MY PERSPECTIVE, Gary Damron
Next Monday our nation will celebrate Memorial Day, and this past week was Ascension Day. A phrase from last week’s article has stuck with me, and today we’ll spend some time exploring it. After Jesus’ transfiguration, “… as they were coming down from the mountain, he gave them orders not to relate to anyone what they had seen, until the Son of Man should rise from the dead. And they seized upon that statement, discussing with one another what rising from the dead might mean” (Mark 9:9-10).
Sometimes we hear people talk of “life and death issues”, those critical for survival. But it seems Jesus was trying for some time to convey to his followers that yes, he would die, but that new life would come for many as a result of his death. In several places, the scriptures say that the disciples didn’t understand, and yet they didn’t ask. Here they were, with the person who definitely could have answered, but they didn’t seek clarification for what he’d just told them.
In fact, Jesus had been preparing them, and us, with similar phrases for some time. After Peter declared that Jesus was the Christ (Matthew 16:16; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20), Jesus told those with him, “‘the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again’” (Mark 8:31).
After casting a demon from a boy, Jesus said, “‘The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he has been killed, he will rise three days later’” (Mark 9:31). After meeting with the rich young ruler, he told the disciples, “‘the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn him to death, and will deliver him to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him and three days later he will rise again’” (Mark 10:33-34). Matthew 20:19 added the word “crucify”.
In John’s gospel, chapters 12 through 17, we find another word, “glorify” that Jesus used to foretell what would happen. “‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’ But he was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which he was to die” (John 12:23, 32-33).
When my wife worked as an oncology nurse, she told of patients who were given a devastating diagnosis. After the word “cancer”, sometimes the person somehow stopped hearing, and didn’t remember anything else the doctor said. The disciples who had lived three years with Jesus, witnessed his miracles, hung on his teachings, were filled with hope for days ahead with the Messiah. They were no doubt shocked when he instead spoke of his impending death, especially one so horrendous as hanging on a cross, and they didn’t understand or remember the rest of what he said.
After the crucifixion, Jesus’ followers fled. He’d been betrayed by Judas and arrested. Peter made his failed attempt at resistance, then denied Jesus three times. All the disciples scattered, and as Abraham Kuruvilla put it, the followers became flee-ers. In Mark chapter 14, the naked runaway (verses 51-52) was symbolic of the total abandonment of Jesus by all who revered him.
But – the empty tomb brought hope and joy, and for forty days after the resurrection, Jesus was seen alive by more than five hundred people. Following Pentecost, Peter and others preached powerful messages, including one to Gentiles. “God raised [Jesus] up on the third day and granted that he become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with him after he arose from the dead” (Acts 10:40-41).
Jesus appeared on the Damascus Road to Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:3-9), and he and other believers finally gained a better view of what the troubling words about death and life had meant. Paul wrote, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:4-6).
Thank you, Lord, for this message of hope, and for the promises spoken many years ago, all fulfilled in Jesus. Because of your death and resurrection, abundant life is being realized in countless lives today. Help us not to worry as we bear our crosses or face difficulties. We rely on you for courage and strength, realizing that you will carry us all the way to eternity. Thank you for your death and sacrifice; may we abide in them in order to gain newness of life.