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Easter Sunrise Service
One of the world's greatest actresses is Susan Sarandon. In 1995 she won the Oscar for Best Actress in the film Dead Man Walking. It is the gripping portrayal of an American nun Sister Helen Prejean who ministers to the men on death row. But that powerful film only tells half the story and left out the best part! Dead Man Walking is about the inherent dignity of even a hardened criminal. Like many films and newspapers it concentrates on the criminal, not the victim.
But the story of the victim is even greater, depicting the uniquely Christian message of forgiveness. The true story is how sixteen-year-old Debbie Morris was on a date with her boyfriend, Mark. One Friday evening while having milkshakes two strangers put a revolver to Mark's head. Their night out turned into several hours of torture, rape, and attempted murder. They shot Mark leaving him for dead. Debbie was repeatedly raped and deeply wounded. When the two men were captured, one, Robert Willie was sentenced to die for his crimes. He eventually admitted to several murders, including butchering another girl. But Debbie's anguish did not end when Willie was sentenced to die. Despite those who urged her to "get on with her life," her emotional ordeal continued. Debbie could not find true healing until she was able to comprehend and forgive those two men. As Debbie writes in her book, "Forgiving the Dead Man Walking", "Justice doesn't really heal all the wounds." It was only when Debbie found the grace to forgive Robert Willie, the day he was executed, that she finally knew release from suffering herself.
She found forgiveness from Christ for herself and those who had injured her. In prayer - for herself and for Willie - she discovered that only God's grace is sufficient to bind up the wounds of the human heart. Forgiveness is much more than telling ourselves that an offense just doesn't matter anymore. On the contrary, forgiveness recognizes the debt for what it is. And it doesn't just liberate the debtor from his debt - it transforms the heart of the one who forgives. In fact, forgiveness is an imitation of God's own act of forgiveness on the Cross. By forsaking the justice we are owed, we recognize that we, too, have been forgiven a debt we can never repay. That is why true forgiveness is a scandal to the secular mind. Secular society has nothing that resembles the forgiveness that the Gospel makes possible, what Debbie Morris experienced. That is part of the meaning of this Easter. Easter acknowledges the whole world is in bondage.
1. The death of Jesus liberates us from:
The world is full of fearful people. Even the first disciples were full of fear. We read v19"On the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews." So many today are fearful. Their lives are ruined and they hide themselves behind all kinds of locked doors.
Guilt oppressed them. They failed Jesus. They denied Him when they should have owned Him. They fled Him when they should have stuck by Him. They said they did not know Him when they should have proclaimed Him. They had been fearful, weak, concerned for their own skin. Their burden of guilt hurt them as they talked with each other about their failings. So many people bear a load of guilt today.
Our 400 counsellors at Wesley Mission, in LifeLine and our other counselling services, constantly are helping people burdened with guilt about themselves, their failure in their role and in their relationships.
Doubt is a constant companion of many. Religious doubt troubles people like Thomas. V24-25 " Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." Thomas is like many modern skeptics who think only what their eyes see is true.
Death is the great bondage for many. So many people live, as the Bible says, "all their lives in bondage to the fear of death." Heb 2:15 Is there no answer to this final bondage of people. There is an answer to death and there is an answer to everything that imprisons is - fear, guilt, doubt, death. Easter is about liberating the world. In a moment I will be back to tell you how the Easter message liberates the world.
The film, "Dead Man Walking" is the true story of men's brutality and viciousness. But the young teenager so injured in real life, learnt to forgive the men who raped her and shot her boyfriend. Debbie Morris displayed that same forgiveness we saw on Television one year ago this week when we witnessed the parents of the dead teenagers in the Columbine High School massacre forgiving the two young men who shot so many students to death.
What enables Christians to forgive like that? The answer lies in the liberation that Jesus Christ gives them through His forgiveness from the Cross, and the liberation that gives us through His death and resurrection. The Easter message is as relevant as to how each of us can be liberated from fear, guilt, doubt and death. These are the great realities of living, and the Easter events are as relevant to each of us burdened by fear, guilt, doubt and death. Because, in His resurrection Jesus has provided us with an answer to all those things that bind and imprison us.
2. The death of Jesus liberates us to:
Peace instead of fear
What a blessing for so many Australians! Instead of being frozen by fear you can know the peace of God within your heart. Look at those fearful disciples on the first Easter morning, hiding behind locked doors out of fear. They did not want to be put to death like their Master. They would be next. They knew that! Then the greatest of all events took place. Jesus Himself stood before them. He was not dead. He was living, raised by the power of God.
V19 "Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you!" There in the place of fear, they had an inner peace.
Forgiveness, instead of Guilt
Those disciples no longer had their lives dominated by a sense of failure and guilt. Jesus had forgiven them. They were liberated. I heard this said this week at Wesley Mission by one of Australia's greatest sportsmen. Nick Farr- Jones, former Captain of the victorious Wallabies Rugby team knows that forgiveness. He captained Australia in beating every team in the World Cup, the Bledesloe Cup and against the Springboks. Commenting on the recent international cricket scandal and the involvement of Hanse Cronjie, our highly respected, former international sportsman said he was saddened to hear of the recent developments. However, he also revealed he had written a letter to a South African newspaper urging people to "consider forgiveness for Hanse.". Nick Farr-Jones said in the letter he cited Nelson Mandela, whom he had met, as an example South Africans should follow in practicing forgiveness.
Jesus said, V22 "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." So Jesus enables forgiveness to replace guilt.
Faith instead of doubt
The Easter message is all about how faith can liberate us from doubt. So many skeptics are bound to their little minds and limited experience. They have never experienced that true liberty that comes with faith that sees behind the bondage of doubt. On that first Easter, V26-28 "A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" Some of this world's greatest people of faith, are those who have experienced the Risen Christ and grown from doubt to faith.
Life instead of Death
And that is the biggest message of all from the Easter events. You do not have to stay dead when you die! Instead of being held by the bondage of death, the resurrection of Jesus can be applied to your life also and you can know the liberty that breaks the bondage that holds so many to death, the fear of death and the finality of death. This is available for each of us who believe. Instead, you can have the gift of "Eternity" - that word Australia gave to the world on Sydney Harbour Bridge New year's Eve. 29"Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
I received an Easter e-Mail card from a friend called Neil, the other day.
As I opened it on the screen of my computer, the front cover pictured a tomb. The front of the card read: "The tomb could not hold the Son of God..." Then as the stone rolled back, the card opened and the message read: "The tomb could not hold the Son of God, but our hearts can!"
The Easter invitation is there for you also. Invite Jesus into your life now. Invite Him into your heart now.
You will discover the liberty found in the resurrection that frees you. You will find peace not fear; forgiveness not guilt; faith not doubt; and life not death.
If you would like to find the faith that liberates the world ring one of our counsellors now 02 9263 5555.
(C) Gordon Moyes, 2000
Charles Colson "Breakpoint" 19.4.2000.
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