Saturday, April 7, 2012

Do you believe this?

Here is my Easter message, 2012:
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Last week we looked at the Passion week through the eyes of a man named Cleopas who was mourning the events of Jesus’ condemnation and crucifixion. The story ended in despair and desolation, with the disciples crushed by the events, their Master prosecuted, condemned and executed like a common criminal.

We all know what happens next, but they didn’t. For them, it was the darkest hours of their lives. They didn’t know what we know now. They were devastated by the events of that week and the last 24 hours and didn’t know what was about to dawn upon them.

Today we are going to look at the resurrection story, but focus primarily on the initial response of the women and of two of the disciples, and what we can learn from them.

When the crucifixion ended and the body of Jesus was taken down from the cross, he had to be buried in a hurried fashion because sunset was approaching on Friday, the start of the Sabbath. It was Sunday morning, the day after the Jewish Sabbath when a group of women set out right at sunrise to go to the tomb in order to properly prepare Jesus’ body for final burial. As the women approached the tomb they saw that the large stone across the entrance was rolled away. It doesn’t mention this, but apparently the guards had fled, with Matthew’s gospel saying that an angel appeared and rolled the stone away, and that the guards were so terrified that some of them passed out.

The women approached the tomb and looked inside. They saw two angels in clothes that “gleamed like lightning” and one of the angels spoke and said, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here; he is risen!” The angel told them to go tell the disciples and so they fled the tomb and ran back to the disciples. Mary Magdalene spoke for the group of women when they reached the disciples. She was amazed, and yet still uncertain of what she had heard. She told them “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and I don’t know where they have put him!” Now we, reading the story with hindsight, think to ourselves “She just had an angel tell her he was risen! Why is she saying someone took the body?” But we have to remember she has been through a terrifying, dizzying series of traumatic events the last 24 hours, watching her Master being tried and crucified. There was a conspiracy of betrayal with the High Priests and religious leaders. So her head is spinning and she doesn’t know what to believe.

Two of the disciples dash off to the tomb, and that is the focus of what I want us to look at today. I think that the initial response of the two disciples who first ran to the tomb to investigate matters provides a good representation of how we all look at the resurrection of Christ.

Is seeing believing?
The text of the disciples running to the tomb is in John 20, verses 3 through 9. Peter and John take off running for the tomb to see the situation for themselves.

So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. 4 The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; 5 and stooping and looking in, he *saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. 6 And so Simon Peter also *came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he *saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.

John runs ahead of Peter and arrives at the tomb first. He looks inside, sees the empty burial cloth lying there, but he hesitates to go in. Peter arrives and being the man of action that he is, boldly goes into the tomb and also sees the burial shroud lying there, empty. Since Peter has gone into the tomb, John is emboldened to follow and it says that he sees and believes.

In this short little series of events lay three responses that typify most people’s response to the resurrection of Christ. Let’s look at the responses in the story, then look at how they match up with our typical responses.

First John arrives at the tomb ahead of Peter, looks in and sees the empty burial shroud, but doesn’t go in any further to investigate more closely. Recall that in the Greek language, there are different words used for the same term, but often with slightly variant meanings. In this passage we read that John “saw” the burial cloth and then that Peter also “saw” the cloth. But different Greek words are used here.

When John first ran up and looked inside the tomb, the word used for “saw” has the meaning of to glance at, to quickly scan. So John came to the tomb, quickly scanned the situation, but went no further and drew no conclusions. He may have been waiting for Peter, who was the de facto leader of the disciples, to see what he would do and think.

Then Peter arrives and more boldly, he goes inside. Peter came in and studied the situation. John’s gospel doesn’t tell us Peter’s response, but the same incident is described by Luke in his gospel, chapter 24, and it says that Peter walked away puzzled, wondering what had happened.

Finally, John goes into the tomb, and it says again that he saw the situation. But this time, a different word for “saw” is used. This word has the connotation of seeing with perception, with understanding. This time, John saw with understanding, and it says he believed. He got it. He knew a miracle had happened.

Even then, John seems to have only barely grasped that Jesus had truly risen, because his own account says that they still did not understand that Jesus must rise from the grave.

Which response represents you?
I think that the responses we see here from Peter and John are fairly typical to how people respond to the resurrection of Christ and the gospel message.

John’s first response. Many people respond to the gospel message and the resurrection of Christ like John initially did. They look at it, glance at it, but don’t dig into it to investigate it further. They just take a cursory interest in it but go no further and make no decision about whether they believe it or not.

