My wife and I pastored our own church for 6 years. It was a wonderful experience, full of many unforgettable memories – many of which surrounded holidays or special services we held. One of my favorite times was an Easter service we did one year at the local movie theater. I didn’t like just doing the “normal” things churches do for holidays and wanted to reach out to people who might never come to the church itself, not even at Easter. This was when the movie “The Passion” had just come out, so we rented the largest theater at our local AMC Theater and on Easter Sunday morning opened it up for free to whomever wanted to come. Our worship team brought all their instruments and we sang before the movie started. After the movie I summed up the Gospel message and invited people to respond. Many lives were touched that morning, and I’m so glad we decided to step out of the norm.
One of the simpler things we did for Easter which became something our church really loved, is what I am about to share with you. We didn’t have the congregation size, building, or finances to put on some elaborate production… so I pulled together a telling of the Easter story from Peter’s perspective, using readings from Max Lucado and Dawson McAllister along with a mixture of video clips and live songs our worship team sung. It was simple, but powerful… and it had just as strong an impact as seeing “The Passion” did on the big screen. I’ve updated it a bit since then. Enjoy.
“Above All: Glimpses of the Cross”
The cross. It rests on the time line of history like a compelling diamond. It’s tragedy summons all sufferers. It’s absurdity attracts all cynics. It’s hope lures all searchers.
History has idolized and despised it, gold-plated and burned it, worn and trashed it. History has done everything but ignore it. How could you? How could you ignore such a piece of lumber?
Suspended on it’s beam is the greatest claim in history. A crucified carpenter claiming to be God on earth. Divine. Eternal. The death-slayer. Never has timber been regarded so sacred.
The cross event is the core of the Gospel. It’s bottom line is sobering: if the account is true, it is history’s hinge. Period. If not, the cross is history’s hoax.
As you think about Christ on the cross, what are your thoughts? Perhaps it has been a while since you really looked at the cross. Perhaps you never have. May I urge you right now to do just that. Allow the simple story we tell to trigger a turning of your heart until you stand FACE to FEET with the one who claimed to come and save your soul.
Of those closest to Him, perhaps none had experienced the love and compassion of Christ more than Peter. How would this big, burly fisherman come to a place of declaring not only his loyalty, but his love to this man from Galilee? It all started one day with a simple encounter on a boat.
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
In the three years following that encounter with Jesus, Peter and his companions would be allowed to see more than they possibly ever dreamed. Deaf ears would be opened. Blind eyes would see. The lame would walk. even the DEAD would come to live again!
Do you think that on any of the countless times that Peter sailed and fished the waters of the Sea of Galilee… that he thought that he would one day WALK on top of those waves? That the winds and storms he battled so often… would one day be silenced by a man that he called, “friend”?
No. As with you and I, Peter had no idea the things that God had laid in store for him… no idea the glories to be revealed. No idea the moments to be experienced.
Jesus knew the doubts that would come. He knew the weaknesses of Peter’s heart. He knew the trials that Peter would face. Perhaps this is why He asked Peter to take a walk with Him one day. A walk that would bring Peter, James, John, and Jesus to the top of a hill. A walk that changed Peter’s perspective.
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
When the disciples heard this, they fell face-down to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
Peter and the others were there on the night that Jesus was betrayed. They had walked with Him through the streets and up the hill into the garden. Jesus asked them to stay up pray and with Him… instead they fell asleep. As they slept, they had no idea of the conversation taking place between a Father and His Son.
“Does it have to be this way?” asked the Son.
“It does,” whispered the Father.
“Is there no one else who can do it?”
The Father swallowed. “None but you.” He looked at his Son, the Prince of Light. “The darkness will be great.” He passed his hand over the spotless face of his Son. “The pain will be awful.” Then He paused and looked at his darkened dominion. When He looked up, His eyes were moist. “But… there is no other way.”
The son looked into the stars as He heard the answer. “Then let it be done.”
Peter and the others were startled as Jesus awoke them sometime later. In the fog of their minds they could hear the shouts and raised voices of a crowd approaching. It was Peter himself who lashed out in defense of the Messiah as the soldiers reached to grab Him. And, it was Peter who joined the others as they fled into the darkness of the night.
Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”
But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.
A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”
“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.
About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”
Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Peter was not there when the soldiers spat on Jesus’ face. He was not there when they mocked and slapped Him. When a whip ripped his sides, Peter did not see how Jesus allowed it all to happen. Peter was afraid. He was hiding.
When human hands fastened the divine hands to a cross with spikes, it was not the soldiers who held the hands of Jesus steady. It was God who held them steady. Those same hands that formed the oceans and built the mountains. Those same hands that designed the dawn and crafted each cloud. Those same hands that blueprinted one incredible plan for you and me.
God is on a cross. The Creator of the universe is being executed. Spit and blood are caked to His cheeks, and His lips are cracked and swollen. Thorns rip His scalp. His lungs scream with pain. And there is no one to save Him, for He is sacrificing Himself.
Far worse than the breaking of His body is the shredding of His heart. His own countrymen shouted for His death. His own disciple planted the kiss of betrayal. His own friends ran for cover. And now, His own Father is beginning to turn His back on him, leaving Him… alone.
The Son looks for His Father – but the Father cannot be seen.
“My God, my God… why?” It was the most gut-wrenching cry of loneliness in history, and it came not from a prisoner or a widow… or a patient. It came from a hill, from a cross, from a Messiah.
“My God, my God,” he screamed, “why did you abandon me!”
Never have words carried such hurt. Never has one being been so lonely. The despair is darker than the sky. The two who have been One — are now two. Jesus, who had been with God for eternity, is now alone. The Christ, who was an expression of God, is abandoned.
