Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church
What Was Jesus’ Gospel?
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 29th April 2007 by Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Jeremiah 30:1-11 and John 8:1-11.
Christianity has its roots in Judaism, or the religion of the Jews. Our Holy Bible consists of both the Old and the New Testaments. The Old Testament is actually the Bible of Judaism which is generally known as the Hebrew Bible. Though arranged slightly different, the five books in Torah (or the Law), eight books in Neviim (Prophets) and 11 books in Ketuvim (holy scrolls) correspond with the 39 books of our Old Testament.
Jesus himself was a Jew. His disciples and most of their followers were Jews. In fact the word “Christian” which signified the early Christians was only first used in Antioch in the middle of the first century B.C.E. (c.f. Acts 11:26). In other words, it is correct to say that the first generation of Christians were Jews before they became Christians.
This point is worthy of our reckoning. For oftentimes Christians tend to forget our roots. Many of us think that in order to affirm our beliefs, we have to give up our cultural identity, heritage and gifts.
From the Acts of the Apostles, we know that the Early Church worshipped very much like what the Jews did: rather simple. It probably included the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the singing of psalms, prayers, etc. Only the preaching by Jesus’ disciples was added. The teachings or didache of the Early Church put a great deal of emphasis on Jesus’ teaching, other than those in the Septuagint which is equivalent to the Old Testament in Greek.
What is unique in Christianity is in the person of Jesus Christ, Indeed, Jesus Christ is the Gospel or the Euvangelion. This was emphasized by the Early Church in their writings.
The faith in God in the Old Testament times had become stagnant long before the birth of Jesus. The pious Jews came to rely on the Torah instead of the living God. Their life goal was to try to follow the Torah or the Law. The Law had thus become their god.
Of course, the Law can help us to understand God. It can help us to consolidate the God-people relationship: God is our God and we are God’s people. This was in fact the central message of the whole Old Testament. But the Law can never replace God. In a word, instead of helping people to be faithful to God, the Law could become an instrument to separate people from God. This alienation was so serious that finally God had to decide to send His Only Son, Jesus Christ to restore this inalienable God-people relationship. This explains why in all the three Synoptic Gospels: Mark, Matthew and Luke, it was emphasized that when Jesus had breathed his last, the curtain in the temple which separated the congregation and the Holy (the Holy symbolized the presence of God) was torn into two from top to bottom (Mk 15:37// Mt 27:51// Lk 23:45).
Jesus had reconciled all humanity to God. So the Gospel of Jesus, first and foremost, as Paul called it, is the Gospel of Reconciliation (II Cor 5:19). This Gospel does not only say that we are not in servitude to the Law; but because of our genuine relationship to the living God, our life is very precious. Or to put it in another way, the Gospel of Reconciliation says that no matter who I am or whatever I have done, I am accepted by God!
This is what the story we read this morning, the story of the woman who caught in adultery, all about. This story as recorded only in John (or rather only in some manuscripts in John) is not about whether adultery was permissible. It is not even about how Jesus avoided the adulterous woman being stoned to death. But it is about how Jesus accepted the woman even though she was despised by the whole society. Moreover, this story is about how Jesus enabled the transformation of the lives of the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees as well as the crowd. When Jesus confronted them by saying that “whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the stone at her” (10:7), they finally realized that they were all sinners one way or the other, so they left one by one. I believe the scribes, the Pharisees, as well as the crowd had not only accepted the woman, but had also come to terms with their own life as well.
We often feel a sense of deep alienation. We feel that we are separated from our loved ones. We feel that we have difficulty even to accept ourselves. We have these feelings because we are alienated from God. Therefore we need to hear once again and accept the Gospel of Reconciliation. God has reconciled himself to us through Jesus Christ. We are totally accepted: accepted just as we are. Our life is precious. Thus there is no way we cannot accept ourselves, our relatives, friends and colleagues.
