The resurrection changed everything. Because of the resurrection, we know what the cross was all about: a demonstration of God’s love! The Bible says, in Romans 5:8 that
“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”Romans 5:8, NIV
Because of Easter, we understand the meaning of Good Friday: God’s demonstration of his love for the world!
THE TENSION OF THE CROSS
If you’ve reflected on the cross, you might notice the tension it creates. At the cross, we see Jesus, who died in our place for our sins. At the cross we see Jesus taking upon himself our guilt and our shame.
And at the cross we see the powers of darkness celebrating a premature victory. That’s not where the story ends. The cross creates a tension that is followed by an earthquake, an empty grave, and the resurrection of Jesus.
But without the resurrection, Easter would end on Good Friday and the cross would remind the world of torture and death. Without the resurrection there would be no Ascension, no one to send the Holy Spirit, no upper room experience to launch the church, Paul would have remained Saul, and we’d be missing most — if not all — of the New Testament.
Without the resurrection our faith would be useless, grace would be faceless, and death would still be the final frontier.
But the resurrection changed everything. I’ve always liked the way Philip Yancey, an American author, talked about the importance of the resurrection. He said,
In many respects I find an unresurrected Jesus easier to accept. Easter makes [Jesus] dangerous. Because of Easter I have to listen to his extravagant claims and can no longer pick and choose from his sayings. Moreover, Easter means he must be loose out there somewhere.The Jesus I Never Knew (1995)
The resurrection is the ultimate game-changer.
The resurrection means that God made a way to free us from sin. The resurrection means that Jesus conquered the powers of darkness. The resurrection changed the meaning of the cross for all eternity. Before the resurrection, the cross was an instrument of death and a symbol of disgrace, but because of the resurrection the cross became a declaration of God’s love. That’s why when we look at the cross, we’re not overcome by grief, but instead we’re reminded of God’s incredible and unstoppable love that he displayed to us through Jesus. That’s why we can say, “This is love.”
LOVE THAT FREES US FROM SIN
This morning I’d like to look at how God this love frees us from sin.
“Sin” is not a popular word. In fact, it’s a confusing word. And the reason why “sin” is confusing is that our culture has removed absolutes; everything is relative. We live in a world where the line between right and wrong has faded or has its been totally erased. Truth has become circumstantial. Morals and ethics blurry – what’s right or wrong for you is not necessarily right or wrong for someone else and in this climate, “sin” becomes illusive and obsolete…or so we think.
PAINTING JUDAS AND JESUS
Let me tell you a story to illustrate. Just over 500 years ago, Leonardo Da Vinci, the noted Italian artist, painted the Last Supper. It took 7 years for him to complete it. The figures representing the twelve Apostles and Jesus were painted from living persons. The life-model for the painting of the figure of Jesus was chosen first.
Hundreds of young men were carefully viewed in an endeavor to find a face and personality exhibiting innocence and beauty, free from scars and anything that would compromise the look of innocence, and purity.
Finally, after weeks of laborious searching, the perfect young man was found. He was a 19-year-old boy whose features were perfect. He was selected to portray Jesus. It took 6 months for Da Vinci to paint the figure of Jesus.
Over the next six years Da Vinci continued to paint his masterpiece. One by one the right people were found to represent each of the eleven Apostles – with space being left for the painting of the Judas Iscariot.
Judas, you remember, was the Apostle who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. For weeks Da Vinci searched for a man with a hard and callous face; someone with a countenance marked by scars, deceit, hypocrisy, and crime. This person’s face needed to depict a character who would betray his best friend.
So, after many discouraging experiences in searching for the right person to represent Judas, word came to Da Vinci that the perfect man had been found in a dungeon in Rome. The man had been sentenced to die for a life of crime and murder.
Da Vinci made the trip to Rome and the man was brought out from his dungeon and led out into the light of the sun. There Da Vinci saw before him a grimy man with long shaggy hair covering his face – Da Vinci knew he had found the person he wanted to represent the character of Judas in his painting.
