Are You Barabbas? The Crowd and the Christ

Topical Scripture: Matthew 27:15–26

Mistakes aren’t always mistakes.

In 1886 a pharmacist by the name of John Pemberton was cooking medicinal syrup in a large brass kettle slung over a fire, stirring it with an oar. But his syrup didn’t catch on as a medicine, so he tried mixing it with water as a beverage. He spent $73.96 promoting his new drink the first year but sold only $50 worth of the product. Today people drink one billion products a day from the Coca-Cola company.

In 1968, a 3-M researcher tried to improve adhesive tape but made a glue which was only semi-sticky. Four years later one of his colleagues, a member of his church choir, was frustrated that bookmarks kept falling out of his hymnal and music in the choir loft. He used the semi-sticky glue his friend had created to invent the Post-It Note. Mistakes sometimes aren’t.

What do you do when they are? When temptation won’t leave you alone? When problems get worse rather than better? When you’re fighting sin and Satan, discouragement and frustration, with no victory in sight? When you can’t find a way to make syrup into Coke or failed glue into Post-It profits?

Let’s ask Barabbas.

Meeting Barabbas

Most people don’t know this, but his first name was probably “Jesus.” This was a very common given name in that day. Some ancient manuscripts call him Jesus Barabbas, and most scholars think this is the correct reading. So we have Jesus Christ and Jesus Barabbas before us today.

His last name comes from two words. “Bar” means “son of” in Hebrew, and “abbas” means “father” (from “abba,” daddy). Or it could be “rabbas” or rabbi. Either was significant socially. No one was given the personal name “abbas” or “rabbi”—they were titles of respect, “the father” or “the rabbi.” Think of George Washington, “the father of our country,” or Billy Graham, “the pastor to America,” and you get the idea. This man was son to someone like that.

And Matthew 27:16 adds that Barabbas was “notorious” to the crowd—the word means to be notable or well-known. He was the son of someone famous, and a celebrity in his own right. Why?

Mark and Luke call him an “insurrectionist” who committed murder (Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19). John adds that he had “taken part in a rebellion” (John 18:40) against the Empire.

However, the Greek word translated “insurrectionist” can also mean “one who causes strife” (cf. Acts 15:2). And the word for “rebellion” can mean “robber,” as the ESV, NASB and KJV translate it (John 18:40; cf. Luke 10:30, 2 Corinthians 11:26). He may have been a rebel, or he may have been a robber. The latter is more likely.

Many people wonder why Pilate would release a man known to be a rebel, when he is trying to avoid the accusation that he is doing that very thing with Jesus. We now know that “social bandits” were common in first-century Palestine. Like ancient Robin Hoods, they would steal from the wealthy supporters of the Empire and give to those oppressed by Rome. They were extremely popular with the people. And the Greek words used of Barabbas are exactly the words used for them. It would appear that “social theft” and murder was Barabbas’ crime, and his fame.

Choosing Jesus Barabbas

No wonder the crowd chose Jesus Barabbas over Jesus Christ. They were incited by their leaders to do so, of course (Matthew 27:20). But this man was one of their heroes, someone who defied the cursed pagans and stole from the wealthy to give to them. This man would stand up to Rome. He would meet their needs and solve their problems in a way their rabbis and priests would not.

They had thought Jesus would do even more than that for them. When he rode into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday, they hailed him as their military Messiah, their royal conqueror, the one who would overthrow the Romans and establish their nation. The palm branches they threw in his way were meant for a conqueror, a hero. They were “rolling out the red carpet,” greeting him in the same way concentration camp survivors greeted the Allied soldiers who came to liberate them.

But now, Jesus has failed. He hasn’t defeated Pilate—Pilate has defeated him, and he stands in Roman chains. Barabbas did more to Rome than this “Christ” even tried to do. He wasn’t the Messiah they wanted him to be. So, release Jesus Barabbas and crucify Jesus Christ.

Now the story takes on special irony.

The word describing Barabbas as a “robber” was the same term used for the two “thieves” who were crucified with Jesus that day (Matthew 27:38). All three were guilty of the same crimes. There was a third cross already prepared, most likely for Barabbas. It would seem that he was scheduled for execution along with them.

And so Jesus died in Barabbas’ place, on the very day he was sentenced to be executed, bearing the very cross on which he would have died.

With this result: Barabbas was set free. He could never be accused of those crimes again. He could never be tried and sentenced for them again. The debt was paid, the penalty completed, the law’s requirements fulfilled.

Now, Barabbas could have chosen not to accept this grace gift. He could have insisted on dealing with his guilt himself. He could have asked for another trial, claimed innocence, tried to win acquittal, tried to fight the law. Or he could have taken his cross from Jesus and insisted on paying the debt he owed himself. Dying as he had been sentenced, taking the punishment he deserved. The choice was his.

And yours.

Choosing Jesus Christ

Here’s the point: when death has paid the debt, the debt is paid in full. We can continue trying to pay the penalty for our sins ourselves. Or we can accept the payment which has been made on our behalf.

When a friend pays your bill at a restaurant, you can refuse his kindness and insist on paying the bill personally. Or you can accept his generosity. It’s your choice.

To the crowd, Jesus Barabbas represented self-reliance, a celebrity turned criminal who did all he could to free them from the oppression of pagan Rome. You can’t destroy Caesar, but you can steal from those who support him. You can’t free those enslaved by the Empire, but you can improve their suffering a little. Do what you can. Do all you can. Fight the Empire yourself.

Today, you and I live in a country as occupied as Palestine was occupied by Rome. This world is not our home. It is controlled by the devil and his demons. Satan is a roaring lion looking for more people to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Our fight “is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

Like Barabbas, we can try to fight back ourselves. We can stand up to Satan and sin, to the temptations and attacks of our spiritual enemies. If we go to church enough, pray enough, read enough Scripture, do enough ministry, we can win this battle.

And when we fail, we can refuse to be forgiven until we have received the punishment we deserve. The guilt, the stain and the shame of our failure. We can refuse to forgive ourselves until we think we have carried the burden of our guilt long enough.

In other words, we can refuse to allow Jesus to die on our cross.

Or we can accept his gift of grace. We can accept the fact that when we confess our sin he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). We can accept what he did at Calvary: “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).

And when sin and Satan attack us, we can ask Jesus to fight them on our behalf. Rather than trying to defeat temptation in our own will power and strength, we can give that temptation instantly to God. We can develop the reflex to pray in that moment, to turn to God in that instant, to claim Jesus’ death as our victory over all sin and all temptation.

We can choose Jesus Barabbas, or we can choose Jesus Christ. There is not a third option.


A mausoleum’s crystal casket in Red Square contains the body of Nikolai Lenin. The inscription reads: “He was the greatest leader of all people of all time. He was the lord of the new humanity; he was the savior of the world.”

Note the past tense.

By contrast, Alice Meynell once observed:

No planet knows that this

Our wayward planet, carrying land and wave,

Love and life multiplied, and pain and bliss,

Bears, as chief treasure, one forsaken grave.

Jesus’ cross is empty; his tomb is empty. He died in Barabbas’ place, and Barabbas was forever free. Then he came down from the cross and up from the grave. So can we.

Or we can choose to fill that empty cross and that empty tomb ourselves. We can choose to fight our own battles against sin and Satan, to be religious and spiritual and godly enough to live holy lives. Then when we fail, we can choose to be punished for our failures, to carry our guilt and shame until we think we have been punished in full.

We can give our temptations and our sins to Jesus. Or we can fight them ourselves. But remember: when death has paid the debt, the debt is paid in full.

Will you be Barabbas today?

Are You Caiaphas? The Jews and the Christ

Topic Scripture: Matthew 26:57-68

Here’s an issue that skeptics often raise about our faith, a question many Christians don’t know how to answer: why did the Jews condemn Jesus? If he really is the Son of God, why did his own people reject him?

We learned last week that everything about the Sanhedrin’s legal proceedings was illegal. But why did they reject him in the first place? Why did they not welcome him with the crowds on that Palm Sunday? Why did they not see him as their Messiah? Why should we? What difference does it really make?

There are two roads to God. After forty-five years of following Jesus, I’ve learned that every mistake I’ve committed has come from choosing the wrong road. Every joy I’ve known in Christ has come from choosing the right road. Every one. When we’re finished this morning, you may agree that it’s been the same for you. If you do, I hope you’ll decide to stay on the right road to God this week.

The royal conqueror

At the heart of Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin was Caiaphas’ question, “Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63). To which he replied, “Yes, it is as you say. But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (v. 64). With this result: “Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has spoken blasphemy!'” (v. 65).

