Good Friday People
“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” Pope John Paul II
This quote has circulated over the past few years as an anthem of hope for the Church, Protestant and Catholic alike. It is a truth we all need reminding of in the midst of a hard world; you could say we live in a Good Friday world. A world marked with suffering, brokenness, death, and darkness. You might ask, “How are we to be Easter people when the world seems so dark?” My answer would be there are no Easter people without Good Friday people. So, who are the Good Friday people? How does a Good Friday person live? How do these people look? Where are they?
A few weeks ago God stirred me to write down the names of people of faith who have impacted me the most in my Christian walk. Some of them are living, some dead, some I know personally, some I have only "met" through their writing. Here are a few from my list: the Apostle Paul, Helen Rosevere, Corrie Ten-Boom, my husband, Stephanie Fast, my parents, John Piper, so many people from my years involved in campus ministry, Jim and Elizabeth Elliot, Meredith Toering, Darlene Diebler Rose, Katie Davis, a slew of moms and dads in the disability and adoption community, and the list could go on. As I looked at the list of people before me, I saw a single common thread (other than the obvious one of them all being Christians): they all were sufferers. You might be thinking, “That isn't much of a common thread because every human being suffers. It is part of living in this fallen world.” However, these people had a unique connection in the way they have suffered. Yes, they all have suffered loss and hurt because of sin and death, but these people had chosen to suffer. They chose to take up a cross for the sake of Christ and to follow the command to love others more than themselves. They are Good Friday people whose song is Hallelujah.
One of the individuals I listed above is Stephanie Fast, she was an orphan of the Korean War who went on to be adopted and uses her story to proclaim the gospel around the world. I heard her story when I was a relatively young Christian just out of college, during a season of doubt and temptation in my walk with Christ. Her story of being abandoned by her mother at four years old and her unthinkable abuse as a street child--including countless rapes and being thrown in a building to be eaten alive by giant rats--had me raising my fist to God asking, “Why? Why would a loving God allow this child to suffer so senselessly?” John Stott said, "The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith and has been in every generation." The problem of evil, as it is often called, is the question people of faith and people of no faith seem to ask throughout our lives. I asked this question often the weeks after hearing Stephanie’s story, and I honestly was close to walking away from the faith. Until one day, while reading the Scripture, these words from Isaiah lay heavy on my soul: "But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds, we are healed." The Spirit was whispering to me, “Stephanie’s suffering was My Son's. Every hand that struck her, every word that sliced her heart, every cold night shivering and starving in a foxhole, every rape, every rat that bit her, my son suffered with her. But my son endured a greater suffering than this, he suffered my wrath and he did it for this little girl and because of her. He did for you and because of you Rachel." That day God did not give me an answer to the problem of evil that day, but he did give me a Suffering Savior who would bring an end to suffering once and for all. That day I made peace with suffering, not because it was my friend, but because Jesus was my friend, because he was Stephanie's co-sufferer. He suffered with her, He suffered with me, He suffered for us. He is our high priest who sympathizes with our weakness, but he is also the Lamb of God who climbed up on the altar, slain to put an end to the problem of evil. Isaiah says Jesus's chastisement brings us peace. His suffering brings us healing. If we can come to a place of peace with this world and the suffering it will cause us, we will be free to serve others no matter the cost. We will become co-sufferers, cross bearers, little representations of Christ.
Years ago when I was a senior in college, listening to a tape of a John Piper sermon while on a run. He preached a sermon on Colossians 1:24-25, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known." I remember clearly him saying there was something missing in Christ’s death on the cross and I was completely shocked, thinking, “I can't believe John Piper is teaching such heresy!” But then he went on to say that it was not the efficacy that was lacking in the death of Christ; it was the presentation that was missing. He went on to challenge us that the Christian is called suffer in our flesh so the world can see the suffering of Christ and come to know him through repentance and belief. When the world sees Christians suffer for the sake of the gospel proclamation, they will listen, they will ask about the hope we have, they will ask about our hallelujah song. Joni Eareckson Tada, a minister of the gospel to the suffering for nearly 50 years, with singing and teaching and Christ-proclaiming from the confines of a wheelchair, calls these people "spectacles of glory." Joni explains it like this, "Some Christians are called to endure a disproportionate amount of suffering. Such Christians are a spectacle of grace to the church, like flaming bushes unconsumed, and cause us to ask, like Moses, ‘Why is this bush not burned?’ The strength and stability of these believers can be explained only by the miracle of God’s sustaining grace.” I would go onto add those who choose to suffer for the sake of others and those who suffer from the fall with praise on their lips are both spectacles of glory, filling up what is lacking in Christ affliction--the presentation of Christ suffering.
I would also argue that Good Friday people with Hallelujah as their song are the greatest force for evangelism in the world. Oh, the great irony that Satan uses suffering to try to destroy the Christian, because suffering is the quickest way to the throne room of God! The most dangerous place for a Christian is not a place of suffering but a place of comfort and ease. We must be Good Friday people to be Easter people; Easter people go back into the Good Friday world for the sake of others and the glory of God. They become spectacles of His glory with every Hallelujah sung from a place of suffering, and those who he has chosen will take notice and glorify God because of it.
Friends, if you want to be a Good Friday person ask God where He wants you to step into the suffering of others. Ask Him how He wants to use your current or past seasons of suffering to help others and proclaim the gospel. Then go and do it. Go and adopt the "not placeable" child, mentor the teen mom, tutor at the underprivileged school, fix the single mom's car, sell your home and buy one a third the price so you can give more away, start the business and employ the formerly incarcerated, create the support group for other grieving parents, commit to pray for the persucted church, disciple the college student, begin a disability ministry at your church and I could go on and on and on. The needs and ideas are endless, but there is some place (or places!) I am confident God is telling you to go and serve and suffer with others so that you can experience more of Jesus and proclaim his goodness to those you serve. Remember, we can go and be Good Friday people for a short time because we have a Good Friday God, who suffered for us for all time so we could be saved from ultimate suffering and experience His joy forever more. Can I get a Hallelujah?