Thursday, April 21, 2011

Where do we go from here?

"Where do we go from here?"

It must have been on the minds of the men who had followed Jesus for three years.  Right in the middle of what would have been something like our Christmas Dinner, Jesus says, "this is my last night on Earth" and then discusses the torturous way that He will die.  And as John put it . . . after His Judas leaves to betray Him, "it was night."

In this room above the street level which was dimly lit by oil lamps everything changed.  It was a holiday, a time to celebrate and feel the warmth of friends and family . . . but this pronouncement brought the night indoors.  It felt dark, cold and unsettling.  I imagine sitting there, stung by this development.  I would have stared at Jesus from across the table, trying to listen to what he was saying about the bread and the wine, but still trying to figure out what tomorrow looks like.  Where do I go from here?

When night is at its full, the officials come to arrest Him . . . and we are powerless to do anything.

"Where do we go from here?"

It is so interesting that this man from Nazareth spent the last three years doing amazing miracles and even raising from the dead and it is all brought to this.  I mean, wouldn't you think that they would have understood what was happening?  Wouldn't they have remembered that Jesus predicted all of this?  Don't you think that this would be the very thing that the followers would have been excited about?  It is through this arrest that we will see God work, right?

So why did Jesus' followers flee when He was put on trial?  Isn't this precisely what He said would happen?  Some would seize upon this apparent discrepancy to point out the very real possibility that Jesus never predicted His death and resurrection.  That these theological ideas were planted a century later into texts that described the life of Jesus.

Yes, that is a possibility . . . but here is a more likely scenario painted by NT Wright in "Surprised By Hope" (Harper One, Publishers).  Perhaps the very thing that Jesus was talking about was so novel and so different that no one truly understood it.  Perhaps the entire world had never seen or heard of a complete return to life - a resurrection - so no one expected it.  Yes, there were stories of ghosts or resuscitations, but with no examples of a bodily resurrection, there was no expectation of it.  When the followers of Jesus heard Him explain that he would raise from the dead, they took Him figuratively - like at the last judgment - not literally.

In fact, according to Wright, this would have been exactly what they were conditioned to believe - no one returns from the dead and the only time that the dead rise was on the 'last day.'  So of all the likely scenarios, it would have been MOST likely that the followers of Jesus would have reverted to their childhood Sunday school lessons about raising from the dead and lost hope when Jesus was handed over to the authorities and died.

They would have been despondent - "Where do we go from here?"

In fact, it seems like there complete hopelessness is the greatest witness to the truth of the resurrection.  In the words of Wright, they were "surprised by hope."  If they were portrayed in the Gospels as expecting it, we would have reason to be suspicious.  It was in their humanity that we get a glimpse of God's hope for the world.

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