Coming back to the Gospel of Reconciliation, it is never cheap. Jesus Christ had to die on the cross so that this reconciliation could take peace. The cross is the demarcation between Judaism and Christianity. To the Jews and non-believers, the cross is nonsense or scandalous; but to us Christians, it is the power of God, so says Paul (I Cor 1:18; 22).
However, the cross was never the end. The cross was to be followed by the empty tomb. Jesus’ crucifixion was followed immediately by his resurrection. This was the core of the Apostolic Preaching. The Acts of the Apostles recorded five sermons by Peter in chapters 2, 3, 4, 5 and 10; and one sermon by Paul in chapter 13. The central message of these six sermons was exactly the same: “God has raised Jesus from death” (2:31; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40 and 13:30).
The Cross and the Empty tomb are two sides of the same coin. The Cross is in vain if there is no resurrection. Likewise, the empty tomb is not possible without Jesus’ sacrificial love.
It is extremely rare that all the four gospels narrated Jesus’ teaching in the same manner, using almost exact wording. But Jesus’ teaching about the mystery of life is an exception.
“For whosoever wants to save his life will lose it. But whosoever loses his life for me and for the Gospel will save it” (Mk 8:35-36// Mt 16:25-26// Lk 9:24-25// Jn 12:24-25).
Superficially, this is a striking contradiction. But when we think over this slightly deeper, it is not too hard to comprehend. If I am only concerned about myself, it is unavoidable that I shall reduce all my attention only to my life and my well being, forgetting there is a whole wide world outside me.
Early this month, one of the richest woman in Asia died. She was 70. I could imagine that she was not a happy person. In the past decade, she was involved in a lengthy legal battle with her father-in-law over her late husband’s estate. I was told that she almost secluded herself in her office cum living quarters at the flag office tower of her conglomerate in East Tsim Sha Tsui. Except a handful of senior colleagues, she saw no one, including her very close relatives. Outside her work and essential engagements, she did nothing. Despite she was rich and was in control of a huge business empire which worth at least 30 billion HK dollars, her life was very poor by any standards. She was isolated from people. She was extremely lonely indeed. It seems her problems are not yet over and that she cannot rest in peace following the cremation of her body. Another legal battle over who can inherit her wealth is now looming. This was what Jesus meant when he said, “Does a person gain anything if he wins the whole world but loses his life? (Mk 8:36// Mt 16:26// Lk 9:25).
Today, with very few exceptions, people live and work for themselves only. The dominant mindset of the day is “everybody for himself”. There was an old Chinese saying, “人不為己，天誅地滅”or “if people do not seek for their own interests and benefits, heaven and earth will destroy them”. Unfortunately this has become a truism in this post-modern world.
But this is contrary to what Jesus preached. Jesus preached the Gospel of Renunciation, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.”(Mk 8:34, NJ.B// Mt 16:24// Lk 9:23).
We now live in a rather chaotic or even horrid world. We are worried about our own safety or safety of our children constantly; we worry about our job, our career, our growing up children as well as their education and so on. When we look around, it is even more scary. Almost daily we hear about immense human suffering due to natural disasters or senseless killings. The latter does not only take place in war zones in Iraq and Darfar, Sudan, but also in the sanctuaries of learning. We were all shocked by the mass murder of Virginia Tech ten days ago… It seems that we are living in a hopeless world. Not quite. This is the message of Prophet Jeremiah of the 6th century B.C.E. In the year 586, Jerusalem was overturned and many Jews were deported to Babylon. Once again the Jews were dispersed. In the midst of extreme harsh realities, this was in part Jeremiah’s message of comfort:
“so do not be afraid,
do not be alarmed,
declared Lord God.
For I am with you to save you.
As history unfolded, God’s promise through Jeremiah was fulfilled some 30 years later.
God’s promise also applies to us to-day. No matter how harsh our situations, how long our difficulties last, God will be with us and save us.
