I’m a great starter of projects. The problem is that I don’t always get around to finishing them. We moved into our house almost ten years ago. One of the first things that my wife began to do was to rip apart the bathroom. It wasn’t as if we really had plans of what we wanted to do with that space. She just knew she didn’t like it. In a few months, it’s going to be ten years. Don’t get me wrong – we’ve done a lot. But you couldn’t call the project complete. I’m hoping that we get it done by the time we’ve been at our house about twenty years.
The best projects are projects that are planned ahead. I attended a time management seminar recently in which the instructor made the comment that one unit of planning saves about ten units of time. That’s an amazing statistic. I’ve observed over the years that many projects never get off the ground because there’s never enough planning. Today, on Good Friday, I want to look at the ultimate plan that came to completion, in one sense, two thousand years ago. But it’s a plan that affects every person here today. It’s a plan that’s still waiting to be finished.
What is this plan? Listen with me to 1 Peter 1:18-20:
For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. He paid for you with the precious lifeblood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him for this purpose long before the world began, but now in these final days, he was sent to the earth for all to see. And he did this for you.
I love what the Message paraphrase says. “This was no afterthought. Even though it has only lately—at the end of the ages—become public knowledge, God always knew he was going to do this for you.” God’s plan has always been to solve our deepest problem. God’s biggest plan has always been to solve men and women’s biggest problem. And this plan involves us. Ephesians 1:4-5 says:
Long ago, even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him great pleasure.
This has always been God’s plan. It wasn’t an afterthought. This plan began before the world began. This plan includes all those who have received the gift of eternal life. And this plan has also given God great pleasure.
The amazing thing is that this plan came to fruition one afternoon at about three o’clock in a Middle Eastern city called Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago. On that day, Jesus said these last words before he died: “It is finished” (John 19:30). The word finished is the same as paid in full. In dying, Jesus could say, “This is what I came for. Nothing else needs to be done.” It’s like Jesus’ final report to his Father, saying, “The plan that we started before the world began has finally been completed. I’ve accomplished what I intended to accomplish. The work has finally been done.”
What was special about the death of Jesus two thousand years ago? What significance does it have for us today? For the rest of this morning I want to look at just some of the aspects of God’s plan that Jesus completed two thousand years ago. There are three actions that we can take to appreciate and enter into God’s master plan so that you can enjoy all the blessings of Easter.
How can I be changed by what happened on Good Friday two thousand years ago? Three steps:
1. UNDERSTAND THE FACTS BEHIND EASTER
The first step to appreciating Good Friday is to understand the facts behind Easter. You can’t understand Good Friday until you begin to understand the plan that lead to Good Friday. I was reading a magazine this past week for writers. One article was on how to begin a fiction story. The article said, “The single most frequent mistake I see in student manuscripts is beginning with a large chunk of description or exposition.” The article advises, “Begin with the action!” When we read the story of Jesus’ death on Good Friday, we’re right in the middle of the action. But we need to understand some of the backdrop. We need to understand some important facts in order to understand Good Friday.
This is important for two reasons. The first reason is many of us are familiar with the story. It’s easy to come to Easter and be somewhat complacent, forgetful, or even bored. We think, “I’ve heard all this before.” One of the greatest dangers religious people face is religious pride. There are so many layers of truth about God’s plan that we can never come to a point that there is nothing more to learn.
The other reason why we need to take this first step of understanding God’s plan is because many of us aren’t familiar with it. We’ve heard bits and pieces, but we’ve never put the whole story together. We’ve never understood all the nuances. Have you ever heard the saying, “Something was lost in the translation?” I took a nursery rhyme this week and translated it into Portuguese using an Internet translation service. Then I asked the same service to translate it back into English, and this is what I got: “Jack and Jill had been above of the mount, to search a bucket of the water; Jack fell for low, and broke its crown, and Jill came falling after that.” I think you could say that something was lost in the translation. Many people don’t understand three important facts. Unless you understand these two facts, you’ll never completely understand what happened on Good Friday.