Why was this blasphemy? Why was Caiaphas so certain that he was right and that Jesus was wrong? Why did he see the carpenter from Nazareth as such a threat to his people and future that his Sanhedrin must break every rule in condemning him? The answer is found in a concept known to the Jews as “Messiah.”

The Hebrew word translated “Messiah” originally meant “the anointed one.” “Christos” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew, so that “Messiah” or “Christ” mean the same thing and designate the same person. The word referred first to prophets who were “anointed” to speak God’s word, and to priests who were “anointed” for their service. In time it came to relate to the king as the man anointed by God to lead his people.

Finally, there evolved the belief that God would send a special “anointed one,” a special Messiah to be his king on earth, to remake the world and the universe, to liberate his people and restore their kingdom for all time.

In this sense God’s Messiah would be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Of him the prophet promised, “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this” (v. 7). Zechariah proclaimed, “His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zech. 9:10).

When Messiah came, the people would be liberated from their Roman oppressors. They would be freed from slavery, their kingdom restored, their armies empowered. They would rule all nations alongside their King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This was the Messiah, the Son of God.

This was the One of whom Caiaphas asked Jesus, “Tell us if you are the Christ.” When this humble, suffering Nazarene carpenter claimed that he was, it was natural for Caiaphas to reject his ridiculous claim and pronounce him a blasphemous heretic.

His movement must be stopped by the religious authorities lest the Romans stop it for them. If Jesus’ misguided followers attempt to take matters into their own hands, trying to overthrow the Romans in their zeal to follow their pretend Messiah, Pilate and his troops will have all their heads. Caiaphas knows that this Jesus cannot possibly be the One who win such a battle with Rome. And so, his movement must be crushed before the Empire crushes them all.

The suffering servant

If the royal conqueror were the only Messiah promised by God’s word, we would understand Caiaphas’ rejection of Jesus as such a Christ. But there is another stream of prophecy in the Old Testament as well—that God would send a suffering Servant for us, a suffering Messiah.

The prophet predicted that One would come to say, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isaiah 61:1–2).

“Anointed me” is the word for “Messiah,” the anointed one. This “anointed one” will preach good news, bind up hurting hearts, release captives and prisoners. He will serve the souls of God’s people.

When Jesus of Nazareth returned from his wilderness temptations to his hometown synagogue of Nazareth, he delivered his very first sermon. He unrolled the scroll of Isaiah and read this very prophecy of an anointed servant: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

In this motif, the Messiah will be a servant of the Lord and his people: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight” (Isaiah 42:1). Here the “chosen one” is the Messiah. He would call this servant to be “a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).

And this servant would suffer for those he was sent to save. Think of these predictions in light of Jesus’ sufferings and crucifixion:

  • “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard. I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6).
  • “There were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man, and his form marred beyond human likeness” (Isaiah 52:14).

As you read Isaiah 53:1-10a, it is impossible not to see the cross.

But this suffering Servant would be raised from the dead to win the resurrection of all who would trust in him: “See, my servant will act wisely; for he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted” (Isaiah 52:13; cf. Isaiah 53:10b–12a. All because of what he did for God’s people (Isaiah 53:12b).

This was the promise Jesus fulfilled with his first coming. When he returns, he will be the royal conqueror the Jewish authorities expected their Messiah to be. On that day, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10–11).

Who serves whom?

So, the religious authorities rejected Jesus as their Messiah because they were looking for the wrong messiah. They wanted someone to liberate their land, to make them the rulers of their nation, to give them their kingdom. They wanted their Messiah to meet their needs, advance their agenda, elevate their status. In other words, they wanted God to serve them.

Now, I want to be very clear about this: their decision did not make them Christ-killers. Pilate and his soldiers crucified Jesus, not Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, though Caiaphas forced Pilate’s hand. The authorities did not represent the Jewish people, then or now. The Jewish people are no more responsible for Caiaphas’ actions than you and I are responsible for the Crusades against the Muslim people. Anti-Semitism is always a sin against God and all of humanity.

The Jewish authorities simply did with Christ what many still do today. We want God to serve our needs, to be a means to our end. We come to church, read the Bible and pray so that God will guide and bless us. And God does want to meet our needs and guide our lives. But if we think he let us down, if he doesn’t protect us from harm or answer our prayers the way we ask them, with Caiaphas we feel justified in rejecting him. And many do.

C. S. Lewis asserted, “The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God is in the Dock” (God in the Dock 244).

Jesus reversed the situation. Rather than asking God to serve him, he chose to serve God. He chose to be the suffering Servant who would be rejected by Caiaphas and crucified by Pilate. Who would die so we could live. Who would “bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, [and] proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isaiah 61:1-2).

Here’s the surprise: Jesus found far greater joy in serving God than Caiaphas found in seeking a God who would serve him. The book of Hebrews describes Jesus’ crucifixion in this odd, surprising way: “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

There is greater joy in submitting our lives to God’s purpose than there is asking God to fulfill ours. There is greater satisfaction in spending our lives and gifts to accomplish his ministry purpose than we will ever find in asking God to serve us. Caiaphas wanted a God who would serve him. Jesus chose to serve God. Which of the two would you rather be? Which of the two roads would you choose to walk?


How long has it been since you submitted your plans and your future to God as your King? How long has it been since you have experienced true satisfaction and joy in your life and faith? It’s the same question. He is God and we are not. The holy Lord of the universe will not be our servant. He will not stand in our dock. But he will reward his servants with fulfillment and joy we can find nowhere else. The choice is ours.

A wealthy man died without a will, so his estate went to auction. At the end of the day the auctioneer raised a framed photograph, a picture of the family’s only child, a son who had died years earlier in a drowning accident. No one bid on it.

When the auction was over, a maid who had worked at the estate for many years and loved that son asked if she might buy his picture for a dollar, all she had with her at the time. The auctioneer made the deal. She took the picture home, set it beside her bed, and noticed for the first time a bulge in the back. She opened the picture to discover the wealthy man’s single-sentence will: “I give my entire estate to the person who loves my son enough to value his picture.”

Do you love God’s Son?

Are You Pilate? The Trials of the Christ

Topical Scripture: Matthew 27:11–14

Fishermen recently caught a sixteen-foot, 3,000 pound great white shark off the coast of South Carolina. Or, I should say, the shark caught them.

The owner of the fishing charter told reporters, “A 3,000 pound animal is massive. People don’t realize just one wag of the tail can pool a 26-foot boat at that kind of clip. After we started fighting this thing we kind of realized that it was just too much.”

So he called for backup. Other fishermen arrived to help. They were finally able to get the shark to the side of the boat, tag her, and send her on her way.

Sin works the same way. We think we can control it, but it ends up controlling us. It always takes us further than we wanted to go, keeps us longer than we wanted to stay, and costs us more than we wanted to pay.

What is the secret or shame which lives in your past, the guilt that haunts your thoughts, the skeletons in your soul this morning?

Resurrection Sunday is in five Sundays. As we journey to the cross and empty tomb, each week we will explore a different character in the drama of the ages. Along the way, we’ll ask what we can learn from their story. And we’ll find ways to share the Easter story with our culture today.

We begin with the legal proceedings that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. It’s a fascinating story, one most Christians don’t really know. We’ll ask this morning why these authorities condemned Jesus to die. And we’ll learn what to do when our sins condemn us in the same way.

Condemned by Caiaphas

Our Lord’s legal trials began before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court. It was made of seventy-one members from the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and elders of the people, its sessions led by the High Priest. A quorum for a trial such as this was twenty-three.

Like nearly all legal courtrooms, the Sanhedrin operated by strict legal standards:

  • No criminal cases could be tried during the Passover season.
  • All criminal cases must be conducted during daytime and completed during daytime.
  • Only if the verdict was “not guilty” could the case be finished during the day in which it began. Otherwise a night must intervene before sentencing, so feelings of mercy could arise within the judges.
  • No decision was valid unless the Sanhedrin met in its designated meeting place, the Hall of Hewn Stone in the temple precincts.
  • All evidence must be guaranteed by two independent witnesses who were interviewed separately and showed no evidence of contact with each other. False witness was punishable by death.
  • The accused could not be made to testify against himself. He had the same rights against self-incrimination as our Fifth Amendment provides today. And he was permitted to bring all evidence of his innocence before the court before any evidence of guilt could be heard.

Now Jesus of Nazareth came before the court. And the Sanhedrin violated each of its regulations in condemning him to die. This was the Passover season; the trial took place at night; the court met in the home of the High Priest, not at its designated Hall; witnesses were all demonstrated to be false; Jesus was permitted no opportunity to speak in his own defense. The guilt was all on the court, none on the accused.

