The week had been eventful. There was a euphoria in the air, strong rumor had it that Jesus was preparing to bring His kingdom to earth. What would eventually be called the Last Supper, was a meal that had been the crescendo to an amazing week. Expectations were off the chart. Excitement and faith were at an all-time high. That was Thursday, but then Friday happened. Faith turned to fear and excitement into astonishment. The unimaginable had happened. Jesus was dead, in a tomb, and the dreams of the disciples are broken like a crystal vase. Fridays are difficult and dreadful. Fridays are filled with hurt and pain. Fridays are packed with accusations and betrayal. Jesus faced all of life’s pain on Friday. Friends betrayed and abandoned him. Accusations were accepted as truth without question. There were emotional and mental attacks on his person, integrity, and character. He was mocked, ridiculed and made a laughingstock by the crowd who had gathered on Golgotha’s hill. The physical abuse he has endured was beyond imagination and more than anyone should ever face. As He hangs on Calvary, death will be a blessing. The pulsating pain running through his hands and feet are surpassed only by the throbbing agony brought by the thorns that are penetrating his brain. Every breath is torturous as his back, plowed open like a spring field, rubs against a cross that feels like sandpaper. The sky is now dark, his friends and family all gone, save his mom and John; death is but moments away. With one last breath Friday will finally be over. We all hate Fridays. Fridays when sickness, disease, and cancer ravages a body, death visits our family or a friend. We abhor Fridays when we’ve made terrible decisions, when divorce visits our marriage, and when we’ve been betrayed, mocked, or we are the recipient of ugly and untrue gossip. We hate Fridays when we did our best, but our children still turned from God. On Friday, sunsets can’t come fast enough, and the darkness of night will at least signal an end of the day. Saturday is different. The events of Friday are over. Jesus’ body is off the cross, it’s now wrapped in cloth, and the tomb is sealed. In the grave blood oozes through the fabric where the nails had pierced His hands, feet, side, and skull. The stone where he lies is stained with a pool of blood from the scourging of his back. This day there is no more pain, the accusations and attacks are mute, and now darkness and silence are Jesus’ only companions. While Fridays are unbearable, Saturdays can be as excruciating. Saturday, when cancer miraculously recedes but we are left with its traumatic aftereffects. Saturday, when we’ve survived the heart attack, but our emotions are drastically different. Saturday, when the divorce is final, and we are left to try to pick up the pieces and forge on. Saturday, when the death of a spouse, family member, or friend is final, and we now have to live life with the terrible void left in our hearts. Saturday, the darkness, and silence it brings, can be as overwhelming as the literal pain of Friday. Saturday leaves us with more questions than answers, more darkness than the darkest night, more uncertainty than we’ve ever experienced, and more fear than anyone could ever imagine. We know Fridays will end with finality, either healing or heaven, but Saturday leaves us with no voices of encouragement, no one to lift our faith, and no date of expiration as too when the darkness will disappear, and light will shine bright again. How do we survive Saturday? In the faith that there will be a Sunday, that what Jesus said will come to pass. That as He resurrected, your situation too can come back to life. You survive Saturday by remembering the blind being given their sight, the lame walking, and Lazarus being brought back from the dead. You survive Saturday by remembering the mercy showed by Jesus to a Samaritan woman with five husbands at a well, and grace extended to a woman caught in the middle of a wild sexual tryst. Saturdays are when God often leaves us alone but teaches us to know He is still with us. May I say that again? Saturdays are when He leaves us alone but is still with us. Saturdays may mean leaning in and waiting patiently, quietly, and humbly, praying, and resting in the fact that He said, I will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5). Saturday may last a day, a week, a year, or possibly even decades but no matter how lonely, how dark, how overwhelming, or how long Saturday is, know that there is a Sunday in our future (John 14:3, Acts 1:11). God went through Saturday to show us the way and that we too can survive our Saturday. Sundays, they happen in an instant. One moment death, the next resurrection and life. A move of the Spirit, an unexpected change in a person, a blessing that overwhelms, an opportunity that comes out of nowhere, or physical miracle that forever is your testimony. Sometimes a Sunday means an eternal ticket to an everlasting Sunday; no more pain, sickness, or struggles with this life. If you are experiencing or have lived in a Saturday, I encourage you to take on a new perspective this Easter, begin living with an expectation that your Sunday is on its way!
