Holy Saturday: The Sovereign God, Our Hope in Pain
We conclude our Holy Week Devotions building up to Resurrection Sunday with Holy Saturday. On that day in history, the disciples were in grief over the loss of their friend, their rabbi, the one whom they had believed to be the Christ. I’m sure many of us can relate to the great sting of grief over the loss of someone so dear to us.
As glorious of a day yesterday was for it was the day Christ died for our sins, today has many glories in itself if we’d take the time to notice them. You see, this whole week is like a crown. Each day makes up a point in the crown, with its own gems that shine radiantly as we shine a spotlight on it. That’s what we’ve been doing each day this week. But just as we’ve noticed the gems on each point so far, and since we’ll get to celebrate the final point tomorrow in the gathering, let’s sit for a moment and reflect on what happened on that Holy Saturday from the Scriptures, but then let’s also reflect on some of the extra gems upon this point of the crown of Christ’s victory week such as hope for the grieving.
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. (Matthew 27:62-66, ESV)
It’s clear from this passage that after the death of Jesus, the chief priests and the Pharisees saw only one thing left: make sure Jesus’ body doesn’t leave the tomb on the third day. They had plotted and schemed so much as to how they’d finally catch Jesus to be able to put him to death, but they also remembered his prophecy of rising again on the third day from the dead. So they plotted and schemed again to make sure that this “impostor” would stay where they put him. But this shows us something incredible.
God uses the wicked schemes of man to glorify his name.
Notice that the chief priests and Pharisees go to Pilate to try and ensure that Jesus’ body would stay in the tomb at least until the fourth day. They heard Jesus’ words that he would be raised on the third day, so they figured that as long as the disciples couldn’t steal his body, as long as they could keep his body there until Jesus’ own time frame had passed, then they would prove that Jesus was the impostor they claimed him to be. They also knew that if his body were to be found missing on that third day, then people would believe that Jesus was in fact the Messiah and thereby removing the influence and power of the chief priests, the Pharisees, and even the Romans over them. So just as they plotted and schemed his death, they plotted and schemed to keep his body bound in the tomb. But God, being over all things, saw it best to trap his enemies in their own scheme to vindicate and glorify his name. If it were not for this scheme, the stone wouldn’t have been sealed over the tomb, the guards wouldn’t have been posted in front of it, and that means that there wouldn’t be witnesses of God’s glorious resurrecting power at the tomb. By allowing the schemes of the chief priests and Pharisees, God removed any opportunity for them to plead ignorance, to plead that the disciples were lying about the resurrection of Jesus, and thus the snare that they had laid for him had actually ensnared them. God in turn gets even greater glory from this because there is no way around the reality that he had raised Jesus from the dead, that he had rolled to stone away, and that he had petrified the trained and powerful Roman guards with his glorious might.
God’s sovereign work over and against the wicked plans of his enemies is vitally important for us to remember. It is in light of this vitally important work of God that I want to draw our attention to three ways we can be encouraged today. In fact, let God’s sovereign work to glorify his name through the wicked schemes of the chief priests and Pharisees be the light that shines upon the gem of hope for our pain and grieving on this day.
1. When all seems lost, remember God is faithful.
On the day when Christ’s body lay wrapped in a borrowed tomb, it is not surprising that we see the disciples deeply distraught. The one they believed to be the Messiah had been killed and is now in a tomb. They’ve seen the miracles, they’ve believed Jesus, and yet after this they are shaken to the core for all appears lost. In fact, this is exactly what we see from the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:1-24. But even then the risen Jesus responds to them about how God is actually being faithful to what he’s promised in the law and the prophets when Jesus suffered and died. It is God’s faithfulness that these things were to come to pass for that was how he was to provide salvation. And so it is with us. When we are shaken to our very core, when our whole world comes crashing down around us, when we can say with David that we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, it is so difficult to remember that God is with us, that he is faithful, and that he cares for us. Yet, even though it is difficult to remember such things, we need to lift our eyes to look beyond this current shadowy valley and see the faithfulness of God throughout history and in our own lives. If he has been faithful to David as his own son sought to murder him, he will be faithful to you. If he was faithful to Job as everything in his life was taken away, he will be faithful to you. If he was faithful to Israel in delivering them from the hands of Egypt, he will be faithful to you. If he was faithful to Abraham in giving him the son of the promise, he will be faithful to you. If he was faithful to the promise to crush the head of the serpent by the heel of the seed of the woman, he will be faithful to you. If he was faithful to each of the apostles as they were martyred and exiled, he will be faithful to you. If he was faithful to bring you by saving you from eternal wrath and hell, he will continue to be faithful to you. No matter how lost everything seems, and even if everything stays lost in this lifetime, he will remain faithful to you, to keep you, to grow you, to redeem you, to love you, to comfort you. As Jesus’ body was in the tomb, God was faithful to keep the disciples from falling away, and he can and will be faithful to you.
