Three Hours of Darkness – Grace Appeared

I have read the Easter story since I was a child and I am still awe struck with the way it can never be too familiar. Matthew 27:45 says, Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. Having the knowledge that darkness fell, I have not really thought about the reason why darkness fell. I read the following in the Matthew Henry Commentary: How this was signified–by an extraordinary and miraculous eclipse of the sun, which continued for three hours, Matthew 27:45. There was darkness epi pasan ten gen–over all the earth so most interpreters understand it, though our translation confines it to that land. Some of the ancients appealed to the annals of the nation concerning this extraordinary eclipse at the death of Christ, as a thing well known, and which gave notice to those parts of the world of something great then in doing as the sun’s going back in Hezekiah’s time did. It is reported that Dionysius, at Heliopolis in Egypt, took notice of this darkness, and said, Aut Deus naturæ patitur, aut mundi machina dissolvitur–Either the God of nature is suffering, or the machine of the world is tumbling into ruin. An extraordinary light gave intelligence of the birth of Christ (Matthew 2:2), and therefore it was proper that an extraordinary darkness should notify his death, for he is the Light of the world. The indignities done to our Lord Jesus, made the heavens astonished, and horribly afraid, and even put them into disorder and confusion such wickedness as this the sun never saw before, and therefore withdrew, and would not see this. This surprising, amazing, darkness was designed to stop the mouths of those blasphemers, who were reviling Christ as he hung on the cross and it should seem that, for the present, it struck such a terror upon them, that though their hearts were not changed, yet they were silent, and stood doubting what this should mean, till after three hours the darkness scattered, and then (as appears by Matthew 27:47), like Pharaoh when the plague was over, they hardened their hearts. But that which was principally intended in this darkness, was, (1.) Christ’s present conflict with the powers of darkness. Now the prince of this world, and his forces, therulers of the darkness of this world, were to be cast out, to be spoiled and vanquished and to make his victory the more illustrious, he fights them on their own ground gives them all the advantage they could have against him by this darkness, lets them take the wind and sun, and yet baffles them, and so becomes more than a conqueror. (2.) His present want of heavenly comforts. This darkness signified that dark cloud which the human soul of our Lord Jesus was now under. God makes his sun to shine upon the just and upon the unjust but even the light of the sun was withheld from our Saviour, when he was made sin for us. A pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun but because now his soul was exceeding sorrowful, and the cup of divine displeasure was filled to him without mixture, even the light of the sun was suspended. When earth denied him a drop of cold water, heaven denied him a beam of light having to deliver us from utter darkness, he did himself, in the depth of his sufferings, walk in darkness, and had no light, Isaiah 50:10. During the three hours that this darkness continued, we do not find that he said one word, but passed this time in a silent retirement into his own soul, which was now in agony, wrestling with the powers of darkness, and taking in the impressions of his Father’s displeasure, not against himself, but the sin of man, which he was now making his soul an offering for. Never were there three such hours since the day that God created man upon the earth, never such a dark and awful scene the crisis of that great affair of man’s redemption and salvation.

As I have been pondering this particular verse in Matthew’s telling of all that transpired on that day. I can’t help but ask one other thought provoking question.

What if it was so dark because grace was so thick?

Grace descended on earth with such a presence that silenced mankind. Grace overwhelms!  Centuries later and we sing lyrics such as “Grace Greater Than Our Sin”

Marvelous grace or our loving Lord

grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!

Yonder on Calvary’s Mount outpoured,

There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.

Grace Grace God’s Grace,

Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;

Grace, grace, God’s grace,

Grace that is greater than all our sin!

Have you, like me, ever really taken it in that the grace God shed on us through His son is greater than all of our sin: individually and collectively? As I have thought about this over the last several days, I just had to ask about those three hours 2000 years ago. Did it take the thick darkness of grace to expose the broken lives sin destroys?

