Jeremy Sarber / The Bible Readers Podcast

2018 Easter Sunday readings, songs, and liturgy for Joy Christian Church

This Easter I chose to tweak our liturgy at Joy Christian Church. In celebration of our Lord’s resurrection, I read nine passages from the Gospels, providing only brief remarks, and we sang, prayed, and shared the Lord’s Supper in between. The following is a transcript of our Easter Sunday readings, songs, and my comments. I begin with an explanation of the origins of Easter.

It’s Easter Sunday. To be candid, I’ve often avoided using the word Easter because of its pagan origins. If the holiday itself doesn’t have its roots in paganism, then at least the name does, or so I thought. As it turns out, neither the day nor the name has ever had anything to do with the worship of false gods.

In the eighth century, a Christian monk wrote a book about calendars. He explained, for instance, the differences between the Julian calendar and the Anglo-Saxon calendar. I’ve never read it in full, but I’m sure it is just as exciting as it sounds.

At one point in the book, he makes a reference to the Anglo-Saxon month of Eosturmonath, which is the month of April according to our calendar. He writes, “Eosturmonath … was once called after a goddess … named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month.”

There is just one problem with the author’s statement. There was no goddess by that name. As far as we know, she didn’t exist outside of the mind of this single Christian monk. We have no other references in history. We have no allusions to her or anyone worshipping her. Any ancient evidence is altogether nonexistent.

Actually, there’s a second problem with the author’s statement. The months on the Anglo-Saxon calendar were not named after false gods at all. They were named after the seasons or the activities associated with those times of the year. According to the Oxford Dictionary:

The English word Easter and its German cognate Ostern are most likely derived ultimately from the same Germanic word as the cardinal direction east, which in turn is cognate with the word for dawn in many ancient languages (including Classical Latin), by association with the direction of the rising sun. The word for Easter thus has metaphorical links with the ideas of dawn, spring, and rebirth.

In other words, the month of Eosturmonath wasn’t named after a pagan goddess. The Anglo-Saxons borrowed a word which signified the rising of the sun or the dawning of a new day. Then, Anglo-Saxon Christians eventually adopted the shorter word Easter to describe the particular day or time of the month when they followed the church’s long-standing tradition of celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Easter is an appropriate name when you think about it. What better way to reference the resurrection of Christ than with a word meaning the rising of the sun.

It doesn’t really matter what we call it. Outside of English and German, most European languages continue to call this time of year, Passover. Not surprisingly, the resurrection of Christ has always been closely associated with the Jewish Passover. Jesus was crucified on Passover day. Since the second century, the church has always celebrated the Passover, or perhaps I should say a new kind of Passover.

Today, we celebrate the dawning of a new day. We celebrate the rising of the Son (that’s S-O-N), so I’d like to do things a little different. I have nine passages of Scripture I want to read which follow some pivotal moments in the latter part of Jesus’ time on earth. I’ll read the first passage, then we’ll pray and sing a song together. I’ll read the second passage, then we’ll pray and sing another song together. Somewhere near the middle, we’ll stop to eat the bread and drink the wine of Communion in remembrance of Christ’s death. We’ll end our worship this morning by reading about his resurrection.

The cost of following Jesus

If you’d like to follow along, go with me to Luke 9:51.

As we read the Gospels, it becomes evident Jesus is following a divine timeline. There are stages of his ministry which God has ordained. In this passage, we see a significant shift in his focus. The text says, “He set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51). From this moment on, he has his mind on his final destination. Everything he does from this day forward moves him to the cross where he will suffer and die for the sins of his people.

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:51-62)

Just as Christ set his face toward the mission at hand, he requires his disciples to do the same. First and foremost, our lives should be consumed by matters related to God’s kingdom. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:62).

Heavenly Father, I want to begin our prayers this morning with a confession. David prayed, “Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence.” Your word promises you are faithful to forgive our sins if we confess our sins.

Lord, we often sin against you. We keep one hand on the plow and one eye over our shoulder, persistently looking back at what we’ve left behind. Our flesh craves our old habits. Create in us clean hearts, O God. Renew our spirit. Give us the strength to put both hands on the plow and never look back. You are our life, our hope, and our salvation. We have nothing apart from you. Forgive us, Lord, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Let’s sing #375. [We use the Hymns of Grace hymnal by The Master’s Seminary.]

The triumphal entry

Let’s go now to Matthew 21 where Jesus makes his triumphant entry into Jerusalem for the last week of his life.

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise’?”

And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there. (Matthew 21:1-17)

Our Savior rode into the city not on a noble steed, but on a humble donkey. Of course, he did so to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah. But I also believe it was intended to illustrate the character of our Lord when he went to the cross. We praise him because he humbled himself to the earth, becoming sin “that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Co 5:21).

The Jewish leaders couldn’t understand why the crowds were praising him. Frankly, they couldn’t conceive of Israel’s Messiah being a lowly carpenter’s son from Nazareth. There was nothing about Jesus that made them think, He must be the heir to David’s throne. But as Paul says:

God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)

[Someone prays.]

Let’s sing #97. We’ll repeat the last verse. I want us to increase our volume as much as possible when we sing the last verse the second time. Throw your palm branches on the ground if you have them.

Jesus curses the fig tree

I’ll continue reading in Matthew 21.

In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.

When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:18-22)

We may praise Christ in word and song on Sunday, but his disciples must also trust him daily. We must believe what he says. We must have faith in his promises.

[Someone prays.]

Turn to hymn #381. “I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”

The coming of the Son of Man

Let’s go now to Mark 13. I’ll read the entire chapter.