To assure us of this promise there is always hope against hope, God sent his only son only to be crucified on a cross. There is nothing like this in all of human history. Let me paraphrase the very end of Jesus’ farewell discourse with his disciples (as found in Jn 14-16): Jesus’ sacrificial love has defeated all evil forces in the world.
To-day, Churches and Christians throughout the world want to put evangelism as their priority in mission. They all believe what Paul had said, “I am under the orders to preach the Gospel. I should be in trouble if I failed to do so.” (I Cor. 9:16). But what gospel do they preach? The Gospel of Jesus Christ which is the Gospel of Reconciliation through Renunciation or the Gospel of personal reward and possession? Oftentimes, our goal to do evangelism is to fill our pews with more people. However, the Gospel of Jesus Christ demands us to become like Jesus. Jesus’ Gospel is never the gospel of success and the expansion in quantity. It has nothing to do with the increase in numbers and hence the genuine Gospel of Jesus was never popular.
Perhaps the most urgent task now for the historic and universal Church of which KUC is a part is to engage in serious self-evangelism. We all need to re-learn the Gospel of Jesus Christ through in-depth Bible studies and through the sharing of our reflections on our life experiences. The core of the Christian Gospel is about life, our life as well as Jesus’ life. In order to preach the Gospel, we have to become like Jesus. Jesus taught his disciples always by example. In teaching them the new commandment of love, Jesus humbly washed his disciples’ feet. He took up the cross in Golgotha to demonstrate what his Gospel was all about: “For the Son of Man himself came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:45// Mt 20:28// Lk 22:27).
Glory be to God, to Jesus Christ and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Who was Jesus?
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 22nd April 2007 by Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Micah 5:2-7 and Matthew 4:23-25.
Two Sundays ago, we celebrated the resurrection of the crucified Christ. According to the Christian calendar, there are 40 days in the Easter Season. The Church uses this rather long period of Eastertide to reflect on the meaning of Christ’s resurrection, which is the core of the Christian faith. This is to be followed by Christ’s ascension 10 days later; and yet another 10 days later, the Pentecost. Pentecost marked the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Christian Church.
As Christians we need to learn from Jesus Christ and follow his footsteps. In the next five Sundays, I suggest we concentrate to reflect on not only the life and work of Jesus; but also on how we can become like Jesus. So I title this series of sermon: “Become Like Jesus.” The subtitles are: Who was Jesus? What was Jesus’ Gospel? How did Jesus heal? Which side was Jesus on? And why must Jesus come?
Who was Jesus? The Bible, not only the New Testament, but the Old Testament as well gives us ample information about who was Jesus Christ. From these Biblical materials, most Christians, to-day and yesterday, liberals and conservatives, conclude that Jesus is our Saviour and Lord (Lk 2:11). But in reality, regarding the life of Jesus, all four Gospels only provide us a lot of information about Jesus’ ministry, but surprisingly little about the life of Jesus prior to his ministry in Galilee.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Joseph was his father and Mary, his mother. Only Matthew and Luke told the story of Jesus’ birth. However, they are remarkably different. While Luke emphasized on Jesus’ humility (he was born in a manger; and shepherds were the first witnesses), Matthew described Jesus as King (2:6 quoting Micah 5:2). Three learned men from the East came all the way to worship him. King Herod was terribly upset about it. So he ordered the slaughter of all babies under the age of two in and around Bethlehem. Baby Jesus escaped because his parents had brought him to Egypt. This was in line with what Hosea of the 8th century BCE prophesied: “out of Egypt I called my son”. To the Jewish people, Egypt was the place where they all started. While in Egypt they were oppressed and exploited. They were slaves and had no identity of themselves. They believed that out of mercy, God sent Moses to lead them out of Egypt – the land of bondage. This then became a symbol of God’s salvation. This was not only the faith of the Jewish people, but the faith of us Christians too! We believe God always delivers us, in God’s own way, from our difficult situations. Yes, we constantly face harsh realities, but there is always a ‘beyond”.
