The Joy Set before Him
A Monologue for Good Friday
The most prominent image is the projection of the image of the tomb with the stone rolled into place.
Tonight, we will search the biblical record for evidence of the truth about that period of time between the Lord’s last breath on the cross on Friday afternoon and the discovery of the empty tomb on Sunday morning. The author of the biblical letter to the Hebrews indicates that a certain joy sustained Jesus through this torment. What was this joy? First, let us set the scene.
The strongest soldier of a squad of angry soldiers sent to guard the tomb of Jesus took over when the other men seemed to struggle. With his experienced hand and prodigious strength, the huge stone rolled into place, sealing the tomb. He was certain that no one would come or go through that stone.
Why were they angry? They greatly resented this duty. Crucifixion duty was bad enough but guarding a dead man’s tomb? It made no sense. They were still wet from a freak storm in the middle of the day that plunged them into ill-timed darkness.
Though none would admit it, they were still shaking inside from the earthquake that accompanied the storm. It was no ordinary day. A full squad of professional soldiers, four at a time, watching…watching…watching what? There was nothing to see!
They knew the cowardly followers of this crazy man were no real threat. That bunch of fools were no danger. They ran like rabbits when he was arrested. The Temple guards had told them that. So now, soldiers of the Empire were sleeping on rocks in a cemetery when they should be enjoying the comforts of one of the convenient inns in Jerusalem. Most would try to sleep while 4 of them watched at all points of the compass.
There really was no danger of anyone trying to steal the body of Jesus. Like the disciples, the women were all gone now. Their religious laws prevented them from caring for the body until after the Sabbath. They would be back at first light on the first day of the week. There was no doubt of that. But they were of no danger to these men of war, now waging water-soaked battle against a cold, hard, rock-strewn floor of this (with irony) peaceful garden. Who knew when another earthquake would strike?
Did anyone understand what was really happening? Those who followed Jesus were well-schooled in the ancient Book that was supposed to be their guide. Perhaps, they only remembered the parts they liked…The parts about the coming Messiah—the KING! The Champion…
As we tend to do, it may be that they ignored the prophecies of a Suffering Servant…as well as the words of John the Baptist who announced the coming of Jesus…”Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”
They could not have known that the angels in heaven were learning a new song, one they had never sung before…
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
The work of the Lamb was, as yet, unfinished.
Mightier than the best army Rome could field, an unseen army of angels stood at the ready, hoping the signal would come soon. These angel hearts beat fast. Unlike the soldiers of the Empire or the trembling disciples, or the grieving women, Heaven’s army knew what was coming.
The Silence of the Tomb
Nothing much happened that first night after the crucifixion of Jesus. The squad of Roman soldiers did their boring, rain-soaked duty and got what sleep they could. The Bible doesn’t tell us very much about what Jesus did between His last breath on the cross and the resurrection on Sunday morning. We could call this, “The Silence of the Tomb.”
When writing to the Ephesian church, the Apostle Paul makes an intriguing statement about this part of the story.
“Wherefore he saith, when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.”)
Jesus descended to the lower parts of the earth. He ascended far above all heavens. Is this the key to His mysterious, sustaining “joy?” Did He descend to it or ascend to it? “He descended to the dead” was the belief of the ancient church. This confession is even found in the Apostles Creed.
“I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”
So where was He and what was He doing when His life-less body was carefully wrapped and sealed in that tomb? The ancient church believed that “hades” was the resting place of the righteous dead and a temporary place for the wicked dead awaiting the final judgment.
This is the story: Jesus descended to the dead and led “captivity captive,” meaning he led the righteous saints in Paradise to their home in heaven. In the process He rescued the keys of death, hell, and the grave from the grasp of Satan, winning for the faithful the prize of eternal life!
Let us confess with the Gospel writers what we can believe.
- Peter preached this on the Day of Pentecost, quoting the Psalmist:
…my flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
- Paul has this statement of faith:
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So, when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Paul assures us:
…if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
When we look to the last book of the Bible, Jesus speaks these words:
I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.
He holds the keys to death, hell, and the grave! Can you say, Amen?!
So let us pause in the silence of the Tomb, the silence of Holy Saturday, to be still and to know that He is God—He is the Victor! Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace!
The Power of the Blood
So, late that first Good Friday night and all day the next day, now called Holy Saturday, the human body of Jesus lay bloodless in the sealed tomb. Thus, the Silence of the Tomb. Was the sustaining joy of Jesus found in this silence?
