Each year as we approach Good Friday and Easter the challenge is to look at the story in a new way. The danger is that the story becomes so familiar to us that we miss the wonder of what really happened. Every year at Easter, I try to come to the story with fresh eyes to see if there is something I have missed.
As I was doing that this year, I had a thought that had never occurred to me before. What was it like on Saturday? What was it like the day after the crucifixion? We have all grown up knowing that Friday was not the end of the story—we know that Jesus rose again on Easter Sunday; but the disciples didn’t know that. We look at Good Friday and understand why it was good. The disciples would never have dreamed of calling that day “Good” Friday. All they could see was the death of the one they had trusted and devoted their lives to following. So I began to think about what the day after the crucifixion would have been like for the disciples—and to think about how their perspective might be instructive for us.
As I thought about this, I realized that in many ways we face some of the same struggles as the disciples—when “bad” things happen we are often left feeling defeated and confused because we can’t see the big picture—we don’t know how the story ends. I think that if we look at the story of the crucifixion from the perspective of the disciples it will help us to understand how relevant the events of Good Friday were and continue to be for us.
Most of us are familiar with the crucifixion story, and we just read Matthew’s account of it. Jesus was arrested on Thursday night and was put through a series of secret (and illegal) trials throughout the course of the night. Early on Friday morning, Jesus was sentenced to death by crucifixion. He was beaten and made to carry the cross (the implement of his own death) to a hill outside of the city called Golgotha (or Calvary). There, Jesus was nailed to the cross by his hands and feet and left to hang until he died, which was at about 3 o’clock Friday afternoon.
Jewish law stated that you could not do work on the Sabbath (Saturday), and that included the various tasks involved with burying a dead body. The Sabbath officially began at sundown on Friday, so preparations for Jesus’ burial had to be made quickly. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took Jesus’ body and after making the preliminary preparations, laid him in a tomb. They had a large amount of spices that they would use to finish the job on Sunday after the Sabbath was over.
The Bible doesn’t really tell us what happened on Saturday. The next scene we see in the biblical account is on Sunday when the women returned to the tomb to finish the burial preparations. The Bible does give us enough information about the disciples that we can make some reasonable assumptions about what that day of waiting was probably like for them.
They were probably scared. On Thursday night Peter boldly declared to Jesus that he would never deny Him. He said that even if everyone else denied Jesus, he never would. But just a few hours later, during the course of the night on which Jesus was on trial, he denied knowing Jesus three different times. Peter was scared of what might happen to him. Even after the resurrection we read that the disciples were hiding together in a locked room, because they feared the Jews. It makes sense that they would have been scared—they saw what had happened to Jesus, and they wondered what would happen to them! After all, they were well-known associates of Jesus. If Jesus could be captured and killed, they didn’t stand a chance. They didn’t yet understand that Jesus allowed this to happen because it was a part of God’s plan.
Think of all the reasons they would have been scared: they may have been scared about whether they would live or die, be imprisoned, or maybe even something worse that they hadn’t even considered. They may have been scared because they didn’t know what to do now. Uncertainty is often scary. They were scared because it seemed like everything they believed, everything they had relied on, everything they had hoped for was taken from them and they felt desperately alone.
They were probably angry. We see evidence of this on Thursday night. When the religious leaders came to arrest Jesus, Peter’s first response was to pull out his sword and attack. He ended up cutting off the ear of Malchus, one of the High Priest’s servants. Earlier, when Jesus had told the disciples that he was going to die, they opposed him, telling him they wouldn’t stand for it. They were loyal friends and followers. The idea that Jesus would die was absurd to them. In their minds, he couldn’t die because he still needed to overthrow the Roman government. Now that the Roman government had executed him, they had to be filled with anger. They were surely angry at the Romans as well as the Jewish religious leaders for killing Jesus, but I also wonder if they were angry at God and at themselves. Could they have done more? Should they have done more? They may have been angry at themselves for getting their hopes up that Jesus was the One who was promised. And where was God? (in times of sadness and heartache God is a popular target of our wrath.) They may have been angry that God allowed this to happen. They may have been asking God why He didn’t stop this. They may have been angry at God because they felt like He was asleep at the wheel. They were angry because they expected one thing to happen, and something entirely different happened. They were angry because they felt let down and frustrated.
