Why is Good Friday good?

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

2 Corinthians 4:8-10

Yesterday was Good Friday. But amidst all the turmoil this world is going through right now – death, disease, fear-mongering, economic upheaval, hatred, isolation, greed, disunity – how could such a time be considered good? We can throw around all the niceties, well-wishes, and cliché sayings we know, but in reality we cannot know with full confidence whether they are true. No one can know with certainty what tomorrow will bring, nor what events, trials, joys, or pains will come in the next day, much less what the world may look like in the next six months. The world leans on hopes that may or may not be fulfilled, on flawed foundations and shifting sands. How could someone have the audacity to say that this is good?

During our virtual Good Friday service as Pastor Gabriel preached, my mind was brought to 2 Corinthians chapter 4 (one of my favorite passages in the Bible) and I was reminded why Friday, and moreover every day, can be considered good:

It is good because Jesus took on our sins and put upon Himself the wrath of God, so that we would never truly be condemned.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed…

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5

…perplexed, but not driven to despair…

Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’

Matthew 26:38

…persecuted, but not forsaken…

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

Matthew 27:46

…struck down but not destroyed.

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.’

John 11:49-50

Jesus was crushed, he was driven to despair, he was forsaken, he was destroyed by the Father, so that we would never truly be crushed, we would never truly despair, we would never truly be forsaken, we would never truly be destroyed. Even though we are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, we do not lose heart but look to what is unseen (2 Cor. 4:16-18). We see in faith and hope that Jesus’ dying is our dying, yet his life is also our life (2 Cor. 4:10-11). We see that though we will die – whether by old age, neglect, violence, coronavirus, or another disease – we will also be raised and brought into God’s presence (2 Cor. 4:14).

We go around carrying the death of Jesus in our trials, afflictions, and sorrows. But in so doing, we have an unshakable hope that the resurrection of our savior Jesus will also be ours. And this hope is not elusive, ever-changing, founded on flawed foundations and shifting sands. This hope is founded on what Jesus has secured for all time, and on an eternal, righteous, and good God whose word will be fulfilled. May this hope drive us to have a peace beyond understanding, a joy that is perpetual, and a love that is sacrificial.

“My Rope Out Of The Pit”

The following are excerpts from an article (https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/my-rope-out-of-the-pit) which were timely reminders for me – timely, because these were thoughts I had been meditating on and talking about recently with a beloved brother; and reminders, because I could relate to them from past formative experiences.

Before my whirlwind, I’d been reading Psalm 119. I appreciated what it said, but thought it was long, boring, and awfully repetitive. My attitude changed in the pit. The words now felt like cardboard on good days, hollow promises on average days, and cruel taunts on bad ones. I had sought the Lord’s testimonies and been faithful to his word, and yet I was being put to shame (Psalm 119:2, 6). I wondered if God’s promises were true, or if they would fail me as everything else in my life had.

With nowhere else to turn, I kept reading and rereading Psalm 119, looking for hope and light. I remember when I found it.

I was sobbing, looking for relief, when I read, “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word” (Psalm 119:25). These words suddenly took on new meaning. I prayed them, asking God to give me life through his word, because I felt wrung out beyond my strength. I wondered if anything could revive me.

God heard my cries and assured me that his word would give me wisdom (Psalm 119:66), and then direction as it lit my path (Psalm 119:105). It gave me hope (Psalm 119:49), and it comforted me in my pain (Psalm 119:50). I felt the Lord’s steadfast love (Psalm 119:76), as he strengthened me (Psalm 119:28) and filled me with joy and peace that could withstand my grief (Psalm 119:111, 165).

God’s word became more precious to me in suffering and has given me joy in my darkest days. As Jeremiah can attest, even as he laments his misfortune, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16). Even in our affliction, or perhaps especially in our affliction, God’s unchanging word will uphold and guide us so we can take comfort that “the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

Vaneetha Rendall Risner

A Better Word

“For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

Hebrews 12:18-24

The recipients of the book of Hebrews have great need of encouragement! Though they were running the race well in the first stretches (10:32-34), they have grown sluggish (6:11-12), hardened (3:13), dull of hearing (5:11), weary and tired (12:3). And though these words have been written millennia ago, how many of us can also relate even now to the struggles these listeners bore then! To strengthen them (and you) in the midst of the Lord’s discipline and to help them run the race well, the author encourages them by contrasting the old and new covenants in Hebrews 12:18-24.

