Churches like mine are a weird bunch (and not just because, every now and again, I’m allowed to say something on stage.)
We’re weird because we, like other churches for two thousand years, celebrate a murder. And not just any murder: We teach that the only innocent man to ever walk the earth was killed, and it was a marvelous event.
Jesus’ death was marvelous because of what was really going on, behind the scenes.
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know –
this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”
It wasn’t the scenario that his enemies were hoping for. The cross was supposed to be the end of this upstart’s three-year ministry. Things were supposed to return to as they were.
Instead, people like Simon Peter began declaring that this Nazarene who was killed is not only risen but is now seated the right hand of God, and anyone who trusts in him will be saved. And suddenly, 120 Jesus followers multiplied into more than 3,000. The rest is history.
For the earliest Christians, the cross was not a tragedy; it was a triumph. The cross was an instrument of death that had been used by God to bring life through Jesus. The resurrection was proof of this: The enemies of God had succeeded only to fail.
Suffering is yet another instrument in the hands of the Almighty in His quest to save the world.
Evil deeds are evil, but God has this incredible habit of using them to bring about good.
Joseph is sold to Egypt by his brothers, the same siblings who will later journey to Egypt to buy food from their brother, who had been used to prepare the country for a famine and save lives. What you meant for evil, Joseph tells his brothers, God intended for good.
The apostle Paul is imprisoned, and yet his jail time results in members of Caesar’s household getting saved. Jesus himself encounters a man born blind and tells his disciples that this happened so the glory of God would be made known; when the young man is healed, he goes around talking about Jesus.
Don’t think that I’m writing this as someone who’s never suffered. To give one example: One of my best friends committed suicide a few years ago; two months after that tragic event, just as I thought I was moving past it emotionally, another friend died.
When those things happened, the right response wasn’t to suck it up, recite “God is sovereign,” and pretend that I wasn’t hurting. Even Jesus didn’t fake his cries when he was hanging on the cross.
But we can take comfort in knowing that our tears, signs of sorrow in themselves, can also be used to give water to dry places.