Peter’s response. Others go further, perhaps enter in to a more studied relationship with the gospel message and the resurrection, but never come to a point of decision. They scratch their head and don’t know what to think about it. They put off a decision. They don’t commit. They never seem ready to make a choice about accepting the message of the gospel and committing to living for Christ.

John’s second response. Others however, size up the situation, see the facts before them, and they see with understanding. They get it. They grasp the magnitude of the life of Christ, his redemptive work by dying on the cross for our sins, and how he overcame death, all for us. They see it all with understanding and they believe. The Greek word used for John believing is that he trusted. He grabbed hold of that truth with faith and believed it unto salvation.
That is the decision we all must face when confronted with who Christ is, with the message of the gospel and with the resurrection.

Two facts about the gospel message are absolutely critical and require us to respond to them.

First, Jesus was not just a good teacher, a great leader, who was martyred for his beliefs and what he taught. He claimed divinity. He claimed to be the Son of God. That he was God Incarnate, God come to earth in human form. The gospels relate this in several places and it’s clear that the religious leadership knew he was making that claim because several times, in a rage, they said so, and they picked up rocks to stone him to death for blasphemy. An example of this is in John’s gospel chapter 10 where the religious leaders can’t stand it any longer, they are so offended, and they grab rocks to start hurling at him. Jesus asks them in verse 31 for which of his good works are they stoning him, and they respond that it wasn’t for his good works but because he, being a man, claimed to be God.

He also in several places referred to himself using the sacred Hebrew name for God “I AM”…literally YHWH, a term that means “The Eternal One”. It is considered holy and sacred among Jews, and here he was referring to himself as YHWH. It enraged them.

Combine this with the fact that the Old Testament prophets had foretold his coming in great detail centuries beforehand, add in his miracle healings, raising people from the dead and the power of his teachings, and you have to make a decision about Jesus being more than just another great religious leader that founded a great religion. We have to confront the fact that he was much more. He was God come in flesh to reveal the nature of God to us before our eyes. And that he took the punishment that we would have to face for our sin against God upon himself on the cross.

God made humankind in his image, like him in terms of being sentient beings, capable of awareness and abstract thought and the ability to know Him and understand the universe around us. But humankind is also fallen, flawed. We are made in the very image of God, yet we all have this twist in our nature away from God. We reject God, we turn away from him.

You know when your child does something wrong, and you ask them about it and they turn their eyes away from you when you try to talk to them about it? They can’t look you in the eye? That’s captures the very essence of our relationship with God. We were created by him, He loves us more deeply than we can imagine, but we’ve fallen away from Him and the relationship is broken.

We can’t repair that relationship, but God did. He himself took the punishment for our sin. It would be like that parent taking the punishment on himself for what their child did. Or like a judge who finds a criminal guilty, then pronounces sentence…on himself! God saw that humankind was powerless to cure their own sin and fallen nature, so he came as a man, suffered the punishment for our sins on the cross. God’s justice calls for punishment from sin, but his mercy and love provides a way for it to be satisfied so that we can have relationship with him both now and in eternity.
Then He went into the grave and on the third day afterward, defeated death.

The resurrection means everything. If Jesus had just died on the cross it would be easy to dismiss his life and ministry as just that of a great teacher and martyr. But it would make his claims to divinity look hollow and meaningless and mean that they weren’t true, therefore it would discredit much of what he taught, if not all.

But the resurrection changes everything. It punctuates the ministry of Christ.It validates his claim to divinity, because as God come in human form, he defeated death and the Bible says he paved the way ahead for us to follow one day into eternity to spend with him.

Buddha died and was cremated and his ashes are divided up among different sites in Asia. Mohammed’s tomb is in Medina. His bones are in there. Other religious leaders throughout history are buried and have shrines at their tombs around the world. Their bones are in there.

Jesus body is not buried anywhere. There are a couple of shrines to places people believe might have been the tomb of his burial. But he’s not in either one of them. He is not there. He is risen.

Conclusion: Do you believe this?
In John chapter 11, just before Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, he tells Martha:

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

The question Jesus asked Martha is the question we must each one answer. Do you believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life? That he is the Son of God who gave his life for us, suffering for our sin, then defeated death on our behalf, so the we might have eternal life with God?

