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Chapter Seven THROUGH DEATH TO LIFE

Past and present history gives many shocking examples of man’s cruelty to his fellowmen. In our own experience, in our neighbourhood, in our own family, perhaps, we have seen or suffered from the greed or jealousy or hatred of others.

This and all other evil – racial hatred, corruption, exploitation, cheating the poor, war, moral perversion – all are the fruit of men’s selfishness. It all comes from the worship of self instead of worship of God.

All of us know from the struggle we have felt within ourselves how strong self can be. Especially when it is checked or threatened, self can explode with the violence of a nuclear bomb.

When this is kept in mind, it is not so surprising that Jesus Christ suffered and died such a cruel and horrible death. For He came into this world from His Father for one purpose – He came to give men and women of every age victory over evil, sin, death and self. The forces of evil at once recognized Him as a threat, and as the hatred of some leaders for Him grew, they tried to destroy Him.

Most thoughtful persons have at times the bitter experience of sin in themselves – like the younger son whose story we saw at the beginning of these pages. I know that something is radically wrong with me. But do I dare to hope that there is a remedy for me, as a man in Bombay did who wrote the following letter?

‘Being a sinner, I had to be true to God and myself. I had a feeling that God still loved me and the world, and must have provided for me and my salvation, even though I was a wretched sinner. Then I came across John’s Gospel where he wrote, `God so loved the world that he gave up His only-begotten Son, so that those who believe in Him may not perish, but have eternal life.” We have now seen how far that love for us took Christ.”

A SECOND ADAM

Isaiah the prophet foretold of one who would come to take upon Himself the burden of all our sins.
“Our weakness, and it was He who carried the weight of it,
Our miseries, and it was He who bore them,
A leper, so we thought of Him,
A man God had smitten and brought low,
And all the while it was for our sins He was wounded
It was our guilt that crushed Him down,
On Him the punishment fell that brought us peace,
By His bruises we were healed.

Strayed sheep all of us, each following his own path, and God laid on His shoulders our guilt, the guilt of us all.”(Isaiah 54, 4-12)

Sin had no part in God’s wonderful plan for the human race, as we have seen. But our first parents, Adam and Eve preferred their own self to God. They worshipped their own self instead of God, their Lord and Maker. They brought sin into the world by their disobedience and they planted seeds of sin and disobedience in all of us, their children.

Disobedience brought disaster and death to us human beings. Saint Paul describes how a heroic act of obedience brought back hope to men’s hearts. He shows the contrast between Christ and Adam – how Christ repaired the damage done by Adam:

“Why did Christ, in His own appointed time, undergo death for us sinners, while we were still powerless to help ourselves? It is hard enough to find anyone who will die on behalf of a just man, although perhaps there may be those who will face death for one so deserving. But here, as if God meant to prove how well He loves us, it was while we were still sinners that Christ, in His own appointed time died for us. All the more, surely, then, now that we have found justification through Him, from God’s displeasure.

“Enemies of God, we were reconciled to Him through His Son’s death; reconciled to Him we are surer than ever of finding salvation in His Son’s life. And what is more, we can boast of God’s protection always through our Lord Jesus Christ, since it is though Him that we have gained our reconciliation.”

“Well, then one man (Adam) commits a fault, and it brings condemnation upon all; one man (Christ) makes amends, and it brings to all justification, that is, life. A multitude will become acceptable to God through one man’s obedience, just as a multitude, through one man’s disobedience, became guilty. The law intervened, only to amplify our fault; but, as our fault was amplified, grace has been more amply bestowed than ever; that so, where guilt held its reign of death, justifying grace should reign instead, to bring us eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5, 6-11 and 11-21)

THE VICTORY OF EVIL

It is necessary now to tell a shocking story. It is in fact, the most horrible story ever told – and it is not only a story; it is history. It is the shameful suffering and death of Christ.

Those who wish to read the whole terrible story of Christ’s death can do no better than to read one of the Gospel accounts directly, (one the following: Matthew, chapters 26 and 27; Mark, 14 and 15; Luke, 22 and 23; John, 17, 18 and 19).

Any one of these accounts, read slowly and prayerfully, will reveal the evil and horror of sin. Christ’s suffering and death is the result of sin against God by the men that He had made and loved. Such a reading will also show the love of God for His children. There is no limit to His love for us all - for me. ‘”God so loved the world, that He gave up His only – begotten Son, so that those who believe in Him may not perish, but have eternal life.”

