Andy Stanley - Easter 2021: Were You There?
So, the question, "were you there?", is actually the perfect setup for Easter celebration because it reminds us and now mind you, you have this every Easter, and as often as I have an opportunity, "were you there?", is a reminder, that the foundation of our faith is an event it's an event and people were there for it. For us, it's a story we read or something we see depicted in film but, it happened. There were people who were there and hundreds of years before there was the Bible, and several years before anyone was ever called a Christian and many, many months before anything that looked like a church was formed, there was an event. And that event, that solitary event is the foundation for everything we say we believe as Jesus followers.
And here's the amazing thing about that event. There were people who were there. They were actually there. Now, Peter, Andrew, James and John, Bartholomew, Nathaniel, Phillip, there were two James', there was two Judas', one we know about. And one that's not so famous. There were several women that were there. Joanna, Susanna, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary, the mother of James. So many Mary's, right? Salome was there. All these people were there. They were there in Galilee way, North of Jerusalem. When Jesus said to his followers, "Hey I want to go to Jerusalem. And I want to go down to Jerusalem and I want to celebrate Passover in the city".
And the Nathaniel would tell you "I was there when he said this. And I looked at Philip and I said 'I don't think that's a great idea. Every time we go South it just doesn't go well for our rabbi'". And Jesus said, "I want to go to Jerusalem for Passover". And they would tell you, "we were there as we made that long arduous journey, you know and the Samaritans, weren't so happy to host us at times". And as we approached Bethany outside of Jerusalem, Phillip would tell you, "I was there when Jesus turned to us and said to me, and to Andrew, 'I want you to go ahead into Bethany. And I want you to find me a donkey', not just any donkey that specifically he told us exactly where to go. And we're thinking, 'well, you always walk. Why would you want to ride a donkey'? We didn't know, but he's our rabbi. So we went ahead and they when they got to Bethany, we'd found the donkey, He told us about".
Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James. They would tell you, "we were there the next day as we approached the city of Jerusalem". It was amazing, they would tell you. "We were there because at first it was dozens of people who noticed Jesus. Then it was like hundreds of people noticed who was coming. And as we approach that the primary entrance to the city of Jerusalem, it's like the whole city had come out and we understood then why he wanted to come in on a donkey. People came out and began putting their cloaks and their coats on the ground for his donkey to walk on. And then they began bringing branches. It was like, he was some conquering hero returning to the city. It was like, he was a King who had come to the city for the first time. And people began to shout 'Hosanna, Hosanna'. And we thought, yes, 'Hosanna', that's Messiah. That's what we thought all along. And here we are coming into the city with tens of thousands of people, some who recognize him, some who don't. And then it got political. They began to say, blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord".
And Simon.... Simon. He's known as Simon the zealot, not to be confused with Simon Peter, Simon the zealot would tell you, "I was there. And I was so excited because I thought this momentum is going to take us right over the top. And he's going to proclaim himself, Messiah, Savior of Israel on Passover weekend. It's going to be extraordinary". And then Jesus turned to them, and Susanna would tell you "I remember when they looked at me and said, did he say what I think he said? He wanted to go straight to the temple. And we said, 'Jesus, this streets are so crowded. Because what don't understand is that Passover everybody from Judea, everybody who could from Galilee anybody who has a son or a daughter of Abraham wanted to celebrate Passover within the city of Jerusalem who was such an honor'. Jesus said 'No, I want to go to the temple today'".
Andrew would tell you, "I was there. As we made our way through the crowd. It was so crowded. The streets were so narrowed. Everybody that recognized him wanted to stop us. We made our way to the base of the Southern stairs. We climbed those Southern stairs. As a group, we got to the temple Mount and Jesus went over into the shade of a wall and he began to teach". Philip would tell you, James would tell you, "we thought we heard everything he had to say by then, but it was extraordinary". And as the sun begin to set, Mary Magdalene would tell you "He said, 'okay, let's leave the city'. We're thinking, do you know it took us two hours to get through the city? And we left the city. He said he wanted to go to the Mount of Olives. And so once again, we camp out. We've been camping for weeks".
