Context. It frames up a conversation so the dialogue can be directed and efficient. It provides both the boundaries and the background of a conversation: draw the lines too narrow and the topic may never be explored enough to understand the key issues; set the boundaries too wide and conclusions become elusive.
Context: a 25 year old sailor in the middle of the Mediterranean privately reading a Bible, asking the Lord to reveal His truth. Believing that God will answer his questions, the young man is bold enough to ask: “Who is Jesus?” Having been raised Roman Catholic, this particular sailor was familiar with the liturgical year, and on this particular morning, he knew what day it was: Good Friday. But although he was raised in a church, the sailor had come to doubt many things. Over the preceding months, he had explored different world views: atheism, agnosticism, Hinduism, etc. But most recently, the sailor had started reading the Bible, coming to the realization that God was and is a Reality. In the most unlikely-to-be-recommended book of Scripture for seekers, this sailor was drawn close to God through the book of Proverbs. In it, he had found a haunting truth. The book was telling him that he was acting like a fool and in the face of this piercing truth, the sailor had come to key decision point: either embrace the truth and change his ways or run from the truth, knowing deep in his heart a deeper reality beaconed.
Embracing the new and awkward truth of the book of Proverbs, the young man continued reading the Bible, diving into the poetic pages of Psalms. Praying for both understanding and direction, the sailor asked God to reveal: “Who is Jesus?”, and upon finishing his prayer, opened his Bible to the next chapter in the happenstance reading of Psalms:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? ... All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. “He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him… My mouth is dried up… They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. (See Psalm 22)
Having been raised Catholic, the sailor recognized the scene from some Gospel readings he had heard as a boy. It was a depiction of Christ’s death, but the man understood the book of Psalms had been written a long time before Jesus was born as a baby. This prophetic description from the Old Testament scriptures was speaking prophetically to the sailor. It was God’s answer, clear and direct.
Twenty-four years ago today, that sailor was me.
Contextual question for Good Friday: why is it “Good”? The short answer, understood in part by Sunday School children everywhere is that the day of Jesus’ death is when He died for our sins. But let’s be honest, without the context of what happened on the third day following His death, Good Friday would be remembered as a day of darkness and despair… the celebrated King of Glory had been savagely tortured and killed. The same crowds who shouted “Hallelujah! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord!” had now cried “Crucify Him!!” on that first Good Friday. The man touted as the promised Messiah, was laid in a tomb. Without the context of Resurrection Sunday, Good Friday would have remained a day of mourning in the Church. The despairing friends of Jesus would have found deeper places to hide for fear that they would be next. Or perhaps a new leader would have risen up, inspiring followers while pointing to Jesus the martyr. But this was not a man-made movement. God brought the full context on Easter when Jesus conquered death, emboldened his disciples, and explained why His death was truly a great thing for us!
Contextual application: the night before His death, Jesus prayed to His Father, asking to NOT go through the great pain of the cross. His understanding of the suffering He would endure was so clear that Jesus suffered in anticipation, sweating blood. (Luke 22:44) But in obedience to the Father and out of love for us, He traveled the path of suffering, setting his eyes on the glory that could only be attained after pressing through the darkness.
We, the remnant of His church, are called to follow His example. To persevere through both trial and triumph as His representatives, holding onto the context that our suffering is not in vain and that the darkness is never so awful as to diminish the glory of our final victory. Easter is a season of new life… of new hope… a hope that refuses to despair because the certainty of our faith is that God wins in the end. And we celebrate that victory with Him, as His adopted children and co-heirs in the Kingdom.
“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14
copyright ©2013 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)