Yesterday, 19 April 2014, I was honored to preach at Maraisburg Church of the Nazarene (Florida, South Africa), our home church here in Africa. There is always a “pre-game excitement” for me when I get to share from the Scriptures. Here is my sermon.
“Can any good come out of Dark Saturday?”
Throughout the world this week, all those who bear the name of Christ have been commemorating the final, climactic week in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. “Nazareth” – It was Jesus’ home town. People would say: “Can good anything good come out of Nazareth?” And for 3 years, Jesus had shown them – in teaching, miracles, and by loving – exactly what good could come out of that backwater.
And now Jesus lay cold in the tomb. Just yesterday, Friday, they had crucified their Lord, yet Sunday has not yet dawned. It is Saturday, the time in-between. The Church calls this day Holy Saturday, or sometimes Black Saturday. I will call it dark Saturday. I wonder: “Can any good come out of Dark Saturday?”
Tonight, let’s look at three lessons from the darkness.
II. DARKNESS COMES TO ALL OF US AT SOME POINT ON THE JOURNEY.
A few weeks ago, Amy and I were driving home through heavy rain. Eventually, the rain lightened and the sun came out. On the horizon appeared a beautiful rainbow, brilliant with many colors. As much as we would like for life to be only rainbows, rainbows only come after a storm. Jesus said to his disciples in John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble.” But preacher, aren’t you going to complete the verse? You’re right. The verse continues: “But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” Sometimes we are in a rush to get to the second half, the overcoming part. Yet on Dark Saturday, in this fallen world, we acknowledge that the first part of the verse – the trouble part – lingers for far too many. How will we come alongside those who in the dark and help them overcome?
Jesus gave us a model of how we as his followers can enter dark places and bring the light of Christ. George F. MacLeod commented:
I argue that the Cross be raised again at the center of the market place as well as the steeple of the Church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a Cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap; on a crossroads so diverse that they had to write his title in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek; at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died and that is what he died about. And that is where the Church should be and what the Church should be about.
I wonder: Do you see anyone sitting in a dark place? Their dreams have been shattered, financially, through divorce, through joblessness, through the death of a loved one? You do not have to convince them that it’s not so bad. Denial is more than a river in Egypt! As the people of God, we are not about denial. No, darkness is bad. Yet in that dark place, we can bring the light of Christ. Will we?
III. WHILE WE’RE IN THE DARK, BE AWARE OF THE DEVIL’S PLOTS.
Scripture tells us very little about Dark Saturday. There’s no record of where Peter is, or James, or John, or the other disciples. Judas had hung himself. It’s fascinating that the only ones doing anything we know about on that in-between day are the bad guys! Matthew 27:62-66, the passage we read, talks of Pilate, the Pharisees, and the soldiers. They are active on Dark Saturday, and what are they up to? They place a seal on the tomb, assigning guards, in short, making sure that Jesus stays dead!
It reminds me of cockroaches. They are certainly not my favorite insect. When you turn on the light, they run for the shadows. In fact, cockroaches are most active in the dark. They prefer it.
In the same way, times of death and suffering are when the Devil, like a cockroach, is busy. And for the believer, dark times are especially vulnerable times. When things are dark, the Devil plants seeds of doubt. He comes to whisper in our ear: “Where is God now?” Or maybe: “Looks like you were a fool to follow Jesus.” And what we must consider right now before the Dark Saturdays of our lives is how we will answer this question:
“Will I let this make me bitter or better?”
And so Matthew’s Gospel forewarns us that in the darkness, the Devil is always active. There are only two outcomes possible. Either we will let tough times destroy our faith or we will hold tighter to God’s hand and let him use the tough times to make our faith stronger.
IV. NEVER FORGET IN THE DARKNESS WHAT YOU LEARNED IN THE LIGHT
So far we have seen that there are dark times that come to everyone at some point on the journey. It is our duty and joy to come alongside each other and bring the light of Christ. We also were reminded that the Devil will use the Dark Saturdays of our lives to try to distract us from God’s way, so we must be on the alert. Finally, Holy Saturday teaches us to never forget in the darkness what we learned in the light.
In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were walking along when a slave girl with a spirit by which she foretold the future began to pester them. Day after day, she would cry out: “These men are servants of the most high God who are telling you the way to be saved.” Finally, Paul had had enough of this mockery, and cast the demon out of her. The girl’s owner was angry, since the slave girl could no longer tell the future. His source of money was gone, so he complained to the magistrates and had Paul and Silas thrown into jail. Verse 25 tells us:
“Around midnight Paul & Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”
Amazing! Paul and Silas could have been bitter. They could have said: “Lord, we’ve been working hard for you, and what do we get in return, a cold jail cell?” Yet instead they chose to praise God for his faithfulness, even in that low, dark moment. They didn’t deny the darkness. Instead, they overcame it with praise. And what’s especially interesting is the second half of verse 25. They earned an audience. People listened.
Sometimes we think that our best testimony is when we say: “Look at my new car. Isn’t God good?” Or: “God blessed me with a new job.” I’m not saying we shouldn’t thank God for His blessings. Surely we should, but could it be that the world most wants to know how the people of God handle adversity? And for that reason, let us never forget in the darkness what we learned in the light. God is faithful. He has not abandoned us. He knows what is going on. Trust Him.
This sermon is but a chapter in the story. To find out the ending, come at 6 a.m. tomorrow. But lest we flip to the back of the novel too quickly to see how the story ends, let us take our time and on this Dark Saturday, let God make it for us a Holy Saturday, something that God can set apart for our good. Let us remember:
1) Darkness comes to all of us at some point on the journey. Don’t let your brother or sister go through darkness alone. Be the Christ light for them.
2) The Devil is especially active during the dark moments of our lives. Be warned that he will do all he can to turn you away from God’s path. Decide now before the Dark Saturdays come to not become bitter, but to let God make you better.
3) Finally, let us never forget in the darkness what we learned in the light. God is faithful, and He will never leave us and never forsake us.