"The next morning, he's up early. And he says to us 'I want to go back into the city', we're like, 'it's so crowded'. We make our way back to the temple. He teaches again, the crowds are larger. The next day, the same thing, the crowds are larger on day four, they knew he was coming. And by the time we got to the temple stairs, the crowd was waiting on us. And so were the Pharisees. And so are the teachers of the law. And so are the Sadducees. And on that fourth day, they were ready for him. And question after question after question, and he would just smile and answer their questions and humiliate them publicly. We knew he wasn't making friends, but we had the crowd. We had the temple, it was Passover".
Thursday, finally rolled around. We'd been there all week. James and Phillip would tell you Thursday He said, "tonight I want us to go in after dark. And I want us to celebrate Passover, just us apostles, just me and the 12 of you. I want to celebrate Passover inside the city walls", and Susanna, she was organized when she said, you know, "rabbi, you have to have a reservation a year in advance and there's so many of you". Jesus said, go ahead into the city. I've prepared the whole thing.
Sure enough, James will tell you. "We just got into the city. It was so crowded. Went down an alley, another alley. I have no idea with no idea how we knew where we were going. We arrive at this, you know, nondescript home knock on the door. They let us in all 13 of us with plus a couple of extras. They escort us upstairs and there's this huge room. And it's all laid out for a Passover meal. It was all pre prepared. We have no idea how he did this, how he prearranged this, who went ahead. But we knew then that secrecy was important. So we knew that this Passover would be like no other Passover. And it wasn't".
In fact, John who was there, he would say "look, you've read about it. You've seen it depicted in films". John would tell you "I was there. This is what happened. We began the Passover meal. Like we'd done since we were kids. I mean, Nathaniel, I had done this since I was a child and Jesus took the bread and he broke it and we're like, did he say what we think He said? That it's his body broken? We didn't, no idea. And he passed, later in the meal He passes around the wine and he said, 'this is, this is a new covenant and my blood poured out for you'. And John, like, we had no idea what he was talking about, but I'm telling you, I was there".
And then, you know as we're trying to figure this out. Suddenly Judas and Jesus are having a conversation. And Peter's like, "I was leaning in trying to listen. I caught just a couple of sentences. Judas gets up and leaves. Jesus seemed very disturbed. In fact, for the rest of the meal he kind of seemed distracted. And then he says this to us". Simon, the zealot, Simon would say, "I was there for this. I'll never forget this because I'm thinking we need, we need plans. We need to come up with a plan. Okay. We're almost a Passover Eve. If we're going to make our move, we need a plan. And instead of a plan, Jesus gives us a new command. He says 'a new command I give you'. We're like, 'okay'. 'You are to love one another as I have loved you, you are to love one another'".
Matthew was sitting there. Matthew says, "yeah, I was there. And I'll tell you what was running through my mind. I knew how he had loved me because when he first met me I was an embarrassment to my family. I was a traitor to the nation and I'll never forget the day I was sitting there when he walked up to my tax collector's booth and he said to me, 'Levi, I want you to follow me'. And I'm telling you I was there and I'll never forget it because no one ever invited me to follow them. I always felt like people were following me. I always felt like my life was in danger. And anybody who associated with me their lives were in danger. And Jesus said, 'follow me'. And if that's the kind of love He was talking about, he just raised the bar. And then he said, this, John said, "I was there. He said 'by this kind of love, everyone will know that you're part of my thing. That you're my follower. That you're part of my movement. That you're a Jesus person'. We're thinking great. What else"?
Nathaniel will tell you, "we were shocked when He stood up and said, 'that's it let's go'. That's it? And we went down the stairs, thanked our guests back into the alley, another alley, another alley another little intersection and another road. We actually left the city by a gate that most of us were unfamiliar with. All of us were unfamiliar with and we find ourselves about 45 minutes later in some sort of garden. It was so dark. Part of it was orchard. Part of it was very manicured. Part of it was a little rough and Jesus takes us to the edge of the rough. And he says, 'you stay here and I want you to pray'. And we're thinking 'we've prayed already. We need to do something. We need to get organized... Where's Judas'? Jesus went further in and began to pray".