The probably felt lost. For the last three years, they had given everything they had to Jesus. They had walked away from their families, their jobs, and their lives in order to follow Him. Everything in their lives had revolved around Jesus and now He was dead. I imagine they kept asking the question, “now what?” They didn’t know what to do. They had followed Jesus because they believed He was going to set everything right. Now, it seemed that the complete opposite had happened. The one they had given everything to follow had died without accomplishing his mission (or so it would seem). They must have felt as if their whole world had crumbled around them. In my mind, I picture the disciples sitting at home, with the curtains drawn, in silence, just feeling empty with no idea of how they would carry on, because everything they had believed in seemed to be wrong.
We have all seen people like this. Think of a parent who has lost a child, or someone who has lost their spouse. Immediately after the loss they seem to be going through life on auto-pilot, unable to truly process all that has happened. That is how I picture the disciples, paralyzed by their emotions and just going through the motions of living. They were in a fog, a daze, just hoping to survive.
There are times when we face the same gamut of emotions. When you face the death of someone close to you, when you receive a devastating diagnosis, when your financial situation suddenly changes, when you face marital troubles, or any time something happens that we perceive to be “bad”, we experience many of the same feelings as the disciples. We feel lost and unsure how to carry on. Our faith is shaken and we just want to hide, in the hopes that eventually everything will just go away.
We can resonate with the way the disciples felt, so there is value in looking at their experience to see what lessons we can learn. What can we learn as we face situations that overwhelm us and cause us to question God? What does Good Friday teach us about living through the struggles of life?
The experience of the disciples on the day after Good Friday teaches us a couple of very important lessons. First, is that God has a plan but we don’t always see things clearly. Reading the story of Good Friday in the Bible, we have the benefit of hindsight, and we are able to see that God did not fail in his promises. Jesus didn’t stay dead—He rose again, and in doing so accomplished a victory over sin and death that was only possible through his crucifixion. In hindsight we see that God’s plan was to allow Jesus to be killed so He could pay for the sin of everyone who would believe in Him. We know that Jesus came back to life on the third day and ultimately ascended back into heaven. We know that Jesus’ resurrection changed the disciples from men who were defeated, scared, and angry—paralyzed by their emotions—into men who were bold, vibrant, and confident in the truth of who Jesus was and is.
The disciples didn’t have the benefit of hindsight. They didn’t know how the story would end. They didn’t even know there was more to the story! The day after the crucifixion was hard for the disciples because they didn’t understand what God was doing. They were grieving because they thought they knew God’s promises—but they didn’t see them clearly. Their idea of what God was doing was far too small. God wasn’t just going to deliver them from the Romans; he was going to deliver all people throughout human history from sin and death!
We are limited in much the same way. We don’t fully understand God’s plan—why God does things the way that He does. Even when we try to understand, we often think too small. When we face difficult situations, we are tempted to question God’s goodness. Why would God allow something like this to happen? Why should this happen to me—haven’t I tried to serve God faithfully? The truth is it would be better for us to look inward and ask if we have misunderstood what God has promised. Good Friday reminds us that God has a plan, but we may not fully understand it.
The second lesson is similar: this life is not all there is! This is hard for us to wrap our minds around, but Easter weekend is the proof that God’s plan extends beyond just this life. The resurrection of Jesus Christ proves definitively that there is life beyond the grave! As such, we must live with perspective.
Sometimes we get frustrated because we feel like God is allowing bad things to happen to us. We feel like if we are serving God faithfully, then He should prevent those bad things. It often seems like Christians face difficult times while evil people prosper. We must remember that this life is only the opening act, and there is much more to come.
God has not promised us that we will not have pain or trouble in this life. Quite the opposite! Jesus told his followers quite clearly:
Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. (John 16:33, NLT)
God has not promised us that we will have an easy life on earth. He has promised us that He will one day make all things right. He has promised us that this life is not all there is. And He has promised us that if we trust in Him, we will be with Him for all eternity.
