The alarm goes off at 6am, I get myself dressed and ready, jump into the car and off I go (possibly picking up a few passengers on the way).  This is normally how my Easter Sunday morning would begin before I arrive at Slemish car park for the Easter Dawn Service - pre-COVID19.  Wrapped up in my coat, scarf and gloves, as well as a comfy pair of boots, I stand with so many others at the foot of Slemish, as we come together to worship and celebrate such a momentous event in history.  As I watch the sunrise and the vibrant colours fill the sky, I’m reminded of the love that God has for me and the power He has through defeating death; making salvation possible for all who have faith.
In such a moment, it’s easy to think about what Jesus did for us all those years ago.  Being surrounded by people who are there because they want to worship the Resurrected Christ.  During the rest of the year, I’m not surrounded by that all the time, but do I still take the time to consider the incredible event that once took place?  After the Easter Dawn Service is over, do I think about the three words ‘He Has Risen’ that fill my Instagram feed?
I, and perhaps you too, forget how glorious those three words are… how magnificently God’s plan from before the beginning of time fell perfectly into place… and how much this perfect plan cost the one who loves us most.  It is humanly impossible to grasp it all fully, truly, completely.  It was our human nature, our sin, which was the reason it all had to be.
Let me take you on a journey, just for a few minutes, back to three days of human history.  Three days that were written down, foretold to happen and still took humanity by surprise.
I want us to go back to the night of Jesus’ arrest.  This could have been the moment where it started to sink in for the disciples. It was all becoming real what Jesus and the Old Testament foretold about his death. It was all going to happen.  The disciples knew of what was to come yet, left Jesus alone and fled… all but one – Peter.  I wonder what might go through the mind of someone who has never heard the story before.  It could be so easy to think this is where Peter’s loyalty will shine and he will continue to be there for Jesus, even though it’s from a distance, but in fact, opposite happens. Peter fulfils the prophecy that he, himself, said would never come to pass – he would deny knowing Jesus Christ.  The rooster crowed and Peter immediately realised that in each of his responses to the three questions he was asked, he has denied knowing Jesus.
At this point, I often fall into the trap of wondering how Peter could do such a thing and I have to be honest in saying that it’s so easy to judge him.  Then, I have to take a step back and ask, do I always say what I believe no matter who I’m with?  I may not utter the words ‘I do not know him’ as Peter did, but do I testify that I am a believer and a follower of Jesus Christ and stand firm in that truth?
The morning of what is now known as Good Friday, Jesus stood trial before Pontius Pilate.  To one day be able to stand as Jesus did, without showing even a hint of ignorance or anger as accusations were constantly being thrown at Him is something I can only strive to do.  Jesus was the perfect man, He followed God’s commands all His life and yet as He was being accused of crimes He never did, He showed such a stillness and peace.  Pilate, himself, said, ‘I find no guilt in this man’ and so Jesus was brought before Herod.  As I read through the passage in Luke telling of these events, I am reminded that Jesus endured so much even before his crucifixion.  Jesus was mocked and beaten even before He was brought into, not one but several, trials in which He was either falsely accused or mocked even more.  I wonder at the humility and strength Jesus continually showed through it all knowing exactly what he was about to face, but I am also reminded that Jesus overcame it.  Whatever I face today, whatever challenges I’m brought up against, I know that Jesus has already overcome it all and I know, in His will, He will guide me through the storms of life.
All that was happening was during the Passover Feast and it had become a custom for the Roman governor, Pilate, to release any prisoner chosen by the people.  Barabbas was the other prisoner brought out.  He led a rebellion against the government and committed murder – he deserved the punishment that was coming to him.  Surely the obvious choice was to release Jesus, who had done no wrong, but those who plotted against Jesus had such hatred towards him and told the people to choose to release Barabbas and kill Jesus.  Pilate saw that Jesus had done nothing wrong but he ‘washed his hands’ and declared that Jesus’ blood was on the hands of the people, not him.  The people agreed.  They even said Jesus’ blood would not only be on them but also their children.
Without hesitation, I read these words and think I would have been different.  I would have stood out from the crowd and chosen Jesus, ignoring the persuading words of the chief priests and elders. Maybe you have the same thought… but would we?  Many of the people standing in the crowd would probably have heard Jesus teach, saw him perform miracles, watched him as he healed the sick or raised people from the dead.  Yet, they still chose Barabbas.  As I mentioned before, it’s so much easier to proclaim Jesus when we are surrounded by people who believe the same as we do, like when I spend Easter Sunday morning at Slemish, but the strength we need to proclaim Him anytime, anywhere, comes from God when we ask Him.
Jesus’ life on earth was leading up to now – He is the centre of God’s amazing rescue plan.  Jesus was mocked, beaten, stripped of His clothes and given a scarlet robe to wear, as well as a crown of thorns pressed down on His head.  The Son of God was forced to carry His cross until He had no human strength left.  Simon of Cyrene was picked from the crowd to carry the cross behind Jesus.  To think about the nails being driven into Jesus’ hands and feet, how He listened to the shouts; or the pleas of the criminals beside Him; or watched the soldiers gamble for his clothes as He hung on the cross is almost unbearable but yet, in the midst of it, Jesus utters the words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  I find these words so incredible but so hard to grasp.  How could He ask God to forgive the people who took pleasure in watching Him suffer?  How much more do I need to be willing to forgive people around me if Jesus forgave them?  No one deserves God’s grace because we all have sinned against Him but Jesus’ love for us is beyond our human understanding because He chose the nails to win your heart.  (Max Lucado)
How can the day Jesus was crucified be called Good Friday, the day Jesus went through so much suffering because he loved us… that’s because Good Friday wasn’t the end.  The next day, Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross, wrapped in linen and laid in the tomb.  A big stone was rolled in front of the entrance, so had the women and the disciples not remembered what Jesus told them, had they not understood what was soon about to happen?
This day, Easter Sunday, I believe was the most glorious day in history.  The two women walked to the tomb unknowing and unsuspecting of anything out of the ordinary only to arrive seeing the stone had been rolled away.  An angel appeared before them saying Jesus was not there, ‘He Had Risen!’  All sorts of emotions and feelings must have flooded their heads, but filled with both fear and joy, they ran to tell the disciples.  I can only imagine how their hearts must have been racing and then… Jesus, Himself, risen and alive, met them!  The man they had followed for so long and watched being crucified, now stood before them.  The pure joy those women must have had at that moment would have been incredible.
I’ve never seen the risen Saviour with my own eyes here on earth, but I know that one day in Heaven I will, but while I am here, I know He lives in me.  I am nothing more than a sinner saved by God’s amazing grace, only through the death and glorious resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.  I have done nothing to earn it and I certainly don’t deserve it, but I praise Him for it.  On such a glorious day as today, even if the weather isn’t glorious, take the time to praise God for all He has done and when the words ‘He Has Risen’ fill your Instagram feed, don’t just pass them by but remember the reason why these three small words changed everything.

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