. We see that throughout Scripture and we see it in our own lives and we’re seeing it right now in the midst of this coronavirus thing, right?
I don’t know how this worked. I don’t know if the devil was talking with anybody. I don’t think that they came up with the virus, but I imagine at some point Satan and his demons were having a strategy session. Maybe they were having a dream session, they’re going “You know what would be awesome? It would be awesome if we could close the doors of all the churches in the world. Wouldn’t be great if we could shut them down so that nobody was hearing the good news of Jesus?” And then you know, this coronavirus thing hit. I don’t think they created it. I just don’t believe that. But I do think they might be behind a lot of the fear that it’s created. I think they might be driving a lot of the fear that people have that’s leading to this panic.
But they gotta be gleeful, at the very least, right, that the doors of all the churches are closed. And they had to be celebrating that until all these churches started going online. And almost every church that I’ve talked to, every church around the world that’s doing online services has found that they’ve about doubled their attendance from their weekend in-person gatherings to their weekend online gatherings. We’ve seen about three times increase. Some churches have seen as many as 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 times their regular weekend engagement. We’re seeing people come to Jesus because people are tuning in, they’re not having anything else to do and people are inviting them to come join them for service. And they’re doing that and it’s crazy.
We have seen almost three times as many people saying yes to faith in Jesus on a simple weekly basis than we have at any other time in our history. It’s insane. These things are happening. People are going out to the grocery stores, our student ministries pastor, Dave Eloe, just recently told us that he went out to the grocery store wearing a Mission Hills shirt, and he had four separate conversations with people who saw the shirt and went “Do you go to that church? I’ve been watching that church for the first time and I’m thinking about going to that church. How would I do that?” I mean, that kind of stuff is happening. The church doors might be closed, but the Church is not out of business right now.
These things might have looked like obstacles to God’s will, but the reality is, he’s turned them into opportunities to do even greater things. Listen to me, we know that God’s in control because he turns obstacles into opportunities. So what are we gonna do? We’re gonna do two things. Number one, we’re gonna remember that God is in control, right? We’re gonna remember that God is in control, because we know that he turns obstacles into opportunities. He takes things that look like they’re supposed to be opposing his will, and he turns them into opportunities to accomplish it, okay? So we’re gonna remember that God’s in control. Number two, we’re gonna respond to what he prompts us to do. We’re gonna be like that woman who had no idea the part that she was playing in a much bigger story, but she was responding to that prompting from God. That’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna remember that God’s in control, and we’re gonna respond to what he prompts us to do.
Let me give you three things real quick to help you kind of focus on that. The first one is this, we’re gonna look back, okay? We’re gonna look back because we’re gonna ask ourselves the question, “When have I seen God turn an obstacle into an opportunity in my life?” Look at your own life and all the times that God has turned things that look like they were gonna get in the way of his will for you into the very things that accomplish it. As followers of Jesus, I bet all of us can speak to those examples. We can speak to times that that’s happened, and we didn’t know him in the midst of it.
But afterwards, we look back and went, “Aah, I see what you’re doing, God.” So we’re gonna look back. We’re gonna look back. We’re gonna read the Bible and we’re gonna see these stories that happen time and time again, of things that look like they were opposing God’s will, and he turned them into opportunities to accomplish it. So we’re gonna look back. We need to do that looking back and seeing all the ways God does this, it helps us to bridge the gap between what we know in our heads and what we feel in our hearts. So we’re gonna look back.
Second thing we’re gonna do practically is we’re gonna look around. We’re gonna look around us and we’re gonna ask, you know, “What do I sense God prompting me to do?” Maybe it’s that make a phone call. Maybe it’s that check in on a neighbor. Maybe it’s join the Mission Hills Care Finder Program so that you can be involved in meeting needs. But whatever God’s laying on your heart, we’re gonna respond to that because we’re gonna look around and ask, “What do I sense God prompting me to do?”
And then the third thing we’re gonna do is we’re gonna look ahead. We’re gonna look forward, okay? We’re gonna look forward and we’re gonna ask, “How could God turn one of these ‘obstacles’ or some of these ‘obstacles’,” and I’m gonna put those in air quotes, “into an opportunity?” We’re gonna start to imagine what God could do in the midst of all this. You might go, “Why imagine?” Because no matter what you imagine, it’s not enough.
I love this verse. The Apostle Paul writing to the church in the city of Athens, just listen to this. He says this “Now to him who is able, to God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” I love that. According to his power, there’s work within us. He says, “Trust yourselves to God who is able to do immeasurably more than we can even imagine.” And so I want us to imagine, because I really believe that sometimes imagining what God could do gives us traction, right? We should have hope, but sometimes imagining what God could do actually gives us some traction and some direction to begin moving forward as we begin to respond to those prompts.
