Christ is risen!

The days leading up to Easter this year have seen tragic and horrific events around the world. Terrorist attacks in Westminster and Stockholm; a chemical weapons attack in Syria; a bomb on the St Petersburg Metro; the bombing of Coptic churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday; a suicide bomb attack on evacuees near Aleppo. People of many nations and of all ages have been bereaved or have experienced life-changing injuries. Where can we find strength and solace in such sad and uncertain times?

The message of Easter is one of glorious and transforming hope because, “Christ is risen!” It seemed to the disciples, and all those who loved Jesus, that his death on the Cross was the end. On the third day after Jesus died, one of his grieving disciples said, “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” The death of Jesus had crushed them and their hopes had died. Early in the morning of that same day, however, the women who went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body discovered the stone had been rolled back from the mouth of the tomb. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes and asked them, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead!”

The resurrection of Jesus transformed the disciples and filled them with courage as they took the good news of Jesus to the ancient world. They were eye-witnesses of his resurrection; they had seen him alive after he died and knew for certain that he had conquered death. They were ready to face fierce persecution, imprisonment and even death because they knew that Jesus was with them and believed his promise, “Because I live, you also will live.” Today the risen Jesus is sustaining Christians who are experiencing violent and hateful persecution in some parts of the world.

I recently met John, who has regularly attended a church for 50 years but has never known Jesus as his Saviour and Lord. He was scientifically trained and this raised many questions in his mind. His brother, who is a Christian, wrote to him and encouraged him to put aside his questions and to simply believe the Bible’s message about Jesus. He did this and his life has been transformed; he is a changed man. He is at peace with God and has a sure hope for the future, because Jesus really is alive.

The power of reconciliation

We live in a world in which retaliation and retribution are normal. If someone injures us, or damages our property, we feel entitled to retaliate. If we see someone wronging another person we feel that retribution is appropriate. Sometimes retaliation and retribution take place at a personal level, but they also happen through terrorist atrocities or the use of cruise missiles. People feel that retaliation and retribution are just; people are getting what they deserve.

At Easter Christians remember the death and resurrection of Jesus. He was very different from us. For 3 years, he exercised a wonderful ministry of teaching and compassion. He healed people who had all kinds of diseases; the paralysed, the deaf and the blind. He set people free from the bondage of evil spirits and raised the dead. His ministry seriously angered the religious leaders, who were envious of him, and they plotted to have him put to death.

They paid one of his close disciples to betray him so that they could arrest him at night. They tried him on false charges and treated him shamefully. He was handed over to the Romans, who condemned him to die. The mob called for him to be crucified. The soldiers mocked and beat him and then nailed him to a cross. As he hung on the cross, in great pain, people came to mock him. His disciples had fled in fear; he was humanly alone.

Yet, his response to all he suffered was amazingly different. It was powerful. The first words he spoke as he hung on the cross were, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” He died, not for his own sins, but for the sins of the world, including the very people who caused his pain. One Easter hymn says, “We may not know, we cannot tell, what pains he had to bear, but we believe it was for us he hung and suffered there. He died that we might be forgiven, he died to make us good, that we might go at last to heaven, saved by his precious blood. There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin, he only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.”

Where would any of us be if God treated us as we deserve? The message of Easter is about reconciliation; about how we can experience forgiveness and find peace with God. Reconciliation, not retaliation and retribution, changes our hearts and our world.

Stop doubting and believe

The glorious message of Easter is “The Lord has risen!” The resurrection of Jesus transformed the men and women who had followed him. His death on the cross had devastated them. Their hopes had crashed. None of them was expecting Jesus to rise from the dead, even though he had often told them that he would be killed and on the third day would rise again. Early in the morning of the third day, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to mourn and weep. To her amazement she found the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty. She assumed someone had stolen the body until Jesus appeared to her and spoke to her by name.

All the Gospels describe the struggle Jesus’ disciples had to accept the fact that he had been raised from the dead. When the women told the apostles they had seen the Lord they did not believe them. Peter and John saw the empty tomb, but were not convinced the Lord had risen.

