John 16:16-24 – From Grief to Joy

Light Shining in Darkness
“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.” ~ Carl Jung

Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”

At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”

Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born, she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So, with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (NIV)

Jesus tended to say things that were neither expected nor wanted. That was even true of Christ’s own disciples who walked and talked with him for three years. Jesus consistently told them there must be suffering before glory. Getting them to buy into such an idea is like trying to get a bunch of Baptists to write their names on a sign-up sheet at church.

Christ was speaking to his disciples in the Upper Room, the last meal he had with them before his death. When they were called by Jesus three years earlier, the disciples were not expecting all the gibberish about leaving and grieving. To put this in contemporary terms, the disciples’ response was akin to saying, “I only think positive. I don’t listen to things that are negative.” Suffering, death, and grief were far from the disciples’ expectations of how things would and should shake-out. They had a hard time understanding what the heck Jesus was saying because his words were out of alignment with their assumptions. Yes, there would be glory and joy. First, however, there must be suffering and grief.

I tend to think in metaphors, so I like that Jesus uses one to bring some context about leaving and returning. And I resonate a lot with his metaphor. My dear wife spent 128 days on total bed rest before our youngest daughter was born. During those four months, we agonized over the health of our little peanut in the womb. I was also in a constant state of concern for my wife’s health. This kind of pregnancy we were not expecting. Those months were hard not only for us but also for our two daughters who needed to step up and participate in family life in new and different ways.

There were months of pain and hardship, not to mention the actual pain of childbirth. Finally, our little girl was born – a bit small, yet, quite healthy. Our grief turned to joy. Nothing could ever take away that joy. We prayed hard back in those days. We asked. We received. And our joy was complete. When I look back on those days, I can remember the anguish. Yet, what prominently stands out is the joy because true unmitigated joy has the power to swallow grief and despondency whole.

In talking through with his disciples about their disappointment of his leaving and their grieving, Jesus graciously gave them the gift of joy. Yes, there can be and is joy in the mourning. Not every story has a happy ending. I can say, however, that the grandest story of all – Jesus Christ’s suffering and death – has resulted in resurrection and ascension. It will all be complete when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. Then, the grand narrative of redemption will have its conclusion of no more crying, tears, or pain. There will be only unending joy.

For now, we still experience heartache along with the joy of new life. It can be confusing living in the awkward state of simultaneous grief and joy. Yet, keep in mind that the grief is temporary, and the despair will not last. Joy, on the other hand, has staying power and will be the permanent state of the believer. It is only the smaller stories which may or may not end well. The big story of redemption already has the ending written – joy without grief.

Christ is risen! Therefore, we need not wait to be happy or expect that everything must go our way to have joy. The good news is that there are always fresh opportunities to be happy through asking and receiving. Imagine a Partridge Family kind of bus coming around to all the bus stops of life. Happy times and music arrive around the clock. Chances are the opportunity to be happy has already arrived. Often, it is right in front of us; we just missed the bus because we were daydreaming about a future state of joy.

We are living in the days of the new normal and continual change. Just as there was no going back to a three-year hiatus of the disciples walking with Jesus, so we need to embrace new and different ways of life together here on planet earth. We have the gift of joy. Its just a matter of unpacking it.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

1 Peter 3:8-12 – To Suffer and To Bless

Light and Dark

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. For

“Those who desire life
and desire to see good days,
let them keep their tongues from evil
and their lips from speaking deceit;
let them turn away from evil and do good;
let them seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (NRSV)

Its one thing to give blessing to folks when they seem worthy of it – quite another thing when you have stinkers in your life. Bless the very ones who are abusive toward me? Some might think the Apostle Peter was off his rocker to instruct believers to bless insufferable persons. Peter, however, was only passing on what he had learned from the Lord Jesus:

“You have heard that it was said: You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. (Matthew 5:43-48, CEB)

