Happy Easter! Welcome to the largest digital Easter the world has ever seen, as thousands of churches are online right now!
It’s been so hard to stay encouraged and positive since the outbreak of COVID-19. As of March 3, 2021 there are over 29 million confirmed cases and 524,652 deaths in the US alone (statistics from the New York Times).
Before the pandemic, the economy was red hot and stocks were soaring. Most of us were getting excited for our summer plans. And then suddenly, the emergency break in life was pulled, and almost everything came to a grinding halt. I wake up almost every day and think, Is this still really happening?
And here we are, despite all our entrepreneurial, scientific, and technological advances, we can’t even come close to conquering the incredible fragility and vulnerability of life on planet earth. We’re definitely not in control like we think. We realize now, just how fragile our global economy and supply chains are. Our relationships have been stretched as we rely on Zoom to connect, but it’s not the same. The virus is poking holes in the life rafts of every system we’ve grown to depend on.
Suddenly, our rampant individualism and insatiable need for security have been blown to pieces. And for many despair has set in. Some of you have been quietly asking yourself questions like, What have I been counting on in this life? Have I been building my life on a foundation solid enough to withstand a global pandemic? What if I die? Am I ready? And as we wallow in the mud of self-pity, our main source of happiness and distraction has been watching The Tiger King on Netflix! I do believe that we will defeat this virus and get through all this, but, what will we look like on the other side of it? Who will we be?
Today we’re celebrating Easter—the day Christians have celebrated the resurrection of Jesus for thousands of years. Over two billion Christians believe that Jesus is the one who came to freely give unshakable hope to the world. But does the resurrection still provide the same things Christians have always celebrated? Do we still have unshakable hope?
I want to share three reasons why the resurrection provides you with unshakable hope.
The Resurrection of Jesus Offers You God’s Peace
(Read John 14:27 and John 16:33)
Think about all the ways you’ve tried to find peace before the virus:
All these things are good, but if you wait long enough, they don’t lead to lasting peace. In these two verses, as Jesus talks about peace, he reminds us of the reality we are living in. He says, “In this world you will have trouble!” The peace Jesus gives may not be what we think it is. We think peace is the absence of hostility and trouble. We can sometimes feel a little peace laying on a beach in Maui with a cold beverage in our hand but that only lasts for as long as the vacation lasts.
Jesus offers us lasting peace in the midst of our troubles. His peace is peace during the storms of life and peace during the battles we face. This is why Jesus can also say, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” The Prince of Peace offers us his own peace.
Jesus says, “My peace I give you.” He says, “In me you may have peace.” True peace, real peace, according to Jesus, only comes from him, the peace giver. This peace calms our hearts and our fears. This peace is permanent. This peace is not dependent on circumstances. This peace is accessible whenever you need it. The problem is, most want peace but without the Prince but, it doesn’t work that way.
We can live with unshakable hope because Jesus gives us his peace. Notice Jesus didn’t say, “Have courage, I have overcome the world and hey, you can too.” That would not be good news. It would be like me playing basketball with Steph Curry and after he made 105 three’s in a row said, “Rob, if I can do it, so can you.” That would be ridiculous! I couldn’t do it.
Jesus says, “You can live with unshakable hope because I have overcome the world. I’ve defeated any and all things that were in the way of my relationship with you.” His victory is our victory. His peace is our peace. It’s like being on a team with Steph during a three point competition and he says, “Don’t worry, I’ll take all the shots for our team.” Jesus says, “If you want peace, join my team and let me do all the work.”
Have you discovered peace in the midst of this crisis? He offers it to you, today. The resurrection of Jesus offers you God’s Peace. But there’s more, a whole lot more.
The Resurrection of Jesus Offers You God’s Presence
(Read Matt. 28:20b)
Right before Jesus went back into heaven, he charged his disciples to take the good news of Jesus into all the world, and said, “I am with you always.” If you go back to the very first chapter of the Matthew, we learn another title for Jesus is Immanuel, which means God with us. If you look through the entire Bible, “God with us” is one of the primary themes.
So, I’m going to summarize the entire Bible in 60 seconds:
From the very beginning of time, God made a way to be with his people. After God created the universe and everything in it he was with Adam and Eve in the Garden. God and humans living together in perfect fellowship. But humans rebelled against God and rejected his rule over them. So God removed them from his presence. But there was a promise, and the promise was that through a child, peace would come.
Throughout the rest of God’s Story, we see his attempt, over and over again, to be with his people. After the Garden, God was with his people through a special covenantal relationship. The Ten Commandments were given and the Old Testament sacrificial system was set up so that God could be with his people. As Israel roamed around in the desert, God was with them in the Tabernacle, the portable tent of God. Throughout the dark period of time when there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes, God was with them through the judges and later a dynasty of kings. Centuries later, God had Solomon build a mighty Temple, a place where God could live with his people once again.