The first fact that we need to understand is the HOLINESS OF GOD. The Bible teaches that God is absolutely holy. God’s holiness means that God can’t tolerate anything that is evil. Every person who has ever seen God has been terrified by his holiness. The problem is that God is too perfect to be able to tolerate sin. Joshua said these words thousands of years ago:
You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy and jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve other gods, he will turn against you and destroy you, even though he has been so good to you. (Joshua 24:19-20)
This is what God is like. God is holy – he can’t put up with any evil. Honestly, we wouldn’t want God to be any other way. God is perfectly just. He’s not able to ignore injustice in the world. For God to tolerate or ignore sin would be to destroy the very moral fiber of the universe. God is the ultimate standard and arbiter of justice in the universe. God is so holy that God cannot tolerate anything that is evil.
The second thing fact we need to understand is the CONSEQUENCES OF SIN. The Bible is clear that we are sinful – that we were born with something called a sin nature. Romans 5:12 says, “When Adam sinned, sin entered the entire human race. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.” Without knowing it. Adam and Eve unleashed an onslaught of evil and decay that permeates our world today. We are still facing the consequence of that sin today. Sin is our greatest problem. It’s also the reason that God devised a plan before this world even began.
I’ve never met a person who doesn’t admit to being a sinner. I’m sure they exist; I just haven’t met them. But I’ve met lots of people who admit to being sinners, but they think it’s no big deal. They believe that they’re sinners, but they don’t understand the consequences. They think that their sin is no big deal.
The Bible portrays our sinful condition as the most pitiful condition imaginable. Our sinful nature causes us to waste our lives living for self and selfish desires. The Bible describes this condition this way:
Once you were dead, doomed forever because of your many sins. You used to live ju st like the rest of the world, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the power of the air. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passions and desires of our evil nature. We were born with an evil nature, and we were under God’s anger just like everyone else. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
The greatest consequence of our sin is eternal separation from God. Isaiah 59:2 says, “There is a problem—your sins have cut you off from God. Because of your sin, he has turned away and will not listen anymore.” The Bible describes this condition as being lost, blind, and in captivity to Satan.
This is the backdrop to Good Friday. All of history had lead up to this point. In fact, the entire Old Testament is a precursor to what happened on Good Friday. The sacrificial system in the Old Testament was a blood-filled reminder of the holiness of God and the consequences of sin. It covered over the people’s sins, without providing a permanent remedy. The entire system of sacrifices pointed to the fact that one day Jesus would die and rise again to deal with our sin problem. That’s what the Bible is about.
You need to understand these two facts. You need to grasp the holiness of God and the consequences of sin. And it can’t just be intellectual. When Isaiah saw God in Isaiah 6, he said, “My destruction is sealed, for I am a sinful man and a member of a sinful race. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD Almighty!” (Isaiah 6:5) We need to understand the facts behind Easter.
The second step that we can take to be changed by what happened on Good Friday is this:
2. APPRECIATE THE SIGNIFICANCE OF EASTER
We need to appreciate the significance of Easter. We need to understand the story that was happening behind the story. The Bible is full of teaching on what Jesus accomplished by his death and resurrection. Let’s spend a few minutes highlighting the significance of what happened when Jesus died.
The Bible teaches that Jesus died as my SUBSTITUTE. Jesus died in my place. 1 Peter 3:18 says, “Christ also suffered when he died for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners that he might bring us safely home to God.” The Bible teaches that Jesus was punished in our place. He did this willingly. When Jesus died, he took upon himself our sins. 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He personally carried away our sins in his own body on the cross so we can be dead to sin and live for what is right.” He was tortured for others’ sin. The Bible says, “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Every day there are hundreds of people waiting for transplants. I have a friend who stayed in Cleveland Ronald McDonald House while his son was waiting for a procedure at the Cleveland Clinic. Another family was there waiting for a heart transplant. In order for the boy in that family to live, another boy somewhere else had to die. Jesus died as our substitute, so that we wouldn’t have to pay for my sins. It’s the first benefit we can experience. Jesus can take my place. Jesus can pay for our sins so that we don’t have to. Jesus was my substitute.