The instruction to bless the hateful ingrates in our lives only seems strange when the avoidance of suffering and experiencing a pain-free existence is the summum bonum of life. Yet, I get it. We don’t like to suffer. I don’t like to suffer. It hurts! I’m not really into pain. I’m not a high tolerance pain kind of guy. I have no problem taking a pain pill at the first sign of discomfort. Even so, I know there will be times I am going to have pain – physical, emotional, and spiritual – and there is no way around it.  To live in this broken world is to experience suffering. To suffer as a Christian, however, is different because we are following the way of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Just as Christ suffered, we can expect to suffer as his followers, as well.  We are not above our Master. The real issue is whether we will suffer because of our own foolishness and selfishness, or because of our devotion to Christ in being kind, humble, and gracious.  When insults come our way, we need not respond with insults.  Verbal cruelty is not the way of Christ.  Anger, slander, gossip, lies, manipulative words, and belligerent bullying have absolutely no place in the kingdom of God for any reason.

God has a zero-tolerance policy toward hate speech.

The consistent witness of the New Testament is to bless and do not curse, to love and not to hate, to use our tongues for spreading words of encouragement and not of condemnation. Peter’s instruction and Christ’s teaching also totally jives with the Apostle Paul:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…. Live in harmony with one another…. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14-21, NIV)

Church Light in Dark

Christians are to us their tongues exclusively for blessing, not cursing; for love, not hate; for truth, not lies; for building-up, not tearing-down; for proclaiming good news, not bad news laced with insults.  If we suffer because of love, we shall receive blessing from God. If we suffer for giving-in to retaliation and our base desires for revenge, then we will suffer the consequences of our own stupidity.

God has called us to bless the world, not condemn it.  Christians are to be on the front lines of spreading respect, civility, kindness, and the gospel. It is no problem showing love and respect to people we like. It is a whole other ballgame to do the same for those who treat us with disrespect and hate. Yet, God watches over all who obey him, and he listens to their prayers.  God will handle the hate-filled person, not you or me.  Our task is to have a deep concern for humanity, both the ones we like and the ones we don’t.

One of the spiritual practices I occasionally do is to read an entire book of the Bible in one sitting. 1 Peter is not a long letter. Depending on the pace of your reading, it can be done between 15-30 minutes. I encourage you to take some time today or this week to slowly read it. Pay attention to how adversity affords Christians the opportunity for hope and the encouragement to live well.

May it be so. Soli Deo Gloria.

Loving Lord Jesus, you suffered and died on my behalf.  It is a small thing for me to follow you and walk in the way of suffering.  I know and have the confident expectation that blessing awaits.  Keep me true to following you through all the adversity I face in this fallen broken world.  Even so, come Lord Jesus, you who lives and reigns with the Father and the Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hebrews 13:20-21 – Conflict and Peace

Pretty Place Chapel Blue Ridge Mountains
Pretty Place Chapel in the Blue Ridge Mountains

May the God of peace,
who brought back the great shepherd of the sheep,
our Lord Jesus,
from the dead by the blood of the eternal covenant,

        equip you with every good thing to do his will,
by developing in us what pleases him through Jesus Christ.
To him be the glory forever and always. Amen. (CEB)

These verses are the benediction, that is, the blessing given at the end of a long letter to a group of struggling Jewish Christians. In fact, things were so difficult for these believers that they were giving serious consideration to reneging on their commitment to Christ. So, the author of Hebrews sent them an exhortation and an encouragement to remain true and steadfast to the faith.

What is needed is not a shrinking back from faith but instead an enduring faith which is sustainable for the long haul of a person’s life.

The believers had both inner and outer conflict. They were experiencing hardship and persecution in the form of confiscation of their property and public insults. The Christians had started out well, facing such trouble with confidence through standing side-by-side with others who were suffering as well as holding on to their vibrant faith.

Yet, over time, their resolve began to break down. A slow drift occurred. Eventually, they started to retreat from the helping of others. They emotionally and spiritually inched their way to becoming despondent to the point of questioning whether all this Christianity stuff was worth it. The outer conflict worked its way inside their souls and damaged their spirits. By the time the writer of Hebrews comes along, a group of Christians are stuck in discouragement.

It’s one thing to deal with trouble and hardship on one day, even two. It’s quite another thing when that difficulty does not let up – when days turn into weeks, weeks into months, even months into years.

There are times when peace seems to have about as much chance of being realized as winning the lottery.