So what are we gonna do? We’re gonna remember that God’s in control, because the very things that look like they’re opposing his will, he uses to accomplish it. Second thing we’re gonna do is we’re gonna respond to those prompts that he gives us. We’re gonna remember that God’s in control, we’re gonna respond to what he prompts us to do. And in that way, not only will you find hope and peace in the midst of this, but you will be hope and peace in the midst of this.
Let’s pray. Hey, God, thank you. Thank you for the stories from your Word. Thank you for the stories from our own lives that we’ve seen time and time again that nothing gets in the way of your will. And then, in fact, beyond that, we can know you’re in control because the things that look like obstacles, you turn into opportunities. You make opportunities out of obstacles. And Lord, that is a key truth that helps us to bridge the gap between what we know in our heads and what we feel in our hearts when it feels like things are spiraling out of control. Lord, so cement that truth in our hearts. Help us to remember that.
And Lord, speak to us, prompt us. We’ll be your people. We will do what you call us to do when you prompt us to live as your people. We are the Church. Church is not a building we come to. It’s not a set of programs we participate in. It’s the people of God engaged in the mission of God, and we have tremendous opportunity to be on mission with you and to be part of your story. So, Lord, prompt us. Make us sensitive to your voice, give us the courage to respond.
Now if you’re a follower of Jesus, would you do something for me right now? Would you begin praying for the people that are watching all over the world who don’t know Jesus. They don’t know this God who turns obstacles into opportunities. Maybe they’ve heard about him and maybe it’s you, and you’re tuned in right now because you’re in desperate need of hope. Maybe somebody shared a link with you or they shared the stream with you, and you went, “Hey, I got nothing else to do. I’m gonna check this out.” And maybe in the midst of hearing about this, you’ve gone “Man, I wanna know that God. I wanna have a relationship with the God who turns what looks like obstacles into opportunities. I wanna be in a relationship with that God.”
And you’re wondering, how do you do that? Here’s how you do it, I’m gonna tell you and I’m gonna lead you in how to do it right now. I’m gonna lead you in doing it right now. So God loves you so much he sent his own Son to die. Jesus came willingly. He sacrificed himself as the Passover lamb, and that when we trust him, when we trust what he did for us, we can be forgiven and set free. He died for you so that you can be forgiven and free. Three days later, he rose from the dead. We’ll celebrate that this weekend, this coming weekend.
He rose from the dead and he offers us salvation by faith. Just by trusting at what he did. That’s how the blood of Jesus gets put on our doorpost. And that’s how we are set free from sin and from death. And we’re set free for a life with God for all eternity. And if you’ve never trusted in the blood of Jesus that was poured out for you, and if you’re ready to say yes to that, if you’re ready to be forgiven, here’s how you do it. Wherever you are, you are just gonna have this conversation with God. Just say after me say, “God, I have done wrong, I have sinned. And I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for coming and being my sacrificial lamb, my Passover lamb. Jesus, I believe you rose from the dead. Would you come into my life? I’m putting my trust in you. I’m saying yes to you. I’m yours from now and forever. Jesus, I love you and I trust you. Amen.”
Listen, if you made that decision for the first time, we would love to know about it. We’d love to celebrate with you. A couple of ways you can do that. You can text the word “Jesus” to 888111, you’ll get back a link, it’s gonna tell you some things that are true about you now that you have that relationship with the God who loves you so deeply and wants to turn your obstacles into opportunities to do great good in your life and through your life. Also, if you’re watching us in some of the online streams, you could actually just click a link right there below me that will take you to an opportunity to let us know that you made that decision. But let us know. And make sure you join us next week as we celebrate the ultimate source of hope, the Resurrection of Jesus. Because he didn’t just die for us, he rose for us and he lives for us. Can’t wait to celebrate that with you next week. God bless.
Excerpts from Matthew 26 + 27
Welcome to our interactive Good Friday service. We hope that this will help you enter into a meaningful time of worship and reflection as we commemorate Jesus’ final hours and crucifixion.
Wondering where you fit into the story of Easter, and how it applies to life today? People of Jesus’ period faced similar obstacles to us: frustrated but faithful, shame over denying Jesus, doubt in his power. But God has already overcome or removed the obstacles we are obsessing over. Sometimes we have to move forward in faith to reap great rewards.
