There is no way to describe the feeling I get when one of my girls surprises me by running toward me and giving me an unexpected hug. Of course, as they are getting older the feeling I get is sometimes fear of being knocked over, but my heart is always warmed when they show me this type of affection. I can remember many occasions when one of my little girls would run down the aisle toward me after worship service on Sundays. She would jump into my open arms or crash into my legs if I was not paying attention. Either way she just wanted to give me a hug. These hugs came as a result of her being excited and happy to see me, but they also happened on occasions when she was unsecure or fearful.
On one occasion after Sunday morning worship, a group of men and I were talking while my youngest daughter was playing a short distance away. For some reason she began to feel uneasy and wanted her dad. Without thinking, she turned and ran toward a pair of legs and grabbed hold as she has done so many times before to me; however, this time the legs were not mine. When she looked up and saw that she had the wrong dad, panic came across her face for a moment. She quickly backed off and began scanning the group of men until she came across the face in which she found her security. She then ran to me and I picked her up and she gave the biggest hug and smile possible.
In John 20:1-18, Mary Magdalene has gone to the tomb to pay her respects to Jesus. No doubt she is still distressed and grieving the events of the Friday before. What an emotional week for her and all the followers of Jesus. They had experienced the excitement and motivation of entering Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna,” and now they were experiencing the lowest of lows. If ever Mary needed Jesus, this was the time; but He was dead. She had seen Him die with her own eyes, there was nothing that could be done now and everything she hoped for was buried in a tomb behind a boulder.
When she reached the tomb Mary saw that the stone has been rolled away and she immediately thinks that things have just become even worse; now even Jesus’ dead body has been stolen. Peter and another disciple ran to the tomb and simply confirm Mary’s fear that the body had been taken away. Even the sight of two angels does not ease Mary’s pain. In my mind I see her hunched over on her knees weeping, when she hears someone behind her and turns to see who could be standing there. Through her tears and distress she simply glances at the figure behind her and assumes the man to be the gardener; of course she would not expect to see Jesus, he is dead. She resumes her position of mourning at the feet of this gardener and pleads with him to help her make sense of this unthinkable situation. Then Jesus calls her name and Mary looks up from her weeping and through the tears she looks into the eyes of the last person she expected to see, but the person she needed to see the most.
As we read this story we have the advantage of knowing the whole story. What Mary did not know was that the victory had already been won before she even saw the empty tomb, but Mary needed to see Jesus to be assured of the victory. We really are not much different when we are going through the dark times of our lives. We tend to forget that God has already won the victory and that he will carry us through these difficult and burdensome times of life. Sometimes the darkness becomes so dark that we feel like Mary and just want to fall to the ground and weep. Only when we look up and fix our eyes on Jesus will the darkness surrounding our life begin to fade into the light of Jesus’ victory.
During the trying times of our life we need to act like my little girl and run to where our security and encouragement resides. We need to run to Jesus and allow Him to comfort us, cry with us, encourage us, and strengthen us. You may find yourself in a dark place right now and there seems to be no light anywhere. Remember that this darkness is only part of the story; the full story ends with an empty tomb and the light of Christ filling all the dark corners of our lives.
There will always be dark and difficult times until Christ comes again, but even in the midst of this darkness we know that the victory is already won. Jesus told Mary to go and announce His victory over death. In a world so consumed by death, violence, immorality, and hopelessness there needs to be a message of hope. Jesus is that message. We need to go and proclaim that darkness has not prevailed, that there is light to be found in the midst of the darkness, and that the light of Christ will extinguish all remnant of darkness. Let us live in the light and share the light with those who are still lost in darkness.