Yet, God is the God of peace, real lasting harmonious spiritually restful peace. It was achieved through the life and death of Jesus. The peace Jesus has brought is so much more than the absence of conflict. God’s peace is freedom from fear and anxiety. It is a settled confidence deep down inside that God will ultimately make good on all his promises and that things will not always be this way.

Until that day comes, God is not sitting in some divine Lazy-Boy recliner watching old reruns of the Angels playing baseball. Rather, God is active through carefully, deliberately, and, to our occasional consternation, slowly equipping us and developing us into spiritually fortified people who do the will of God and please Jesus in everything they do and say. Jesus is the Great Shepherd of the sheep who will not lead us astray but will settle us in green pastures.

The word translated “equip” is a rich word (Greek καταρτίσαι, pronounced “cot-ar-tids-ay”) which means to set something straight. Picture a bone which has been broken and needs to be reset and have time to heal. That is what God is doing in his people – repairing broken spirits. This divine healing is equipping believers for a lifetime of handling adversity with faith, confidence, and endurance. The process, frankly, hurts and requires patience before healing and health come.

If God can raise the dead, he can most certainly handle any earthly trouble we are going through.

God is in the transformation business. Extreme makeovers are his specialty. He uses hard circumstances, troubles, and torments of our lives and bends them into divine tools to form and shape his people to both survive and thrive in the world.

Complaining spirits, blaming and shaming others, and impatience borne of unrealistic expectations are the evidence of damaged emotions, wounded souls, and weak faith. This is the antithesis of God. He’s not overlooking humanity with a divine *sigh* in exasperation. That’s because he is the God of peace who is bringing all things to a conclusion in Christ. Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead. The Holy Spirit is now and very presently active to heal damaged emotions, repair wounded souls, and strengthen faith.

In those times when God seems absent and prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling are the times that God is establishing peace and expanding our capacity for faith and patience.

Benediction, blessing, and doxology come through the dark night of the soul and not by avoiding it.

Soli Deo Gloria. To God be the Glory.

Almighty God,
all thoughts of truth and peace
proceed from you.
Kindle in the hearts of all people
the true love of peace.
Guide with your pure and peaceable wisdom
those who take counsel
for the nations of the earth;
that in tranquility your kingdom
may go forward,
till the earth is filled
with the knowledge of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

–From the Book of Common Order of the Church of Scotland, St. Andrew Press.

Click It Is Well with My Soul by TenTwoSix Music and arranged by David Wise.

1 Peter 2:9-12 – Chosen by God

ChosenByGod

You are chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, people who belong to God. You were chosen to tell about the excellent qualities of God, who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not God’s people, but now you are. Once you were not shown mercy, but now you have been shown mercy.

Dear friends, since you are foreigners and temporary residents in the world, I’m encouraging you to keep away from the desires of your corrupt nature. These desires constantly attack you. Live decent lives among unbelievers. Then, although they ridicule you as if you were doing wrong while they are watching you do good things, they will praise God on the day he comes to help you. (GW)

The Apostle Peter wrote his letter to a group of believers struggling in the middle of suffering. He sought to encourage them with who they are in Christ, as well as exhort them to not go back to old ways of dealing with hard circumstances. And this is darned good instruction for us, as well, when we feel beat down in tough situations:

Remember who you are and to whom you belong; and, let that new identity, not the old one, determine how you will respond and what choices you will make when the going gets rough.

We are chosen people (Greek ἐκλεκτόν which is literally “elected”). We have royal blood. We belong to God – called by him and set apart for a life of proclaiming his great mercy. Peter simply encouraged and exhorted with the very same mercy he himself had been shown. Peter was chosen by Jesus despite his credentials. He had no formal training and was impulsive, random, headstrong, and likely had some first-century version of adult attention deficit disorder. Yet, Jesus elected him because God’s choice always nullifies human pride and ingenuity.

God chooses people for deliverance from sin, chooses to bestow royalty upon them, and chooses them as his own to be his ambassadors to the world. God’s choice of us is not based on our ability, but on God’s call and the Spirit’s presence and power working in and through us so that we might not boast in anything but the cross.