Craig: You know, the first group of people on that first Easter to experience that truth that the death of Jesus was not the end of hope. It was actually the beginning of real and true hope. The first people were a group of women that I like to think of as the faithful but the frustrated. This was how one of the eyewitnesses to those events in that day says that this is the Gospel of Mark. He writes this. He says, “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome, brought spices so they might go and anoint Jesus’s body.” Now, what’s going on is the Sabbath is a Jewish rest day and no work was allowed to be done, but that actually began on the day before it’s sundown. And so by the time that Jesus had died and his body taken on down from the cross, the sun was setting. It was too late to prepare it for proper burial, and so they had to wait until Sunday morning. And now they’re on their way to the tomb. Now, the interesting thing about these women is that Mark has actually described them before.
In fact, he says earlier in his account that they were standing off to the side, watching the crucifixion itself, and he says this about them in that moment. He says, “In Galilee, these women, these three women had followed him and cared for his needs.” In other words, they’d been faithful to Jesus. They believed that he was God’s Son. They believed that he was the King that God was gonna put on the throne, and so they’d followed him, and they’d taken care of him. They were faithful to him. So they were faithful women, but I think at this point, they’re probably pretty frustrated, too, don’t you? Because their faith hadn’t been rewarded in the way they expected. They’d expected to see Jesus put on the throne as King. Instead, he’d been thrown into a tomb. And so it didn’t feel like God was rewarding their faithfulness in the way that they expected. So they’re probably frustrated, but they’re still being faithful.
Now, maybe you can relate to that. Maybe you know what it’s like to be doing your best to honor God to be faithful to him and yet feeling frustrated because it just doesn’t seem like he’s rewarding your faith was the way you expected, and yet you’re still trying to be faithful. That’s the key, continuing to move forward in faith, even when we’re feeling frustrated. For these women as they continue to do this, what happened? Very early on the first day of the week just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb, and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which is very large, had already been rolled away. I love that. I love the fact that they were obsessing over an obstacle that God had already removed, and I think part of the reason I love that is because I do exactly that all the time. I don’t know about you. So often, I find myself obsessing over obstacles, and I finally look up for my obsession, my worry over them, and I look around, I’m like, “Hey, where did it go? Hey, God, did you see there was an obstacle here? It was kind of a big deal, and I was really worried about it. Where did it go?” And God’s like, “Oh, that, they already took care of that.” I do it all the time. I did it this week.
It’s Easter week, and I was kind of obsessing over the obstacle that we weren’t able to gather as a church. I just really kind of hit a wall this week, struggling with that thought, and God spoke to me, and he shared two things. He reminded me of two things. The first one is something he laid in my heart that I’ve been teaching at Mission Hills for many years now, and it’s this. I say it all the time. I say that the church isn’t a building we come to. It’s a mission we choose to be part of. The church isn’t a building. It’s the people of God engaged in the mission of God. And I’m hearing stories all the time of the people of Mission Hills are being on mission with Jesus even in the strange season. Church isn’t canceled. Church has been unleashed. He reminded me that. He also reminded me the fact that three years ago, he led us to build an online campus, and we weren’t entirely sure why, but we sensed that it was the thing to do when we built it. We’ve been using it for three years, but in the last three weeks, God has taken that thing that he led us to do three years ago. And he has just taken the lid off that’s been incredible.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen people watching our worship services from 60 different countries, all 50 of the states. We’ve seen people give their lives to Jesus, be encouraged to be on mission with him all over the world, and this Easter, we fully expect that we’re gonna see three, maybe four, or five times as many people impacted by these services because of that campus that he built online for us three years ago. Yeah. You know, we obsess over these obstacles, but God’s already overcome them. And whatever you’re struggling with today, whatever fear or doubt or just big thing you’re worried about, I need you to hear this truth. God has already removed. He’s already overcome the obstacles that we’re obsessing over. As the women entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side. Other Gospels say that that was an angel. And they were alarmed.
“Well, don’t be alarmed,” he said, “You’re looking for Jesus, the Nazarene, who was crucified, but he’s risen. He’s not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He’s going ahead of you into Galilee, and there you will see him just as he told you.” I love it. These women had been faithful. They might have been frustrated feeling like God hadn’t rewarded their faithfulness the way they expected. But they were continuing to move forward in faith, and it was that willingness to continue moving forward in faith in spite of their frustration that allowed them experienced the fact that the obstacles they were obsessing over are already removed. And it allowed them to experience in this moment an incredible reward they would never imagine. They were the first to find that the tomb was empty. They were the first to find that Jesus was alive, that he was risen, and that hope had not died. He had risen in an incredible new way they would never have dared to ask.