When the other disciples told Thomas they had seen the Lord, he said, “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.” Later Jesus appeared to Thomas and said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

What a difference it makes when we stop doubting and believe the testimony of the eye witnesses who saw the resurrected Jesus! His resurrection gives hope to all who live in a world where death is a daily reality. We must all die, and many live in the fear of death. Recently some of our good friends have died. At their funeral services there has been both sadness and joy because, although we miss them very much, we know they are in heaven with Jesus. We have sung, “No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of life; life is naught without thee; aid us in our strife; make us more than conquerors, through thy deathless love: bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above. Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son, endless is the vict’ry, thou o’er death hast won.”

Peace with God

Easter is a special time for Christians all over the world as we remember the death and resurrection of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. We know that the death of Jesus, on a Roman cross, has reconciled us to God, and his resurrection, on the third day, has given us a sure hope for the future. The message of Easter speaks to our sad and troubled world as much as it ever has. Every day evil people perpetrate their wicked deeds. Personal integrity is at a low ebb in every part of society. Millions of people face a very uncertain future. We all need to experience forgiveness and to find hope for the future.

Jesus died when it seemed his popularity was at its height. Just a few days before he died, thousands of people in Jerusalem hailed him as their King. It was the culmination of his remarkable ministry. For three years he had travelled throughout Israel teaching the people, healing the sick, casting out evil spirits and raising the dead. He had transformed the lives of many people. Yet his life ended in rejection and seeming disgrace. The fickle crowd turned against him because he had not fulfilled their hopes for a military and political leader. However, his death was not a defeat but a glorious triumph.

Jesus, the eternal Son of God, came from heaven to deal with our biggest problem – our sin. On the Cross he paid the price of our sins when he suffered the punishment we deserve. Through the centuries people had offered animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of their sins. Hundreds of thousands of sacrifices had been made. Jesus came to offer one final sacrifice. On the Cross he became “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Down through history people from every nation have found forgiveness and peace with God through Jesus.

In Jesus we can all find forgiveness for our sins, whatever we have done. When we face up to the truth that we have broken God’s laws and need his forgiveness, there is always hope. A man, who was crucified on the same day as Jesus, found forgiveness even as he was dying. He knew that he was being justly punished and was getting what his deeds deserved. He also knew that Jesus had done nothing wrong. So he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

The story of Luke Shambrook

Luke Shambrook is 11 and has autism. Over the Easter weekend he and his family went on a camping holiday at Devil Cove, a bay near Melbourne. On Good Friday morning Luke went missing and an intensive search operation was launched involving the police, rescue authorities and more than 120 volunteer holidaymakers. They used motorcycles, sniffer dogs, horses, four-wheel drives, jet-skis and aircraft to search through the thick scrub and eucalyptus trees of the unforgiving Australian bush. At times thick cloud hampered the search reducing visibility to less than 30 feet. After 4 days and nights Luke had not been found and hopes were fading.

Then just before midday on Tuesday morning Brad Pascoe, on one of the search helicopters, spotted a little flash of something in the bush on the side of a peak. They turned the helicopter round and trained their camera on what Brad had seen. It was Luke! Everyone was overjoyed! Some of his police rescuers were close to tears of relief and joy, as were his family when they were reunited with Luke. Luke was dehydrated and suffering from hypothermia and was taken to hospital. He probably would not have survived another night in the bush. On behalf of the family Luke’s uncle thanked all the rescuers and volunteers and said, “We’re thankful to live in a society that puts a lot of effort into finding children who go missing.”

This story reminds us of a parable Jesus told about a shepherd who had 100 sheep and one of them went missing. He left the 99 other sheep in the open countryside and went in search of the lost sheep until he found it. He joyfully put the sheep on his shoulders and brought it home. Then he called together his friends and neighbours to rejoice with him. Jesus said, “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent.”