Will we respond like John’s first look at the tomb? Just glance at it and not go any further in response? Will we be like Peter, looking more closely, but remaining confused and indecisive? In both of these first two responses, to not decide is itself a decision. It is putting off a decision that must be made. Or there is the third choice: to see with understanding, and to believe, to trust in Jesus and the work he has done for each of us, for you and for me, then to respond to Him in a prayer of acceptance through faith.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

From Utter Darkness, A Brilliant Light Shines

(This was the Palm Sunday message I delivered at my father-in-law's church this past weekend. Apologies for the length, but it was a pulpit message, longer than a typical article.)
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Chapter 24 of Luke’s gospel tells the story of a man named Cleopas, lamenting to a fellow traveler on the road what had happened to Jesus with the crucifixion. The account that he gives is brief and shows that he doesn’t yet understand the news of Jesus’ resurrection. How might Cleopas tell that same story years later with the benefit of hindsight? It might have sounded like this:

Three years had passed since Jesus began his ministry. The people of Israel had waited for centuries for the Messiah that the prophets had foretold. But when Jesus came, he was an unlikely Messiah: the son of a simple carpenter, raised poor, born in a stable. Maybe the world would have been more impressed if he’d been born the privileged son of royalty or the rich, with resources he could bring to bear against the oppression of the Romans.

The Romans! They were merely the latest, yet the cruelest of Israel’s oppressors. Israel was conquered first by the Babylonians. Then the Persians conquered the Babylonians. Then the Greeks conquered the Persians, and finally the Romans conquered the Greeks. Through it all, the land of Israel was just handed down from one conquering pagan nation to the next, and had hardly had a few years of autonomy in almost 600 years.

So we expected that the Messiah that had been promised through the prophets would finally lead the rebellion, rally the people, to throw off the Romans, to get their foot off of our neck as a people, and restore the kingdom of Israel as it had been under our greatest King, David, a thousand years ago.

But even though Jesus didn’t come from privilege, he nonetheless drew huge crowds. He taught like none of the other rabbis, priests and experts in the Law of Moses. The other teachers always referred back to respected rabbis’ teachings, such as “Rabbi Hillel says about this passage that we should do such-and-such.” But when Jesus taught, he referred to no one. It was his own teaching and it had the ring of truth and authority behind every word.

Then there were the miracles. With merely a touch, sometimes even with just a word, the blind could see, the lame could walk, a man with a withered hand received healing and his hand was whole. He even raised the dead! There was the poor widow whose only son had died. The funeral procession was carrying him to the burial place and everyone was weeping not just because he had died, but because of his poor mother. What would she do? First losing her husband, then her only son! Who would provide for her? She would be destitute, possibly living on the streets. Jesus saw the funeral, went to the boy’s body and raised him from the dead! Then there was Lazarus, brother to Mary and Martha. In the tomb four days, and yet Jesus raised him! He walked out of the tomb and they had to untie the grave clothes from him!

So even though he was a mere peasant like us, his teaching, his power, his authority, drew huge crowds to him. But you know who wasn’t impressed with him? Who opposed him? Who hated him? The religious leaders, our rabbis and teachers of the Law, the Pharisees and the Sadduces. The ones we had always looked to for leadership and guidance in our spiritual lives. They hated him because they were jealous of him, because the people flocked to him, a mere carpenter. They hated him because he challenged them, because they were masters at keeping the law, of meticulous rule keeping for holy living, but had completely lost heart and compassion for our needs as a people. Even when Jesus healed a man of some terrible affliction such as blindness, instead of rejoicing that the man had been set free from his physical bondage, they carped and griped that Jesus had done this on the Sabbath, violating Sabbath law!

So it was that the stage was set for the final confrontation between Jesus and the religious hierarchy. Like thousands of Jews all over Israel, Jesus and his disciples came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover remembrance of God’s people being delivered from the bondage in Egypt. Little did we realize what would happen. Jesus would enter the city, the nation’s capital, the center of the religious leadership, and challenge them head on. It would be the final clash, the last battle, and it wouldn’t be just between Jesus and the Pharisees, it would be between Jesus and the devil, between the power of the Living God and the dark forces of Satan, and at stake was the salvation of all of humanity.

But Jesus knew. Before coming to Jerusalem, he had told the disciples that he would suffer many things at the hands of the priests and teachers of the law, that he would even die but that on the third day, he would rise again. The disciples were incredulous and didn’t understand what he was saying.

Knowing the terrible suffering that awaited him, Jesus “set his face like flint” to go to Jerusalem. His face became resolute and strong even knowing what was ahead. He told the disciples to go before him into the city and where they could find a colt for him to ride into the city on. They went and found it and brought it to him. They put their cloaks on it for him to sit on, and you know what was amazing? That even though the colt had never had a rider before, and was still unbroken, he meekly allowed Jesus to ride him into the city, even with a crowd shouting around him.

