THE PEACE AND JOY OF EASTER
On Easter mornings during ordinary times, we would be having Sunrise Service followed by our Sunrise Breakfast in the fellowship hall. Later in the morning, we would gather in the Church have our 11 o’clock Easter service. But these are not ordinary times. And while we cannot join together this morning in person, we can join in spirit. And, we can still experience the peace and joy of Easter. So, even there in your own homes, you can still give praise unto God for His great love for us in sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the Cross for you and me. And so this morning, I want you to remember and celebrate that peace and joy of Easter and don’t let the coronavirus rob you of that peace and joy. You see, the coronavirus is something born of Satan, and he would love to use his secret weapon upon you to do exactly that. And what is Satan’s secret weapon. Well, it is something that we have always known about, but rarely confront in any meaningful way. And while his weapon is really no secret at all, it is certainly the greatest enemy of all, for Satan’s secret weapon is called death.
And I suspect that people sometimes suppress thoughts of death because if they think about it too often, it seems to rob our lives of any peace and joy that they long to have. That is one of the reasons that this past week has been so very difficult—the reality of death has been thrust upon us with the surge of those dying throughout our nation and the world due to COVID-19. Faced so directly with the prospects of catching this virus people are forced to hide away in the seclusion of our homes. It is a terrible situation to endure because we have to wait while wondering if we, or a loved one, or a friend will contract the deadly virus. And if that happens, then we tremble in fear wondering what is to come next.
And so it was for Jesus’ disciples about two thousand years ago. They too had gone through a terrible week—one that had begun so wonderfully as Jesus triumphantly entered the city of Jerusalem. But then events tragically changed and triumph turned into what appeared to be a final defeat when Jesus was arrested, tried, convicted and then crucified on a cross of wood. And on that cross, Jesus suffered in agony until death came and tried to hold Him. And, at the low point, His disciples’ peace and joy in life was gone. All they could do was to huddle in a room somewhere in Jerusalem, wondering if they would be next. What would change their gloomy and hopeless situation in which they found themselves? What could possibly restore the peace and joy that the deadly events of that past week had stripped from their lives? The answer to that question, and the corresponding answer to the troubling questions that face us in our own fearful days, is the Story of Easter. So, what is that story? It is a story that goes like this:
After Jesus entered Jerusalem, He would later meet with His disciples in what is referred to as the “upper room” (Mark 14:12-26) where Jesus inaugurated the Lord’s Supper, and then taught His disciples a lesson in love, humility and servanthood as He took a towel and a bowl of water and, one by one, washed their feet (John 13:1-17). Jesus led them to the Garden of Gethsemane where He showed them what it means to pray—“Not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42) And then the soldiers came and arrested Jesus and these men who had stood by Him for three years fled into the darkness—nowhere to be found (Mark 14:50). They scattered just as the prophets had said they would—like sheep without a Good Shepherd to lead them (Zechariah 13:7, Mark 14:27). Peter—the one whom Jesus called the “Rock” (Matthew 16:18)—he even denied knowing Jesus three times (Matthew 26:69-75), and would have likely kept right on denying Him until his denials were interrupted by the crows of a rooster. And then they tried Jesus. In fact, for good measure, they tried Him twice—one trial was before the Jewish leadership in the Sanhedrin which convicted Him of blasphemy (Matthew 26:57-66), and another trial was conducted by Pilate who, in the greatest miscarriage of justice the world has ever known, found Jesus innocent of sedition, yet sentenced Him to be crucified anyway (Matthew 27:11-26). Jesus was spit upon and mocked (Matthew 26:67-68, John 19:3). He was beaten without mercy (Matthew 27:26; John 19:1), crowned with a wreath of thorns (John 19:2), and forced to carry His cross up a hill called the “Place of the Skull” (in Hebrew, the word is Golgotha)—we know it as the hill of Calvary (John 19:17, Luke 23:33).19 And there, the Roman soldiers nailed Jesus to a cross erected it between the crosses of two thieves (Matthew 27:38, Mark 15:27–28,32, Luke 23:33, John 19:18) in fulfillment of the prophecy found in Isaiah 53:12 (Mark 15:28 and Luke 22:37). And then, in a final gesture of scorn, Pilate posted a sign at the head of the Cross which read in Hebrew, Latin and Greek so everyone could read it: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:20). On that Cross, Jesus bled, suffered and died for all sinners, including you and me. All of which brings us to the reason that we celebrate Easter this Sunday morning.