Listen to me. Wherever you are, whatever you’re struggling with right now understand this truth. This is the hope of Easter. It’s staying faithful to Jesus. It leads us through every obstacle we can imagine to rewards we never could. Whatever you’re struggling with, stay faithful to Jesus, and you’re gonna find that he’s overcome the obstacles, and he’s got a reward for your faithfulness that’s greater than you would have dared to ask. Staying faithful to Jesus leads us through every obstacle we could imagine to rewards that we never could.
Reza: You know, it’s almost impossible to talk about the story of the resurrection or even the story of Jesus in his ministry without mentioning Simon Peter. Peter was in the inner circle of Jesus. And here’s what I love about Easter, and as we look through the pages of Scripture that Easter and the story of God is not a story about back then or them back then, but it’s a story about us and now and how God intersects our lives now. And my hope is that we would see ourselves in Peter’s account of the resurrection and the days to follow that.
You know, as Peter walked with Jesus, there was a lot that he saw. And so that morning, that glorious morning of the resurrection when he heard word that the tomb was empty, he started sprinting towards the empty tomb. And there must have been a lot that was stirring through his mind, but inevitably, there was an account that had happened just a few short days previous, that over dinner, Jesus had actually told the disciples that they would betray him. And Peter specifically tells Jesus, “It doesn’t matter if everybody turns against you, Jesus. I will never betray you.” And Jesus looks right at Peter, and he says, “Actually, as a matter of fact, you will deny me tonight. Three different times, you will deny me.”
And Peter emphatically says, “No, I would never. I absolutely would never deny you, Lord. How could I deny you? I’m the one that has called you Messiah. I’m the one that recognizes that you are the One that has been sent, the Son of God.” And yet a few moments later, Jesus was arrested, the scene was chaotic, it was highly emotional, and in a state of panic, three specific people, three separate people come to Peter, and they tell him, “Weren’t you one of the disciples with the Galilean?” And Peter three separate times denies being with Jesus. And after that final betrayal, Peter realizes what he had done. And his heart is shattered with shame, and he must have carried that shame on that fateful Friday when he watched Jesus die on that cross, on that somber Saturday that stands between the cross of Jesus and the resurrection. There must have been a lot of heaviness upon his heart because he felt as if he was eliminated.
And I wonder if you’ve ever been in that point. Have you ever been in a place where you made a resolve to say, “I will follow Jesus, that I will not fall away from him, that no matter what, I will do what he asked me, I will walk in obedience”? But unfortunately, like Peter, sometimes we talk a big game, but when push comes to shove, we fall short. This must have been what Peter felt like as he was sprinting to the empty tomb, and that Sunday of the Resurrection probably filled his heart with a whole bunch of emotions. And one of the emotions must have continued to be the sense of shame.
You know, early the next morning, Peter went to do what he knew how to do. He went fishing with his friends. And it was out on the Sea of Galilee when these friends who were fishermen turned disciples looked on the shoreline, and they see a man. And Peter immediately recognizes that man, for it was the Lord who had reappeared, and Peter jumps out of the boat, swims the length of about a football field to the shore. And on the shoreline, Jesus gathers his friends together, and they have breakfast with one another. The Gospel of John takes us, and it gives us a picture of what happened next.
In John 21:15, it says, “When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’ Again Jesus said, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ And he answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’ The third time he said to him, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said, ‘Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.”‘
You see, Jesus asked John three specific questions, and for Peter, it probably wasn’t frustrating that Jesus was asking these questions. For Peter, it wasn’t frustrating. It was probably embarrassing because there was a subtle hint in the way that Peter denied Jesus three separate times. But here’s what I love about this, that no matter how many times Peter fell short, Jesus was ready to forgive. Then what this tells me is no matter how many times we fall short, there was three questions, three times a restoration for the three denials of Jesus, that you and I find ourselves like Peter, we might find ourselves falling short that we’re not the person that we wanted to be. We’re not living the life that we committed to, and we feel embarrassed, and we feel eliminated.
But in this conversation, Peter went from being embarrassed to ecstatic because, like you and I, what Jesus was telling Peter is “I’m not done with you yet,” that there’s a lot more in store for us, that our life is not defined by what we do, that because of Jesus, specifically, failure is not final, that failure is not final, that there is enough grace for every time that we fall short. And here’s what I love about the story of Jesus, that Jesus tells us that even, even when I count my sins against me, and I’m really good at doing that, even when I count my sins against me, it’s good to know that Jesus doesn’t count my sins against me.
