Three day stories in Scripture, like the Good Friday/Easter Sunday story, follow a pattern: the first day (a day of trouble) and the third day (a day of deliverance from the trouble). But what about the middle day? The middle day is the day you wake up after the trouble, knowing you’ve got to go on, but not knowing how and not knowing if the third day will come.
We can sit in the middle-day with despair or denial, or we can wait on the Lord; not with passivity, but working through the ensuing days and bringing all of our doubts, questions, fears, and disappointments to Him. We can rest in Him, knowing that resurrection Sunday always comes.
- I will not give in to despair.
- I will not live in denial.
- I will actively wait on the Lord.
- I will do life with Jesus as I wait for deliverance.
- I will live like God is at work in my Saturday.
- I will hope God brings good out of my Saturday.
- I will live like something better is coming.
Full Sermon Script: I want to talk today about God’s word for you and me in these difficult days… when we’re all sheltering in place. when we’re all waiting to see how bad the virus is going to get. when we’re all waiting to see how far the economy is going to drop. when we’re all worried. || At the heart of our faith, there are 3 days: Good Friday, Saturday, and Easter Sunday. || What I want to talk about in this message is the day that hardly anyone ever talks about, and that is Saturday. || Friday is the day Jesus went to the cross. We see the cost of God’s love. We see the ugliness of sin. We see the expense of God’s grace. That Friday was the darkest day in the history of the world. || Easter Sunday is the greatest day in the history of the world. No one saw Sunday coming. Sunday was the day of the resurrection. A day of such unexpected, death-defying, grave-defeating, fear-destroying, joy-producing, life-giving hope… that the world has still not gotten over it. For those of us who need hope—Sunday is our day. || But I’m not talking about Friday and I’m not talking about Sunday. I want to talk today about Saturday. || Saturday is the day after an extraordinary event; and the day before another extraordinary event — the day after the crucifixion; the day before the resurrection. The day after this; the day before that. Saturday is: The day after a prayer gets prayed, but the day before it gets answered. The day after someone gets knocked down, but the day before they get lifted up. Saturday is the day in between. It’s the day in between brokenness and healing. It’s the day in between confusion and clarity. It’s the day in between bad news and good news. Saturday is that in between time when you’ve lost something, when something or someone has died. It’s gone, and you know it may never return. But nothing new has arisen yet to take its place, and you’re not sure anything ever will. That’s Saturday. || The Psalmist says in Psalm 38: I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart. My strength fails me. Psalm 38:8 Maybe you’ve lost a job or experienced vocational failure… and you feel this deep sense of sadness. And not just that, but a kind of shame because without your job that you identify with so strongly, you’re not really sure who you are. That’s Saturday. || Or a word comes back from a doctor’s lab that the test is positive. And all the dreams that you took for granted — that you would watch your kids grow up and get married that you would grow old with your spouse that you would die when you’re good and ready All of your old dreams suddenly torture you with the thought that you may not be there to see them. The Psalmist wrote: Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure; in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth without knowing whose it will finally be. Psalm 39:5-6 That’s Saturday. || On Saturday, one of the things I learn is I’m not running the show. On Sunday it can be very tempting for me to think that because of my success or my wealth, or my reputation or my intelligence, or my virtue or my faith, I’m in control. That’s why things are going so well for me; and that my life will unfold how and when I want it to. But on Saturday, that’s all gone. On Saturday, people realize, “My health, my finances, my relationships, my family, my reputation, my stuff, none of them are under my ultimate control.” || I believe the hardest part about Saturday is expressed with shocking candor and striking frequency in the Psalms. In Psalm 88, the Psalmist says: I cry to you for help, Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you. Why, Lord, do you reject me? Why do you hide your face from me? Psalm 88:13-14 I want you to understand the pain behind that phrase, “Why do you hide your face?” Maybe the most basic need of an infant’s heart is the comfort, security and love of a parent’s voice, and touch, and face. One of the most painful things in the world for a child is to cry out to a parent, in utter vulnerability, and