Jesus was a carpenter’s son (Mt 13:55// Mk 6:3). Only Luke related one episode of Jesus’ youth in 2:41-52. His parents had brought him to the temple in Jerusalem to worship. Jesus stayed behind and used the occasion to debate intelligently with a group of Jewish teachers. His parents got worried for they had lost touch with him for three days. They were amazed not only to find out that Jesus was so versatile about the Jewish Law and the Prophets, but were even more perplexed when Jesus answered them, “why did you look for me? Don’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” (2:49). Luke inserted the following after the Temple episode: “Jesus grew both in body and in wisdom, gaining favour with God and men.” (2:52). Jesus is a role model for young people to-day!
Jesus was a Jew, a very pious and learned Jew. Later, both Mark and Matthew described Jesus’ teaching had made a deep impression on the people “because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority (Mk 1:22; Mt 7:28).
Jesus was the Messiah. This was to fulfill the Old Testament prophesies by all major prophets about God’s Messianic promise (such as Micah 5:2, Is 9:6, etc.). In order to confirm that Jesus was the Messiah, the Gospel of John especially gave Jesus seven titles with Messianic overtones, namely: John the Baptist called Jesus “the Lamb of God” (1:29); Andrew called him “the Messiah” (1:41); Nathaniel: The Son of God and the King of Israel (1:49) as well as “the Son of Man” (1:51); the Samaritan woman, “the Savour of the world” (4:42) and finally from two blind persons, “Lord” (6:68; 9:38).
All four Gospels told the story of Jesus baptism. The Synoptics especially stated that after John the baptizer baptised Jesus, there was a voice from Heaven, saying, “This is my beloved son of whom I am pleased.” (Mk 1:11; Mt 3:17; Lk 3:22). This verse has both the overtone of Ps. 2, a royal psalm; as well as the first servant song in II Isaiah (Is. 42:1-4). Jesus came as God’s “chosen servant”. This was the form and style of the Messiah, a big contrast to the expectations of the Jewish people at the time. For these people had hoped all along that the Messiah was to deliver them from the rigid rule of the Romans.
The Gospel of Matthew described Jesus as a rabbi of the rabbis. As a teacher of the Law, Jesus came to make the Law more complete in its meaning and implications. This was what Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to do away with the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets. I have not come to do away with them, but to make their teachings come true.” (Mt 5:17).
In reality, Jesus came to reinterpret the Law and the prophets. As we all know the main job of the Jewish rabbis was to explain the Law and the Jewish cannon to the common people. But oftentimes in order to assert their authority they would reinforce the literal interpretation of a particular law rather than dealing with the spirit and deeper meaning of the law. For example, most of the rabbis expected the Jewish people to stop work of all kinds on Sabbath. These included to get something to eat in the fields or to heal the sick. This is what the stories as recorded in Mk 2:23-3:5 all about. But here Jesus emphasized on the spirit rather than the letter of the law. He did not think allowing his hungry disciples to get something to eat from the field or his own healing of the sick on Sabbath violated the 4th commandment, i.e. to observe the Sabbath (Ex 20:8-11). This was how Jesus re-interpreted the 4th commandment: “The Sabbath was made for the good of man; man was not made for the Sabbath. Moreover, the son of Man is the Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mk 3:27-28). In this re-interpretation, Jesus liberated people from any bondage, even the Law, rather than allow people be bound by legalism.
Yes, in Matthew, Jesus’ teaching in ethics was considered to be extremely radical. Through his teaching about the Brother (5:21-26); the Woman (5:27-30; 31-32); on truthfulness (5:33-37); on revenge (5:38-42); and on the enemy (5:43-48), Jesus demanded the absolute: “anyone who looks at a woman and wants to possess her is guilty of committing adultery with her in his heart” 5:28)…; “if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too” (5:39)…” etc. Jesus demanded all this for a simple reason; for “you must be perfect – just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (5:48). We are all too concerned with maintaining good relationships with other people; but Jesus asked us to be concerned first of all our relationship with God; for only when we are connected to God can we have meaningful relationship with other people. In other words, all ethics should be built on theo-ethics. Only when ethics is built on a solid foundation can it be more meaningful and long lasting.