In the old covenant founded at Mt. Sinai, the writer notes that this covenant was earthly (“may be touched”) and brought condemnation. The voice at Mt. Sinai spoke words of fear, judgment, and destruction – so fearful that even Moses and the Israelites of old begged for no more messages. Under the wrath and condemnation of the old covenant the people trembled and cowered. And this was our fate before Christ made us new: we were dead in sin and the wrath and condemnation of God sat heavily on our shoulders (Rom. 2:5, Eph. 2:1-3).

Yet in contrast with verses 18-21, we have come not to Mt. Sinai but to Mt. Zion and the heavenly city of God! Rather than an earthly location, this heavenly city was what the faithful of old looked toward in faith (11:10, 11:13-14, 11:39-40). Knowing that they were “strangers and exiles” the leagues of faithful marathon runners looked toward that better homeland, and by God’s unsearchable grace and wisdom, He has “provided something better for us”. This new covenant is mediated by Jesus and His blood, whose voice is better than the terrifying voice of Mt. Sinai – whose blood speaks to our given righteousness and blood-bought grace and to the holiness, love, and justice of God. Thus, as we look to Jesus in faith, we find that God has placed the weight of condemnation on Jesus’ shoulders and has given us the light burden of Jesus’ righteousness and calling to put on ourselves.

May this truth encourage us to run this race and put away weights and sins that hinder (12:1); may it strengthen us to endure God’s discipline, which is training us for holiness and righteousness (12:10-11); and may it allow us to humbly listen and submit to God’s voice (12:25)!

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”

2 Timothy 4:7-8

Will It Make You A Great Runner?

Can we not only just ask the question “What’s wrong with it?”, but “Will it make you a great runner?” Will it make all your mind and all your heart and all your love to be so devoted to Jesus that nothing will stop you from maximally running, maximally quick, and finish the race?

The question isn’t “What’s wrong with it?”; the question is, “Will it help you run?” So I don’t think the issue is merely, “What’s the lowest standard we can possibly find – what’s cheating? We wont cheat! We’ll carry dumbbells, we’ll wear overcoats while we run, but we wont cheat!” That’s crazy! Don’t live your life like that. So many people just try to figure out the lowest standard possible to be a Christian. That’s just insane if you know Jesus.

John Piper, “Sorrowful Love Springs From Serious Joy”

Consider the Stars

Encouragement during this season of job searching:

“Do not be afraid: He who made all of this, says ‘You’re worth more than this,’ and holds you in his hands.'”

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?”

Psalm 8:3-4

Romans 5:3-5

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
What is Paul’s train of thought here? How does suffering ultimately produce hope?

“Suffering produces endurance.”
When we undergo suffering, both little and great, it is never pleasant and often unwanted and unexpected – yet going through such pain and loss strengthens us. When seen in a biblical lens, suffering does not produce a numbing callousness that leads to disillusionment or cynicism, or a loss of sensitivity to sin’s destructive effects. This word “endurance” denotes patient steadfastness (Rom. 2:7, Rom. 8:25, 2 Thess. 1:4), and such an endurance trusts in God and his promises to sustain through the tears, heartaches, and pains of suffering.

“Endurance produces character.”
“It build’s character,” as Dad would always say when Calvin needed to rake the leaves or shovel the snow. However, the character that Paul had in mind is so much more significant and valuable. The word “character” literally means a proven and tested trustworthiness, the evidence from being found tried and true. In other words, biblical endurance in suffering proves our faith to be genuine and true, this proof being the fruit (Gal. 5:22-23) that is borne from faith and trust in God.

