Madison Church

Rising from Despair: The Power of the Easter Miracle

April 01, 2024 Stephen Feith
Madison Church
Rising from Despair: The Power of the Easter Miracle
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

As dawn broke on a Sunday unlike any other, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary discovered an empty tomb and a risen Christ. The Easter narrative, familiar yet ever-renewing, forms the backdrop of our heartfelt exploration into the depths of spiritual growth and resurrection power. Echoing the global chorus of believers, we declare "Christ is risen; He is risen indeed," drawing from our series "Mature Audiences Only" to journey through prayer and Scripture, seeking not scientific explanation but a spiritual awakening that Easter heralds.

Venturing through the painful solemnity of Good Friday and the silent introspection of Saturday, we confront the role of suffering within the Christian experience. This episode doesn't shy away from the darker hues of the Easter story, instead embracing them as vital to our collective narrative of faith. As we relate the agony of the crucifixion to our own trials—from physical training to entrepreneurship—we uncover how pain, far from being a punitive force, can serve as a crucible for our growth and refinement.

Wrapping up with the far-reaching implications of the resurrection, as inspired by N.T. Wright's "Surprised by Hope," we're urged to consider the transformative power Easter represents. It's an invitation not only for personal renewal but also a clarion call to societal rejuvenation, encouraging us to become catalysts for healing, justice, and love. Amidst the celebration of life's triumph over death, we see a future where the darkness is held at bay by the enduring light of hope and resurrection.

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Speaker 1:

After the Sabbath, as the first light of the new week dawned, mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to keep vigil at the tomb. Suddenly, the earth reeled and rocked under their feet as God's angel came down from heaven and came right up to where they were standing. He rolled back the stone and then sat on it. Shafts of lightning blazed from him. His garments shimmered snow white. The guards at the tomb were scared to death. They were so frightened they couldn't move. The angel spoke to the women. There is nothing to fear here. I know you are looking for Jesus, the one they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised, just as he said. Come and look at the place where he was.

Speaker 1:

Well, happy Easter and welcome to our online audience. I'm Stephen Feith, lead pastor. Christ is risen, and for those of you who didn't grow up in the liturgical church, you repeat he is risen indeed. So let's try that again. Christ is risen. Yes, see, there we go, some of our folks who you grow up in a liturgical and you're like I'm not supposed to talk in church because you're not Pentecostal, but then we randomly do this and now, all of a sudden, you're expected to talk. It's very confusing to me too, and this will be the only time all year I have you repeat anything after me, but I want you guys to feel included in the greater body of Christ, because today, hundreds of millions of Christians all over the world are gathering and we're all saying the same message it's the one Sunday out of the year I can guarantee we're all talking about the same exact thing. We're here to observe and to reflect and to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

Speaker 1:

For those of you who are new to our church or you're visiting with friends and family or watching online for the first time, we've been in a series since we started 2024, called Mature Audiences Only. We've talked about the Bible and prayer, and we've talked about how oftentimes we grow up, but our faith just doesn't keep pace. We physically get bigger, we physically get whiter, we get older, we get grayer, we get balder. Emotionally, we're forced to grow up. That just happens. You don't have a choice, and oftentimes, though, spiritually we remain an infant or a toddler or a child, or wherever we're at. Usually, our spiritual maturity has not caught up or kept up with how we grow, and so throughout this series, we've been taking a deep dive into two big practices, reading the Bible and prayer, and I want to continue with that theme today as we look at Easter.

Speaker 1:

And I'll be honest with you about a year, year and a half ago, when I was planning these series out, I thought this Easter Sunday what I would do is go into the science behind the resurrection, because some of you know, when dead people, when people die, they don't normally come back from the dead, right, I mean, like 10 out of 10 times people remain dead, and so a hard thing for us. You know you're basing your entire faith on the premise that this guy, jesus of Nazareth, raised from the dead 2,000 years ago, and that was the direction I was going to go. And over the last few weeks I just got the sense of maybe call it the Spirit moving me to go a different direction. And so I'm not going to talk about the science of the resurrection. Where the Spirit, I think, has been leading me is that Easter Sunday often evokes images of joy and lightness. It portrays a sanitized version of what happened. I love the book by NT Wright. I'm actually going to quote it later today. But Surprised by Hope, and in Surprised by Hope, wright mentions, like Easter's, this big and grand party and we should be popping champagne and celebrating, and I was. I mean, I love it. And every year I'm like, yes, except this year, I'll be honest. That's where I feel the shift of the Spirit in myself moving.

