Friday, April 10, 2020

Darkest Before the Dawn

Cross, Christ, Faith, God, Jesus, Clouds

This week-end we are remembering the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.   .

Two thousand years ago, the Jews of Israel prepared for the Passover Feast , as they did every year.  Little did they realize this was not to be a normal Passover.  
It was, in fact,   the pivotal day all history would hang on. 

From the beginning God has decreed this day to be the day  when every sin ever committed was declared due and payable in full . 
There would be no more credit, no more partial payments, no more loans, no more winking at  debt owing.  It had to be paid, there was no more mercy. 
 Every sin stood before God's judgement and nothing less that  full payment would be accepted. .     
But the question was .... Would the sacrifice be enough?  Would the debt be wiped out - stamped PAID IN FULL ?  Would the final sacrifice offered  satisfy a Holy God?   
 If not, every man, women and child would stand  eternally condemned before God. What happened on this day would change everything.   

As Jesus hung dying on the cross ! 
Heaven held its breath !   
Nature  itself trembled .. the earth shook....and the sun covered its face and  ceased to give its light.  
It was suddenly dark, very dark - as dark as dark can be. 
Matthew 27:45, "Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land."
It was the darkest day in history ... both literally and figuratively.    

Then ...came  the words ... "IT IS FINISHED!"   --  the temple veil separating God from His people was rent --   
 Yes...PAID IN FULL  was stamped on the invoice owing ......   and it was confirmed on  Resurrection Sunday --   the darkness of sin and death was vanquished by the Light.  

We, this year, are in an unprecedented position to understand the disciples who  experienced that horrific Crucifixion Friday.   
The disciples had expected nothing different than the normal traditions of another Passover Feast.  As well,  they looked forward to a promising  future   Jesus , the long-awaited Messiah , had come and He would free them  from the bondage they suffered under Rome.   Any time now  Jesus would rise up showing Himself to be a powerful conqueror who would subdue all Israel's enemies and rule over the known world.    Couldn't be better than that, could it ? 

But the events of that dark Friday destroyed all their expectations, crushed all their hopes and dreams leaving them bewildered and grief stricken. . 
 Jesus was dead !  DEAD!  How could they wrap their heads around that ??  
What now?     
They tried to resume life -- tried to re-establish 'normal-before-Jesus'  ... What could they do ?  Go fishing?  it was all they knew. 

We too have never been where we are today. Our churches are closed, our calendars swept clean,  food items rationed, face masks, social distancing,  self-isolation, shops, businesses and  offices all closed  ---   things we could never have imagined a few short months ago.     
We have no idea if 'normal' will ever be what it was before Covid 19.   What will our life, our world look like when this is over?    Where do we go from here ?   
What now?
Those are the same thoughts , questions that  faced the disciples that Passover  2000 years ago.

The phrase "It's always darkest just before dawn" is not really scientifically true but the meaning is commonly understood.   It expresses the sentiment that it is when hope is gone, when things cannot get any worse , that  the answer finally comes! 
Psalm 46:5  echoes this thought ... ."God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved. God shall help her, JUST AT THE BREAK OF DAWN."

Never was this phrase more true than on that long-ago Friday.  It was dark, as dark as it could be both physically and metaphorically ...   and yet ...  then came the  dawn  and with it a glorious breaking forth of new life,   a new Kingdom, a new reality of l freedom from the ordinances of the law ,  fulfilled promises, and  a new covenant - God's spiritual Kingdom in the hearts of men. .  
When all seemed hopeless,  God appeared "at the break of dawn."

For 3 1/2 years Jesus had taught the people. He taught in the synagogues,  His disciples walked with Him, lived with Him.  He taught them who He was, why He had come, what they were to expect and even the fact that He would die. He taught from the scriptures and showed how they spoke of Him. 
But ... 
The religious leaders,  didn't get it ..  They had one thought,  get rid of this man! He is troubling our status quo.   He is interfering with how we want to do things .  He is undermining our authority over the people. 

The crowds didn't get it ... They were fickle, easily swayed one way or the other and were easily induced to desire the release of Barabbas, the criminal ,  rather than Jesus, who had healed their sick and raised their dead and fed them. 

Sadly, the disciples  didn't get it either, even though Jesus so carefully taught them privately and explained everything to them.  

