Just after midnight on the 6th of June 1944, 18,000 paratroops were dropped into Normandy, as Operation Overlord began. Allied planes flew 14,000 sorties to win supremacy in the air, and 7,000 ships and landing craft put 132,000 soldiers on the beaches. It was years in the planning, but D-day had now come – the decisive moment in the conflict in Europe, the beginning of the end for Hitler, and the beginning of a new future for the world.
Well, in John’s record of Palm Sunday, Jesus tells us about an unimaginably more significant D-day. He said:
"The hour has come for the Son of Man [that’s Jesus] to be glorified." (John 12.23)
By which he meant to die for our forgiveness, rise again from the dead, and return to heaven, to glory, with his Father.
And that was going to be the spiritual D-day for the universe – the decisive moment in the conflict between us and God, the beginning of the end for Satan and evil, and the beginning of a new future for everyone who puts their trust in Jesus.
Now it’s not easy to grasp what happened on the D-day of 1944 – the scale and cost of it, and where we’d be, now, if it hadn’t happened. And the D-day of Easter is even bigger. But with God’s help we’re going to try to grasp it more. So let me pray for his help for us now.
Father, whether we know a lot or a little about what happened at Easter, help us grasp more of what Jesus did for us and what it means for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
So, we’re in John 12, which says what happened on the Sunday before Good Friday when Jesus died. And let’s pick up at verse 27, where first of all we see
1. What Easter Meant For Jesus
John 12.27, Jesus said:
"Now is my soul troubled."
And that word was used to mean horrified or full of dread at the thought of what was coming. And what was coming? Well as someone said,
"What Jesus shrank from most was not... the emotional suffering of being deserted by his friends, or the physical suffering of being crucified by his enemies. It was the spiritual suffering... of bearing our sin, and experiencing the God-forsakeness it deserves."
So no wonder he said:
"Now is my soul troubled."
... and that, at one level, he thought:
"And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour!'"
But it’s like his prayer in Gethsemane. Because the very next thing he said was...
"But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name."
In other words, ‘I will go to the cross, and want you to reveal what you’re like through it.’
And the point is what Easter meant for Jesus was an unimaginably costly commitment to bringing us back into relationship with him and his Father. So perhaps we’ve thought it’s only in Gethsemane, the night before Good Friday, that the prospect of the cross really troubled Jesus. But here he is, five days earlier, feeling dread. And much earlier on, Jesus says about the cross:
"I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!" (Luke 12.50)
The truth is Jesus lived in the shadow of the cross all his life. And the Gospels show us just a few moments of anguish, and temptation to go a different way than the way of the cross. But don’t you think there were more – and that Jesus was constantly praying, ‘Not my will, but your will’, and constantly re-committing himself to the cross – for our sake.
And that’s the point. We need to try to take in what Easter meant for Jesus, and then say to ourselves... ‘He did it for me.’
John Chapman, the Aussie evangelist, used to say...
"We often speak about the cross... as if there was no-one on it."
For example, ‘I’m forgiven by the cross.’ As if it was just a doctrine, or a mechanism for taking away my sin. But if we forget that there was a person on the cross, and that it was unimaginably costly, and that he did it out of love for us then our Christian lives will dry up.
Some tourists were visiting Notre Dame many years back. And they were looking at a painting of Jesus on the cross when the bishop walked by. And he stopped and said, ‘There’s a story about that.’ And he told them about a street-gang, and how they only let in new members if they did a ‘dare’. And the bishop said, ‘They set one lad the dare of coming in here, standing in front of this painting and shouting out loud, "Jesus Christ, you died for me – and I don’t care." So he came and stood here. But all he could get out was, "Jesus Christ, you died for me." Because he realised in that moment what Jesus had done for him. And it changed the course of his life.’ And one of the tourists said to the bishop, ‘So how did you come to know about that?’ And the bishop said, ‘That lad was me.’
So maybe you don’t believe in this yet. And in an often horrible world and hard life, your question may be:
‘What’s God ever done for me? What can you point me to that shows his love – if he’s there at all?’
And the best answer is Easter. When he gave his Son to come for you, and his Son willingly came – to die for your forgiveness.
But, like me, you may have believed this for years. In which case let’s heed the warning of the person who said, ‘The easiest thing to do with those who love us is... to take them for granted.’ Which is most true of Jesus. But if the wonder of the cross fades on us, our love for him and motivation to please him and fight sin does dry up, doesn’t it? And the antidote is to remember what Easter meant for Jesus.
Then the other thing we see here is
2. What Easter Means For the World
Because the way the D-day of 1944 changed world history is just a small picture of how the D-day of Easter changed everything for us. So, verse 28, Jesus has re-committed himself to the cross by praying,
"'Father, glorify your name.' Then a voice came from heaven: 'I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.' The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, 'An angel has spoken to him.' Jesus answered, 'This voice has come for your sake, not mine.'"
In other words, it’s come to impress on you that the most important events in history are about to happen. And Jesus then spells out three things that Easter means for the world.
1) So number one, he says: Easter is the beginning of God’s judgement of the world
"Now [in other words, that first Easter] is the judgement of this world"
So we think of God’s judgement as something at the end of time, when Jesus comes back to wrap up history. But actually, Jesus’ death was the beginning of God’s judgement on the world. Because on the cross, Jesus took on himself the judgement our sin deserves. So someone trusting in him can look at the cross and say, ‘That’s what I deserved – but now I’ll never face it.’
