If you are a Charles Dickens fan, you will recognize that my title comes from the opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.” Shakespeare was suggesting an age of radical opposites and wrote a story of contrasts and comparisons between London and Paris.
We are about to enter what we call “Passion Week,” the final week of our Lord’s earthly life culminating in the crucifixion. As I think about “the best of times and the worst of times,” there has never in the history of the world been a more dramatic contrast than that of the scene in Jerusalem a couple millenia ago when the powers of darkness came against the “Light of the World” (Jn. 8:12). We see the ultimate worst behavior of mankind in rejecting the Creator of the Universe, unfairly trying Him, torturing Him, mocking Him, and nailing Him to a cruel cross to die a humiliating and agonizing death. But, at the same time, we see the greatest display of the love of God toward man, as God the Son was willing to lay down His life to pay the penalty for our sins so we could, through faith in Him, become “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Ro. 8:17), sharing in His eternal kingdom on a renewed earth (Rev. 21:1,2).
As the “God who is light, and in whom is no darkness” (I Jn. 1:5) was hanging on the cross, being judged for our sins (II Cor. 5:21; I Pet. 2:24), there was an eerie, supernatural, darkness on earth from noon until 3 p.m. (Mt. 27:45). The “prince of this world” (Jn. 12:31; 16:11) had done his best to destroy the “seed of the woman” (Gen. 3:15) sent to defeat him and to pay for sin.The evil of man’s sinful heart was seen at its worst as Judas betrayed Jesus for just 30 pieces of silver, Peter denied knowing his Master, the Jews shouted “crucify Him,” Pilate, though he found no fault with Jesus, was unwilling to just let Him go for fear of the Jews, the Roman soldiers beat Him, scourged Him, placed a crown of thorns on His head and drove nails through His wrists and feet to hold Him on the cross which was placed in a hole for the public to look on Him and watch Him suffer and die like a common criminal or insurrectionist.
“But (at the same time) God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Ro. 5:8). The greater the darkness, the more the light shows up! “In Him (Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend (overpower) it” (Jn. 1:3,4). Darkness cannot be driven out of the world (until the eternal state), but light can swallow it up. The reverse is never true. There is no such thing as darkness swallowing up light, but darkness must retreat before even the glow of a tiny candle! The darkest time on earth, the crucifixion of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, was the very event that would provide life and light for all who believe, for “Sunday was a comin’!” Jesus would arise bodily from the grave as proof that He had indeed made peace for us with God and God’s holiness was satisfied with the death of His Son on our behalf. The “Lamb of God” had indeed “taken away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29). Light had conquered the forces of darkness.
So, it was the “best of times and the worst of times.” What appeared to be tragedy and defeat at the hands of Satan and evil turned out to be triumph and victory on behalf of “The Light of the World,” Jesus Christ (Jn. 8:12).
As we get news of the war in the Ukraine, we see again the wickedness of the human heart without Christ. The scenes of devastation and corpses lying in the streets is shocking. What a display of the darkness of the human heart and its potential for evil. Yet alongside we see the gracious, self-sacrificing ministries of missionaries in bordering countries as they care for the millions of refugees who are fleeing from their war-torn country. We also see the humanitarian efforts of groups such as the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (BG-BRT) and Samaritan’s Purse which has set up Medical Clinics and an Emergency Field Hospital at the train station in Lviv, Ukraine. Even though the Ukranians are going through a nightmare experience of darkness, they are also encountering the love of Christ through those serving as the hands and feet of Jesus as the Body of Christ not only ministers to the physical needs but also presents the message of hope. Though it is dark, the message of hope is bright. We are witnessing death and destruction, and unspeakable brutality of a wicked dictator…and yet, we see in stark contrast, the love of God demonstrated through His Body, the Church as believers rush to the scene, risking their own lives, to minister to the hurting and to share with them the hope of a better, glorious future because Jesus also suffered on their behalf to offer eternal and abundant life (Jn. 10:10). Because of the terrible conflict in the Ukraine, thousands of Ukranians are hearing the Good News and many will come to Christ and gain a glorious future in God’s eternal kingdom where there will no longer be war, pain, suffering or death (Rev. 21:1-4).
It is because of evil and suffering that we get to know the mercy, compassion, and love of God in a very real way. If you think of your own life, when have your grown the most spiritually? It has been when you have been hurting and turned to Him. The “worst of times” can become the “best of times” when we seek refuge in the Rock, the Lord Jesus Christ. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride” (Psa. 46:1-3). “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in Thee. In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?” (Psa. 56:3,4).