What About Saturday?
What about Saturday?
Imagine what it would have been like to be one of those first followers of Jesus when it all fell apart.
After three years, they had just really begun to come to terms with the reality that the Messiah, foretold and anxiously anticipated long before their grandparents’ time, had finally come. Even more, that same Messiah had called them to follow…He had actually chosen to call them friends and to involve them in His work of preaching repentance and reconciliation before the coming of God’s Kingdom. As they came to know and trust Him, they had cast aside the things of this life to pursue Kingdom life with Him.
Then came the betrayal and the arrest. It had all unraveled so fast that they were unable to process what was happening. Judas…soldiers…a kiss…a brief scuffle in the darkness…and then He was gone. Most fled, scared out of their wits. Peter, the boldest among them, was too afraid to admit even knowing Jesus. John followed at a distance, watching, trying not to stand out.
The trial was as much a mockery of justice as the soldiers’ taunts, thorny crown, and robe were a mockery of Jesus. Though neither Herod nor Pilate wanted to take responsibility for it, the crowd served as the bullhorn of the religious leaders to force the Lord’s condemnation. They nailed Him to the Roman executioner’s cross to die like some horrible criminal.
All their hopes and dreams had come crashing down around them. It was over. Hope was gone. How could God let this happen?
On this side of history, we know what happens on that glorious Sunday, when God rolls the stone away from the tomb, and Heaven and earth learn that Death cannot contain the Lord of Life. Friday was shocking, even overwhelming, but Sunday revealed God’s wonderful plan of salvation by substitutionary atonement, as God’s mighty power raised the Sinless One from the dead.
We celebrate the Lord’s glorious resurrection with joyous songs and feasting on Easter Sunday…but what about Saturday?
As the disciples spent that intervening day drowning in fears and loneliness, terrified of a suddenly uncertain future, and grieving the horrifying injustice of the murder of their dear friend and Master, they had no idea what was coming next. They had learned to trust God at all times, and they knew that God was sovereign over all things, but His perfect plan of salvation was yet hidden from them. Saturday was an overwhelming darkness.
We spend most of our lives struggling through Saturday in one way or another, suspended somewhere between the initial shock of life’s unexpected turns and the wonder of seeing God’s unfolding plan swallow up our fears. Sometimes it seems like Sunday will never come, and Saturday’s silence can be deafening. Yet God’s Word tells us (James 1:2) to “consider it pure joy” when all kinds of trouble, hardship, pain, and injustice run roughshod over our lives. How is that possible? Maybe we can manage to accept hardship and to trust God to carry us through it, but to look at the truly and deeply difficult things in our live and consider them joy? Such an instruction seems at best unreasonable, even downright cruel.
Three things are certain and unavoidable about this as we look at the Bible: God is both sovereign and loving, His people regularly face “trials of many kinds” in this world, and God calls His people to rejoice in suffering.
In calling us to think of our tribulations as joy, James goes on to explain that they put our faith to the test, developing perseverance in us, which is essential to maturing into the disciples we need to be. (James 1:3-4) Paul makes similar point in Romans 5 about rejoicing in suffering because of what it produces in us. Neither Paul nor James suggests in any way that the trials themselves are enjoyable, nor that evil things are good things. Rather, they both teach us that our sovereign God uses difficult, unjust, even evil circumstances to bring about something better…something necessary for us to be who He intends us to be. From Job’s losses to Joseph’s unjust treatment to Israel’s wanderings and eventual exile, this theme rings through the story of God’s people. It crescendoes at the cross, as the Lamb of God is slain by evil men for evil reasons to accomplish God’s perfect salvation of His people, which He ordained before the creation of the world.
It is this very thing that allows believers to look at all the difficulties, suffering, injustice, and pain of life and choose to rejoice over them. We rejoice not simply in the fact that they build our character (though they certainly do, as James and Paul both attest), but in the reality that our loving God has ordained even the worst parts of this life for His glory and our good. The character of our sovereign and loving God gives us reason to rejoice, even in the darkest times. He demonstrates His character most clearly in sending His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him would trade death for eternal life (John 3:16).
Paul develops this idea in Romans 8, where the flow of his thought moves from our freedom from condemnation because of what Jesus Christ has done for us, through the way this rebirth changes our thinking and living, into his assertion that present sufferings do not merit comparing to the glory God has in store for us, and finally landing in the victorious conclusion of verses 28-39. In this latter portion of the chapter, so familiar to many Christians, Paul observes that God works for the good of His chosen people in all things (including all adversity, pain, or injustice). He supports this with an appeal not only to the sovereignty of God, but to the unfathomable love of God. He contends that if the sovereign, all-powerful God who controls all things was willing to send His beloved Son to die for us, He would certainly not withhold any good thing from us. (See also his point about this in Romans 5:6-11.) If God paid the highest cost to save us when we were His enemies, why would we think He would allow anything to harm us now that we are His children? Therefore, if hardships come our way, then our sovereign and loving God has ordained it to be the best, most loving path for us to become what He is making us to be. The very hardship we face is the chisel He has lovingly and wisely selected to shape us as His masterpiece, bringing out a glory that far surpasses the pain of the sculpting.
When we lift our gaze from the difficulty of our circumstances to the purpose and character of our sovereign, loving Lord, the unpleasantness of the chisel takes on new meaning. The sculpting becomes more than merely endurable; it becomes exciting, as we await the revelation of what glory will be revealed in us through this painful process. We can truly consider it a joyous thing, and that joy can carry us through all our darkest Saturdays.