I pray that in this extended time of social distancing we might have a time of spiritual nearing. Affliction refines the affections.
God is great. This truth cannot be measured by our present circumstances. But our hope can be measured by this truth.
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.
The Lord of Glory has now been slain. In the wake of His excruciating anguish and curse shrilling cry on the cross, all is cast under gloom; the day that follows cannot be imagined except as living, moving, and having being in the shadow of that great event on that fateful 14th of Nisan (Good Friday).
Christ, the Savior has suffered the wrath of God on behalf of sinners who look to Him by faith to receive His grace and love made possible only through His vicarious, substitutionary atonement. Christ is “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom 3:25); “he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, … to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb 2:17); “by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet 2:24); “in this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10).
But we must not read the apostles’ post-resurrection understanding back into the experience of that traumatic last day of the week, the first eclipsed Sabbath.
It is interesting that Matthew is the only Gospel writer who records any activity taking place on the Sabbath that follows Christ’s crucifixion. Luke mentions that on this day the women who earlier prepared spices and perfumes for Christ’s burial did not come to apply them to His body but “rested according to the commandment” (Lk 23:56).
It is also quite interesting that Matthew, writing primarily to a Jewish audience, avoids calling the day the Sabbath. Bengel suggests that Matthew chose to no longer call the Jewish Sabbath “the Sabbath.” To be sure, radical change was in the air—epochs would be ordered by these very moments in time. The shadow of the Old was giving way to the dawn of the New Covenant. Instead, Matthew speaks of “the next day”—that is the day following Christ’s crucifixion. He says it was the day “after the day of Preparation”—a technical reference to the day when Jews prepared for the Sabbath. At length he avoids alluding to the Sabbath and instead orders his narrative by the epoch shifting centrality of Christ crucified. The Jewish Sabbath has been eclipsed.
Strikingly, the Jewish leaders who have been notoriously scrupulous about the Sabbath, are seen gathering before Pilate. They must have gathered outside of his quarters, since on the day before, “They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled” (Jn 18:28). Also, they likely did not travel more than a Sabbath day’s journey. But all their external obedience was futile. Their defilement was within (Matt 15:18). Beyond this, the Jewish Sabbath was eclipsed by the cross of Christ.
For the Jewish leaders (chief priests and Pharisees) to gather before Pilate and say what they said, betrays a meditated fear. There is no indication that they actually feared that Jesus would resurrect to life, but rather that the disciples would instigate a hoax. These leaders knew more about Jesus and His teaching than they commonly show, since they—even more ostensibly than disciples—recall Jesus’ promise of resurrection on the third day (Matt 16:21; 17:9; 20:19).
It is interesting, however, that they did not express these concerns until the Sabbath following Christ’s crucifixion. Perhaps after witnessing the supernatural darkness climaxing Christ’s crucifixion, the tearing of the temple curtain from top to bottom, the earthquakes, etc., they had been vexed and their fears exacerbated. Perhaps their self-delusion begins to surface when they say, “and the last fraud will be worse than the first” (Matt 27:64). They dismiss Christ’s ministry and work on the cross, being attended with miraculous signs, as a fraud. They also calculate the explosive potential of a resurrection testimony, classifying it as a “worse fraud than the first.”
In the irony of God, their ill-intended efforts only served to strengthen the testimony of Christ’s resurrection. Not only did their measures fail, they worked against them to further validate the genuineness of Christ’s resurrection.
But by the grace of God in the power of His Holy Spirit given through the testimony of His word, we now know that after the resurrection and proclamation of the gospel through the church, “a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
Holy Saturday represents the first eclipsed Sabbath. It is epic in significance. The greatest work has been accomplished on the cross (Friday) and the greatest rest is emblematic as the body of Christ lies in the grave (Sabbath). Christ is our Sabbath; the fulfillment, the completion, and the substance of the shadow (Heb 4:3-10). He is the rest for all who trust in Him alone (Matt 11:28-29).
As believers, Holy Saturday, feels bitter-sweet. The gloom of our Lord’s agony is not fully cleared and yet the well-springs of our heart are already pressing upward with great anticipation for the celebration of the greatest history of hope knowable—HE IS RISEN!
May we not be too hasty in casting off the meditations of His suffering and the sorrow that that brings; the Lord saw fit to appoint a day between His death and resurrection. At the same time, may we not feel guilty over feelings of joy and eager anticipation to celebrate, rejoice, and praise God for His loving gift of reconciliation and the promise of eternal resurrected life with Him!
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
1 Peter 1:3–5
He took to himself what He was not,
while remaining what He was;
He came to us in a man
without ever departing from the Father (in heaven);
He continued to be what He is
while appearing to us as what we are;
His divine power was confined in the body of an infant
without (His presence) being withdrawn from the (entire) universe.