Speaker 1:

We like to skip Good Friday and we like to skip Silent Saturday. We tend to forget that because there's a resurrection, there had to be a death first, and maybe it's just because we're optimistic. Some of you are optimistic and you prefer to never think about the negative aspects of life and you just want to think about it. I couldn't help but notice on Friday, if you're on social media, how many people would say he is dead. But Sunday is coming. We couldn't just sit in the sadness, we can't just be grieved, and I thought that's a problem. We need to sit in our grief and in our tragedy.

Speaker 1:

Now look, I'm not blaming you or anybody to shy away from pain. Pain is kind of this wonderful thing you've been given. I know you don't think like we all do everything we can to avoid pain, but if you think about it biologically, pain is keeping you alive. Pain is, I mean. There's a reason you don't put your hand on a hot oven or a stovetop right Like oh, that hurts, I'm not going to do that. Pain warns you, pain guides you, and so pain is a natural part of life.

Speaker 1:

It's not all bad, but I think that when we tend to think and we talked about this a few weeks ago when we think of pain in my Christian experience, sometimes we think God is punishing me. I must have done something bad, and we mentioned this is a part of the faith that needs to grow up. Just because you're going through pain and suffering, it doesn't mean God's mad at you. It doesn't mean you've done something wrong and, as we find out in the Easter story, pain and suffering was required. Death was required. The whole reason you and I get together today, with hundreds of millions of other Christians around the world, to celebrate Easter is because a lot of really bad stuff happened to a really good person.

Speaker 1:

You might think that if I'm just doing what God wants, my life's going to be good, right? Isn't that the John 10 promise? Follow me, and I have come to give you life, and to give you life to the full. So we think well, if I'm just doing God's will, things will be good. But contrast that with Jesus' experience on what we refer to as Maundy Thursday. He went a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying my father, if it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine. Well, that night, jesus acknowledges what's about to happen. I don't want to have happen. But, god, let your will be done, not my own.

Speaker 1:

What has happened that night is one of the people that he spent most of his life with the three or four years prior betrayed him Judas. People that he spent most of his life with the three or four years prior betrayed him Judas. He sells them out for some money. And so then Jesus is arrested. Now I've not been arrested, but I can go out and imagine that some of you have you're watching, you're listening, you have, you know whatever accident on purpose, bad mistake, but being arrested seems like a pretty traumatic experience. That seems like that would cause a lot of angst inside. So not only has Jesus been betrayed, but now he's being arrested, and then he actually needs one of his friends. He needs Peter to maybe kind of stand up for him. And Peter denies him Not one time, not two times, but three times, or at least three times that we know about. They say, hey, we know you, you were one of Jesus' boys. He says, nope, nope, nope, not me, you got me confused with some other guy, but it was not me. You know Jesus.

Speaker 1:

Pain, suffering, feeling alone. If we're taking anything from this message, it should be that if the sinless son of God himself wasn't exempt from pain and suffering in this world, you won't be either. Having faith doesn't mean you will not have adversity in your life. It doesn't mean you're doing something wrong. As a matter of fact, when we look at the story that we're looking at, god's will was pain and suffering. God's will was death. God's will was all of that to get to where we are today. Again, our faith is deeply rooted in the narrative that something really bad happened to someone really good and let me point out, not just someone really good God. Something really bad happened to God, god who has not sinned, god who has not done anything wrong, experienced evil and experienced pain and suffering.

Speaker 1:

And this might be again, I know, biologically pain. We stay away from it, but think about it. Not all pain is bad. That's what I need you to begin to think about. Not all pain is bad. That's what I need you to begin to think about. Not all pain is bad.

Speaker 1:

Think about exercising. This is a theory to me. I don't actually exercise, but I've heard from other people who exercise that you go to the gym and you work out and they say it hurts. So good, I'm like what. And they say I ran for an hour and I have so much energy and I'm just what, like I don't. There's a disconnect between theory and practice to me I don't. But they'll tell you that the more you do it, the stronger you get. They tell me, the more you do it, your mental health gets better. They tell me, the more that you do it, the more energy you have.

Speaker 1:

But first comes pain. The first comes pain. You might've started a business, or you worked in an organization and you made mistakes and the business failed. Or you got fired and it was awful. But in that pain you probably learned some valuable lessons, either about running a business or how to act as an employee. I'm guessing that through that pain you got through it a better person. Did you know that there are studies that show that facing your insecurities openly foster greater confidence and charisma? That when you own your stuff, you don't hide it. But when you own your weaknesses and you own the things that make you feel insecure, a reverse thing happens and you become more secure. Well, it takes some pain right to kind of come out and say this is where I've messed up or this is what I'm not good at, but if you can get through it, you become stronger. I mean, think about this Despite the initial sting, honest confrontation often leads to a better relationship.