These chosen people Peter addressed were not full citizens. They were considered as foreigners by the Roman Empire in which they lived. The believers had limited rights in a Roman society which valued wealth, power, status, prestige, and pedigree. The Christians, along with Peter, had none of this privilege. Peter was letting them know that they have a status as God’s chosen people, distinct from the values of their surrounding culture.

The Christians were equipped for royal greatness through being set apart for Christ, with the Spirit of God to help make them holy in an unholy society.

It is from this firm standing and status of belonging to God and having their identity in Jesus Christ that the struggling believers could, then, firmly resist turning to the dark side. A strong sense of place and purpose is what helps us all to live decent lives, even when those who misunderstand and mistreat seem to be having the day over us. More than once in my own life I have been ridiculed and mocked only years later to have those very same persons say, “I noticed how you responded and watched how you handled situations and it made a deep impression on me.” Indeed, they went from parody to praise because of the mercy of God.

We are encouraged by Peter to take the long view of our circumstances. The Scriptures invite us to a more expansive view of our lives, a bigger picture of those around us, and a broader perspective of our society as a royal priesthood of believers. Any old fool can criticize others from afar, play armchair quarterback about things they know nothing about, and expect everyone else to bend to their way of thinking. It is, however, the wise person, instructed through deep suffering, who chooses to walk in the way of mercy, day after day, week after week, year after year, even though the pain is persistent and relentless. Such persons belong to God and have no need to rely on unmerciful and corrupt practices to live a full and satisfying life.

Sovereign God, thank you that you accept us as we are: vulnerable, flawed and in need of love. Feed us and fill us with the certainty of your love, the power of your Spirit, and the joy of your Kingdom as we open ourselves to your choice and your call upon us. Because you have chosen us, we declare your glory to the world. We no longer walk in the uncertainty of the darkness but in the certainty of your glorious light through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Click Who You Say I Am by Hillsong Worship as together we seek to live in the light of our glorious identity.

1 Peter 1:3-9 – Joy and Suffering

This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Simply click the video below for a message from God’s Word.

Here are a few links for you:

You can click TimEhrhardtYouTube to view this message on YouTube.

Click Les Miserables to watch the scene described at the beginning of the message.

And, click I Am Not Alone by Kari Jobe to be encouraged that God is with us.

Grace to you always, my friends.

Joy and Suffering

BishopSavesJeanValjean
“Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to what is evil but to what is good. I have bought your soul to save it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.” ― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

One of my favorite stories is Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.  It’s primarily a story of grace and new life.  The main character, Jean Valjean, spends nineteen years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family.  The experience in prison caused him to become a bitter man.  By the time he is released, he is hard, angry, cynical, with nowhere to go.  In desperation, he seeks lodging one night at the home of a Catholic bishop, who treats him with genuine kindness, which Valjean sees only as an opportunity to exploit.  In the middle of the night he steals the bishop’s silver and runs.  The next day, however, he is caught by the police.  When they bring Jean back to the bishop’s house for identification, the police are surprised when the bishop hands two silver candlesticks to Valjean, implying that he had given the stolen silver to him, saying, “You forgot these.”  After dismissing the police, the bishop turns to Jean Valjean and says, “I have bought your soul for God.”  In that moment, by the bishop’s act of mercy, Valjean’s bitterness is broken.

Jean Valjean’s forgiveness is the beginning of a new life.  The bulk of Victor Hugo’s novel demonstrates the utter power of a regenerated and redeemed life.  Jean chooses the way of mercy, as the bishop did.  Valjean raises an orphan, spares the life of a parole officer who spent fifteen years hunting him, and saves his future son-in-law from death, even though it nearly cost him his own life.  There are trials and temptations for Valjean throughout his life.  What keeps him pursuing his new life is mercy.  Whereas before, Valjean responded to mercy with a brooding melancholy and inner anger, now – after being shown grace – Valjean responds to each case of unjust suffering with both mercy and joy, deeply thankful for the chance to live a new life full of grace.

JoySuffering
Followers of Jesus imitate their Savior through walking the way of suffering.

