It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. (Luke 23:54–56)
It was the saddest of days. The Word who became flesh and dwelt among us lay cold in a tomb. What do you do when the one who raised the dead is dead himself?
The women who had followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem to Golgotha to the tomb felt not only grief but confusion. The man they had thought was the deliverer was dead. Had they been wrong all along?
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8). They did not have the answers to their questions, but they had the command of God. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God (Exodus 20:9–10). And so, the faithful women did what their mothers and fathers and Israelites since the time of Moses had done. They kept the Sabbath.
When a veil of darkness descends upon us through tragedy, unanswered prayers, or disappointment with God, we can follow the example of these brokenhearted women by walking in obedience.
Faith Obeys When the Path Isn’t Plain
Faithful followers obey when there appears to be no way forward, no door out of the prison, no calm beyond the storm. Faith does not require the imagination to envision how God might solve whatever problems we face.
When we are tempted to sink into despair, we should instead, as Elisabeth Elliot so memorably counseled, “do the next thing.” We may not be able to discern how God will lift us out of the pit, but we don’t have to. We simply have been given to obey him in whatever he has commanded us to do today.
Though the women didn’t know how God would keep his promises, they did know that a dead body needs attending to. Nevertheless, even their burial ministrations to Jesus’s broken body had to wait. They remembered the Sabbath, and they kept it. For them, the “next thing” was rest.
It’s easy to obey when we can envision how God will bless our obedience, but so much harder when we don’t see the point of it. At your lowest point, it may seem that there’s no way you can persevere to the end of the journey God has you on. But all God requires of you is to keep putting one foot in front of the other as you walk the walk of obedience.
You don’t have to know where that walk is leading or how God will sustain you because he knows where he is taking you.
Obedience Rests in the Finished Work of Christ
If ever there was a day when God’s people seemed far from deliverance, it was that gloomy Sabbath. Just a few days before, the crowds had shouted, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 13:35). Now, who in their right mind could call Jesus blessed? Not only was he dead, but he had been hung on a tree. According to the law of Moses, he had died the death of the accursed (Deuteronomy 21:23).
But all was not as it seemed. Just as God rested after the work of creation, the Son of God rested after the work of our redemption. God rested after looking upon his creation and calling it good. His Son rested after taking on our guilt and declaring, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
The rituals of their rest that Saturday may have looked the same as they always had, but everything had changed. God had done the work his people could not do. They could now rest in the finished work of God. All of the Sabbaths they had kept leading up to that day prefigured the spiritual rest that could only be theirs when their sins had been paid for. The Sabbath they kept that day anticipated the Sabbath rest that awaits all of us in the life to come (Hebrews 4:9–11).
I don’t feel sad when I imagine that saddest of days. I take inspiration from the women who kept God’s commands and honored the Sabbath even though they couldn’t understand how God could possibly turn their mourning into dancing. They didn’t know that on the other side of Saturday, there would be no body to bury.
For Holy Week 2016, we are publishing a series of fresh meditations, one each for Palm Sunday and Easter and two each on the other six days. Also, our new devotional book, Your Sorrow Will Turn to Joy, provides morning and evening readings for Holy Week and is available for download, free of charge.