“The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified … Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.” Matthew 27:21-22,26
If you were in the crowd outside the Praetorium on that first Good Friday and you heard these words of the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, offering to release unto you either Jesus or Barabbas, what would you say? Would you ask that Jesus, who was innocent and without sin, who claimed to be the very Son of God, be released unto you? Or would you join the crowd in asking for Barabbas, a notorious prisoner who was a robber, rebel and murderer (cf. v.16; John. 18:40; Mark 15:6-7)?
What would you say after the crowd asked for Barabbas and Pilate asked what he should do with Jesus, who is called Christ? Would you join the crowd in crying out of Jesus, “Let Him be crucified”? We say that we would not. But, if we remember why Jesus was crucified and condemned, we must admit that every time we sin, we do say of Jesus, “Crucify Him!” When we sin, we add to the burden of His cross!
Now, if you were Barabbas, in a prison cell and chains, expecting to die for your crimes, what would you do if the soldiers came and set you free – if they told you that you had been pardoned by the governor and were free because an innocent man by the name of Jesus was being crucified in your stead? How would you feel?
Isn’t this exactly what has happened to each and every one of us? We are guilty of sin – we have broken God’s Law and are guilty of insurrection (rebellion) against God Himself! Which commandments have we not broken? We deserve to be condemned by God to the eternal fires of hell which He prepared for the devil and his evil angels! But what has happened? God’s Word has been proclaimed to us – we have been told that God has pardoned and forgiven us because His own dear Son, Jesus Christ, suffered upon the cross the full punishment for all our sins (cf. 2 Cor. 5:19; Gal. 3:10,13; Col. 1:21-22; 1 Pet. 3:18; Isa. 53:4-6; etc.).
Now, we don’t know for certain what happened to Barabbas after this; but we might just consider a couple of hypothetical possibilities. What if Barabbas had rejected his pardon? What if he had said, “I want to be tried and judged on my own merits”? There seems to be little doubt but that he would be condemned and probably put to death – possibly even on a cross. What if he accepted his pardon and went back out robbing and killing and rebelling against the Roman Government? Would he not be arrested and condemned for his new crimes?
What about us? God has pardoned us for Jesus’ sake. What if we say, “No, thanks. I will stand before the judgment seat of God on my own merit”? The Bible is quite clear. If we refuse to accept God’s pardon, we shall be punished for not believing on the name of God’s only begotten Son and our Savior (cf. John 3:18). What if we accept God’s pardon but then use our gift of freedom to intentionally continue on in our sinful ways? Will we not be judged and condemned of God for continuing to rebel against Him? Cf. Hebrews 6:4ff.; 10:26ff.; 2 Pet. 2:20-22. The Scriptures leave no question about the end result.
It is true that we by our sins are guilty of the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. With the crowd on Good Friday, we by our sins say of Jesus, “Let Him be crucified!” But because Jesus went to the cross for us, we, who are guilty like Barabbas, have been pardoned and set free! God has graciously forgiven our sins against Him, and He offers and gives to us everlasting life with Him in heaven.
Let us give thanks unto our Savior for bearing upon the cross the guilt and punishment for our sins that we might be acquitted and partake of the everlasting blessings of heaven. And, let us use our lives here in this world to the praise and glory of Him who has redeemed us and set us free.
O Dearest Jesus, we thank and praise Thee for bearing upon the tree of the cross the guilt and punishment for our sins. Amen.
“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Matthew 27:45-46
What is it like to be forsaken by one you love? Think about – imagine, if you will – what it would be like to be rejected and forsaken by the one most dear to you. (For some, this has happened.) How would you feel? Would you not feel devastated and crushed? If this rejection were the result of some sin or failure on your part, it would be more understandable, but nonetheless painful.
Now think how the LORD God must feel! He created us in His image – to live for Him and do His will (Gen. 1:26-27). He loved us and gave His own Son to die for us and redeem us from our sin (1 John 4:9-10). He has blessed us with all that we need in life, our food, clothes, houses, etc. (James 1:17; Psalm 145:15-16). Yet, we have forsaken God!
The Bible tells us: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Isa. 53:6a); and “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his masters crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward” (Isa. 1:2-4).
We deserve also to be forsaken of God and condemned for our sins against Him. He would be perfectly “justified” if He were to condemn us in His judgment (Ps. 51:4); for all of us have sinned against Him and deserve to be forsaken and cast into the everlasting fires of hell which He has prepared for the devil and his evil angels (cf. Rom. 3:23; 6:23a; Matt. 25:41).
We may have, at times, felt the wrath of God upon us (Ps. 32:3-4), but God has not forsaken us! Instead He laid our sins upon His own Son, Jesus Christ, and forsook and condemned Him as He hung upon the cross. The Bible tells us that “the Lord hath laid on Him [Jesus Christ] the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6b).
We read that “from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (cf. Ps. 22).
