15 Now it was the governor's custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.
19 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.
21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify Him!”
23 “Why? What crime has He committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify Him!”
24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
25 All the people answered, “Let His blood be on us and on our children!”
26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don't you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 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. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to 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 into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” 8 Then they remembered His words.
The first two readings we’ve just heard may seem a bit strange for an Easter Sunday service. The events leading up to, and the accounts of Jesus’ death are normally used on Good Friday.
After all, today we celebrate the empty tomb, and while we should never forget the cross, it is the fact that Jesus has risen from the dead that we give thanks for this morning.
But it is necessary for us to look back on the events of Friday, because the cross remains a constant reminder to us of that day. These things all happened a long time ago, but in a spiritual sense we were there. We were there when Jesus was hailed as the King of the Jews, we were then when He was betrayed by His friends, beaten, ridiculed and executed. The answer to the question posed in that old hymn, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” is yes. We were there, so that is why we are going back to Good Friday this morning.
Has anyone ever done something for you completely out of the blue? Something entirely unexpected, and from a person you would least expect it from?
There are two men we read about on Good Friday who had something good happen to them for no apparent reason. We have a name for one but not the other, but what we do know about them is that they were both criminals.
We don’t know the circumstances which ruined their lives, but whatever the reasons, they had lived life on the wrong side of the law, and were about to receive their just rewards for their lives of crime.
But then suddenly they both receive something they did not deserve, and it came completely unexpectedly.
As we look at their stories, think about who they were and what they received. Try to put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Remember, you were there that day, and what we need to understand is that what was done for them has also been done for you.
What they received, despite who they were, is what we all have the opportunity to receive, despite who we are.
The first man is Barabbas. The Bible tells us he is a notorious criminal. He was actually a terrorist. Both the gospels of Luke and John say that he was involved in a rebellion against the Roman government, so he would have had some kind of hero status among the Jews, but we’re also told that he was a murderer. So basically, Barabbas was a nasty piece of work.
And now he was sitting in a prison cell, and waiting to be executed.
You can imagine the thoughts going through his mind as he heard footsteps approaching his cell, and the clang of those ancient keys as the door was opened. “I suppose this is it. My life is over.”
But instead of being dragged off to be executed, Barabbas finds himself pardoned and set free by the most powerful man in Palestine: none other than Pontius Pilate.
Just like that. One minute he’s waiting to die, and the next minute he’s free and walking down the streets of Jerusalem.
Why was he set free? Because someone else took his place. Jesus was about to die, and incredibly for Barabbas, this meant that he didn’t have to. So Barabbas is the first man to receive something wonderful that day, something completely out of the blue.
The second man was the thief on the cross. We don’t even know his name, and I think there’s a good reason for that. It is because this nameless, faceless criminal, about to receive the just rewards for his life of crime is us. The less we know about him, the easier it is for us to see ourselves and our own story in that man.
All we know about him is that he is a criminal and a thief. Not only that, by his own admittance, he’s getting what he deserves.
He deserves to die for his crimes, but he also believes that Jesus doesn’t deserve to die.
He knows Jesus is no criminal. In fact, He believes Jesus has a kingdom, and even though he is undergoing the unspeakable torture of death by crucifixion, he shows remarkable faith when he asks Jesus to remember him after death.
Was he expecting to hear what Jesus actually said to him? Probably not. He was close to death, and maybe for the first time in his life he had decided it was time to come clean and admit that he deserved to die, and to rebuke those who were hurling abuse at this innocent man next to him.
But then he hears Jesus say the most remarkable thing: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
So here we have two men who receive something so unexpected and so undeserved. All they deserved was death. They were both common criminals, and they were about to get what they deserved.
But both men were spared because of Jesus.
And do you know something? We are those two men. We are Barabbas and the criminal on the cross.
We all know who we are. We may be able to put on a good face and hide things from each other and even ourselves, but in our hearts, we know who we really are.
Deep down, we know that we have offended a Holy God who created us for holiness. We know that we don’t deserve anything good from God.
But just like the terrorist and the thief, Jesus has come to our rescue. Out of the blue, Jesus has given us the amazing opportunity to change our eternal destiny from one of deserved destruction and separation from God to one of perfect harmony and fellowship with Him, for all of eternity.
We have all conjured up images in our minds of what Heaven is going to be like. We love the idea of no more aches and pains, no more tears and sadness, seeing our loved ones again, and all of the joy and happiness as a result of these things. But do you know what the greatest joy of Heaven is? It is being with God. Forever.
Revelation 21:3 says “The dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.”
And this is what Jesus offers us.