The Bible teaches that Jesus died for my FORGIVENESS. Jesus died to take our sins away from us. Jesus took away all of our sins – past, present, and future. Ephesians 1:7 says, “He is so rich in kindness that he purchased our freedom through the blood of his Son, and our sins are forgiven.” God has forgiven all my sins.
Not only has God forgiven my sins, but God has gone even further. The Bible teaches that Jesus died for my JUSTIFICATION. In other words, Jesus died to make me right with God. Justification means that because Jesus died in my place, God thinks of my sins as forgiven, and he declares me to be righteous in his sight. God declares that we have no penalty to pay for sin. Romans 5:9 says, “Since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s judgment.” Romans 8:1 reads, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”
When the Bible talks about being made right with God – justification – it means more than our sins being forgiven. Even if God forgave all of our sins, we still wouldn’t have enough to earn favor with God. We would be morally neutral. It would be like going from an overdraft in your bank account to a balance of zero. But Jesus died to do more than wipe out our debt. Jesus died to give us a positive balance. When God looks at our lives, he sees us as completely righteous. Isaiah 61:10 says, “He has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness.”
The Bible also teaches that Jesus died to bring me RECONCILIATION. Romans 5:10-11 says:
Now that we are set right with God by means of this sacrificial death, the consummate blood sacrifice, there is no longer a question of being at odds with God in any way. If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we’re at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life! (The Message)
“When we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God.” We saw earlier that sin separated us from God. To overcome that separation, we needed someone to bridge the gap and to put us back in contact with God. 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus.”
The Bible teaches that Jesus died for my REDEMPTION. Because, as sinners, we were in bondage to sin and Satan, we needed someone to ransom us. The word redemption refers to old system in Jesus’ day of slaves being purchased in the marketplace. When Jesus redeems us, he pays buys our freedom and sets us free. 1 Peter 1:18-19 says, “For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. He paid for you with the precious lifeblood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.”
This isn’t even all of what Jesus did for us when he died. But it’s a start. There’s a word that we use to describe all that Jesus accomplished for us in his life and his death. It’s the atonement. The atonement is the culmination of God’s plan. It’s a plan that extends back from the beginning of the world. You need to appreciate the significance of what Jesus accomplished for us when he died. It’s the second step to having your life changed by Easter.
There’s a third step that you need to take if you want your life to be changed by Easter:
3. ACCEPT THE BENEFITS OF EASTER
It’s not enough to understand the facts behind Easter, even to appreciate the significance of Easter. You need to respond. The best way that I can tell you how to respond is to tell you a story that will lead you, I hope, to the proper response. It’s a story that mirrors my story. It may be a story that will mirror yours.
It’s a story about a woman in Korea right after the Korean War took place. This woman had gotten pregnant by an American soldier. The soldier went back to the United States and she never saw him again. She gave birth to a little girl.
But this little girl was very different than the other little girls. Her hair was light colored and curly so she stood out. In that particular culture that meant that child and the mother would be severely rejected by society. In fact some mothers in Korea who gave birth to children from American fathers actually killed their babies because they couldn’t stand the humiliation, the rejection, the heartache of the way they were treated by other people. This woman kept her baby and she tried her best to raise this child for seven years.
But the rejection and the humiliation and the taunting and the harassment that she ex perienced was too much for her. So she did something nobody here could imagine anybody doing. She abandoned that seven-year-old girl to the streets. That little girl wasn’t alone because there were packs of little children living on the streets. They would live under bridges and in abandoned buildings and they would go outside of town and live in caves. And they would just eat whatever they could find. They would find stuff on the street – bugs and locusts and roots and things like this.
