Saturday, March 22, 2008

After Jesus Died

Last year (2007) at the Good Friday service, my pastor challenged us to meditate over Friday night and Saturday about what it would be like to be in Jerusalem after Jesus died, keeping in mind that during those two days people did not yet know the rest of the story, that Jesus would rise from the dead.

I took him up on that challenge, and wrote from four different points of view: Mary (the sister of Jesus' friend Lazarus), the apostle Peter, an anonymous bystander, and a Roman soldier who was at the crucifixion.

Here is what I wrote:

Mary (Lazarus' sister)

What a Passover this has been! Martha and I have had so much preparation to do. This year’s celebration meant so much more than in the past. We’ve had so many blessings!

When our brother Lazarus died, we hoped Jesus would be there to say good-bye before we had to bury him. Those two had always been such good friends. Martha and I even sent someone to find Jesus to tell him that Lazarus was dying, but he didn’t come right away. And when he did arrive, it was too late. We had already buried my brother.

My sister was very gracious to the Teacher when he arrived to our home. But not me. I couldn’t help but think that if he had been here sooner, Lazarus would still be alive. After all, he gave sight to a man who was blind from birth; he gave life to Jairus’ little girl who had died; surely he could have saved the life of a sick friend whom he loved dearly. When he got here, I could see the sadness in his eyes. In fact, he did what I’ve seen few men ever do. He wept. When I took him to the tomb where we placed Lazarus, he asked something most sane men wouldn’t ask. He wanted the stone rolled back. Is he a mad man? Jesus’ friend - my brother - died four days ago! Doesn’t he realize how bad it will smell? And what does Jesus think he can do now anyway? Make Lazarus get up and walk?!?

But that’s exactly what he did. All Jesus had to do was speak. “Lazarus, come out!” And out comes my brother, walking! Laz was dead - there was no question - so we knew it wasn’t trickery. And a madman couldn’t bring a dead man back to life, especially after that much time!

I remember the first time Jesus came to the house. Martha is such the homemaker. She had to make sure everything was perfect for our guest. But I couldn’t help but sit at the Teacher’s feet and take in every word from him. Martha couldn’t stand it. She even asked Jesus to send me back to the kitchen! Do you know what he said? “Martha, Martha," my Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

But it was taken away from us. Jesus is dead. He did what only God could do with Lazarus, but couldn’t save himself. His mother and the other Mary anointed him and buried him, just like Martha and I did with Lazarus.

When Jesus first arrived at our home after we buried Lazarus, he said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” I could believe in that when Jesus was here.

I don’t know what to believe any more.

I’m thinking I should get a new boat. Not that there’s anything wrong with this one. I’ve had some pretty zany experiences with Jesus on this boat. But now, my Lord is … dead. I never thought it would happen. Not like this.

I remember the first time Jesus noticed me. It was about three years ago. I was on this same boat, cleaning my fishing nets. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men!” I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant by that, but I was ready to find out. I knew that there was something different about him, and it was something I wanted, even longed for.

He loved people, more than he loved himself, it seems. A while back, The Twelve, as we’re sometimes called, were with Jesus by the Sea of Galilee. We spent most of that day being followed by throngs of people, many of them wanting to be healed. And Jesus healed a lot of people that day. We tried to get away to a mountainside, just to get some rest from all the activity. That didn’t last long. Next thing we know, there must have been at least 5,000 people starting to settle on the mountainside around us. So, what does Jesus do next? He asks us where we can get food for the crowd. I’m stunned. What is this? The world’s biggest picnic? I don’t say anything. Philip tells him that even if there were a market close by, it would cost eight months salary to even begin to feed them, and we just don’t have that kind of money on us. My brother Andrew points to a kid in the front. “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Well, you’ve probably heard the rest of the story. It really was the World’s Biggest Picnic!

That wasn’t the only time Jesus did the “impossible.” I don’t even think the word was in his vocabulary. He did unheard of things like walking on water, and turning water into wine at a big wedding. He changed a lot of people‘s lives. And I’ll never forget the time he took John, James and me to the mountaintop, and the three of us stood and watched while Jesus actually had a conversation with Moses and Elijah! That moment was so incredible, I haven’t been able to talk to anyone about it to this day!