The crowd, sensing the moment, lined the road and shouted “Hosanna! Glory to God!” They believed the time had come for the Messiah to overthrow the yoke of our oppressors, the Romans! Freedom at last! Glory would be restored to Israel!”

It was a tumultuous week leading up to the Passover. In fact it started off with Jesus throwing down the gauntlet. He came to the temple and in the outer area of the temple complex were the money changers and their booths. What a racket they had going on! What a thievery they committed against even the poorest of our people! They had turned the worship of God into a business opportunity for themselves. When a family would arrive and offer their sacrifice, the priest would find some defect with the animal they brought and tell them their animal wasn’t worthy, that they would have to go to the dealers outside the temple and buy an animal that was pre-approved by the priests. And if they had traveled here from far away and didn’t have the local currency, then they had to take their own currency to the money changers to exchange for the local, accepted currency. And of course, the exchange rate amounted to robbery.

Jesus came to the temple. He saw the animal sellers, saw the injustice foisted upon God’s people and the greed and corruption of the religious leaders and his anger burned. He stormed the stalls where the animals were sold and set them free from their cages. He over turned the money changers tables. He made a whip out of some cords and thrashed the crooks out of the temple area. And he shouted at them: “My house shall be a house of prayer. But you have turned it into a den of robbers!” The people were thrilled. The religious leaders were not.

That set the tone for the rest of the Passover week. Jesus had struck at the root of their corruption and they would not sit still for it. The religious leaders began to challenge his authority, yet he matched their every argument and put them to silence.

He told a parable about a vineyard owner who left his prosperous vineyard in the hands of his employees while he traveled in a far land. Every time he sent messengers back to the employees at the vineyard the employees, jealous to steal the vineyards profits for themselves, would abuse the messengers, beat them, even kill them and throw them out. They ran roughshod over the owner’s property. Then the owner sent his own son back to the vineyard thinking that they would respect him. But the corrupt employees schemed that they would kill the son, the owner’s only heir, so that one day when the owner died, the laws of inheritance would deed the vineyard to them and they’d finally own it outright and make all the money themselves. But the owner when he heard, returned and had all the corrupt employees executed and made others, strangers, to be the new heirs to his vineyard.

When the Pharisees , Sadduces and priests heard this story they seethed with resentment. They ground their teeth because they knew he spoke this parable against them.

Then Jesus called them to account for something that even we, his followers didn’t fully grasp at the time. Jesus had been teaching that he was no ordinary prophet, that he was God’s Son. This was the biggest and most vexing religious doctrinal contention between Jesus and the religious leaders. They considered it blasphemy for a man to claim to be the Son of God, to believe that the promised Messiah would be God himself come in human form. They considered that human flesh was corrupt and God would never come as a man. After all, hadn’t pagan kings for thousands of years claimed that they had been gods?

So Jesus quoted one of the Psalms where 1,000 years ago King David said: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.’” Since the prophets said that the Messiah would be a descendent of King David, this verse poses a problem. Jesus asked the religious leaders: “If David refers to the Messiah as ‘Lord’, how can he be his son?” The question wasn’t whether the Messiah would be a descendent of David. The question was: no father calls his son by the respectful term, “Lord”. So for David to call the Messiah “Lord” means the Messiah would be more than just a human prophet, more than a mere man. He would have to be Divine, God come in flesh.

After this the religious leaders no longer challenged Jesus with questions. Instead, they plotted to have him silenced forever. They plotted to murder him.

Meanwhile, Jesus continued to minister to the people. He watched all the rich people throw money into the temple offering out of their abundance, yet said that a poor widow who threw in a penny had given more than anyone, because she gave all that she had.

He healed the blind. He laid his hands on little children and blessed them even though his disciples tried to shoo them away.

He taught that one day our great temple would be torn down, that terrible times would come to the earth and that he would return and defeat the powers of darkness trying to destroy all of humanity, that he would come on the clouds with power and glory and utterly defeat the armies of darkness, all evil and oppression and bring God’s victory to the whole earth. Some day…

Peter took to bragging again, telling Jesus that he was willing even to die for him. Jesus shook his head, telling Peter that before the rooster crowed the next morning, Peter would have denied him three times.

