[first prepared for the monthly congregational “Notes” for May, 2020.]
For a few days between the crucifixion and the resurrection, the disciples’ faith must have been sorely tested. All that they had seen and heard which had encouraged their belief that Jesus was the Messiah seemed to come crashing down to nothing. He was dead. As the two on the road back to Emmaus put it, “we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (Lk 24:21). Then in a matter of hours, it was built up again as Jesus appeared and set about explaining “the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures,” (Lk 24:27 & 32) and “the things written in the law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Lk. 24:44). They were given a clear window into the plan of God that would stand them in good stead. No challenge would ever be as great as that of those few dark days. And we who are called to “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7) must know that too. That is why God has given us the record of those who learned to “see” through the darkness, so that we might not give up hope.
It was even harder for the faithful of the Old Testament who often had “only” (as it seemed to them) some sketchy promise of God as their security, and for whom all that they could “see” often pointed to failure. Consider the patriarch Jacob.
The New Testament highlights his deathbed testimony (Heb 11:21) when he counted Joseph’s two sons among his own and gave the superior blessing to the younger. The reference is to Gen 48, which to Jacob would have been a powerful reminder of the unnecessary folly of his own deception years earlier (Gen 27) and a declaration to all his descendants that God does not need to resort to manipulation to achieve His will.
Jacob’s faith had not always been so strong. He had been promised Abraham’s blessing but seems to have learned little from the follies of both father and grandfather. Sadly when it came to descendants most of his sons showed no early interest in the things of God, and it is clear that Jacob had come to rest all his hope in the sons Rachel might give him. But then she died in childbirth! It was all coming apart! Maybe Joseph’s two strange dreams indicated something might happen (Gen 37:11), but then he ‘died’ also and with that also Jacob’s hope of seeing promises fulfilled in him. This explains his extraordinary grief (37:34-35). Benjamin was now his only hope but that too was taken away when “Pharaoh” demanded to see him in Egypt! We can hear the sense of tragedy in his words, “If I am bereaved, I am bereaved” (43:14 & 44:31). If he could not see how God could fulfil His Word, there could be no hope; there could only be despair! But God never leads into despair! And Jacob did not die a broken man but one full of hope! And, I’d say, with all his sons as believers!
God was not playing games; He never does with His beloved. Of course God could have saved Joseph from his brothers and saved Jacob years of heartache. He could have stopped the famine and had Joseph come home. He could have…, but He didn’t. And through it all, God proved His faithfulness and His power to deliver from every adversity. And He provide a model salvation narrative for the rest of history: He is a God who leads out of slavery and into the Promised Land, a motif that would find its highest fulfilment in Jesus Christ, “Out of Egypt I called my son,” (see Matt 2:15).
There may be times when faith in the faithfulness of God seems folly. We want to trust but the way forward is black and hopeless. It is the despair of Easter Saturday. Let us hear the disciples, and Jacob, exhort us to look to the resurrection. Real faith will be vindicated! God never lets it break, even when it is reduced to a few threads.