By special permission from the king, this prisoner was carried to Milan where the picture was being painted. For months the criminal sat before Da Vinci as he finished his painting.
The day finally came when Da Vinci finished painting, and he told the guard to take the prisoner away. Suddenly, the man broke loose from their control and rushed up to Da Vinci crying,
“Da Vinci, look at me. Do you not know who I am?”
Da Vinci, looked at the man and replied,
“No, I have never seen you in my life until you were brought before me out of the dungeon in Rome.”
Then, lifting his eyes toward heaven, the prisoner said,
“Oh God, have I fallen so low?”
He turned his face to Da Vinci and cried,
“Leonardo, look at me again for I am the same man you painted just seven years ago as the figure of Christ.”
Our culture doesn’t really have a word for this. We tend to psychologize our shortcomings so that they can be recast as the result of someone else’s failure: We are the way we are because of our parents, or our community, or the poor education we received, or some other way the system failed us.
Now, all these systems may have a part to play in our failures, but that doesn’t erase the problem; if anything, it expands it. It isn’t just individuals who have failed; it’s entire communities and systems. And still—what is the word for that?
SIN ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE
The Bible’s word for that is sin. Sin means missing the mark or failing to be who God created us to be. It is a falling short of the original vocation, the first calling to be God’s image-bearers in the world who reflect his wisdom and love.
Sin is also a rebellion, an intentional turning away from God, a decision to move against Him or independent of Him.
Sin is a transgression, a crossing of lines and boundaries, a violation of another person.
And ultimately sin is a power. It is Sin with a capital “S” that holds us captive and paralyzes us with shame.
Take all of it together and we realize that sin is a dead end. It’s a grand “Game Over” that is a cancerous condition embedded in the human heart. So, the question is, What do we do now?
Love That Forgives Betrayal
Well, the Bible tells us that there was a follower of Jesus who fell short in a spectacular way. In fact, his failure was so dramatic, so epic that his story should have ended on the spot.
His name was Peter. He wasn’t just one of the disciples of Jesus; he was one of Jesus’ closest friends. And his sin was not just a minor departure. His sin was a flat-out denial of Jesus. Three times.
It’s no wonder, then, that Peter had gone back to his old way of life. He seemed to still be around the disciples, but he was not quite the same.
When the disciples heard the news that Jesus was alive, Peter and John ran to the empty tomb. John got there first, and Peter followed. They saw the grave clothes of Jesus, stained and sullied, in the empty tomb. What do you think was going on through Peter’s mind? John went into the tomb and believed, but the Bible doesn’t say what Peter’s reaction was.
Jesus appeared to Mary. Then, Jesus appeared to the disciples, passing through a locked door. As if that weren’t enough, Thomas asks to see His wounds, and Jesus shows him His hands and His feet.
Was Peter there also, in the room with the disciples? John doesn’t say.
But then, in the next chapter, Chapter 21, John gives us a long account of an encounter with Peter and the risen Jesus.
Peter, who seems to still be in contact with the disciples, announces that he’s going fishing. They say that they’ll go with him. Maybe they were trying to encourage Peter by hanging out with him? Maybe they trying to keep him company in the midst of his shame? Maybe. The Bible says,
“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.”John 21:3, NIV
What was going through Peter’s mind that night on the boat?
OK, maybe Jesus is alive, but that only makes things worse for me, doesn’t it? Now I know that I shouldn’t have denied Him . . . and He knows that I did. How could I ever face Him?
It’s hard to say, “I’m sorry,” isn’t it?
How could Peter recover from this? He was supposed to be the leader. He was the who walked on water. He had confessed Jesus as the Messiah. Now, he had denied Him. How could he regain any credibility with his friends? In fact, it’s a wonder they still hung around him.
You see, this is what shame does. Shame isolates us. It tells us we’re the only ones. It says that our sin is uniquely disqualifying, that no one else has ever done anything quite like it. It makes us the exception in the worst way. We’re the one person who can’t be forgiven; we’ve done the one thing that cannot be set right; we’ve gone past the “point of return”; we’ve fallen too far.