There are two words which describe what Jesus offered Barabbas and the thief that day, and those two words apply also to our lives.
The first is mercy.
A simple, layman’s definition of the word mercy is this: Not getting what we deserve.
Because of Jesus, Barabbas didn’t get what he deserved. Barabbas deserved to be executed. He had broken the law, and he was guilty of treason and murder. The penalty for his crimes was death, but Jesus stepped in as His substitute and Barabbas was set free.
And because of Jesus, the thief didn’t get what he deserved. By his own admission, he was a thief, a criminal, and he said himself that he was getting what he deserved. He deserved to die and he deserved to be separated from God forever.
But Jesus promised him paradise.
We don't deserve anything like that, either.
Of course, by worldly standards, we’re not as bad as people like Barabbas.
There are undoubtedly many people out there who are far worse than us. We might be better than many other people, but we still know who we really are.
If you were here on Good Friday, you’ll remember that we are sinners who consistently fail to live up to the standards of God’s perfection. We all fall short of His glory.
And we don’t deserve forgiveness. We don’t deserve this amazing new life that God offers us, but He does anyway.
Because Jesus took our place, we are now offered forgiveness and new life. Jesus died on that cross for our sins.
He died on that cross so we could start over, living our lives for Him. That’s mercy.
Barabbas didn’t deserve freedom. He didn’t deserve to be released from his sentence, but Jesus made it possible for Barabbas to get what he didn’t deserve.
The thief didn’t deserve to be in heaven with Jesus. He was a thief and a criminal.
Have you ever had something stolen from you? What was your first reaction? You wanted to get even didn’t you? You want that person who has taken something which is yours to be punished. How often have you had something stolen from you or done to you, and your first thought has been that that person should not be punished? Not very often!
But Jesus gave that thief what he didn’t deserve. He gave Him Heaven.
We don’t deserve God’s best. We don’t deserve anything from God, except punishment. We don’t deserve Jesus taking our sins on Himself.
We don’t deserve having Jesus die to take our place.
We really don’t deserve anything good from God, because we certainly haven’t earned it.
But Jesus pours out His grace on us. He died for our sins so that we don’t have to. He took our place so we wouldn’t have to pay for own sins.
There’s one other word we need to remember today, and that word is life.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen!” This is what Easter is all about.
Jesus Christ is alive. He did go to the cross. He did hang there until He died. He did die for our sins. He did extend undeserved mercy and grace.
And now He gives us life.
Death was not the end for Jesus. Three days later, He walked out of that grave alive. He was seen and He was touched by hundreds of witnesses.
If you have done the Alpha Course you might remember this quote from the session which deals with the factual truth of the resurrection of Jesus.
It comes from a retired Chief Justice of England: “In its favour as living truth there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true.”
Millions of Christians all over the word have experienced the risen Christ in their own lives.
Jesus is alive, and because He lives, we can live. He proved that He can conquer death. He proved that He is control of death. The words of Jesus in Revelation 1:18 is often quoted at Christian funerals: “I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
Jesus promises that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life, and He has proven that He can deliver on that promise because He conquered death.
And today, this Easter morning, Jesus offers all of this to you. He offers you mercy, grace and life.
All you have to do is trust in Him.
Isaiah 53:5 says, “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” That’s Friday.
Revelation 5:12 says, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!” That’s eternity.
Place your hand in the nail-scarred hand.
Are you weary and worn from its toil and strife?
Place your hand in the nail-scarred hand.
Place your hand in the nail-scarred hand - He will keep to the end.
He’s your dearest friend.
Place your hand in the nail-scarred hand.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Luke 24:1-8
There is a quote in the bulletin from Sunday made by the moderator of the UPCSA: “The resurrection is not just something we believe happened. It is a reality to be lived.”
What do you think the differences are between believing the resurrection and living it as a reality?
In which ways do you think you have succeeded or failed in living out the resurrection recently?
Look again at the question the angels asked in Luke 24:5.
Another point made in the bulletin on Sunday is that sometimes there is little or no difference between the ways some Christians live when compared to non-believers. In a spiritual sense they may well be alive, but they are actually “living among the dead.”
Why do you think so many believers struggle to be effective witnesses to the truth of Jesus?
How have you struggled?
Is it possible to live a life of victory which reflects the resurrection power of Jesus? Why, or why not?
Three key words we looked at on Sunday are Mercy, Grace and Life.
How do you understand the differences between mercy and grace?
Close by praying for each other.
Ask the Lord to make the reality of the resurrection, and the power over death which Jesus offers us, evident not just when we die, but throughout every day of this life.