You see, you and I are really good at eliminating ourselves, but in Jesus, we’re never eliminated. As a matter of fact, God actually put in motion a plan that for every one of our failures, that he was gonna forgive us, that he made provision for every one of our failures before the foundation of this world, that the Book of Revelation tells us that Jesus was the Lamb of God that has been slain before the foundation of this world, that God foresaw our failures. But in Jesus, our failures are never final, that we are not defined by what we do or how we fall short. We’re defined by what Jesus has done upon the cross on our behalf. And friends, on this glorious Easter, may we know that this is our living hope.
Craig: Well, as you know or maybe you don’t, not all the disciples were able to experience the resurrection of their hope on that day when Jesus rose from the dead and walked out of his grave, particularly one of the disciples, a man named Thomas wasn’t there. And, in fact, the Gospel of John 20 says this, “Now, Thomas also known as Didymus, one of the 12, one of the closest followers of Jesus, he was not with the disciples when Jesus came.” And so the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord,” but he said to them, “I don’t buy it. Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” If you’ve ever heard the phrase Doubting Thomas, this is where that phrase comes from, from Thomas, who doubted that Jesus was, in fact, risen from the dead.
And I’ve always felt like that was a really unfair nickname, a really nasty nickname honestly because who can blame him, right? He had watched Jesus beaten. He had watched Jesus crucified. He’d watch the spear go into his side by the Roman soldiers to make sure beyond any shadow of a doubt that he was dead, and he watched his lifeless body go into that tomb. Given that, how could he do anything but question the sanity maybe even of these friends of his who were like, “No, he’s back. He’s alive.” Doubt seems like it’d be the most natural thing in the world in that moment, and yet we call him Doubting Thomas. And I hate that because it suggests that first off, he did something wrong. There was something wrong with him for having doubts, which then, in turn, suggests that sometimes maybe there’s something wrong with us if we ever struggle with doubts. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong about having doubts, and only God minds it when we’re honest with him about the doubts we have or the questions we have because look how Jesus dealt with Thomas’s doubts.
“A week later, his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them this time. And though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and he said, “Peace be with you.” And then he said to Thomas…he singled Thomas out, and he said, “Thomas, put your finger here. You see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. You can stop doubting and believe.” And Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God.” I love that. I love the fact that Jesus wasn’t disappointed with Thomas because of his doubts. In fact, Jesus honored him because of his honesty. He honored him with the evidence that he needed because he’d been honest about his doubts and his questions, and maybe that’s something you need to hear today.
Maybe you’re here today and you’re struggling with doubts. You’re struggling with questions. Maybe it’s about the truth of this whole story that Christians tell about a risen Savior. Maybe you’re a follower of Jesus, but you’re struggling to believe that God is really caring for you, that he’s on the job, that he’s being faithful to you and protecting you, and he’s gonna be true to his promises to you. Maybe you’re struggling with any number of questions, and you need to hear two things, two things that are full of hope. The first one is this. God is not disappointed in you. In the same way he wasn’t disappointed with Thomas who was honest about his doubts, God is not disappointed with you. Sometimes as Christians, we can get ashamed of the fact that we have doubts, but God is never ashamed of us. He’s never disappointed. He’s actually longing for us to bring our doubts to him. He’s big enough to handle them.
The second thing you need to understand is this, that being honest about the questions we have invites God to supply the answers we need. Being honest with God about the questions we have invites God to supply the answers we need. That’s what he did with Thomas, and that’s what he’ll do with you. It’s what he did with me. I gave my life to Jesus when I was 12 years old, but when I went off to college, I began to have some significant doubts. I was surrounded by people, smart people, educated people who told me, “The Bible is not reliable. God is not real. Religion is a crutch that weak-minded people use.” And I began to have doubts, and for a long time, I held onto those doubts. And I kept them secret inside. I was ashamed of the fact that I had them. I didn’t wanna admit to God that I had those questions, but I finally realized that nothing healthy grows in the dark.
And so I finally was honest with God and also with some other followers of Jesus. And as I began to share my doubts and questions, they began to have answers. They go, “Oh, you’re wondering about that. Well, actually, here’s this. Have you heard this? Did you know about this?” And God actually led me to the library, and I began to research in ancient history. And I discovered to my absolute certainty that the only way to explain the rise of Christianity in the first century was because of the fact of the resurrection of Jesus. There’s no other way to explain what happened but that Jesus was alive, that the tomb was, in fact, empty. And God brought the evidence that I needed because I was honest, and he’ll do the same thing for you. Maybe you’re struggling with that today. Maybe as I said, maybe you’re not a follower of Jesus because you have questions. I wanna encourage you to recognize that there’s nothing wrong with having those questions. Be honest with God about those questions. Maybe talk to some other believers about those questions, and God will take that as an invitation to supply the answers you need.
