Joy in a Time of Loss
Easter is a celebration of man’s failure. No matter how many ways we look at it, man’s portion of the Resurrection was an unmitigated disaster. We received the messages from the Prophets telling us when Jesus would come. We read the Scriptures describing His arrival on a donkey as a humble servant. We even played out part as He rode in as Messiah. “Hosanna in the Highest“, man cried in jubilation. Then when things got tough we turned on Him. Man failed God miserably. Things did not go according to our plans so we deserted Jesus at the first opportunity. This is what happens when we try to carry out our plan for God. He offers joy and victory for those who trust Him. We merely need to let Him work. Instead, we choose despair and fear when things go off of our script.
We would not need God if life were easy.
It is easy to grow discouraged during hard times. God does his greatest works when our plans fail. Thankfully, the tendency to despair is one attribute of man that we do not get from God. He is so patient with us. There is always hope with God. The fact we can’t see it doesn’t mean it is not there.
God’s Plans are not Set by Our Expectations.
God often does His best work when all hope is lost. This is why we are told by God that we should walk by our faith in God and not by our sight. Faith compels us onward when our emotions scream at us to just give it up and admit we are defeated. Each step in hopeful obedience is another seed planted for harvest time. For more read, How Do I Follow Jesus?
The original disciples gave up everything they had to follow Jesus. They believed that He was the Messiah sent to deliver them from Rome. They were chosen to do great things in God’s Kingdom and often argued about who would be the greatest among them. They walked, ate, rested and fellowshipped with Jesus for 3 years time. They were his people.
By the time Palm Sunday comes around, their hopes for their own lives and the Nation of Israel were soaring. “Hosanna to the Son of David“, they cried out with the roaring crowds. Save us now becomes almost a command from them to Jesus as He enters Jerusalem triumphantly. Everyone knew the Messiah would be a mighty warrior King who would give them great riches. After three years, the time had come for Jesus to sit on David’s Throne! For more on the Triumphal Entry watch Missing the Real Messiah – Reflecting on Palm Sunday Sermon
These same disciples watch as their hopes, dreams, and plans are gruesomely murdered on a cross. A crucified, mocked and spat upon Messiah was not in their plans at all. All is lost! They know with absolute certainty that their dreams are shattered.
It is over. Jesus failed them!
Nothing could change it. Their Messiah had failed them. He was dead. He left them in misery. They gave up everything for nothing.
Even worse, Rome may not be satisfied with just killing Jesus. When the Romans put down the rebellion of Spartacus, they crucified all of his followers too. It is estimated that 60,000 crosses lined the roads of Rome during this time period. The disciples knew they might be next on the cross.
Fear, disappointment, loss and even anger had to be tearing them apart in the days following Jesus’ death.
Are they right? Of course not! But in their shoes, seeing what they are seeing and knowing by logic men don’t rise from the grave, we would think the same thing. Their feelings were logical and reasonable. All of us would do the same thing.
When the Risen Jesus meets two of His disciples on the Road to Emmaus, we can see what the Crucifixion did to Jesus’ friends:
The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. 21 But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. 22 Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. 23 When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. 24 And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.”
Notice the past tenses in the first bolded sections. Their pain leads them to understand Jesus only in the past. He is dead and buried and there is nothing to be done. In the past, they hoped in Jesus. Now, they know that He failed them.
The disciples also did not believe in the reports of the Resurrection when they started coming in. Their good friends began telling them they saw Jesus. He is Risen! Yet, they were so hurt from the crucifixion they couldn’t have any more faith. Jesus told them this was going to happen. The evidence agreed with His prediction. They just could not wrap their heads around the idea of God working differently than their expectations. All of their trust had been wrung out of them. Their own wrong expectations, loss, and fear of the last few days led them away from their trust in God. It was hard to make their way back. For more, read Why am I NOT Growing in Christ? A Hard Hitting Answer
Jesus had Risen from the grave yet they was still hurt He is not following their plans.
It is really easy to pick on the disciples when we read these passages. Yet, how often do we find ourselves in the same situation? How often do we catch ourselves feeling like all hope is gone when we see terrible events in the news or on TV?
How often does our judgment of a situation lead us to despair and loss while we wonder where our God is?
We make the same statement as the early disciples:
“I had hoped that Jesus would….what?”
Give us a better spouse? Provide a more lucrative job? Heal a suffering loved one? Take away our addictions?
The suffering we feel makes us lose all hope and forget the promises of God. Jesus is a memory of yesterday rather than the Risen Savior walking alongside us.
This is when faith in the Lord must replace trust in our own senses. We are just men and women. He is the all-knowing and all-powerful God. Our emotions are deceptive and wicked. Jesus never lies. Jesus never lets us down. This is why the early disciples emphasized their role of servant of God. They were not shy about calling themselves slaves because they trusted their amazing master. For more, read A Slave by Choice and Trusting God in Difficult Times and Who’s the Boss?
Whose plan do we trust?
We don’t see God’s whole picture. He never promises to let us. God does tell us to trust Him and we will praise His plan. He is not challenged to keep it. We just need to remember Him, trust Him and walk by faith.
His ways are not our ways, they are supremely better. His ways are perfect. They are worth waiting for.
Jesus’ response to the doubt and disappointment of the early disciples is as wonderful as it is simple. Disciples you are walking by sight, not by faith!
Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
How many times did Jesus tell them He was going to die? Even putting that aside, Jesus takes them to the Bible and shows them the same plan for the Messiah spelled out in the Old Testament.
Jesus is direct but gentle. Jesus loves them like a Shepherd tending His lost sheep. He does not rebuke them. He holds an impromptu Bible study. He shows them where they went astray. He allows His Word to show them the glorious truth that their hearts are struggling to see at that moment.
Jesus is not dead, He is Risen! Evil has not won, it is defeated! It is finished, once and for all!
The love and patience of our Master are amazing!
The disciples are walking away from Jesus while expressing their disappointment in Him. Jesus loves them anyway!
Jesus Loves the Lost Sheep
We mourn over the jarring losses and pain in the world today. This is perfectly normal and healthy. Our Savior, Jesus wept over the pain we experience when Lazarus lay in his tomb. God’s creation was once much different. These are not the works of God in this fallen world.
Do we trust that God is alive and working even in the midst of the pain? He promises that He will use even the most painful moments for His glory. It is what He did with His Son through the Cross. Do we believe in His ongoing power and will to do so?
The disciples just needed to wait and listen for the sound of their Lord’s voice to have their viewpoint radically altered. When they heard their Master and really saw Him for the first time, they went from disappointment and hopeless to exuberantly joyful in a moment. The finally saw His perspective and understood His plan. It is infinitely better.
How can we rejoice in times of suffering?
By trusting that God’s plan, His works, and His Son are still as wonderful and unexpected as that moment when Cleopas realized that Jesus was really not in the tomb. Jesus was alive, was concerned for him and had been walking by his side the entire time. He is doing the same for all of us this very day! Why am I NOT Growing in Christ? A Hard Hitting Answer and watch Are You a Jesus Person?
Our Risen Lord is working in each of our lives in His ways.
We just have to watch, trust and walk by faith while we wait for our Savior to show us His mighty works.
For a Sermon on this subject, please watch:
Pastor Tom Neary
Calvary Catonsville Church