“He through whom the world was made was in the world, and the world treated Him as a stranger. He came to what was His own and they who were His own gave Him no welcome.” Instead they treated Him like a common criminal.

Tragic as this story is, it shows one thrilling truth: God loves me and wants me. I am loved by God – wanted by God Himself. That is my real worth and value.

A BRIEF SKETCH

In these pages, we can only make a brief outline of the two terrible last days of Christ.

We have seen how the religious leaders grew in their hatred for Him, because He uncovered their greed and love for their own privileged positions. Finally, they decided to get rid of this threat to their power over the ordinary people.

They knew one of the close followers of Jesus, a man named Judas. They knew that he had a weakness for money and so, cleverly, they offered him 30 pieces of silver if he would betray Christ into their hands. Judas in his greed, took the money, and Jesus was arrested at night in a garden with His dearest followers running away for fear of their own lives, just at the time when He needed their companionship.

He was brought before the priests; false witnesses were called; He was shamefully spat upon and ridiculed.

Next day, He was dragged before the Roman Governor of Palestine, Pontius Pilate, who saw in his heart that Jesus was innocent. Yet he was afraid to go against the crowd who had been stirred up by the enemies of Christ and were shouting for His blood.

Pilate tried to satisfy them by ordering that Jesus be whipped and scourged until His flesh was cut and torn. When this was not enough, he offered to release a criminal from prison. He gave them the choice between Jesus and Barabbas, a murderer. But they shouted for the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus who had nothing but love for them in His heart.

Finally, when nothing less would satisfy them he ordered Jesus to be crucified – a cruel Roman method of killing criminals by nailing them by the hands and feet to a wooden cross which was planted in the ground.

Lord Jesus Christ, the anointed one, weakened by His ordeal and by the merciless scourging that had cut His flesh to pieces, was forced to drag His cross to Calvary, a small hill outside the city of Jerusalem. Perhaps the most painful moment of the terrible journey was when He met Mary, His loving mother, on the way. Imagine the look that passed between Mother and Son in that moment of anguish.

We can follow the last few hours in the words of Luke’s Gospel: “Two others, who were criminals, were led off with Him to be put to death. And when they reached the place which is named after a skull, they crucified Him there, and also the two criminals, one on His right and the other on His left. Jesus meanwhile was saying, `Father, forgive them; they do not know what it is they are doing.’ And they divided His garments among themselves by lot.

“The people stood by, watching; and the rulers joined them in pouring scorn on Him; `He saved others,’ they said, `if He is the Christ, God’s chosen, let hem save Himself.’ The soldiers, too, mocked Him when they came and offered Him vinegar, by saying, `If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’

“And one of the two thieved who hung there fell to blaspheming against Him: `Save yourself,’ he said, `and us too if you are the Christ.’ But the other rebuked him: “What,’ he said `have you no fear of God when you are undergoing the same sentence? And we justly enough; we receive no more than the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing amiss. Then he said to Jesus, `Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, `I promise you, this day you will be with me in paradise.’

“It was about the sixth hour and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. The sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in the midst; and Jesus said, crying with a loud voice, `Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit,’ and yielded up His spirit as He said it. And the officer, when he saw what happened, gave glory to God: `This,’ he said, `was indeed a just man.’ And the whole multitude of those who stood there watching it, when they saw the issue, went home beating their breast.” (Luke 23, 32-48)

WHY DID CHRIST SUFFER

Graphic as this simple and straight forward account is, we shall miss the point of Jesus’ suffering and death, if we fail to see the divine motive behind it. Jesus’ death was not brought about solely by the blind hatred and wily scheming of His professed enemies. Nor is He to be pitied as the passive victim of man’s malice. All these factors no doubt contributed to His death. But they do not completely explain it.

Jesus knowingly and willingly went to His death. It was part of His Father’s divine plan to save man, to save you and me. Like the perfect Son, Jesus followed this plan closely and translated it into His life day by day till He finally fulfilled it – to the bitter end – on the cross crying out : “IT IS FINISHED.”

That is why the gospels show Jesus literally walking to His death. The Gospel of St. Luke says: “As the time approached when He was to be taken up to heaven He set His face resolutely towards Jerusalem, and sent messengers ahead.” He was going to Jerusalem with a purpose. There was no changing of His mind. He brushed aside the warnings of His timid disciples. He knew fully well what awaited Him in Jerusalem. “We are going to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be given up to the chief priests and the doctors of the law; they will condemn Him to death and hand Him over to the foreign power to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and on the third day, he will be raised to life again” (St. Matthew, ch. 20, 18-19). St. Luke and St. Mark repeat these words with a few verbal variations (St. Luke, ch. 18, 31; St. Mark, ch. 10, 32).