Even if we can imagine how it would feel to be forsaken by one dearest us, we cannot begin to grasp what it was like for our Lord Jesus to be forsaken and condemned of His own heavenly Father! And this happened, not because of any sin or fault in Him, but because of our sin and faults. As our catechism explains, Christ truly suffered for us the tortures of the damned in hell (Qu. 138).
Will God condemn and forsake us on the Day of His Judgment? Not if we have faith in Christ; for He has already been forsaken and condemned of God for our sins, and He rose again in victory (cf. 1 Cor. 15:3,4; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 3:18)!
Jesus tells us, “He that believeth on him is not condemned” (John 3:18); and, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). Those who trust in Christ will never be forsaken of the LORD!
O Dear Jesus, we thank You for bearing upon the cross the curse and condemnation for our sins that we might never be condemned and forsaken of God the Father, but have everlasting life with You in heaven. Amen.
Why do Christians celebrate Easter?
While some are quick to criticize Christians for celebrating Easter and point to ancient pagan observances in spring and to worldly customs involving such things as Easter eggs and the Easter bunny, Christians celebrate Easter for none of these things. They have an entirely different reason to observe the festival and to celebrate. Christians observe Easter to remember and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead on the third day following His crucifixion just outside the walls of Jerusalem.
For the critics, it is true that Easter Sunday, set on the first Sunday immediately following the Paschal full moon, does not always fall on the third day after the Jewish Passover. But since Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, Christian churches observe the day of His resurrection on a Sunday each year even though Eastern Orthodox churches sometimes observe the festival on a different Sunday than Western churches because of their use of the astronomical full moon rather than the Pascal full moon. Yet, all of this is neither here nor there. It wouldn’t be an issue if Christians celebrated Jesus’ birth in July and His resurrection in November, because it’s not about the date of the observance but the event that is remembered.
At Easter, we as Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the crux upon which Christianity either stands or falls. If Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead, His death on the cross for the sins of the world would have been insufficient and there would be no promise or certainty of forgiveness of sins, our being accepted by God or of our own resurrection and eternal life through faith in Jesus.
St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:14-19 KJV): “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”
But the Bible goes on to say (1 Cor. 15:20 KJV): “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.”
Jesus’ resurrection proves that His death was a ransom accepted by God for the sins of the world (cf. Rom. 4:25) and that God, for Jesus’ sake, reaches out to us, lost and prodigal sons and daughters, with mercy and forgiveness. His resurrection proves that Jesus was true to His word that He would rise again on the third day, and it gives us the assurance that He can and will raise up all who have believed in His name unto everlasting life.
How do we know that Jesus really did rise from the dead? By eyewitness accounts.
Again, St. Paul summarizes the evidence for us (1 Cor. 15:3-8 KJV): “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.”
If anyone had doubts about the bodily resurrection of Jesus in the first century, there were plenty of living eye witnesses who could attest to seeing Jesus alive again following His crucifixion. Our faith rests upon the testimony of those witnesses recorded for us in the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament, as well as in the Old testament prophecies of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Without the bodily resurrection of Jesus, Christianity would be no different than other religions of the world which tell people all the things they must do or not do to be accepted by and one with their god and maker. Christianity is the only religion which teaches that man does not and cannot measure up to God’s perfect standards because we are all fallen sinners. Instead of man somehow reaching up, the Bible teaches that God reached down to us in the person of Jesus Christ and redeemed us from the guilt and condemnation of our sins by the innocent sufferings and death of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, in our stead (cf. Rom. 3:23-24). Jesus’ resurrection is the proof that we indeed have been redeemed to God! And it is proof that we who have placed our hope in Him will be raised up from our graves on the Last Day to the eternal joys of His kingdom!
And yes, this is cause to celebrate and rejoice! It is a reason to join together and sing God’s praises for accomplishing the salvation of lost and condemned sinners, for winning for all pardon and forgiveness, and for offering and giving the blessings of forgiveness and life eternal through faith alone in Jesus’ name!
“I know that my Redeemer lives; what comfort this sweet sentence gives! He lives, He lives, who once was dead; He lives, my ever-living Head” (Samuel Medley).
If Christ Be Not Raised….
“And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” 1 Corinthians 15:17-20
Today, we as Christians celebrate the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave after His crucifixion and brutal death upon a Roman cross just days before.
But not all believe in the resurrection. Even among so called “Christians” there are some who question and deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus and treat the whole issue of Jesus’ bodily resurrection as an insignificant matter, speaking only of a spiritual resurrection in which Jesus’ followers carry on His work by showing love and doing charitable works for the good of all mankind.
But is the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection really important? Does our faith really depend upon it? I invite you to listen to the inspired Word of God penned by the hand of the Apostle Paul and consider the hypothetical question: What “if Christ be not raised”?
