This blog originally posted four years ago, but is highly relevant for our circumstances today.
The day was grave. Sunday’s triumphant celebration evaporated. The memory of a strong Jesus clearing the temple and teaching to the acclaim of the people gone. Jesus was dead. His body lay in a grave.
The religious leaders were not content to leave Jesus alone. Afraid the disciples might steal his body, they went on Saturday to Pilate asking him to dispatch guards and place a Roman Seal upon the tomb. These leaders helped avoid a riot for Pilate and tensions still ran high. There were a lot of people in Jerusalem for Passover, so Pilate agreed. “Go make the tomb as secure as you know how.” Mt. 27:65.
Make the tomb as secure as you know how.
The religious leaders brought a guard of soldiers which at a minimum meant four and was likely 16 or more. In addition, the religious leaders probably left some of their temple guard. They weren’t taking any chances. Mt. 28:11. A large stone sealed the tomb. A cord was placed across the stone and affixed with clay and the Roman Seal at both sides. Mt. 27:66. No one was going near this tomb. The tomb was secure!
The tomb may have been secure, but the disciples were not. Deathly afraid they skirted among the shadows. They felt Friday’s earthquake and saw the sky go dark. Mt. 27: 45, 51. They heard Jesus was dead. What now? Surely they would be hunted down and imprisoned or killed. The light seemed to disappear. Everything appeared darker.
Grave Saturday: Dark night of the soul
Have you ever experienced dark nights of the soul? A day that was grave? One filled with fear and doubt? Then you can identify with the disciples. Thomas wrestled with doubt. Judas had betrayed them. What if another did as well? For whatever reason Thomas did not make his way back to the agreed rendezvous – a small, dark, locked room. The others huddled together whispering. Peter still cried.
What do you say when a 33 year old young man with a promising life suddenly dies? It’s not fair. It doesn’t make sense. That was Saturday. There were no words of comfort to give. Nothing made sense.
Grave Saturday: God works through the darkness
For Jesus this made perfect sense. Isaiah spoke directly to what Jesus must suffer: “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isa. 53:5. Jesus told the disciples many times that his death was necessary. But how many times has someone said something to you and you only heard what you wanted to hear. Grief clouded the disciples’ memory. Fear gripped their souls. They waited in uncertainty behind locked doors.
Nothing contains Jesus. Jesus’ body was in the grave but his spirit was with the thief in paradise. Lk. 23:43. The Apostle’s Creed states Jesus, “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell.” Others cite the creed, “he descended to the dead”. There is far from universal agreement on this. Paul uses this language in Ephesians 4:9-10 and Peter may be referring to this in 1 Peter 3:18-19. Jesus proclaimed the “gospel” to “those who are now dead”. 1 Pt. 4:6. Luke tells us of a beggar named Lazarus and a rich man who both died and went to Sheol, the place of the dead. One went to ‘Abraham’s Side’ and the other Hades. A chasm separated the two. Lk. 16:19-31. Many consider Abraham’s Side to be a reference to Paradise, the place where Jesus went.
Doubt and Despair
Whether Jesus went to the place of the dead to condemn sinners or rescue pre-Christ saints – or whether he descended at all – is a matter of great debate. What is not debated is that for Christ followers Saturday was a living hell. Saturday was a day without hope. Saturday was a day of doubt and despair.
I can identify with the disciples in their grave Saturday. The introduction to Gospel Justice tells the story of how I wrestled for years with the injustice of not having children. My cries to God seemed to go unanswered. Whether a health issue, job issue, marital or other family issue, I think many of us struggle with dark nights of the soul. It’s Saturday. But don’t give up hope –