If you’re not a follower of Jesus yet because of your question, one thing I might encourage you to do is we have a great experience at Mission Hills called “Discovering God.” It’s a conversation-based experience. It’s not a lecture. Nobody’s gonna talk at you. It’s a conversation with a bunch of people who have questions and some people who have found some of the answers to those questions. And in that experience, it may be that God provides the answers that you need to move forward in faith as God is drawing you. We actually have all those experiences available online. It’s an amazing thing in the season of technology. And so what I wanna encourage you to do is this. If you’re not a follower of Jesus but you wanna explore those questions, go to “Discovering God.” And here’s how you do it. Go to missionhills.org/dgonline, missionhills.org/dgonline, and sign up for one of those online experiences. You could do that no matter where you are in the world. We’d love to have you. Maybe you are a follower of Jesus, but as we said, you’re still struggling with doubts and questions right now, and maybe you feel ashamed of them. Please don’t. God’s not bothered. He’s not ashamed. He’s not disappointed in you. And if you’ll be honest with him and with some other believers, I know for a fact because I’ve experienced it, God will take your honesty about the questions you have as an invitation to supply the answers that you need.
So let’s just do this right now actually. Let’s go to God. Hey, God, we’re all struggling a little bit. The world’s upside down, and I think we’re all feeling a little bit overwhelmed by the negative information coming at us. We were never designed to process this much negative stuff, and I think a lot of us are struggling. We’re hurting. We’re doubting. We got questions, and we’re embarrassed by that. But, Lord, we take hope from the story of Thomas, we don’t need to be embarrassed about that. And so we’re coming to you right now, and we’re laying all of our struggles, all of our doubts, all of our questions at your feet. We’re gonna be honest with you, and we’re gonna be honest with each other with other followers of Jesus. And, Lord, we’re inviting you right now to be the God who’s not disappointed in our doubts but who takes our honesty as an invitation to supply the answers we so desperately need. So, Lord, bring us the answer so that we can trust in you more deeply and move forward in faith. We have this hope in the resurrection, and so we cling to it tightly. Amen.
Craig: I think one of the more interesting people who experience the hope of Easter on that first Easter weekend was actually a man that shows up in all four Gospels. And there’s not a lot said about him, but what’s said about him is pretty interesting. John 19 says this, “Now, Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders.” I just think that’s so interesting. Joseph was a secret disciple of Jesus because he was afraid of the Jewish leaders, and the reason he was afraid of the Jewish leaders is because he was one of them actually. He was. He was a prominent member of the Jewish Leadership Council. He was there that night when they tried Jesus. And the plan of most of those Jewish leaders was actually to execute Jesus, but Joseph didn’t want that to happen. He didn’t go along with it. He was a believer in Jesus, and so he didn’t vote in that direction. But he didn’t fight all that hard against it either because he was afraid that if he did, people would recognize that he was a follower of Jesus, too, and they’d come after him next. So he was a secret follower of Jesus.
And maybe that’s something you can relate to. Maybe there have been times in your life. Maybe right now you’re in a place where it’s just…it’s scary to admit to people that you’re a follower of Jesus. Maybe it’s in your marriage, or maybe it’s in your family. Maybe it’s at work. Maybe it’s in your community. Maybe you live in a country where it’s not okay to follow Jesus and to say that you’re a follower of Jesus has the potential of being very, very costly. Maybe you know exactly what it’s like. I’ve been in places like that myself where I just felt like it was gonna cost me a lot to let people know that I was a follower of Jesus, but here’s what I’ve come to understand, and I think it’s important we all recognize it. Secret followers play small parts. Secret followers play small parts in the story that God’s writing. And you might think, “Well, that doesn’t seem true. I mean, Joseph was a secret follower, but he didn’t play a small part. I mean, he’s mentioned you said in all four Gospels. It’s a pretty big deal. We’re still talking about him 2,000 years later. That didn’t seem like a small part.” And you’re right. It’s not a small part that he played in God’s story, but he didn’t stay a secret follower of Jesus. He found his courage, and he found his courage at the time when, honestly, it made the least sense to.