It’s two weeks until Passover and tensions are high. Some good men have tossed and turned for months losing sleep. They’ve had more meetings than Gen Z’s have collaboration sessions. Their issue? Trying to figure a way to rid themselves of a three-year problem. They have debated and discussed different possibilities for hours on end and they have finally concluded that the changes they would have to make would cost too much, so rather than change, someone else will. The seed of selfishness is always about us. Our comfort. Our titles and positions. Our rituals and traditions. Caiaphas’ comes up with the solution, “one man must die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish” (John 11:50). These were good men. Men of prayer. They dressed well, knew scripture, and really had a good grasp on doctrine and theology. In fact, in many ways they agreed with much of what Jesus said, but the changes He was suggesting were just too radical. They had to protect the past, secure their traditions, and safeguard rules for the future. Circumcision was an unnegotiable, leaving the sacrificial system absurd, and redefining the Law. . . heresy. The decision for one man to pay the cost to quelch this uprising appeared so easy. Religion is famous for abandoning those who don’t measure up to those who are self-righteous. Self-righteousness knows no boundaries. Those who must protect their traditions will reject anyone who suggest it can be any other way but theirs. It’s not a person, it’s a spirit, or spirits; selfishness, arrogance, envy, and pride just to name a few. Their spiritual comfort supersedes any broken person or lost soul. People are disposable. Whatever the cost, whomever we must abandon, whomever we must hurt, at all costs, we must protect our comfortable environments. So, Jesus becomes the cost of change. Abandoned and rejected, He hangs on a cross for no crime other than loving lost and broken humanity and changing the spiritual religious landscape. He welcomed too many sinners. Used too many broken people and didn’t wear their righteous robes. He was too common and His message too radical. He pays the price because the religious elite wouldn’t. It’s 2000 years later but the same spirits remain. The Jesus Revolution Movie wasn’t about the first or second time Christianity has rejected change, it has happened for centuries, and will until Jesus comes. It’s always easier to live in the atmosphere of comfort than the culture of change. Jesus dies, resurrects, and radical change explodes in an Upper Room 50 days later. But realize this, something else died when Jesus died. The religion of those who refused to change. They became a subculture, important only in their own minds. They became relics, obsolete, and irrelevant. Who goes to a church today where one of the questions for membership is, have you been circumcised? Anyone attend a church where they still wear gowns, tunics, and long robes? Anyone go to Texas Roadhouse and ask, “was the steak used as a sacrifice to idols?” If not, you’ve changed and would be rejected. These were the issues of their day, but not today. This lets us know that change is constant. Traditions are just that, traditions, not laws. They all eventually change or become irrelevant. I’ve walked into way too many irrelevant churches and stepped into too many restaurants and business that are no longer in existence because they rebuffed the winds of change. If you really want to live, not exist, you must embrace change. A warning, change is costly. Ask Nicodemus, his own crew abandoned and rejected him for making a change, following Jesus. Make a note of this; we know Nicodemus’ name but none of theirs. Mark 6 shows us that Jesus’ own earthly family struggled with the changes He was proclaiming, and that He could do no miracles in His hometown. Why? Change is hard and comfort is easy. Our adversary delights, embraces, and feeds on those who cling to their comfort. I know that in my own life change is hard because I love my old and comfortable ways. Change is painful because we know there are cost, that people will discard and desert you. Finally, change is difficult because it’s God challenging us to trust Him beyond what we can see or understand. Change is a must though if we are truly “seeking first the kingdom.” In our lives, Mary and I have always sought to embrace God’s challenges, to follow after the Spirit, and that has meant that we have had to embrace change. In every instance we knew it came with costs. I knew organizations would abandon me, and colleagues would reject me. We knew that friends and family would object and that some would call us “lost sheep.” Yet, we’ve never wavered in Truth and we’re still the same passionate people of prayer, who spend hours in the Word, and are consumed about broken and lost people. There were changes when I knew when I walked into the room I was going to lose people and there were changes where I knew was going to lose income and influence. But in those moments, what was always my priority was knowing, that if I rejected the challenge of change that God was asking me to make, that I would be out of His will and putting my comfort ahead of His kingdom. How about you. Do you live for your comfort? Do you live to please others? Or is His will and Kingdom above all? We must remember this, at all costs, the Kingdom is always more important than our comfort. That’s the message of Jesus on the cross.