All these events were a shadow of things to come, leading up to God himself, putting on flesh, and living among us in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is God with us. So if you want to know who God is and what he is like, Christianity says, look at Jesus.
Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus offers us his presence forever. He says, “Give me all of your sin. I’ll give you my presence. And we’ll call it even.” Jesus came to our place. He took our place by dying on the Cross. And now invites us back to his place, in heaven. It’s an offer of his presence. After Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, he gave us the Holy Spirit, a permanent sign of his presence with us. In the life of a Christian, we believe, the Holy Spirit, is living in us ( I know it doesn't always look that way!).
At this point, you might be thinking, Why? Why in the world would God want to be with me? Does he just want to look over my shoulder and scold me when I do bad stuff? No! He loves you. That’s it. As your heavenly Father, he just wants to be in relationship with you and love you.
The resurrection of Jesus offers you God’s Peace. The Resurrection of Jesus offers you God’s presence. There is a third reason the resurrection gives us unshakable hope.
The Resurrection of Jesus Offers You God’s Power
(Read Eph. 1:18-20 and Phil. 3:10)
The problem with religion or self-help, is that you are told to do lots of things without any power to do them. Will power is not really power at all because it’s limited. We make our worst decisions late at night because we are out of will power. The Cheez-It crumbs in my bed can testify!
What sets Christianity apart is that you are given the power to live for God and do all he asks you to do. All throughout Jesus’ ministry you see his power. Jesus has power over disease, power over nature, power over evil, and even power over death.
Here’s the kicker to Christianity: This same power is available to you. The Apostle Paul who wrote these verses, used an ancient Greek word for power, dunamis, which is the root of our word dynamite. Paul says that because of the resurrection, you have power available to you, explosive power, like dynamite. Power that can heal your diseases. Power that can calm the storms in your life. Power over all evil that plagues you. Even power over your death! In Jesus, your death has been canceled! But you need to receive God’s power in order to use it.
Have you ever received a new toy only to find out that it didn’t come with batteries? That’s the worst right? This is the difference between Christianity and every other religion. This is the difference between Christianity and atheism, secularism, or self-help. They are all packaged nicely, those ideologies promise so much, but there’s no power, because there are no batteries. Without the power of Christ, living in you, you cannot have unshakable hope. Hope is not wishful thinking or blind optimism. Hope is an unwavering confidence in the power of God.
When I think of what God’s power does in our lives, I can’t help but think of some of the people in our church. I think of addicts who have found sobriety because they’ve relied on God’s power to help them and not their own. The single moms who are raising their kids on their own and have told me, “I couldn’t have done this without Jesus!” Those grieving the loss of a loved one, who have found comfort in God and power to get out of bed in the morning.
Here’s one more thing about God’s power: one of the ways we experience God’s power, is when we participate in his suffering. I know that sounds weird, but here’s some of the secret sauce of the Christian faith, suffering can actually bring you closer to Jesus, the source of power.
Another verse of the Bible says, “When I am weak, he (Jesus) is strong!” (2 Cor 12:10). If we never had to endure pain and suffering, why in the world would we ever feel like we needed God? And yet, the power of the resurrection was only made clear because the Son of God suffered and died for you.
God’s peace, God’s presence, and God’s power are all available to you today. How are they available? Because of the resurrection of Jesus.
The resurrection of Jesus offers you unshakable hope!
Let me end by being very clear about how to get this hope. The good news of Christianity, what we call the gospel is, you are worse than you think and loved by God more than you believe (Tim Keller).
The Bad News
You are not just a bad person. You are spiritually dead in your sins. You are living in the kingdom of darkness. You are not in relationship with God and are his enemy.
The Good News
Jesus Christ didn’t come to improve you or make you a better person. Jesus came to bring dead people back to life. He came to cancel the debt you owed to God. He came to bring you out of the darkness and into the light. He came to give you unshakable hope.
There are typically three responses to Jesus today.
Some Are Fans of Jesus
Jesus had lots of fans. He attracted huge crowds, but many followed safely at a distance. It’s one thing to believe in Jesus, it’s quite another thing to trust and follow him. Maybe you are a fan of Jesus, but are you a follower?
The Proud Reject Jesus
The proud don’t want Jesus to interfere with their lives. They want to stay in power and control. The Bay Area is full of people who say, “I can do anything, I don’t need God.” And if that is you, what more can God do to show you his love? What will it take for God to humble you? The virus, although not from God, has humbled many of us and has reminded us all that life is short and can be taken at any time.
The Faithful Follow Him
The only good way to respond to Jesus on Easter is to trust and follow him. To receive his peace, presence, and power. To live with unshakable hope.
What about you? What will your response be?
Rob Hall is the Lead Pastor at New North Church, located in the San Francisco Bay Area.