Suffering and joy.  Those two words, at first glance, may seem to be opposites.  Yet, Christianity views suffering as an occasion for joy, and not as empty meaningless grief.  Followers of Jesus imitate their Savior through walking the way of suffering.  We are told in Holy Scripture that these sufferings are trials to our faith, that is, they are the means by which our faith is developed, used, and strengthened.  Just as gold is refined by being put through fire, so our faith is refined and proven genuine through the purging fires of life’s trials and troubles.  Walking in the way of our Lord Jesus, adversity becomes our Teacher, helping us to know Christ better and appreciate the great salvation we possess in Jesus. (1 Peter 1:3-9)

Back in the first century, the Apostle Peter wrote a letter to Jewish Christians living in a Gentile society.  They were strangers and aliens in the ancient world.  These were people who responded to the preaching of Peter at Pentecost and gave their lives to the risen Christ.  When persecution broke out after the stoning of Stephen, the church was scattered, and many Jewish Christians went to live in Gentile nations very different from their home in Jerusalem.  In that Gentile environment, they were often looked down upon simply because they were Jewish.  What’s more, they were alienated from their families because of their commitment to Jesus.  They were alone and faced both the social and economic hardships that came with being Jewish Christians.  So, Peter wrote to encourage these suffering believers in their hardship.  He reminded them of what they possess and to use that precious possession rather than focus solely on their poverty and difficulty.  Peter let them know that their adversity has the positive effect of making their faith genuine.

Every generation of Christians needs to see that their faith is not only a matter of confession with the lips; faith is also proven primarily through suffering.  Faith is much like a new car – it is meant to be used.  It’s not just something we own and possess – to only sit in the garage and be admired.  A car is meant to be on the road, and if it does not perform well, we say it’s a lemon and we get another car.  Cars are the vehicles that get us from point A to point B.  And, hopefully, we enjoy the ride without being frustrated and having road rage.  It is unrealistic, as drivers, to believe we will never have to drive in adverse road conditions.  We recognize that it is silly to believe the weather must always conform to our driving habits.  We will have to drive through snow and thunderstorms.  We will need to deal with traffic and road construction.  We will have to drive defensively and continually be vigilant to the other drivers on the road.  We might always have a plan for how to get from point A to point B, yet, we must deal with whatever conditions we find along the way.  This isn’t optional, unless we decide to let the car sit in the garage and never use it.

The winter road with car
Mature Christians allow their faith to take them places, and have seen all kinds of adversity and suffering along the road of life.

Good drivers are good drivers because they drive a lot and have driven in nearly every type of road condition.  Mature Christians are those followers of Jesus who allow their faith to take them places, have seen all kinds of adversity, trials, and suffering along the road of life.  What makes them mature is that they have learned through all their troubles and trials to enjoy what God is doing in their lives instead of being frustrated and have faith-fury.  Such Christians have the confidence that they are receiving the goal of their faith, the salvation of their souls.  They understand that their faith grows and develops as they face the challenges of life every day with a firm commitment to their Lord Jesus.

The most miserable people are those who have not been taught by mercy, and, therefore, do not know the joy of extending mercy to others.  Peter could praise God because his life was transformed by the grace and mercy of Jesus.  Peter went from an impulsive and fearful fisherman who denied the Lord three times, to a confident and courageous witness of Christ because he was regenerated, restored, and renewed by grace.  He joyfully endured suffering and opposition because his faith was precious to him.

There is a tendency for many Christians to show a stoic attitude through the trials of life.  We try and keep a stiff upper lip and simply endure.  Taking the approach of “It is what it is” only works for so long.  Eventually “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” is a more appropriate response to trouble. It is precisely during those times when human hope fades that we rejoice – even though the rejoicing is through tears – in the living hope kept for us. This gracious inheritance of hope is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. That means we can live through a difficult day or week or month or even, dear God, a year or longer with spiritual endurance. We can do this, friends.  We can persevere through our worldwide trial of pandemic.  We can even do more than survive – we can thrive through having our faith muscle stretched and strengthened.  We are not alone.  We all suffer together.