An obvious fact. The less light the more darkness. Turn off the lights in a windowless room and darkness dominates. One of the fascinating details the gospel authors mention is as Jesus is dying on the cross the sky grew dark. When the earthly presence of God went out (“I am the light of the world.” John 8:12), darkness rushed in. It’s important to note what happened during those three hours, because I believe there is a spiritual principle. We wonder why there is such darkness in the earth today, may I suggest that God’s light, the church has become dimmer. While there are more mega-churches, there are fewer people attending than ever. In 1950 nearly 70% of Americans attended church regularly, in 2007 that number had dwindled to 18%, and reports are that nearly 1/3 of those who were faithful to church before COVID have not returned. Jim Cymbala, pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City, says it is his belief that the actual number of faithful and active Christians in America is less than 5%. Not only did Jesus say that He was the light of the world, but that we, the followers of Christ, “were the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14). Why the darkness? Why the hate? Why such an aggression of immorality? Why does it seem no one has the answer for all that ills our world? As a pastor who trusts God’s Word, I believe we are seeing the effect of the absence of light. Jesus asked in Luke 18:8, “when the son of man comes, will He find faith,” and the author of Hebrews warns, “let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer.” Easter 2022. Make a decision to make God’s house a life priority.
Silence. It can be awkward, difficult and confusing. It’s the feeling a widow or widower has the first night after the love of their life has breathed their last breath and they are all alone. It’s the feeling parents experience when they have had a house full of kids, watched them grow from infant to adult, taken them to band, cheered them on in their sports, had them around the dinner table and the last one has left the home and you now come home to an empty house. As a spouse, have you ever got the silent treatment? Often, you’re not sure why, and silently you are asking, did I leave my socks on the table again? Did I say something I wasn’t supposed to at the dinner party? The silence lets you know something is definitely wrong. It’s a first date or walking into a meeting where no one knows anyone and there’s that awkward moment when no one knows what to say or do. Whatever the scenario, silence begs for something to happen, anything. A friend to call the widow. A grandchild to enter the scene of a parent. Or a spouse thinking, please, let me know what I did to create this silence. That is what Saturday was like for those lived through Jesus’ Passion Week. They will survive the hurt, the actions and events of Friday and once they understand, experience and grasp the miraculous resurrection on Sunday, they will celebrate, but the silence of Saturday is overwhelming. On Saturday is when we deal with our own failures of yesterday. On Saturday is when we feel the chill of darkness, that it won, and we lost. On Saturday we live in the real possibility that our Hope is dead, and life will never be the same. On Saturday we feel as though God has failed us. Living in a Saturday? Take heart in Easter! That as impossible as things might feel today, you may be just be a few hours or days away from a life changing moment, an Easter, a moment that makes your life better than you could ever imagine!
Empty. It’s not a word we necessarily like. Running late, we hop in the car, look at the gas gauge and it’s on empty. You get a bowl out of the cabinet, get the milk out and go to grab your favorite box of cereal, only to find someone has left a nearly empty box in the cabinet. Ever been in a relationship that felt empty? It seems no matter how much you pour into the relationship, somehow it still feels empty. I must admit that there are times in my own life I feel like I’m running on empty. Empty, it means containing nothing, vacant or unoccupied, and while the word often leaves us frustrated, there is one instance where we are thankful for empty. Easter, the one moment we celebrate empty. A broken and empty hearted Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James are taking spices to anoint Jesus’ body and we they get there, they are met with the unfathomable, the stone is rolled away and a tomb that is empty. Met by an angel they hear the words we will forever celebrate, “He is not here, He has risen.” It’s the one instance when empty means full. An empty tomb means a resurrected savior. An empty tomb means that death, hell and the grave has been defeated. An empty tomb means the blood of Jesus has power over the power of sin. An empty tomb means we have access to God; to His grace, mercy and love. An empty tomb means our lives can be full of His Spirit, joy unspeakable and unlimited possibilities. An empty tomb means we can look forward to an eternal life. My life is full because of an empty tomb. Easter. An empty tomb. The one moment when empty means full!