Why do we sing so often and so much about the Blood of the Lamb? The Power of the Blood of Jesus is not in the liquid that coursed through His body. That liquid dried up in just a few days. But the meaning of His blood…the power of His blood lives on today. How can this be?
“The life of the body is in the blood,” the Bible says, and it is true. Science has now proven this ancient saying to be the truth. The life of the body is in the blood. So, when sing about His blood, we are really singing about His life.
His life was a sinless life.
- As a child, He never sinned.
- As a teen, He did not sin. As a strong young man in the village of Nazareth, He never went astray.
- No village girl could ever accuse Him of a lustful look or an inappropriate touch.
- He never cheated His clients in the carpenter shop.
- Sinful words never passed His lips because sinful thoughts never found lodging in His perfect mind.
- The scribes and Pharisees could not find creditable witnesses against Him and had to rely on pitiful liars who could not get their stories straight.
His life, and therefore His blood, pulsed with purity. It flowed in fidelity, so therefore, His blood pulses with power, A spiritual power unmatched by any force hell could muster.
His life—His blood, was and is called into action by the sound of His name.
- When sick people called on His name, their disease or affliction was reversed.
- When demons heard His name, they fled in terror.
- When storms heard His voice, they were suddenly stilled like a guilty child shamed.
There in the tomb, sealed away from air and moisture that would otherwise begin breaking down the chemistry of His body, His form was life-less—bloodless! Why?
His human life began when the Holy Spirit overshadowed a virgin named Mary as a most amazing thing happened. The Second Person of the Godhead laid assign His rights and privileges as God to take on human flesh…And His blood began to form as an embryo like none other took shape in Mary’s womb. Nothing like this had ever happened before.
Angels guided Mary and Joseph as wise men and shepherds broke the ranks of their stations in life to gather to His crib to worship. Nothing like this had ever happened before.
Life, holy, pure, life was streaming through His human body as He grew to manhood. When the fullness of time came, He left the carpenter’s shop to walk among people with love in His words and power in His touch and authority in His very presence. Nothing like this had ever happened before.
Of course, He threatened the status quo so the keepers of the pale flames of the traditions of men and the protectors of the Roman realm had to do something about Him. No one like Jesus had ever happened before.
Finally, His body was hauled in chains before all the power structures in illegal trials through the dark night as profound innocence came to trial before profound guilt. He could have stopped them.
An army of angels, the same angels who sang to shepherds 30+ years before, stood by, bound to inaction by the will of the Father as Jesus gave His life.
- The High Priest Caiaphas did not take His life.
- King Herod did not take His life.
- Pontius Pilate did not take His life.
Jesus gave His life! We can be certain nothing like this had ever happened before!
So Roman machine did its work…The lash…The thorny crown…The rusty nails…and through all this, His sustaining joy was at work—whatever it was!
And, finally, after He had given up the ghost, a Roman spear pierced His breathless side and a torrent of water and blood burst out. (sadly) Nothing like this had ever happened before. And His precious blood flowed down the wooden cross to the sand and soil below.
Joseph and Nicodemus found a tomb for His bleeding body. The women did what they could before time ran out. While the physical blood He shed was soon broken down, as are all physical things, by time, His life—His perfection…His holiness…His name…these things never broke down. They are as powerful today as they were then.
So, we sing His name and plead His blood and His power flows. Lives are changed forever by the power of His blood. Here we find a hint of the joy of Jesus in the midst of the pain. A new day was coming!
The Power of the Cross
On that terrible day when they crucified Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, both members of the Sanhedrin who had become secret followers of Jesus, received permission to take His body down from the cross.
Joseph was a wealthy man who had prepared his own tomb in a lovely garden cemetery. Hastily, they prepared the body as much as they could and placed in that tomb. The huge stone was more than they could handle. Someone else would have to seal the tomb.
They cleaned the wounds caused by the scourging and crucifixion of the Roman soldiers. A Roman cross is a cruel instrument of torture and punishment, be the victim innocent or guilty.
Crucifixion leaves its marks:
- ragged holes in the hands and feet and ugly scars on his back from the whips loaded with bits of glass and iron,
- deep wounds on His head where the mocking crown of thorns was pushed into place, and
- even after Jesus had breathed His last, a Roman spear pierced His side.
These two men saw and cleansed these wounds, now bloodless witnesses to the violence of Roman justice. They wrapped His scarred body in fine linen and their work was done until after the Sabbath.
