Friday, March 7, 2008

The One who changed my destiny

Rembrant, the Renaissance artist painted the picture of the crucifixion of Christ, which is known as The Deposition, or Descent from the Cross. Christ's body was taken down from the cross. Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy and respected man who was secretly a follower of Christ, obtained permission from Pilate to bury the body. Traditional representations in art show a ladder against the cross, with Joseph of Arimathea mounted on the ladder and lowering the body. Mary received the body and kissed the face. Mary Magdalene kissed the left hand, and John kissed the right. Nicodemus extracted the nails from the feet. The painting vividly portrayed the death of Jesus.

The Gospel of John recorded that Pilate granted the permission because he had already ascertained that Jesus had died. The soldiers initially wanted to break Jesus’ legs so as to hasten his death but when they saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But to be doubly sure, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. This again is a clear evident that Jesus had died. His death is beyond any shadow of doubt.

When the crucifixion were being carried out at Golgotha, standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), Mary Magdalene, John and the crowd that followed Jesus to the site of crucifixion. The rest of the disciples were just devastated and too disappointed to want to be there. Their dream and hope of the Messianic kingdom was shattered to pieces. No one had come away from Roman crucifixion alive.

No one needs to convince the bystanders, onlookers and the executioners that Jesus really died.

That is the reason why Mary Magdalene and Salome and Mary the mother of James went out and purchased burial spices so that they could anoint Jesus’ body. On Sunday morning, just as sunrise, they went to the tomb and were shocked to find the tomb empty. Jesus’ body was not there! In the tomb they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The young man turned out to be an angel. He said to them, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.” The women fled from the tomb, trembling and bewildered, and they said nothing to anyone because they were too frightened (Mark 16:1-8).

The abrupt ending of the resurrection narrative in the Gospel of Mark is surprising but more surprising is the risen Jesus makes no appearance. It is accepted by biblical scholars that the most reliable early manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark end at verse 8. Does this mean that there isn’t any proof of Jesus’ resurrection since Mark Gospel did not mention Jesus appearing to his disciples?

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke use Mark Gospel as their primary source, and the John Gospel which may also count Mark among its sources, all include the appearances of the risen Jesus. In the earliest resurrection tradition Paul in his letter to the Corinthians Christians also attested to the resurrection appearance of Jesus: “I passed on to you what was most important and what had been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said, and he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also…” (1 Cor 15:3-8). The eyewitnesses’ account of the post resurrection appearances of Jesus is just too overwhelming to be fabricated. It is easily verifiable both by the believers and the critics during the 40 days in which Jesus proved to his disciples that he was actually alive (Acts 1:3).

The complete turn around of the apostles from cowardice to bravery is a very convincing proof that something dramatic have had happened. They deserted Jesus at the crucifixion site and then went everywhere to proclaim the good news of the resurrection of Christ. There is no plausible reason other than the fact that Jesus had appeared to them after his crucifixion. The rapid growth of the church in spite of severe persecution right in Jerusalem and throughout the towns and cities of Roman Empire is also a convincing proof that the disciples had seen the resurrected Jesus. Paul, the great persecutor of the church became the staunchest follower of Christ. In his own words: “…and last of all Jesus appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecute the church of God” (1 Cor 15:6-10). Paul went on to become evangelist, church planter, pastor and theologian. The centrality of his message is the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. No one can refute his personal testimony of encountering the resurrected Christ and how this experience had forever altered the course of his life.

If the post resurrection appearances of Christ are the important features of the other Gospels and also Paul’s writing, why then Mark Gospel ends abruptly without mentioning the post resurrection appearances of Jesus? Was Mark’s omission intentional and by design? Was he purposely making a bold statement about the significance of the announcement “he has risen, he is not here”? (Mark 16:6) Was the abrupt ending served to engage the hearers rather than providing a closure?

Prior to his crucifixion, Jesus had told the disciples “ after I am raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.” (Mark 14:28). The angel in the tomb also told the women that Jesus isn’t in the tomb, he is risen from the dead, he is going ahead of them to Galilee. The women were to go and tell the disciples that Jesus is waiting for them in Galilee.

Galilee was the place where God’s power was manifested in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus healed a man with leprosy and for the first time in his life the cleansed leper could mix around in his community without being shunned by others (Mark 1:40-44). At Jesus’ word, a paralyzed man jumped out, grabbed his mat and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We have never seen anything like this before!” (Mark 2:1-12). Imagine a man who once was paralyzed and was totally dependent on others but now was able to walk and to take care of himself. Jesus also restored a man with a deformed hand. The man could now do so much with a hand, which had been restored. Jesus went throughout the region of Galilee; he brought healing; he set people free from demon possession, he taught them about the kingdom of God. Galilee’s ministry is a sign of the redemptive act of Jesus for the world. Mark’s resurrection narrative refers back to Galilee, the place where the power of God to heal, liberate, feed, teach and restore points toward the resurrection of Christ. In other words, the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection in Mark Gospel is to be found in recalling his proclamation and enactment of God’s kingdom in Galilee.

In celebrating Easter, we are directed by Mark Gospel (even with its abrupt ending in Mark 16:8) to think of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee that the power of God to heal, to liberate, to transform is still true and available today. Simply because Jesus isn’t in the tomb, he is risen from the dead!

I know Jesus is risen from the dead because I have encountered the resurrected Jesus and he has changed my destiny.

1 comment:

Alex Tang said...

Rembrandt's paintings have always stirred great emotions in me. It is his play of light and darkness, his spirituality and his hermeneutic ability to apply the bible narrative to canvass.

Thank you for the Lenten meditation