Speaker 1:

Honest confrontation often leads to a better relationship, more trust, more respect. Enduring fears and anxieties can forge unparalleled courage and resilience. However, I know that by just telling you, like guys, when you go through pain, good things happen, I know that that doesn't make you say, okay, well, let's go through pain Like I'm so pumped up. Now I know that it doesn't. And, as a matter of fact, going back to this idea of studies and research, they actually can show you that something almost the same is going on with your brain when you go through psychological pain as when you go through physical pain. So it's not just like your brain going crazy when you touch the hot stove, but that time, when you were in high school or junior high, you had that first love and that relationship didn't work out, and you were so upset that you said I think that I could die. Your brain literally thought so too. Your brain was releasing the same kind of chemicals and reactions that if, like an ice pick, had been driven through your heart.

Speaker 1:

Psychological pain is just like physical pain and it's just like spiritual pain that we experience. So not all pain is bad. Some pain can be good, but all pain hurts psychological, spiritual or physical. And just because you're going through pain doesn't mean you're doing something wrong. Embracing God's will may lead you through a path of pain and suffering, but keep in mind that this path of pain and suffering might lead you, and holds the potential to lead you, somewhere that you could not go alone, that you could not go without the pain and suffering. Now I know you're ready, right, we're like this is good, this is good.

Speaker 1:

That's not where the story ends, though. This is just Maundy Thursday. Don't forget about Good Friday. Sometimes things get worse before they get better. Jesus has been betrayed, jesus has been denied, he's been arrested. And on Good Friday, jesus endures brutal beatings, he's mocked. They place wagers for his clothes. He's hanging naked on a cross as he slowly bleeds to death as he slowly suffocates, as his organs begin to fail, in front of his mom, in front of his friends, in front of his followers. But it wasn't just his friends, it was also his enemies. They watch him on Good Friday too, die. It wasn't just the humiliation the night before. It was the humiliation and the pain and the sting of death.

Speaker 1:

And if you're here today, you are not dead. But that doesn't mean that you don't know what death feels like. Some of you have had the death of a marriage, the death of a friendship. You're estranged from a sibling, estranged from a child. This is not just an emotional loss. You would say this feels like death. Personal health might be failing. Severe illness death Personal health might be failing Severe illness. Disability can radically alter our lifestyle and our self-perception. It can lead to a death of former ways of life, faith. Things can happen in your life that kill your faith. You might be here right now, just out of practice. I'm here. I don't know why my faith has died. My faith hurts. I'm watching or listening online. You're kind of checking things out. Our faith can die. There could be financial loss you might have had to declare bankruptcy or some other substantial financial loss and the death of that stings today.

Speaker 1:

These experiences are just like Jesus's journey to the cross. They lead us to a wilderness of despair, and in these moments, we might find ourselves, just like Jesus saying my God, why have you abandoned me, abandoned me? This cry encapsulates the depth of Jesus' suffering, although he and God were one. In this moment of suffering, he says God, why have you abandoned me? And maybe you haven't used those words, but I imagine you have prayed something in the same spirit God, where are you, god? Why have you left me, god? Why am I so alone right now?

Speaker 1:

Good Friday reminds us that having faith does not shield us from the reality of death or even the sensation of being forsaken by God. Instead, it shows us that this is a normal part of following Jesus. This is a normal part of walking in God's will, that at some point and at some time, you're going to feel all alone, and it doesn't mean you've done something wrong. And in this moment, what Jesus does is he shows us that it's okay to acknowledge your suffering and it's okay to confront your own experiences of loss and abandonment, and it's okay to cry out to God, as this is all part of a larger story of hope and renewal. I know we like to go from Good Friday to today, but there is one more day between Good Friday and today and it's called Silent Saturday, and Silent Saturday reflects and represents the profound quiet and stillness, a day that's just absolutely steeped in pain and sorrow.

Speaker 1:

You know the New Testament doesn't speak a whole lot to what actually happens on that Saturday. Apparently, there wasn't a whole lot to share about, but you can imagine what the disciples were feeling. They dedicated four years of their lives to something. Some of you have dedicated years of your lives to something, and then it ended. You can imagine the day of grief when you find out that it ended. It's over. They're scared because people are out there looking for them. They want to kill all of Jesus' followers now. So it's not just like my career needs to shift, it's not just that I wasted a bunch of time. Both of those things are lament worthy but now it's like what does my future look like? Because my future might be screwed up because of what I did the last four years.

