Bunnies? Eggs? Jesus? What is Easter all about?
Is Easter just a quaint tale derived from Myths about Resurrection?
Is it a pagan celebration of Spring Equinox?
Is it a marketing conspiracy between Hallmark/Nestle Chocolate/and the makers of the Marshmallow Easter Bunny? Parents be ready for the sugar-induced coma that is coming soon!
Or is it about Jesus’ Death, burial, and Resurrection?
To some that seems as mythical as the Easter Bunny, or any Superhero.
Some people are naturally skeptical. As a kid no Superhero was safe from my analytical mind:
- “Why doesn’t Tarzan have a beard—they don’t have razors in the Jungle—do they?”
- “How come Superman can stop bullets with his chest but always ducks when someone throws a gun at him?”
If you are skeptical, you should know that there is a promise in the Bible that God makes to Moses 3500 years ago:
“[If] you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. Deuteronomy 4:29
The big problem is that many people don’t seek, they just believe myths.
And I did too, until I discovered the big difference is that Jesus was not a mythical superhero—but a very real, historical person, and the evidence is strong that all our Superhero Myths are foreshadows of the one real Hero of History: Jesus. Once I studied it for myself, that’s the conclusion I came to.
Gateway is a church where doubters are welcome.
It’s okay to question, doubt, wonder, seek, because we believe if you seek with an open mind, you will find.
So this morning, I want to retell the story of Easter, and show how it’s true history.
I want you to ask, “What If?”
What If this is true—what will I do with Jesus, the one true Superhero?
Consider that as I retell the history of that first Easter.
Jesus has traveled 3.5 years throughout Palestine, teaching, healing, feeding, doing miraculous things that have caused an uproar in Israel.
No historians doubt this.
All this threatens the Religious Leaders who wanted power and prestige.
Jesus called them hypocrites, white-washed tombs, they claimed to be righteous but had no love or compassion for lost, hurting, broken people like Jesus did.
They decide Jesus must die.
Josephus, a Jewish/Roman historian from the 1st Century and many others confirm Jesus’ historicity. I’m reading a 1000-yr old Arabic translation of Josephus, so no Christian tampering:
“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and [he] was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples…reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive. Accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.” -Josephus (10th Century Arabic Text).
No historians doubt Jesus lived and died and his followers claimed he appeared risen that Easter.
So it’s Passover in Israel.
As we saw last week, Jesus shared the Passover meal in the upper room.
He told them, one of you will betray me this very night.
No one knew who the traitor was, Judas was the treasurer, trusted by Jesus with the money. So when he left, they thought he was going to arrange a place to stay.
It’s midnight, and Jesus leads them down to the Garden of Gethsemene.
Jesus is God’s perfect representation in Human flesh.
As a human, they watch him cry out “Father, take this cup—this suffering. But not my will, your will be done.”
2:30 am Friday Morning
A band of Temple Guards with the Pharisees march into the Garden, led by Judas.
Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen…one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. 51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. Luke 22:48-51.
Violence, force, is not how God’s Kingdom comes to earth—willingness to do the will of God is– “not my will, but Your will be done Father.”
Are you and I willing to let God’s Kingdom ways come to earth through us?
“Bless your enemies” Jesus had taught. Jesus heals the ear of his enemy. God is good even to those who curse him.
Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to [Peter]… “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” Matthew 26:52-53
With that, Jesus willingly began the journey to the cross. It was his choice.
He was a willing sacrifice, the final Passover Sacrifice, to bring justice to earth—wrongs must be paid for, accounted for, that’s justice.
We demand justice.
That’s not right—I demand you make it right.
We want Justice.
Except when we’re the guilty ones… Then we want mercy.
Have you ever violated your own conscience?
Said “I’ll never” but you did?—much less broken God’s moral laws?
We’re all guilty.
Jesus went to the cross for me, for you—the cross is where God’s Justice meets God’s mercy for each person who wants it.
3:30am Friday Morning
Jesus is locked in a jail, really a cave, I’ve been in it. It’s under the palace where the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Rulers, met.
Jesus is brought before Caiaphas the High Priest of the court:
“If you are the Messiah,” they said, “tell us.” Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”…“Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.” Luke 22:67-71
Blasphemy! The High Priest cried. Jesus must die.
Why? Because Jesus was quoting the Jewish prophet Daniel (writing 500 years earlier) about the Son of Man, the Messiah, Daniel says,
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days [God] and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him.” Daniel 7:13-14.
Jesus is worshipped as God by people around the world today.
It was foretold. But some don’t want to believe it—some don’t want to seek—some just want to preserve their own sovereign rule and power.
That’s why the Pharisees tried to kill him—he threatened their plans.
They march Jesus to Pilate, the Roman Governor, requesting execution.
“Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus replied…Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” … Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner …“Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”…While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” 20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. Matthew 27:11-20
God warned Pilate through his wife’s vivid dream.
“Jesus is innocent, don’t kill innocent blood.”
But social media peer pressure is strong. Pilate goes with the crowd.
Sometimes God gives us guidance, warnings, opportunities—but he also gives us free will—we can choose to ignore his promptings or we can heed them. Pilate ignored them—crucify him.
Pilate hands Jesus over to the Roman Soldiers. They torture him.
What Evil moves people to torture?
We saw it last week. Possessed by evil they whip Jesus with a leather strips embedded with nails and glass, ripping him open.
Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was accurate, and foretold. Isaiah 52-53 go read it–in 680 BC Isaiah foresaw this Messiah:
His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness—so he will sprinkle many nations…. Isaiah 52:14-15, 680 BC.
God loves all nations, it’s why he did it. After the torture, Jesus had to carry his own cross through Jerusalem, up to the hill Golgotha (Skull Hill), but he had been beaten so badly, he couldn’t make it.
Eyewitnesses say a man from Africa coming to worship Yahweh, Simon of Cyrene, carried the cross up the hill for Jesus.
9am to Noon Friday
As they pound nails through his hands and his feet to the cross, Jesus cries out
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. Luke 23:34.
Who except God could forgive such evil?
But all this was foretold.
Skeptics who haven’t studied it will say, the prophesies were doctored up after Jesus—the Dead Seas scrolls prove that false.
Or Jesus intentionally fulfilled these prophecies. How do you intentionally get tortured then nailed to a cross?
Yet King David wrote 1000 years before Jesus, foretelling this day:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? … A band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing… All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him.” Psalm 22:1, 16-18, 27 1000 B.C.
He did it for you, me, all nations. How did David describe Roman Crucifixion 100s of years before it was invented?
And friends, it’s undisputed fact by historians—Jesus was crucified—no doubts. Yet God foretold why in 680 BC:
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:4-6, 680 B.C.
We found a copy of Isaiah pre-dating Jesus in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Outside the Bible, It’s recorded in the Jewish Talmud
“On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu. And an announcer went out… ‘he is going to be stoned, because he practiced sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray.’” Babylonian Talmud: Sandhedrin 43a
The Religious Leaders could not deny his miracles, so they called it evil, sorcery.
Darkness covers the earth as Jesus hangs for our sins.
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. Luke 23:44-46.
Amos the prophet, 750 years before Jesus wrote
“In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight…I will make that time like mourning for an only son. Amos 8:9-10, 750 BC.
This was the day that changed the world. And you may say, “there’s no evidence of that in history.” Actually 2 Roman Historians Phlegon and Thallus are cited in 4 other works from the 200’s saying
“Phlegon records that during the reign of Tiberius Caesar there was a complete solar eclipse at full moon from the sixth to the ninth hour” – Africanus, 190 A.D.
6th-9th hour is 12 to 3 our time.
But it was Passover. Passover is always during the full moon.
You can’t have an eclipse of the sun during a full moon.
History confirms what God said he would do.
Right before Jesus died one of the criminals hanging with Jesus said, “If you’re the Messiah—prove it—get us all down off these crosses.”
Jesus said nothing.
The other criminal said “We deserve this, he doesn’t. Jesus when you come into your Kingdom, remember me.”
Jesus promised, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
God does not respond to our demands to prove himself, but all God needs is a heart turning to him in faith, in trust. Jesus removed every barrier between God and you, except one, pride—pride is all that can keep us separated from God. Have you turned in your heart to trust in God? To tell him, “I want what Jesus did on that cross to count for me—I want your forgiveness, love, and leadership?
Friday at Dusk, Passover
The Romans agreed to not let crucified bodies hang overnight during Passover, so they broke the legs of the two criminals to speed up their death. John tells us
But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. John 19:33-34.
John could not have realized the medical significance of what he reported. Jesus died, not of crucifixion, but of heart failure—the weight of all our sin, shame, hatred—was too much for a heart to bear.
This too was foretold in 1000BC: I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me…my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death…a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.17 All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. Psalm 22:14-17, 1000 B.C.
David not only describes Messiah’s crucifixion, but a heart turning to wax, heart failure. Cardiologists tell us a clear, pericardial fluid builds up around the heart during heart failure—John reports blood mixed with “clear fluid” like water.” Jesus died of a broken heart paying for our wrongs.
Meanwhile, Joseph of Arimathea, a Pharisee who had disagreed with the Sanhedrin’s decision asked Pilate for Jesus body.
Some Pharisees, like Joseph, were truly seeking the Kingdom of God.
All who truly seek, will find.
