The Three Ways of Easter

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Matthew 16:21

INTRODUCTION: You have probably heard the song “The Via Dolorosa” before, but you may not know the meaning of the title. Via Dolorosa is the name of a street in the Old City of Jerusalem. Tradition says that it was the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion on Good Friday. The name Via Dolorosa itself is Latin for “The Way of Grief.” And so the Via Dolorosa represents the way of suffering and sorrow that Jesus took on his way to the cross.

Of course, today is Easter, a day of joy, not of sorrow. This is a day when we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, not dwell on his death. So what are we doing talking about suffering and death this morning instead of resurrection? Well, we will get to the resurrection soon enough. But you must understand that for Jesus, his suffering, his death and his resurrection were all connected. Turning to our passage in Matthew 16:21 we read,

“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Matthew 16:21)

For Jesus the way of resurrection required that he first walk the ways of suffering and death. I want to talk about the three ways of Easter this morning. These are the three ways that Jesus had to walk, and they are three ways that we also walk as Christians. Being a Christian means following Jesus. And following Jesus means walking the path that he walked, following in his ways.

I. The way of suffering and sorrow

The first way that Jesus walked was this way of suffering and sorrow. Look at Matthew 16:21 again. Jesus told his disciples that “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things.” Notice the word “must” in that verse. Suffering was not optional for Christ. The way of life first led through the way of suffering. When he spoke these words he was of course thinking about the cross and the scourging and all the events that would soon take place in Jerusalem. But Jesus’ way of suffering and sorrow did not begin with the Via Dolorosa. It began with a different journey. It began with Christ’s journey from heaven to earth.

The apostle Paul writes in Philippians 2 that Jesus, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6-7) Jesus left his perfect home in heaven in order to come to earth as a man. Heaven is a place of glory and perfection. Earth is a planet of dirt and dust, trouble and sorrow.

Jesus was not sheltered in any way from the troubles of man. The prophet Isaiah described him as “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” (Isaiah 53:3) Jesus went through the same types of trials that you and I experience. He experienced hunger, thirst and fatigue. He faced conflict and confrontation with the religious leaders of the day. He knew the rejection of family and friends.

And yet Jesus never backed down from his mission. In fact we read in Luke 9 that “as the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51) Jesus knew that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things. And so he set his face towards the city and willingly walked the way of suffering and sorrow.

As human beings we also walk a path of suffering and sorrow in this world. We live in a fallen world. It is a world of sadness that is under a curse because of sin. And so Job 5:7 says that “man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” Ecclesiastes 2:22-23 says: “What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless.”

Apart from Christ we should not be surprised that we experience suffering and sorrow in life. We are all sinners. We are all under God’s just condemnation simply getting what we deserve. But as Christians we should not be surprised either. We may be bound for heaven, but we still live on earth. We may be forgiven for our many sins, but we still suffer the many consequences of our sins.

As Christians we also suffer persecution for our faith. Jesus told his disciples plainly, “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33) He was talking about persecution because just a little earlier he said this: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)

For Christians a third source of suffering in this life is God’s discipline. Hebrews 12:11 says: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” God disciplines us for our own good, but it still hurts. Discipline is never pleasant at the time but painful.

And so whether you are a believer in Jesus Christ or not, we all walk a path of suffering and sorrow in this life. Some suffer more than others. Some people seem to get away clean. But no one really does. We all experience trouble and sorrow in this life. It is part of our lot in a fallen world. When Jesus came to earth as a man he did not exempt himself from trouble. From the cradle to the cross, he too walked the path of suffering and sorrow. And from Jerusalem to Calvary he walked the way of grief, the Via Dolorosa, for us and for our sins.

II. The way of death and judgment

The second way that Jesus walked was the way of death and judgment. Look at Jesus’ words again in Matthew 16:21. Jesus said that “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer . . . and that he must be killed.” Jesus suffered greatly in Jerusalem. He was beaten, whipped, mocked, spat upon and struck repeatedly. He had a physical body, and he felt the same sensations of pain that you would have felt if you had been nailed to the cross. In the words of Isaiah once again, he was “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” (Isaiah 53:3) But suffering and sorrow were not enough to pay for our sins. The penalty for sin is death. If Jesus were truly to pay for our sins, he had to die. And so Jesus said that “he must go to Jerusalem and . . . be killed.”