not just to have the parent not hear, not be available, but to have the parent deliberately look the other way, avert their eyes, hide their face. That’s almost unthinkable. That’s the pain the Psalmist is expressing. It’s a striking thing to me that God, who inspired the Scriptures, chooses to have part of them express this pain of the human condition — “God, why do you hide your face?” That’s the hardest part about Saturday. The hardest part is not just that I’m in transition, not just that I’m moving from one day to another and I’m not quite sure what it involves, not just that life is hard or life is painful. The hardest part is, I can’t seem to find God. He doesn’t seem to answer me. “Why, God do you hide your face?” || Well, in the time that I have left in this message, I want to make some observations about the hardest day, about Saturday. But first I want to ask, “Can I avoid Saturday?” Is there a way to navigate life so that I go through it and skip Saturday? Is there a book I can read with 5 simple steps to avoid Saturdays? I pose this question because sometimes there are people who believe that if we’re just clever enough or strong enough or think positively enough we can live life like everyday is Sunday. Sometimes even in churches there are people who will imply or assert that sickness and suffering are never supposed to happen to Christians. That if you just have enough faith, if you’re just careful enough not to slip into sin, if you just pray hard enough, if you just trust enough, if you just do enough, life can be an endless Sunday, just one moment of triumph after another. || Well, according to the writers of Scripture, this is not so. Jesus himself said: In this world you will have trouble. John 16:33 Jesus himself said to his Father: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Matthew 27:46 “Why do you hide your face from me?” In Job, chapter 5, the text says: Human beings are born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward. Job 5:7 It’s just predictable: start a fire, look at the sparks, they’re going to go up; it’s inevitable. Human beings enter this world, and they’re going to know trouble. There is no way to engineer a life that skips over Saturday. || Probably for you, there has been some sort of ache… either in your work or your family or your heart in the last several weeks. That’s Saturday. || Which is why at the heart of Jesus’ story — at the heart of human history — there are really 3 days. And the first day — Friday, and the third day — Sunday, are so packed with action and emotion that we could talk about those two days for our entire lifetime and not scratch the surface. In fact, those two days literally are the two most studied days in history. || On Good Friday, our sins got paid for. On Easter Sunday, our hope was brought to life. || But Saturday is the day without a name. It’s the day when nothing happened. You’re not going to hear too many messages on the subject of Saturday. || But we’re looking at Saturday today… and I’d like us to think about it from the perspective of the disciples. The disciples go to sleep on Friday night, they’ve not slept for 36 hours. They wake up Saturday morning and Jerusalem, the city that was screaming for blood the day before, is completely quiet. The crowds have disbanded. What do you do on Saturday? || The disciples maybe gather together quietly. They remember the teachings of Jesus. They remember what it felt like when Jesus, the most brilliant man they had ever known, said to them, “I want you. I want you to be my disciple.” They thought they were going to change the world. || And maybe on Saturday they sat together and talked about what went wrong. Maybe none of them wanted to say it, but in their hearts, they had to be trying to come to grips with the idea that — Jesus failed. He didn’t get enough followers. He didn’t win over enough chief priests. He didn’t find a way to make peace with Rome. He didn’t train his disciples to be courageous at the moment of crisis. And the worst moment for them had to be when Jesus was on the cross and he cried out. But he doesn’t say, “The Lord is still my shepherd; I shall not want.” He doesn’t say, “The Lord is still my light and my salvation.” He said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And then he died. || I can imagine the disciples thinking, “If the best man in the world, if the man closer to God than any human being who ever lived, could know failure and humiliation and feel abandoned by God… and then die, where does that leave us?” || On Saturday they remembered their own failure — how Judas betrayed Jesus in the Garden by giving him a kiss. A kiss is how a disciple would honor a rabbi. If you’ve heard the phrase “kiss of death,” that’s where it comes from. The disciples remember what Jesus called Judas. Jesus says to Judas, “Friend, do what you came for.” He called Judas his friend. || Peter remembers how three times he denied