Finally, in desperation, Caiaphas pled with Jesus to incriminate himself: “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63). Jesus answered the High Priest’s question: “Yes, it is as you say” (v. 64). He then quoted Daniel 7:13, clearly claiming to be the Messiah and the Son of God.

He knew the court would consider his claim to be blasphemy. And he knew the penalty for such: “Anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord must be put to death” (Leviticus 24:16). Unless it isn’t blasphemy. Unless the person truly is the Son of God.

Violating its regulations, the court moved immediately to the sentence of death, and began to carry it out that same night with their own physical abuse against Jesus. Now, who was guilty in the Jewish trial—Jesus or Caiaphas?

Tried by Pilate

The Jews were not permitted by Rome to inflict the death penalty. The ius gladii, the “right of the sword,” could be pronounced only by the Roman governor, and carried out only by the Roman authorities. So, they took their convict to Pilate.

They knew that the Roman governor would give no attention to their theological charge of blasphemy. So, before Pilate they changed their charges completely, claiming that Jesus had incited rebellion against Rome, taught the people not to pay their taxes to Rome; and claimed to be a King (Luke 23:2). These were accusations which their own court had not heard or proven, showing further the illegality of their actions.

Why did Pilate consider their false charges? The gospel writers and their readers all knew the story, in the same way Watergate is familiar to us. But you may not know what they knew. Here’s the sordid tale.

Pilate was by title the “procurator” of the province of Israel; we would call him the governor. He became procurator in AD 26, and held the office until AD 35, when he was recalled by the Emperor.

From the start, Pilate was contemptuous of the Jews and their traditions. His initial visit to Jerusalem set the stage for all that would follow. The Roman capital of the region was at Caesarea. When Pilate marched into Jerusalem with his detachment of soldiers, he ordered them to carry military standards—long poles on top of which were affixed small statues of the Roman emperor.

Now the Jews considered such to be idolatry. And so, each governor before Pilate understood their religious objections and deferred to them; but Pilate refused. The people revolted. Pilate threatened to kill them. They bared their necks to the Roman swords. Not even Pilate could order such a massacre. He was beaten, and ordered the standards withdrawn. Such was his beginning as governor of the Jews.

Later he stole money from the Temple treasury to improve the water supply in Jerusalem. Again, the people rioted. His soldiers killed many of them. His rule was endangered.

The third incident was worst of all. On one visit to Jerusalem, Pilate had shields made on which were inscribed the name of Tiberius the Emperor. The people rebelled; Pilate’s own advisors counseled him to remove the names from the shields; but Pilate refused. The Jews reported the matter to Emperor Tiberius, and he ordered Pilate to remove his name from his shields.

So now Pilate was on record in Rome as an incompetent administrator. One more protest from the Jewish authorities could well mean his removal or even worse. His job and future were on the line here, and everyone knew it. When Jesus stood before him, who was the guilty party?

Condemned by Pilate

When Jesus was brought before the Roman governor, Pilate examined him privately (John 18:33). At the conclusion of his investigation he announced: “I find no basis for a charge against him” (v. 38). No basis whatsoever for any kind of charge. This is a full and complete exoneration, beyond which there should have been no further process. When the governor pardons you, you cannot be accused of that crime again.

Three more times Pilate would render the same ruling: “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him” (John 19:4); “As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him” (19:6b); “From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free” (19:12). John saw it all happen, and gives proof that Jesus was innocent of all charges.

But the Jewish authorities were equally adamant that this man must be convicted and crucified. How will Pilate pacify them and keep his job? And how will he at the same time be just to this innocent man?

He tried several strategies.

First, he attempted to evade the entire matter, telling the Jews to judge him themselves and then sending him to Herod. But both refused.

Next, he tried to use the custom of releasing a prisoner to the people during the Passover. But the authorities incited the crowd to ask for Barabbas instead of Jesus.

Now he attempted compromise. He had Jesus scourged, a horrific act of torture. Now surely the Jewish authorities would consider the man punished sufficiently and would allow Pilate to set him free. But no: they shouted all the more, “Crucify! Crucify!” (John 19:6).

Once more he appealed to them: “From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free” (v. 12a). Then the authorities played their trump card: “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar” (v. 12b).

Here was their threat: if you release this man, you have released a rebel, a threat to the Empire. This was the most egregious failure Pilate could be accused of committing. He would instantly be recalled by Rome and could face his own execution as a traitor. It came to Jesus or Pilate. And we know who he chose.

So, who was guilty in the Roman trial—Jesus or Pilate?


Why did the authorities execute Jesus? If he was guilty as charged, his death could pay no one’s debt but his own. So, remember the illegality of the Jewish trials. Remember Pilate’s four proclamations of his innocence. Here’s the one point of this morning’s message: Jesus died not because he was guilty, but because we are.

Some years ago, I was speaking in Huntsville, Texas, where I met Warden Joe Fernall, a brilliant and godly man. He showed me the prison, and its execution chamber. I stood where prisoners are strapped to the gurney and lethal injections end their lives. I’ll never forget that blue-green brick walled little room where those convicted of capital offenses pay for their crimes.

In the execution room of first-century Jerusalem, Jesus of Nazareth died. Not to pay for his crimes, but for ours. Not because he was guilty, but because we are.

Before his death he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Because his death paid the debt for the crimes we have committed against God, his Father could. And he still does.

Now, think back to that secret sin which won’t release your heart, that shame which won’t let go. Don’t try to pay for it yourself, by punishing yourself with guilt. Instead, confess it to your Father. Claim the forgiveness for which his Son prayed. The next time your guilt attacks you again, claim that forgiveness again. And again, and again, until it lets you go.

And it will.

Are You Simon? The Cross of the Christ

Topical Scripture: Matthew 27:45–54; Mark 15:21

Whom do you trust? Ninety-three percent of Americans say that they and nobody else determine what is and isn’t right in their lives. Eighty-four percent say they would violate the established rules of their religion if they thought those rules were wrong. Apparently, we trust ourselves. However, 91 percent of Americans say they lie regularly. One in five say they can’t make it through a single day without lying.

Who do you trust? You have to trust somebody with your future, your family, your finances, your relationships and dreams and plans. Who will it be?

You expect me to suggest God. But I can’t prove he even exists, or what he’s like. I point to beauty in creation, and you can point to diseases and disasters. I point to good in people, and you can point to scandals and wars. I point to the good churches do, and you can point to church fights.

Who do you trust?

Who was Simon of Cyrene?

The New Testament records that “A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross” (Mark 15:21).

This Simon was from Cyrene (Tripoli, Libya today) in northern Africa. No doubt he had traveled from that far off land for Passover, saving for years to come. This would be the highlight of his year, perhaps his life. He brought his sons with him for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Then he was pressed into Roman service. Palestine was an occupied country, so that any Roman soldier could tap a man on the shoulder with the flat of his sword or spear and make him do whatever the soldier wanted. What was it that Rome asked of this unwilling participant?

Well, a man had been condemned to die by crucifixion. The convict was placed in a hollow square of four soldiers. In front marched the soldier with the board stating the man’s crime. They took the longest possible way, so that as many as possible would see and take warning. Then the man was crucified on the crossbeam he had carried to his execution.

But this man could carry the cross no further. The convict began the procession carrying it himself (John 19:17) but had now collapsed under its weight. Why?

He had been arrested the night before, dragged in chains before the Jewish Supreme Court, made to stand trial all night, condemned, and beaten by the Jewish guards. He was then dragged in the morning before Pilate, then to Herod, then back to Pilate. Finally, the Roman governor “had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified” (Mark 15:15).

His flogging must have been especially severe since he could not carry the crossbeam to Calvary and would die in only six hours on the cross.

So, Simon was forced into his place. He saw firsthand what this man had suffered. How did what he saw affect him? We’ll return to his story in a moment.

How did Jesus die?

Jesus’ death is a matter of historical record. Even without the New Testament, we know that he lived and was executed. Thallus the Samaritan, Mara bar Serapion, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger tell the story fully: he was arrested, crucified by Pontius Pilate, and worshiped as the risen Lord by his first followers.

Research has revealed much about the manner of his death.

Victims were typically nailed to the cross through their wrists, as nails through the hands could not support the weight of the victim. For instance, in 1968, archaeologists discovered the remains of one Johanan, a victim of Roman crucifixion during the Jewish uprisings of AD 70. A nail seven inches long was still embedded in his heel bones. Nails had also been driven between the radius and ulna bones in his wrist; the radius was worn smooth by the victim’s pulling himself up to breathe.