Matthew liked to use the following as a summary statement about Jesus’ ministry, “Jesus went all over Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the good news about the Kingdom, and healing people who had all kinds of disease and sickness (4:23, also 9:35). From these verses, we know that Jesus was extremely busy. Yet his business was not because he wanted to build up his career or “his ministry”. He did nothing of the sort for his benefit. Rather, Jesus did all this to help the people who are in need, physically, mentally and spiritually. Thus Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the most prominent theologians of the last century labelled Jesus as “a man for others.”
Thus far, what have we learned about Jesus?
Jesus Christ our Lord is not an abstract idea. Jesus came to this world as a Jew. He had high regard of Judaism, his own cultural and religious roots. Yet he was never a traditionist. But out of his respect for traditions, he was able to transform them. Furthermore, building on the traditional core values, in his teaching and his entire ministry, he was able to serve the whole humankind.
Likewise, all of us have to learn how to treasure our heritage. At Kowloon Union Church, we are truly an international community. We are from Africa, Asia, Oceana, Europe and North America respectively. The question is how can we share our rich cultural gifts with others? For instance I am a Chinese. Chinese are characterized by their filial piety and the respect of their elders. It was from all this that I learned how to honour and worship God.
When I was a theological student at Yale, I came to know a Nigerian student real well. His name is Mudope Oduyaye. He was a scholar. He was also a very good drummer. He told me that Africans were very good in drums and dances. As a result they were well-versed with the rhythms of life. Every culture has tremendous gifts. What is yours to contribute?
Talk about religious heritage. We are Christians. Yet from our narrow-mindedness and outlook, it doesn’t seem like that the God we follow is the God of all history as well as the God of the oikoumene. Indeed one of the biggest problems for Christians to-day is that we have defined God in the way we want God to be. J.B. Philip’s book “Your God Is Too Small” is an apt description of our state of mind. We are rigid, dominant and exclusive. Many Christians today still consider people who follow other living faiths as evil. That explains why Christians all over the world are so eager to engage in “evangelism” which is defined as to convert people into Christians. Many Christians are even prepared to fight a “religious” war in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the same manner, many of us would undertake vicious attacks on our fellow Christians whose beliefs and practice are slightly different from ours. Do we really believe the God we follow is the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob (Ex 3:17), i.e. the Lord of all history; and God is also the God of all humankind. This is what the ancient psalmists acclaimed, “The world and all that is in it belong to Lord God; the earth and all who live on it are God’s.” (Ps. 24:1).
Over the centuries, Christians have launched many wars on the Jews. Anti-Semitism was not just the making of Hitler and the Nazis. It was in the blood of many leading European Christians. The Roman Catholic Church admitted that they were wrong in their teachings regarding the Jews only a decade ago.
We inherit rich religious thoughts from Judaism. The Jewish sages had taught us all about Monotheism and the absolute relationship between God and human beings. God is our God and we are God’s people. This indeed was one of the greatest gems of the classical prophets like Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc. as well as the ancient Holiness Code as found in Leviticus 17-26.
Coming back to Jesus. Jesus did not come from a rich and well-educated background. In fact, he encountered hardships all his life: from the time he was a baby to the time when he was hung on a cross. But because of his love and persistence, he was able to overcome every “mishap”. Likewise, all the problems we had in the past have made us the people we are; and whatever the situations we face now, we can defeat them if we have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus once said, “Everything is possible for one who has faith” (Mk 9:24) “because for God everything is possible” (Mk 10:27). So let us decide once again to follow Jesus and learn from him. For this is the only way to go forward and live a life full of meaning and purpose.
