How Can the Darkest Day be Good?

Never has there been more inhumane and unjust treatment of an innocent man.

The betrayal of a friend and the mockery of a Kangaroo Court handing Jesus over to be crucified, even though Pilate had three times declared Jesus to be innocent.

Imagine the Creator being treated as a corrupt creature unworthy of life.

That Friday, the darkest day in history, witnessed the most unjust and violent act. Even the sunlight was smothered by dreadful darkness. Jesus’ brutalized body was hastily, yet lovingly, entombed before darkness of night fell.

Yet, that dreadful day—that darkest day in all history marred with injustice—also witnessed the most severe justice and undeserved act of love.

Severe justice was meted out upon Jesus because He had assumed, taken upon Himself, my guilt. Your guilt. Each of us are lawbreakers guilty and deserving death because our actions have consequences—a price to pay. Paul said it this way, “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 3:23) Always death. That’s the Law. No exceptions. Every sin deserves death. Every sin separates us from our holy and righteous God. Someone must die.

Severe justice was severely meted out that Friday.

Intensely sacrificial love was also on display Friday. Paul, once again, helps us wrap our minds around the subject: “God demonstrated (displayed) His love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Jesus voluntarily assumed my guilt and served my death sentence by dying in my place. In your place. He became our substitute—our savior.

God’s severe justice was satisfied that Friday when the midday sun surrendered to darkness. God’s relentless love was also on display Friday.

That Friday evening, a few women walked home from the grave in the dark. The sorrow in their hearts was darker than the night. Hope had been dashed.

What they didn’t realize was that Sunday would dawn with brilliant light and renewed hope.

So, that shameful Friday was good after all.

Sunday burst with good news! News so great that today, I find myself singing with Charles Wesley*:

“Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me!”

*And Can It Be?, public domain

Our Amazing Hands

The amazing human hand is so versatile!

Consisting of 27 bones, muscles, tendons and nerves—sensory nerves to warn us when something is hot or when injured and motor nerves relaying messages from the brain to enable us to move our wrist and fingers. Our hands also have ridges (we call them finger prints) to help us grip things. Some animals also have hands or paws but only primates and humans have fingers (digits) that can move. But only the human hand has an opposable thumb that can touch each of the other fingers enabling us to accomplish so many things—even picking up something as small as a pin or piece of lint. Gripping a pencil or wiping tears from a child’s eyes.

Hands can be clenched to create a weapon—a fist–or opened to give and receive something or to greet another person with a firm handshake. Some hands are callused from manual labor—others soft and even beautiful.

Anyway we look at them our hands are amazing and beautiful. Our hands not only have unique finger prints, but also, I believe, our unique hands reveal the fingerprint or our Creator. Perhaps you have visited the Sistine Chapel in Rome or seen Michelangelo’s fresco painting, The Creation of Adam. The hand of God is reaching out to touch the hand of the first human, Adam. The picture probably doesn’t portray reality but it is a wonderful reminder that we are not the product of chance.

A few weeks ago, here on the Front Porch Swing, we considered the stories of two people that had life-changing experiences through the simple touch of a hand. The woman with a chronic hemorrhage reached out to discreetly touch Jesus and was instantly healed. Jesus touched an untouchable man, filled with leprosy, and sent the man home healed in body and spirit.

This week, millions of people will celebrate two of the most dramatic events in human history: the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Human hands were involved in both the crucifixion and resurrection. So, let’s consider some of the hands that participated in Jesus death and the celebration that followed his resurrection.

Serving hands: The night prior to his crucifixion, Jesus gathered with his twelve closest friends (He called them friends for the first time that night, see John 15:15). The usual table conversation was mingled with the liturgy of the Passover celebration. Everything seemed normal—the food and the songs and Scripture readings—until Jesus rose from his place and disrobed. Wrapped in a towel like a common servant he began to wash the feet of the disciples. Think of it: the only truly holy man in the room, the teacher, was washing the feet of his students. Judas, one of the men at the table was a traitor. After Jesus’ hands had washed the twelfth set of feet, he put on his robe and took his place at the table. His hands passed a morsel of food to Judas—a symbol of friendship. The hands that had washed the disciples’ feet filled a cup with wine and passed it to his friends.

Greedy hands: Judas’ hands, that had previously gripped thirty silver coins in exchange for selling Jesus to his enemies, received the bread from Jesus. A few hours later these hands of the betrayer would embrace Jesus in the garden and seal his doom with a kiss.