Speaker 1:

Some of you know what that feels like. My past might have dictated what my future looks like and in today's context, silent Saturday might look like mental health struggles, depression so bad that you can't get out of bed, anxiety so bad that you can't get to bed and fall asleep and you call out to God. And yet you feel just so alone. You might have the grief and loss of a loved one in the last year or two. Your heart breaks, you miss this person. You can't go a day without thinking about them.

Speaker 1:

Despite the digital connectivity that we all have and social media, we know that we're lonelier than ever. In the West, in the United States, despite being connected to 700, 1,000 friends, having all of these followers on Instagram, many of us feel like we don't have one person that we can confide into. We feel alone. And again, going back to this idea of this crisis of faith, it leads to profound spiritual solitude. You might find yourself in an environment right now where you have pain and suffering and you call out to God. You say God, where are you? And he's not answering. You find yourself in a silent Saturday. It teaches us that seeds of transformation and hope are sown into the quiet depths of solitude and the sorrow you're experiencing. And again, going back to this idea, we say it's Good Friday, but Sunday is coming.

Speaker 1:

I love this quote by pastor and author Mark Batterson. He says we're often so anxious to get out of difficult, painful or challenging situations that we fail to grow through them. We're so fixated on getting out of them that we don't get anything out of them. Got to let that sink in. We get so fixated on getting out of them that we don't get anything out of them. We're so focused on God changing our circumstances that we never allow God to change us. You might be in a season of pain and suffering and feeling alone, because God is doing something that couldn't be done without pain and suffering. And you feeling alone, it doesn't mean you're doing something wrong. It means he's investing in you for something greater and something better. Because, don't forget, sunday is coming.

Speaker 1:

There is a natural desire to jump to the joy of celebration, but it is vital for us on this Easter Sunday to remember the pain and the suffering and the journey that gets us to a resurrection. You cannot have a resurrection without a death. Death is required for resurrection and the resurrection narrative that you have in your gospels Matthew, mark, luke and John. They don't try to hide how terrible it was. They don't try to hide their doubts and their fears. They're honest with it, a lot more honest than we are when it comes to our own doubts and fears and the things that we're scared of. You know what happens when you touch that oven. Usually you get a burn right, a scar, something to remind you. Don't touch the oven again.

Speaker 1:

Jesus also had scars from his crucifixion. They're actually mentioned later on in the story. The scars are not a sign of defeat. You would think that they were. You would think that the scars should remind you of the mistakes you made and how you failed and the regrets that you hold. But not the biblical narrative, not the story of Jesus, not Easter. The scars remind us of the powerful testimony of overcoming suffering and death. Today again, we carry all sorts of scars with us. Some of you might have physical scars from an illness, from a surgery, from a mistake, but it marks a health battle that you're currently in front of, doesn't it? There's the emotional aftermath of enduring mental health struggles. You might have depression and anxiety, and those scars are real, but you're still here, aren't you? There might be deep wounds from an abusive relationship hinting at past turmoil, and yet you're here, you're surviving. There's the marks of addiction and I know the road to recovery is challenging. And again, the internal scars from personal regrets, failures, but these scars that you have, whether I can see them or not, whether the person next to you could see them or not, these scars are not signs of defeat but powerful testimonies to your triumphs over death and suffering.

Speaker 1:

The story of Thomas, often dubbed Doubting Thomas, it further illustrates this. If we're scrolling through the story of Matthew, there's Maundy Thursday and there's Friday, and then there's Resurrection Sunday, and then Thomas comes out and says I don't believe it, I don't believe Jesus came back from the dead. I saw him die myself. I'm not going to believe it unless I can see the scars. I got to see proof. Thomas is kind of like us in a lot of ways. I'm not going to believe it unless I can see the scars. I got to see proof. Thomas is kind of like us in a lot of ways. I want to see proof. And so Jesus appears to him, scars and all, and he says peace, be with you. And then he looks at Thomas and he says put your finger here, look at my hands, put your hand into the wound in my side and don't be faithless any longer. Believe Again with being honest about pain, suffering, feeling alone and scars. Jesus didn't come back all brand new. He came back battled, worn and torn, and he doesn't hide the scars. He says, yep, here they are. And he doesn't just say look at them. He says, thomas, let me help your faith because of what I have done.

Speaker 1:

Again, easter Sunday evokes images of joy and lightness, but it's a sanitized version of the story if we don't recognize that the resurrection comes after death, pain and suffering, today you might be in a Resurrection Sunday season of life. Everything's working out, everything's great, you can hear God, you're following His will and that is awesome. I am really sincerely happy for you if that's where you're at, but I'm also aware others of you are in the midst of pain and suffering. You're experiencing the death of something significant in your life. You've had a good Friday moment of something that you absolutely loved. Some of you are beyond that. That happened a few months ago, that happened a year ago, that happened a few years ago and you find yourself in the longest, silent Saturday of your life. Where are you, god? You have the death and you're waiting for Easter Sunday and you know it's coming. But it doesn't make being in Saturday any easier.

