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  • Adam Schell

The Irreversible


Today is Easter Sunday. And, if you’ve ever been to church on Easter before, you have a pretty good idea what that means. On Easter, the parking lot is supposed to be a little fuller, and it’s supposed to take you a little longer to find a seat in the sanctuary. On Easter, everyone is supposed to be decked out in their Sunday best and they’re supposed to be wearing their best smiles, too. On Easter, the church you’re at is supposed to pull out all the stops to put together a worship service that you’ll remember and the preacher’s supposed to preach a sermon you won’t soon forget.

But why is it a little harder to find a place to park in or a chair to sit on on Easter? Why do those of us who prefer wearing T-shirts and jeans break our suits and ties on Easter? Why do preachers work overtime to put together the best sermon possible for Easter?

Well, we could try to answer those questions by diving right into the Easter Story…but I want to tell you another story first. This is a story that the well-known Christian author Philip Yancey shares in his book The Jesus I Never Knew. Here’s how Yancey tells this story, he writes:

In early childhood I associated Easter with death, not resurrection, because of what happened one sunny Easter Sunday to the only cat I ever owned. Boots was a six-week-old kitten, solid black except for white “boots” on each of her legs, as if she had daintily stepped in a shallow dish of paint. She lived in a cardboard box on the screened porch and slept on a pillow stuffed with cedar shavings. My mother, insisting that Boots must learn to defend herself before sampling the huge outdoors, had a firm date of Easter Sunday for the kitten’s big test.

At last, the day arrived. Georgia sunshine had already coaxed spring into full bloom. Boots sniffed her first blade of grass that day, batted at her first daffodil, and stalked her first butterfly, leaping high in the air and missing. She kept us joyously entertained until neighborhood kids came over for an Easter egg hunt.

When our next-door playmates arrived, the unthinkable happened. Their pet Boston terrier Pugs, following them into our yard spied Boots.

The dog then fatally attacked the cat. And in the aftermath of this personal tragedy, Yancey learned a lesson about what our world is like. As he explains it:

I could not have articulated it at the time, but what I learned that Easter under the noonday sun was the ugly word irreversible.

No matter how much Philip Yancey wished that he would’ve just left Boots sitting in safety on his screen porch that morning, no matter how much he wished his family had talked their neighbors into building a fence to keep their dog in their own yard; he couldn’t change what happened. And that’s what the word irreversible means, it means that something is incapable of being changed. And what happened to Boots was irreversible.

Now, I know that that story wasn’t the kind of happy story you probably expected to hear in church on Easter Sunday, and some of you will probably be bummed out about what happened to Boots for the rest of the day. But I decided to tell this story because we’ve all had times like the one Philip Yancey had on that Easter Sunday decades ago. We’ve all had times when we wish we could reverse the irreversible.

We’ve all had times when we wish we could reverse the irreversible.

We’ve all messed up. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all had moments when we hurt other people or let them down. So we’ve all had moments that we wish we could go back and undo. And I’m no exception. I’ve had plenty of moments in my life that I wish I could go back and undo.

I’ve had moments when my daughter was younger when she came up to me and asked me to play with her in her playroom, but I decided to stay on the couch and scroll on my phone instead. And now, my daughter’s about to turn 12, so the days of her asking me to play a board game or build a Lego set with her are almost over.

I’ve had moments when my wife has asked me to unload the dishwasher before heading off to work but, in the hustle and bustle of getting ready to leave the house, I’ve had plenty of times where it didn’t get done. And that meant that after my wife finished up a long, hard day of teaching over a hundred 13-year-olds, she had to take care of a chore because I forgot to do it.

Over my almost 17 years as a pastor, I’ve had people get upset with me because I wasn’t able to visit them or return their phone call. I’ve had people get angry with me because of something I said in a sermon or because of some subject I haven’t preached about. I’ve had people get mad at me because of difficult decisions the church had to make and because of choices they simply didn’t like. 

And those are just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve had plenty of moments in my life where I’ve messed up, made mistakes, and hurt other people. And I wish I could go back and change it. And you’ve had those moments too. We’ve all had those moments.

And I’m pretty sure that Jesus’ closest friends and followers – his disciples – were having one of those moments early on that first Easter before anyone went down to visit Jesus’ tomb. And let me show you why I’m pretty sure the disciples were having one of those moments. But to do that, we’ve got to go back a little further than that first Easter, we have to go back to the day we in the church sometimes refer to as Maundy Thursday…the day that Jesus shared his Last Supper with his disciples.

But it’s what happens right after Jesus has his Last Supper with his disciples that I want us to take a closer look at today. So, if you’ve got a Bible close by or a Bible app on your phone, open it to Matthew 26. And, as you're finding it, I just want to point out that the book of Matthew is basically a biography of Jesus. So, in the book of Matthew, you can read about Jesus' birth and his baptism, you can read about his ministry and the miracles that he performed, you can read about his crucifixion and his resurrection. 

And in Matthew 26, you can read what Jesus told his disciples not long before he was arrested and ultimately crucified. So let’s take a look at Matthew 26 and see what Jesus said. We’ll start reading in verse 31, which says:

31 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Tonight you will all fall away because of me. This is because it is written, I will hit the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will go off in all directions. 32 But after I’m raised up, I’ll go before you to Galilee.”

So, just hours before Jesus was arrested, put on trial, and executed; he told his disciples that they were going to turn their backs on him. But, of course, the disciples didn’t believe it. As we keep reading in Matthew 26:33, we’re told:

33 Peter replied, “If everyone else stumbles because of you, I’ll never stumble.”

34 Jesus said to him, “I assure you that, before the rooster crows tonight, you will deny me three times.”

35 Peter said, “Even if I must die alongside you, I won’t deny you.” All the disciples said the same thing.

Matthew 26:31-35 (Common English Bible)

So, even though Jesus just told the disciples that they would turn their backs on him, the disciples say, “Nope. It’s not going to happen. Even if we have to die beside you, we’ll never turn our backs on you.”

