“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” – Luke 23:44-46a
This morning I had the opportunity to attend a church I’ve come to value for its people and its teaching … and today’s sermon stunned me at the end. I just didn’t realize where the pastor would end up with his message on Jesus’ death (Luke 23:44-49).
Lloyd Shadrach, teaching pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Brentwood, TN opened with examples of the connection between darkness and God’s judgment prior to Good Friday:
- Luke 23:44 – Darkness falls over the whole earth for three hours while Christ was on the cross.
- Exodus 10:21 – Darkness covers the land for three days during the ninth plague on Pharaoh and his kingdom just before the final plague (death of firstborn children) when he finally lets the Israelites go from Egypt.
He stated, “Every time in the Old Testament when God’s judgment comes it’s the wicked who die, not the righteous … but on Calvary it’s Jesus. The Lamb of God was slain, His blood was spilled out, the veil in the temple was torn … and now the way in to the temple of God is open to ALL who trust Him” (prior to this who only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies in the temple and only once a year).
After “absorbing an eternal hell for all who believe in Him,” stated Shadrach, Jesus’ death satisfies the wrath and righteousness of God. “Jesus tells us, ‘It’s finished.'”
Then he offered two lessons from the “house of mourning”:
- God is present in our darkest moments.
- God doesn’t prevent the darkest moments … He orchestrates them and transcends them (Acts 2). He doesn’t create it [evil] .. but evil doesn’t thwart His purposes. God uses it for His glory and our good.
So far I’m tracking with the pastor, agreeing with him, taking notes, glad to be at FBC this morning (thankful the lid on my precious Starbucks’ grande nonfat Hazelnut latte stayed in place when a sweet girl accidentally knocked it over), etc. Then he states, “His [Jesus’] death results in the darkest moments for the disciples … and those who followed Christ. Hope has just died.”
Hope has just died.
And now the pastor has my full attention. I set my coffee down and start typing his next words as fast as my fingers can transfer his text to my beloved Evernote app on my iPad.
The pastor incites us to imagine what that moment must have felt like to the disciples and Jesus’ face-to-face followers. I did. I imagined the challenge to trust Jesus before having the complete New Testament in their hands (and still trust remains a challenge for those of us who do). I imagined the emotion, stress and inner conflict that must have come with risking their lives, walking this journey and grieving this loss. Disbelief, confusion and despair must have instantly consumed them.
How do we live when the thing we’re counting on on dies? When all evidence of hope is lost?
And then Shadrach adds, “We are just like them, we constantly live between the cross and the empty tomb. How do we live when the thing we’re counting on on dies? When all evidence of hope is lost?”
My passion for the message of Hope resounds from decades of ongoing struggle with depression and emotional pain, so his question is not lost on me … and it challenges me.
He states, “At this point we have a choice to make … will we believe that He promised to rise again?” Will Christ’s followers then and now, “choose to live by what Jesus has promised rather than what life has delivered? Life will never deliver the kind of hope we need.”
At this point my fingers are flying over the less-than-ideal glass keyboard while my mind races to repeat each sentence until I can enter every word into my notes so that all I can do is quietly offer multiple “hmm”s of awe and agreement. This was good stuff.
God is weaning you from false hope so that you will only hope – and fully hope – in Jesus and his promises.
The pastor concludes with, “The essence of real hope is to lose hope in everything except Jesus and his promises. If He rose again, He will take all of the pain and brokenness of this life and He’ll transcend this. [In the midst of difficult circumstances] God is weaning you from false hope so that you will only hope – and fully hope – in Jesus and his promises.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about what hope really looks like in the depths of the trenches of life’s guilt, loss, pain, disappointment, fear and uncertainty. When even the comfort of God-blessed community can’t reach deep enough to sustain our hearts and minds.
What exists down there in that dark place to keep us, refine us, heal us, grow us? Only Jesus and His Word. Sometimes this is all we have to grasp, but it is enough. Enough to teach us, encourage us, remind us, redeem us, redirect us, recreate us, strengthen us and inspire us.
As a member of your community of comfort, I incite you to make time for these Words in your busy lives. Surround yourself with them on Christian music radio, read them in Beth Moore Bible studies, ponder them in prayer, write them on your walls, share them with others. They are our life blood, spilled out for us.
I leave you with Shadrach’s closing prayer, “May our sadness and grief refine us, assist us with Thy grace.” Many Blessings and new hope in your week ahead.
Listen to this morning’s sermon from Fellowship Bible Church (as soon as it is posted).