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I’m glad you are here. Easter is a great day isn’t it? On Easter we celebrate the very center of Christian faith: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Fittingly, attendance on Easter Sunday is the highest of the year.
Why do people come on Easter? What brought you here today? Perhaps you came out of consideration for your family. That’s a good reason. You may not come to church services most Sundays, but you come on Easter. Perhaps you came out of respect for God. That’s a good reason to come. What about for yourself? What do you hope you get out of Easter services? I know it is not all about me or you. We’re celebrating something bigger today and the focus is rightly on Jesus Christ, but encountering Jesus can change each of us. What might you hope happens today, if you would dare to hope? What would you like God to do for you?
All of us have chains that hold us back from the full life we would like to experience. Figuratively speaking, from what chains would you like God to break you free? If he could take some heavy chain off your shoulders, what would you like him to take off of you? My prayer today is that you have a genuine encounter with the Risen One. I believe it is possible.
Today is the start of our new series: Encounters with the Risen One. Each Sunday we will be hearing the story of a person who encountered Jesus after he rose from the dead, and was transformed. We will see people transformed from grief to joy; from confusion to clarity; from doubt to belief; and from loss to hope.
Too often we depersonalize the stories, as if they were long-ago history or Myth. Some people see Jesus as like the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus. We can forget that the people back then were flesh and blood just like us. Peter, Paul, Mary, and Thomas cried and laughed; they had fears and hopes, just like we do.
I invite you to enter the story. I invite you to encounter him, the Risen One for the first time, or all over again. Wherever you are now, Jesus wants to give you more life, more freedom, to let loose chains that may be binding you. An encounter with the Risen One can transform you. Would you open yourself to an encounter today? Let me pray for us.
In the early days Jesus delighted people. In the opening years of his ministry life, crowds were following him everywhere.
Delighted by Jesus’ life
Who would not have wanted to see the amazing miracles: a sick woman healed; a blind man who could now see; 5,000 people fed from one sack lunch. Jesus blessed little children. Most people liked his teaching. His teaching was intriguing and carried an unusual authority. He taught that the last will be first. He defied the religious establishment of his day, challenging their traditions and rules. People liked that. Jesus promised so much. People thought that he might be the new King who would make everything right. Finally they would be free from oppression. He would bring in the kingdom of God with peace and prosperity.
Perhaps earlier in your life, you were more delighted with Jesus than you are today. Maybe growing up you went to a Vacation Bible School or a Christian summer camp. Maybe you went to church with your grandparents. Perhaps you went to a religious school. It could have been that there was a time in your life when you were very religious, devout. You may have been baptized and confirmed. Maybe you just have some good memories of Christmas and Easter. There was a time when you believed, a time when you had hope for what God would do in your life.
But something happened. For some it was a crisis, for others it was a gradual slipping away. You do not have the faith today that you remember you once had in a perhaps more innocent time. It happened back then too. Nearly all the people who were delighted by Jesus’ life were traumatized by his death.
Traumatized by Jesus’ death
When Jesus was arrested and condemned as a criminal and then executed, it traumatized the people who had been delighted with him. Call it the Good Friday crisis. Faith was shattered. Happy dreams of a great life with Jesus turned into nightmares; the supposed Savior was a fake, potentially worse. What if all they had put their life into was wrong? Jesus let them down in a huge way. We will look at some of their personal stories in just a minute, but what about you?
What happened in your life? Were you too disillusioned? Maybe a pastor or priest that you respected was fired in a sexual or financial scandal. Perhaps a person you looked up to as a man or woman of faith was kicked out of the church in a political power struggle; the church you loved was split in a church fight. You never went back.
Were you let down by a church? The moment you most needed support, no one was there for you. You called, no one called back. You were in the hospital and no one came. A loved one died and no one was there for you. Later, no one remembered. You felt like no one cared. You left.
Did you discover that not all you were taught as a child was true? As we get exposed to a wider-world, sometimes we have the unsettling experience of realizing that what Miss Marvin taught us in Sunday School was naïve and actually incorrect. Perhaps you studied world religion, science or history, and came to see faith as a blind leap in the dark. You began to see Christianity as unsophisticated, intellectually indefensible, or at least you began to doubt if it was really true.