You see, after Jesus was removed from that cross and buried in a borrowed tomb (Luke 23:50-56), the most amazing and redemptive thing in the history took place—because Jesus did not stay in that tomb. In fact, He had tried to tell His disciples many times in the past that it was never His intention to stay in that tomb, but that He would rise again. Listen to this account of what happened as found in John’s Gospel:
1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” 3 So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. 4 The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; 5 and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. 6 And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. 10 So the disciples went away again to their own homes. John 20:1-10 (NASB)
Now these two disciples went back to their homes where they had been hiding to ponder what they had just observed—but not so with Mary. Rather, Mary hung around. And it’s a good thing that she did because in remaining there she discovered the most marvelous thing of all—John’s Gospel continues and tells us:
11 But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (which means, Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her. John 20:11-18 (NASB)
And that same evening, we find that the disciples were once again congregated behind closed doors, for as John 20:19 tells us, they were still filled with “fear of the Jews.” In other words, they were still afraid of death. They feared that the Jews would search them out and do to them just what they had done to Jesus only a few days before. So, what happened that rid these trembling men of their great fear of death? Well, it was this: Jesus appeared to them and gave them a gift. And they really weren’t expecting any visitors—after all, the door to the house was locked. And yet, Jesus entered right on in. He appeared in that room without even unlocking the lock or opening the door. Wow!—that really tells us something. It tells us that resurrected bodies are the most amazing things! (You really will need to get one!) And, when Jesus appeared to them in His resurrected body, what gift did Jesus give to them? Verse 19 goes on to tell us that “Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘PEACE BE WITH YOU.’ 20 And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then REJOICED when they saw the Lord.” John 20:19-20 (NASB) So—what gift did Jesus give them? He gave them HIS PEACE AND JOY and it made all the difference. Their fear of death melted away as the disciples came to understand who Jesus really is.
You see, prior to this point, the disciples knew about Jesus—after all, they had followed Him for the three previous years during His earthly ministry. But merely knowing about Jesus isn’t enough. There are many people in this country today who know about Jesus. The range of that knowledge is fairly broad and differs depending upon the individual. For example, there are people who have grown up in families that simply did not worship God—they never really took Him seriously. And so, they only heard about the name of Jesus. Maybe they heard about Him through some shyster preacher on TV who was more concerned about getting their money than saving their soul. And because of that, their understanding as to who Jesus really is became distorted and woefully incomplete. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who, from a very early age, were raised in the Church. But for a variety of reasons, they turned away from Jesus as they became older. Maybe they were exposed to a hypocritical family member or friend who was a nominal Christian on Sunday, but during the rest of the week he was a drunkard, or a wife-beater, or a dishonest business man or business woman who acted more like a crook than a true follower of Jesus Christ. And having seen this, they were turned off by Christianity. Consequently, their understanding of Jesus never matured and they failed to come to know who Jesus truly is.
Yes—knowing Jesus is a lot more than just knowing about Him. Rather, truly knowing Jesus means coming to understand WHO HE IS. The truth is that even some long-time church goers spend a life time thinking that they know Jesus, but the reality is that they only KNOW ABOUT HIM. Sadly, they never truly gain an understanding as to WHO HE IS. When it comes to people like that, Judas Iscariot was a case in point. And believe me—you don’t want to end up like him. So, who is Jesus? The answer to that question is bound up in a conversation that Jesus had with Martha on the day the He came to raise her brother, Lazarus, from the dead. Jesus had received word that Lazarus was critically ill—even as ill as some of those who have been stricken by COVID-19. People in such serious condition need immediate medical attention without delay—and so it was with Lazarus as well. But, Jesus deliberately waited two whole days before coming—not because He didn’t love Lazarus, but because Jesus wanted to show the glory of God and His power—especially His power over death. And while they were waiting for Jesus to come, Lazarus died. So, when Jesus finally arrived at Martha’s home, they told him it was too late. And when Martha greeted Jesus, the following exchange took place—John’s Gospel tells us:
21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” John 11:20-27 (NASB)
Martha didn’t merely know about Jesus. She clearly acknowledged who Jesus really is. She knew Him to be the Son of God and believed Jesus when He identified Himself as being the “Resurrection and the Life.” Now, when Jesus said that He is the Resurrection and the Life, what did He mean by that? The answer couldn’t be any clearer, and it comes from the mouth of Jesus Himself who, in all His glory, tells those who truly know Him: 17 “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.” Revelation 1:17-18 (NLT2) These are amazing words that show us why we can have peace and joy in Christ this Easter. Why? Because Jesus gives us the peace and joy that offers unlimited hope beyond the grave.