If the Romans wanted the person to suffer longer, they could tie the arms to the crossbeam with ropes. They would then nail the hands to the cross, as the ropes would support the body’s weight. Since Jesus was being crucified before Passover, it is likely that the soldiers drove the spikes through his wrists to hasten his death.

Simon carried the cross on which this man died. He likely watched what happened on it. How did what he saw affect him? Again, we’ll return to his story momentarily.

Why did Jesus die?

Why did it happen? Why did Jesus die on the cross? Here’s what God says:

He died to pay the penalty for the sins of humanity: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

God warned Adam and Eve that sin leads to death. The Bible is clear: the soul that sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4). James teaches that “sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:15). Sin leads to death, from the Garden of Eden to today. So, someone had to die as a result of our sin. Someone had to pay the penalty.

He died to substitute for us: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree'”(Galatians 3:13).

And so he died to make possible our salvation: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). The Message translates Hebrews 10:14: “It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people.”


Now, what became of Simon of Cyrene, the man who saw it all happen? The man who witnessed Jesus’ scourged and flogged body more closely than any who ever lived? The man who watched his horrific crucifixion firsthand? The man who saw what this One suffered? How does it all connect? And what difference does any of this make?

Mark names him “the father of Alexander and Rufus.” He tells us nothing more about them, indicating that his readers were so familiar with their stories that their names alone were sufficient to identify them. If I were to identify “Rodney” or “Stephen,” you would know them by that name alone though the rest of the world (regrettably) would not.

Now the plot thickens. Mark’s gospel was written first for the church at Rome. In Paul’s letter to the same congregation in Rome he asks, “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too” (Romans 16:13). Early tradition held that this was Simon’s son, a man who went on to be of remarkable significance to the church. And that Simon’s wife became Paul’s “mother,” giving him personal assistance and support in his ministry.

Acts 13:1 later lists prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch, among them “Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene.” Simeon is another spelling of Simon; “Niger” means a man of swarthy skin from Africa. Early tradition identified this man as Simon of Cyrene, here with Lucius (also from Cyrene), one of the leaders of the most significant missionary church in Christian world.

So, what happened to the man who carried the cross of Jesus? It would appear that he chose to bear it the rest of his life. He found someone he could trust with his boys, his wife, his future and his eternity. He learned this simple fact: you can trust the One who died for you. You can trust his will for your plans, your possessions, your dreams. You can trust him with your life. And with your eternal life.

Jim Elliott, the missionary martyred by the people he went to serve, wrote in his journal these famous words: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Do you agree?

I Am the Resurrection and the Life

Topical Scripture: John 11:21-26

Two deaths during the month of April dominated the news here and abroad. One lived a full life devoted to public service; the other never had a chance to live. Both had families who loved them. When former first lady Barbara Bush died at the age of 92 a few weeks ago, she told one of her sons, “I believe in Jesus and he is my savior. I don’t want to leave your dad but I know I’ll be in a beautiful place.”

When Alfie Evans died in Great Britain after life support was withdrawn upon court order, his father said, “My gladiator laid down his shield and gained his wings….” His 23-month-old son had been the subject of a legal battle by his parents to keep the child alive for further treatments.

When Mark Twain buried his beloved daughter Olivia’s body, he placed over her grave this epitaph: “Warm summer sun, shine kindly here; Warm southern wind, blow softly here; Green sod, lie light, good night, dear heart.” He was sure that she was in the grave, that death is all there is.

Was he right?

What happens when we die? When death comes to someone we care about? In our series on faith issues from the seven “I Am” statements of Jesus, we can consider no more relevant or emotional questions than these.

Why do we die?

W.C. Fields on his deathbed was seen thumbing through a Bible. Someone asked why. His answer: “Looking for loopholes.” But he didn’t find any. The death rate is still 100 percent. If Lazarus, Jesus’ best friend, was not kept from dying, neither will we.

In fact, you and I are one day closer to death and eternity than we have ever been before.

God’s word warns us: “It is appointed unto all men once to die, and then the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Death comes for us all.

Neither wisdom nor wealth can prevent it: “All can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others” (Psalm 49:10). We all face the same end, unless Jesus returns first: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

On a tombstone in Sevenoaks, Kent, England, are found these words:

“Grim death took me without any warning

I was well at night, and dead in the morning.”

It can happen that way for any of us.

But why? Why does death exist? If God were all-loving, he’d want to destroy death, we assume. If he were all powerful, he could. But he doesn’t. Why did he allow someone you loved to die, or the Holocaust, or 9/11?

Here’s the simple answer: because of sin.

The Bible teaches, “Sin entered the world through man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). The thief on the cross said, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve” (Luke 23:41).

This wasn’t God’s intention. He created a perfect world for his children. But when sin entered, death stayed. Death exists, not because God doesn’t love us or isn’t powerful, but because of sin.

Sometimes we die because of our own sin, as did the thief at Jesus’ side. Sometimes we die because of the sins of others, as when a drunk driver kills a child, or a terrorist flies an airplane into a skyscraper. Sometimes we die because of the sin of humanity, as a result of the diseases and disasters which plague this fallen planet. But we all die because of the existence of sin.

However, Jesus died so our sins could be forgiven. Why, then, do we still die?

God’s word is clear: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50). Physical death frees us to live forever in glorified bodies with God in his heaven.

Then one day, death will be destroyed forever: “Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of five” (Revelation 20:14). His word promises: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

What happens when we die?

So, what happens in the moment when you die?

You are with Christ, if Jesus is your Lord.

Jesus told the thief at his side, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus taught us that the moment we die, the angels carry us to God’s side (Luke 16:22). When you close your eyes here you open them there. You will never die (John 11:26; Philippians 1:23). You are forever and always with Jesus.

You’re home.

Paul said, “We would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Most of us have had surgery of some kind. You are in one room, then you fall asleep; when you awake, you’re done. It’s that way for us all.

You’re in glory.

Heaven is paradise, as Jesus said. Paul said, “to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21), for “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13). We will gain imperishable, glorified, spiritual bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-44), and be like Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:49). We will know God and each other as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12). And we will eat of the tree of life and live forever (Revelation 22).

Dwight Moody on his deathbed said, “If this is death, it is sweet. There is no valley here. Dwight! Irene! I see the children’s faces. God is calling me. I must go. Earth recedes. Heaven opens before me.”

If Jesus is your Lord, when you die you won’t. Instead, you’ll see God. And you’ll be safely home.

Three reasons your resurrection is relevant today

When Martha began her conversation with Jesus, she was full of grief but also faith. She clearly believed that Jesus could have saved her brother had he arrived sooner, and she held onto hope that he could still bring healing to their crisis (John 11:22). However, her response when he spoke of resurrection, and even more her objections when he began raising Lazarus (v. 39), showed that her optimism was limited to the next life.

Before Jesus, resurrection was little more than a theological hope. The Sadducees denied it even existed, while the Pharisees incorporated it into their understanding of the afterlife. Jesus, however, made it relevant here and now. He made it something more than a hope—he made it a reality.

What difference does the reality of your resurrection make in your life today?

One: The security of eternity in Christ gives us courage in the present.

If you were told that you have ten years to live, but that you are guaranteed not to die until then, would you be more or less afraid of tomorrow? As Christians, this is how we should approach every day.

The worst that can happen to us leads to the best that can happen to us. We can say every day with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Where do you need courage to serve Jesus today?

Two: The security of eternity in Christ gives us hope for those who have died.

Most of us have loved someone who died. My father died in 1979, my mother in 2008. A personal friend died recently at the age of twenty-nine. But the fact of our resurrection means that we “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13 NIV).

Our faith in the midst of our loss is a powerful witness to an unbelieving world. And it sustains us in the darkest nights of grief.

We can say with David, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). Notice that David did not say we walk “into” the valley, but “through” it to the other side.

Three: The security of eternity in Christ gives us motivation to share our faith.

Jesus is the only resurrection and life. He is the only way to life beyond death. Giving the gospel to others is not imposing our values on them—it is sharing the greatest gift there is.

If you had a cure for all cancer, sharing it with the world would be an obvious imperative. In Christ, you have a cure for eternal death. Sharing it is a privilege.


Because Jesus is the resurrection and the life, when we die, we don’t. When we breathe our last breath here, we breathe our first breath in paradise. When we close our eyes on earth, we open them in God’s presence.

Jesus was emphatic: “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:26). Are you ready for that day?

There’s an old legend about a Baghdad merchant who sent his servant to the market to buy food. After a few minutes the servant ran back, pale and trembling. He stammered, “Down in the marketplace I was pushed by a man in the crowd. I turned around and saw the man was Death. He raised his arm to strike me. Please, Master, lend me your fastest horse so I can get away. I will ride to Samarra, where I can hide. Death will not find me there.”

