Today, we are continuing on the Discipleship Path with another step, Sharing Your Story. Each of us have a defining story. This is probably the one step that most of us struggle with, mostly because we think it sounds hard, a little awkward, even a little scary – what if they don’t like me after I share my story or think I’m weird. But I wonder if we struggle with this one because we aren’t completely sure or confident in what our story is. Well, Easter Sunday is the perfect time to figure out just what our story really is. And I promise you, you’re going to like it.
Have you ever gone on an interview where the employer asks you to give them three words that best describe yourself? Knowing that was a popular question at interviews, when I was preparing for an interview I would put a lot of thought into that answer. I wanted to come up with the right three words that would best describe me, yet use three words (only three words) that would also fit for the job I was inquiring about. But to come up with those words was really not an easy task.
It seems for some reason, it’s hard for us to define ourselves. Coming up with a short answer of what does defines you, because let’s be real, people aren’t likely going to want to sit for hours and hours listening to your story, some may but not many. So coming up with what it is that makes you you, why you are who you are, takes a lot thought. Or at least, we think it does.
We know things like our upbringing, the area where we grew up, our life experiences, our family and even friends all help to determine who we are. But in all honesty, that’s really only part of our story. The important questions to answer in order to really define our story are:
What do I stand for?
What is it that I truly believe in?
How do I view the world and my place in it?
What even determines how I understand my place in this world and my life mission?
It’s important to know your story because it says not only who you are and what you believe in, but how you live your life. And to top it off, knowing your story is one of the most powerful tools to help other people get to know Jesus.
And we’re not the only ones with a story. Jesus has His own defining story. A story that says who and why He is who He is. And I’ll just jump to the conclusion right now, if you are a Christian, Jesus’ story is at the base of your defining story.
Today on Easter, we are remembering and celebrating His defining story. It’s what we know as the Resurrection Day. Up until this point in His story, Jesus’ life has been building towards this very climax.
I won’t start from the beginning of His life story, but let’s back up just a couple of days and recap what was happening in this part of His story. On Thursday evening of the final week of Jesus’ life on earth, He shared the Passover meal with the 12 disciples and has this powerful foot washing act of service to explain how we should love as Jesus has loved us. He then, knowing full well what’s coming in the next 12 hours, heads off to the garden to pray with a few of His disciples.
There in the garden, one of His disciples named Judas, His own student and friend who followed Him for three years, betrays Jesus to the Jewish leaders and marks who He is with a kiss. Jesus is then arrested by the religious authorities, and in an overnight, secret trial, Jesus is found guilty of blasphemy for claiming to be the Son of God, the awaited Messiah.
Meanwhile in the early morning hours, Jesus’ prediction of all of the disciples deserting Him comes into fruition, as well as Peter’s denial of even knowing Jesus three times before the rooster crows.
On Friday morning, the Jewish leaders lead Jesus to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, to be sentenced to be flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified. Hanging on a cross between two criminals, enduring hours and hours of horrible pain and suffering He breathes His last breath saying, “It is finished. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Let’s stop there for a moment and look at this phrase… “It is finished.” This is a very meaningful statement that Jesus makes literally just before He takes His last breath. What was finished? His life…as if that was a cry of defeat? I don’t think so.
What tells us that this was no cry of defeat is the fact that not only did Jesus tell His disciples on multiple occasions that He was going to Jerusalem to die, He also prayed about it in the garden like He knew exactly what was coming in those next few hours – the arrest, the torture, and the crucifixion! These events were no surprise to Him.
Instead, He shouted these words as if something astounding was just accomplished, as in a victory, like the war had now been won. But what exactly was won, was accomplished and finished? I’ll come back to that.
After He shouted, “It is finished,” Jesus took His last breath. Some of His followers asked permission to take His body down from the cross before dark in order to prepare it for burial before the Sabbath Day would begin which ran from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. Normally, the bodies would hang for days as a sign to all that the Roman government was in control and you needed to follow what they said. However, permission was actually granted, and His body was quickly prepared for burial, and then placed in a borrowed tomb which had a large stone rolled in front of it.
And as far as anyone could see, that was it. It was over. It was finished. The disciples who had been with Jesus for three years were now in hiding for fear that they too would be arrested and crucified. How was this frightened, discouraged group ever supposed to rebound from this huge lose and grief and go on after the execution of the very man they believed to be the Messiah?
But here’s where Jesus’ story gets really interesting. The story was not over on the cross. What was accomplished and finished on that cross was that Jesus had come to Jerusalem with the purpose of dying as the ultimate sacrifice so that you, me and everyone else could have forgiveness for our sins. You see, prior this this, God’s children had to give a sacrifice as an atonement for their sins – a lamb, a calf, a pigeon – the best of their best.
But no more. Once and for all, God’s forgiveness would be as easy as asking for it. God wanted a sure way to get to His children since sin divides us and separates us from Him. And this would be an opportunity like never before offered to reconcile with God. God’s sacrifice, His offering was the best of His best, His Son, who was a spotless lamb, perfect with no sin.
Everyone there that Friday witnessed outstanding signs that God was doing something. Even the Roman soldiers recognized God’s hand. The sky had turned dark from noon until 3pm when it should have been the brightest time of day. The earth quaked, rocks split, bodies rose out of graves, and the greatest symbol of the day, at least in my mind, was that the huge curtain in the Temple that hung from the ceiling to floor torn in two from top to bottom. This curtain was what separated God from man, God from the priest to be specific. You and I could have never even approached the curtain. Only the priest did that. Yet now it is torn symbolizing that we now have direct access to God, direct access to ask for that forgiveness that Jesus’ sacrifice offers. Jesus knew what He was doing, and He did it willingly.