We have their mind set in their own words... 
Luke 24:13-27 ..  The couple walking on the road to Emmaus in answer to the 'stranger' questioning them said .. "Jesus of Nazareth was a Prophet , mighty in word and deed but He was put to death by our priests and rulers... We were hoping that He was the one we have been waiting for .. the one who would redeem all of Israel!, but now he is dead." 

Really ?   Jesus was only a 'prophet'  who turned out not to be the one they hoped he was?  

Jesus calls them on their ignorance.   He calls them "foolish ones" and tells them they are "slow of heart" .     I cringe at the thought that Jesus would call me 'foolish' or 'slow of heart' but we can learn something from  this couple's response.  They  do not seem to notice that they were 'insulted' .     
Why?   Because it wasn't an insult.   It was the truth.  Jesus never belittles or insults.   He sees the heart and speaks the truth.  Not to hurt but to heal.  He puts His finger on the fault or sin that is keeping us from seeing the truth of who He is.   
If our hearts are tender before Him, we welcome the truth from His mouth and respond as the Emmaus couple did.    They listened eagerly to Jesus showing them all that they missed .   Then when they realized that it was Jesus Himself speaking to them ... 
 They got it then, and of course, one by one the rest of the disciples 'got it' too as they were convinced by the evidence.   

But on that Friday --  how it must have hurt Jesus to realize that no one 'got it' .  No one recognized Him as God -- no one recognized that His death was the sacrifice for their sin that would save them from eternal death.  No one recognized that HE was the Passover Lamb.  No one could see past their own expectations and their own preconceived ideas. 

Well ...  Pilot and his wife ALMOST got it ...  Pilot's wife, through her dreams realized Jesus was more than what the crowds or religious leaders were claiming.   And Pilot declared "I find no fault in him!"    In the end he was forced to yield, but in one defying act he ordered the inscription over the cross to say .. "THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS"   
(I like to think that Pilate and his wife maybe became believers ... but of course we don't know.)  

There was, however,  ONE  who  'got it' - only one ......  And that was the thief suffering on his own cross beside Jesus.  He acknowledged his own sin guilt and proclaimed the Jesus had done nothing wrong.   But it was more than that .   He alone believed that even though Jesus was dying on a cross, that it was not the end.  He believed that Jesus  would claim His Kingdom and that Jesus had the authority / power to save him!   (Luke 23:39-43)

I think God gave Jesus this blessing as He hung in agonizing pain,  

His own disciples had disowned Him, fled from Him...  the crowds shouted for His death, the religious leaders condemned Him.  The emotional pain  added to the excruciating physical pain of the cross.  Jesus felt 'forsaken' by those He can come to save .. and then later felt forsaken even by His Father.   (Matt. 27:46)
 What joy must have pierced through His pain ... a sinner repenting and believing in Him in the last hours of his life.   A soul passing from death to life ! With great gladness Jesus must have proclaimed the words ... "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."  (Luke 23:43)    
I don't know who would have had the greater joy in Paradise when they met ....  Jesus? or the thief? 

Where is God in this world pandemic?   Is God trying to get our attention?  
Is He calling us to 'return' to Him ? 
Is it time to let go of the things of this world, and seek first the things of HIS Kingdom?  
Is it time to seek His ways, His truth,  His fellowship to the point where nothing matters more than His will ?   
Are we willing to lay down our life for Him as He laid down His life for us?   
It is easy to acknowledge a  willing heart BUT ...  we have often used the excuse ...  we don't have time,  we are too busy. 
God has now given us time ...  He has cleared our calendars.  We are no longer too busy.  
So then how will we use this time?  
I have heard a lot of neat stories of how people have used this opportunity to become creative in  reaching out to others ... and spending more time in the word and in prayer .

I love the passage in Isaiah 60?1-3 --   

Arise, shine, for your light has come ! 
And the glory of the Lord
is risen upon you 
For behold the darkness shall cover the earth 
and deep darkness the people, 
but the Lord will arise over you 
And His glory will be seen upon you,
The Gentiles shall come to your light 
and kings to the brightness of your rising !!  


ellen b. said...

I can't help but think true Christians don't need a pandemic to wake them up. Now if we were asleep we better stay Now those who are being called by God should wake up and respond to His call. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we got to meet God in the air on Easter!?

Julie said...

You are right, Ellen ... true Christians are awake ... and those who are asleep need to awake!! It would be amazing to see Jesus coming in the clouds Easter morning and we go meet Him!

Sandy said...

Amen to both your's and Ellen's comments...
Blessed Resurrection Sunday to all.