This is what the Gospel of Mark tells us. It says, “Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’s body.” So he didn’t speak up when they were getting ready to crucified Jesus, but after Jesus was dead, he found his courage. He went boldly to Pilate and said, “Can I have his body for burial?” And it was bold because he had to know at that moment that what he was doing will be heard about by all the rest of the Jewish Council, and they would recognize and say, “You’re one of them. You’re one of his followers.” But he didn’t care at that moment. I just think it’s so interesting that it was at that moment that he found his courage when it was probably most costly to go public with it because they’d won, right? It says, “Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. And when he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. And so Joseph bought some linen cloths, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. And then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.”
And I think it’s so interesting that it was at that moment that he found his courage, but that step of courage that he took to take the body down and put it in the tomb, that actually set the stage for the rest of the story of Easter, didn’t it? It set the stage for the women to go, worrying they weren’t gonna be able to move that big rock to get to the body of Jesus. It was that tomb that they were going to to find the body of their crucified Savior. And it was in that tomb that they found that he was risen. It was from that tomb that hope burst forth. You see, what Joseph did set the stage for the rest of the story of Easter, and I love that. I love that because it tells me two things, and maybe you need to hear these today. The first thing is this. It’s never too late to be bold. It’s never too late to be bold. Maybe you feel like you’ve missed an opportunity to be courageous about sharing your faith with somebody or just to admit that you’re a follower of Jesus, and maybe you’re beating yourself up or you’re feeling like you’ve missed an opportunity. But listen, it’s never too late to be bold. Many opportunities we miss God will continue to give us other opportunities.
The second thing that I love about the story, the second thing about the story that gives me such hope is this, it’s that God does big things on the stage of our boldness, that when we take those steps of faith when we are bold, God does incredible things so far beyond anything we would have dared to expect or ask. And so the question I have for you right now, if you’re a follower of Jesus, my question is this, what bold thing is God calling you to do? What bold thing is God calling me to do? I did one this past week. It may not seem a big deal to you, but it’s kind of a big deal to me, honestly. My wife and I and my family, we put together a little Easter basket for all our neighbors, you know, some candy and a card that invited them to join us online for a service. It may not seem like a big deal, but you know what? Even as a pastor, I can get afraid that people are gonna think I’m weird that I’m pushing Jesus in their faces just by letting them know that I’m a follower of Jesus. I felt a little bit weird, too, because they were kind of girly baskets. They had pink, you know, that Easter grass stuff, and I felt kind of weird about that. So when my wife wasn’t looking, I snuck some beef jerky in there, some slim jims, you know, kind of manly it up just a little bit, but we handed them out. That’s a little step, but I can’t wait to see what big things God does because that’s what God does. He does big things on the stage of our boldness.
Maybe you’re not a follower of Jesus, but there’s something in you that’s drawing you. But there’s a fear that says, “But if I take that next step, what’s gonna happen? What do people think?” I’d love to see what big things God would do on the stage of the boldness you set by moving forward in faith. Speaking to that, you know, if you’re not a follower of Jesus, you might have had a hard time relating to any of the stories that we’ve talked about today. And we’ve talked about followers of Jesus. Everybody that we talked about so far came into the story of Easter as a follower of Jesus already, right? We had the faithful but the frustrated. We had the people who talk a good game, but then they fall on their face only to be picked up again by Jesus every single time. We talked about people who are dealing with doubt. We’ve talked about people who are fighting fear, but they were all followers of Jesus. And if you’re not a follower of Jesus, you may be thinking, you know, “Where’s my place in this story?” I wanna introduce you to one last person who experienced the hope of Easter in a unique way. It’s another story about somebody that we don’t get a lot of detail, but what we find out is so, so interesting. And what we really find is that this was somebody who didn’t decide to be part of the story of Easter. He was dragged into it.
The Gospel of Mark 15 says this, “A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.” So here’s what’s happening. If crucifixion wasn’t bad enough, the Roman practice was often to make people who were about to be crucified carry their own cross to the place of their execution. And that’s what’s happened here. Jesus is on his way up the hill to where he’ll die, and he’s carrying his own cross. But somewhere along the way, his strength gives out, and he falls to the ground. And that heavy beam comes down upon his shoulders, and he can’t get up again. He’s just too spent, and so the Roman soldiers look around, and they find a man, this man Simon from Cyrene. That’s all the way off in Africa. He’s in Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. He’s just an innocent bystander, and they look at him, and they go, “Get over here. You’re carrying his cross.” And Simon has no choice, and so he carries the cross. And he ends up having a front-row seat to the execution of Jesus.