As we look at our own lives, and the lives of so many in our world today, we can understand why Jesus said we are “lost”. Like little Luke, we have wandered away from the God who created us and loves us and have lost our bearings in life. Jesus came into the world to seek and save us. One hymn writer wrote, “Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God; he, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood.”

The Lord is risen!

The wonderful message of Easter is “The Lord is risen!” After the crucifixion the disciples were devastated and despondent. The Lord whom they loved, and in whom all their hopes were centred, had died in the most terrible way. Early in the morning on the third day after Jesus died, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb where his body had been laid. She was horrified to find that the stone had been rolled away and assumed that someone had stolen his body. As she was weeping outside the tomb Jesus appeared to her and spoke her name, “Mary”. She was overwhelmed with joy to see her Lord again.

Although Jesus had told his disciples that he would be killed and on the third day be raised to life, they did not remember his words. None of them was expecting him to rise from the dead. After his resurrection, however, Jesus appeared to his disciples over a period of 40 days and gave them many infallible proofs that he was alive. They did not simply have a general feeling that he was with them, or that all he had taught them was still relevant, they knew that just as he had really died so also he had really been raised bodily from the grave.

The resurrection of Jesus was a decisive event in the history of the church. Knowing that Jesus had overcome death, and seeing him alive, transformed the disciples. Now they were ready to go into all the world and preach the good news of Jesus. When they faced terrible persecution, and even death, they were not afraid because they knew he was with them and that when they died they would go to be with him in heaven. Millions of people in every nation on earth have found that same hope as they have received Jesus as their Saviour.

One thing that is certain for us all is that we will die. We don’t want to think about it or talk about it. We are afraid of death and the things that may happen to us in the process of dying. On the day that Jesus was crucified two other men, both criminals, died alongside him. One of them said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” None of us deserves God’s love, but no-one who has come to him and asked him to receive them has ever been turned away.

For God so loved the world

The tragic air crash in the French Alps claimed the lives of 150 people, including 16 school children. More people died in the crash than the total population of the nearby village of Seyne-les-Alpes. The cockpit voice recorder has revealed that the co-pilot was flying the Airbus 320 and deliberately crashed the plane into the mountainside killing himself and all the passengers entrusted to his care. Investigators are trying to discover the reasons why he decided to kill himself and also to murder so many strangers. Murder is an evil and callous act that displays total indifference to the rights of others and the preciousness of every human life.

How different are the events we remember this Easter weekend! On Good Friday we remember the day that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died. His death was the greatest act of love and self-sacrifice. He said, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”

Jesus laid down his life in the face of great hostility. He was surrounded by hatred from both the religious leaders and the people. Pilate, the Roman governor, offered to release him, because he knew Jesus had done nothing wrong, but the people cried out, “Crucify him!” The apostle Paul, who had been a totally opposed to Jesus, wrote, “You see, at just the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Jesus laid down his life so that we might be forgiven. He died to pay the price of our sins and to reconcile us to God. A well-known hymn says, “We may not know, we cannot tell, what pains he had to bear, but we believe it was for us he hung and suffered there. He died that we might be forgiven; he died to make us good, that we might go at last to heaven, saved by his precious blood. There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin, he only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in. O dearly, dearly has he loved, and we must love him too, and trust in his redeeming blood, and try his works to do.”

Because I live, you also will live

The joyful message of Easter is “The Lord is risen!” On the third day after Jesus died the women went to the tomb early in the morning, just before sunrise. They had bought spices and were going to anoint Jesus’ body. As they walked they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

When they arrived at the tomb, however, they saw that the very large stone had been rolled away from the entrance. They went into the tomb, but did not see Jesus’ body. Two men, in clothes that gleamed like lightning, appeared to them and asked, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, he has risen!” The women ran to tell Jesus’ disciples the news, but they did not believe them, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Later in the day Jesus appeared to the disciples personally. Then they knew that he really had been raised from the dead.

