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Night wrapped itself around Jerusalem, leaving the streets dark and deserted except for scattered pools of lantern light spilling from doorways and the occasional shuffle of sandaled feet on cobblestones. Somewhere in the distance a dog barked out a warning then fell silent.

Those same streets had, just hours before, been pathways of commerce, guiding residents and visitors alike to various destinations. They’d also served as the avenue to an execution.

But now the city paused, catching its breath, settling into a weekly Sabbath rest—a state of disconnect from everyday life that had been ordained by God Himself. It was a Friday evening much like many others except for one important distinction: earlier that day, the city had played host to the trial and murder of the Messiah.

Beside one of those empty streets, huddled together in a dimly lit room, eleven men stared at each other in disbelief. Where was God? The events of the past 24 hours played over and over again in their minds as they struggled to accept what had happened. The unspoken question on every lip was, What do we do now?

They knew full well that the religious leaders of Jerusalem didn’t trust them and were watching their every move. The spiritual rulers who’d earlier worked in concert with Roman authorities to bring about the crucifixion of Christ were now concerned that the 11 disciples would try to steal the body. They’d taken steps to ensure that that couldn’t happen, and the disciples knew it. Those huddled together in the darkness also realized that even as they tried to deal with the intense grief generated by their heartbreaking Friday night loss, they were in a life-and-death struggle to maintain separation from the One whom they called Master.

Why were the spiritual leaders who’d demanded the Messiah’s execution fearful that Christ’s body might be stolen? Because of something they’d been told by reliable sources. It had been revealed to them that the now-deceased Rabbi had informed His closest followers that “the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days He will rise” (Mark 9:31).

In response to these words, the religious authorities had asked Pilate to order that a large stone be rolled against the entrance to the borrowed tomb where Jesus’ body lay and that a guard be posted to see that no one came to steal Jesus’ body. They were concerned that something might happen on the third day—they weren’t sure just what—and they wanted to be prepared.

The disciples, on the other hand—the ones to whom Christ had spoken these words foretelling His resurrection—seemed not to have caught His message, even though He had carefully and lovingly explained its meaning. That’s why they huddled in fear in their dimly lit room that Friday night. Their fear stemmed not only from their uncertainty and grief but as a direct result of their unbelief. Something had completely shrouded Christ’s reassuring words—hiding them from their thoughts. Had they remembered what their Master had said, their Friday night vigil would have been a time of eager anticipation. “Just two more days!” they would’ve whispered excitedly among themselves. “Just two more days and we’ll have our sweet Jesus back with us again!” But, as was usually the case, their focus was solely on their grief and heart-stopping sense of dread.

Many “Friday nights”

Have you ever faced a “Friday night” like that? I think most of us have. On one level or another, we’ve all stared into the uncertainties—and even dangers—that lie ahead and felt vulnerable and detached from reality. “Why is this happening to me?” we cry into the dark void where God used to be. “I’m afraid! I’m anxious! I feel hopeless and alone! What do I do now?”

These terrifying “Friday nights” can be created by any number of events in our lives: the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the overwhelming and destructive presence of illness, or even the dashing of long-cherished dreams can leave us huddled in silent shadows, uncertain of how to continue our lives.

It’s seems, however, that we’re in good company. Christ Himself fell to the ground in emotional agony as the hour of His first and final arrest drew near. And even as He lay agonizing on the cold, dark earth, lanterns were being lit in Jerusalem by men whose goal was to find the popular “Blasphemer” and bring Him to justice. “Going a little farther, he [Christ] fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me’ ” (Matthew 26:39).

But that was only the beginning. The very next day, after an unfair trial, cruel beatings, and the indignity and horrifying pain of a crucifixion, that same Jesus, now nailed to a cross, lifted His bloodstained face toward heaven and moaned words that are familiar to so many of us: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

Jesus felt the same anguish we feel when we cry out, “God, where are You?”

“But wait,” you say, “wasn’t He the same person who said ‘Men will kill Me, but in three days, I’ll be back!’ ” Didn’t He believe His own words? Did He have less faith in Himself than the city’s religious rulers?

The answer isn’t complicated. A simple understanding of what was going on, both at the cross and in that darkened room where the disciples huddled together in fear, will help clear away the doubts many of us experience from time to time.

Sin’s nasty habit

Sin has a nasty habit of hiding the truth. Sin puts up a smoke screen through which the most faithful— even the most pious, even the most dedicated Christian—can’t see. It holds us in darkness, even when we know the truth. It obscures the future, even though the Bible makes it very clear what the future will be for those who fight the good fight of faith.

During the previous 24 hours, the disciples had run away from Jesus. They’d rejected Him, abandoned Him, and even sworn non-allegiance to Him. They’d allowed the sin of self-preservation to drive their actions and words. Now that same sin was hiding the fact that Jesus’ words were true and could be trusted. Those terrified men were so buried in their “Friday night” that they couldn’t comprehend that Sunday morning was coming.

“But wait,” you admonish again, “Jesus wasn’t a sinner!”

Oh, but He was much more than that! Something startling was going on when He faced His own “Friday night.” “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, emphasis added). On that fateful, dark Friday, Jesus wasn’t sinning. He was sin. “ ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed’ ” (1 Peter 2:24).

What a horrifying thought! To sin is one thing. To be sin takes evil to a whole new level. That’s where Christ found Himself as He hung on that cruel cross. Like His disciples later that day, He found Himself completely wrapped in darkness.

I like the way Bible commentator Ellen White described the darkness that surrounded Christ at His crucifixion. I think it reveals a lot about our own gloom that descends upon us from time to time. Listen to these amazing words found in an article that appeared in this very magazine more than one hundred years ago: “ ‘And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.’ Not only did the darkness enshroud the immediate vicinity of the cross, but ‘there was darkness over the whole land.’

“God dwells in the thick darkness; He hides His glory from human eyes. The Father, with His heavenly angels, was enclosed in that thick darkness. God was close beside His Son, though not manifesting Himself to Jesus or to any human being.”*

Did you catch that? God dwells in the thick darkness! When sin hides us from the truth; when we find ourselves cowering in the shadows of our uncertainty and fear and we find ourselves moaning “What are we supposed to do now?” God is there! We just can’t see Him.

The apostle Paul put it this way: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38, 39).

This knowledge should be enough to bring us hope under any circumstance. All is not lost. There will be light and the renewal of life. No matter how dark your “Friday night” may be, there will be a “Sunday morning”!

True to His word, Christ did rise the third day. And, true to His word, He will come again to take us home where, on the new earth, among other incredible and eternal benefits, “There will be no more night” (Revelation 22:5).

I don’t know about you, but my future “Friday nights” don’t seem so frightening anymore. Even though my sin—or just the circumstances of my life—may bring darkness, I know there will be light again. Even though there are times when I can’t see Him, I know God is there—dwelling in the shadows. For every fearful “Friday night,” God has promised a bright and glorious “Sunday morning.”

* “Our Sacrifice,” Signs of the Times®, December 8, 1898.

Finding Hope Through Pain

by Charles Mills
From the April 2017 Signs