By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)
For some people, the holidays are not a time of joy and happiness.
What memories will the melody of “Silent Night” bring to the wife whose husband has just unexpectedly died?
How will setting up the Christmas Tree be a time of joy to the child whose parent has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness?
Can there be happiness and joy in the holidays for a man whose best friend has tragically taken his own life?
While holidays can be a source of great blessing and happiness for many, they can be a source of profound sorrow and depression for others.
So how do we get through holidays when we are hurting?
Let’s notice an account of some women who were faced with the unthinkable just before a time of national holiday and celebration in their land.
Some of Jesus’ most devoted disciples were women. Many had forsaken everything to follow Him, and were willing to sacrifice for Him.
Luke 8:1-3 (NLT)-1 Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took His twelve disciples with Him,
2 along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons;
3 Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and His disciples.
They had been through thick and thin with Jesus. They had watched as the crowds glorified Him one day, then demonized Him the next. Now, their worst fears were going to be played out: Jesus was arrested on the eve of one of the most joyous holidays of the Jewish people.
The Bible tells us that Jesus was arrested on Thursday, put through a sham of a trial, and crucified on Friday.
This all happened at the time of Passover, which made things all the more worse for them.
You see, the Jewish Passover was actually a seven day feast, called the Feast of Unleavened Bread. We are told:
Luke 22:1-2-1 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called Passover.
2 And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might kill Him, for they feared the people.
In the Old Testament, the Passover was identified with this Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:5). Four days before the Passover (which was on Nisan 14), the Hebrews selected a lamb which they brought into their home for four days. The lamb was loved like a pet for the four days prior to the Passover. Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on the tenth day of Nisan, on the same day that the Passover lamb was selected. Four days later, He was arrested on the first night of the Passover.
Explaining the complexities of the Passover, Chuck Missler writes:
“When each Hebrew family selected its lamb on the 10 th of Nisan, they chose unblemished young sheep or goats less than a year old (Exodus 12:5). They then took their lambs home and kept them inside their houses four days, as though they were pets. This gave the family time to get to know the lamb. The unblemished lambs were to be inspected for each household on the very day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey, met by crowds that laid their garments on the ground in front of him crying “Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:1- 11). He presented Himself as John the Baptist had said in John 1:29, “Behold the Lamb of God, who comes to take away the sins of the world.”…Passover was to be celebrated on the 14 th of Nisan, followed the next day by the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which ran for a week. Only unleavened bread was eaten on that first Passover because the children of Israel had no time for their bread to rise; they had to leave quickly to escape Egypt (Exodus 12:8- 11). Yet, there is more to leaven than timing. Leaven represented sin and the pride that puffs us up. Before the yearly Passover meal, the Jews would clean their homes thoroughly to ensure that they contained no corrupting leaven (Exodus 12:15). Far too often we fail to realize how much our Jewish roots have affected our culture. Prior to Passover, devout Jews still do intense cleaning to be sure all leaven has been removed from their homes, and we see the pattern in our tradition of spring cleaning.” (Chuck Missler & Dan Stolebarger, The Feasts Of Israel, 797-811 (Kindle Edition); Coeur d’Alene, ID; Koinonia House)
Luke 23:53-54-53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of the rock, where no one had ever lain before.
54 That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near.
Jesus was thus arrested on Thursday (after the Passover meal), and crucified on Friday (notice that Luke specifies this was the Day of Preparation, which was the Friday during which the Jews prepared dinner for Saturday since they were not supposed to work on that day-see Mark 15:42).
Not only was this a regular Sabbath, but we are told that it was a ‘special’ Sabbath:
John 19:31-31 Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
“As indicated in 19:14, it was the day before Nisan 15, the day before Passover; it was the day of Preparation, the day on which the lambs were slaughtered.152 But at this point in the Gospel the evangelist makes a special note because in that year Nisan 14 was also the day before the Sabbath, as though to emphasize the irony of the fact that it was to be the high day of Passover week. The Lamb of God (cf. 1:29,36) had died along with the Passover lambs, and that confluence of events must have seared itself into the mind of John.” (Gerald L. Borchert, The New American Commentary: An Exegetical And Theological Exposition Of Holy Scripture-John 12-21: Volume 25B, 273 (Kindle Edition): Nashville, Tn; B&H Publishing Group)
Jesus died on the Friday before the Sabbath (a very holy day in the Old Testament). Further, this particular Sabbath was the beginning of a special holiday of the Jewish people: Passover. It was marked with celebration, dancing, and feasting. It was a joyous time of family and friends.
These women, who were some of the closest to Jesus, suffered immensely.
How could they get through the Sabbath?
How could they get through the now no doubt almost obnoxious and offensive festivity of the Sabbath and the Passover?