Andrew would tell you, he would admit, he would say "I was there. It's embarrassing, but we all fell asleep. But we were exhausted. I mean, every day we're just crowds. We were exhausted". And then he would say, "when I woke up, I heard a sound that I remember from my childhood". Simon, the zealot would say "it was a sound that I had heard since my childhood. It was the jingle of metal. It was steel on steel. And we looked out at the entrance of the garden where we had first entered and there was a torch and there were two torches and there was three and they begin to fan out to the left and to the right. And we all stood and we looked and Jesus was back".
And Nathaniel will tell you, "I was there. I, the look on his face. He just seemed resigned. And there was Judas with a small army, we were thinking 'maybe this is the Vanguard of some larger army that Jesus has raised as we're about to retake the city', and Judas walks up and there's a short interchange. And Peter said, 'I leaned in and I couldn't believe what I was hearing. And then Judas kissed our rabbi and our world's turned upside down. And we were there, but we would have rather been any place else. Into our great embarrassment for the rest of our lives we fled".
"It was a long night. It was an early morning, but mid morning, we were there. All of us, the apostles, the women, Mary, the mother of Jesus, standing outside of Pilate's palace. And we didn't know what had happened. Other than that, Jesus had been taken and we were somewhat relieved. When Pilate came out and said, 'look, I've questioned Him and I can find no reason to execute this, man. I mean, I can't find there. No, I can't press him with any charges. And by the way, I've already sent him to Herod. He's one of you guys, he's a somewhat of a Judean he can't find any reason to charge this guy with a death penalty either. And so I am going to release him to you'".
Peter would tell you "we breathed a sigh of relief, and then somebody in the crowd, we couldn't believe, they began saying 'Release Barabbas. Release Barabbas'. We're like, 'Barabbas? Barabbas is actually guilty of everything we've heard they're charging Jesus with! What do you mean release Barabbas'? And then Pilate said 'I'm going to release Jesus. I'll have him punished'. And when he said, 'I'll have him punished', We heard Mary the mother of Jesus gasp, all the women gasped. We knew exactly what that meant". John would tell you, "I was there and I went to Mary, because I just felt some sort of closeness to Mary, Jesus' mother. And I said, 'I think you should go. You should leave'. She said, 'no, I want to stay'. And they took Jesus back into the palace, and we waited, and we waited, and we waited, and we waited, and we were spread out because they took him. Perhaps they'll take us".
"And when they brought him back out", Andrew would tell you, he said, "I was there. I saw this". Simon, the zealot who'd seen so much violence in his time would tell you, "I was there. I saw this. When they brought him back out. I'm not sure we would have recognized him if we hadn't known him before. One eye swollen closed. His face drenched in his own blood. Supported on each side, by a palace guard with some sort of twisted, crown of thorns just jammed down his head. And Pilate said, 'I'm going to release to you, your King'. And the crowd began to shout 'crucify him, crucify him, crucify him'".
And Andrew would tell you, 'we we came into the city as conquering heroes. We stood on the temple Mount day after day after day and taught in public. And there was never any sense of violence, there was never a threat, and suddenly "crucify him, crucify him"'? And we were there. We were all there except for Thomas. Nobody had seen Thomas since the event and the guard, but the rest of us were there. When Pilate said, 'take him, crucify him'... see all these people would say to me and would say to you 'for you, it's a story. For it's for you, it's something you've read about. For, for you it's something you've seen depicted in plays and in film'. But for us, we were there when they crucified our Lord".
And Mary Magdalene would tell you that she heard Jesus. It was barely a whisper. When he forgave the criminal crucified beside him. And Joanna and Susanna who were there with Mary, the mother of Jesus, who insisted on being close enough to see her son die. Heard when Jesus forgave, the Roman guards and Mary Magdalene who had been forgiven us so much would tell you "I was there. It was as if he forgave everybody who had anything to do with this atrocity, this miscarriage of justice".
Peter would tell you, and Simon the zealot would tell you, and Andrew and James and John, they would all tell you, "we were scattered in the crowd. We were a bit afraid. And when the guards began to disperse the crowd, we were the first to go". But Mary, the mother of James and Salome and Mary Magdalene would tell you, "we stayed. We made sure that John got Mary, the mother of Jesus safely away. And we stayed and we watched, and we wept, and we wept, and we wept, and we wept and we cried, and we couldn't even stand. And hours went by. And when the Roman guard was sure that Jesus was dead, we were about to leave, and we saw Nicodemus. Everybody in the community knew who Nicodemus was. And we were from Galilee, but even we knew who Nicodemus was. And he had servants with him and another man we found out later it was a man named Joseph of Arimathea, and they came and there was a private exchange with the the Roman guard. And then they reverently, and carefully took Jesus' body down from the cross".