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he knew that his triumphal entry would result in his dying five days later. But he came anyways. Why? Because the way of resurrection and life first passes through the way of suffering and sorrow, and then through the way of death and judgment.

Jesus did not fake his death on the cross. He truly died. This was the reason he became a human being in the first place. Hebrews 2 says: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)

We fear death because we fear judgment. Physical death is part of God’s judgment for sin, but there is a judgment beyond physical death as well. There is a day of judgment when we must all give an account of our lives to God. There will be no hiding on that day. Hebrews 4:13 says that “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13)

Just as none of us escape the way of suffering and sorrow in this life, so none of us escape the way of death and judgment. We have all sinned. We all fall short of God’s glory. We must all face God’s judgment after death.

This is why Jesus walked the way of death and judgment for us. Jesus experienced both death and judgment at the cross. He died for our sins and in our place. He took God’s judgment for sin upon himself. Romans 8 says: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2) There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, because Christ already paid the price at the cross. He died for you, so that you might live for him.

When you stand before God for judgment, only one thing will really matter. Do you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Do you believe Jesus died on the cross for your sins, in your place? Have you trusted Christ to forgive your sins and to wash you clean? Because you see, unless you can answer those questions yes, then you cannot know the third way of Easter – which is the way of resurrection and life.

III. The way of resurrection and life

Back to Matthew 16:21. Jesus told his disciples that “he must . . . suffer . . . and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” We have traveled with Jesus the Via Dolorosa this morning: the way of grief and sorrow. We have traveled with Jesus to the cross: the way of death and judgment. Now at last we come to Easter Sunday: the way of resurrection and life.

Jesus said on the third day he would be raised to life. Early that Sunday morning the women went to the tomb to anoint the dead body of their Lord. But when they got there, the stone was rolled away. The tomb was empty. The body was gone. Angels from heaven proclaimed the good news to them: “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” (Matthew 28:6) They then instructed the women to go quickly and tell the disciples the good news that Jesus had risen from the dead.

In the coming days Jesus would appear to his disciples on numerous occasions. He appeared to Mary Magdalene; he appeared to Peter; he appeared to the Twelve; on one occasion he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time. There was no doubt about it. Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. Christ had conquered sin and death.

This is one of the great truths of the gospel. Because Christ rose from the dead, all those who are in Christ will rise also. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26) Do you believe this? If so, then let me encourage you to commit your life in faith to Jesus Christ this morning so that you may share in the joy of Easter both today and forever.

The Bible tells us that when Christ comes back, the dead in Christ will be resurrected. “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

Are you ready for Christ’s return? Are you ready to walk the way of resurrection and life with Christ?

CONCLUSION: This is what Easter is all about – the way of life. This is the way that we all want to take. But you can’t get there from here. There are three ways of Easter, and you cannot walk the way of resurrection and life without passing through the other ways first.

First there is the Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering and sorrow. We all walk the way of suffering and sorrow. So, don’t be surprised at troubles in life. They are just a part of normal living in this world. The good news of Easter is that God offers to help you through your troubles. He will comfort you in your sorrow.

We must all walk the way of death and judgment. The Bible says it clearly: “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) The good news of Easter is that Christ died for us to take away the penalty for our sin. When we trust our lives to him, then we no longer need to fear death, because we have been forgiven in Christ.

That leads us to the third way of Easter – the way of resurrection and life. Only those who know Christ as Savior get to walk this path. Christ gives us new life now by his Holy Spirit, and promises us resurrection life in the future by that same Spirit. Romans 8:11 says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”

Job was a man who knew about the way of suffering. This is what he said in Job 23:10: “He [God] knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10) God knows the way that you take, because he took it himself. He walked the three ways of Easter so that you could walk the third way with him, so that you could come forth as gold.

Jesus rose triumphant from the grave. The good news of Easter is that he offers to share his victory with you. Will you accept his offer this morning?

© Ray Fowler

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