The resurrection transformed Jesus’ disciples. They were devastated when they saw him condemned and crucified. They saw the body of the One who was so full of life, and who brought blessing to so many, hanging lifeless on the cross. They were broken-hearted. The hopes Jesus had kindled in them died when he died, but when they saw their risen Lord their hopes returned with new reality and power. Jesus sent them out to proclaim to all people the good news that he had died for our sins and been raised again to give us a living hope. The lives of countless people, from all nations, have been transformed as they have believed in the risen Jesus.

Last week my wife and I went to a thanksgiving service for the life of a dear friend who has died from cancer. She was a young person in our first church and, as a teenager, trusted Jesus as her Saviour. For the past 40 years she has been a bright witness for Jesus to her family and friends. One of her friends told us she had given him a book, “Heaven is for Real!” As Christine drew near to the end of her life, the reality of heaven, and Jesus’ love for her, sustained her. She knew that, after she died, she was going to be in heaven with Jesus, her risen Saviour and Lord. His promise to all who trust in him is “Because I live, you also will live.”

It is a thing most wonderful!

The death of Jesus Christ on a Roman cross was both a tragedy and a triumph. It was tragic that after the remarkable events of his 3 year ministry, Jesus was rejected by the religious leaders and people. Jesus had taught great crowds who came gladly to hear him. He had healed many people from all kinds of diseases and afflictions; the blind, the deaf, the dumb, cripples, lepers, and those possessed by evil spirits. He had even raised to life some who had died. But his teaching challenged those who had power and they determined to destroy him and silence him.

Yet the death of Jesus was not a defeat but a triumph. The cross was not the end of Jesus, but the glorious climax to God’s great plan of salvation for all nations. From his betrayal in the garden of Gethsemane to the moment of his death at Golgotha it is clear that Jesus was not overcome by events, but was in control. As he was arrested, falsely accused, mocked, viciously beaten and nailed to the cross there was an amazing calmness in how he behaved and spoke.

Seven hundred years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah had spoken in detail of his sufferings. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.” Isaiah also explained the significance of Jesus’ sufferings and death. “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

We all struggle to come to terms with our sinfulness. We “go astray” and “turn to our own way.” Human sinfulness is the cause of all the personal and communal misery in this world. Through Jesus’ death on the cross forgiveness and new life is offered to all because “the punishment that brings us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” As William Walsham How reflected on the cross of Jesus he wrote, “It is a thing most wonderful, almost to wonderful to be, that God’s own Son should come from heaven, and die to save a child like me.”

Jesus died and rose again

This week Christians around the world will remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus was rejected by his own people and executed by the Romans. Crucifixion was used by the Romans to inflict maximum pain and humiliation on those who had broken their laws. When Jesus died his disciples were devastated. They could not understand why someone who possessed such great power had seemingly been defeated. Jesus had brought great blessing to thousands of people yet now he had been rejected. So why is it that today millions of people from many nations believe in and follow Jesus? It is because through trusting in Jesus they have experienced forgiveness and found hope.

The death of Jesus secured the forgiveness we all need. Jesus did not deserve to die. He had lived a perfect life and had committed no sin. One of the criminals who was crucified on the same day said, “We are being punished justly, for we are getting what our sins deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Since that day countless people have made the same request to Jesus. Most have been ordinary people who have realised their need to find peace with God and have found Jesus to be the Saviour they need. The cross of Jesus shows the seriousness of our sins. They cannot be overlooked. His death was the supreme act of love when he died in our place and suffered the punishment our sins deserve so that we might be forgiven. A well known hymn says, “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin, he only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.”

The resurrection of Jesus enables us to face death with confidence and hope. When the apostles preached the good news about Jesus they experienced great opposition and some were executed. Because they knew that Jesus had been raised from the dead they were not afraid of dying. The last night Jesus was with his disciples he had given them a wonderful promise, “Because I live, you also will live.” So Easter is a time of great joy for all who know and love Jesus. He died in our place so that we might be forgiven and he rose again so that we might go to heaven.