And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.

“But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

“But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not happen in winter. For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.

“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” (Mark 13:1-37)

Volumes and volumes of books have been written about these predictions. No matter what Jesus meant, he makes two things abundantly clear: (1) He is coming back; (2) We should be ready for him. “Stay awake,” he says (Mk 13:37). The hope of Christ’s return should mold everything we think and do in this life.

[Someone prays.]

Let’s sing #407 (“It Is Well with My Soul”). As you probably know, Horatio Spafford wrote these words as he sailed past the very place in the ocean where he lost his children. They drowned when their ship sank. Even so, Spafford could say, “It is well with my soul.” Why? Notice the last verse: “The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend.” As Paul says:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)


The plot to kill Jesus

Next, I’ll read from Matthew 26. Things turn a bit darker here.

When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. (Matthew 26:1-16)

A new day can’t dawn without night coming first. God’s plan is in motion. The pieces of the puzzle are falling into place. Within two days, Jesus will hang on the cross.

Our God and Savior, we can only imagine the confusion your disciples felt as your Son approached his death. Today, we are thankful for the benefit of hindsight. We know what Jesus was doing. We know he was preparing to suffer for our sake. We know he was about to make atonement for us, fulfilling every prophecy. Our sin brought us condemnation, but Christ saved us from the curse. He redeemed us by his blood. He was the perfect Passover Lamb, a sacrifice to end all sacrifices.

Heavenly Father, our thanks will never be enough, but we do thank you. I don’t understand why you chose to show us such fantastic mercy, but we thank you and praise you. In Christ’s name. Amen.

Turn to #187. “My soul is purchased by his blood. My life is hid with Christ on high, with Christ, my Savior and my God.” When we come to the end of the song, we’ll repeat the latter half of the third verse, starting with “One with himself, I cannot die.”

The Passover with the disciples

Let’s go now to Mark 14:12. Jesus spends his final night with the disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem.

And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:12-23)

Jesus gave us the bread and wine of Communion to be a remembrance of his death. The bread represents his body. The wine represents his blood. Though we always look forward to the second coming of Christ, we also remember what he accomplished in the past. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (1Co 11:24). Paul adds, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1Co 11:26).

I now invite the believers here to take a piece of bread and cup of wine from the tray. You may return to your seat with them. Once we’re settled, I’ll ask Pastor Wade to pray before we eat and drink.

[Wade prays. We eat and drink the Lord’s Supper.]

The text says Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn together before walking to the Mount of Olives. We don’t know what they sang, but one of the earliest Christian hymns ever discovered is a simple doxology that praises the full Trinity of God. Let’s do the same.

Turn to #440 in the hymnal. We’ll include the final “Amen” at the end of the song.

The crucifixion and death of Jesus

Turn to Matthew 26:36.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.

Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end. Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?”

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor.

Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”

Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.

As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. (Matthew 26:36-27:56)

I believe silent prayers are appropriate here. Let’s sit for just a moment in silence as we meditate on the crucifixion and pray.

[We pray silently.]

Let’s sing #274.

Jesus is buried

Let’s continue reading in Matthew 27.

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. (Matthew 27:57-66)

Interestingly enough, the Jews wanted to make Christ’s tomb as secure as possible to prevent his disciples from stealing his body and faking his resurrection. Yet by doing so, they unwittingly proved his resurrection could not have been faked. No one could have broken into a tomb made of solid rock without going through the front door. The entrance was sealed and guarded by possibly dozens if not hundreds of trained Roman soldiers.

If nothing else, these details about his burial signify the total sacrifice he made. He not only suffered, but he also died. He paid it all.

Before we pray again, let’s sing #281.

[Someone prays.]

The resurrection

Last but not least, I’ll read Matthew 28. We come now to the resurrection of Jesus.

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:1-20)

We’ll sing #307.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes:

Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:20-26)

He goes on to say:

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:50-58)

Jesus wants us to tell the whole world about his resurrection. Paul says it’s not only the basis for our resurrection at the second coming of Christ, but it’s also our source of motivation and perseverance. “In the Lord, your labor is not in vain,” he says (1Co 15:58).

We celebrate the Lord’s resurrection because it marks the defeat of death. It proves every claim about Christ in Scripture. We can join Paul in taunting death because death has no power over us. Our sins are removed. We are no longer condemned. Christ has saved us.

Why wouldn’t we tell the whole world about it? Why wouldn’t we be motivated to put both hands to the plow? Why wouldn’t we “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord”? (1Co 15:8). Jesus lives! We talk about his death a lot, but everyone dies. What’s truly significant is that he lives. He’s alive. If you are in Christ, you will live, too. You’ll live forever, and you’ll live forever in a perfect kingdom, one without pain or death. In that place, there will be no more crucifixions.

For now, we wait. We’ll sing one more song this morning, and its last line goes like this: “Raised with him to endless life, he will hold me fast. Until our faith is turned to sight, when he comes at last!” It won’t be much longer. Either we join him where he is, or he comes to get us. Either way, it’s coming soon. In the meantime, let the resurrection of Christ fuel your hope. He will hold us fast.

Turn to #388 (He Will Hold Me Fast). Again, let’s repeat the last chorus. Please turn up the volume as we make our way through the final verse.

Lord, we thank you. I pray our worship has been a sweet fragrance to you. I pray everyone here has been edified. May you strengthen our faith and allow us to leave this place with renewed spirits as we meditate on Christ’s resurrection.

Lord, bless our fellowship and the meal we’re about to eat as we bless you for providing it. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.