When you raised questions, were you shut down? When you messed up in your life, were you shunned or even kicked out, excommunicated? A church made it clear that you were no longer welcome. That is painful and horribly wrong.
For some, you are not sure what happened, you just drifted away from God and church and never seemed to really miss it. It lost value and importance. At this point, some of it seemed like nonsense to you. For others, you have run from God out of guilt, a sense of failure or a desire to live your own way. You may want to believe again, or for the first time, but are not sure how to get there.
Back then, many people had a similar experience when Jesus was arrested and killed. Let me show you a few snap shots of people traumatized by Jesus’ death.
When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane where he had gone with his disciples after the Last Supper, how did they respond? The Scripture records,
56 Then all the disciples deserted him and fled. Matthew 26:56
They ran. Imagine a bunch of aggressive Roman soldiers in full armor in the night. Only the Gospel of Mark includes the following intriguing detail:
51 A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, 52 he fled naked, leaving his garment behind. Mark 14:51–52
Most scholars presume this was Mark himself who was a young man at the time. Who knew there was streaking in the Bible? Mark was so scared that he ran naked, leaving his clothes behind. The disciples’ panicked flight exposes the nakedness of their thin faith. At this point, they still did not really get who Jesus was. Jesus’ arrest and death the next day shattered their faith.
We get an insight into where they were mentally in comments from a few days later. On Sunday after the women had seen the empty tomb and come to tell the men, we read,
11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Luke 24:11–12.
Men, when are we going to learn that the women are not speaking nonsense? Even we think what they are saying is nonsense. They are often right. She was this time. Perhaps you can identify. Some of the Bible passages you read and sermons you hear seem like nonsense to you.
Later, Jesus himself appeared to the eleven remaining disciples
16as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. Mark 16:14
Sometimes we glorify the disciples in the New Testament. The truth is that even after all the miracles the disciples had seen, in the first days after the resurrection they lacked faith, and worse, stubbornly refused to believe those who had already encountered the Risen One. Is that you? Are you stubbornly refusing to believe people who are telling you that they have been transformed by the Risen One?
Peter was one of the leaders among the disciples. The pressure of the situation pushed him into denial. He was in the courtyard during Jesus’ mock trials when a girl came up and said,
69“You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” 70 But Peter denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Then he did it a second time. Then, 73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.” 74 Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Matthew 26:69–74
How about you? Have the pressures in your life driven you to denial? At this point, do you deny that you know Jesus personally? You are like Peter.
Another disciple went to a darker place, a place of self-destruction. Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss for thirty silver coins. When he saw Jesus condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the coins. Then he hanged himself. Matthew 27:3–5 I’m glad none of you here have taken your own life, but some of you have tried; some of you have been tempted. Some of you are engaged in self-destructive behavior that is killing you. Like Judas, you may be swamped with guilt and remorse for how you have betrayed Jesus Christ with what you have done.
Or for you it may be less dramatic. The Bible says many women were there at the crucifixion. Once they had been near to Jesus, but now they are watching from a distance. Matthew 27:55 Is that you? Watching from a distance?
Or for you it may be disillusion. The Gospel of Luke alone gives us a snap shot of Cleopas. We know nothing else about him and his companion. They were walking down the road with their faces downcast because they had once had such high hopes, now dashed. In reply to a fellow traveler they said,
19“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. Luke 24:17–24
Perhaps this is you. You once had high hopes for Christ, but those hopes have vanished now. You are disillusioned.
For some it is as simple and universal as doubt. The disciple Thomas is the picture-child for doubt. He was not with the disciples when Jesus first appeared after his resurrection. He said to them flat out,
25“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 it.” John 20:24–25
Perhaps this is you. You want proof, evidence. You want to see a miracle. You want God to do something dramatic and then you will believe. You are like Thomas.
All these people were traumatized by Jesus’ death. They were dazed, shattered, confused, doubting, running, trying to deal with normal life again.
Until they encountered the Risen One. All of these people who were traumatized by Jesus’ death were transformed by Jesus’ resurrection. An encounter with the Risen One can transform you.
Transformed by Jesus’ resurrection
Let’s take a look a few snap shots of people transformed by an encounter with him after his resurrection. One of the women following at a distance was Mary Magdalene, who had been a very troubled woman. She went to Jesus’ grave where she heard a voice. John chapter twenty tells us:
14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). . . . 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!”. John 20:14-18.