The merchant lent his fastest horse to the servant, who rode away swiftly. He then went down to the marketplace himself, where he also saw Death standing in the crowd.

“Why did you frighten my servant this morning?” he asked. “Why did you scare him like that?” Death replied, “I was not trying to scare him. I was simply surprised. I was astonished to see him here in Baghdad. You see, I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

Let’s make sure we’re ready for ours.

The Church Is Not a Building

Topical Scripture: Matthew 28:1–10

The world watched last week as the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned. Two-thirds of the structure was destroyed, though the iconic twin towers were saved. Priceless artifacts were rescued as well. More than $1 billion has been contributed so far to the rebuilding effort.

I have been to similar structures around the world. The Westminster Cathedral in London, the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem—each is an awe-inspiring experience.

But here’s the good news: each and every one of them could be destroyed and the church would still be the church. Every church building on the planet—including our beautiful chapel—could burn down and the church would remain.

That’s because the church is not a church. And a church is not a building.

It took three centuries for the church to gain the legal status to own buildings. That’s why the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, began in AD 327, is the world’s oldest church structure. If you had asked an early Christian, “Where is the church?” she would not have known how to answer your question. It would be like asking, “Where is the Republican Party?” or “Where is the pro-life movement?”

The church is not a building but a movement—not an institution but an army that marches on its knees to bring the kingdom to the world.

And it’s why the church did not begin in a cathedral but in a tomb—an empty tomb.

Today we celebrate the fact that Jesus is risen indeed. When we’re done with our study of God’s word, I believe you’ll see why that news is the best news the world has ever heard. And why it’s the news your soul needs today.

Come to the tomb

Let’s walk through our text verse by verse.

The narrative begins: “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” (v. 1). The “other Mary” was the mother of one of Jesus’ followers. On Good Friday they had watched as Jesus was buried and thus knew its location.

“And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and rolled back the stone and sat on it” (v. 2). This was a “mega” earthquake caused by the angel as he rolled back the massive stone that had been used by Pontius Pilate to seal the tomb. Then he “sat on it,” demonstrating his power over Rome’s power and authority.

“His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men” (vv. 3–4). These were battle-hardened guards who faced execution if they allowed the tomb to be unsealed. They clearly had never faced power like this. The ones assigned to guard a dead man appear to be dead while he is alive.

“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'” (vv. 5–6). Jesus had already risen from the grave. The angel did not roll aside the stone so he could leave the tomb, but so we could go in. So we could “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 into Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you” (v. 7). He is not only risen from the dead—he is still present with the living.

“So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples” (v. 8). Obedience is always the proper response to revelation. “And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him” (v. 9). Revelation leads to obedience, which leads to an encounter with Jesus, which leads to worship.

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (v. 10). His resurrection was for them and Jesus’ brothers and disciples, and through them, for the world.

So, here’s what we know: on Easter Sunday, Jesus tomb was empty, with no natural explanation. The grave was left clutching the clothes which had enshrouded his dead corpse, because he is alive.

The disciples did not overpower the battle-hardened guards, steal the body, then die for a lie. The women did not commit such a crime, either. They didn’t go to the wrong tomb—the Roman authorities would have pointed out the right tomb. The authorities didn’t steal the body, or they would have produced it as soon as Christians began preaching the resurrection.

His resurrection was not a hallucination—five hundred people saw him, and five hundred people do not have the same hallucination. Jesus didn’t fake his death, survive three days in a mummified, airtight shroud, shove aside the massive stone, overpower the Roman guards, appear through locked doors, then do the greatest high jump at the ascension.

There is literally no explanation for the empty grave except that he is risen indeed.

Why did he rise from the grave?

Here’s our question today: why? Why did Jesus have to rise from the dead?

Before he died on the cross, he told the thief at his right side, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). As he died, he told his Father, “Into your hands I commit my spirit!” (v. 46).

He came to die for our sins and accomplished that purpose when he died. In the moment of his death, he was in paradise with his Father. While his friends buried his corpse in Joseph’s tomb, he was in the presence of the King of glory.

Why, then, did he come back to earthly life? What happened at the empty tomb?

Jesus proved that he is God. We can visit the graves of Muhammad, Confucius, and other religious leaders around the world and find them occupied. When we visit the grave of Jesus, it is empty.

He proved that his word is true. If he is divine, his word is divinely inspired.

And he proved that because he won, we win.

At the empty tomb, Satan lost. John’s Gospel tells us that the devil inspired Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus (John 13:27). At the cross, he and his minions must have been rejoicing. They were certain that they had executed the Son of God and quashed his movement on earth. But on Easter Sunday, at the empty tomb, they lost and Jesus won.

The religious authorities lost. They were certain at the cross that they had arranged for the death of this would-be Messiah and stopped his movement that threatened their authority and prestige. But on Easter Sunday, at the empty tomb, they lost and Jesus won.

Rome lost. Pilate was certain that Jesus’ crucifixion would end his life and threat to Rome’s power and authority. But on Easter Sunday, at the empty tomb, the mightiest power the world had ever seen lost and Jesus won.

Because Jesus won, we win.


I was a missionary in East Malaysia on the island of Borneo while in college. In one of the churches, I watched a teenage girl being baptized. I noticed a set of threadbare luggage against the wall and asked my interpreter whose it was. He pointed to the girl and explained that her father told her if she was ever baptized as a Christian, she could never return home. So she brought her luggage.

In Singapore, I met a young boy whose father beat him whenever he came to church. The missionaries asked him why he stayed at home and he explained, “If I leave home, my father won’t hear about Jesus.”

I have been working for two decades with a pastor in Cuba who turned down the chance to be the starting third baseman on their national baseball team to become a Baptist pastor in a tiny town. That’s going from rock star status in Cuba to one of the most persecuted, despised jobs in the country. Last year, through its national ministries, his church shared the gospel with more than sixty-eight thousand people.

A dear friend of mine named Abraham Sarker came to America from Bangladesh as a Muslim, seeking to convert Americans to Islam. Through a dramatic conversion experience, he became a Christian. He risked prison and worse to return to Bangladesh, where he won his family to Christ and established a ministry. Last year, it led more than ten thousand Muslims to Christ.

What made the difference in each of their stories? An empty tomb.

If the empty tomb can defeat Satan and the greatest authorities of their day, it can defeat Satan and the greatest threats we face today. Bring your temptations to the empty tomb and find there the power to defeat Satan. Bring your challenges and find power. Bring your grief and find life. Bring your fears and find faith.

Let’s go to the empty tomb together. There we will find that Jesus “is risen indeed.”

This is the promise and the invitation of God.

The Harder it is to Worship Jesus, The More We Need to Worship Jesus

Topical Scripture: Mark 14:1–9

Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue is one of the most iconic images in the world. Dedicated in 1931, the statue together with its pedestal stands 125 feet tall and weighs 635 metric tons. It has been listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

The statue has survived two world wars and the worst of what the elements could muster. It saw nearly two million visitors last year. But the coronavirus pandemic forced authorities to close it to the public.

So Rio de Janeiro’s archbishop held a religious ceremony at the base of the statue in support of those affected by the pandemic, then the hashtag “Praying Together” was shone on it in multiple languages. And the statue is still visible across the region, a clear reminder that while its park may be closed, the one it honors is not.

Jesus promised us, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Right now, he is “at the right hand of God,” where he is praying for us (Romans 8:34).

The problem is, problems have a way of turning us from God when we need him most. My father was a Sunday school teacher before he fought in World War II, where he witnessed horrific atrocities. He did not attend church again, unable to reconcile his suffering with his faith.

Dad was not the first or the last. For many people, hard times in the world are hard times for their faith.

The truth is, however, the sicker we become, the more we need a doctor. The harder it is to pray, the more we need to pray. The harder it is to trust Jesus, the more we need to trust Jesus.

What makes it hard for you to worship Jesus today? What question, struggle, guilt, grief, or pain is living in your soul? What do you need to get past to come closer to your Lord?

In our spring series, as we watch Jesus change lives on the way to the cross, we meet today a woman who worshiped our Lord at great personal cost. From her we will learn three transformative life principles. Then we’ll decide whether to make her story our own.

Worship Jesus, whatever the cost (vv. 1–5)

Our text begins: “It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread” (v. 1a). As Passover began on Thursday evening, the event recorded in our text took place on Tuesday evening of Holy Week. Jesus had spent the day teaching in the temple, where he defeated the Pharisees and Sadducees in their attempts to discredit him (Matthew 21:23–22:46). He then exposed the hypocrisy of the religious leaders (Matthew 23).