Everybody she met ruthlessly taunted this little girl. They would call her the ugliest word in the Korean language. That word meant alien devil. After a while this little girl began to draw conclusions about herself. This is what she would say years later, “When you hear what you are as a little child day after day after day you begin to believe that about yourself. I believed that anyone could do whatever they wanted to me physically because I wasn’t a person. I was inhuman. I was dirty. I was unclean. I had no name. I had no identity. I had no family. I had no future. And I hated myself.”
For two years she lived on the streets. Finally there was a new orphanage that opened up. It had very little money. It was a very primitive kind of place but at least it was safe and it was a place she could go and not be assaulted and attacked and harassed. So they took her into the orphanage. Pretty soon word came that a couple from America was going to come to that orphanage and they were going to adopt a little baby boy. The word went out among all the orphans in the orphanage. This was the best news of all. Some little boy among them was going to have a fresh start, a new chance, a future. Somebody was going to escape from this orphanage. So this little girl, who was now nine years old and who was the oldest child in the orphanage, began to bathe the little boys and clean them up and get them all ready wondering who was it that this American couple was going to choose and adopt and take back to America.
The next week this American man and his wife came. This is what the girl recalled: “It was like Goliath had come back to life. I saw that man with his huge hands lift up each baby and I knew he loved every one of them as if they were his own. I saw tears running down his face and I knew if they could they would have taken the whole lot. Then he saw me out of the corner of his eye. I was nine years old but I didn’t even weigh thirty pounds. I was a scrawny thing. I had worms in my body, lice in my hair, boils all over me and I was full of scars. I wasn’t a pretty sight. But the man came over to me and he rattled off something in English and I looked up at him. And then he took this huge hand of his and he laid it on my face. What was he saying? He was saying, ‘I want this child. This is the child who I want.'”
Then an incredible thing happened with that little nine-year-old Korean girl. An amazing thing happened at that moment. As that man was reaching out to her, “The hand on my face felt so good and inside I said, ‘Keep that up, don’t let your hand go.’ But nobody had ever showed that kind of affection to me before and I didn’t know how to respond.” She said, “I yanked his hand off my face and I looked up at him and I spit at him and then I ran away.”
But the next day they came back to the orphanage, because they understood what was behind that little girl’s hurt. They understood the trauma she had gone through and all these things she had suffered. They understood all that and in spite her initial rejection of them, they looked at all the children in the orphanage and they went back to that little girl, the one who spit in their eye, and they said, “We still want this child.” And they adopted her. They cleaned her up and they got her the medical attention that she needed. They raised that child like she was their own. She’s married today and she’s a follower of Jesus Christ. She learned to accept the love that the couple offered so freely to her.
Before the world began, God devised a plan. That plan, in one sense, was completed almost two thousand years ago when Jesus died and rose again. But it’s a plan that’s still working itself out today. Ephesians 1:5 says, “His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him great pleasure.”
Would you like to be adopted? You can accept the benefits of Easter today.
It may be that you’re a believer in Jesus Christ. You know the meaning of Easter. But today you’ve realized again the extent of God’s amazing grace. You may want to echo the words of Paul, who wrote, “Oh, how kind and gracious the Lord was! He filled me completely with faith and the love of Christ Jesus… Glory and honor to God forever and ever. He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God” (1 Timothy 1:14-17). If you’re a believer, spend a few minutes telling God how grateful you are for all that Jesus accomplished two thousand years ago at Easter.
Today may be the day that you want to respond. You want to accept the benefits of Easter today. What do you need to do? All you need to understand are four simple facts:
I am a sinner
The penalty for my sin is death
Jesus died to pay the penalty for my sins.
If I ask God to forgive me for rebelling against him and believe Jesus is who he claims to be, he will save me.
You can pray a prayer like this: “Father, thank you for what Jesus did at Easter. Thank you for your plan that has never changed. Today I admit that I am a sinner. I realize my penalty is death. But I also realize that Jesus died in my place to bring me forgiveness and to make me right with you. Father, forgive me. I turn away from my sins to follow you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”