The movie scene is intense, and has the audience sitting on the edge of their seats in anticipation of what will transpire during the tension filled press conference. Harvey Dent, Gotham City’s District Attorney in the movie “The Dark Knight,” is addressing reporters and the city in a live interview in which everyone anticipates that the true identity of Batman will be revealed. The city has been gripped by fear due to the psychotic actions of the Joker. The Joker has terrorized the citizens of Gotham and now has assured the city that if Batman turns himself in he will stop his murderous ways. The city is paralyzed with fear and is willing to sacrifice someone who stands for justice in order to ease their apprehension.
Harvey Dent knows that giving in to the demands of evil, personified in the Joker, will only weaken the city and lead them down a path of uncertainty and chaos. Dent knows the difficulty of standing up for what is right. Criminals have already tried to take his life, but that has not stopped this intrepid District Attorney. Dent appeals to the city not to sacrifice Batman, but remain strong and determined as they endure the evil of the Joker together. As he nears the end of his plea, he makes this statement; “The night is darkest just before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.”
I believe the crucifixion and death of Jesus is by far His darkest time on earth. Jesus has spent the last three years of His life impacting the lives of everyone He came in contact with. He transformed people’s lives by healing them of all sorts of diseases and physical limitations. Jesus offered people a new life through believing in Him. He brought hope to the hopeless and proclaimed freedom to the captives. Jesus gave all that He was and all that He had for the very people who now were crying out, “crucify Him, crucify Him.”
Evil has powerfully responded to Jesus’ message of hope and new life and now evil is celebrating as the loving and compassionate Christ is hanging on a cross. As Jesus hangs on this cross He is enduring more than He has ever experienced before. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, is taking upon Himself the sin of the world. Not only is He taking our sin, but also the punishment for our sin. Jesus feels the pain our sin inflicts on us and the world. He is now riddled with the guilt and shame that always accompany sin. The full fury of darkness has descended upon Jesus and He must endure all the pain and suffering the darkness brings. Finally, Jesus raises his voice one last time and speaks to the heart of the darkness saying, “It is finished.”
At these words evil must have rejoiced as never before. The darkness had succeeded in extinguishing the light of Christ in one twenty four hour period. While darkness and evil are ecstatic, the followers of Jesus are crushed when they hear His last words. Is it really finished? Were the last three years for nothing? At this point darkness seems to have won the victory, and even the reader of the Gospel must acknowledge defeat if she or he does not already know the ultimate ending. Truly the night must have seemed so dark and the dawn was nowhere in sight.
The darkness was unbelievably dark as Jesus was uttering His last words, but was there a ray of light shining on this day? John specifically mentions two unlikely individuals who are there for Jesus on His darkest day. Joseph of Arimathea is part of the religious structure that has sent Jesus to the cross. This whole ordeal must have been unbearable for Joseph. When he sees an opportunity to do something for Jesus, he offers to provide the burial site for our Lord, even though he would no longer be a secret follower of Jesus. Joseph was willing to stand up to the darkness even though I am sure he believed the ministry of Jesus was finished. He could no longer keep his love for Christ a secret and he shows us a tiny ray of light.
Joseph of Arimathea is helped by a very interesting and profound character in the Gospel of John. Nicodemus is the man who approached Jesus at night and asked how he could enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus responds by telling Nicodemus to be born again. As far as the reader is concerned, Nicodemus leaves Jesus just as confused and wrapped in darkness as when he first approached Jesus; however, clearly this was not the case. At some point, Nicodemus appears to have understood the message of Jesus because he is now stepping out of the darkness and serving Jesus when all others have abandoned Him.
As a reader of the Gospel of John, I must ask; if Jesus was able to overcome the darkness in Nicodemus’ life, could He overcome this darkness that has now consumed Him? The crucifixion and death of Jesus is undoubtedly a dark day, but this is not the last of Jesus. When Jesus said “it is finished,” he meant for sin, death, darkness and evil. Even in this dark hour, Jesus knew that the light was coming. No matter how dark our lives become, maybe we should remember that the night is darkest just before the dawn, and Jesus has promised the dawn is coming and the darkness will have no place to hide.