His death was to be fruitful; it would give life to many. Like the grain of wheat it had to die on order to bear a rich harvest. By His crucifixion, Jesus would draw all men to Himself: “And I shall draw all men to myself when I am lifted up” (John 12, 32).

This loving design, this divine purpose must be kept in mind when we consider the suffering and death of Jesus. As St. John expresses it; “Jesus knew that His hour had come and He must leave this world and go to the Father. He had always loved His own who were in the world, and now He was to show the full extent of His love.” How fully Jesus showed this love for us men is seen in the story of the passion we have just read.

Now we can pause here quietly and prayerfully reflect on a few statements of Saint Paul:

“Christ never knew sin and God Made Him into sin for us, so that in Him we might be turned into the holiness of God”. (2 Corinth. 5, 21).

“You do not need to be reminded how gracious our Lord Jesus Christ was; how He made Himself poor for your sakes, when He was rich, so that you might become rich through His poverty”. (2 Corinth. 8, 9)

“Who can be our adversary, if God is on our side? He did not even spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all; and must not that gift be accompanied by the gift of all else? Who will come forward to accuse God’s chosen ones, when God acquits us? Who will pass sentence against us, when Jesus Christ who died, may, has risen again and sits at the right hand of God, is pleading for us? Who will affliction, or distress, or persecution, or hunger, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? In all this we are victorious, through Him who has given us His love” (Romans 8, 31 ff).

MY SUFFERING AND DEATH

It is worth the effort to try to MEET JESUS in His sufferings. It can be a truly soul-stirring experience that can make a tremendous difference to a man’s or a woman’s whole life.

The truth is that each of us has his or her own sufferings in life, his or her own cross to carry. And one day, each of us will die. Suffering and death are the story of everyone. There is no escape.

I can change my suffering and death into a precious prayer and offering, if I can offer them to God the Father, in and with Christ, His Son. I can offer my life and death to God as a gift – offering to atone for my sins. And I can be sure that He will accept my offering if I make it sincerely.

If you can do that with faith and confidence in God’s great love for you, you will find it a rich experience.

If you can do it sincerely, why not try? You have nothing to lose. You can make your offering in the depths of you own heart. Perhaps the following words may help.

MY OFFERING

O God! my Father, remembering how Christ you Son offered His suffering and death to you, I now try to offer my suffering, my life, and my death to you.
You are my Father, I am a sinner.
Accept my life and my death as You accepted your Son’s.
Make me Your son / daughter again.

NEW LIFE

We left our story with Jesus Christ nailed to a cross and pouring out the last drop of His blood as a gift to His Father for sinful men. He has offered His totally unselfish self for my selfish self.

Is that the end of His story? If it were, then I may weep for Christ. I may admire His love and generosity. But that would be the end of it. No one would be very anxious to follow a man put to death on a cross, hanging between two ordinary criminals.

If the cross is the end, then Jesus Christ is an interesting figure of human history, but that is all.

And that leads us to the most vital part of our adventure to MEET JESUS. So if you are interested in something more than `studying’ a religion, as you would study mathematics or geography, then it would be good to pause here and ask God to give you His special light to see where the truth lies.

It is not easy to believe what follows. Yet having come this far in the experience of MEETING JESUS, it would be sad not to keep an open mind. No one is trying to force or deceive the reader. All that is asked is an open mind, not one that is closed and decided before seeing the evidence.

FRIGHTENED MEN

Jesus had called a small band of men to be His special followers and trained them in a special way during the three years that He preached and went about doing good. They were to carry on His work when He returned to His Father, but during the last terrible day of His life they proved great failures.

One of them sold Him to His enemies for 30 pieces of silver; another, Peter, denied that he ever knew Christ, and the rest ran for their lives when He was arrested. They made a very sorry picture. But they were not afraid to admit it themselves later. One of them, John, described them after Christ’s death. And he also described a most unexpected event that happened while they were trembling inside locked doors:

“And now it was evening on the same day, the first day of the week; for fear of the Jews, the disciples had locked the doors of the room in which they had assembled and Jesus came and stood there in their midst. `Peace be upon you,’ He said. And with that He showed them his hands and His side which had been pierced with a lance. Thus the disciples saw the Lord and were glad. Once more Jesus said to them, `Peace be upon you; I came upon an errand from my Father, and now I am sending you out in my turn.’ With that, He breathed on them, and said to them: `Receive the Holy Spirit; when you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven, when you hold them bound, they are held bound.’