We often don’t know God’s plan or God’s reasons. We must remember that we don’t see the whole picture. God has never failed to keep his promises. He doesn’t always fulfill them in the way we imagine—but His plan is perfect. Often we don’t understand God’s purposes until much later—and sometimes we never do. So until His plan is revealed, we must wait, and we must trust—recognizing that His plan is perfect.
I hope you see that the experience of the disciples parallels our own experience in many ways. There are many times when we just do not understand what God is doing or why He is allowing things to happen the way they do. Good Friday should encourage us and strengthen us as we face the struggles of life.
The day Jesus was killed can only be called Good Friday in the light of Easter Sunday. On Friday and Saturday, the disciples had no idea what God was doing. On Sunday, they realized that they were not wrong to trust in Jesus—He fulfilled God’s plan in a way that none of them could have seen coming. Even though Good Friday seemed like the worst of days, it really was the best of days, because their sins had been forgiven and Jesus achieved what he had come to do.
I don’t know what you’re going through right now, but maybe you feel a lot like the disciples did. I want to remind you that God has a plan, but that we often don’t fully understand it. The disciples probably felt like God had abandoned them, and maybe you feel the same way. I can assure you, God hasn’t abandoned you. He loves you and cares for you. If we want evidence of that, then we need to look no further than the cross of Calvary.
Jesus went to the cross to pay the price for the bad things we have done. So many people have the idea that if they can just do enough good things, they can somehow balance out the bad things they have done. There’s a problem with that logic—when you break God’s law, a penalty must be paid. Simply doing good things doesn’t change the fact that God’s law has been broken. Justice must be served.
Though the disciples didn’t understand it at the time, Jesus was carrying out justice for us. On the cross Jesus, who had no sin of his own, took on the sin of every person who would ever believe in Him, and took the penalty of that sin on himself. Jesus experienced agony on the cross—not just the physical agony, though that was significant—he experienced the agony of God’s wrath being poured out upon Him. The punishment that we had earned for ourselves was poured out in full measure onto Jesus.
This hardly seems like a good day, let alone a day to celebrate. But Good Friday is a day of celebration. In it we see God’s love for us demonstrated clearly. Jesus sacrificed himself in order to save us. Jesus himself said,
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)
When we look at the cross there should be no question that God loves us. We celebrate on Good Friday because we know that we can be forgiven of our sins and can have a restored relationship with God by just trusting in what Jesus did on the cross and choosing to follow Him. We celebrate that forgiveness is given to us freely, because we have no way of earning it for ourselves.
But Good Friday is also a day of reflection. It is a time when we remember that though forgiveness is given freely to us—it was purchased at a great price. Though it costs us nothing, it cost Jesus everything.
My hope this evening is to help you to remember the cross in everyday life. Remember what happened on Good Friday, and what God accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus. If we can keep the cross at the forefront of our minds, it will strengthen us as we live.
When you feel defeated, and feel like you are an absolute failure, remember the cross—that Jesus died to pay for those failures and defeats.
When it seems like the world is crumbling around you and doesn’t make sense, when you think that God’s plans seem to have failed, remember the time between the cross and the empty tomb. It seemed like God was absent but He was not. It seemed like He had been defeated but He was actually achieving a victory that was far more wonderful than we could have imagined.
When you feel rejected by the world, unloved, and unwanted, remember the cross. God does not see you the way that you do. He loves you and He considered you (and me) valuable enough to send His Son to die in our place.
On Friday and Saturday, the cross certainly didn’t seem like a good thing at all. But on Sunday, God pulled back the curtain, to let us see what He had been doing all along. It was then the disciples began to understand that the day Jesus died was not the worst of days, but rather the best of days.
Fortunately for the disciples, they only had to deal with uncertainty for one day. For many of us the uncertainties of our lives may last much longer. We may not understand what God is doing in our lives until we actually stand before Him in eternity. The point is this: we learn from the disciples that God does not abandon His children. God is never at a loss. He is never surprised. We may not understand what is going on but we know this: God is not asleep. He is working. Someday we will see, we will bow, we will worship and we will give thanks. And who knows? We might even call the bad things in our life “good”.
As we seek to live out our lives, remember the contrast between the day after Jesus was killed and Easter Sunday. The time in the “waiting room” isn’t pleasant . . . but it will be worth it.