We remember the fact that Jesus’ disciples forsook him and fled, the fact that Peter denied him and Judas sold him, the fact that the authorities believed the false witness against him, the fact that Pilate washed his hands of him, the fact that he died the most painful, shameful death known at that time.
Many of us sit uncomfortably between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, anxious to get to the glorious hope which the resurrection bring to us. We don’t like the time in between. We run from the negative stuff – the betrayal, denial, lies, deceit, anger, hatred. jealousy, anguish, pain, death. We would much rather rejoice and celebrate in the victory which Sunday brings.
But it’s Friday. And sometimes it’s good for us to linger here for a while among the negative stuff. Why are we so afraid of it when it is so much a part of the biblical story? I see it again and again – I’m sure you do too. Some people like to hear me talk about my depression because it gives them a voice too – but others are uncomfortable with it. Why dwell on the negative stuff? Why look back at the pain? Why talk about the darkness? Because that’s where many are living today.
I see it when people ask how my dad is. Remembered by many as a man who loved God’s Word and preached it round N.Ireland, today he is in a nursing home, struck by a form of dementia which has mostly robbed him of the gift of coherent speech, among other things. When people ask how he is and I tell them, some will quickly say ‘Well, at least he’s content’ and sometimes I tell them no, I don’t think he is. And I want to cry, ‘Would you be content? Would I?’ But I see the look on their faces – the pain at having to process that, the not knowing what to do with it, the not having a category to put it in. This is not how it’s supposed to be.
And they are right – this is not how it’s supposed to be. God never intended us to have a world with depression and dementia and death in it. So we don’t have to pretend he did. We don’t have to pretend it’s alright – because it isn’t.
Good Friday is Good Friday, not because there’s anything good about any of this, but because out of the darkness and shame and pain and death, there actually is a glimmer of hope. Jesus takes on himself all of our pain and shame so that we we know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he understands it all – there is nowhere we have been that he hasn’t been; and in taking it all on himself, he redeems it and by a miracle of grace transforms it into something good and beautiful and true.
So that on Easter Sunday there is something wonderful to celebrate – Jesus has conquered sin and death forever. The fact that Jesus rose again means that we will rise again too.
Everybody dies in Adam; everybody comes alive in Christ. But we have to wait our turn: Christ is first, then those with him at his Coming, the grand consummation when, after crushing the opposition, he hands over his kingdom to God the Father. He won’t let up until the last enemy is down—and the very last enemy is death! I Corinthians 15.
We are not there yet – we still live in Good Friday a lot of the time, among the shadows and the darkness and the pain. But Jesus has won the war and, as Paul Tripp says, he is ‘still doing his sin-defeating work’. He is still in control. He is reigning even when it looks like he’s not. And he understands the pain and darkness of Good Friday. Because he’s been there.