It is more than Jesus can take. He withstood the beatings and remained strong at the mock trials. He watched in silence as those He loved ran away. He did not retaliate when the insults were hurled… nor did He scream when the nails pierced His wrists. But when God turned His head… that was more than He could handle.
“My God!”… the wail rises from parched lips. The holy heart is broken. The sin-bearer screams as He wanders in the eternal wasteland. Out of the silent sky come the words screamed by all who walk in the desert of loneliness. “Why?” Why did you abandon me?”
It is hard to understand. Why did Jesus do it? We have all heard the official answers… “To gratify the old law”… “To fulfill prophecy”. These answers are right. They are. But – there is something more here. Something very compassionate. Something yearning. Something personal. What is it?
I imagine Jesus bending close to those who hurt. I imagine Him listening. I picture His eyes misting and a pierced hand brushing away a tear. And although he may offer no answer… although He may solve no dilemma… although the question may freeze painfully in midair – He who also was once alone, understands.
Only One who has suffered so much could truly know the pain we sometimes feel. Only One who knew what it feels like to be betrayed… to be abandoned… to be condemned, could know what you and I face. Only One who was willing to bear the weight of the sin of the world could proclaim a shout of victory. Are any words in history more splendid? Three words, at once shattering and victorious. “IT IS FINISHED.”
Stop and listen a moment. Let the words wind through your heart. Imagine the cry from the cross. The sky is dark. The other two victims are moaning. Jeering mouths of the crowd are silent.
Perhaps there is thunder. Perhaps there is weeping. Perhaps there is silence. Then Jesus draws in a deep breath, pushes His feet down on that Roman nail, and cries, “IT IS FINISHED!”
The job was finished. The song had been sung. The blood had been poured. The sacrifice had been made. The sting of death had been removed. It was over.
A cry of defeat? Hardly. Had his hands not been fastened down, I dare say that a triumphant fist would have punched the dark sky. No… this is no cry of despair – it is a cry of completion. A cry of relief. A roar of fulfillment. A shout of VICTORY.
It seems as though Peter may have heaped upon himself the guilt for what was happening like no other. After all, wasn’t it he who so boldly proclaimed that no one would ever be allowed to harm his master? Wasn’t it he who reached out to defend Jesus, then ran? Wasn’t it he who denied his friend at the fire?
I think that Peter’s tears ran from a well much deeper than that. I think that he realized that it was more than his actions or his words that caused Jesus to suffer… it was his sin. There were nails in those hands. That was God on the cross. It was he who put Him there. It was all of us who put Him there.
For three days Peter bore the guilt and shame of what his sin had bore. For three days he cried out to God, asking if there was any way he could go back and take Jesus’ place. Of course, there was none. The heavens were silent.
Until – the morning of that third day.
“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. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 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? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
Alive! Could it be true? Was the Master really alive? The doubts would be erased as Jesus appeared again and again to those who loved Him over the next few days. But… as joyful as these reunions had become, there was still something holding Peter back. There were things he needed to say to Jesus… but it seemed that there were always too many around – and a little too much pride still in Peter’s heart.
Then it happened. As it had been with the beginning of his relationship with Jesus, Peter found himself once again in the front of a boat…
Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”
Peter’s moment finally came as they sat at the fire eating this breakfast the Master had cooked. Each sting of his denial of this man who had died for him was removed, as Jesus asked him 3 x’s… “Do you love me?”
Never had anyone felt so free! Never had anyone had such a load lifted, as did Peter in that moment. This is why there was a cross – so that, regardless of our behavior, despite our sins, no matter how bad we are… we could have the shining hope of an eternal life with the Lamb who took it all away!
There is something about the cross… it seems to demand a choice. You either step toward it or away from it. It is the watershed. It is the Continental Divide. You are either on one side of the other. A choice is demanded.
We can do what we want with the cross. We can examine it’s history. We can study it’s theology. We can reflect upon it’s prophecies. Yet the one thing we can’t do is walk away, neutral. No fence-sitting is permitted. The cross, in it’s absurd splendor, doesn’t allow that.
And so, we conclude our journey to the cross. We’ve anguished at the pain, and now we marvel at the promise. For – that is the essence of the cross. Through all the pain, the cross is still our promise… the eternal lifeline for our spirits. Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him – that we would see and accept what He did for us… and know the love that it took to endure that cross. ALL OF THIS… that while we were still sinners… He died for us!
But, Peter’s encounter with his risen Lord did not end there that morning on the beach. No, because Jesus had promised that even though He was leaving to go be with the Father, that His followers would NOT be left alone.
After Jesus ascended into heaven, Peter joined with the others as they locked themselves in the upper room. There they cried out for the Promise of the Father – not knowing what to expect… but expecting something or SOMEONE.
Little did Peter and the others know what was about to happen – not only TO them, but IN them. For, in a single moment that has run it’s course throughout history’s timeline, God Himself once again came to man – except NOW He would not just dwell AMONG them… now He would live IN them.
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”
The Promise of God’s presence came to Peter and the others that day in the person of the Holy Spirit. Today, he comes to you and I. We can stand and stare into an empty tomb – and rejoice with all of Heaven… OR, we can ask the God of all creation to come… both IN and UPON us! We can let the cry of our hearts be what Peter cried… “Lord, let Your fire fall, let Your wind blow, let Your glory come down!”
Though the story is now 2000 years old, the message is still the same. God loves us. That has not and will not ever change. The Bible tells us that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God. Jesus comes to you and I today just as He came to Peter on that beach so many years ago. He comes and offers His love, His grace, His mercy. He offers forgiveness and the chance to erase the wrong we’ve done.
Now that you’ve had a glimpse of the cross… will you accept it?