Her grief was transformed into joy. Could Jesus be asking you in great compassion: “Why are you crying?” He sees your tears and offers to heal them. When he asks “Who are you looking for?” the implications run deep. Mary’s anguish was swallowed up in delight. Her chains of grief fell off. Jesus is alive. He is who he said he was. Could it be that as Jesus called her by name, he is also calling you?
The disciples who ran away and stubbornly refused to believe were transformed by an encounter with the Risen One. The Bible says,
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. John 20:19–23
Their chains of fear were broken. Their fears were transformed into peace. They were transformed from the deserters to the devoted. These were the people who had stubbornly refused to believe. These are the same disciples who were disillusioned now boldly sharing Jesus. Could Jesus be offering you the same peace today?
What about Cleopas and his friend on the road who were disillusioned? They encountered Jesus. He opened their minds to see the truth. He showed them his hands and feet and ate with them. Their chains of confusion fell away. Luke 24:37–49 They were transformed from confusion to clarity, from disillusioned to envisioned. Could this be you?
What about doubting Thomas? His story is dramatic. John records it in chapter twenty:
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:26–31
Thomas was transformed from doubt to belief; the chains of doubt fell off. Could this be you today? Could you believe in Jesus today? I urge you to stop doubting and believe.
The resurrection really happened. How else do you explain devout Jewish people shifting their holy Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, resurrection day? How else do you explain all the witnesses? All the Romans or the Jews had to do was produce a body, but that never happened. Most remarkable is that these disciples who knew the truth were all transformed from doubt to faith, from deserting to being devoted. Nearly all of them died for what they believed. You do not do that for what you know is a lie. People do not allow themselves to be tortured for a friend’s lie that they know is a lie. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical fact. Jesus died to pay for our sins, suffering to pay the price we deserved to pay, death, so that we do not have to pay for our sins eternally. Now the risen Jesus is offering eternal life today, just as he did back then. You can find life by trusting in Jesus to save you from your sins, to set you free from your chains that bind you.
What about Peter who denied Jesus in the courtyard three times? He had a personal encounter with the Risen Jesus. The disciples had been fishing all night. In the early dawn they saw Jesus on the shore. After breakfast, we read in John chapter twenty-one,
Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”17 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?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. . . . Then he said to him, “Follow me!” John 21:15–19.
Three times Jesus asked the question restoring Peter from his three denials. Peter is transformed from failure to restoration. His chains of failure and guilt fell off, broken by the power of Jesus. Could this be you? You have failed, but Jesus wants to restore you today.
I started my message with a prayer that you would encounter the Risen One, right here this morning. I know that he can transform you. He can make your chains fall off. He can transform you from darkness to light, from empty to filled, from broken to healed. Can you hear Jesus calling to you by the Spirit: “Why are you crying? Peace be with you.” Open yourself to encounter the Risen One right now.
Pick up the card that was on your seat. It looks like this with a chain on the front and blank on the back. During this next song, pray to God to show you a chain that you want him to remove. The resurrection of Jesus can transform you so that your chains fall off. During the song, on the back of the card write down the name of a chain that you want Jesus to break you free from. Use this as your time to connect with Jesus Christ personally. Then after this song, we will have a time of response where you can come forward and place your card at the foot of the cross before Jesus who can set you free. Be still. Be quiet before God – invite him to transform you, to set you free, to break your chains.
What chain do you want to see fall from your life? Write the name of the chain on the back of your card. In a moment we are going to start singing two songs, the first is Amazing Grace, my chains are gone. When the music starts, I invite you to come forward down the two aisles to my right, come up these stairs to the lower platform and walk across to the cross and place your card on the chains at the foot of the cross. Then in the baskets we have a gift for you: a red bracelet or a bookmark, whichever one would most remind you of this Easter. They say on them: “Encounter Him.” That is what transforms us; an encounter with the Risen One, the Lord Jesus Christ.
In Video café, you have you have a cross and a basket you can use for this same response. If you are participating online, you can use the Care Card to share your chain and ask for a bracelet or a bookmark and we will send one to you as our gift.