A lot happened to our Lord Jesus Christ on three of the four days leading to Easter. The story is primarily recorded in the first four books of the New Testament — the Gospels. And, since we have largely learned this account by reading about it in a book, it can become quite easy to push it into that distant place in our minds where we store stories — to give it a polished, almost two-dimensional perspective without the dirt, grime, pain, agony, loneliness, loss, fear, and eventual amazement that were all part of it even touching us. It is too easy to forget that it was real. It actually happened — with all of the human experiences and emotions that we ourselves know all too well.
However you choose to celebrate Easter, it will be a time of remembering. You will feel the emotion of that last supper when Jesus — His heart broken — observed His faithful brothers and washed their feet. You will be reminded of that awful moment when one of those trusted disciples sold Him out for a paltry sum. You will remember His sadness when He went away to pray while those He would leave behind to lead the church slept. And there was the roughness with which the soldiers treated Him as He was arrested. You will recall the spectacle of the trial, the mocking of the crowd, and the haughty trade of Jesus for a real criminal. And how can you fail to remember the journey to the cross and creation’s reaction as Jesus endured agony and death?
When I first viewed Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, I was mesmerized by the film. When it was over, I walked alone in the Colorado evening and just talked to my Lord. I remember saying to Him, “I don’t ever want to hurt You — You have suffered so much.” I was reminded on that Easter evening that the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection were real — not fiction, not a church pageant, not the figment of one’s imagination. It was real! Your people need to understand that and experience His full presence.
Let’s look briefly at those brutal and astonishing days. According to the Gospels, Thursday was busy — from the preparation for the Passover (Luke 22:7-23), to the last meal Jesus and His disciples shared (Matthew 26:21-24), to the garden where Judas betrayed Jesus (Matthew 26:47-50), to the arrest, Peter’s denial (Luke 22:60-62), and the appearance of our Lord before the high priest (Matthew 26:57-66).
Then, in Mark 15, Luke 23, and Matthew 27, we follow Christ from early Friday morning through the evening — from Pilate, to the cross, and then to the tomb. As He was nailed to that cross, it was the weight of a world’s sin on His shoulders that was crushing Him, the reality that He who knew no sin was made to bear the sin of all mankind. Yet, always remember that we serve a resurrected Lord, not a suffering Savior.
But before that triumphant morning, there was the agony of the cross. We must also never forget that. “One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear” (John 19:34). “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).
The suffering of Christ was reality — real pain, real blood, real loneliness, and real betrayal. It is all a part of the Easter miracle. I urge you to preach it! “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” (Isaiah 53:5).
Early on Easter Sunday, the women visited the tomb (Luke 24:1-8), the disciples gathered (John 20:2-10), and the resurrected Lord appeared (Matthew 28:5-10). He is risen! It is Easter. Resurrection Day! We have the silence of a Saturday to contemplate the meaning and reality of the crucifixion, and then, like a sunrise or the beauty of a freshly blooming garden, it is Easter!
In truth, there is a time for everything. Solomon’s words ring loudly to all of us this Easter season: “A time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2). That one phrase sums up the human predicament. We will all, in His time, move from this world into eternity.
So, what about the reality of the afterlife? Is that not one of the major messages of Easter? What if we gain the whole world in life, but lose our souls in death? To the believer in Christ, “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). Paul wrote, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. … If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied. … But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19-20).
It is estimated that 40 percent of those who will sit in your sanctuary on Easter do not have a personal relationship with the resurrected Lord. You have an unprecedented opportunity to offer life to those who live in death: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). What a privilege to show these truly lost souls the way to eternal life.
Your people need to remember that Easter was and is for them. It was real! And it still is! “The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him’” (Matthew 28:5-7).