Death. Why didn’t God heal my loved one? Why didn’t God send us a more competent doctor? Should I have done more? Answers don’t come easily. Life is complicated. Death is incomprehensible. Grief, tears, even hopelessness. My loved one is now irreversibly dead. The disciples of Jesus could identify with these emotions. Their beloved Master had died. How could that be? He taught with authority. He healed the sick. He drove out the demons. He even raised Lazarus from the dead. He should not have died. But they witnessed it. It was a gruesome sight. They could not go any nearer. It was too much for them to behold. The flesh was raw. Blood trickled down his face, his torso, his limbs. The nails were sharp and rusty. They were thick. Just three were enough to fasten His already abused body to the cross. One who did not have a strong stomach would surely puke at the sight. What an inhumane act. What unjust suffering. Why didn’t God do something about it? Was His hand too short to save?
Wait! Their grief, though intense, was short lived. Three days later, the irreversible was reversed. Earth quaked. Angels appeared, bright as lightening. Guards became like dead men. Stone rolled away. Tomb emptied. Resurrection! If the death of their loved One was mind boggling, the coming to life ought to be mind blowing! The first Easter was of utmost importance. The disciples put all their stakes on the resurrection so much so that the apostle Paul said, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15.14) Did it really happen? How can we be sure? Take a look at the eleven. They were cowards on the night of the arrest. They fled at the slightest hint of danger. The only one who followed to see what was happening landed up denying Him. They locked themselves up in the upper room. They were scared stiff. They were petrified. What had caused them to make a complete about turn? The boldness, the confidence, the authority, the exuberance in the face of persecutions, even martyrdom – what had caused their drastic transformation?
Resurrection was the pivotal point that changed the destiny of the disciples. The One who came back to life took time to spend intimate moments with them. The doubters were convinced. The hopeless were given hope. The sad were comforted. The confused were enlightened. The cowards were emboldened. He made His identity so obvious to them that no disciple could ever deny Him again and none did. Anyone who saw the resurrected Jesus lost the freedom of choice to believe or disbelieve. How could they not believe! They were first hand witnesses. They had breakfast with Him. One of them ran his fingers over his scars. Another was restored by Him and given the instructions to take care of His sheep. They saw Him ascend into the sky till he was no more. They were thoroughly converted. Fully persuaded. Committed. Fearless.
What about us? We did not see Him personally. It was of no coincidence that He told doubting Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20.29) Except for the five hundred or so people to whom He appeared, every Christian who has ever lived falls into the category of “blessed”. We have not seen and yet have believed. Ours is not a blind faith. There are many pieces of evidence that can be used to support the resurrection. The four Gospels testify of it. The letters written by the apostles made reference to it. Skeptics however questioned their authenticity – fabrication, conspiracy, myth! Wait a minute. There are external sources, testimonies from independent historians. Flavius Josephus was a Romano-Jewish historian. At the end of the first century A.D., he wrote this fascinating passage in Antiquities, 18.3.3:
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him many Jews, and also many of the Greeks. This man was the Christ. And when Pilate had condemned him to the cross…those who had loved him from the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive on the third day, the divine prophets having spoken these and thousands of other wonderful things about him. And even now, the race of Christians, so named from him, has not died out.”
Did you see that? “He appeared to them alive on the third day.” Josephus wasn’t a Christian. There wasn’t any hidden agenda. He would hardly have included it if it were not true. But the skeptics are relentless – “Josephus only reported what he had heard. He was no witness. The disciples claimed to be witnesses. What if they had lied?” Would they? If their Master was still buried in the tomb, why would they bother to preach otherwise? Were they mad? Disillusioned? Conspiring so as to deceive the whole world? Putting their lives at stake? For what? How would they stand to gain? Wouldn’t it be better for them to return to their original trades? Return to their families? Get on with their lives? Some ultra-skeptics even say, “The disciples are no different from the ISIS of today. The latter too die for their faith. They die for a cause. We accuse them of dying for a lie. They think otherwise.” Jesus’ disciples were persecuted. ISIS goes around persecuting people. Jesus’ disciples did no harm to others; they loved as their Master loved. ISIS goes around hating and hurting people. Just by this fact alone, I shudder at those who lump the two groups of people together.
Over the course of history, many who started out with the sole purpose of discounting the resurrection as a myth were eventually won over hands down. Although the evidence is overwhelming, there is still a need to exercise faith. We have not seen Him after all. Some say: “Unless I see, I will not believe.” They lack faith. They persist in their blindness. We walk by faith, not by sight. What can be seen is temporal. What cannot be seen is eternal. Anselm, an 11th century philosopher and theologian said, “I do not seek to understand in order to believe; but I believe in order to understand.” When we believe, it is then we will see. More than that, we will be blessed. How so? We will be saved by Jesus. Our sins will be forgiven. We will have an intimate relationship with Him. We live abundant lives. Death is no longer irreversible. Blessings upon blessings indeed!
God does not abolish evil (not yet) but he transforms it. He did not stop the crucifixion but He raised Jesus from the dead. Likewise for our loved ones who have left us, He did not stop their death but He too will transform it. That will happen when He returns. Our loved ones will be resurrected too. They will be given new bodies. But wait a minute, even now, something is happening to those who are left behind. In the process of grieving, they too are being transformed into His image with ever increasing glory as they continue to exercise their faith. This is yet another blessing. Every departure is still going to be painful. Easter however makes the difference. We experience comfort in our grief, peace in our tears, hope in our loss – anticipation, longing, reunion. Death will be crushed to death. The irreversible will be reversed!
Rev Lee Kien Seng
March 27, 2016