But for someone who’s not yet put their trust in Jesus, the hard truth is that the cross shows the judgement that’s still coming their way. Now we all wish we didn’t have to think and talk about judgement. It’s like when we drive out for walks in Northumberland (though not now), I wish there weren’t those road signs saying, ‘17 fatal accidents in three years.’ And a bit further on, there’s another one – ‘17 fatal accidents in three years.’ And you think, ‘Are they trying to spoil my day?’ And the answer is, ‘No, they’re trying to save your life.’ It’s a loving warning.
And no-one in the Bible speaks more of judgement and hell than Jesus. But it’s the same – a loving warning. And Jesus warns of judgement with images – like being shut out, and outer darkness. But here he says: to see the reality, look at the cross and hear his cry,
"My God, my God, why have you... forsaken me?" (Mark 15.34)
That’s the judgement our sin deserves. And we see it most clearly at the cross. So, Easter is the beginning of God’s judgement of the world
2) Then number two: Easter is the beginning of the end for Satan.
Verse 31 again – Jesus says:
"Now is the judgement of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out."
And by ‘ruler of this world’, Jesus meant Satan, the devil. And if you’re surprised that anyone still believes there’s a devil, I’d say two things.
The most important is that Jesus said the devil is real. And if you’re convinced he’s the Son of God, you accept the authority of what he said. But the other thing is to quote a former Archbishop of Canterbury who said,
"It is very foolish of modern civilisation to have given up belief in the devil when he’s actually the best explanation of it."
In other words, a personal power of evil makes remarkable sense of the evil we see around us – and in ourselves.
So the Bible says: Satan is the personal power of evil who tempted the original human pair to rebel against God. And the carrot he held out was this:
"... you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3.6)
In other words, ‘You’ll be your own rulers, deciding for yourselves what’s right and wrong, and free.’ But in following his lead, the Bible says Adam and Eve actually brought themselves – and us with them – under the rule or control of Satan. And if that sounds over the top, just think of any character trait you struggle with and wish you could change – and ask yourself why you can’t change it. Because the Bible’s answer is that, by following Satan’s lead, we’ve brought ourselves under the control of sin and under the judgement sin deserves. And apart from Jesus, that’s where we’d be stuck.
But Jesus said, verse 31:
"... now [that first Easter] will the ruler of this world be cast out."
And that also happened at the cross. Because as Jesus died, Satan’s power to keep us unforgiven on his side, was destroyed.
So for example, I first put my faith in Jesus by praying a simple prayer for him to forgive me and take over the running of my life. And just imagine the scene in heaven as that prayer got through. Imagine Satan bursting in and saying to God, ‘You can’t accept Ian Garrett. Not after the way he’s ignored you all his life so far. And not after the way he’s behaved.’ And then imagine Jesus saying to one of the angels on duty, ‘Bring me the file on Ian Garrett.’ And the angel brings it and Jesus says, ‘What’s in it?’ And the angel says, ‘Nothing. There’s no record against him at all.’ And Jesus says, ‘What does it say on the front?’ And the angel says, ‘Paid in full at the cross.’
At the cross, Satan’s power to keep us unforgiven on his side, was destroyed. Which means he’s beaten, but not yet finished. A bit like Hitler after D-day but before V-day. So Satan can still tempt us and trip us up. But he can’t get us back under his rule. And he can still condemn us, and tell us God can’t possibly accept us after we’ve done this, or done that again. But the cross says: we’re not condemned, we are accepted, and we need not fear God ever changing his mind about that – right up to our dying breath. And we need to trust that. And that kind of assurance is a precious commodity in a culture largely terrified by death.
So, Easter is the beginning of God’s judgement of the world. It’s the beginning of the end for Satan.
3) And number three, Easter is the beginning of Jesus drawing all people to himself
Verse 31 one last time. Jesus said:
"Now is the judgement of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."
So "when I am lifted up from the earth" means, ‘when I have been lifted up to die on the cross, and then lifted up by my resurrection and return to heaven.’ So Jesus was saying, ‘After all that has happened, I will draw all people to myself.’
We love going to the Lakes. And unless the weather keeps us inside, we love walking on the hills. Which is why we’ve never been to the Pencil Musuem in Keswick – despite its advertising slogan, ‘A great draw for all the family.’ Which is a nice line. But I just find that, even on the wettest day, a pencil museum really doesn’t draw me.
And some of us watching right now may feel the same about Jesus. Perhaps because you just want to keep living life on your terms. But perhaps because you have become aware of your sin – but you’re hanging back from God because you know he’s the Judge you’ve sinned against.
But Jesus is saying here that what draws people to him is realising that the Judge has died for them.
So the draw is that he knows everything about you, everything you have done wrong, including the absolute worst, and everything that you will get wrong for the rest of your life, and yet he died to pay for the forgiveness of all of it – so that he can say to you, ‘I’ll accept you just as you are. But I love you too much to leave you as you are. I’ll get to work on you and start to change you.’
And if you have begun to see your sin, and want to be forgiven, and want to become more the person you should be, rather than the person you are, that is a great draw.
So that’s what Jesus said about the D-day of Easter, just five days before it all began. But whether or not we benefit from it, whether orr not it changes the course of our lives, all depends on how we respond to him.