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Story of God 7: Death & Resurrection

Sometimes life can leave us with little hope.

I’ve had a loss of hope lately. That’s probably not the best way to start a sermon on an Anniversary Sunday, but it’s the truth. And my guess is you’ve been there too.

Sometimes we lose hope because of our work. You get up every day, go into your place of work, meander through the list of things you need to do, come home and your head hits the pillow. Next day you do the same thing all over again. You’re not sure you’re making any difference at all.

Maybe you’ve lost hope in your relationships. With a spouse, with a child, with a friend. You feel as if you are in a rut. A big one. It seems as if it is going nowhere and takes more work to change anything than you bargained for. Maybe you want out.

Or it could be you’ve lost hope for your future. As you get a little older you realize there are some dreams you may have had when you were younger that just aren’t going to happen.

Whatever it may be, when we lose hope we tend to feel like giving up. Ray Johnston notes that “When people lose hope, they lose their ability to dream for the future. Despair replaces joy. Fear replaces faith. Anxiety replaces prayer. Insecurity replaces confidence. Tomorrow’s dreams are replaced by nightmares.”[1] Maybe you know the feelings.

I think the disciples might have felt that way. They were gathered in an upper room. John tells us the doors were locked because “they feared the Jews.” If a movie opened with this scene it would then give you one of those title lines that would say “X# of hours earlier.” And the story they would tell on screen would be the greatest one ever. Here’s how it goes:[2]

Jesus had been praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Just as he finished, one of the disciples named Judas showed up with an armed mob. He greeted Jesus with a kiss, a predetermined sign to show the guards who to arrest. This was all a part of God’s plan.

When the guards arrested Jesus, the disciples all ran away and hid. Jesus was taken, beaten, and brought before the Jewish leaders for questioning. They asked, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?” Jesus answered, “I am, and you will see me seated next to God in power—coming back on the clouds of heaven.”

When Jesus said this, the high priest tore his clothing and said, “Any man who claims to be God must be put to death.” Then they slapped Jesus in the face and spit on Him.

Jesus was brought to the Roman governor, Pilate, since Jews could not execute anyone without official approval. The Jewish leaders stirred up the crowds and pressured Pilate to have Jesus put to death. They shouted, “Crucify him!”

Pilate feared a riot would break out, so he handed Jesus over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified. Crucifixion was the most cruel and humiliating way to die. Jesus was brutally beaten and whipped by the soldiers. They put a crown of sharp thorns on His head and a purple robe around His shoulders. “Hail the King of the Jews!” they laughed. All night, the Roman soldiers continued to beat Jesus and mock Him.

When morning came, they led Jesus to a place called Skull Hill. Like a criminal, Jesus was nailed to a heavy wooden cross between two thieves. Hanging there, He cried out, “Father, please forgive them they don’t know what they’re doing.”

At noon, darkness filled the skies—blocking the sun for three hours. Suddenly, the thick curtain hanging in the temple tore down the middle! At that moment Jesus shouted, “Father! I give you my life It is finished.” Then Jesus breathed His last breath and died.

Late Friday afternoon, Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross, wrapped in long strips of cloth, and buried in a rich man’s tomb. A large stone was rolled over the entrance to the tomb, and Roman guards were posted to make sure nothing happened to His body.

Early on Sunday morning, on the third day, some of the women who followed Jesus went to prepare His body for burial. When they arrived at the tomb, they saw the stone rolled away and the soldiers were gone!  Suddenly, two angels appeared. They said, “Why are you surprised? You are looking for Jesus, but he is not here he’s been raised from the dead.”

The women were excited but afraid and hurried to tell the disciples the amazing news. Some of them ran back to the tomb and looked inside for themselves. Jesus was not there!

As soon as Jesus was arrested, hope was lost and fear set in. Think about it: the disciples had placed their futures banking on the belief that Jesus was going to usher in a new way of life for them. A kingdom. The problem was they had misunderstood some of the story.

They thought he was going to set up a kingdom with a palace and all the amenities that go with it and they would get to share in the position and wealth. No one had paid attention to what Jesus had told them about dying and then being raised again.

When they lost hope they scattered. They hid. They shut down.

Maybe you’ve done that too. I have. Recently I just hit a wall. 20 years of church work here and then finding ourselves as a church in a financial challenge again left me without hope. You’d think that over the years as we’ve faced the same issue a few other times my faith would be resilient by now and I’d trust that God would give us some kind of new beginning. Another fresh start.

But I didn’t. Johnston was right. My joy was replaced with despair. My faith was replaced by fear. I felt anxious. Lost confidence. And it was difficult to dream of a future.

It’s not a good place to be. You feel like you are in a locked room, stuck “in there” because you are afraid of what might be “out there.” It’s really not a good place to be when you are a pastor and the church is going through a difficult time.

You might feel stuck for some of the same reasons. It could be something you’ve done that is holding you back. That’s one reason the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus is so important. We have an enemy who wants to get inside our heads and remind us of why we aren’t worthy of God’s love. He does a pretty good number on us at times. But this story tells us that Jesus ransomed us from him. Whatever the enemy thinks he can hold against us or whatever we think someone else can hold against us, Jesus took care of that by his death on the cross. He freed us from that. We don’t have to be stuck there anymore.

It could be you’re stuck because you need a new beginning. Mark and John’s gospels both start with the word “beginning” in their first lines. That word is intended to remind us of the first book of the Bible, Genesis, or “beginnings.” The life of Jesus and especially his death and resurrection are intended to give us new life. And that new life comes to us in the same way it did to him. Through a death of some sort. There are times our “stuckness” is really just a time for God to get our attention and get us ready for something new.

And that could be what’s going on with our church at this moment in time. He may be trying to get all of us to pay more attention to him, to watch for him, and get ready for something new. That happens when we see Jesus like the disciples did.

Remember they were in a locked room? Their hopes were dashed and they could not see a future. Then Jesus showed up in the room. No one opened the door, mind you. He just showed up. And he said, “Peace be with you.”

That’s what he is saying to me and to you and to ChristBridge today. Peace. He’s here with us regardless of how things look around us. And that is a cause for hope.

It is a cause for us to look ahead and follow him where he leads us. Some things will not change. We will always believe that gathering on the first day of the week is important, even if people’s attendance patterns in America these days suggest otherwise. We will always believe that connecting with other believers in the home is vital to this walk of faith. And we will always believe that bearing fruit by serving others is a mark of those who are connected to Jesus.

This is his church. And if we listen to him he will do with us as he wishes. One thing we believe he is telling us now is that most church growth—96% of it—is due to transfer growth. Wouldn’t you like to be the church that is hitting on that 4% that would come from people who have not heard or received the gospel coming to be a part of this place?

That would take us knowing this story and believing it to the point that we retell it when possible to people who have not heard it or have not received it. People who have lost hope in their world too.

It only takes one person with some hope to change a life. Just think about it. When you were down on hope and someone came into your life with some encouragement, what happened? We can be that for each other. And we can be that for those outside of here.

My hope is coming back. But it is not based on what I see around me. Sure, an increase in giving to this ministry will help. But my hope is coming back because of people around me who have given encouragement and because of this story. It has reminded me that when we are imprisoned in a room of hopelessness, Jesus will come to us.

And when he does, everything changes.

[1] http://hopequotient.com/blog/happens-people-lose-hope/#more-88

[2] Adapted from https://saturatetheworld.com/resource/story-of-god-training/