Christ’s sacrifice always lifts you out from any pit of despair
Matthew 27: 57-66 – The Burial of Jesus
“As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.
The Guard at the Tomb
The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So, give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day.
“Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”
“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So, they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.”
Editor’s note: This is part seven of a Journey to the Cross devotion from April 5 on Palm Sunday through April 12 on Easter. It includes a scripture reading from the gospels as we walk with Jesus. Please join me each morning when a new devotion is posted.
Journey to the Cross – No. 7 – April 11, 2020
Falling into a pit of despair is a place no one wants to go.
I’ve seen it many times: those that are imprisoned, mourning the loss of a love one, overcome by addictions, fighting the loss of personal relationship or even from people who seem to have everything.
It’s not a pretty sight. The agony, despair and hopelessness present are so overwhelming it’s difficult to incapsulate unless you’ve been there. No one is immune. Not even Jesus Christ.
Following the Last Supper, Jesus goes to Gethsemane with Peter, James and John to pray. Obviously troubled he says to them: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”
This is the Son of God, who knows what he is to face on the cross.
Then, Jesus goes a little further, he falls on his knees and prays: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
In the Young’s Literal translation of Luke 22, it says his “sweat became, as it were, great drops of blood falling upon the ground.”
Then, about three in the afternoon while Jesus is on the cross, he cries out: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
Then, Jesus gives up His spirit.
Jesus Christ, God Himself, was suffering in the pit of despair.
Imagine how hard it is for people in that place that don’t have God.
At Jill’s grandmother’s funeral, I witnessed something I’ll never forget.
Jill’s mom was the middle child of seven children. She was the only one of the siblings to believe in Christ. The ceremony mixed spiritual and non-spiritual readings in a room with a stained-glass window of George Washington crossing the Potomac.
At the graveside, Jill’s two aunts were in tears, prostrate on the ground, patting the dirt, asking their mother to come back.
Both spoke to her of things they wished they would have told her when she was alive while apologizing for various things they did in their lives. This lasted for nearly an hour.
I thought: “So, this is what it’s like to not have Jesus in your life?”
That’s what the day after the crucifixion must have been like for Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of God, Peter and the disciples.
They knew Jesus, and despite all the signs and parables where Jesus outlined His journey and His mission on earth, it must have been overwhelming for them to feel it wasn’t supposed to end this way.
Jesus rescued Mary Magadalene after she was possessed by demons. She experiences the arrest in the garden, the trials before Herod and Pilate, His flogging and whipping and hanging for hours on that cross.
He’s not supposed to be in that tomb …
Mary is told by angel she is to give birth to the Son of God. The shepherds appear at His birth. They tell Mary what the angel told them about Jesus with the heavenly host singing: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
He’s not supposed to be in that tomb …
Peter declares to Jesus that he knows that Jesus is the messiah. Jesus tells him that this was revealed to Peter by the Father in heaven and Jesus says that on this rock I will build my church.
Then, Jesus tells Peter that he will deny Christ three times. Peter says even if he dies, he won’t deny Him. He, and the other disciples, said the same thing. But Peter denies that he even knows Jesus.
He’s not supposed to be in that tomb …
For those that loved Jesus, the separation from Him the day after the crucifixion must have been an unbearable mix of agony and emptiness.
Twice in my life I fell into the pit of despair.
It had nothing to do with my life, my loss, but agony for my children.
Our daughter Ayla graduated with her bachelor’s degree from Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte.
She earned a scholarship for her entire master’s degree education at Johnson and Wales’ campus in Providence, Rhode Island, that included a fulltime job working for a major hotel associated with the school.
She left with a full suitcase and an apartment she secured online but the description didn't match what she found. The room was highly questionable. It was not in a good part of town with mold and bugs. She broke down on the phone crying.
To make matters worse, public transportation to two different parts of campus and the hotel were impossible to navigate with any efficiency.
We couldn’t help her. We did not have the finances to make it go away.
My father-in-law and his wife drove to Providence from Pittsburgh, gave her their car and flew back home while calming her frayed nerves.
The other time was when our son moved from Alabama to Arizona. He set out on an expected three-day, 1,700-mile journey that took 15 days.
His car broke down in Bossier City, Louisiana. It took a week to fix. An area church stepped up to help him. Friends from Wisconsin ordered a pizza for him and had it sent to his hotel. Jill’s boss at the time gave her a sizeable check to help him with mounting expenses.
His car was fixed, but it broke down again in Pecos, Texas.
He walked across the street for a hotel where it was better leaving the lights on. He said he could see the 10 cockroaches rather than not knowing how many were “actually” in the room if he happened to shut the lights off.
The car was towed to El Paso, Texas, where it again took nearly a week to fix. He stayed with relatives from Jill’s Dad’s family before making the final leg from there to Phoenix and to start his first post-college job.
Again, we didn’t have the finances to make our son’s pain go away.
Those adventures were pivotal to both our children’s lives. It was pivotal to mine. There are times in life where you can’t make it all better. There are times in life that you cannot control. It can be an accident or disease that altered or took the life of a loved one.
But God’s still there working in the midst or lowest moments.
Our family often traveled to Garden City Beach, South Carolina, for Easter week that coincided with our children’s spring breaks.
Once on Good Friday, the four of us spent a glorious sunny morning on the beach with a cloudless blue sky overhead. But at noon everything changed. The sun disappeared and a thick fog rolled in over the area.
There are photos of my son and I playing catch with a football on the beach. We couldn’t see but a few feet in front of us. The fog covered the area for three hours and then disappeared. The sun returned. The significance of the day and the time was not lost on us.
In Matthew, it says on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion that darkness came over the land from noon to 3 p.m. Then, Jesus breathed His last.
A God that can have fog overtake an area where it normally doesn’t, can certainly rescue you.
At the very second of Jesus’ death, a God that can shake the earth, tear the temple curtain and break open tombs with people coming to life, can save you in your moment of despair.
So, when everything seems stacked against you, take heart. Jesus is not far.
Too often, we think it’s about us here on earth, but it’s about Him.
There are situations with this worldwide virus that will change everyone’s lives.
But it won’t last forever. Even if we are taken from this earth, our Lord and Savior offers us assurance of where we will be.
We’re not permanently left in the fog. The cloud is wiped away.
In the Psalms, God is our rock and our redeemer. Deuteronomy urges us not to be afraid or terrified for the Lord goes with us, He will never leave or forsake us.
Mary Magadalene or Peter may be in the pit of despair this day.
But we know the end of the story. We know who wins.
Morning is coming – and what a glorious morning it will be.
Brad Zimanek is the Associate Pastor at Mulder Church in Wetumpka, Alabama. He worked in sports journalism for 32 years prior to answering the call to full-time ministry.