Saturday, April 23, 2011

Finding Joy In Saturday

I’m thinking today about the day before the Resurrection. I mean that Sabbath day before Jesus rose on the first day of the week. Last night at our Good Friday service our pastor spoke about the times when it seems God is silent, and it was a good service. Now, I know that God is not silent, I know that we have His word and this is how we hear Him speak to us. But there are times we may feel very much like He is not moving. This, I believe, is why we must not trust our feelings. Maybe we’re praying fervently and we feel like our prayers are not reaching beyond the ceiling. Maybe we find ourselves in a period of soul depth and wonder if God even cares. Maybe we read His word and feel like we’re hearing nothing. I’m stressing feelings for a reason, bear with me, please.

Our pastor last night spoke about the passage when Lazarus died. (John 11) He talked about how when Jesus heard that His friend, the one whom the messengers described as, “he whom You love,” was ill. The Bible says very clearly here that Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. And yet, He stayed two more days where He was before going to them. We talked about how it is quite likely that by the time the messenger got to Jesus Lazarus may have already been dead, because when Jesus got there Lazarus had been in the grave for 4 days.

Martha and Mary and those with them must have desired Jesus to come immediately, must have earnestly desired that. Yet He waited. He was not working on their time table. He had His own purpose in mind, and He will do what He purposes to do. He said plainly in John 11:15, “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.” Though they wanted to see Lazarus healed from his illness, Jesus’ purpose was higher - it was that they would believe. It was an eternal purpose, specifically that they would believe that He is the resurrection and the life. See John 11:25. When you think about it, what a blessing that He gave them this gift right before He, Himself, went to the cross. He clearly demonstrated to them that He is Lord over life and death.

So, though the people must have felt during those four days that Jesus wasn’t acting, He had a great and mighty purpose in His silence. I take great comfort in this. How I feel in any given circumstance pales in comparison to the knowledge that God is in control, He does care for His own, He has spoken, and He is sovereign. He is not silent, His purpose will be accomplished, and how I feel is not where I need to focus. Sometimes the answer I seek is not God's purpose for me, and just as He had a great purpose in allowing Martha and Mary to go through the valley, I must trust Him in the midst of my own valleys. Rather than seeking to feel like God is speaking, I must rest in the security of His word and trust Him, in spite of feelings, and I must trust that He is working all things together for our good and for His glory.

I said I was thinking about the day before the Resurrection of Jesus. I cannot imagine what the disciples must have been feeling during that quiet Sabbath day. Specifically, I think of Peter. Can you imagine the agony of soul depth he must have experienced as he thought back and remembered how Jesus had told him that Satan had asked to sift him, but that Jesus had prayed for him? Can you imagine the agony of soul depth he was experiencing as he remembered Jesus’ eyes looking intently at him in the courtyard with the echo of the rooster’s crow fading? The Bible says he went out and wept bitterly. Have you ever wept bitterly at realizing just how enormously you’ve sinned? Have you ever come to that kind of poverty of spirit where you have been brought so low that you know that nothing you could bring would ever atone for your failure to love Him and obey Him and honor Him?

The thing is, we can call Friday, “Good Friday,” and we can find joy in Saturday, because we know what Sunday means. We know that Jesus, in suffering the cross, had a high and glorious purpose that those dismayed disciples couldn’t see on that Sabbath.....yet. If you think about it, though, Jesus had graciously prepared them, even for this. He had told them, more than once, that on the third day He would rise again.

And, glorious truth, He did! Jesus, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross. His glorious purpose was to do His Father’s will in reconciling a people to Himself. You hear a lot of sentimental talk about how Jesus was thinking of you on the cross. You know what? I think we don’t really understand, I’m not sure we can fully understand, that His thought, as evidenced by His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, wasn’t simply a sentimental kind of love for us, but His thought was ever to do His Father’s will. Jesus’ consuming passion was to fulfill the will of the Father. It was the Father’s will that Jesus would die to redeem to Himself all who would place their faith in Christ. Yes, He loves us. Oh, what love! He loves us with an amazing and redeeming love. But to think of His love as a gushy, sentimental love doesn't go nearly far enough in comprehending. He loves us with a binding, covenant love. He doesn’t love us because we are lovable, or because there is anything in us that was seeking after Him. He loves us and endured the wrath our sin deserves because it brings the Father glory to show such grace and mercy. He loved us while we were yet sinners, while we were enemies of God, He loved us and provided the way of salvation. He demonstrated what He was thinking about us when He prayed for us, that those who would believe on Him would be one just as He and the Father are one. And it is a thought that brings me to my knees in wonder and awe to think that He has opened my eyes and drawn me to Him in His grace and mercy, and that He has broken the curse of sin and set this captive free to love Him and obey Him. We love Him because He first loved us! Oh, the wonder of His matchless, amazing, incomprehensible love! It is almost more than I can comprehend that He would love me, such a sinner, and forgive my sin and make me whole.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus! His grace and mercy are emphatically displayed in the cross. Let the things of this life grow dim and let me ever seek first His kingdom and His glory. And because He suffered the cross and rose again, my song can now be, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” All my works are as filthy rags, and it is true that nothing I could do or bring could ever atone for my sin. But praise God, Jesus is the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world! Praise God that He loves us with a covenant love that clothes those who turn to Him in repentance and faith in His righteousness and that He is ever interceding for His people as our Advocate and great High Priest. And when we are tempted to feel that God is silent, let us think again what an amazing thing it is that He came, God With Us, that He endured the shame and mockery that are so scandalous to think of, and let us look again at the wonder of the cross and the power of His resurrection.

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

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