“Christ is Risen”
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on 8th April 2007, Easter Day, by Rev. Kwok Nai Wang. The scripture readings that day were Ezekiel 37:1-14 and Mark 16:1-8.
Praise the Lord, Christ is Risen!
He is risen indeed!
This was a typical greeting for the early Christians centuries ago. Yes, for them this was the most important faith response. For without the Risen Christ, there would not be any Christian Church; and our faith in God would become meaningless.
Let us go back to the Gospel lesson we just heard. It was probably the earliest written record about the story of the Empty Tomb, which signified the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
First, it was recorded that when the Sabbath was over, three women, Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of Jesus; and Salome brought spices to go to anoint the body of Jesus who was crucified and laid to rest in that tomb. The only worry they had as they walked towards the tomb was that: who would roll back the big stone so that they could enter the tomb to minister Jesus’ body? But alas, when they arrived at the tomb, the stone was already rolled back. So with a sense of awe, they went into the tomb. They were even more alarmed once they were inside because they were told by “a young man sitting on the right wearing a white robe” (presumably where the body was supposed to be laid), that Jesus has been raised!
First, the stone blocking the tomb where the body of Jesus was laid was, “a very large stone” (it was specially added in the Gospel of Mark). It was rolled away. A rolled away stone is a tremendous symbol. Only when that stone was rolled away, would Jesus’ resurrection become real. Without the rolling away of the stone, there would not be an empty tomb and the women could not go in to witness that the crucified Jesus has been risen.
I served in a parish church in Shek Kip Mei resettlement area in the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. The new church building was under construction when I arrived in 1966. It was built on a big rock (Shek in Chinese means rock – that was why the area was named Shek Kip Mei, the edge or the end of a big rock). While that Church was built, a new road was also cut from that rock so that there was an approach road to the Church from both Shek Kip Mei and Tai Hang Tung resettlement areas. Ten years later, the big rock was dug or drilled again. This time it was for the construction of the Mass Transit Railway and the Shek Kip Mei MTR station. A stone was cut back so that a new linking road, new buildings; a church and a high school adjacent to it, as well as the MTR could be built.
There was such a report. Soon after the Second World War, a famous British botanist found many small plants and flowers from the rubbles on both sides of the River Thames. By one count, there were about 500 different kinds of plants and flowers which have never been found in those areas before. The theory was that over the past three centuries, both banks of River Thames were so heavily built that the fertile soil along the River was covered totally by concrete, bricks and stones that it became impossible for any small plants and flowers to grow.
Stone rolled away is a tremendous symbol of giving birth to new life. Would it be true that oftentimes our life is blocked by “stones” of many different types that our kindness, smile and generosity are covered up. We need to have the audacity to remove or roll away these stones which are our selfishness, self-righteousness and self-deceit. Indeed our fear and insecurity often hinder us from living a life of happiness and fulfillment.
The Easter story was also about how the women, the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection reacted: they were “alarmed” (Vs. 5), “distressed” and “terrified” as well as “afraid” (Vs. 8). Mary Madalene; Mary, the mother of Jesus and Salome were alarmed, distressed, terrified and afraid because they were not prepared to face new situations. They expected the crucified Jesus to be laid to rest; but Jesus was not there. Furthermore, they were told that Jesus has been risen. This was shocking to them because this radical change, from a dead person to a risen Christ, had taken place. This was far more than they even expected or dreamt of.
We too are afraid of changes. We would rather have things we are accustomed to, though they may be far from ideal.
My father lived a long life, four months short of 96 years. He did not like overnight travels. He had never been on an airplane all his life. He told me the reason why he did not like to leave home was because he could not sleep in another bed other than his own at home. He firmly believed a Chinese saying that “the emperor’s bed is not as comfortable as the dog’s pan.”