But it wouldn’t take long before that would change. Because not long after this conversation finished, Jesus and his disciples went out to a place called the Garden of Gethsemane so that they could pray. While they were there, one of his disciples – Judas – showed up with a bunch of soldiers to arrest Jesus. And once the disciples were surrounded by soldiers carrying swords and clubs, it doesn’t take long for Matthew to tell us: 

56…“Then all the disciples left Jesus and ran away.”

Matthew 26:56 (Common English Bible)

I want to read that again because I don’t want you to miss it. In Luke 26:56, we’re told: “All the disciples left Jesus and ran away.”

That’s what happened in the early hours of the morning on Good Friday. The disciples left Jesus and ran away. And about twelve hours later, Jesus died on the cross. So let me ask you, how do you think the disciples felt when they found out Jesus was dead?

Most of the disciples would’ve felt the same way we feel when we make a mess up, or make a mistake, or let someone down. They felt guilty. They felt ashamed. They felt heartbroken. But most of all, they wished they could undo what they’d done. But you may have noticed I said that’s how most of the disciples would’ve felt. And I said that’s how most of the disciples would’ve felt because I don’t think words like guilty, or ashamed, or heartbroken can even begin to describe how Peter felt after Jesus was crucified. And that’s because Peter didn’t just run away after the soldiers arrested Jesus.

While Jesus was on trial, Peter managed to sneak into the courtyard outside where the trial was happening. And, as we pick back up in Matthew 26:69, we’ll see what Peter does next. Matthew tells us:

69 Meanwhile, Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant woman came and said to him, “You were also with Jesus the Galilean.”

70 But he denied it in front of all of them, saying, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

71 When he went over to the gate, another woman saw him and said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.”

72 With a solemn pledge, he denied it again, saying, “I don’t know the man.”

73 A short time later those standing there came and said to Peter, “You must be one of them. The way you talk gives you away.”

74 Then he cursed and swore, “I don’t know the man!” At that very moment the rooster crowed. 75 Peter remembered Jesus’ words, “Before the rooster crows you will deny me three times.”And Peter went out and cried uncontrollably.

Matthew 26:69-75 (Common English Bible)

So Peter didn’t just turn his back on Jesus. Peter didn’t just run away when Jesus needed him the most. Peter denied even knowing Jesus three separate times. So even though Matthew tells us, “Peter went out and cried uncontrollably,” I don’t think there are any words that can adequately describe how Peter felt after Jesus’ crucifixion. But I have no doubt that Peter wished he could go back and undo what he had done.

I’m sure that Peter wished he would’ve talked Jesus out of ever going to the Garden of  Gethsemane that night. I’m sure Peter wished he would’ve put up a bigger fight when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus. I’m sure Peter wished that at the very least he would’ve stood by Jesus’ side while he was on trial and while he died on the cross. But no matter how much Peter wished he could go back and undo what he had done, he couldn’t because it was irreversible. So there was nothing that Peter could do to change it.

But God could. And in Matthew 28, we’re told exactly what God did. Matthew tells us:

1 At dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb. 2 Look, there was a great earthquake, for an angel from the Lord came down from heaven. Coming to the stone, he rolled it away and sat on it. 3 Now his face was like lightning and his clothes as white as snow. 4 The guards were so terrified of him that they shook with fear and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead..”

Matthew 28:1-6 (Common English Bible)

This is how Philip Yancey explains what happened on that first Easter. He writes, “As a five-year-old on Easter Sunday I had learned the harsh lesson of irreversibility. Now, as an adult, I saw that Easter actually held out the awesome promise of reversibility. Nothing – not even death – was final. Even that can be reversed.”

And that’s why it’s a little harder to find a place to park in or a chair to sit on on Easter. That’s why those of us who prefer wearing T-shirts and jeans break our suits and ties on Easter. That’s why preachers work overtime to put together the best sermon possible for Easter.

We do it because when Jesus was resurrected God showed us that nothing – not even death – is final. And if not even death is final then all the times we’ve messed up, all the mistakes we’ve made, all the times we’ve hurt other people or let them down can be undone. Jesus’ resurrection shows us that the irreversible can be reversed.

Jesus’ resurrection shows us that the irreversible can be reversed.

And that’s exactly what happened to Peter. When Jesus was standing trial, Peter denied he knew Jesus three times. But after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to undo what he had done. We read about what happened in John 21, where we’re told:

15 When they finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 He asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” He replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

John 21:15-17 (Common English Bible)

Peter denied he knew Jesus three times. But Jesus gave him the chance to reverse it. Three separate times, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” And three separate times Peter told him, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

And if Easter gives Peter the chance to reverse the irreversible in his life, then Easter gives you the chance to reverse the irreversible in your life too…even if it doesn’t happen on this side of eternity. But Easter lets you know that no matter how big you have messed up, it can be cleaned up. No matter how many mistakes you’ve made, they can be fixed. No matter who you’ve hurt, you can still try to repair that relationship.

But Easter also tells us that we can’t reverse the irreversible on our own. Just like we could not raise Jesus from the tomb, we can’t give ourselves grace, mercy, and forgiveness. The only way we can get the grace, the mercy, and the forgiveness we need is if we get them from God.

So if you feel like your life has been nothing but one big mess up after another, if you’re feeling guilty and ashamed because of mistakes you’ve made, if you’re heartbroken because you’ve let other people down; do what Peter did. Turn to the one who can give you grace, and mercy, and forgiveness. Turn to Jesus because he’s the only one who can reverse the irreversible.

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