Yesterday was Maundy Thursday, celebrated by some as the dark night of Jesus’s arrest. We call today Good Friday because the best thing Jesus did for us in his incarnation was dying a sinner’s death, taking our punishment on himself. On Easter Sunday, we will celebrate his resurrection, albeit differently this year, while distancing ourselves. On earth, Jesus, the only God-Man wept with those who wept, grieved with the mourning, fed multitudes, and healed many. However, his work in heaven is not the same as his work on earth. In his article, “Does Jesus Weep For Us in Heaven?” Kevin DeYoung clarifies this truth:
Most evangelical Christians have a grasp on the humiliation of Christ–especially, and rightly, during Holy Week. But we often have an underdeveloped appreciation for the exaltation of Christ. The two states must go together: exaltation is made possible by prior humiliation, and the purpose of humiliation is to give way to exaltation. In the state of exaltation, we reflect upon Christ’s resurrection, ascension, and session. If Jesus has been resurrected, he has been raised incorruptible, with a glorified body that is no longer subject to pain and suffering and the privations of the flesh…Not everything true of Christ before glory is true of the glorified Christ now. Are we in danger of finding himself asleep? Or hungry? Or exhausted at the end of a long day? Just as an imperishable body, victory over death, and universal dominion did not belong to Christ in the state of humiliation, so the life of suffering, weeping, and death do not belong to Christ in the state of exaltation. (1)
Easter is a time of rejoicing in our Risen Savior. God is owed no less worship, praise, and thanksgiving because of particular circumstances, like pandemics. Isaiah reminds us that God hasn’t and won’t forget or abandon his people. “Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted. But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.’ ‘Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you…those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.'” (Isaiah 49:13-15, 23c) God’s covenant with believers is comforting, compassionate, intimate, and joyful. We rejoice without shame in our hope in Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead, conquering death and sin.
In the Isaiah passage, “Human despair is more than offset by divine grace. The joy of v. 13 contrasts with the gloom of the Jewish exiles… All nature is called to sing for joy because God has comforted and had compassion on the afflicted.” (2) “Creation, which has witnessed the Lord’s acts of judgment, will now burst into praise, so great is the Lord’s salvation of His people.” (3) “Let there be universal joy, for God will have mercy upon the afflicted, because of his compassion; upon his afflicted, because of his covenant. We have no more reason to question his promise and grace, than we have to question his providence and justice. Be assured that God has a tender affection for his church and people; he would not have them to be discouraged.” (3) Because God’s covenant with believers is reliable, we are comforted by his compassionate and joyful in our hope. Israel had reason to rejoice during the exile, unable to worship in the temple, under God’s discipline for sin. How much more do we have reason to rejoice in Christ? He has accomplished all the work of salvation through his perfect obedience in life, his substitutionary atonement in his sacrificial death, and resurrection in glory, proving his victory over sin before ascending to heaven where He now reigns. Since this is a fact that can never change or be undone, we who have been given to Jesus rejoice, unashamed of our hope and gladness in Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately though, some of God’s people are afraid that he has abandoned them, like some Israelites in Isaiah’s time. “But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.'” (49: 14) In his commentary, John Gill remarks that the Israelites in Babylonian captivity may have felt abandoned because of the length of their captivity. Do Israel’s comments find their source in self-pity and ignorance of God’s covenant of steadfast love? But aren’t they the ones who had forsaken him over decades, while the Lord waited for them to put away their idolatry and worldly values? What sense does it make, what right do unbelievers have to say that God has abandoned them when they have turned away from their childhood mercies and truth? Prodigals have not been abandoned, but use many excuses to justify their apostate behavior. (5) But those who rest in Christ know that God’s covenant with believers is eternal. So we can view this pandemic of the coronavirus to be short in the context of eternity. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
We do not deny that death is real and that life here is not always a blessing. We do not deny that by the time this is posted, almost 100,000 people will have died from the coronavirus. So how do we reconcile the troubles of this world with biblical admonitions to be blessed and rejoice? Sometimes we become like prodigals in our thinking. In his book, “Our Good Crisis—Overcoming Moral Chaos with the Beatitudes,” Jonathan Dodson writes, “Before we can leap into the Beatitudes’ promise[s], we have to evaluate our functional beatitudes—how we really think and live…For instance, in the secular context, mourning is an unwelcome but unavoidable part of life. How do we handle that sadness? When faced with disappointment, heartache, or suffering, we often opt for escape—take a trip, go to a movie, train for a marathon, or binge Netflix. But when we choose to escape, we don’t cease to believe. We simply believe as though God has nothing to offer us, and in his place, our chosen escape does. We mourn in an age of distraction.” (6) We miss what God might do in us by neglecting fellowship with him. What we might receive from God spiritually is far better than anything the world has to offer. If by God’s providence, I become infected with the coronavirus, and because of my genetic condition, quickly succumb to grave illness, I will rejoice in my Savior’s love for me and my love for him, knowing that I will live forever in His light. This is a unique kind of joy, different than surviving the illness (as I survived severe pneumonia at the age of nine) or being a better person moralistically as a result of enduring a trial. True Christian joy is rooted in our souls, shines through our pain, and overflows into the lives of others. This is Easter resurrection joy.
Isaiah continues, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” (49:15) Do infants experience joy? I would think that they do, especially when nursing or being held close to their parent’s breast. Christ cannot forget us; it is contrary to his nature to do anything resembling neglect for those whom he has adopted as his own. Therefore we need never be ashamed of our faith or dependence upon him, as an infant is unashamed of her needs for constant care and love. Instead of shame, God’s people will rejoice with creation “…those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.” (Isaiah 49:23c) “For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.'” (Romans 10:11) I James Boice’s sermon on this passage he teaches about four elements of biblical shame: disappointment, confusion, exposure, and disgrace. Unfortunately, we have seen all of these characteristics at work in the global population during the coronavirus pandemic. But those who believe in Christ this Easter have no cause for shame in our joy. “How can anyone be disappointed with Jesus? How can anyone be confounded or disgraced by his or her hope in the Lord? But aren’t Christians sinners, too? Yes, they are. But they are sinners whose sin has been forgiven and whose nakedness has been covered by the righteousness of Christ. Shame? Yes. But shame recognized, confessed, and dealt with permanently in God’s own way…the atonement is also real. Restitution has been made by Jesus. ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).'” (7)
On Easter Sunday, even alone in our homes, we will rejoice in God’s compassion, unashamed of our hope in Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead, conquering death and sin. “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave Him glory so that your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:20-21)
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
(1) Is Jesus Weeping for Us in Heaven?By Kevin DeYoung, The Gospel Coalition, April 7, 2020 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/is-jesus-weeping-for-us-in-heaven/
(2) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Isaiah 49:14, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
(3) The Reformation Study Bible, Isaiah 49:14, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015.
(4) Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, Isaiah 49:1317, https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-concise/isaiah/49.html
(5) I recommend “Prodigals and Those Who Love Them,” by Ruth Bell Graham for parents of a prodigal or prodigals themselves, who were taught of Christ and are now searching for the truth that is buried deep within them.
(6) Dodson, Jonathan K.. Our Good Crisis, InterVarsity Press, 2020, Kindle Edition.
(7) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Romans 10:11, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
April 10, 2020