Clenched hands: Jesus was dragged before the high priest to face an illegal nighttime trial. Without provocation, one of the temple officers struck Jesus’ face with clenched fist. Very early the next morning soldiers slapped and beat Jesus. Their hands shaped thorns into a crown and embedded it in his skull. Strong hands gripped whips and scourged Jesus—almost to the point of death.

Guilty hands: Wrapped in regret and overwhelmed with guilt, Pilate washed his hands, but he couldn’t cleanse his conscience.

Bloody hands: The hands of Roman soldiers drove spikes into an innocent man’s hands, securing him to the cross. These bloody hands also cast lots to see who could claim Jesus’ clothing.

Compassionate hands: The hands of Joseph and Nicodemus—once timidly secret followers of Jesus—boldly requested Pilate to release Jesus’ body to them. Their hands gently anointed Jesus body and wrapped it in linen and placed it in Joseph’s personal tomb.

Yes, human hands participated in the most grievous crime in history. Roman soldiers and politicians, religious leaders and even one of Jesus’ disciples shared responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus.

Compassionate hands placed Jesus’ body in a tomb and hastened to roll a stone in place before Sabbath began at sunset.

It was a dark Friday night, and all hope that Jesus’ was the Messiah had been extinguished. But, the story wasn’t over. Sunday’s big surprise was coming!

 No human hands removed the stone from the tomb. Neither foe nor friend dared to challenge the seal of Rome guaranteeing the grave would remain secure. The soldiers and the seal of Rome could not prevent Jesus from evacuating the tomb.  The stone was moved—miraculously. Not to let the resurrected Jesus out, but to permit eyewitnesses to enter and to verify that the tomb was empty. No evidence of grave robbery. Just the empty linen cloth that had once shrouded body of Jesus and the face cloth, now folded neatly in the corner.

Very early Sunday morning, a handful of women that had followed Jesus timidly approached the grave. Concerned on how they could roll back the stone. No need to worry. The grave was already open. And empty.

Believing hands: Mary was the first person to encounter Jesus after his resurrection. Assuming he was the caretaker, she asked where Jesus’ body had been moved. He responded, “Mary.” Recognizing Jesus, Mary threw all caution and décor to the wind and fell at his feet, her hands clinging to him. She was the first eyewitness and the first person to touch the resurrected Christ.

Later that evening, Jesus mysteriously appeared before ten of his disciples that were secretly gathered in fear. When he showed them the scars on his hands and his side they believed and were filled with joy.

Thomas (who had been absent at the previous meeting with Jesus) refused to believe that Jesus was alive. His response: “Unless I can see the nail prints in his hands and touch his side, I cannot believe.” Eight days later Jesus again appeared among his disciples and invited Thomas to reach out his finger and touch Jesus’ hands. Thomas’ response (apparently without needing to touch Jesus) was to declare, “My Lord and my God!”

No more doubting. No more fear. That’s the power of the human touch.

So in my Jesus Album that we have been considering the past several weeks, I want to frame a picture of the scarred hands of Jesus.  

Whenever I mentally gaze on those scarred hands—those amazing hands, scarred hands— I exclaim with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”

How about you?

Have you a mental picture of Jesus’ hands? Hands that touched the leper? Caressed the faces of little children? Offered friendship to a traitor? Hands that reach out to you and me, inviting us to come if we are weary and broken and have been scarred by life! Trust me! I will give you rest.

The human is amazing, but never have there been hands more beautiful than those nail pierced hands. How beautiful the hands that shared the wine and the bread and washed feet!

I share a link to a song about the beauty of Jesus’ hands and body and bride.

 Right click below and open the link to this song and give thanks to our savior and lord this holy week.

How beautiful by Twila Paris (with lyrics) – Bing video

We Celebrate Friday and Sunday, How about Saturday?

Yesterday, due to Covid-19, I missed attending one of my favorite church events, but our excellent staff at Foundry Church shared a Good Friday service remotely via The Internet. Still nothing can replace the solemnity and silence that we normally experience on Good Friday.

Christians around the globe celebrate two of the most holy days this weekend. We all know what Jesus experienced on Friday and Sunday, but was Saturday just another ordinary day with little or no significance?