Jesus. He says, “I never knew the man, I never knew the man, I never knew the man.” They all remember how when the soldiers came, everyone deserted him and fled. Saturday is the day after your best dreams have died and you wake up and you’re still alive. And you’ve got to go on, but you don’t know how. You don’t know why. || I was thinking about this and I got to wondering — Why is there a Saturday in Jesus’ story? It doesn’t further the storyline at all. If Jesus is going to be resurrected, why not just get on with it? Just die on the cross one day and then, boom, the next day get resurrected. Why is it that there are 2 events, but 3 days? || There’s a reason. In fact, the apostle Paul wrote this to the church at Corinth: For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures… 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 He uses the phrase, “according to the Scriptures,” a second time. There’s something important about Jesus being raised on the third day. || The Old Testament is filled with what might be called 3 day stories. So this was actually kind of a framework. In Genesis 42, Joseph’s brothers get put in prison and they get released on the third day. In Joshua 2, the Israelite spies are told by Rahab to hide from their enemies and that they will be saved on the third day. If you remember the story of Esther, she hears her people are going to be destroyed; she fasts and prays and is received favorably by the king on the third day. When Abraham was afraid he’d have to sacrifice his son, Isaac, it’s on the third day he sees the sacrifice that will save Isaac’s life. There are a bunch of these stories. This is such a recurring pattern that the prophet Hosea says, Come let us return to the Lord… After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Hosea 6:1-2 Now here’s the framework of the 3 day story: On the first day, there’s trouble. On the second day, there’s more trouble. And then on the third day comes deliverance. And in these stories, deliverance always comes from God. They’re always stories where God steps in. 3 day stories: first day, second day, third day. Here’s the problem — You don’t know it’s a 3 day story until the third day. It might be just trouble. And the next day is trouble. And the next day is trouble. And the next day is trouble. And it may last for a long time. || Here’s the only illustration I could think of for this, so forgive me for it. I grew up in Chicago, rooting for the Chicago Cubs my entire life. A few years ago in 2016, the Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1908. My father-in-law, one of the biggest Cubs fans I knew, didn’t get to see the Cubs win a championship in his entire lifetime. The Cubs he knew drove their fans absolutely crazy. They lived with a curse. And there were curses on top of curses. They would start the season on top and over the course of the year fall back to under 500… year after year after year. Some of you remember the unofficial motto of Giants baseball before they won in 2010 was, “Giants Baseball: Torture!” Do you remember that? That’s what the announcers would say after every game, “Giants baseball; it’s torture.” That was my life prior to 2016. “Chicago Cubs baseball: it’s torture.” As a Cubs fan, it was always Friday. Yesterday was Friday. Today is Friday. Tomorrow will be Friday. Now I can laugh about it now, because it turns out it was a third day story. The good news was: Sunday was coming. But for the longest time it was Saturday — just loss, and failure, and disappointment year after year after year. || I said a moment ago that Saturday is the day when nothing happens. That’s not exactly true. Saturday is a day of silence. After the trouble hits, after the agony of Friday, you call out to God, “God, help me. Hear me. Heal me. Save me. Do something. Listen. Act.” Nothing. Now… in addition to the pain of Friday, there is the pain of Saturday as well — the absence of God. || When C.S. Lewis wrote his memoirs about coming to faith in Jesus, he called the book Surprised by Joy. He actually got that title from a poem. The book is about how his love of joy is what led him to faith in Christ. But there was more to it. When he wrote the book, he was a lifelong confirmed bachelor — 57 years old. But he had recently met a woman that, in his late fifties, he would marry. Guess what her name was? Her name was Joy. So his friends said to him, “You really were surprised by Joy.” They thought that was a funny joke. || After a lifetime of waiting, Lewis was given just a few years of happiness with his wife Joy. And then she got cancer. Died a horrible death. And C.S. Lewis wrote another book, not about joy. It’s called A Grief Observed. It’s a Saturday book. This is what he wrote in it: When you are happy, so happy you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels— welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble? C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed That’s