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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Allen Jackson » Allen Jackson - Easter, The Cast of Characters - Part 1

Allen Jackson - Easter, The Cast of Characters - Part 1

Allen Jackson - Easter, The Cast of Characters - Part 1
TOPICS: Easter

You know, I always think Easter weekend is a bit challenging. You know the story before you get here. It's not like we have resurrection part B, but I always find the Lord ministers to me as I prepare these Easter weekend messages, and I've asked him to minister to you today. We're going to look at some of the characters in the Easter narrative that we don't even have names for. They're people that are easily overlooked. In fact, they're people who could be easily hated, but many of them were people who received the message of Easter. I want to be one of those people.

You know, God, the Bible tells us that every person has a revelation that there's a living God. No human being that's ever lived has missed that revelation. God tells us that he's made himself known to every person, and each of us has a decision to make. What will we do with that revelation? And with God's help I am determined to acknowledge him in my life, and that's my prayer for you. Really, nothing more complicated than that. To acknowledge there is a God, to be willing to yield your life to him, to accept his authority into your life, it changes everything. We're going to follow the Easter narrative, but I want to start with Deuteronomy 26 and verse 8. It's not in your notes, if you happen to get a copy of the Scriptures. Says, "The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders".

It's a declaration from the former slaves of Egypt having been delivered from Egypt after hundreds of years of slavery. It was impossible for them to find freedom. There was simply no way it could be orchestrated except God. And when that event was completed, their self-awareness, their analysis was the Lord brought them out of Egypt. The Lord did it. Not the politicians, not the UN, not some military conflict, not some global power, the Lord brought them out of Egypt. The description of it is what I want to call to your attention. "With a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders".

I believe there is something there of a template in how we see God's deliverance in our world. We are dependent upon his great power, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm. Those who stand in opposition to him will experience tremendous terror, and those who are willing to recognize the moving of God will recognize miraculous signs and wonders. I want to be a part of those people who recognize the strong hand of God moving in the earth in supernatural miraculous ways. Amen. I'm an advocate for study and learning and all of those things, but, folks, I'm done with polite Bible studies. We're going to be the church; a living, vibrant, vital, transformational expression of the kingdom of God in the earth; and that's more than convening worship services.

I want to add to that one more verse. This one is from Hebrews chapter 12. But the author of Hebrews is actually quoting the Hebrew prophet, and he says this. God said, "Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens". I would submit to you that we are living through a time of great shaking, that God himself is moving his purposes forward in the earth and that it's time for you and me to determine the alignment of our lives. There's no more standing in the shadows. There's more... no longer can we sit on the fence. There's no neutral. If you're declaring yourself neutral, you have taken a position in opposition to the purposes of God because you're either for him verbally and vocally and acknowledging him in every arena of your life or you have stepped away from him.

Please do not be confused. You cannot segment, compartmentalize your life and be a Christ follower at church and live another way with another world view and another set of values and other settings in your life and imagine you belong to his kingdom. That's deception. Now, I want to spend our time in Matthew's Gospel. The last two chapters he gives us a presentation of Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection, and I'm going to call your attention to the guards. We don't even know their names. We have the rank of one or two of them listed as centurion; but for the most part they're faceless, nameless, murderous people but Matthew gave them position of significance in his narrative of Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection.

We'll start in Matthew 27 and verse 27. Jesus has been arrested and condemned to death. Pilate's made his decision. He lacked the courage to stand up against the demands of the religious leaders. And it says, "The governor's soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium, and they gathered the whole company of soldiers around him".

Have you got the scene? Jesus is now at the mercy of his Gentile captors, the Romans. They've surrounded him. He's encircled by them. There's no more voices to speak for him. He has no advocates. There's no intercessors on his behalf. He's alone in the midst of a circle of hate. "And they stripped him, and they put a scarlet robe on him, and they twisted together a crown of thorns and they set it on his head. And they put a staff in his right hand and they knelt in front of him and they mocked him, 'Hail, king of the Jews.' They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. And after they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him and they led him away to crucify him".

The language is very simple. It's not complicated. Greek words are not necessary. Jesus is being tortured by soldiers. He's being tortured. He's being humiliated. He's being mocked. It's noteworthy for you and me that a pathway of faith does not remove you from the struggles of life. That's a false gospel. We can be men and women of faith leading lives of obedience to the purposes of God doing the very best we know to honor God in our lives and we will still face challenges as we make our journey through time. Now, God's a deliverer. He delivers us through those challenges, but he doesn't always lift us above them. Amen.

So if you're facing a challenge this Easter weekend, God has not abandoned you. He hasn't forgotten you. He hasn't left you without resource. Almighty God is watching over you. In the middle of mocking, in the middle of circumstances that can feel humiliating, Almighty God is moving. Jesus is being treated like a common criminal. Those who are actually torturing him have no awareness of his true nature and they don't care. It's why it intrigues me. Matthew reads them into the story in a very prominent way, and they're going to have a front-row seat for the supernatural activity around Jesus's death, burial, and resurrection and some of them will believe.