During my college years, I spent two summers working for a group of Orthopedic doctors. While I mostly worked in the file room, I did get the opportunity to learn how to work in the dark room.  This is where the x-ray film was developed before being handed over to the physician. Believe me, it was literally a dark room – absolutely no light.  So there I would sit with one lone radio for company and wait for film to be dropped and then when ready I would transfer it to be picked up for viewing.  Only the complete darkness of that Dark Room could expose what needed to be healed. So I sit writing my thoughts on this blog wondering the same thing.  Was the darkness that fell on the earth that day needed to expose what needed to be healed?  Was it grace laying on the world so heavy that when it lifted man’s heart was exposed?  When the curtain in the temple tore from top to bottom, was that the power of marvelous grace inviting us to come boldly to the throne of God?

Jesus hung on the cross, shedding His blood for my sin and at the same time pouring out grace’s invitation, beckoning the world to trust Him through faith. When love so powerful comes from the One who created time and is not constrained by time takes the time to shed grace; it could come with a powerful earthquake, tearing of the Temple curtain and darkness.  When grace met sin in a collision of holiness and evil; grace came in with a fury. Satan could not win that day and he could not keep Christ in the grave.  Death could not hold Him! The grave could not keep Him! Grace had been shed and mercy had been poured out freely.

Let us not romanticize grace and think it always comes in softly.  Sometimes grace says “enough!” and you hear “It is Finished”.  Then the earth shakes.  Grace has a power that will not only overwhelm the heart of man,it takes over the atmosphere.  Never underestimate the power of that marvelous grace… “grace that is greater than all my sin and guilt”.

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when the unseen cannot be hidden

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. (Proverbs 11:14)

As the months have gone by I have struggled in walking in obedience to telling my story. Why? It is painful. It is personal. I fear the scars I have will be judged. However, the Lord will not let it go and in obedience I step out trusting the One who led me through the pain the first time will give the grace I need to open up about the pain this time.

I have discovered over the last five years that it is only God that gives purpose to our pain. The pain Jesus suffered on the cross not only has purpose, it has great significance too. We glory in His suffering on the cross because it benefits our soul. Yet, we struggle to see His glory in our suffering because we desperately desire to be comfortable.

It is our desire to be comfortable or pretending to be comfortable that can lead to dangerous places. During these next several weeks or months, however long it takes me, I want to be transparent, using wisdom to address what should be addressed, and challenging the “lifeboat syndrome” among Christians today. (Lifeboat Syndrome is my personal made up term.) what do I mean?

Maybe you have been on a cruise ship and one of the first things you do is know where the lifeboats are located, how to get to the lifeboats quickly and effectively and how to wear the life jacket. It has been years since I have been on a cruise and so I am not sure if they continue that same safety speech or not. Nevertheless, if you are on a ship, you are all the wiser if you know how and where to get on the lifeboat. How crazy and irrational would it be if the ship you were on began to sink and you ran for the lifeboat and as you climbed in you immediately felt judged, ridiculed, misunderstood, and embarrassed. You realized there were only a few of you that had chosen the lifeboat option and the ones that remained on the ship seemed confident that the choice you were making was wrong. You heard the ones outside the lifeboat saying, “Have more faith”, “Read your Bible more”, “Pretend that everything is alright”, “We don’t see the problem so you must be over-reacting”. The confidence in the decision you are making to abandon the sinking ship for your own safety is now turning into confusion.

This is the struggle of the church. How do I know? As a counselor and one that has gone to counseling – I have sat in both chairs. I see it from the counseling side and I see if from the perspective of one seeking guidance. Just as Proverbs 11:14 states, “there is safety in a multitude of counselors”. Why do we shame those that seek it out. Why isn’t the church removing the stigma that the world has placed on mental health care? More importantly, why is the church helping place that stigma on those that seek help and desire to be “normal” and “better”.

You see, in 2008, I began to pray desperately for truth to be revealed in my own situation. My pain became greater than my fear and I no longer asked for relief, I begged for revelation. I knew things were not “normal” in my marriage. I had known it for several years. I too lived a long time refusing to get on the lifeboat because I thought if I pretended well and protected my image then the gaping hole in my marriage would never be noticed. In other words, I knew deep down that the lifeboat was there but to climb into that lifeboat meant I no longer participated in the games of denial, avoidance, pretending, and an unhealthy system. The hypocrisy I have to admit is I represented the lifeboat to many people by my own profession: counselor. However, I had to face the ugly truth that I believed the lifeboat was for “those other people”. I was afraid to enter the lifeboat myself.

