With our Easter celebrations fresh in our minds, I’m inspired to pen an encouraging response to those who find themselves in a dark season. There is certainly little that is more poignant than making the connection between Jesus’ suffering and our own.
The familiar story from John’s Gospel goes like this:
“Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. 2 She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 3 Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. 4 They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. 6 Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, 7 while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. 8 Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— 9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead.10 Then they went home.” John 20:1-10
Have you ever encountered a situation where you received what you thought was bad news but then it unexpectedly turned to good news? It happened to me when I first met Martha—my wife to be—in college. I was minding my own business, studying on a small padded bench in the hallway, waiting for my piano lesson to begin. Suddenly, class let out down the hall. Students flocked in my direction, passing by without noticing me. Then I heard it—that mellifluous voice. She simply said, “Hello,” and my heart melted
I looked up from my books and saw an angel. All of my studies—and my problems—seemed to fade away in one fell swoop. I was floating. Was it a dream? Was I in heaven?
She spoke again. “Um, Jeff?” I shook free of my dream-like state to respond to this glorious creature. We conversed. It was pleasant. And after a few minutes of glorious banter, it was clear (to me) that sparks were flying. She sat down. This was good. Very good.
In the glory of the moment, I felt the practical side of myself interrupt me to remind me not to forget my private, one hour piano lesson that was scheduled to start in about 30 minutes. No problem. Now, where were we…
We talked on. She stood to leave—in case she was bothering me or interrupting my studies. “Of course not.” I stammered. “These old books? I can read them later.” She sat again. There wasn’t even the slightest hiccup in our conversation. It was magic. Pure magic.
But time kept on ticking away. Quickly, I found myself dangerously close to missing my lesson. 10 minutes till. 5 minutes till. 2 minutes after. I could be a couple minutes late. 7 minutes after. 15 minutes after. Guess I’m not going…
Finally, after nearly 90 minutes of pure joy, we both realized we needed to be somewhere else. But I knew I couldn’t let this moment pass. So, with marionette like gestures, I said something playfully like, “Well, I was wondering…if maybe sometime…in the near, not too distant future…if we could possibly, maybe, get together and hang out, like sometime?”
With a big smile frozen on my face, I awaited the creature’s reply. And without breaking stride, she quipped aloofly, “What for?”
My heart died a thousand death’s in a split second.
But then she smiled and said mischievously, “Just kidding. I’d love to.”
Thankfully, the news I thought was dreadful turned into news that was wonderful! Alas, we went on our first date February 2, 1991, and the rest is history.
The news of Jesus’ death and burial had a similar effect. Though it was initially thought to be tragic, it turned out to be transformational!
I was struck by these words in the scripture passage above; “Early Sunday morning, while it was still dark.” You see, it was while it was still dark, when all hope seemed lost—when even his own Father turned his back on him—that God’s greatest achievement was being realized. The Bible states in Colossians 2:15, “In this way, God disarmed the evil rulers and authorities and he shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross of Christ.” All while it was still dark.
Please understand. This was no walk in the park for Jesus. Though he was divine, he was still human. He still felt pain. And he was certainly able to anticipate the kind of agony a Roman crucifixion would provide.
He didn’t swoop in on a black stallion to save the day, smashing and crashing his enemies’ heads. No. This was not your normal, every day deliverance. In fact, when the Bible says Jesus won the victory on the cross, it is clear that he went about achieving his victory very differently than most. He was pierced, stabbed, beaten, mocked, spit on, ridiculed, and eventually suffocated to death. This was no glorious victory. It was apparent defeat.
To top it off, we weren’t doing so hot ourselves. Jesus didn’t solve our problem of separation from God when the chips were up—when we were happy-go-lucky—while everything was peachy keen! Romans 5:8 tells us he died for us in our darkest hour as well—while were still sinners—while we were right in the middle of our greatest rebellion against him. And he still loved us. While we were still in the dark.
Amazingly, he didn’t only say, “I love you!” with his words. He displayed his love through his actions. With his arms stretched wide on a cross. In the most excruciating position imaginable. While we were still his “enemies”. While it was still dark.
John 16:33 reminds us that we will face many trials in this world. But it also reminds us that we can take heart, because Jesus overcame the world. All while it was still dark.
You might be going through hell in your marriage. But while it was till dark, Jesus overcame for you. You might be going through bankruptcy and feel like a failure. But while it was till dark, Jesus overcame for you.