As a result, “the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him” (v. 1b). This was because of his popularity: “for they said, ‘Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people'” (v. 2).

Our text continues: “And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table . . .” (v. 3). Bethany was situated on the southeast slope of the Mount of Olives, two miles from Jerusalem. It was the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus and became Jesus’ home when he came to the Holy City (cf. John 11:1). He stayed in this town from Sunday evening through Wednesday evening of Holy Week.

“Reclining at table” describes the typical posture by which a meal was eaten in Jesus’ day. The “table” was a low platform, eighteen inches from the ground. The people would lean on their left elbow while eating with their right hand with their bodies stretched on the ground away from the table.

While Jesus and the other guests were eating, “a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly” (v. 3). John identifies her as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (John 12:3). Her devotion to Jesus was already well-known, as when she sat at Jesus’ feet while Martha cooked the meal (Luke 10:38–42).

On this occasion, she came to Jesus with “an alabaster jar,” a flask with a long neck and no handles. The top was sealed to preserve its contents. In this case, the contents were “pure nard,” a perfume made out of oil taken from roots found in India and imported to the Middle East.

The origin and cost of transportation made this perfume “very costly,” as Mark notes. Such an expensive possession may have been a family heirloom or part of Mary’s dowry. She likely had kept it for many years, only now choosing to use it.

The text tells us that she “broke the flask and poured it over his head” (v. 3). The fact that she “broke” the jar (syntripsasa, shattered, crushed, broke into pieces) rather than removing the top shows the depth of her commitment. She clearly did not intend to keep any of the perfume for herself, using it all to anoint Jesus. She shattered the jar, so that it could not be repaired to be used again.

When Mary made her great sacrifice, “There were some who said to themselves indignantly, ‘Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.’ And they scolded her” (vv. 4–5).

A typical worker received one denarius per day, so “three hundred denarii” was roughly a year’s worth of wages. Their statement lends credence to the theory that Mary’s perfume was a family heirloom.

Mary made her gift of worship at great personal cost, both in financial and in social terms. She received the ridicule of those present for offering a gift of extravagance that is hard for us to comprehend.

There are times when worshiping Jesus comes at a price today as well. I’ve met Christians in Cuba who paid for their faith by being assigned the worst jobs by the government. Their children are sent to the worst schools and given the worst military assignments. Some have been jailed or worse.

I’ve met Christians in China who must worship in secret lest the government censure and censor their messages and their faith. I’ve met Muslim converts to Jesus who risk their lives to follow their Lord.

What price will you pay to follow Jesus? Will you risk the rejection of others by sharing your faith with them? Will you give Jesus the sacrifice of your time, your talents, your resources?

C. S. Lewis was asked how much we should give for benevolent purposes. His answer: “More than we can spare.” When last did it cost you something significant to follow your Lord?

Worship Jesus, whether you understand him or not (vv. 6–8)

Now our text moves closer to our circumstances today.

Jesus’ response was swift: “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial” (vv. 6–8).

Jesus’ statement in no way minimizes his commitment to the poor. Scripture consistently calls us to care for the impoverished (cf. Deuteronomy 10:18; 15:7–8; Psalm 9:9; 72:12; Proverbs 22:22–23). Caring for the poor is an essential element of Christian ministry (cf. James 2:15–17; 1 John 3:17–18).

Rather, his point was that Mary made a sacrifice that was especially significant on this Tuesday evening: “She has anointed my body beforehand for burial” (v. 8). Anointing a body with spices and perfumes for burial was customary in Jesus’ day (cf. Luke 24:1). He had been predicting his death and resurrection, but his disciples still did not understand his warning. Mary’s action was a foreshadowing of the sacrifice our Lord would soon make for us all.

So, here she is on this Tuesday evening. Jesus has been disputing with the religious authorities all day. He has been telling his disciples that he would soon be betrayed and executed. Mary could not pick a less logical time to identify publicly with him or make an extravagant offering to him. But she gave him her sacrificial gift out of love, not logic.

There is so much about the pandemic that we do not understand. I cannot explain why our sovereign Lord has allowed this crisis. I don’t know why he heals some and not others. But I do know this: he knows what I do not. As his word states, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8–9).

Even Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). When his disciples met the risen Lord “they worshiped him, but some doubted” (Matthew 28:17).

If we must understand God fully to worship him, we’ll never worship him. Much about the Christian faith cannot be understood before it is experienced. It’s like marriage or parenting—you can study it, but you cannot understand it until you experience it.

Therefore, the harder it is to worship Jesus, the more we need to worship Jesus.

Worship Jesus, knowing your present obedience will bear eternal significance (v. 9)

Our text concludes with Jesus’ statement: “Truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:9). Mary’s action pointed to the “gospel,” the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. As that message was told, her sacrifice would be included. Jesus’ prediction came true in the Gospels of Mark and John, as they preserved Mary’s story for all time.

Note that from the beginning, Jesus intended his gospel to be preached “in the whole world.” Christianity has always been a global movement (Matthew 28:19), inclusive of both Jews and Greeks (Galatians 3:26–29).

If you will honor Jesus publicly with your sacrificial service, he will use your obedience to advance his kingdom in ways you cannot imagine. This is because you cannot measure the eternal significance of present faithfulness.


In these hard days, our Lord is calling us to follow Mary’s example by worship, serving, and trusting Jesus whatever the cost, whether we understand him or not, knowing that our present obedience will bear eternal significance.

Several years ago, I had an experience that brings our text home for me.

Louie Giglio is known internationally for his ministry to young adults. In 2003, he was holding a rally in the Dallas area that mobilized more than twenty-five thousand college students for the gospel.

The day before, horrific thunderstorms attacked the farm where the event was staged. The students’ tents were blown away; many had to sleep in their cars or on gym floors; electricity failed; the field was a mud pit.

Louie began the rally the next day by recounting in detail all the students had endured. I thought he was going to thank them for their perseverance and suffering. Instead, he pointed his finger at the huge crowd and said, “And our God is worth all of that.”

When last did it cost you something significant to serve Jesus? What price will you pay to glorify your Lord this week?

Why Did Jesus Have to Die on the Cross?

Topical Scripture: Acts 10:38–41

Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks told a capacity crowd at the American Airlines Center last Wednesday night that he is retiring the NBA.

Nowitzki was undoubtedly one of the greatest players in NBA history: a league champion and Finals MVP, league MVP, fourteen-time all-star, and the sixth-leading scorer of all time. He played twenty-one years with the same franchise, which is a record as well.

But the adulation he has received in Dallas and across basketball is about much more than what he did on the court.

While Dirk’s salary was lucrative, he took pay cuts so his team could try to sign other players. He cared about the locker room attendants wherever the Mavericks played. His many unpublicized hospital trips to visit children (who called him “Uncle Dirk”) were just part of his commitment to his community.

At his last home game, five of his basketball heroes came to Dallas to pay him homage. The standing-room-only crowd showered him with ovation after ovation. Owner Mark Cuban promised him a job for life and a huge statue in front of the arena.

For all he has meant to basketball and to our community, we hope he will never wonder if the community loves him in return.

Today is Palm Sunday. We’re one week from Easter. Each week we’ve been asking the “whys” of this season. Why was Jesus born as a baby rather than merely coming to earth as an adult? Why did he have to die for us? Next week we’ll ask, why did he have to be raised from the dead?

Our question today is: Why did Jesus have to die on the cross? Of all the ways he could have died for our sins, why the cruelest, most horrible form of torture ever devised?

When we understand the answer, no matter who we are and what we’ve done, we’ll never again need to wonder if God loves us.

Why did Jesus have to die?

Let’s begin by remembering why he had to die at all.

Last week, we learned that because God is holy and heaven is perfect, the debt of our sins must be paid before we can enter his paradise. Since sin removes us from God, the only source of eternal life, the consequence of sin is death. Thus, someone must die to pay our debt.

But since we’re all sinners, we cannot pay each other’s debt. Only a sinless person could do that. And Jesus is the only sinless person who has ever lived (Hebrews 4:15).

Thus, he had to die to pay the debt we owed in order for us to be forgiven and given eternal life with God. As the chorus says, “He paid a debt he did not owe; I owed a debt I could not pay.”

But why did Jesus have to die in the way he did? The Jews executed by stoning, as we see with Stephen; the Romans executed their citizens by beheading, as with Paul.

Why did Jesus have to suffer the cruelest, most horrific form of death ever devised?

Jesus’ death fulfilled prophecy

The word of God predicted the manner of Jesus’ death a thousand years before it happened.

In Psalm 22, David wrote these words: “Dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet” (Psalm 22:16). Note that he made this statement five centuries before the Persians invented crucifixion.