There was treachery afoot. The religious leaders gained an ally in one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot. In reality, they gained an ally in Satan himself because “Satan entered into Judas” to conspire with them to betray Jesus into their hands during a time of quiet, when their were no crowds present. Judas had been a member of a political movement called the Zealots who sought the violent overthrow of Rome. When Jesus disappointed Judas’ ambitions, he decided to betray him.

Just before Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples, Judas and the religious leaders struck a deal. They would pay him 30 silver pieces for leading them to Jesus at an opportune time. We only realized later, and Judas probably never realized, that he was fulfilling the words of the prophet Zechariah, who foretold that God’s people would sell him out one day for exactly that: 30 pieces of silver. Judas was fulfilling the very prophecy of God written over 400 years before.

Judas knew that Jesus liked to spend time in solitude and prayer and that there was a nearby garden close to where they would celebrate the Passover that he would likely go to after the meal. It was then and there that Judas would take the soldiers and leaders to arrest Jesus. Then, he returned to Jesus and the disciples, pretending that he was what he was not, that he was one of them still.

Jesus and the disciples secured an upper room to celebrate the Passover Seder meal. At the start of the meal, the disciples began to discuss, even to argue amongst themselves which of them would hold positions of the highest authority when Jesus lead the final assault over the established rulers, the religious leaders, the Romans, all the oppressors. Who would be Jesus’ right hand man? Who had earned it?

While they were squabbling over which of them was the greatest, no one noticed what Jesus was doing. He gathered a wash basin of water and a towel, and quietly began washing the dust off of their dirty feet . Normally this was the job of the lowest servant in a household. But here was their leader, their Master, the very man they were expecting to lead the rebellion over their enemies. Washing their feet like a common slave! One by one they fell silent, brought to a place of humility by the humble example Jesus was setting for them.

The Passover meal was served and Jesus made an incredible gesture of grace. He announced at the table that one of them would betray him. When each one wondered aloud whether it would be them, Jesus said it would be the one who dipped the bread with him in the gravy bowl. Then he offered the bread for the dipping bowl to Judas. This was an act that traditionally was offered by the Master of the house to an honored guest. Think of it! Jesus, even though he knew that Judas was in the very act of betraying him to his enemies, in grace offered the dipping bread and bowl to Judas as though he were the honored guest at the table. We should know such grace! Then he told Judas to go and do what he must do. And Judas slipped out to gather the forces of darkness against his Master.

Jesus then took the bread and broke it and told the disciples to take and eat, that this was his body, broken for them. Then he took the cup and passed it to them and said for them to drink, that this was the blood of the new covenant for the remission of their sins. God entered into a new covenant with his people for the redemption of all of humankind.

They finished the meal and Jesus took his closest disciples to the garden to pray. He went a little further alone and collapsed in agony, knowing what lay just before him, perhaps within the hour. He asked the Father if this could pass him, but that the Father’s will was what he wanted, not his own. And he knew. He knew that there was no other way. He submitted to the Father’s will.

Suddenly there was the sound of a mob, and Jesus was surrounded by soldiers. From a crowd of Pharisees emerged Judas who had told the authorities that he would officially identify Jesus for arrest by greeting him with a traditional kiss on the cheek. But Jesus asked him “Judas, will you betray me with a kiss?” meaning, with a gesture of friendship?

Peter reached inside his cloak and brought out a sword he’d been concealing and commenced a struggle and slashed off the ear of a man. Jesus rebuked him and healed the man’s ear…right there in front of the Pharisees, who still, with this one last miracle, remained hardened in their hearts.

The soldiers seized Jesus, wrenched his arm behind his back like he was dangerous and needed to be controlled, and carried him off. First they lead him to the chief priests who put him on religious trial. Such a trial in the middle of the night was just the first violation of the rules for a fair hearing for an accused. The religious leaders had recruited a crowd of people of bad reputation to use against Jesus.They brought forth false witnesses who twisted Jesus words and made misleading statements about him. They harangued him and slapped him…and yet he never tried to defend himself. It was only later we realized that he was fulfilling the words of the prophet Isaiah written 700 years prior, who said he was lead like a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb before it’s shearers, he opened not his mouth.

Finally, they demanded point blank whether he was the Son of God and he declared that he was, using the Hebrew term “I AM”, the holy name of the Eternal Yahweh God, and that they would see him come one day in power on the clouds with angels. The chief priest shrieked in indignation. “What further need do we have of witnesses? You’ve heard his blaspheme yourselves!”

Then they took a “vote”, if you could call it a vote. Tradition called for votes of the Sanhedrin to be done with the youngest members going first so that they wouldn’t feel pressured to go along with the vote of the older members. But this was a lynch mob, not a legitimate hearing and they all shouted their enraged votes for death in unison, a cacophony of rants against the meek man bound before them.

