This is the time of year when Christians around the world focus particularly on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Over the past several days I have been reminded again that, most often, when Jesus spoke of His death He coupled with His resurrection. He consistently coupled His suffering with rising out from among the dead. Despite this, His disciples had “no clue” about what He meant; Luke tells us explicitly, but they didn’t understand any of this (18:34, NLT). I don’t know that we understand it either!
In several of his books N.T. Wright provides a detailed historical analysis of the views of resurrection prevalent in second temple Judaism of Jesus’ day. He explains that their views involved a spiritual after-life followed by a physical resurrection—what he calls “life after life-after-death.” We get a glimpse of this in the conversation Jesus has with Martha about her recently buried brother, Lazarus, when she affirms, I know that he will rise again (Lit. “rise out from among the dead”) in the resurrection at the last day (John 11:24). She was looking to a future time when the righteous ones from all the eons would be raised “out from among” all of the dead. Such anticipation of a physical resurrection is part of the reason cremation was shunned by Jews and early Christians—a hope of bodily resurrection which also gave rise to the burial caves we know as “the catacombs.” So, if the disciples had a view consistent with Martha’s, they might have heard His words as predicting the “resurrection at the last day” would follow His death by only three days! . . . But they understood none of this.
During the week before His death and resurrection, Jesus offers another picture. While Jesus is in Jerusalem, a group of gentiles approach Philip and ask to see Him. When Philip goes to Jesus on their behalf His response is: Unless a grain fall into the ground and die, it remains alone, but if it dies it brings forth much fruit. For those who understood nothing of His prediction of death and rising from the dead, I wonder if death as the necessary gateway to fruitfulness puzzled Philip.
Rather than expressing my thoughts of these couplings of death, new life, and fruitfulness—which I will do next week—today I prefer to simply raise some questions for us—for me and for you to ask, but not for us to answer. I propose that we proceed in a manner I often use as I journey together with others in Life the Jesus Way: Rather than relying on our own capacity to understand, ask Jesus about reality. We do this by talking with him, posing questions, and listening. Sometimes He answers immediately; other times He brings us into a situation or conversation and, after we experience the answer, His Spirit within reminds us of the question and we see what has happened as His answer to our question (such a way of learning is very Jewish); still other times He gives the answer in some other way—a word from a friend, a verse of scripture, or any other way He chooses. The point is, we need to ask and then open ourselves in faith, believing He will answer.
Thus, I express the questions in a prayer. Perhaps you will word the questions differently, or add some of your own. The point is to ask Jesus, then listen. So you may wish to pause after each question, or even spread the questions and your listening over several days. Join with me:
Lord Jesus, thank You that You have given Your Spirit to take us into all truth—to take all that is True of You and show it to us. I admit that I have repeatedly heard or read of your death and resurrection, to the point that I don’t really think much when I hear the words. Despite my “familiarity” with the words, I doubt that my current understanding is all You intend. So, as Easter approaches this year, please reveal to me Your Truth. Specifically,
- What connections between death and resurrection do I not understand?
- Where in my thinking am I experiencing “death” but ignoring the “rising” You will bring?
- In what ways am I limiting my view of “rising” to bodily resurrection in the distant past or sometime in the future, rather than seeing “rising” in my experience with You today?
- What pains am I resisting as an unwanted “death” which You intend as a gateway to fruitfulness?
Thank You, Lord Jesus, for Your answers. Thank You for Who You Are—Resurrection and Life.