Let’s notice some lessons from these women and see they dealt with their grief. From them, we can then learn how we can to deal with pain in our lives, especially during the holidays.
In Your Mourning, Draw Near To God
The Bible tells us that the women remembered to keep the Sabbath Day, even in the midst of their grief.
Luke 24:55-56-54 That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near.
55 And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid.
56 Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.
The Sabbath itself had a very important significance that is often misunderstood. Even though the Sabbath was a time of worship and rest, God had a very special purpose for this day that was made clear in the Hebrew language.
One scholar describes it in with these words:
“God had commanded His people to “rest” on the seventh day. (See Exodus 16:23.) The phrase “so the people rested” in Exodus 16:30 is translated from the Hebrew word yisheveth (ותבשׁי) . It is from the root word Shabbat (תבּשׁ), which means “to rest” and “to cease.” We learn in Genesis 2:2 that God Himself rested on the seventh day. (I mean, all that creating things into being must have worn poor God out! Surely, He needed a rest I know I certainly would have.) Actually, the English rendering for the word Shabbat (תבּשׁ ) as “rest” can be a little misleading. It does not mean to rest in order to regain your strength; it means to cease from your activity, or to interrupt your normal activity to accomplish something. This leads to an important question: What are we to accomplish on the Sabbath? As yisheveth (ותבשׁי) is used here in Exodus, we have a sort of play on words*** with yashev (בשׁי), which means “to dwell” or “to sit down.” Shabbat (תבּשׁ ) is also related to the word bashavathu (ותבשׁב), which means “to bond.” Thus, this time of resting is meant for bonding with God.” (Chaim Bentorah, Hebrew Word Study: Revealing The Heart Of God, 557-568 (Kindle Edition); New Kensington, PA; Whitaker House)
One of the things which these godly women did in the midst of their grief was to draw near to God. They bonded with Him; they cast their burdens on Him.
Psalm 55:22-Cast your burden on the LORD, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.
Psalm 62:8-Trust in Him at all times, you people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Sela
1 Peter 5:6-7-6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,
7 casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.
When we are hurting, there is a healing that only God can give. We must learn to “bond”‘with Him during our times of pain.
In Your Mourning, Draw Near To Your Loved Ones
There is something else from these women that stands out to me.
They have banned together and surrounded each other with love and support.
Notice what the Bible tells us as Sunday approaches:
John 20:1-2-1 Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.
2 Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and WE do not know where they have laid Him.”
Matthew 28:1-Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.
Mark 16:1-2-16:1 Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him.
2 Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.
These women stayed together and offered support to one another.
One of the greatest blessings that God bestows upon us is the blessing of family and friends. All too often, we fail to realize what a blessing this is and we fail to avail ourselves of the strength and support that we can acquire from them.
Psalm 68:6 (CEV)-You find families for those who are lonely. You set prisoners free and let them prosper, but all who rebel will live in a scorching desert.
In Your Mourning, Draw Near To Hope
There are at least two ways that these women found hope in the midst of their sorrows and their suffering.
First, there was hope in the knowledge that the righteous dead go on to be with their loved in Sheol, the realm of departed spirits.
In the Old Testament, we are told that the people who thus died were “gathered to their people” (Genesis 25:8, 17; 35:29; 49:29, 33; Numbers 20:24; 27:13; 31:2; Deuteronomy 32:50).
One man, Simcha Paull Raphael, was a survivor of the Jewish Holocaust. Learning at an early age about the reality of death, he spent a lifetime studying what the Old Testament and ancient Rabbinical interpretations had to say about the Afterlife. Notice two quotations from his book that are especially relevant to our study:
“Burial in the family grave served to reconnect the departed one with a society of previously dead ancestors. This society was believed to exist in the tomb itself or perhaps in the surrounding locality. 9 Death itself was not seen as a cessation of existence. On the contrary, to be gathered to one’s ancestors implied but a passage to another realm where departed family spirits cohabited and the activities of kith and kin continued within the sacred ancestral society of the family tomb.” (Simcha Paull Raphael, Jewish Views On The Afterlife, 1188 (Kindle Edition); Lanham, Maryland; Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.)