You might have just lost a child or a parent or a close friend in death. But while it was till dark, Jesus overcame for you. You might have just been diagnosed with an untreatable disease. But while it was till dark, Jesus overcame for you.
You might have just had your greatest, lifelong God-dream crushed. But while it was till dark, Jesus overcame for you. You might have been rejected by your closest friend. But while it was till dark, Jesus overcame for you.
You may have just found out your spouse has been cheating on you—or your spouse may have discovered you were cheating on them! But while it was till dark, Jesus overcame for you. You might be cutting, or lonely, or battling addiction. But while it was till dark, Jesus overcame for you.
You may be overwhelmed by fear and anxiety, and you can’t sleep at night. But while it was till dark, Jesus overcame for you. You might be stressed or having panic attacks. But while it was till dark, Jesus overcame for you.
You might be in a deep depression. But while it was till dark, Jesus overcame for you. You might even feel like there is no purpose in living anymore! But while it was till dark, Jesus overcame for you!
By his death and resurrection, Jesus overcame the powers of death, hell, and the grave on our behalf. He flipped the script on the devil and made a way for us to be reconciled to the Father. That’s right, the devil isn’t going out of his way just to keep us from having our sins forgiven. He’s focused more on keeping us from having our relationship with the Father resotred—the one thing he squandered when he tried to overthrow the Creator of the Universe.
So, how did the disciples respond on that dark morning? After discovering that Jesus’ body was missing—while it was still dark—Mary showed up with apparent bad news. You gotta wonder if the wheels in Peter and John’s heads started turning, remembering back to countless talks they’d had with Jesus. I’m sure they also started rehearsing different scenarios in their minds concerning who could have broken into the tomb to sabotage them. And just how they could have pulled it off.
We can imagine, when Mary ran up and said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him,” this would have been taken as the bad news, right? It was unthinkable. Not only was Jesus dead, but now his body was gone, too? I’m guessing the disciples may have started noticing their abundant sadness turning to anger.
Who is “they”? And what did “they” do with Jesus? Who do “they” think “they” are anyway?? I’m telling you, “they” are gonna get it!!!!
Have you ever spaced out while someone was talking? To the point where you had to rewind in your head in order to comprehend what they were saying? In a moment, one of the words Mary said popped back into Peter’s head, and he had to hit rewind.
She said, “They took the Lord’s body…” Wait, wait, wait… think. And then, even before they had it all worked out, they knew something wasn’t right. So, what did they do?
While it was still dark, they ran. (verse 4) It’s not very often that you see grown men run, but this demonstrates their passion and their willingness to pursue God, regardless of the cost.
While it was still dark, they entered in. (verses 6 & 8) This is symbolic of them identifying with Jesus’ death. By entering in, they came face to face with the hideous fact that Jesus really had died. They had held back before in fear—Peter denied Jesus, and even John ran away from the garden with the other disciples. Yet this time, they didn’t stay on the outside looking in. They stepped into the darkness of the tomb, to the place where Jesus’ body had laid. And in that moment, they moved from fear to faith, accepting for themselves the way of the Lamb who was slain.
While it was still dark, they received supernatural revelation. (verse 9) For up until they entered the tomb, they hadn’t understood what Jesus had been saying about his coming death. But now, the eyes of their hearts were opened, and revelation came flooding in. Old Testament scriptures they’d heard all their lives suddenly danced in their heads, so many with prophetic whispers of Jesus’ life and death.
While it was still dark, they believed. (verse 8) What did they believe? That Jesus wasn’t taken, but that he actually rose from the dead. That Jesus truly was the long-awaited Messiah. And that everything he said was true. Yes, there in the darkest hour…they believed!
Colossians 2:13-15 cries out; “You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all our sins. He canceled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it [the record of the charges against us] and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ’s cross!”
And instantly, the bad news became the Good News!
It was all part of the grand plan—that while it was still dark—God would bring his Son, back from the dead in glorious resurrection, so that, among other things, Isaiah’s prophecy would come true: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a great light has shined!” Matthew 4:16
Isaiah wrote this powerful truth: “It was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and fill him with grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have a multitude of children, many heirs. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s plan will prosper in his hands. When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of what he has experienced, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.” Isaiah 53:10-11
Out of the blackness shone a great light! Out of the bad came true good! Out of the sadness was born joy! Out of death sprung life! And it all happened while it was still dark.
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