So, Jesus died on the cross to fulfill prophecy. But why did the Spirit author this prophecy?

Why did the Father decide that his Son must die in this way? If he simply needed to die for our sins, the Lord could have predicted his death by stoning, beheading, or any number of other means. Why this?

The nature of crucifixion

Research has revealed much about the manner of Jesus’ death.

We know that he was scourged, a whipping that tore flesh from bones and caused many victims to die.

The victim was then taken to the place of crucifixion. This was intended to shame the victim as he was paraded through the streets, stripped of most of his clothes, and executed in such a public and violent way.

Victims were typically nailed to the cross through their wrists, as nails through the hands could not support the weight of the victim. For instance, in 1968, archaeologists discovered the remains of one Johanan, a victim of Roman crucifixion during the Jewish uprisings of AD 70. A nail seven inches long was still embedded in his heel bones.

If the Romans wanted the person to suffer longer, they could tie the arms to the crossbeam with ropes. They would then nail the hands to the cross, as the ropes would support the body’s weight.

Since Passover was coming, the Jews wanted Jesus to die as quickly as possible. Thus, spikes were driven through his wrists into the cross and through his heels. The body weight of the victim crushed his lungs, forcing him to pull himself up on his crucified wrists to breathe. Eventually, he lost use of his arms and had to push upon his crucified heels.

The Romans would then break the legs of the victim, who would die shortly of suffocation. But Jesus chose to die before the Romans took his life from him.

Crucifixion is so horrific that it has been outlawed in nearly every country on earth. Why did Jesus die in this way? Any death would have paid the debt for our sins. He needed to die publicly so the world would know what he did for us, but stoning or beheading could have been just as public.

If there was an easier, less horrible way to die, don’t you think he would have chosen it? Don’t you think his Father would have chosen it for him?

If you could choose between lethal injection and crucifixion for your child, which would you choose?

Why Jesus chose the cross

I can think of only one reason why the Father and the Son chose the cross: to show us their solidarity with our most horrific, indescribable pain and shame.

There is no physical pain we can feel that is worse than his. No pain from disease or disaster, war or criminal attack or accident. The worst that can happen to us is no worse than what happened to him.

There is no shame we can feel that is worse than his. We know the shame of our individual sins; he took the shame of the entire human race on himself. Then he demonstrated that fact by dying in the most shameful manner possible—paraded through the streets, stripped to all but a loincloth, and executed before his mother, his best friend, and his enemies.

None of this was necessary for Jesus to understand our pain and shame. He was and is omniscient. He did not learn something about us at Calvary that he did not know beforehand.

But we learned something about him at Calvary we did not know beforehand. We now know that the God of the universe is not a Zeus atop Mt. Olympus, impervious to our needs; he is not an Allah, removed from our sufferings; he is not an impersonal force like the Hindu Brahman; he is not simply a judge of right and wrong as some in Judaism picture him.

The Son felt the worst we can feel. His Father watched his Son suffer in such pain and shame, proving that he understands all we feel for those we love.

The bottom line: Jesus chose the cross to show us that he will help us bear our cross, whatever it is.


Name your suffering or shame. Bring it to Calvary. Know that Jesus died to pay your debt, to forgive your sin, to bear your cross. Trust your need to his grace, your pain to his love. On this Palm Sunday, know that he came to the Holy City to die for you. And that he would do it all again, just for you.

One of my favorite stories of the year is about a mother who heard a commotion in her back yard. She rushed outside to find a cougar attacking her son. She started “crying out the Lord,” she says, as she grabbed the wild animal and tried to pry its mouth open.

“Three sentences into me praying, it released and it ran away,” she said later. Her son is expected to make a full recovery.

That mother’s love, as powerful as it is, cannot compare to your Father’s love. He proved it on the cross and is ready to prove it again in this chapel.

Who or what is attacking you today?

Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

Topical Scripture: Romans 5:6–11

Kyle Froelich needed a kidney. None of his family or close friends was a match. A woman named Chelsea heard about Kyle from a mutual friend and agreed to be tested. They were a match. She donated a kidney to Kyle in 2010.

The two started dating after the transplant was complete. Kyle’s health returned, and they got married three years later.

Now they are back in the news: the kidney Chelsea donated is failing. If Kyle doesn’t get a new one within the next year, he says, he’ll be forced to go on dialysis.

More than 100,000 Americans are in need of kidneys, so the wait time for Kyle is between three and six years—time he doesn’t have. Imagine a scenario by which Chelsea donated her other kidney to him. Now he could live, but she would die.

If she did that, would Kyle ever have reason to doubt her love for him?

The “whys” of Easter

We know the “whats” and the “whos” of Easter. We’re familiar with Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday. We know about Pilate, Caiaphas, Judas, and the rest.

So we’re traveling toward Easter this year by asking the “whys.” Last week: why was Jesus born? Next week: why did he have to die on a cross? On Easter: why did he have to be raised from the dead?

Today, our question is: Why did Jesus have to die? We know he died for our sins, but why did he have to do so? Why couldn’t God simply forgive us the way we can forgive each other? The answer offers a profound message of hope and joy every one of us needs today.

Why did Jesus die?

Think of the last sin you committed. Why should a holy God be so gracious to such a sinner as you?

For this reason: “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (v. 6). “At the right time” points to the specific moment in history when Jesus came. Everything was ready for his appearance (cf. Galatians 4:4): there was a universal hunger for truth, a universal language (koine or “common” Greek) to communicate God’s answer to that hunger, a universal peace to make possible the global expansion of Christianity, and universal roads to carry the first missionaries across the known world.

But it was “at the right time” in another sense as well. Just before we died, Christ died for us. Just before it was too late, when we had no hope of forgiveness and salvation, “Christ died for the ungodly.”

All the ungodly, with no specifications or conditions. All sinners and all sins are included. You have been “died for.” Jesus went to your cross, taking your punishment, bearing your pain, paying your debt, earning your salvation.

Only rarely will someone die for a good man (v. 7), as when a Secret Service agent dies to protect the president or a soldier dies to save the soldier at his side. But we deserved no such consideration: “God shows us love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8).

“Shows” (sunistesin) means “to bring together, to marshal the evidence.” As lawyers used their evidence to prove their case, so God uses the death of his Son to prove his love for us. “While we were still sinners,” this happened. All of us have sinned and come short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). All of us deserved death (Romans 6:23). All of us have instead been granted peace with God through Christ.

We are now “justified” by his blood (v. 9a), declared righteous in his sight as a criminal whose record is wiped clean. If God has done this for us in the past, “how much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (v. 9b). The rabbis were fond of the “lesser to greater” argument: if A is true, how much more is B the case. Jesus used this teaching technique often, as with the parable of the persistent widow: if an unjust judge would grant her request, how much more will God answer our prayers (Luke 18:1-8).

In the same way, Paul reasons that if Jesus has already saved us from the sins of our past, how much more will he save us from God’s wrath in the future. Before Jesus’ atonement, we were “God’s enemies”; now that we have been reconciled with him, “much more . . . shall we be saved by his life” (v. 10, italics added). And so “we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (v. 11).

Paul’s thesis is simple: we are at peace with God and can be at peace with each other and with ourselves. Why? Because we have been given access to the Father by the Son.

Since Jesus’ death has paid for our past sins, he guarantees our future reward. Now the Spirit redeems our present sufferings by using them to produce persevering character which gives us hope that we will continue to be victorious in the days to come. We can be at peace with our past, our present, and our future.

Why did Jesus have to die?

So, we know that Jesus died to pay for our sins so that we could be made right with God. Here’s the question behind the text: Why did he have to do so? Why couldn’t God simply have declared us forgiven? Why did his Son have to die for us?

If I hit your car while leaving the parking lot after chapel, I assume you can forgive me without someone having to die in my place. I have forgiven people for things they have done to me without requiring someone to die first.

If “God is love” (1 John 4:8), why couldn’t he do the same?

Here’s the problem: God is also “holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:3). As Scripture declares, “There is none holy like the LORD” (1 Samuel 2:2). His heaven is perfect, a place where “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

For us to be granted entrance into God’s perfect presence, our sins must first be removed. The debt we owe for them must be paid.

However, the punishment for sin is death: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23); “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). This is because death separates us from the holy God who is the source of life. It’s like cutting off a flower at the roots. It may look healthy, but it is dying and will soon be dead.

The consequence of sin is death. That’s why the payment for sin must be death. That’s why sinners are separated from God for all eternity in hell, a place of living death.

And it’s why we cannot pay this debt for each other. Because I have committed sins, I cannot die for yours. It’s as if I owe the hundred dollars in my pocket to the bank; I cannot use it to pay your debt and mine.