Sermon in A. D. 396
HE HATH MADE HIS WONDERFUL WORKS TO BE REMEMBERED
[Excerpts from a sermon delivered on “the day of annual thanksgiving,” November 20, 1794, by Pastor David Osgood of the church in Medford, MA]
THE works of God are usually distinguished into those of creation, and those of providence. By the former, we understand the stretching forth and garnishing of the heavens, the forming and replenishing of the earth, and the originating of the present order and course of nature. By the latter, are meant the continued preservation, the upholding and governing of all these things; and the superintending of all events, both in the natural and moral world. All these are great and wonderful works, worthy to be had in constant remembrance by every rational spectator. They make God to be remembered; nay, they are so many memorials of him, witnessing his eternal power and Godhead, his overflowing benignity, and his care of, and kindness towards, his creatures.
They who have any taste for intellectual and moral pleasures, who are capable of relishing what is grand and sublime, will delight in prying into, and contemplating these great and wonderful works of creation and providence. To this purpose it is observed in the context, that the works of the Lord being great, honourable and glorious, they will be sought out or investigated by all them who have pleasure therein. By these works the Psalmist has special reference to the more signal dispensations of Providence in his dealings with his covenant people, the descendants of Abraham his friend. In these dispensations he set before them the most striking illustrations of his character and glorious perfections. They often saw him, on one occasion and another, triumphing over the false gods of the heathen around them, executing judgment upon their vain idols, and confounding their stupid worshippers. They saw his infinite power displayed in an almost continued series of miraculous operations; his justice in the exemplary punishment of cruel oppressors; his mercy in numberless affecting instances towards themselves; and his truth and faithfulness in the exact fulfilment of his promises and predictions. These things were intended to make lasting impressions on their minds—such as might not be easily or speedily effaced. The wonderful works of Providence are wrought for this very purpose, that, by beholding them, men may be so affected, as to have God continually in their thoughts, and thereby be led to fear and serve him.
The text may teach us, that the more signal mercies of Heaven towards us, and those more remarkable deliverances which, at any time, have been wrought in our favour, ought to be gratefully remembered, and thankfully acknowledged by us. These things are some of the chief beauties and most brilliant pages in that book of Providence, which it highly concerns us daily to read and study. This book indeed contains the whole history of God’s dealings with mankind, from age to age; in which he displays his moral perfections to the view of his rational offspring. The clear light of eternity will show every part of this volume to be full of meaning; and such an explanation will then be given to those passages, which are now esteemed dark and mysterious, as will induce enraptured saints, with astonishment, to exclaim, O the depth of the wisdom and knowledge of God! But while we dwell in this land of shadows and obscurity, we see only a small proportion of what God does; and having such limited views of his dispensations, it is no wonder if we be unable to comprehend the meaning of particular events.
. . .
Our present trust in the divine mercy is also encouraged by the remembrance of former favours and deliverances. For this purpose, among others, the Israelites were enjoined to teach “their children the praises of the Lord, his strength, and his wonderful works—that the generation to come might know them—even the children which should be born: who should arise and declare them to their children; that they might set their HOPE in God.”
The honour of God, the interests of religion, and the comfort and consolation of good men, being all promoted by the memory of the divine dispensations; it is highly agreeable to reason, and consonant to scripture, that public days should be set apart, on which a whole people may unite in celebrating the goodness of God; recollecting the instances of his providential care of, and kindness towards, them; and talking of his wonderful works in their favour. Such institutions serve as pillars of remembrance, to revive and perpetuate a sense of our obligations to Heaven. The thoughts of the great body of the people are so taken up about their own private affairs, that they are prone to pay but little attention to the concerns of the public. After the first impression is worn off, they soon forget, at least practically, national mercies and deliverances, as well as national judgments. They need to have their minds stirred up by way of remembrance. And when God, by a long and continued series of remarkable interpositions, has multiplied, blessed, and prospered any people—has, on one occasion and another, repeatedly rescued them from great and threatening dangers—put them in full possession of their rights and liberties, laws and religion; and from year to year continues them in the quiet enjoyment of these privileges, together with the usual bounties of his munificent providence; they cannot too frequently recollect, nor too fervently and gratefully acknowledge, these signal instances of the divine benignity. It surely becomes christian magistrates, and is a duty they owe to God, to call upon their subjects to unite in commemorating these wonderful works of Heaven in their favour.
Our forefathers, from the first settlement of the country, esteemed certain seasons of the year as highly proper for special acts of devotion. At the opening of the spring, they judged it fit and suitable, to set apart a day for humiliation and prayer; that they might implore the divine blessing on the affairs of the ensuing season—that it might be rendered fruitful, healthy and prosperous. And after the reception of these mercies, at the close of the season, another day was set apart for public thanksgiving. To this custom of our pious and renowned ancestors the proclamation for the observance of this day expressly refers.
David Osgood, “The Wonderful Works of God Are to Be Remembered,” Early American Imprints, 1639-1800; No. 27456 (Boston: Samuel Hall, no. 53, Cornhill, Boston, 1794).