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Perspective. We need a wider perspective.
Death rates. Images of body bags being loaded into refrigerated trucks. Spikes in the curve. Overwhelmed medical workers. Italy. Spain, New York. It’s coming to your town. It’s here. Take shelter. Wear a mask. Fear coughing. Fear sneezing. Fear someone talking to you at close range. Pay attention to the CDC, WHO, your governor, the next press conference, the next ban, the next hit to our freedoms, and health. Global recession. When can we go back to Egypt?
The hell we are in is not evidence that God is a myth. It’s the opposite. This Good Friday message will change how you see the world. Hopefully even believers will believe again.
Our world is living in fear because it lacks comfort in the soul. We are forced to acknowledge how powerless we really are and we don’t like it. We’ve put our trust in the wrong things and now our lives are bare.
In John chapter 11, Jesus had a very good friend who caught something and became ill. So when Jesus was told that his beloved friend Lazarus was sick (might be dying soon) Jesus says something shocking then he did something shocking. He says (v.4); “This sickness is not unto death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.“ and then he waits a few days to go see him, knowing he would die.
First of all, Jesus knows something about the illness, it’s as though he’s in on it. It has a bigger purpose. This may be helpful to you as we go through our pandemic because Jesus, knows something of it too. Many modern people hate this idea. They lack the eyes to see how anything bad can be good at all. What makes any of us think something is bad anyway? Is something bad because we don’t prefer it? Our scale is too small. We are myopic.
Lazarus’ illness in the story is for the glory of God, that Jesus is glorified through it. This too triggers us. We think of actors or sports figures holding an award or trophy and “thanking God.” Is that what it means to glorify God? To give him props? This illness killed Lazarus, so how is it not unto death? In fact, during the dying, death and burial process (several days) Jesus purposely lets it get worse. Not only is no one giving him glory, they are kind of throwing him under the bus…
“Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:35)
No one could see what Jesus could see. No one had any idea about what Jesus was planning to do. Not even on their radar. This is not unlike our world today. Not only is the world not interested in giving God credit for any positive move, they won’t even acknowledge that the pandemic is his design. Instead, we trust the WHO, the CDC, and all the talking heads in lab coats and MD’s. Really? Are these LEADERS and EXPERTS getting it right? Have any of them got the predictions right? Have any of them offered a solution? Our world places its trust in mankind and not in God because we can’t SEE God. Isn’t this the basis for all plagues and famines and ruin throughout Hebrew scripture?
The idea that this world pandemic and the death of Jesus’ dear friend is a design of God may cause you to think God must be an insensitive jerk. What kind of God would kill so many and ruin the lives and economies of the world? Isn’t this the cause of unbelief for most modern people? Yet, when Jesus finally shows up at Lazarus’ house, he’s greeted by the mourning party who all thought it was way too late. Jesus does something amazing.
…before the resurrection.
He wept. (v35) Jesus joins in the suffering. This is vital to understand. It’s vital to our Good Friday message. God isn’t glorified by lording destructive power over people (although he has it), God is glorified first by joining in the suffering. Everybody wondered, couldn’t Jesus prevent this? You may wonder this too. Can’t God do something about all this suffering? The answer is yes, but then God himself would miss out on suffering.
Suffering is for the purpose of God’s glory, but we can’t see that any better than the mourning party.
God participates in suffering. Not because he’s a sadist or a masochist, but because God is personified, identified, and experienced in suffering. We are never closer to God than when we suffer. And when we suffer, God isn’t watching from afar like we mistakenly assume, God is suffering with us. Our suffering is the love of God manifesting itself into the world as suffering itself. Once you see it, the story of God, the story of all deities changes forever. No manmade god does this. Man cannot concoct a narrative like this. Man makes gods in his own image. Man makes heroes he can idolize. God incarnates. God self-empties. God joins in and becomes our suffering.
Of course we know now that Lazarus was raised from the dead. Jesus wasn’t the first resurrection, he IS the resurrection. Raising the dead is not the hard part. “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep but I go to awaken him.” I think the temptation is to glorify only the miracle of raising the dead, which is understandable, it’s kind of a big deal, it’s the heart of Easter. But this is Good Friday, and the raising, from our plane of view, hasn’t happened.
Good Friday is glorifying God from our place of despair which is a far greater sickness than coronavirus ever can be. COVID-19 only unearths the despair in which people actually live. The suffering we are facing is small compared to what is coming for most people. It’s great if the government can help a little with it’s handouts, but face it, it cannot make us whole. No charity will ever remove the despair. While this is the cause of unbelief for so many, it’s precisely why we will focus on despair today.
The despair of the world is proof of God’s existence. It’s not the proof of any god or any narrative. Only one God story dares to embody suffering. Jesus wasn’t born exalted in a palace, but in the lowliest feeding trough of a barn. He didn’t enter the world to rise to political, military, economic, racial, or religious power. He divested himself of it all and subverted all institutional powers. He didn’t have a bullet proof vest, nor even dodge any of the shots that were constantly fired at him. He said nothing in his own defense and only showed us that our religions and stories have no real clue as to who God is and what God is doing.
Jesus didn’t come and start a new religion. He didn’t try and rise to power, but resisted those who would raise him up and promote him. He didn’t come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. What kind of God story is this? Good Friday tells the story of a suffering, forsaken, overlooked, misunderstood, maligned, abused, and tortured humanity. It’s a story so familiar it’s amazing so many of us miss it. The love of God is so pervasive, so human, so incarnate, so present, so muddy, so tangible. Is it any wonder we pray just as Jesus did; “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Yes, even the loss of faith is the very story of God.
Look at your life. Look very closely at the suffering in the world. Look again. Wake up Lazarus! Come forth! Take your grave clothes off and look around at everyone standing in black and sackcloth. Look around at the body bags, the suffering, the poor, the ill, the orphan, the dejected, the fearful, the beaten, the punished, and the horror of our world. Take a good long look. God has not forsaken us. God is everywhere. The Christ story is being written into everyone of our lives in a palpable, real, authentic undeniable way. The love of God is so vast that he is manifesting himself, rising up, welling up in and through our suffering so that not a single one of us can go through life and miss God. God is as real as our suffering. Suffering exists, because God exists and reveals himself, as James Finley says, in and as the concrete reality of our very life.
Can’t see God? Look closer. Even the pandemic follows in the footsteps of Christ in decline, suffering, death and renewal. Our life is the love of God showing up AS our life as the worlds events. Is any part of it worse than what Jesus endured? Didn’t think so. If it was good enough for God’s own son, I think its good enough for us. May we learn to trust the deeper story.
That, my friends, is why today is called Good Friday.