The only person who could pay the debt of our sins would be someone who never committed sins of his own. And only one person in all of human history has lived a sinless life. Not Muhammad, or Confucius, or Buddha, or anyone else. Only Jesus.

That’s why Jesus could die on the cross for our sins. It’s why he had to die on the cross for us to be forgiven for our sins.

Visited by the Prince of Peace

What does his death for us mean for us?

First, it means that we can be forgiven and granted eternal life if we will receive the gift of salvation he offers. A gift must be opened. We must receive by faith the gift he offers by grace.

Second, it means that we should value ourselves as he values us. Our Father decided that we were worth the death of his Son. No greater valuation could be placed on us than that.

Third, it means that we should serve him in gratitude for such grace. Not so he will love us, but because he already does.

We are taking the Lord’s Supper today, a meal first shared by Jesus and his disciples in the upper room. A thousand years ago, the Crusaders constructed a space in the vicinity of the first upper room to commemorate that event. We take our group there whenever we visit Israel.

One reason the Crusaders located the structure where they did is that they found a first-century sculpture in the immediate vicinity. It depicts two baby pelicans eating from their mother’s body. The tradition in the day was that in times of extreme drought and famine, the mother would allow her babies to eat her flesh and drink her blood. This became one of the first symbols for the Lord’s Supper and Jesus’ offer of the bread and cup to symbolize his body and blood given for us.

This sculpture is displayed by the exit of the Upper Room to remind visitors of the significance of the place. As we take the Supper of our Lord today, let’s return to the cross it signifies. Let’s remember his death for us. And let’s receive and share his grace with gratitude for such love.

Where do you need his grace most today?

Why Did Jesus Rise from the Grave?

Topic Scripture: 28:1-10

Easter last fell on April Fools’ Day in 1956. We’ve waited sixty-two years to see the irony in their alignment.

On this day in 1996, Taco Bell announced it had agreed to purchase Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell and rename it the Taco Liberty Bell. The company boasted, “Taco Bell’s heritage and imagery have revolved around the symbolism of the bell. Now we’ve got the crown jewel of bells.”

In 1998, Burger King advertised a “Left-Handed Whopper” designed for the 1.4 million left-handed customers that visit their restaurants every day. Scores of customers requested the fake sandwich.

Of all the surprises on April Fools’ Day, none could be greater than the event we will celebrate today: the resurrection of a Galilean carpenter from the grave. Here’s the question we’ll ask today: why Easter?

Why Easter?

This is my thirty-fourth year to preach an Easter sermon. In all those years, I’ve never thought to ask the question: Why did Jesus have to rise from the dead?

We understand why he had to die on the cross—to pay for our sins and purchase our salvation. But why was it important that he rise physically from the grave on the third day? Why couldn’t he go to Heaven like everyone else who has eternal life?

Jesus promised the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43), but the thief didn’t have to rise physically to rise eternally. My mother went to Heaven ten years ago, but she didn’t have to rise from the grave physically to rise into God’s presence.

My first answer was: Jesus had to be resurrected because the Bible promised he would be. And that’s true: David predicted that God would not “let your holy one see corruption” (Psalm 16:10). The prophet said of the Suffering Servant, “when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days” (Isaiah 53:10).

Jesus promised repeatedly that he would be raised from the dead. For instance, he told his disciples that “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21).

But why were these promises made? The Spirit didn’t have to inspire the Old Testament writers to make them or lead Jesus to affirm them. Why did his physical resurrection matter?

What’s unique about Easter?

Here’s the answer that came to me: everything Jesus did in his public ministry was something others had done before him. Nothing he did proved that he was God.

Jesus was a great teacher, but Moses gave us the Ten Commandments and the first five books of the Bible. Jesus controlled nature, calming stormy seas and walking on water, but Moses parted the Red Sea and Joshua’s people stepped into the flooded Jordan River as it stopped miraculously.

Jesus fed the five thousand, but Moses promised the people manna from heaven and Elijah provided for the widow with oil that was miraculously sustained during a drought (1 Kings 17:8–16). Jesus healed the sick, but Elisha healed the leprous Naaman (2 Kings 5). Jesus raised Lazarus and the widow’s son from the dead, but Elijah and Elisha raised the dead as well (1 Kings 17; 2 Kings 4).

None of Jesus’ miracles by themselves proved that he was God. But his resurrection did.

When the women met the risen Christ on Easter Sunday, “they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him” (Matthew 28:9). When Doubting Thomas met the risen Christ, he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

What about Lazarus and others raised from the dead in Scripture? They all died again. They were resuscitated, not resurrected.

Jesus is the only person in history to die and then be resurrected, never to die again. His resurrection proves that he is God. If he had simply gone from the cross to heaven, we would not know that. We would not have proof that he is who he says he is: our Lord and King.

The problem of the empty tomb

You see, there’s no way around the empty tomb.

If the disciples stole the body, they then convinced five hundred eyewitnesses that a corpse was alive (1 Corinthians 15:6), somehow got it to make breakfast beside the Sea of Galilee (John 21:9–14) and appear through locked doors (John 20:19–20), then threw the corpse into heaven at the ascension (Acts 1:9). Then they died for a lie they kept so well that their secret never got out.

If the women stole the body, they faced the same problems.

If the authorities stole the body, they would have produced it. If the disciples went to the wrong tomb, the authorities and owner would have shown them the right tomb.

The “swoon theory” is my favorite: Jesus “swooned” on the cross but didn’t actually die. He then survived a spear thrust that pierced the pericardial sac around his heart and being wrapped in an air-tight mummified shroud for three days before shoving aside the stone, overpowering the Roman guards, appearing through locked doors, and doing the greatest high jump in history at the ascension.

His empty tomb shows that he was resurrected, and his resurrection shows that he is God.

Four Easter facts

Now, what does the fact of Jesus’ divinity mean for you today?

One: He is present in your pain.

David said to God, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). God promised his people, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:2–3).

God is with us in our greatest pain. Easter proves that Jesus is God. Therefore, Jesus is present in your pain. He suffered the worst torture known to man in his crucifixion. He wept at the grave of Lazarus. He has been tempted in every way we are (Hebrews 4:15).

When you wonder if Jesus is with you in your sufferings, challenges, and temptations, remember Easter.

Two: He hears your every prayer.

Jesus promised, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). The psalmist testified, “Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice” (Psalm 55:17).

God hears our prayers. Easter proves that Jesus is God. Therefore, Jesus hears your every prayer. The next time you wonder if Jesus is listening to you, remember Easter.

Three: He is more powerful than your greatest problems.

The Bible says of God, “It is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17). God is omnipotent. Easter proves that Jesus is God. Therefore, Jesus is more powerful than your greatest problems.

The next time you wonder if Jesus has the power to help you with your challenges and struggles, remember Easter.

Four: He loves you where you are, as you are.

The Bible says that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Easter proves that Jesus is God. Therefore, Jesus loves you where you are, as you are.

The next time you wonder if Jesus will forgive your sins, if he loves you no matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, remember Easter.


Can the risen Christ change any life? Can he heal any pain, hear anyone’s prayer, address anyone’s problem, and love any soul?

Alice Cooper is one of the most notorious “shock rockers” in America. Known for his heavy metal concerts, he was infamous for stage acts too horrific for me to describe. He was also known for his years of alcoholism and heavy drug use.

This week, Fox News carried a story that caught my eye: “Alice Cooper believes his faith saved him from alcoholism, temptations of rock star lifestyle.” It turns out Cooper is the son and grandson of ministers.

When he nearly died from drugs and alcohol, he says, “I grew up in the church, went as far away as I could from it—almost died—and then came back to the church.” He says that his faith saved his life and is the basis for his marriage of forty-one years.

He’s not the only surprising story of conversion in our day. David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam” murderer and devil worshipper, is a sold-out Christian who ministers to his fellow prisoners every day.

Dr. Francis Collins is director of the National Institutes of Health and arguably the best-known scientist in America today. He was a staunch atheist before C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity helped lead him to faith in Jesus.

Lee Strobel graduated from Yale Law School and worked as a journalist for the Chicago Tribune for fourteen years. A staunch atheist, he was shocked when his wife became a Christian. Investigating her faith, he became a Christian. He has since published bestsellers The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, and The Case for the Real Jesus. His life story has been made into a movie; The Case for Miracles was just published.

Here’s my point: if Jesus could change Alice Cooper and David Berkowitz and Francis Collins and Lee Strobel, what can the risen Christ do in your life today?

Because of Easter, Thomas called Jesus “my Lord and my God.” Now it’s our turn.

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