“Newsweek” once labelled me a social critic in Hong Kong. In reality I criticized the established Church in Hong Kong much more than the Hong Kong government or the big business tycoons. To me, the biggest problem of the Church in Hong Kong is that it followed an extra commandment, i.e. “Don’t rock the boat, play it safe.” Indeed Christians and Church leaders in Hong Kong are too afraid to change and facing changes. Invariably they always try their best to maintain the status quo, despite deep down in their hearts, they know Hong Kong is far from being a just, participatory and sustainable society and that there is a Christian moral responsibility for them to do something about it.
New possibilities, new perspectives and new life can only come about when we dare to face change. I have seen how a chicken struggled to break through an egg shell and come to life.
Which leads me to the centre of my sermon this morning. The Easter Story is finally about our Lord Jesus Christ who has risen from the dead. Can you imagine two days ago Jesus was mocked, beaten and nailed on a cross. Moreover, he did not die instantly on the cross. According to the Scriptures he was left there for a good three to six hours before he breathed his last (Mt. 27:45-50; Mk 15:33-37; Lk 23:44-46). We can imagine the pain Jesus had to bear. After he died, his body was placed on a rich person’s burial ground. He was finally laid to rest in peace or R.I.P. His body could then enjoy some peace after so much suffering and pain. It must not be easy for Jesus to decide to carry his disfigured body, full of bruises and pain to get up and walk out of the tomb. It required a great deal of courage. But Jesus did. Moreover, I am sure Jesus did not do it for himself. Rather he did it so that he could fulfill God’s plan of bringing ultimate salvation for all people.
In the summer of 1965, I did field education in several camps around Denver and Salt Lake City. Naturally, my host minister drove me to see the Grand Canyon in Arizona. It was a stunning view as we looked towards the North side of the Canyon. I asked my host how we could see the Canyon from the North side as well. He told me that the only way to cross the Canyon was to ride a donkey down to the bottom of the Canyon and then went up on the other side. It would take hours. As I had no intention of going through that long, hot and tough donkey ride, I missed seeing the full picture of the Grand Canyon.
Jesus’ crucifixion and his determination to follow God’s will has led to his resurrection. The empty tomb was possible only when there was the cross and sheer determination.
Of all the Christian doctrines, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is probably the most difficult for Christians to understand. It is because we have only myopic or tunnel vision. Spiritual and eternal things have little meaning for us.
Ostriches cannot run very fast. When they were being chased is a dessert or the wilderness, they would bury their heads inside the sand or the dirt, thinking that since they cannot see anything, the poachers cannot see them as well. So they are safe.
Praise the Lord, Christ is risen. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, our life too, can be transferred. This is what Apostle Paul said, “If anyone is in Christ, he/she is a new being (or a new creation); the old has passed away; behold the new has come”. (II Cor. 5:18). To be “in Christ” means more than to understand Christ – his crucifixion and resurrection and his determination to follow God’s will. The word understand is composed with two words “under” and “stand”. When we reverse these two words, they become “to stand under”. We need to remind ourselves constantly that we need to stand under Jesus, i.e. to practice and preach what we believe in or to vouchsafe what we believe in with our whole life, so to speak.
The original form of the Gospel of Mark ended with verse 8 in chapter 16. However, later the Gospel composers considered the resurrection story could not end with the women perplexed and afraid. So verses 9-20 were added. This later interpolation was in line with the other gospels. The women and later the disciples who had heard about Jesus’ resurrection from the women did not believe in the beginning (repeated 4 times in verses 11, 13 and twice in 14). But in the end, all their lives were also transformed by Jesus. This is how the Gospel of Mark as we have to-day ends “The disciples went and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and proved that their preaching was true by the miracles they performed.” (Mk 16:20) The lives of Jesus’ disciples were radically transformed : from unfaith to faithfulness.
Just as a cocoon is being changed or metamorphosed into a colourful butterfly, Christ has risen from the dead and changed the course of human history. Because of this, all our lives have the possibility to be transformed into a life full of meaning and purpose as well.
Praise the Lord, Christ is Risen.
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Archived sermons by the Barksdales