It was a bright and sunny Friday afternoon in downtown Tel Aviv. I was handing out gospel tracts on a busy corner of Dizengoff Street, my T-shirt emblazoned with big Hebrew letters declaring “Yehudim leman Y’shua” (Jews for Jesus), when someone tapped me on the shoulder.
I turned to see a young man in his late 20’s. Though his eyes were shielded by dark sunglasses, I could read his body language. He was angry. “You are a false prophet!” he screamed. “You are trying to lead Israel astray.” Then he declared, “I am going to pray a curse on you and your family. You can pray a curse against me and we will see which curse is stronger.”
I found myself answering, “You may pray a curse against me but I am going to pray a blessing on you, that you will come to know our Messiah Y’shua.” He began to pray loudly in Hebrew while I prayed quietly in English. I prayed for God’s protection over me and my family but mostly I prayed for this man, that God would open his eyes to the truth and bless him with the opportunity to know the Lord. After he finished his prayer he left without another word.
I confess that I was unsettled by the encounter and couldn’t shake that heavy feeling for the rest of that day and on into the next. When I opened the Scriptures I was drawn to the passage where Jesus said, “Bless those who curse you” (Matthew 5:44). I found comfort in the fact that even though I had not thought consciously of that verse during our confrontation, the Holy Spirit had given me the proper response. Still, I remained quietly on edge, feeling embattled all week, not wanting to trouble others with my burden.
The following Saturday arrived and our team was scheduled to do evangelism on the beach in Tel Aviv.
Two vans full of T-shirt clad Jews for Jesus missionaries pulled into the parking lot across the road from the gorgeous white sand beaches marking the western border of Israel. Our vans “happened” to pull up on either side of a compact car. We all piled out of the vans preparing to split up into small teams. I happened to look through the window of the little car parked between our vans. There sat the man who had attempted to curse me a week before! This time I saw his eyes, big as saucers, as he found himself surrounded by Jews for Jesus.
Before I could say anything he jumped out of his car and tore off, running down the street like he had seen a ghost. No doubt it was the Holy Ghost. I realized right then that God had answered my prayer on Dizengoff Street—that this man’s desire to see harm done to my family and me was of no effect, while God was obviously pursuing him. I never saw that man again. Only God knows what became or is becoming of him.
I have often reflected on the feeling I had of being embattled, that sense of great unease that stretched from one Saturday to the next. It was a heavy burden, and in one sense I feel it is a metaphor of what the Christian life is like as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
This weekend we remember the passion of our Lord, His death, burial and resurrection. These events occurred on the Friday and the Sunday of that holy weekend. Many are familiar with the famous Easter sermon popularized by Tony Campolo, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s a-comin.” Well, what ever happened to Saturday?
Precious little is said about Jesus between his burial and resurrection. The well-known Apostle’s Creed states, “He descended into hell,” but many have debated that statement since it doesn’t occur in the Bible. Some believe that in this case, hell is just another way of saying the grave. Others argue that several passages in the Bible support an actual visit to hell, where Christ was preaching to and releasing those who had been held captive by Satan, triumphing over the devil and his demons:
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison . . . Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it . . . When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.” (1 Peter 3:18-19; Colossians 2:15; Ephesians 4:8)
Many are familiar with the Easter hymn that begins, “Low in the grave He lay, Jesus my Savior,” which leaves the impression that Jesus was lying, somewhat static during that in-between time. But it was indeed a busy Saturday between the crucifixion and the resurrection.
The apostle Peter gave us insight into this time when, on the day of Pentecost, he preached about Jesus, “whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it” (Acts 2:24).
We know that it was no ordinary death that Jesus died. Between the crucifixion and the resurrection, Jesus was not only experiencing the pains of death, He was triumphing over those pains on our behalf. In fact the very chains of hell were being torn asunder as the triumph of the resurrection was about to burst forth upon the world. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “When Christ descended into hell, by the power of His Passion He delivered the saints from this penalty whereby they were excluded from the life of glory….
We who follow Jesus may often find ourselves living in that Saturday moment. There is no mistaking the time of suffering and crucifixion. And when the moment of resurrection occurs, surely we know it. But we often find ourselves in that “in-between” Saturday moment.
During that “moment” which seems to stretch into hours, days, and sometimes weeks or months, we must not trust outward appearances but remember, “greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). However embattled we may feel, Saturday is the time for trusting in the promises of God, enduring the bleak hours, believing, preaching to those in prison, praying and working . . . confident that this dark day will give way to a bright dawn.
It is in this Saturday moment that so many of us may be finding ourselves right now. Let us wait patiently and expectantly. Let us live by faith in the midst of this moment remembering and believing that indeed, Sunday is a-comin.