MotherTeresa
“Suffering, if it is accepted together, borne together, is joy.” –Mother Teresa

Our shared value of the risen Christ is the fuel that keeps our car of faith running.  It is what transcends the stoic attitude of unfeeling endurance to a joyful flourishing of faith.  Suffering is central to living for Jesus Christ.  Suffering is not something to continually avoid, go around, or bemoan because it is God’s means of forming us spiritually to be like Jesus.  I can say that the sufferings I’ve experienced in my own life I never want to go through again. I can also say that I would not change those experiences for anything because they have formed and shaped me in ways that would probably not have happened apart from adversity.

Our goal in this life is not to escape the world.  There is a time coming when our salvation will be consummated, heaven comes down to earth, and both are joined forever.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of god is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4). 

This is our inheritance in Christ.  First, however, we must come prepared for the future by undergoing grief in all kinds of sufferings in the present.  These trials to our faith are a sort of pre-marital session that prepare us for our marriage with Jesus.

Eventually, suffering will have done its work and we will be with Christ forever.  Until that day, let’s not stay in the garage of life.  Let us explore all that God has for us, embracing both the meaning and the mystery of faith.  Since our salvation is assured, let us live with confidence and run the race marked out for us.  Let us not be complacent or slow in doing the will of God, but work for God’s kingdom purposes on this earth.  And let us allow our trials to do their work in us, responding to them with joy knowing that our faith is being strengthened for the benefit of blessing the world.  Even in suffering, God is good all the time; and, all the time, God is good.  To him be the glory.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 – Good Friday

CrossChrist
Depiction of Christ on the Cross at Holy Hill in Hubertus, Wisconsin

The Lord says, “See, my servant will act wisely.
People will greatly honor and respect him.
Many people were shocked when they saw him.
His appearance was so damaged he did not look like a man;
his form was so changed they could barely tell he was human.
But now he will surprise many nations.
Kings will be amazed and shut their mouths.
They will see things they had not been told about him,
and they will understand things they had not heard.”

Who would have believed what we heard?
Who saw the Lord’s power in this?
He grew up like a small plant before the Lord,
like a root growing in a dry land.
He had no special beauty or form to make us notice him;
there was nothing in his appearance to make us desire him.
He was hated and rejected by people.
He had much pain and suffering.
People would not even look at him.
He was hated, and we didn’t even notice him.

But he took our suffering on him
and felt our pain for us.
We saw his suffering
and thought God was punishing him.
But he was wounded for the wrong we did;
he was crushed for the evil we did.
The punishment, which made us well, was given to him,
and we are healed because of his wounds.
We all have wandered away like sheep;
each of us has gone his own way.
But the Lord has put on him the punishment
for all the evil we have done.

He was beaten down and punished,
but he didn’t say a word.
He was like a lamb being led to be killed.
He was quiet, as a sheep is quiet while its wool is being cut;
he never opened his mouth.
Men took him away roughly and unfairly.
He died without children to continue his family.
He was put to death;
he was punished for the sins of my people.
He was buried with wicked men,
and he died with the rich.
He had done nothing wrong,
and he had never lied.

But it was the Lord who decided
to crush him and make him suffer.
The Lord made his life a penalty offering,
but he will still see his descendants and live a long life.
He will complete the things the Lord wants him to do.
“After his soul suffers many things,
he will see life and be satisfied.
My good servant will make many people right with God;
he will carry away their sins.
For this reason I will make him a great man among people,
and he will share in all things with those who are strong.
He willingly gave his life
and was treated like a criminal.
But he carried away the sins of many people
and asked forgiveness for those who sinned.” (NCV)

We all suffer.  In some way, whether a chronic physical condition, emotional or moral distress, mental illness, or spiritual oppression, everyone faces living in a fallen world with its pain and heartache.  Presently, the entire world is suffering the scourge of the COVID-19 virus.  Every person in my neighborhood, city, state, and nation is impacted and affected.  Not only do many suffer because of disease and death itself, all are enduring either lost wages, limitations, loneliness or more.  Suffering that seems to have no reason, the senseless kind, the type where nothing good appears to be going on at all can be very troubling to our souls.