He didn’t decide to be part of this story. He got dragged into it, and maybe that’s something that you can relate to. Maybe you didn’t wanna be part of this service. Maybe you got dragged into it by a spouse or a parent. Maybe, honestly, you’re not even sure why you’re here. You’re just scrolling through Facebook, and this video came up. And for some reason, you clicked on it, and now you’re listening to it. You’re not even sure how it happened. Maybe somebody in your house is listening to this message right now, and they’ve got the volume cranked up. And you’re trying to tune it out, but something in you just won’t let that happen. You keep sort of finding yourself listening in, and so maybe you know exactly what it’s like to get dragged into the story of Easter. That was Simon. He got dragged into it. But ultimately, he decided to be part of it, and that’s such an important thing.
Listen to me, here’s what you need to understand. It doesn’t matter how you got here to this moment. What matters is where you go from here. Simon got dragged in, but he ultimately decided to be part of the story. I know that because his sons, Alexander and Rufus, they became followers of Jesus and became famous for carrying the Gospel all over the world, the good news of Jesus to all kinds of people needing hope. His city, Cyrene, all the way back in Africa, they became a hotbed for people who are trusting in Jesus and the resurrection, and also they became famous for carrying that news around the world. Simon’s wife, she became a follower of Jesus, and she actually became, as Paul who wrote most of the New Testament says, “She became like a mother to the man that God used to write most of the New Testament.” How did all that happen? Because Simon might have been dragged into the story, but he decided to become a part of it.
He became a follower of Jesus, and I don’t know exactly how that happened. I imagine he must have met the Risen Jesus sometime after Sunday morning. Boy, I wish I could have seen that, don’t you? I imagine that Jesus came and found him, and Simon had probably begun to hear rumors that this Jesus he’d seen executed was risen. He probably had a hard time believing that, but all of a sudden, there Jesus was in front of him. Maybe Simon didn’t even recognize him at first. He wasn’t dripping blood from the crown of thorns. He wasn’t at death’s door anymore. He was smiling. And Jesus caught his eye, and maybe he recognized something in those eyes. And he said, “Hey, you’re him.” Jesus said, “Yeah, I am.” And Simon said, “I carried your cross.” And Jesus said, “Yeah. You did. I wanted to say thank you. I also wanted to let you in on a secret. That wasn’t my cross. It was yours.”
You see, there’s three things we have to understand if we’re gonna take a hold of the hope of Easter. And the first one is this, we’ve all sinned. We’ve all done wrong. Big ways, small ways, we’ve all done wrong. The second truth, unfortunately, is this is that the price of sin is death. It’s not because God’s vengeful. It’s not because he’s looking to punish us. It’s because of what we call the Law of Consequences. It’s just the way that it works out. If you unplug a light from a power source, the light goes dark. If you unplug a life from God, the source of hope and joy and peace, we go dark, we die, not just physically, but spiritually as well eternally separated from God. And then the truth number three, someone has to pay the price of that sin. Someone has to pay that price. Someone has to carry the cross. We’ve all got our crosses, but Jesus carried them for us. You see, that’s the story of Easter.
Jesus lived a perfect life. He had no sin to pay for. He had no cross that was really his to carry, and so he said, “I’ll carry yours.” And he went to that cross that day, and he died to pay the price of our sin with his life. And then three days later in Easter, he rose from the dead to prove that sin was forgiven, that the price of sin had been paid that death was defeated. And he offers us forgiveness and freedom simply by faith, by trusting what he did for us. That gift that he gave for us when he carried our cross, he offers that to us simply as a gift. But like every gift, it has to be trusted. And if you’re here today, however you got here, and you’re not a follower of Jesus, you can be. You can experience the hope of Easter. You can experience the forgiveness of sins. You can experience the new life that Jesus offers all of his followers. And I wanna tell you how to do it. Here’s how you do it. I’m gonna ask everybody wherever you are, just close your eyes, bow your head.
And if you’re not yet a follower of Jesus but somehow got dragged into the story, but in your heart you know you believe this story, you believe that Jesus was the Son of God, you believe that he died on the cross, you believe that he rose from the dead, then you can experience the hope of Easter right here right now. Here’s how you do it. You’re just gonna have a conversation with him. You’re gonna accept his gift, and here’s how you do it. Just say this to him in your heart, say, “Jesus, I’ve done wrong. I’m sorry. Thank you for carrying my cross. Thank you for dying for me. I believe that you rose from the dead, and I understand that you’re offering salvation by faith, that if I just trust in what you did, if I just accept your gift, I can be forgiven. I can be set free. I can have a new life that begins now and goes on forever. I’m ready to accept that gift, Jesus. I’m putting my trust in you. I’m putting my faith in you. Right here right now, Jesus, come into my life. I’m yours for now and forever. Amen.”