To be honest, I have never given it much thought. I have always left the solemn Good Friday service in silence anticipating the glorious Sunday celebration to follow. An article in the current Christianity Today magazine caused me to contemplate what happened between Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection. The article, “Before Christ Arose He Was Dead,” by Travis Ryan Pickell offered three possibilities of what Jesus may have experienced on Saturday.

Before we consider those three days, it is vital to first reflect on Jesus’ incarnation. God becoming a man was the greatest miracle, the deepest mystery and most profound event in history. Everything Jesus of Nazareth experienced was experienced as both God and man. His conception was unique, but his birth was natural. Nine months gestation preceded the baby’s struggle through the birth canal, exhaling his first breath with the piercing cry of a newborn. His childhood development was normal. As a young man he learned the trade of his adoptive father. After his baptism things changed when the Holy Spirit descended and indwelt him.

As an itinerant preacher he experienced the joy of close relationships but also deep loneliness and rejection, even betrayal by a close friend. He knew hunger and thirst but also enjoyed rich banquets at the table of the wealthy. He experienced pain so severe that we can never fully appreciate. He also experienced the dying process and death.

As we remember Jesus’ life and death on this holy weekend, let us reflect on what Jesus may have experienced on that Saturday two millennia ago.

Day one, Friday: Luke the physician reports that Jesus “expired” shortly after noon. The lungs of that infant, inhaling his first breath in Bethlehem, now exhales his last breath outside Jerusalem. His heart stops beating. No pulse. No brain waves. Jesus has died and is buried.

Day three, Sunday: Jesus body, now transformed but still very real, very human, is alive once more. Death has been defeated.

Day two, Saturday:  Here is the mystery? Where is Jesus on Saturday? We know his body is lying in the tomb, but where is he?

Did he descend into the underworld, perhaps purgatory, to preach to people who perished in Noah’s flood as some interpret 1 Peter 3:19?

Is this when Jesus “disarmed rulers, putting them to shame and triumphing over them” as Paul wrote in Colossians 2:15? Probably not since Jesus’ body remains in the grip of death; the victory is not yet won. He has not yet ascended to the Father. Consider Jesus’ words to Mary on Sunday morning, “Stop clinging to me for I have not yet ascended to my Father.”

One thing is certain: Jesus was dead on Saturday. The God-man was dead! Shocking thought? Amazing is the way Charles Wesley described it, “How can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” A good question if Jesus is God.

What does that Saturday two millennia ago have to do with us today? We gather to remember Jesus’ death on Friday because his death bought our redemption. That’s what makes Friday good. We love to gather (and will gravely miss the opportunity this year) on Sunday to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. We sing, “Up from the grave he arose with a mighty triumph o’er his foes…”

But, what should we sing on Saturday, the day between Friday and Sunday?

Why sing praise or give thanks for a dead body? Why not? Saturday reminds us that we have a high priest who understands and is compassionate with us because he has experienced life in real time

. During this pandemic we are frequently introduced to people who have lost a loved one to the virus while quarantined in the ICU with no family members present during the dying process. Jesus experienced dying alone, surrounded by strangers and the curious. Perhaps we hear that most clearly in his last words, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” Taking my sin upon himself, he became quarantined on the cross.

Now that I have considered Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, I am encouraged to draw near to Jesus when I am fearful or exuberant. Whether healthy and without a fever or infected by a virus. Whether surrounded by family and friends or alone, perhaps stranded in a foreign airport after the last flight has departed. Whether I am struggling with temptation or experiencing victory on the mountain top, I can confidently draw near to my great high priest because he has walked through the valley before me and will walk with me.

In the Christianity Today article the author reflects on historical religious pictures that try to capture Jesus’’ passion, death and resurrection. One picture by a 16th Century German artist, Hans Holbein the Younger, painted the almost naked corpse of Jesus lying in the tomb. Rigor mortis and early signs of decay are evident. I know it was Saturday because Jesus is certainly dead. The artist paints the corpse with mouth wide open as if joyfully expecting a great awakening on Sunday.

Isn’t that the picture Paul painted in 1 Corinthians 15? Jesus died! But, he arose on the third day and was seen by hundreds of eyewitnesses. Therefore, we can be certain death (and dying) has been conquered once for all.

In this present global pandemic, when the foundations of our culture have been shaken and many live in fear, let us draw near with confidence to Jesus because he understands.

So, on this sad day, this Saturday, what shall we sing? How about, “Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my savior! Waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord (and God)!”

I close with one quote from the article: “If God can be present in the death of Jesus Christ then God can be present even when he seems distant.”