"We didn't know you could do such a thing. The horror of horror would be that his body would be dumped with other bodies for wild animals to pick through. And we watched and wept as they took his body gently down and wrapped it. And they made their way around the city wall. And we followed at a distance, and we walked, and we walked, and we walked". And Mary Magdalene would tell you "We were there. It's this, we saw this. And we walked, and we walked, and we walked, when we finally went East and we went down and we went further down into a ravine. And we finally found ourselves in this little beautiful garden. We didn't know what was there, but we're not from the area, manicured. And there was a little stone outcropping down in this Valley. That was a cave, either manmade or natural. We didn't know, but there was a stone there. And clearly this was a family tomb. And we watched this Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus has prepared Jesus' body for burial, with their servants and placed him in that tomb. And we sat at a distance and the three of us just cried".
I mean, you have to understand, they would tell you "We were there. This happened so quickly. I mean, just the night before, just the night before the men were celebrating Passover in the city as we waited outside the city, knowing that tomorrow was going to be, maybe the change that we'd all prayed for for centuries as sons and daughters of Abraham. And suddenly it was so quick, and now he's dead and now they're burying Him? And we watched, as they prepared, stepped out and then two of the servants stooped over and released the cats. They stood back and that huge stone rolls into place, closed off the tomb. There were two officials of some sort that sealed it, and the men left and the sun was beginning to set. And we had to get back to the home we were staying in with friends".
And everybody in this story would tell you, "We know exactly where we were. We know exactly, we remember exactly where we were when it dawned on us. When it dawned on Peter and James. When it dawned on Susanna and Joanna, and what dawned on Mary, we know exactly where we were when it dawned on us. It's over, it's over. We wasted three and a half years of our lives. We believe something that just wasn't true. Either he was deceived or he deceived us, but it's over because the problem is", and it's easy for us to miss, but they were there. They knew. "The problem was, Jesus, the focus of Jesus was Jesus. He just said too much about himself. He claimed too much about himself. And clearly he was wrong about who he claimed to be because you can't crucify the Son of God, you can't arrest and execute the son of man, the resurrection and the life, God's Messiah. Is it going to be manhandled by Gentiles and hung on a tree? That's the sign of a curse. So clearly Jesus was wrong about who he claimed to be. And clearly we were wrong and it was over. And now we had to get out of the city and get back to Galilee without getting in trouble along the way".
And then Mary Magdalen would tell you this and tell me this, "I was there that morning as Sabbath ended. It was the longest Sabbath of any of our lives. But as the sun began to rise, Mary the mother of James and Salome, we decided: let's at least go back to the tomb. There was, we had no closure. I mean, the events were so quick and we took what we thought we would need to re-embalm the body, having no idea how we were going to get into that tomb, but it didn't matter. Honestly, we weren't thinking straight. And we walked, and we walked, and we walked, and we came over the rise, and we looked down, and to our shock that the stone"... Now, she would tell you "Now, if I'd been thinking straight I would realize the stone had not been rolled back into place. The stone had been rolled away. And we slowly peered into the dark cave and it was empty. And I can tell you exactly where all three of us were standing. Back in the city, not the best part of the city, very deep in the city".
John would tell you, "I was there. I was sitting there with Peter. It was just the two of us were trying to figure out what do we do? How do we get out of the city? How do we find the rest of the guys? What's next for us? We were sitting there early in the morning. We hear somebody pounding up the stairs, pounding up the stairs. And John would tell you before I could get to the door to make sure it was secure. The door burst open. And there's Mary Magdalen, her eyes are red. She'd been crying. And all she can say is 'they've taken my Lord. They've taken my Lord. They've taken my Lord. And I don't know where they put him. They've taken my Lord. They've taken my Lord. And I don't know where they put them in'".
