The Day God Died
Every year, my parents and I attend a Good Friday church service that ends very sadly. The lights go out, no one talks and there's a gloomy mood to capture what it must have been like the day Jesus died.
As we drive home, I always try to pretend Jesus is dead and buried. I try to grieve. But no matter how hard I try, I just can't feel a lasting sadness about his death because I know what happens next. I know Jesus doesn't stay dead. And while the crucifixion is horrible and sad, I can't hide my joy that it led to Jesus rising from his tomb and saving me from my sin and death.
But last Easter I spent a good deal of time reading John 16, and I was really hit hard by what was going on in that part of the Bible: When Jesus was about to die his disciples just didn't understand the plan. He tried to explain that what was happening was good, but they didn't see it that way. I may know the happy ending of Jesus' death, but the disciples sure didn't. They were clueless after the crucifixion. Jesus was dead. That's all they knew.
When Jesus was arrested and killed, the disciples—his friends and students—were afraid and confused. After Jesus' arrest, Peter denied he even knew him. Others took off and hid. And really, their fear, sadness and confusion are understandable. Their entire world just crashed in. They had dedicated their lives to Jesus, and now he was gone. Dead. Without him, they could see no future. They risked everything for this guy—and now, he was lying dead in a tomb. Nothing made sense.
But just days before his death, Jesus told his disciples he would soon leave them. As bad as it seemed, it was for the best. Jesus says, "I am on my way to the one who sent me. Not one of you has asked, 'Where are you going?' Instead, the longer I've talked, the sadder you've become. So let me say it again, this truth: It's better for you that I leave" (John 16:5-7, The Message). The problem: Even after this, the disciples just didn't get it. All they saw was that their friend was leaving.
Jesus, always the caring teacher, again tried to explain. John 16:19-23 reads: "Jesus knew they were dying to ask him what he meant, so he said, 'Are you trying to figure out among yourselves what I meant when I said, 'In a day or so you're not going to see me, but then in another day or so you will see me?' Then fix this firmly in your minds: You're going to be in deep mourning while the godless world throws a party. You'll be sad, very sad, but your sadness will develop into gladness. When a woman gives birth, she has a hard time, there's no getting around it. But when the baby is born, there is joy in the birth. This new life in the world wipes out memory of the pain. The sadness you have right now is similar to that pain, but the coming joy is also similar. When I see you again, you'll be full of joy, and it will be a joy no one can rob from you. You'll no longer be so full of questions" (The Message).
The disciples were missing the big picture. They had been with Jesus. They saw his miracles. They knew he was God-sent. But yet, they faced a very heavy feeling of loss, doubt and pain because they couldn't see the whole plan. To the disciples, there was no little hope for a bright morning to this dark, dark night. Sure, Jesus talked about the coming joy. He said they'd see him again. He said this was the best way. But how could this be the best way? After all, their friend and teacher was dead.
It's easy to think that maybe the disciples were just kind of dumb. There's a temptation to look at all Jesus told them in John 16 and think, Come on you dopes, put the pieces together! But that's easy for us to say because we're looking back at history. We know it turned out OK. Living through it would have been trickier. I think reading John 16 really stuck with me last year because I realized how often I'm just like the disciples. I know God has a plan for the world. I know he has a destination for me. And I know it is good (Jeremiah 29:11). But I don't always get the plan. Instead, I only see what's happening right now and, sometimes, that doesn't look so good. And like the disciples, I complain and cry and even fight against the hard times that may be necessary to bring about God's way.
The great thing is that God knows that we don't—and can't always—understand his big plans. He knows we can't always see past the current bad to see his full plan. And that's why he doesn't leave us to do it alone. In John 16, Jesus explains that because he is leaving, God is sending the Holy Spirit to help believers find their way. Jesus says the Holy Spirit will "take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is" (John 16:13, The Message).
Thanks to God's Holy Spirit working in each of us, we can be sure he's guiding us even when—like for the disciples—things look hopeless and miserable. Those times will come. Whenever I am confused about God's plan, I like to pray an old prayer written by a monk named Thomas Merton. He wrote, "My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road, though, I may know nothing about it."
The disciples knew nothing about what was really going on before that first Easter. And not understanding brought them great pain. That is something that I can relate to even today. But even though I feel lost and confused like the disciples pretty often, I know from the Easter story that I can trust God to bring a bright dawn from even the darkest night.
Written by Todd Hertz