Later in his book, Raphael discusses the ancient Jewish belief that our family members and loved ones who have died continue to somehow witness us and encourage us, and even how they sometimes meet with us when we are dying. Tying this in with the phrase “gathered to his people,” and carefully examining these ancient Hebrew rabbinical interpretations and cases of near-death experiences, he writes:
“A second type of apparition is reported in the early phase of the dying process. It is very common for a person in the throes of death to be visited by the spirit of a deceased relative or friend, who is ready to welcome them into the postmortem worlds. There are certainly countless reports of people who, just prior to death, have a dream in which a deceased spouse, parent, or sibling informs them they will soon be reunited. It is also common at the moment of death for a person to see before their eyes the spirit of a deceased loved one. 36 In like fashion, NDE experiencers report seeing a loving family member who, at the right time, is prepared to assist the person to make the transition from the physical plane. (In the case of NDEs, the beloved one often tells the person their time to die has not yet come.) Further along these lines, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross tells a fascinating story about a man who had witnessed a hit-and-run accident in which a woman was seriously injured. He stopped his car and offered help, but the woman told him there was nothing he could do except convey a message to her mother that she was okay and happy now because she was with her father. The woman then died in his arms. The man was so profoundly moved by the experience that he drove seven hundred miles to the Native American reservation where this woman’s mother lived. He delivered the daughter’s message, only to discover that the young woman’s father had died from a coronary approximately an hour before the fatal accident, and she had absolutely no way of knowing this news. 37 An anecdote like this suggests that there is a mysterious connection between the world of the living and the world of the dead, a connection that we often cannot fully comprehend. However, thousands of years before Raymond Moody and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Jewish tradition seemed to know something about this link between the dying and the dead. For example, the Talmud recounts how, at the time of his death, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai proclaimed that King Hezekiah, of Judah, was coming to meet him (Berakhot 22b). In like manner, the Zohar indicates quite explicitly that “at the hour of a man’s departure from the world, his father and his relatives gather round him … and they accompany his soul to the place where it is to abide” (II, 218a). And perhaps when biblical tradition uses the phrases “gathered unto one’s fathers” or “sleeping with one’s ancestors” to speak of death, conceivably these terms are not metaphoric, but allude to the experiential reality of encountering one’s deceased relatives and friends at the time of death. The convergence of evidence from NDE studies, deathbed observations, and religious literature suggests that at the time of death one is not alone. A disembodied being, or guide—either an archetypal, angelic wise being or a beloved parent, grandparent, or special friend—makes its presence known to the dying individual and actively assists in the transition from the world of the living to the world beyond. These guides have a very specific function: to initiate the neophyte into the realm of post-mortem consciousness.” (Simcha Paull Raphael, Jewish Views On The Afterlife, 7255-7299 (Kindle Edition); Lanham, Maryland; Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.)
Indeed, we learn that Jesus did go to Sheol when He died (Acts 2:27; Luke 23:43). The women would surely have taken great comfort in knowing this.
When we have loved ones who have died in the Lord, we can take similar comfort and that we will be with them again one Day.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18-13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.
16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Second, notice this with me: the resurrection of Jesus shows us that in our suffering, God can and will bring hope and comfort.
In the midst of the despair of these women, God brought incredible joy and rejoicing.
Matthew 28:9-9 And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.
Luke 24:41-But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?”
One of the things which amazes me about God is the way that He can bring joy out of our sorrow and despair.
Isn’t this what Isaiah the Prophet promised that God would do?
Isaiah 61:1-3-1 “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn,
3 To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”
One of the great promises which God gives to HIs people is found in the Book of Psalms:
Psalm 30:5-For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning.
The God of Heaven offers true comfort and hope for all who are weary and heavy-laden (Matthew 11:28-30). He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the price for your sons on the Cross of Calvary (1 Timothy 2:6). Jesus died for us, was buried and arose from the dead on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Everything about the Passover foreshadows and prophesies of the atoning death of Jesus. David Bercot has pointed out:
“Another instance of the sign of the cross in the Old Testament woud be apparent only to those who witnessed the roasting of the Passover. In his Dialogue With Trypho, The Jew, Justin Martyr talks about how the Jews roasted the lamb. He says: ‘The lamb, which is roasted, is roasted and dressed up in the form of the cross. For one spit pierces right through from the lower parts up to the head, and another pierces the lamb across the back, to which are attached the legs of the lamb.’ Justin Martyr 1.215. So the Passover lamb not only prefigured Jesus Christ, but the method of its roasting also prefigured the Crucifixion. That’s because it was roasted in the shape of a cross.” (David Bercot, Shadows Of Christ In The Old Testament, 312-320 (Kindle Edition); Amberson, PA; Scroll Publishing)
God declares that all who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God (John 8:24), repent of their sins (Luke 13:3), confess Jesus Christ as God’s Son (Acts 8:37), and are baptized into Him (Acts 22:16) will be saved (Mark 16;15-16) and added to His church (Acts 2:47). When we are faithful to death, we will receive the blessing of Heaven itself (Revelation 2:10).
When we become a Christian and sin, He promises forgiveness to His people who will repent and confess that sin to Him in prayer (1 John 1:9).
Why not obey Him today?
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.