Jesus was supposed to be buried in a mass grave with the criminals, but Joseph put Jesus in his expensive tomb.
Just as Isaiah foretold:
For he [Messiah] was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death…. Isaiah 53:8-9, 680 B.C.
Jesus was the final Passover Sacrificial Lamb.
For 1500 years, every Passover, people brought a perfect lamb to the temple in Jerusalem to pay for the sins of the previous year. Jesus paid for all sins for all time. And 40 years after Jesus sacrifice, all Jewish sacrifice ended—forever.
Because the temple was destroyed as Jesus said it would be. It’s proof in history–He forgives past, present and future, you don’t have to live under guilt, shame, and condemnation—we can come to God for help because he forgives us already.
[The chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 63 “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Matthew 27:62-64
Pilate agreed and a Roman guard was put at the tomb to make sure the disciples didn’t steal the body to fake a resurrection.
3 days by Jewish counting, Friday, Saturday, Sunday Jesus was in the tomb. Mary Magdalene, Joanna and, Mary mother of James, prepared burial spices to take Sunday morning.
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them…“Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Luke 24:2-8
The women ran back to tell the men, but Mary Magdelene stood outside the tomb weeping. When she turned, she saw a man she thought was the gardener.
“Why are you crying?” He asked.
“Where have you put his body?”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).17 Jesus said…[go] to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news….” John 20:16-18.
Mary was the first to see the risen Jesus. Mary, the immoral woman, who Jesus healed was who he chose to be the first eyewitness. Think about that. And Matthew says as the other women ran back, Jesus met them too:
Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Matthew 28:10.
But none of the men believed the women.
In this patriarchal society, a woman’s testimony did not count in a court of law. If these men were going to invent a resurrection story, why would they write that women were the first eyewitnesses?
Because it’s true–God chose the women as His first eyewitnesses. God chooses to do things that reverse the broken, sinful ways of humanity, to humble the proud and lift up the marginalized.
Peter and John run to the tomb, and they too find it empty, with the burial clothes there and the head piece (called the shroud) neatly rolled up off to the side.
Funny, almost like Jesus put it aside so they would notice?
They went back and told the other disciples, but the men thought someone had stolen his body.
Later that afternoon, two of Jesus followers were walking on the road to Emmaus when they were joined by a stranger. He asked why they were so sad.
Cleopas replied, “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who doesn’t know about Jesus crucifixion, how we had hoped he was the Messiah, but he was crucified?”
The Stranger said, “You foolish people!…Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” 27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Luke 24:25-26
He showed them more than I’ve been showing you, like Isaiah 53 “though the Lord makes [Messiah’s] life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring [spiritual children] and prolong his days…After he has suffered, he will see the light of life [resurrection] and be satisfied. Isaiah 53:10-11, 680 B.C.
It’s all right there written beforehand—after he dies, he will see the light of life! Resurrection. When they stopped to eat and the Stranger broke bread, their eyes were opened–it was Jesus—alive!
The 11 disciples are hiding behind locked doors, unbelieving, still fearful of the Romans. Cleopas and Simon run back, “The women were right—he is risen—we have seen the Lord.”
Thomas left that night, when John tells us “with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” John 20:19-21.
Jesus was alive. He ate fish with them, they hugged, he told them “gather all my followers and go to Galilee where I will meet you.”
Thomas, when he heard, did not believe it—”Impossible,” he said—”unless I put my own fingers in the holes in his flesh, I can’t believe.”
8 days later, Thomas was with them and Jesus appeared again “Thomas—touch the holes in my hands, the wound in my side, and stop doubting.
“Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you now believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” John 20:29.
Over The next 40 days, Jesus appeared to over 500 eyewitnesses, risen, alive the Bible says.
It’s an undisputed fact secular historians agree on–the early disciples fully believed Jesus appeared to them risen.
And it changed them.
Historians agree that James—Jesus own brother believed and led the Jerusalem church, because Jesus appeared risen.
Paul, a Pharisee who was killing Christians for claiming Jesus as Messiah, was confronted by a Blinding Light who was the Risen Jesus.
It changed Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament.
Historians confirm that James, Paul, most of the 11 disciples ended up martyred—unwilling to recant that Jesus is the Risen Messiah. It changed them.
How about you? Where are you with Jesus?
Are you still Doubting like Thomas? If so, ask God to show you—but don’t be proud and demanding like the one criminal, have an open mind and seeking heart, and watch how God shows you how He loves you!
And if you do believe, is it changing you?
Jesus came to save us, not only from sin, but from doing life without God’s loving guidance. Are you seeking to grow closer to the God of love? Are you helping others find faith? Are you serving others with others?
Join with us—grow with us.
He’s Alive. He is risen, indeed.