A good friend of mine, to whom I once wished a Happy Easter, replied by saying he understood that Good Friday was a day for Christians to be miserable. Was he right?
I think he was…and he wasn’t! Because he only had half the story!
Paul writing in his second letter to the Corinthians describes Christians as, ‘Sorrowful yet always rejoicing’ (2 Corinthians 6:10)
Paul was right. And that paradoxical existence is still ours today. ‘Good Friday’ – the name we give today is itself a paradox – can the day of Christ’s crucifixion really be good’? It is a day Christians should grieve over their sin and what Jesus our Saviour had to suffer to secure their redemption. And yet, at the same time, we rejoice in the triumph of his sacrifice and his subsequent resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday.
‘Sorrowful yet always rejoicing’ – it was the experience of Paul and it was also the experience of Jesus himself – he was ‘a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’ (Isaiah 53:5). Matthew recalls the words of Jesus to Peter, James and John, in the Garden of Gethsemane:
“My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38)
And yet the writer to the Hebrews has it that Jesus’…for the joy that was set before him endured the cross’ (Hebrews 12:2)
Suffering is not the end of joy – it can even be the passage to joy. Again this is not a contradiction – but it is a paradox! A paradox that the second thief, who was crucified alongside Jesus, understood. There he is, in about as bad a position as it is possible for a person to be, minutes away from a horrible death, when he makes his remarkable statement. He says:
‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom'(Luke 23:42)
Like everybody else that day, the thief sees Jesus suffering and dying on a cross but, unlike the religious rulers, the Roman soldiers and the first thief before him, he doesn’t see defeat. He continues to speak of Jesus coming into his kingdom. For him Jesus’ death doesn’t mean an end to all the kingdom and salvation talk. All the others understood salvation as being a salvation from death, but this man sees that the salvation Jesus brings is a salvation THROUGH death – Jesus’ death isn’t the end of Christ kingdom – rather his death brings in his kingdom.
This is a profound truth – one we would do well to grasp at understanding.
The faith the thief displays is why we should not be surprised by Jesus’ response when he says:
‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:43)
Jesus sees in the second thief somebody who gets it! Somebody who trusts the power of God despite seeing that which to unspiritual eyes is nothing but weakness. Somebody who sees victory where most would see defeat.Somebody who accepts the paradox of Good Friday.
Suffering is not irredeemable
Sorrow is not incompatible with joy
Even in the darkest days.
‘Sorrowful yet always rejoicing’? It was the experience of Paul. It was the experience of Jesus. It was the experience of the second thief.
And it will be our experience too.
Some of us are sick? Some of us mourn the loss of loved ones? Some of us worry over our future? Some of us have experienced great tragedy in our lives – some recently, some longer ago but feel the pain just as keenly as if it were yesterday.
There is indeed much today for us to be sorrowful over. Some religious types can sometimes well meaningly suggest we should never be sad. But they are wrong. It’s OK to be sorrowful. Sorrow is not wrong – it’s normal. Even Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus despite knowing that he would soon bring him back to life. The Bible never tells us to masochistically rejoice about our suffering. But it does tell us to rejoice in our suffering.
Because despite our sorrow – there is much to rejoice over! Even as we suffer we can rejoice. Sorrowful yet always rejoicing…
And we can rejoice because of the Gospel. Because Good Friday was followed by Easter Day. Because Jesus died for our sins, bearing the punishment we deserve, and rose for our justification, proving the sufficiency of that sacrifice.
Some of us grieve over our unrighteousness and can not even lift our eyes to heaven but beat our breasts and cry ‘Have mercy on me, a sinner’ (Luke 18:13) But because of his work on the cross on our behalf we are justified, made right with God – regardless of our current situation.
Not because of our worth – but because of his grace.
Not because of what we do – but because of what he did.
Not because we are lovely – but because he is loving.
So if you’re sorrowful today, know this: because of Jesus, his life, death and resurrection,’Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.'(Psalm 30:5)
It’s Good Friday – but Easter Sunday is coming. And, because of what took place on those two days nearly 2000 years ago we can know forgiveness no matter what those sins that we regret so greatly might be. But if that were not enough to rejoice over this Eastertide, we can also look to the future with certain hope. Suffering is all too real today but the day is coming when God ‘will wipe away every tear form [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.'(Revelation 21:4)
‘So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal'(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
It’s Good Friday – but Easter Sunday is coming.
May we all know happiness this Eastertide – even those who are sorrowful? Especially those who are sorrowful.