“And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”
What does the Word of God say? If Jesus did not truly rise from the dead, our faith is vain, empty and useless! If Jesus is not alive, you and I are still dead in our sins and have no hope of forgiveness and life everlasting. If Jesus’ body is still moldering or decaying in some ancient tomb near Jerusalem, all those who died trusting in Jesus Christ – from Adam and Eve, Abraham and David to our very own loved ones who fell asleep in the confidences that Jesus would raise them up are lost forever.
And if our faith and hope in Christ Jesus is only of benefit in this life – a crutch or security blanket to help us cope with life’s problems – we are, as St. Paul writes, “of all men most miserable.”
Think of the Apostle Paul and the other disciples of Jesus who suffered the loss of all things and were persecuted and even killed because of their faith in the crucified and risen Christ. If Christ did not rise, what a waste the lives of his followers were! And what about you and me? If Christ be not raised, all our time and effort put into serving Christ and spreading His kingdom would have been a sham, a deception and a complete waste of our time and resources.
If Jesus were not raised, we would have nothing to celebrate today, no reason to be here on Sunday mornings and no hope for tomorrow! Without the bodily resurrection of Jesus, there can be no Christianity, no Church, no kingdom of God!
But Jesus did rise bodily from the grave! The tomb was empty. Angels announced His resurrection, and Jesus Himself appeared to His disciples showing Himself to be risen and alive by many infallible proofs over a period of 40 days (cf. Acts 1:3). Jesus appeared to the women, to the twelve apostles and to many other of His disciples on numerous occasions.
The apostle sums up Jesus’ resurrection appearances in this way: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
You see, if anyone during the First Century had questions or doubts about Jesus’ resurrection, there was no shortage of eyewitnesses to His resurrection appearances. He even appeared to more than 500 disciples at once, and most of them were still alive if anyone wanted to talk to them and hear their eyewitness accounts. The Apostle Paul includes himself in the list of witnesses because of the risen Christ’s appearances to Him.
The Jewish rulers who tried to cover up the fact of Jesus’ resurrection by bribing the soldiers to say Jesus’ disciples stole the body while they were asleep – in itself, a foolish story – could have put an end to all question if they had just produced the body, but they didn’t and they couldn’t because there was not a body to be found – they knew the tomb was empty! And, if such a story were true, why would Jesus’ disciples give up everything, including their lives, to promote a lie? They wouldn’t have; but they did give up all, they did suffer painful and torturous deaths for one reason: Jesus did rise, as He said.
And what does the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection mean for us today? It means our faith is not empty or vain. Jesus did indeed pay in full the just punishment for the sins of the whole world, for God raised Him up on the third day (cf. Romans 4:25). We, by the grace of God, are not still dead in our sins. Your sins and my sins are paid for in full and forgiven because of Christ’s perfect sacrifice.
It means that we too will be raised up, Christ, the first fruits, and we also when He returns. As Jesus said, “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19). It means those who have fallen asleep before us, trusting in the Lord Jesus, have not perished. They are not lost forever. Rather, those who “sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him” on the Last Day (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
Yes, it’s true. Everything depends on the resurrection of Jesus. If Jesus did not rise, all is lost, no one can be saved. But Jesus did rise! And, because He died for all our sins and rose again in victory, we have forgiveness for all sins and the assurance that we too shall be raised up to be with Him forever in paradise!
Dearest Lord Jesus, we give You thanks and praise for Your bitter sufferings and death in our stead, and for Your glorious resurrection on the third day, that we might be assured of our salvation and await Your return in the sure hope of life everlasting, Graciously keep us unto that Day. Amen.
Preparing for Sunday
Scripture Readings for Sunday are: Psalm 56; 1 Corinthians 15; Matthew 28:1-10. Please read them in their context as you prepare for worship.
Sunday Adult Bible Class will continue its study of the Book of Genesis, in chapter one.
Verse to Remember
“And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” Matthew 28:5-6
Remember to Pray
Remember to pray for our church and for all our members, that none be lost to Christ’s kingdom but that all continue in repentance and be strengthened and built up in the true and saving faith in Christ Jesus through the hearing and study of His Word. We continue to pray for all who have been sick or who are suffering among us – especially for Jessica Evans and Mel Boren – for our extended families and for believers who are alone and have no congregation. We remember the churches and pastors in the Philippines. We pray for those suffering and persecuted around the world. And we pray for our nation and its rulers, that our people would repent and look to God for mercy, forgiveness and direction.
Maundy Thursday Worship with Holy Communion is planned for 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 17. Good Friday Worship will be at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 18. Resurrection Sunday is April 20.
An Easter breakfast, hosted at the church by Mike and Kathy Hawes, is planned for Sunday, April 20. Serving will begin at 7:30 a.m. and continue until shortly before the Sunday School/Bible Class hour at 9 a.m. Easter worship will follow at 10 a.m.
The Church Council will meet at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 30.
A special congregational Pot-Luck Dinner will be held on Sunday, May 4, after worship, to commemorate God’s blessings upon our church. A brief voters’ meeting will follow the dinner.
[Scripture taken from the King James Version of the Bible]