Saturday. || Maybe you want so desperately to save your marriage. You know you’re not perfect, but your spouse won’t listen and you can’t figure out why. And you can’t stand what it’s doing to your family. Maybe you meet that special someone you’ve been waiting for your whole life long. And when your heart is totally vulnerable, they say, “No, thanks.” And you don’t know if there will ever be anyone else. Maybe you knows things are not right with your child. And you’re afraid of what will happen to that life you had so many hopes for. You wonder where you went wrong. You wonder if you’ll be able to fix things. Maybe you found out the person you love tested positive for the coronavirus. And you pray like crazy. But only silence. Or maybe someone you love with your whole heart has died. And you prayed so hard, you hoped so much. You don’t understand. You just know that your life will never be the same. Or maybe you’ve become aware of a deep brokenness inside you. Maybe it came out in a real dramatic act — adultery, betrayal, deceit, maybe it involved the pain of a broken marriage, your reputation, and your whole world caved in. Or maybe it’s a pattern, or a character trait inside yourself that you just hate, and you’ve battled it for so long — how you deal with anger or fear, or other people. And if you keep busy or noisy or successful you can distract yourself, but when you get still, like we are right now, you become aware that the most painful gap in the world is the gap between the person you long to be and the person you are. And you wonder sometimes, as big as that gap is, if it’s ever going to be any smaller than it is right now. Or maybe you lost a job. Or maybe you lost a friend. Or maybe you had a dream for your life. Or maybe you had a dream for your work. Or maybe you had a dream for a child to love. Friday is when that dream dies. || So what do you do Saturday? || There are really 3 options when Saturday comes. And we see people take all three of these all the time. || One of them is to just to Despair If you despair, you decide it will always be Friday. It’s interesting that there were people in the early church who actually went this route. Paul asks: How can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 1 Corinthians 15:12 Some people were saying back then, “There is no hope. Sunday will never come. It will always be Friday. Get used to it. Don’t get your hopes up.” That’s despair. Some people go down that road. || Another option is Denial And people who choose to live this way look for simplistic explanations easy answers artificial pleasantness forced optimism They just kind of live on the surface with a little veneer of faith language. And, interestingly, there were people in the early church who went this route. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:18: Some have wandered away from the truth. They teach that the resurrection has already taken place, and destroy the faith of some. 2 Timothy 2:18 In other words, some people say, “It’s already Sunday. It has already arrived. So if you’re having problems, if you’re in any pain, if you’re not getting your healing, if your prayers are not answered, you just don’t have enough faith. Get with the program.” There’s the road of denial. There’s the road of despair. || And there’s a third option: You can Wait How does that sound? That’s an exciting option, isn’t it? — Wait on the Lord. To wait on the Lord is a very important thing… but it’s often misunderstood. It doesn’t mean to be passive or inactive or fatalistic. It means whatever I do while I’m waiting for Sunday, I do with Jesus. I work with him. I rest with him. I ask questions with him. I wrestle with him. I complain with him. I wait on the Lord. And I’ll let you in on a little secret — you can be with God on Saturday in a way you cannot be with God on any other day… because on Saturday you know he’s your only hope. || I’ve talked to a number of people recently who for them it’s Saturday. I may have talked to you and you’re filled with tears and living with God in a way you never have before. || And here’s what’s amazing… and why Saturday is so important — Jesus goes through our Saturday. The writer of Scripture says it is necessary for the Messiah, for God, to suffer. Jesus says a remarkable thing, as recorded in Matthew, because our world is so blind to the nature of God and our need for salvation. He says there is one sign that might penetrate our impatient world… he calls it the sign of Jonah. This is from Matthew 12:40: For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Jonah was another 3 day story. And Jesus says this is the sign. || Now I need to say a word about how the writers of Scripture calculate time because I know some people will ask, “If Jesus died on Friday and rose on Sunday, he was only in the tomb for two nights, so Jesus was wrong.” Let me just share a word about that. Even in our day, we count time in different ways. Let me