Chronic pain of the soul will do one of two things: drive you to get in the lifeboat or jump ship in a reckless manner. Either way, your pain will become greater than your fear. The choice is what that pain drives you to do. I remember the day, I chose to climb into the lifeboat. What I didn’t expect is all that happened when I was in the lifeboat and on my way to safety.

Desperate!

I met a wonderful young woman by phone recently and during our conversation she asked me how I stood so strong during my own crisis and why my faith seemed unshakable. This is not the first time I have been asked something similar. Only recently have I mustered up the courage to tell my story. To be honest, I haven’t truly known exactly how to answer the kind of question like the one the voice on the other end of the phone asked. However, earlier that day I had been reading in the Gospels about the woman who had a horrendous bleeding issue and made her way through the crowd to get to Jesus. Her desperation gave her the courage she needed to reach out and touch the hem of his garment.

Seconds after my new friend had asked me the sobering question, I realized I did know how to answer. I responded to her question and said, “I wasn’t strong. In fact my faith was weak. The only think I was during those 32 months was desperate.” I told her that my pain had finally outweighed my fears. I became desperate for Jesus. Just like that woman centuries ago that made her way through the crowd not caring if she was seen or if she touched anyone. She knew she was considered unclean. She understood that other people did not want anything to do with her. But eventually desperation overshadows the label you wear and the truth of your condition. You get desperate! She had already done all that she could do and had spent all her money on physicians. She was out of resources and out of answers. I wonder how many things, potions, herbs, and crazy ideas she had attempted in hopes to be healed and return to a normal way of living. When desperation takes over, all those things simply do not matter.

My desperation to be made whole drove me to Jesus. My desperation gave me courage for others to see my pain. My desperation completely focused my heart on HIM and I didn’t see anyone else. It wasn’t that I didn’t care what others thought, I simply could not let anything keep me from getting to Jesus. I became focused. All that mattered was getting to the One who could make me whole and heal my broken heart and spirit.

If I had stood strong and my faith had been unshakable, would I have been desperate? Would I been willing to risk being exposed? Would I have been willing to get to Jesus no matter what and seek Him to heal me in His time and His way? Probably not. Unfortunately, I would have depended on me and my resources and my way. But pain can make one severely desperate. I am so grateful that I had the faith to be desperate for Jesus.

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Pain’s Purpose

The moment she touched the hem of his garment, Jesus knew. He could have continued on his way and never publically acknowledged this woman. The divine healing could have only been known between the two of them and then maybe a doctor would have confirmed that she had been healed. But when you are made whole through the power of the Almighty God, people know. It cannot be hidden, it cannot be kept quiet, and it cannot go unnoticed. Even though Jarius was depending on Jesus to be quick in getting to his house and healing Jarius’ daughter—and even though nothing would stop Jesus from getting to a little girl who needed him— he still had all the time in the world to stop and give his undivided attention to a woman who had been unseen, who may by this point in her life have felt forgotten and unimportant. Don’t ever think that your crisis is less important or less traumatic. It isn’t your crisis that has God’s attention. You have his attention.

A crisis changes so much. For Nehemiah it changed his priorities. He wasn’t all that concerned with what the king would think or how he would react. He only knew that he needed to go to Jerusalem and follow the Lord’s direction. (Neh. 2) He had to leave the presence of an earthly king and be present for the use of the eternal King. For this woman in Luke 8, crisis had changed her perspective. For years she had been forced to live confined. She did not have the same freedoms as others. Had she given up? After all, no physician could help her. While a crisis has a way of changing our perspective, like this woman it was the hope of healing that gave her purpose. Hope will give purpose.

I don’t know everything this woman felt that day as she made her way to Jesus. I don’t know what your day or your past days have looked like as you make your way through the rubble your crisis has left behind. I know for me there came that day when nothing else mattered but the promise of healing— the promise of being whole—and that gave me purpose to make my way to the One who could deliver on his promise. I was not concerned with what others said. I was not concerned with what others thought. I did not let anything get in my way. On that day everything I did was on purpose, to get to the One who gave me purpose and brought purpose to my pain.