John would tell you "I was there. I took her by the hand and sat her down to try to calm her down, to try to understand what she was saying and before I could even sit, Peter was out the door down the stairs And I knew I had to follow him, because I knew what Peter was capable of. And I know what Peter was not capable of. And I assured Mary Madeline, stay here. We will figure this out". And John would tell you, "I know where I was as we went through that side city gate when I passed Peter, and I outran him down into the left and down to the left and finally to that little ravine and I came over and sure enough, the stone had been rolled away away. And I got to the edge of the cave". And he would tell you, "I was there. I panicked. I didn't go in, but Peter did".
And then John would tell you this because he has. He said "when I stepped into the cave, when I stepped into the place where Jesus had been buried I knew immediately, this is not a crime scene. This is not a case of a stolen body. It was too organized. It wasn't chaotic. And that's when I believed that my rabbi had somehow some way been raised from the dead. Peter wasn't so sure. We talked about it all the way back into the city. We rounded up the rest of the guys and it was a late afternoon before we could get them all together. We're sitting in a room we're telling what we've heard by then there had been two or three other Jesus sightings in the city and around the city of Jerusalem, we're sitting there talking and I know it's hard to believe, but I was there. We looked up and Jesus walked into the room with us, and we were all there except Thomas. Nobody's seen Thomas since the garden. We assumed he left town probably back in Bethany and who could blame him. There was probably a price on our heads and there is Jesus alive".
Well, and Thomas would tell you "I wasn't there, but I wish I had been, because two days later, I finally hear that people in the city of Jerusalem are saying that Jesus has risen from the dead. And I'm thinking 'my poor friends, they're so deceived. They're, they're just confused. They're they're grief stricken'. And so I took a chance and I made my way back into the city. And I finally ran into Phillip who took me to Nathaniel. And we finally got us all back together again. And that night we were having a meal and they're all just talk and talk and talk. And I was there. They just couldn't say enough. And I said, 'guys, I understand we, we want him to be alive. If I can't put my fingers in the palm of his hands. And if I can't place my hand in the"... And Thomas would tell you, "as hard as it might be for us modern folks to believe, I was there when Jesus stepped into the room".
Days go by. A week goes by. Jesus instructs his apostles to go back to Galilee which didn't make any sense, because all the activity was in the city of Jerusalem. And I mean, the city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. Jesus sightings everywhere. These crazy men and women who had run for their lives are back in the streets. Talking about this. Peter said "I've heard of them. I've rounded them all up. And we had seven of us. At least we made our way back to Galilee and we waited and we waited. Two or three days went by and Jesus didn't show up. And again, none of this made sense to us. And so one morning I get up and I say, 'Hey, let's go fishing. Let's do something we know how to do. My Father's boats were still there'. In fact, they were in the very spot. This was the same stretch of beach where this whole journey began for us those three years ago. And just, you know, this rabbi shows up and says, 'follow me. I'll make you fishers of men', which was crazy because that they just filled our boat up full of fish. And we thought, 'if you can do that with fish, who knows'? So we decided we pushed the boat off. Seven of us get in there. We begin to fish, and we fish and we fish, and it's not going well"...
Bartholomew. He would tell you, "I was there. And I remember when I heard Phillip say, 'who's that on the beach?', and we looked, and there was a gentleman walking along the shore, collecting wood, maybe to build a fire". And then Bartholomew would tell you this as well. "I was there when I heard John say, 'Peter, it's the Lord'. And Simon the zealous said, And I turn and the last thing I saw were the bottom of Peter's feet. As he dove into the water and swam for the shore. And 15 minutes later we're having breakfast with Jesus on the beach. We were there".
Last but, not least - Matthew. Here's what Matthew would tell you. He said, "trust me, I'm a math guy. I'm a numbers guy. I'm a document guy. I was there. I was there when Jesus gathered us all back together. And here's what he told us. He said, 'gentlemen, I want you to go into the whole world. And I want you to tell anyone who will listen what you've heard. And I want you to tell everyone, you see what you have seen, that you are the owners, you are the stewards of this story. Because it's not a story for Jerusalem. It's not a story just for Judea, or for Galilee, or for Samaria. It is a story for every single person in every single generation throughout the world'. He said, 'gentlemen'", and Matthews said, "I was there. He said to us, he said that We were to be his witnesses because after all we were there'".