give you an example. This is purely hypothetical. Imagine a pastor’s wife with three children who are lots of work; and her husband, who is normally a huge help around the house, has to go on a trip. He leaves early Friday in the morning and returns late Sunday night. The wife says, “You were gone three days.” But he says, “I saw you Friday morning; I saw you Sunday night, so I was only gone one day: Saturday.” Now who’s right? Is she right or is he right? She’s right. Why? Because she’s always right… that’s why. || The Hebrew system for dating was called — inclusive. They would count each day involved in an event. So when Jesus says this, he’s saying, “My story is like your story. It’s a 3 day story — Trouble; and then there’s more trouble; and then God delivers.” || Now Jesus does this as a gift for you and me. || Friday is behind us, but the resurrection has not come yet. Not for you; not for me. The earth is still under a curse. That’s why we have earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes. That’s why we have a virus that can create a pandemic. We still face our own Pilate and Herod and Judas. Our bodies are under a curse. We age and are susceptible to illness and death. People we love die. We live in-between Friday and Sunday. We live in a Saturday world. And I just want to tell you God is present and at work in your Saturday. || The Apostles Creed, an old teaching of the church, has a remarkable phrase — it says that after Jesus was buried, he descended into hell. There have been all kinds of writings about what exactly that means. Peter writes about it in the New Testament, but I want to say part of what it means is this — there is no suffering that you can go through that Jesus will not endure in order to save you. You see, Jesus is God in the flesh. And from a human standpoint, we think the great miracle day is Easter Sunday, when Jesus raises from the dead. But I wonder if, from heaven’s standpoint, the great miracle day is Saturday. || When Jesus was born, the skies are filled with the heavenly hosts. They’re praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest” … because that little baby is Immanuel, God with us. God in a manger. God in a stable. Now the angels watch and see what? God dying on a cross. God buried in a tomb. The miracle of Sunday is that a dead man lives. The miracle of Saturday is that the eternal Son of God has died. || So… If you can find Jesus in a grave, if you can find him in death, if you can find him in hell… where can you not find him? Where will Jesus not show up? || So… Whatever your pain Whatever your failure Whatever your regret Whatever your disappointment Whatever your difficulty Whatever your confusion Whatever your circumstances It is not the end; it is only Saturday. Deliverance is coming. || I love the Resurrection story in the Gospel of Matthew where the women run to the tomb and they see it’s empty. And the angel says to them, “Jesus is risen.” But they don’t understand anything yet. And then this is what Matthew says: So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Matthew 28:8-9 Now isn’t Jesus a little understated here? He just conquered death. He just rose from the grave. What kind of profound explanation, what kind of statement will Jesus give to explain this amazing moment? And all he says is, “Greetings.” || Dale Bruner wrote a great commentary on this. He translates it — “And look, Jesus met them and said, ‘Hi.’” In other words, “What did you expect?” In other words, “Didn’t I tell you?” In other words, “Shouldn’t you have known all along?” In other words, “Isn’t this what my Father had to do?” Bruner writes about trying to teach this to a group of children. The kids were asked, “What were Jesus’ first words to his disciples after he was raised from the dead?” And one little girl raised her hand and said, “I know, I know: Ta-dah!” That’s not a bad translation at all. On the first day, there’s trouble. And on the second day, there’s trouble. And on the third day, Ta-dah! So listen… Whatever your disappointment Whatever your difficulty Whatever your pain Whatever it is you’re facing Whatever answers you don’t have Whatever confusion you cannot explain Whatever problem you cannot solve Whatever obstacle right now you feel like you cannot overcome… and maybe you don’t know if you will ever be able to overcome it until the day you die… You need to know this — Our hope is not in this world Our hope is not in our ability to solve problems Our hope is not in our financial resources Our hope is not in our strength Our hope is not in our cleverness Our hope is part of another world. Our hope is about Sunday. Our hope is about the resurrection. So don’t you give in. Don’t you give out. Don’t you give up. Don’t despair. Because the God of Friday and the God of Saturday is also the God of Sunday. Your story, my story, like his story, is a 3 day story. So keep hope alive. || The Psalmist who knew about Saturday put it