Same chapter, Matthew 27, and verse 50 Jesus is on the cross now and he's just about at the end of his life. In fact, verse 50 says, "When Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. And at that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split". I like that sentence. The earth shook and the rocks split. Remember what we read a moment ago from Hebrews, that God is shaking the earth? And he is. In this particular scenario that we're walking through, we'll see multiple shakings, earthquakes, the topography of Jerusalem being shaken by the power and the hand of God. Do you believe that the power of God intervenes in the world in which we live or do you have a theoretical faith?

I want to invite you this Easter beyond a theoretical faith. We don't worship a theoretical God. We don't serve a theoretical Savior. We're not pursuing some hypothetical set of values. We worship the creator of heaven and earth. He's real. The Word of God says he can be known and that he's made a plan that we can have a relationship with him in time and for all eternity. In Jerusalem on this particular day, the earth shook and the rocks split. The next verses intrigued me. "The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus's resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people".

There are many things the Bible doesn't tell us. I have questions, but I'll have to wait. Now, I know people have opinions. Pastors have opinions. Rabbis have opinions. Lots of opinions from religious people, but there are some things we're not, just not told. On that Friday afternoon as Jesus gave up his life, we're told that the tombs broke open and that there were righteous people raised to life again and that on Sunday when Jesus was brought back to life they went into the city of Jerusalem. Where did they hang out between Friday and Sunday? You suppose they played "Rook" in the cemetery? I don't know. They didn't play with cards 'cause God's people don't have cards. I'm kidding.

The next verse, "When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and when they saw all that happened, they were terrified and they exclaimed, 'Surely he was the Son of God.'" Remember what we read? They said, "God brought us out in his power with his mighty hand". And his opponents were terrified. The people who had crucified Jesus, who had physically tortured him to death at the expression of the power of God they felt the terror of that. The fear of God is an important thing. The fear of God has to live in our hearts.

I think we have traded away a respect and a reverence for God for an elevation of grace. I believe in grace, I could be the poster child for grace, but God's grace is not infinite. There's an end to it or there would be no judgment, and judgment is as much a part of God's character as is his grace and his love. The centurion experienced terror when he was confronted with the power of a living God, but he also responded to it and he exclaimed, "Surely this man was the Son of God". He's had a great shaking. He's lived through it. He's a part of it. He's seen the power of God demonstrated, and now the centurion acknowledges the truth that I would have expected quite candidly from almost anyone else that's in this cast of characters.

Perhaps the high priest when the temple curtain was torn from top to bottom not initiated by a human being, by God himself, and the way into the Holy of Holies was open, perhaps the high priest would acknowledge the folly of his pathway but he didn't. Perhaps the Roman governor, he knows Jesus is innocent. It's apparent in the text. But the political pressure is too much he bows to it. Maybe when the earthquake takes place, I mean, even the murderous heart of the centurion in charge of crucifixions for a day job can face transformation when he's confronted with the power of God. It's not beyond reason to think that Pilate might. But they didn't.

Matthew tells us the centurion, we don't know his name. We don't know his story. He's this nameless, faceless person, but he makes a declaration: "This man was the Son of God". A man hardened by his life choices acknowledging the activity of God. I have good news for you today. No matter how errant your life journey may have been, no matter how hardened you think your heart may have become, the power of God is present this day to present to you an opportunity to become a part of his kingdom. That's good news. Same chapter, verse 62, "The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 'Sir, we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, "After three days I will rise again".'"

It's a pretty important label they're attaching to Jesus. It's the chief priests and the Pharisees, the people who are experts in Scripture. They've spent their life immersed in religious rules and behavior. You understand, I hope, that you can be fully engaged in religious activity and still be far from God. You need to know that because we live in a time of great deception. In this narrative, Jesus is not the deceiver. The ones making the accusations are. We live in a parallel time in human history. You need to be aware religious activity and religious language does not mean there is an authentic relationship with Almighty God and his Son Jesus.

"'This deceiver said in three days he will rise again. So give the order for the tomb to be made secure. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he's been raised from the dead. And this last deception will be worse than the first.' 'Take a guard,' Pilate answered, 'and go make the tomb as secure as you know how.' So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard".

Now, whenever possible, I like to attribute the best to any person. So in this particular scenario, if we choose to give to the chief priests and the Pharisees and to Pilate every possible consideration, if we want to extend to them every possible benefit of the doubt, there's one way I suppose we could understand this, that they're still trying to maintain the integrity of the narrative. "We know he died on a cross. We witnessed it. We know he was tortured to death. We were there. And there's some rumor floating around that death won't hold him. It hasn't captured him permanently. So we want to maintain the integrity of what we've done. Let's seal the tomb".