“There was one of the twelve, Thomas, who is also called Didymus, who was not with them when Jesus came. And when the other disciples told him, `We have seen the Lord,’ he said to them, `Until I have seen the mark of the nails in His hands, until I have put my finger into the mark of the nails and put my hand into His side, you will never make me believe.’

“So eight days afterwards, once more the disciples were within, and Thomas was with them; and the doors were locked. Jesus came and stood there in their midst: `Peace be upon you,’ He said. Then He said to Thomas, `Let me have you finger; see, here are my hands. Let me have you hand: put it into my side. Cease you doubting, and believe.’ Thomas exclaimed in answer, `You are my Lord and my God!’

“And Jesus said to him, `You have learned to believe, Thomas, because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have learned to believe.” (John 20, 19-21)

Certainly it is not easy to believe this story of the Resurrection of Christ. It is necessary also to read the reports of His other appearances after this time (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20 and 21) and then to judge whether they sound authentic or fraudulent. It is also necessary to see the difference made by this unexpected event on His followers. It was something more than mere imagination that changed them from the trembling group locked behind doors for fear of their lives, into the fearless men described in the Acts of the Apostles.

These same men began to preach in the very streets where Christ had been arrested and dragged off to His death. They were arrested and brought before the rulers who threatened them with death if they continued to preach. But they simply answered:

“Judge for yourselves whether it would be right for us, in the sight of God, to listen to your voice instead of God’s. It is impossible for us to refrain from speaking of what we have seen and heard.’ And they after threatening them further, let them go; they could find no means of punishing them, because all the people were exclaiming at the astonishing circumstances of what had happened.” (Acts 4, 19-21)

THE MAIN QUESTION

Like the disciples a man’s attitude to Christ depends entirely on whether or not he believes in the Resurrection and its deep meaning. Saint Paul put it strongly:

“If the dead do not rise, then Christ has not risen either; and if Christ has not risen, then our preaching is groundless, and your faith too is groundless. Worse still, we are convicted of giving false testimony about God; we bore God witness that He had raised Christ up from the dead. He has not raised Him up if it is true that the dead do not rise again.”

“If the dead, I say, do not rise, then Christ has not risen, either: and if Christ has not risen, all your faith is a delusion; you are back in your sins. It follows too that those who have gone to their rest in Christ have been lost. If the hope we have learned to repose in Christ belongs to this world only, then we are unhappy beyond all other men.”

“But no, Christ has risen from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep; a man had brought us death and a man should bring us resurrection from the dead; just as all have died with Adam, so with Christ all will be brought to life. But each must rise in his own rank; Christ is the first-fruit, and after Him follow those who belong to Him, those who have put their trust in His return” (I Corinth. 15, 13-24).

SHARING THE NEW LIFE

One day while He was teaching His followers – before His death – Jesus had said : Believe me when I tell you this; a grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die, or else it remains nothing more than a grain of wheat; but if it dies then it yields rich fruit. He who loves his life will lose it; he who is an enemy to his own life in this world will keep it, so as to live eternally.” (John 24-25)

This story of the grain of wheat is Jesus’ own story. He passed through suffering and death to a wonderful new life given to Him by His Father. He had offered His own life and self to His Father. And His Father accepted it and gave it back to Him – not the same life as it was before, but a new life – a new life that has new qualities, one of which is that He can share it with us.

He gives this new life to those who allow their own selfishness and self to die - like the grain of wheat falling into the ground – so that they may rise up in and with Jesus to this new life with Jesus living in them.

We all have our sufferings and sorrows, and one day we shall pass though death. There is no escape. If I can bring myself to offer all this to the Father with Jesus, I shall be changed already here and now – a change that I will only fully realize after my death.

In joining myself to Jesus, I have a possibility of a wonderful new life to gain. This new life is given in Baptism when a person accepts Jesus Christ and lives fully according to His teachings. [Baptism will be explained in the ninth Chapter].

It will be good to stop here and ask myself in the silence of my own heart, whether the story of Jesus’ death and His new life seem to have a message for me. Do Jesus Christ’s suffering and death and new life seem to offer me something that I really need?

A PRAYER

Lord, these are terrible things I have just read.
No man can be expected to accept them easily.
They move me. They touch me deeply.
For, I have my sufferings and one day I shall die.
Can it be that Jesus Christ, Your son really offers a new life?
Could this life replace in me my selfish self?
Lord, I cannot see myself.
You must give me Your light.