This post is an excerpt from Joy’s book, Identity Crisis: Moving from Crisis to Credibility. You can pre-order your copy at Amazon.com

Labeled and No Good

My first vivid memory of broken things is from when I was four years old. I was taking a casserole dish back to our neighbor. She had been so kind and brought dinner over when my younger brother was born. The last words my father said to me as I scooted out the door were, “Don’t drop it.” I made it across the yard and as I turned around her car, I heard a loud crash. There at my feet was the casserole dish in a billion pieces. A billion pieces is an exaggeration. However, to a four-year-old child it might as well have been a billion pieces! So I did what any problem-solving child would do. I ran home, crying, and hid under my bed. My father somehow convinced me not only to come out from underneath my hiding place but to also go with him to tell the neighbor about her broken dish. I have no memory of the exact conversation but I do remember her chatting calmly with my dad and sweeping up the glass.

Where are you hiding? What do you hide behind? Why are you afraid? I have known about a certain woman for most of my life. Recently, I have wondered what it would be like to have known her personally. Part of me can relate to a piece of her life story. Specifically, this woman’s sense of separation and belief that everyone else’s crisis was more important than her own. Jesus’ disciples Matthew, Mark, and Luke introduce us to this woman. We do not know her name but we are told about her problem. Her problem was chronic. Her problem left her feeling hopeless and isolated. Luke introduces her this way, “And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, who had spent all her living upon physicians, and could not be healed of any” (Luke 8:43, ESV). We find this woman’s story tucked quietly inside this passage of Scripture where Jesus had calmed a raging storm that terrified his disciples, cast out demons that had tormented a man for years, and was heading to the house of Jarius, whose daughter was dying. While this woman may have broken all protocol that day and joined the crowd, she was desperate. She may have come thinking Jesus was her last hope. I wonder at what point she knew He was her only hope.

Have you thought that your crisis was not as important or as dramatic as others’? I have thought about this woman through the years and wondered if she almost talked herself out of going to see Jesus. I don’t know what gave her the courage she needed that day to make her way through the crowds of people. Had she heard that he had calmed the raging storm? Had she overheard others talking about the demon-possessed man who was now in his right mind? As she made her way through the crowd did she overhear Jarius’ plea for Jesus to come very quickly to his house and heal his dying daughter? Was she afraid that someone would realize she was amongst the crowd and make her leave at once? Perhaps she had family and friends who encouraged her to go see Jesus because, if he could heal the sick, then just maybe he might be able to heal her. Her crisis labeled her unclean. That is what a crisis does: it labels.

Divorce is my label. Maybe drug abuser is your label. The alcoholic label you wish you could rid yourself of remains because others have a hard time letting it go. Maybe you think that others see your silent label of the child abuse you suffered and you live with shame. You may be desperately wanting to tell the truth behind your label of anger and depression but are fearful of others knowing about the abortion you had. Too many labels to list and too much pain carried by the individuals who wear them…but all desire to be made whole. This woman’s label was a problem not only for her, but also for others. If she touched anyone else, that person was made unclean for an amount of time. For her to make her way through a crowd was not easy or accepted. Furthermore, this woman was broke. Luke tells us that she had spent all she had on doctors. No one could help her. A crisis will have you looking for help at any cost. A crisis will label your life whether you want it to or not. On this particular day the woman had Nehemiah’s brand of courage when he risked his life going before the king with a sad countenance. (Neh 2)

This woman went to Jesus, risking condemnation from those she might contaminate. Maybe she thought she could make her way through the crowd unseen and quietly leave after touching the hem of his garment. Everything she thought could happen did not happen and everything she hoped to happen did happen. I wonder if she ever thought that she would have Jesus’ undivided attention. Yet that is exactly what had to happen! No one can enter into the presence of the King of Kings and be made whole without having his undivided attention.

(this is an excerpt from Joy’s book, Identity Crisis)

you can pre-order Identity Crisis: Moving From Crisis to Credibility at Amazon.