And that’s what we celebrate today. We celebrate Easter because the Story of Easter is the story of hope offered by Jesus Christ. It is the only hope that can bring true and lasting peace and joy into your life. Why?—because Easter proclaims the reality of the Risen Christ. And it assures us that Jesus is the only One who can offer us His vaccine of eternal life that inoculates us with certainty against Satan’s weapon of death. And so, Easter is the story that shows us the key to overcoming death. The Resurrection of the Son of God is that key, that hope and that salvation available to you solely in the Person of Jesus Christ. And while we must stay in our homes a while longer as we contend with the threat of COVID-19, we can do so without worry. Oh yes—you will continue to have concerns about the well-being of your loved-ones and friends—of course, that is only natural. But, it will not be a time spent in hopelessness because we know that the Resurrection is not just some theoretical doctrine. Rather, in the words of the British theologian, Lesslie Newbigin: “[The Resurrection] has a living face and a name. Jesus is Himself the presence of the life which is God’s gift beyond death. To be bound to Jesus by faith is to share already now the life which is beyond death.” If you grasp and accept that truth and the reality of the RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST—then His peace and joy will fill your soul and the fears connected with your physical body will dissipate as you embrace the love of Christ and the assurance of His faithfulness—even in difficult times like these.
Several months ago, some lived in the fear of nuclear destruction from ICBM’s that might be launched upon this nation on the command of a menacing little man in North Korea. A few years ago, fear reigned among the people as it seemed that our economy would collapse and we’d be cast into another Great Depression. Now, we face the unprecedented threat of this coronavirus. What troubling threats and fears await us beyond the horizon, we just don’t know. But, the message of Easter invites you to accept a life in Christ without those kinds of fears. When Jesus came to His disciples on the evening of that first Easter and offered them His peace and joy, He wasn’t merely using a figure of speech. No, Jesus was talking about true peace and joy. It is the peace and joy that is possible only when you come to realize that this life here on earth is not all there is. Peace and joy comes when you understand that you can’t get to Heaven based upon whatever “good things” you may have done in this life, but you can only enter into God’s Eternal Kingdom based upon what Jesus did for you on the Cross. And what did Jesus do for a world filled with sinners? What did He do for those whose sin-stained lives disqualified them from ever reaching that heavenly realm? On the Cross, Jesus took those sins upon Himself and erased all the sins of those who follow the only true way to Heaven and eternal life. Like Thomas, you may ask, “What is that way and how can I find it?”  Jesus answered Thomas, as He answers your cries today: 6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. 7 If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” John 14:5-7 (NLT2) And again, Jesus told Thomas and the rest of the disciples, as He tells us today, about the gift He offers. Jesus said: 27 “I am leaving you with a gift—PEACE OF MIND AND HEART. And the PEACE I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. 28 Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again.” John 14:27-28 (NLT2) By the resurrection of His Son, God gave us proof that what Jesus said is absolutely true!
Do you want true peace and joy restored to your life during these troubled times? Easter points the way. Can you see it? Look hard into your future—however long or short that future may be here on this earth—and focus on the horizon. If you only know about Jesus, then your horizon is dark and gloomy indeed and, in the end, your only prospect is death. But for those who know who Jesus really is—who know Him to be the Resurrection and the Life—and accept Him as their Savior, their prospects are oh so very different! For in them is the peace and joy of Easter and the promise of eternal life forevermore: That’s the Story of Easter. And may the peace and joy of Jesus Christ rest upon you this Easter Sunday and all the days to come throughout these difficult times.
Forest Hill Baptist Church
April 12, 2020
Darvin Satterwhite, Pastor ©2020 All Rights Reserved
 1 Peter 2:24 He personally carried our sins in His body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By His wounds you are healed. (NLT2)
 See Matthew 7:22 and following; Mark 9:30 and following; and, Luke 9:44 & 24:44.
 The Greek word (κλείω) for “the doors were shut” found in John 20:19 is best translated as the doors were “locked”. NET Bible Notes, 1st Ed. © 1996-2005, Version 5.830 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. Database © 2015 WORDsearch.
 John 14:5-7 5 “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. 7 If you had really known Me, you would know who My Father is. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him!” (NLT2)
A video of this week's Easter Sermon is posted on the Church's Facebook page. May God bless and keep you this Easter Sunday and may your peace and joy be restored in the knowledge that we serve a God who loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for your sins and mine. And then, in the most wonderful event in human history, God raised Jesus from the dead as confirmation that all of those who surrender their lives to Him will be saved and shall have eternal life. Praise the Lord our God!