Craig Smith - Easter Weekend
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 Zadeh: 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.
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.
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.