“Character produces hope.”
The proven character that is produced from endurance – namely, the growth of the Holy Spirit’s fruit in us – confirms our security in Christ, and thus we can hope: that He will hold us fast until the end, for the Spirit has been sealed in us (Eph. 1:13-14), causing us to trust in God and to produce the fruit of the Spirit; that whether the pain lasts for a day, or even for a lifetime, our suffering will be light and brief in the face of eternity with God unveiled before our eyes (2 Cor. 4:17-18); that even if we lose all earthly things, we have a better and abiding possession (Heb. 10:34).

~~~

Paul calls us to rejoice particularly in our suffering, because of the eternal and abiding hope that is ultimately found in God through our suffering. May this hope give grace and mercy to those in affliction, and point us to the One who will keep us from stumbling and who will present us blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy!

I come, God, I come,
I return to the Lord:
The one who’s broken, the one who’s torn me apart.
You struck down to bind me up;
You say You do it all in love,
That I might know You in Your suffering.

Shane and Shane

Friendships

“Its lonely at the top.”

Being in a position of leadership, while filled with many joys, can also come with many trials and moments of pain – one of which is the isolation that comes from being at the top. The words above have been on my mind a lot particularly during Camptoons (wow, it ended only a week ago!), as I struggled with the idolatry of friendship throughout the summer.

God desires for us to be in relationship with those around us, to not be isolated in our pursuit of Him, and to yearn for unity within the family of Christ (Gen. 2:18, Psalm 133:1, Rom. 15:5-6, 1 Cor. 12:25-26, Heb. 3:1). Yet there were many moments where my desire for friendship began to consume me and grow beyond the bounds of what God designed.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, profoundly states the following of worldly (“human”) love, as opposed to spiritual love:

Thus there is such a thing as human absorption. It appears in all the forms of conversion wherever the superior power of one person is consciously or unconsciously misused to influence profoundly and draw into his spell another individual or a whole community… Human love desires the other person, his company, his answering love, but it does not serve him. On the contrary, it continues to desire even when it seems to be serving.

This “human love”, while seemingly innocent and selfless, subtly hides a prideful and selfish perversion that impresses to the individual that they are owed a certain response based on their treatment toward another, and when they do not get that response, they are entitled to feel bitter, resentful, isolated, and gloomy. Thus, this “human love” places the individual on the throne of God, removes the humility and love of the Gospel, and puts self-identity in the place of Christ as the goal of the relationship.

By God’s pushing and by the gracious words of close friends, I had to recognize the idolatry of my heart and refocus my mind back on Christ as my first love. Likewise, when our desire for friendship becomes idolatrous and self-exalting rather than Christ-exalting, we must recognize our idolatry, forcibly turn our mind to Jesus during those moments, and fight against this idol with God’s promises for us.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 10:28

Fear, even in its traditional sense, has a right place in our relationship with an omnipotent creator God. On the other hand, we need not fear any created being. People might give us joy or pain throughout this life, but how could 80 or 90 years (if we are lucky) compare to an eternity in God’s presence? Rather, these “light, momentary afflictions”, if taken in faith, will prepare us for “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 16:11

God offers for us something that no person could ever give. He brings us life: more than just the physical act of living, he gives true life that cannot be found anywhere else. In his presence he promises complete and full joy, that which encompasses the entirety of both body and soul and surpasses any circumstance we might find ourselves in. At his right hand are pleasures that, unlike human opinions or desires, never change or waver and are eternal and secure.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27:46

There are times we may feel alone, and in seasons of despair it may seem that God is absent, that there is no one who can comprehend our pain or who even cares. In reality, however, we are never truly alone. Jesus is the only one who was truly abandoned by God, taking the punishment that we deserve, precisely so that we would never be abandoned or alone. Because of his sacrifice, we can trust that God is ever present with us regardless of our feelings or perceptions (Psalm 139, Matt. 28:20). C.J. Mahaney says it well in his book, Living The Cross-Centered Life: “The personal desolation Christ is experiencing on the cross is what you and I should be experiencing – but instead, Jesus is bearing it, and bearing it all alone. Why alone? He’s alone so that we might never be alone.”

Let the world despise and leave me;
They have left my Savior, too.
Human hearts and looks deceive me:
Thou art not like them untrue.

Oh, while thou dost smile upon me,
God of wisdom, love and might,
Foes may hate and friends disown me;
Show thy face and all is bright.