Speaker 1:

It's in these moments that we kind of maybe question why. I saw a lot of this. Why did Jesus die on the cross this week is what I saw and why doesn't he just take away pain and suffering? And again, I don't want to answer that question for you today, but I would like to offer a perspective. Author and pastor of the late Dr Tim Keller writes. If we ask again that question why does God allow evil and suffering to continue? And we look at the cross of Jesus, we still do not know what the answer is. However, we know what the answer isn't. It can't be that he doesn't love us. It can't be that he is indifferent or detached from our condition. God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself. So I might not be able to explain why you're in the season of life that you're in or why you're going through it. Maybe it was a decision you made, maybe it was a decision someone else made, maybe God has led you here. We could speculate all day. Let's keep in mind that God isn't exempt from what you're going through, that he knows firsthand what you're going through.

Speaker 1:

And, as we reflect on the journey from Good Friday, the silent Saturday, to Easter Sunday. Let's consider some things. If you are in a season of pain and suffering, and the first thing to consider is to embrace your pain and suffering, just embrace it. Recognize that it doesn't mean you're necessarily doing something wrong. It can mean that, but sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes you're right where God wants you to be, just like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Facing pain can be a part of the larger divine plan and purpose. So challenge yourself to see these moments not as abandonment but as opportunity to grow in your faith and to develop a deeper resilience on God.

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The second thing is to seek community. In times of despair, we need each other, and I'll remember the disciples on Silent Saturday. We don't know a lot, but here's one thing we do know they stayed together. They stayed together. Now I don't know about you, but if I feel like I wasted the last four years of my life with this group of guys, they're probably the last person I personally want to see Probably going to group text the thread like hey guys, I'm not feeling well, I'm just going to stay in today. You know, like they don't do that Through their pain and suffering, when they find themselves in a spiritual graveyard. These guys and gals, they got together. They recognized it's like they remembered Jesus had ingrained in them so much you need each other. But despite all odds, they came together and finally we cling to hope.

Speaker 1:

Today is Easter Sunday. It is a good day. We do celebrate Jesus's resurrection. We have hope like never before. And I know that you don't feel it if you're in a season of pain and suffering. I know you don't feel it if you can't feel God right now. But that's where you got to use your brain. That's where you got to do some as I tell my son Oliver, you got to do some positive self-talk. Here you have to remind yourself what you know. Sometimes our feelings betray us, sometimes our emotions aren't right, like they're not telling us the truth. And because of Easter Sunday, we can tell ourselves right now I might be on Good Friday, this might be dying, but Sunday is coming. It might be Silent Saturday and I feel like I've wasted the last four years of my life and I feel like I screwed up my future, but Sunday is coming. We continue to tell ourselves that, regardless of how we feel, because the resurrection is the ultimate testament to the hope that we have and the renewal of all things I mentioned.

Speaker 1:

Nt Wright writes a great book called Surprised by Hope and it's all about the resurrection of Jesus and how it does so much more for us than just spiritually revitalize us. But the resurrection of Jesus changes everything and here's a little excerpt from the book. Wright writes justice and love have won. If Easter means Jesus Christ is only raised in a spiritual sense, then it is only about me and finding a new dimension in my personal spiritual life. But if Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, christianity becomes good news for the whole world, news which warms our hearts precisely because it isn't about warming hearts. Easter means that in a world where injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, god is not prepared to tolerate such things and that we will work and plan with all the energy of God to implement the victory of Jesus all over them.

Speaker 1:

No matter where you find yourself today, on a good Friday where things around you are dying. On a silent Saturday where everything feels quiet and you don't know what to do next. On a Sunday where you're celebrating the resurrection of Jesus because things are actually going good I imagine for some of you there's bits and pieces of all of that going on right now. But no matter where you are, easter assures us that new life, new hope is on the horizon. New hope is on the horizon and it's not just transformative for you and yourself, but it's transformative for the people around you, your family, your friends, your church, community, the city of Madison and absolutely beyond. In light of Jesus' resurrection, we are invited to live with the conviction that injustice, violence and degradation will not have final word. We are empowered to contribute to the unfolding of God's kingdom of healing, justice and love on earth. That's what Easter Sunday is all about.

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Good Friday's Purpose and Pain
Embracing Pain and Suffering
The Transformative Power of Easter