The Cross of Calvary has changed its meaning in the centuries since these events unfolded. Instead of an instrument of torture, it is now seen as a symbol of healing and hope
- of promise and power
- of victory and veracity.
So, what is the power of the Cross?
The Cross is the symbol of the plan of God, the will of God. It was the reason Jesus took on flesh and became a man. It was God’s plan that He live a spotless life and then die a sinner’s death so that we could be saved from our sins.
You see, the Bible says that while the soldiers were crucifying Jesus, He was doing some crucifixion work of His own! Each of us has an indictment against us, a list of our sins that we cannot escape for we are surely guilty. But there is good news! Jesus took that indictment, that list of our sins, and nailed it to His cross! Hear the words of the Apostle Paul:
… he gave you a share in the very life of Christ, for he forgave all your sins, and blotted out the charges proved against you, the list of his commandments which you had not obeyed. He took this list of sins and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ’s cross.
He took this list of our sins and destroyed it by nailing it to His cross. Jesus nailed our sins to His cross and (pointedly) we–bear–them–no more!
See the irony here—Jesus, innocent of all sin, bears in His glorified body forever and ever the marks of our sins. Remember doubting Thomas? The resurrected Jesus invited Thomas to touch the scars He still bore to prove that He was real and not a disembodied spirit.
But those joyous days still lay ahead in our story tonight, yet in these wounds we see the victory, the power of the Cross, the symbol of God’s will. For Jesus, God’s will was Calvary’s Cross. For each of us, God also has a plan. It is for us to discover and to follow. “Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus said.
The power of the Cross is the power of obedience, even when to obey is not the easy road to take. “Not my will but Yours…” said Jesus as he prayed in that other Garden. And it is still true today. When we obey the Lord, the power of the Cross is at work in our lives.
The Power of the Word
There is no way to calculate the number of helpless men who died on Roman crosses in an empire that stretched for hundreds of years from what is now Great Britain to both sides of the Mediterranean Sea to what we now call the Middle East. Certainly, they form a silent multitude of mute witnesses to the Pax Romana “the Roman Peace,” enforced by Roman legions and ambitious leaders in the ancient world. Of all these acts of legal violence, one stands alone, the Cross of Calvary, the Place of the Skull.
Why is the Jesus story different? His absolute innocence is one thing. Another thing is who this man was—He was the virgin-born Son of God and Son of Man! No one else can rightfully claim this station in life. His innocence was tested by more than 30 years of living in our world, facing what we face, and still without sin.
So, the final difference is this: His death was a substitution for our death, one rightly deserved but taken by Him and not by us. He was the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the word!” Nothing like this had ever happened before!
This is fact, not fiction. Only the Word of God can endure through these intervening centuries. Truth endures unedited; fables shift with the telling. So, we confess the Word, and we believe it. In so doing we take up our cross–God’s will for us–and we follow Him—not from a distance, but in the close proximity of His presence in a relationship that is real, proven in the storms of life and in the times of peace. He is “God with Us—Emmanuel.” His nail-scared hands heal us. We feel His wounded side in His embrace. We follow in His fractured footprints every day on every path we take.
You see, this story is true. It is the final Word.
- The Silence of the Tomb sings to us.
- The Power of the Blood is at work in us and for us.
- The Power of the Cross casts a shadow of safety over us
- As His Word is a Lamp unto our feet and a Light unto our Path.
Could this be it, ever present joy of Jesus through the pain, the joyful anticipation of our lives, fully forgiven, filled with the Spirit and lived in His resurrection power?
The Joy Set Before Him
The writer to the Hebrews provides us with an intriguing insight:
Tonight, we have set out to discover this mysterious “joy set before Him” that enabled Jesus to endure such suffering. Remember these things: On this Good Friday night, we must not despair for the Silence of Tomb. Let us take courage tonight from the stone that seals the grave of our Lord. A strong angel will come and roll it away with ease.
Knowing this: If we have confessed Him as our Savior, His blood has flowed in our direction, all the way to our hearts, and is healing all the hurts harbored there. Let us remember that as He was nailed to the Cross, He was nailing the indictment against us to that same cross. We are not condemned—we are forgiven! Through Jesus, we stand before the Father as if we had never sinned! Hallelujah!
Surely, anticipation of our redemption and His fellowship with us was the “Joy set before Him.”
We can rest this Friday night and think deeply of God’s amazing grace tomorrow. All in preparation for the First Day of the Week, the Day of New Creation, when we shout the Holy Name of Jesus. Remembering His words:
“I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of death, hell, and the grave.”
A New Beginning