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

I have been doing a lot of reflecting as I have recently finished three years of teaching (and planning to move on) and had my 28th birthday. As I’ve been considering the past years of teaching and their highs and lows, I have been brought again and again to the faithfulness of God, and how He has carried me faithfully, patiently, and graciously.

During moments like these, when summer vacation has started and the sun comes out (right now it’s a beautiful 85° with a breeze), it is easy to enjoy where God has placed me and to be grateful for the day. But I can also remember very clearly the days of despair during teaching, those days when my patience did not hold up with my students, when I woke up and could not get myself out of bed, when I would dread going to work and would have to consciously trust God with each step, when I would be anxious in the morning about what problems would happen during the day. I think I need to be reminded of those times every once in a while, as I tend to idealistically think the grass is always greener elsewhere.

Yet during those moments of trial, God has always been faithful to carry me through. Even on days where I could not see hope, I always found myself surprised at the end of the day as I went to bed – God gave me breath and kept me going throughout the day regardless of whether it was a “good” or “bad” day. On days where I gave in to anger or selfishness, God still gave mercy and grace by sustaining me till the following morning. As a dear friend always reminds me, I should always be rejoicing and glad because God made the day and He is good, whether I feel it or not (Psalm 118).

Another friend, in speaking on John 1:16, likened God’s “grace upon grace” to the ocean waves. As the waves wash upon the shore, one upon the other in a never-ceasing and random design, so God pours his blessings on us likewise. These blessings are always present and never-ending, though we may only see one and ignore a multitude of others, or even be completely blind to them all.

On difficult days, one meditation that has given me strength and succor is the popular passage of Lamentations 3:19-26. With each passing moment, God has given mercy enough to last till the next. God is faithful to me even when I lack faith in Him. Morning by morning, He is loving and gracious to keep me through the trials of each day.

“Great is Thy faithfulness, great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning, new mercies I see
And all I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me”

Prone To Wander

It is amazing how quickly my heart can change from joy and praise into grumbling and discontentment.

Earlier today, I was helping at a church event – a celebration for Easter geared toward the community, with carnival games, food, and free haircuts, among other things. When I arrived at the gathering, I marveled at how God is faithful and gracious even in responding to prayers for the weather. I was grateful for how He brought so many families from around the area to come and be a part of this celebration. As the time went by, I unintentionally found myself helping (again) at the game booths, where I stayed for the next three hours. Due to the rush and busyness of the games, I did not allow myself a break for food or to just chill, and grew weary and impatient. The end finally came, things began to wrap up, and by then I was grumbling in my heart and in my countenance. Later (after eating and decompressing for a bit), the Spirit convicted me of my impatient and complaining attitude.

How quickly my sinful heart can get distracted, blinded to God’s goodness, considering only my wants and needs. May God be gracious to my selfish heart and feeble body, and may the day come quick when my sins would be ended permanently. Lord, even in my sin you are still good to me, far beyond what I deserve. Strengthen my heart to see your grace, even in the midst of my weakness.

Incomprehensible

Left to ourselves we tend to immediately reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need Him. We want a God we can in some measure control. We need the feeling of security that comes from knowing what God is like, and what He is like is of course a composite of all the religious pictures we have seen, all the best people we have known or heard about, and all the sublime ideas we have entertained.
If all this sounds strange to modern ears, it is only because we have for a full half century taken God for granted. The glory of God has not been revealed to this generation of men. The God of contemporary Christianity is only slightly superior to the gods of Greece and Rome, if indeed He is not actually inferior to them in that He is weak and helpless while they at least had power.
If what we conceive God to be He is not, how then shall we think of Him? If He is indeed incomprehensible, as the Creed declares Him to be, and unapproachable, as Paul says He is, how can we Christians satisfy our longing after Him? The hopeful words, “Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace,” still stand after the passing of the centuries; but how shall we acquaint ourselves with One who eludes all the straining efforts of mind and heart? And how shall we be held accountable to know what cannot be known?

~~~
To our questions God has provided answers; not all the answers, certainly, but enough to satisfy our intellects and ravish our hearts. These answers He has provided in nature, in the Scriptures, and in the person of His Son.

A.W. Tozer