Since Roman law disallowed them from their traditional means of execution, stoning, they had to hand him over to the Romans for execution. But the Romans wouldn’t care if some peasant prophet claimed to be their so called Messiah. What was that to Rome? It meant nothing. So the Sanhedrin had to trump up charges, and tell the Romans that Jesus was claiming to be a king and was gathering followers, which meant that he was leading an insurrection against Roman rule. They took him to Pontius Pilate, the local procurator. He quickly saw that this was a case of trumped up charges and tried to convince the mob to drop the matter. But they noisily refused, and fearing a riot that would get him in trouble with Rome, he passed Jesus up the chain of command to the local governor, Herod. Herod amused himself by taunting Jesus, but ultimately sent him back to Pilate. Pilate hoped that he could have Jesus whipped and that it would satisfy the mob, so he handed him over to be scourged.

The soldiers did their worst to him. Soldiers assigned to the duty of punishing prisoners were the lowest of the low. Unskilled, lacking in the intelligence and ability to advance in the military, they were typically low brow, sadistic brutes. They mocked Jesus, beat him with branches, pressed a crown of thorns on his brow until his face ran with blood. Then they scourged him. Using a leather whip with multiple straps, each strap embedded with bits of sharp metal and bone, they shackled him to a low wooden block and began to methodically beat him to a terrible, bloody wretch. The scourging was so terrible that sometimes prisoners died from the shock of it and never made it to the crucifixion.

Pilate displayed Jesus to the mob, hoping they’d be satisfied, but more loudly than ever they demanded his execution. So Jesus was led away to be crucified. He was so weak with shock he couldn’t carry his own cross to the place of execution as required and another man was forces to do so. They stripped away his garments, laid him on the beams, drove huge spikes through each wrist right at the base of the hand, then hammered a spike through the tops of his feet. Then they raised the cross, positioned it over the post hole, and dropped it in with a hard jolt, Jesus’ body twisting in agony from the shock of it.

Then, over the course of the next few hours, the life of the Messiah, the Son of God, God come in flesh, slowly ebbed away, suffering from the worst that humankind, even his own chosen people, had heaped upon him. Man had seen God’s brilliance and love come to earth…and had rejected him. Despised him. Hated him. Sought to destroy him. Satan, no doubt, thought that he had won the victory. The coup that he accomplished in the Garden when he seduced mankind into disobedience was now complete and mankind was doomed for eternity.

Even in this darkest hour, Jesus extended grace, asking the father to forgive those that had done this to him. They didn’t realize the full impact of what they had done and how it would fit in the plan of redemption that the Father was carrying out.

The sky turned dark and it wasn’t from an eclipse. Astronomers and scholars knew about eclipses and when they happened. This was no eclipse. Then he died, and the earth shook, graves came open and people who had been dead were seen walking through the city. The great thick curtain in the temple was ripped from top to bottom as though giant unseen hands had seized it and torn it apart. The Holy of Holies, normally only seen by the High Priest, was now open and accessible with no barrier.

Yet in spite of all these things, we were bewildered and confused. The man we had followed, had given our lives to for three years, was dead. Our dreams seemed to have died with him. Evil had won and we were desolated.

Jesus’ disciples and some of the women took his body down. It was late in the day, nearly into Friday evening, the start of the Jewish Sabbath. There was no time to properly prepare his body for burial. So Joseph of Arimethea, a rich man and follower of Jesus, hurriedly wrapped him in a burial shroud and he was put into his own tomb that he had set aside for himself one day. He and the women planned to return after the Sabbath to finish the preparation of his body for a proper burial. A huge round stone was rolled across the entrance, closing it off. The religious leaders and the Romans, suspicious of mischief over such a controversial figure, stretched a length of twine across it and sealed both ends to the cliff wall with wax impressed with the official Roman seal. Then they place several guards in front of the tomb to guard it until the women could come back after the Sabbath to properly prepare the body.

And that was it. It was over. Three years of ministry, ended with a terrible thud. The hopes of a nation for deliverance from Roman oppression were shattered. Our anointed Messiah was dead. Slaughtered like a common criminal. Our hopes and dreams had died with him. We all walked away numb with despair, our chance at redemption in tattered pieces.

Or so we thought. We couldn’t see, couldn’t even conceive, that the day after tomorrow, on the first day of the new week, our souls would be soaring with joy.