A necessary darkness

Author and Pastor Paul Tripp uses a term to describe how quickly Christians forget their identity as sinners saved by grace. He calls this “gospel amnesia.” What this means is that we might say we believe the gospel and claim Christ as our hope. But when life presses in, we put our trust elsewhere.

When we feel financial stress, we might make a poor business decision or seek security in our retirement funds. When we feel strain in a relationship we might make unreasonable demands, fearing the loss. Or a health scare might send us on a desperate path to a remedy.

Gospel amnesia is real and it’s convicting. But there’s a malady that’s just as common and often more insidious because its symptoms are harder to recognize. That condition might be called “gospel familiarity.” It’s when truth becomes ordinary and assumed. And it can be a danger as the years pass and we fall into routines.

Holy Week this year is far from normal. So perhaps the solitude, the absence of Easter adornments such as egg hunts and large gatherings (which are good things but they’re adornments that accentuate the main thing) can help us focus with “intensified intentionality,” as Pastor Brad challenged us, on the full extent of God’s love poured out on the cross.

Experiencing the gospel afresh

On Good Friday as we approach Easter Sunday, we can pause to encounter the gospel afresh, remembering how God’s judgment was unleashed on Christ so that we might be saved from death to an inheritance to be enjoyed forever with our Creator and the fellowship of the saints.

We can start by reminding ourselves of the inestimable value of what was purchased at the cross. One way might be to draw the stark and sobering contrast between our pre- and post-gospel condition. Two portions of Scripture, in particular, can help us gain a deeper understanding of the significance of Christ’s sacrifice: Ephesians 2 and the first chapters of Colossians.

It’s helpful to read the text and focus on the descriptions of our before-and-after conditions and new destiny — not earned, but bought at the price of Christ’s blood. You might even make a chart with two columns.

In Ephesians 2, we read that we were DEAD in our transgressions, yet made ALIVE in Christ (vs. 5). We were CHILDREN OF WRATH (vs. 3) transformed into TROPHIES OF GRACE (vs. 7), FAR OFF people brought NEAR to God (vs.13) and ALIENS/STRANGERS to the covenant promises made FELLOW CITIZENS with the community of faith through the ages (vs. 19).

From condemned to celebrated

What did we do to “jump categories” from condemned strangers to celebrated sons and daughters? Nothing. Our salvation was bought at a price.

We could make a similar two-column chart from the text in Colossians.

Here we read that our dwelling was transformed from the DOMINION OF DARKNESS to the KINGDOM OF THE SON (Ch. 1 vs. 13); that we were ALIENATED from God, now RECONCILED; characterized by EVIL DEEDS, now proclaimed HOLY and BLAMELESS (Ch. 1 vs. 21-22); and DEBTORS made FREE (Ch. 2 vs. 14).

If we want some vivid descriptions that make the contrast more clear, we might go to Psalm 107. It’s not a far stretch to read it with a gospel mindset. The pre-redeemed are described in poetic language as hungry, thirsty wanderers in a desert wasteland; prisoners shackled in the dark, awaiting their sentence; foolish people whose sins brought disease; and terrified shipmates tossed on the waves.

In each case, these people cry out to the Lord in their distress and he delivers. If for some reason we struggle to picture our life without Christ in these terms, we can remember what Jesus said about members of the religious class who thought their outward performance had earned God’s favor.

Reversing the curse

The Psalm ends with God accomplishing a surprising and powerful reverse of circumstances. First he turns something positive into something desolate. Rivers become deserts and fruitful land becomes a salty waste. The Psalm concludes, though, with the curses reversed. Deserts become pools. Parched land becomes springs. And hungry wanderers find a satisfying dwelling place.

We might make the connection to Holy Week. On Good Friday, what appeared positive – Christ the King making his triumphal entry into Jerusalem to a chorus of praise – quickly turns into what appeared horribly tragic. Yet this was God’s sovereign plan from the beginning.

But it wasn’t the end. Christ conquered death and the curse was removed. In fact, it was more than removed because paradise restored will be more than a return to Eden. It will be better because sin and pain can never enter again.

This reminds us of the VALUE of what Christ’s blood purchased for US. But that’s just part of the remedy for gospel familiarity. Good Friday, most importantly, turns our thoughts to the incredible COST borne by our Savior.

Just before Easter a few years ago, I turned to a radio talk show and was surprised to hear the host say she didn’t understand why Christ’s death was such a big deal. She explained that her brother had just lost a long, difficult battle with cancer. “Those were years of suffering,” she protested, “Christ just had a rough weekend.”

A necessary darkness

This was clearly an emotional reaction to painful loss. But it was thought provoking too. Good Friday wasn’t a bad start to Christ’s weekend. It wasn’t God caught off guard by human opposition. And it certainly wasn’t the end of the story.

It was our Savior experiencing the greatest injustice ever perpetrated, silent before his accusers, physically tortured while shouldering the crushing burden of sin and being separated for a moment from the immeasurably deep and intimate communion with his Father that existed from eternity.

We cannot know the joy of Easter without considering the pain and sacrifice of Good Friday. The pain is real but we know it’s temporary and, best yet, we know the conclusion. The darkness of Good Friday was necessary so that we might experience the brightness of Easter Sunday.

May this never become too familiar, affect us as facts of history alone or be allowed to pass as an annual progression through our spring calendars. Instead, may the events of this week, grow more meaningful with time and contemplation so that our joy may be full and evident this season.

As we share in Christ’s sufferings through this temporary necessary darkness, we hold onto the promise of a resurrection and a reign forever.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8

“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” ~ Hebrews 12:1b-2

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