like this: Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Saturday people need, I think, to hope for two things: One of them is you need to hope that God will one day bring something good out of your Saturday. This’s part of what the writer of Scripture talks about when he says, “God redeems even suffering.” God will redeem suffering. Hope that God will bring good things out of your Saturday. It’s a strange thing, but over and over again in human life, when people look back over their lives, they find the times of greatest growth very often were on Saturday. That’s when life got real clear Or compassion grew in them Or they developed patience Or their faith got real deep Or they’re able to give gifts of comfort and encouragement and love to other people who go through the same Saturday. Hope that God will bring something good out of your Saturday. || And then, we need to Hope for that moment when morning will come. Truth is, I don’t know how long it will be before your night is over, but one day it will be over and like the Psalmist, who knew a lot about Saturday, put it, “Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” || I read some time ago about a woman who had been diagnosed with cancer and had three months to live. Her doctor told her that she needed to make preparations to die if she wanted to do that. So she contacted the pastor of her church and told him how she wanted things arranged for her funeral service. She decided she was going to lay out the whole thing. She told him what songs she wanted to have sung, what Scriptures she wanted to have read, what she wanted to have said, that she wanted to be buried with her favorite Bible. I’ve been through those times, those are sober moments. But then she said to him, “There’s just one more thing.” And he asked her what it was. She said, “This is important, so pay attention to this. I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.” The pastor didn’t know what to say; he’d never had that request before. He asked her why. She explained, “In all my years in going to church functions, whenever food was involved my favorite part came when whoever was cleaning the dishes off the table of the main course would lean over to me and say, ‘You can keep your fork.’ “It was my favorite part because I knew it meant something great was coming. It wasn’t Jell-O, it was something with substance — cake or pie, biblical food. So I just want people to see me there in my casket, with a fork in my hand after I’m gone, and I want them to wonder, ‘What’s with the fork?’ And then I want you to tell them, ‘Something better is coming. So keep your fork.” So, he hugged her goodbye, this pastor did, and not long after that she died. And at her service people saw all the things that she wanted them to see. They saw the dress she had chosen. They saw the Bible she loved. They sang the songs she had picked out. They heard the Scripture read that she wanted to have read. But they all kept asking the same question, “What’s the deal with the fork?” And he explained to them that she wanted everyone who loved her to know that, for her, for anyone who chooses to follow Jesus, this is not a day of defeat. That sorrow comes at night, but joy comes in the morning. This is our hope! || So, I have some homework for you this week, especially if it’s Saturday in your life. This week, every time you sit down for a meal, every time you sit down to eat breakfast or lunch or dinner, starting with the meal after this one — take a moment to look at your fork. Allow it to become a little icon for you. And remember the woman who is buried with one in her right hand. It’s the last thing that right hand ever held. Remember the promise of the fork: Something better is coming. And remember to hold on to hope. No matter how long or dark your Saturday has been, you keep fighting and hoping every day of life that God gives you on this earth. Remember that Saturday may be difficult, it may be unavoidable, it may be deeply painful, but it is not final. Saturday is not allowed to have the last word. Not in God’s universe it’s not. Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning. || Alright, let’s pray as the band comes to lead us in a closing song. Heavenly Father, you know every life and every heart watching online right now. You know the truth about us is that we all live in this sorry, dark world in which death is real… and sin and guilt and pain and disappointment are real… but they do not get the last word… because we know there’s a third day coming. Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Thank you so much that we are not left hopeless. We can have hope. We can have hope because Jesus conquered death… and one day we will conquer death too… and therefore we do not lose hope. God, would you help us to live with that hope. And we pray this in the name of the one who mastered life. In the name of the one who mastered death. In Jesus name, we pray. Amen.