He had a kind of “sixth sense” about him. He kept talking about things that were to come, foretelling the future. But as I look back at this past week, he seemed to be acting kind of strange. It’s as if he knew all along what would happen. Especially at dinner in the Upper Room last night. He predicted who would betray him. He knew he would be executed. And, this one I still find hard to believe. He even knew that I would deny him -- three times -- before morning! I said I would die for him. And I turned my back on him. I feel so ashamed.

I know that Jesus was the Son of God. I’ve seen to much to believe otherwise.

I only wish he were still alive so I could tell him how sorry I am for not taking a stand for him.

Today the Romans had a triple crucifixion. Seems they were particularly brutal with the guy in the middle. I was kind of hoping it was Barabbas, but it wasn’t. In fact, I heard that they had let that murdering thief go, so that the religious leaders could do something about that Jesus guy.

Now, I’m not a big fan of the Pharisees. Don’t get me wrong… I’m a Jew, and I believe in God and the Law and all, but I haven’t been in the temple since I was a kid. I’ve done some pretty bad stuff, and I don’t really see the point of going if all the priests and rabbis are going to do is tell me I’m unclean because of my sins.

But I have heard Jesus talk on one or two occasions. One time I was in this huge crowd of people where he was teaching. He obviously understood the Law. He taught it with common sense, a compassion, in a way that I have never heard a rabbi teach before. Things like love your enemies. Settle matters between you and someone you have wronged before offering your sacrifice at the altar. Don’t be showy when you pray or fast or give to the poor, but do it privately. And that doesn’t even begin to cover what he taught that day! And this guy practiced what he preached, too. You don’t see Pharisees doing that. Heck, that High Priest Caiaphas even falls short of the Law that we’re expected to follow.

Yet Jesus wasn’t arrogant. He would go to folks like prostitutes and tax collectors. He’d even go to their homes for dinner. Now, like I said, I’ve done some bad stuff, but even I won’t hang out with tax collectors. They rob you blind in broad daylight – imagine what they’d try to do to you in private! Except for Zaccheus. Ever since Zaccheus met up with Jesus, he stopped cheating the taxpayers. He even repaid them four times what he cheated them! If Jesus could make a tax collector change the way Zaccheus did, maybe he could have done something for me too. I want the kind of new life that Zaccheus has now…

I don’t really follow what Jesus did that was so bad to make the people want to crucify him and let Barabbas go. But it’s too late now. Jesus is dead. And when I look at my life, I feel as though my spirit will always be dead too.

Roman Soldier
I can’t wait to get back to the barracks tonight. With all the duties we have as Roman soldiers, I think crucifixions are the worst. Of the three that we had today, the guy in the middle, Jesus, had it worst. The religious leaders were in a frenzy over him claiming he was King of the Jews. Pilate didn’t see any cause to put Jesus to death. He even did everything he could to free him. But in order to appease the Jews, he sentenced him anyway. And this was after giving him 39 lashes with the cat-of-nine-tails. By the time he was handed over to us to take him to Golgotha, he had already been beaten bloody.

The streets were so crowded. Heads everywhere turned and looked at this man. Many couldn’t believe that this was the same Jesus who taught with such authority and performed all these so-called miracles all week long. Personally, I didn’t get to see any of that for myself. But with so many people here for the Jewish feast, people were talking about him everywhere you went.

After we nailed the hands and feet of Jesus and the other two men, there was still something about Jesus. While some of the other soldiers were casting lots for his clothes, I couldn’t help but look to the crosses. The two men hanging on either side of Jesus were scared. They were dying. Anyone in their position would be scared. At one point, the three seemed to be talking amongst themselves, but I couldn’t hear what was said.

But what I saw was that Jesus seemed to have a sense of purpose, even when he was enduring the agony of his crucifixion. It almost seemed as though he was taking the punishment for someone else. The only reason someone would willingly die for another man is because he loves them more than life itself. But who is Jesus doing this for?