Now we know today that Jesus rose from that grave. But let’s just imagine if Jesus’ story really did end with His burial on that Friday, that definitely would have looked like He was defeated.
And I think it’s pretty safe to say that if that was the case, there would be no Christian faith today. Those first disciples would have felt defeated and likely would have hid in fear for the rest of their lives or at least until the smoke settled. And even if they could venture out again, I don’t really see them telling thousands of people in one crowd in the middle of the streets of Jerusalem, who Jesus is.
But thanks be to God, that was not the end of Jesus’ defining story! On that early Sunday morning, after the Sabbath was over, the women who followed Jesus went to the tomb with spices prepared to anoint Jesus body in a more proper way since it was done in such a hurry on Friday. On the way, they were asking each other who’s going to roll away the large stone for us.
Turns out, that didn’t matter, because low and behold, when they arrived, they found that the stone had already been rolled away. But…..they had no idea why. They were shocked and wondered what in the world was going on. Thinking the worst, they enter the tomb and saw the cloth that was covering Jesus’ body lying there, with no Jesus. Their first thought was that someone had stolen him. They were devastated! Who would do such a thing and why?
But shortly after they found the tomb empty, something truly amazing and unbelievable happened. Here comes the turning point, here comes the peak of the story…Angels spoke to the women telling them that Jesus was alive.
The message was clear: Not sin, not hate, not evil, or even death would have the final word. God, in raising Jesus from the dead, was shouting to the human race:
Love has conquered hate,
Grace has conquered sin,
Hope has conquered despair,
And life has conquered death!
That…is Jesus defining story and the good news is, that it can be ours too.
A great example of a women who made that her defining story was Mary Magdalene. Jesus healed Mary from her demons early in His ministry. Scripture says He drove seven demons out of her. Now we don’t know much about her profession or what her seven demons were, many think she was a prostitute, but let me set this straight, nowhere in scripture does it say that. I think that’s assumed because she had these demons, but they could have been anything – depression, anxiety, mental illness, physical illness, fear, loneliness, she could have been abused and abandoned.
But whatever they were, her life was miraculously freed when Jesus drove them out of her!
And she knew it and gave up everything to follow Jesus. The 12 disciples weren’t the only ones who walked away from their families and careers. In fact, many women followed Jesus. One thing to note about Jesus is He did not treat women as others in His culture did; He treated them with dignity, as people of value and worth. (Woman at the well, woman who anointed Him before His death, woman who touched His cloak and was healed.)
And Mary Magdalene felt that first hand. She was an energetic, caring woman who not only traveled with Jesus, but also contributed to the needs of the group. She’s a great heartwarming example of gratified living because in every glimpse we have of her, she was acting out her appreciation for the freedom Jesus gave her.
That freedom allowed her to stand under Christ’s cross when all the disciples except for John were hiding in fear. That freedom gave her the desire to see to Jesus body and give Him every respect with a proper anointing.
She never expected to see though what she did – His body gone. And she never expected to see what was next….
Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. 2 She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. 4 They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. 6 Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, 7 while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. 8 Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— 9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.
11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.
“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”
She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”
16 “Mary!” Jesus said.
She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).
17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.
His body was resurrected right in front of her very eyes. She was so overjoyed that she didn’t ask questions like why, what, how. Instead, her faith was not complicated. It was direct and genuine. She was more eager to believe and obey than to understand every detail. And Jesus honored her childlike faith by appearing to her first and by entrusting her with the first message of His resurrection.
Mary Magdalene’s defining story was the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s a story about victory. It’s a story about:
Love conquering hate,
Grace conquering sin,
Hope conquering despair,
And life conquering death!
This can be our story too. If you are already a Christian, this is your defining story. The whole defining story of the Christian faith is Easter. Easter is the event that shapes how we see everything…God, Jesus, each other, the world.
In whatever way God got this story through to you, that God helped you to see who He is, that’s where your story starts. And every time you’ve seen God move in your life, every time He asked you to take part in His story and you said yes, those are the moments that build your defining story.
Now I know many of you in this room have been a Christian for many years, and you probably have many stories of your relationship with God to tell. And many of those stories will help others to know God, but your defining story will always start with Jesus’ defining story and how you came to know, understand it, and accept it as part of your story.
If someone asked me if I really believe Jesus rose from the dead, I’d have to say, “I’m counting on it.”
I’m counting on it to define who I am…as a saved child of God.
I’m counting on the fact that God forgives our sins and that He’s a God of the second chances.
I’m counting on the fact that ultimately we don’t have to be afraid.
I’m counting on the fact that sin and hate and sickness and death will not have the final word.
When we walk in the footsteps of the RESURRECTED Christ, we walk with victory and hope. Mary counted on it, the disciples counted on it, and so am I. And I hope you are too.
Know your defining story. Write it down so you can think through all the steps that have got you to salvation.
And be ready to share it with others. Not pointing fingers and preaching from the street corners…that never goes anywhere positive. Instead, be ready when the time arises for you to share your story. Maybe it will only be a part of your story or maybe you’ll be called to tell it all. Just be ready. God will tell you when it’s time.
There are people out there who need to hear how God moved in you so that they are assured how God can move in them too or that it is God right there in that very moment. They want to know how you got to where you are because they want to be there too. You don’t have to know all the answers of the Bible, just know your story and be willing to share it.
Through your one and only Son, you overcame death and opened the gate of everlasting life. You wrote a defining story ready for each one of us to take as our story. As we celebrate our Lord’s Resurrection with worship, communion, family meals, and egg hunts today, renew us by showing us our defining story. For all praise is yours, now and forever. Amen.