Now, I honestly don't believe that they were doing this with pure heart so they wouldn't have called him a deceiver, but you could give them the benefit of the doubt. But I would put in contrast to that that at this point in the narrative there are eyewitness testimonies being offered, evidence being given by centurions, not by disciples, that this Jesus of Nazareth was not just another criminal being crucified. They've crucified dozens, more than likely hundreds of people. They've watched people beg and cry and all sorts of horrific things. When Jesus gave up his life, the centurion declares for anyone who could hear it and that message would have rippled through the guards in a hurry because they're the team in charge of crucifixion. "This man was the Son of God". But that message isn't penetrating the thinking or the plans or the purposes of those who orchestrated the crucifixion.

Matthew 28 is resurrection day. Says, "After the Sabbath, at the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary look at the tomb. And there was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were as white as snow". I told you a few moments ago that when God begins to shake the earth; typically it's not a single event or a single episode, that there's a series of things that begin to unfold. On resurrection morning there's another violent earthquake, another shaking in Jerusalem, a physical expression observable by everybody: the religious, the aware, and those who aren't aware. God's shaking our earth.

Jesus in Matthew 24 when he talked about the end of the age, he used an analogy. He said several things would be characteristics of this season, and then he said they're the beginning of birth pains. Now, I've never given birth. Well, I have to tell you that these days 'cause in this season there's tremendous confusion about who has that capability. I repent. But my father was a veterinarian so I've seen many things born: puppies and kittens and calves and foals and the occasional gerbil. And I can tell you something by observation that is consistent across all those species that is descriptive of birth pains; that once those birth pains begin they will continue to a delivery, but two things happen. They will increase in frequency and in intensity until the delivery.

So when Jesus described the beginning of birth pains, he wasn't describing a singular event. He's describing a series of things that are characterized scripturally as shaking. It was true in the events surrounding Jesus's redemptive work. And on resurrection morning there's a violent earthquake. The stone is rolled away from the tomb. Look at verse 4, "The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men". Again, what did we read in Deuteronomy? That when the power of God is demonstrated, there's a terror that comes upon those who have stood in opposition to the purposes of God. These are the soldiers with the responsibility of overseeing torturing people to death in public and now they've been confronted with the power of God.

"The angel said to the women, 'Don't be afraid. I know that you're looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He's not here. He's risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples he's risen from the dead and going ahead of you into Galilee.'" Another violent shaking, an earthquake this time, Matthew says. The women were present. The men were not. Just noting the fact. The angels had a message for the women. They didn't say anything to the guards. They had a message for the women. The guards, they're terrified. Understandably, they're trying to pretend they're dead. In Tennessee we call that playing possum.

If you're visiting Middle Tennessee, if you're new to this area, we decorate our highways in Tennessee with possums. If you're from Texas, it's an armadillo without the armor. These soldiers are doing their best to pretend they're dead. They don't want to draw any attention to themselves. They don't want to remind anybody at this moment that they've contributed to crucifixion. They want to be as invisible as is possible for them. The angel has a message for the women. But the guards have been confronted with something that's unimaginable. The man they have tortured to death has been delivered from death in their presence. A new power is presented to them, an entirely new reality.

Up until this moment in time, I think it's fair to assume that they imagined the greatest power available to them was the power of Rome. Whether the power of the Senate or the power of the Roman legions, simply the flex of the might of Rome; and they've been confronted with a power greater than Rome. I hope you live with an awareness that there's a power greater than nations, greater than governments, greater than the will of people. I'm not opposed to any of those things, but we serve a higher authority. And on this day, these guards are faced with a choice. They can believe what they've experienced and cooperate or they can ignore their experience.

Now, I tell you that because every one of us knows there's a God and we have a choice to make as we make our journey through time. Will we believe and cooperate with that understanding? It may not be complete and as full as we would like, we may hold questions, but we have the imagination there is a God. Will we believe and cooperate with him or will we ignore our experience so that we can pursue our own selfish agendas? It's the question of the ages. It's the question by which we will all ultimately be evaluated.

In Matthew 28 and verse 8 says, "While the women were on their way", they're on their way to tell the disciples, Peter and James and John and the rest of the crew. "Some of the guards, they went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, 'You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.' If the report gets to the governor, we'll satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.' The soldiers took the money and they did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day".

Wow. Again, Matthew puts the guards, they have a front-row seat. They are primary actors in this narrative. Now, the chief priest, as we read this, they have a choice. They have yet another choice. They've had a series of choices through these hours. They had choices when they presented Jesus to Pilate. They had choices when they sent the guards to the Garden of Gethsemane. They had choices when Jesus gave up his spirit on the cross. They have choices, again, at this point. They have eyewitness reports that he's alive. The tomb is empty. The chief priests have a choice. They can believe the eyewitness accounts of the activity being reported, and it's not being delivered from Jesus's disciples. It's not his friends saying this has happened. It's not his followers. It's not people that were there when he fed the multitude or walked on the water or raised the dead. It's the guards. It's the Roman guards saying to him, "This is what we saw".
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