Perhaps it seems ironic, maybe even cruel, that Christians would observe a day called “Good” Friday.  Considering the hard circumstances of so many people, to call today “good” appears awkward, as if Christ’s followers have their heads in the sand.  Even for Christians, at first glance, “Good Friday” might seem a oxymoronic for a day observing the torture and death of an innocent man.  Some would argue that Christ is no longer on the cross and we need to give all our focus on the resurrected Jesus and the victory he achieved.  No need for all this suffering stuff.  Yet, the Resurrection only has meaning because of this very day, Good Friday.  Without the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, there is no King Jesus.  For Christians everywhere, this day is very good in the sense that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ means the redemption of the world.  On this day we remember and commemorate the events that led up to the cross; unpack those events and interpret them with profound meaning and significance; and, worship Jesus with heartfelt gratitude because of his redeeming work of the cross.

16th St Baptist Church Crucifixion Stained Glass Window
This stained-glass window was donated to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church of Birmingham, Alabama by the people of Wales after the church was bombed in 1963.

The bulk of the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are given over to the final week of Christ’s life, especially leading to the cross.  Good Friday observances often take a somber form due to the brevity of Christ’s experience on the cross.  Christians remember the last words of Christ, and recognize the significant impact his death had on the immediate persons around him.  Believers also contemplate the lasting results of that singular death as an atoning sacrifice; perfect love; reconciliation between God and humanity; victory over evil; and, redeeming all creation.

Sadness, then, is far from the only emotive expression on this day.  It is appropriate to feel wonder, gratitude, and deep satisfaction for the accomplishment of deliverance from the power of sin.  There is the recognition that something profound and meaningful has truly happened in the egregious suffering of Jesus.  Thus, we not only remember the anguish of Christ, but what that horrible torment accomplished.  In fact, the cross of Jesus is so significant that an eternity of considering its import and impact could never plumb the depths of its far-reaching effects.

With all that has been said, one would think that Good Friday is a hugely observed day on the Christian Calendar.  Yet, for a chunk of churches and Christians, it’s not.  The bottom line is that the cross is not popular.  Maybe it’s because neither Christian nor non-Christian wants to ponder something that appears so icky and bloody.

Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge has adroitly put her finger on the issue: “Religious people want visionary experiences and spiritual uplift; secular people want proofs, arguments, demonstrations, philosophy, and science.  The striking fact is that neither one of these groups wants to hear about the cross.”  Indeed, as the Apostle Paul has said, the cross of Christ is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

A personalized religion which leaves the cross out of the picture (too much blood and violence) might seem appealing yet will only leave us bereft of the communion of the saints both past and present.  Consider the ancient witness of the Church:

“I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord… he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell.” –Apostles’ Creed

“For our sake he [Christ] was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.” –Nicene Creed

Christ suffered “in both body and soul – in such a way that when he sensed the horrible punishment required by our sins ‘his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.’  He cried, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’  And he endured all this for the forgiveness of our sins.  Therefore, we rightly say with the Apostle Paul that we know nothing ‘except Jesus Christ, and him crucified;’ we ‘regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.’ We find all comforts in his wounds and have no need to seek or invent any other means than this one and only sacrifice, once made, which renders believers perfect forever.” –Belgic Confession, Article 21

And let us consider further the New Testament witness:

“Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.  Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, and bear the abuse he endured.” (Hebrews 13:12-13, NIV)

“May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14, NRSV)

6a7f0-thecross

The extent of Good Friday goes far beyond just a day on the calendar; it is the fulcrum upon which all of Christianity hinges.  Because Christ suffered, our suffering has meaning.  Each situation of trauma; every case of disease; all adversity and wholesale hard circumstances make sense, in the Christian tradition, when they are viewed in solidarity with Jesus Christ crucified. So, today, let Christians everywhere contemplate the cross, observe the salvation accomplished through Christ’s death, and offer prayers and petitions for those who need deliverance from the power of evil.  In short, let us worship God in Jesus Christ because of the suffering on the cross.

Along with all believers everywhere we pray:

Jesus, Lamb of God, have mercy on us.

Jesus, Bearer of our sins, have mercy on us.

Jesus, Redeemer of the world, grant us your peace.  Amen.

Click Were You There performed by The Vigil Project as we station ourselves near the cross.