2. Jesus understands the pain of loss.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this devotional, I’m sure many of you can relate to the pain of loss that the disciples were experiencing on this day almost 2000 years ago. Yet, I wonder if you’ve ever thought about how Jesus experienced the pain of loss. Jesus, while in the garden understood that he was about to endure the full wrath of God on the cross. Jesus, as the Second Adam or the perfectly righteous man, understood that the wrath he would bear would separate him for the first time in his life from the intimacy he shared with the Father. But not only then, we also read from John 11:35 that Jesus felt the pain of losing his good friend Lazarus, and he wept because of it. And not only in those times, but also in Matthew 23:37-39 we see that Jesus laments over Jerusalem. Jesus was also a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). If we forget that Jesus too understands and sympathizes with us in our pain of loss, then we’ll be quick to forget his faithfulness, we’ll be quick to believe that we’re alone and no one understands. Yet how blessed is this thought, that the Almighty God knows your pain, and as the Wonderful Counselor he understands it more than anyone else. He’s felt the pain of loss, he’s wept real tears just as you and I do, and as Immanuel, our God with us, he is more present with you in that pain than we often recognize.
3. This present pain is not the end.
Much like how the pain of losing Jesus for the disciples as he was in the tomb was going to end that Sunday, so is our present pain going to end on that Day when he returns. The hope we can have that this present pain is not the end doesn’t nullify the depth of the pain we’re likely to experience or are experiencing. However, that hope places the present pain in its right place. If you are united to the Lord Jesus by faith, then we can know with all certainty that all the pain we experience in this life is not the end for us. Every tear we shed in this life is not wasted, but it won’t be our eternity. For there will come a day when our Good Shepherd will come and grab your face and gently wipe away every tear from your eyes. Though the disciples wept bitterly over Jesus’ death, Jesus rose again and came to them to comfort them and eventually ascend to heaven so he could send his Spirit to dwell within them. While we weep bitterly over the brokenness of this world and all the painful effects of sin upon it, there will come a day when Jesus’ words will be fulfilled, “behold I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). During this painful time of already-not-yet, while we groan and cry out for the Lord Jesus to return, let me encourage you to set your minds on the things that are above (Colossians 3:1). Let us have a heavenly mindedness that considers our current sufferings not worth comparing with the glory to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18). Certainly that sounds easier said than done, but it is not impossible for those of us who have the Holy Spirit indwelling them. For the Spirit bears witness with ours that we are children of God, and if we are children of God then we are heirs with Christ, and if we are heirs with Christ then all the glories of eternal joy and peace and life are ours in Christ Jesus, and if all these glories are ours in the final days then we have the firstfruits of those things through the Holy Spirit. So let us ask the Holy Spirit to give us fresh eyes to see the glory of the end of this present age and ask him to help us endure the present pain we experience in this broken world knowing that he is gracious to provide all things for our life and godliness. Know, dear saint, that your pain is not the end for you, but your end is eternal life in the peaceful presence of your precious Savior.
Pray – Thank God that even on this day almost 2000 years ago, he used the schemes of his enemies to glorify his name. Thank him for his sovereign care and provision for you. And ask the Father to comfort you (2 Cor. 1:3). Ask the Son to show you from his word just how much he understands and sympathizes with you, and ask him to grant you mercy and grace in your time of need (Heb. 4:15-16). Ask the Spirit to apply afresh the grace bought for you by Jesus, and ask him to strengthen you in your inner being, that you may know and comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth the love of Christ and that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:14-19).
Sing – If you have time, conclude your devotional time by singing and reflecting on the lyrics of It Is Well With My Soul by Horatio Spafford performed by Chris Rice.