Shame tells us it’s Game Over, You’re Done, The End. And, in a sense, it’s true. Sin is a dead end.Or as the Bible puts it,
“For the wages of sin is death…”Romans 6:23, NIV
Jesus shows up that day in the middle of Peter’s fishing trip. The Bible says,
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.John 21:4-7
The thing I love about this moment is that Jesus meets Peter where he’s at. Peter tries to retreat to his old familiar place, to his comfort zone, and Jesus meets him there.
Jesus didn’t just meet Peter there; Jesus re-enacts the scene of Peter’s first calling. It was like He was taking Peter back to the start, back to where it all began.
But something is radically different this time: the resurrection has occurred. The resurrection is a Game Changer. And it changed the way Jesus called Peter.The first time Jesus called Peter, it was about a purpose: “Follow me and I’ll make you a fisher of men.” This time, it was about a person: “Peter, do you love me?”
Three times Jesus asked Peter a question about his love. There’s a whole sermon in there, but for today, what I want you to see is this:
When we retreat in shame, Jesus comes after us again and again and again. His love will never stop chasing us. His love will never let go of us. His love can change everything.
What Jesus did for Peter, He wants to do for us. In fact, before He found Peter and spoke to him, He had appeared to the disciples. They were in a locked room, afraid and confused, wondering if Jesus really had been raised from the dead, and if so, what that meant for them. John writes,
“19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, 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.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”John 20:19-23, NIV
The risen Jesus breathes new life—the life of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead!—into His followers. He announces that true peace is theirs.
No more fear, no more shame, no more guilt. Peace. The true and deep sense of being put back together again, of being set right—set right with God and with one another.
And then, Jesus sends them out into the world. This peace is not just for them. This newness of life is not just for a select few. The good news is good news for the world!
Because of the resurrection, our sins can be forgiven!
Think of it: Our sins—the times we’ve missed the mark, our falling short, our transgressing and crossing of lines—are forgiven because Jesus died and rose again.
And the power of Sin that kept us bound, that paralyzed us, that held us in the same patterns of failure, is now broken.
To be forgiven is to be free. Free from guilt, free from shame, free from the power that enslaved us.
And free to be fully human; fully alive! To be what God made us to be. To reflect His image, His wisdom, His love in the world.
That day, Peter’s life changed forever. He went on to lead the start of a movement that would be called the “Church.” He preached boldly and suffered greatly. He shepherded a flock of believers and taught them what it means to be forgiven and free. A deep love for Jesus anchored him through the most difficult of days of his life.
And it all began the day that Jesus found him on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and restored him.
Friends, your life can change today. The whole trajectory of your life can change today. Maybe you’ve thought it was “Game Over,” that you’ve hit rock bottom, and a dead end because of a mistake you’ve made, or the destructive patterns in your life.
I’ve got good news for you: It’s not over. Just like it wasn’t over when Jesus died on the cross and was buried, it’s not over for you. Because Jesus carried our sins upon Himself on the cross—because God raised Jesus from the dead in victory over sin and death—it is not over. Sin is not the end.
The resurrection changed everything. The Bible tells us,
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
While we were enemies of God, while we were stuck in sin, while we were caught in the trap, Jesus came and died for us.Romans 5:8, NIV
Before we knew how to call His name, God came running after us. God comes running after you. Just like He came after Peter.
Today is your day. This is love. And it can change everything.
Dear Jesus, I need your help. I’m stuck. I’ve hit a dead end. I don’t want to admit it, but it’s true. I’ve crossed a line I shouldn’t have crossed; I’ve fallen short of what I know you made me to be; I’ve failed in my love for you and in my love for others. But still, you came for me. You died for me. You were raised up for me. And you call to me. So today, I’m saying, “Yes.” I want to give you my life; I want to love you fully and follow you closely. I know I can’t do it on my own. I need your resurrection life. Just as you breathed on your disciples with the Holy Spirit, breathe on me. I receive your Holy Spirit. I welcome your saving rule in my life. I receive your forgiveness and your freedom. Thank you for this peace. I am yours. In Jesus’ name, amen.