God's New Ways Shown at the Cross and the Tomb
Dr. C. T. Luiskutty
We are set in our ways and usually do not want to go outside of our comfort zone. However, sometimes circumstances force us to change the way we have been operating. This will affect our personalities, attitudes and behaviour. Covid-19 pandemic has created such a situation. Even when it comes to worship and activities of the church we have to look at new ways of doing things that will help people at the point of their needs and glorify God.
Normally a cross is considered a symbol of punishment and death; similarly the tomb is a place of separation and sorrow. But when we come to the cross and the tomb of Jesus Christ we see them as places of new beginnings and transformations. In this article we will look at the impact the Cross and the Tomb had on different lives. Two robbers were crucified with Jesus on either side. In the beginning both of them derided the Son of God and challenged Him to perform supernatural miracles while on the cross to prove that He was the Messiah. But at that time they heard the faint voice of Jesus Christ asking His Father to forgive those who were brutally hurting him physically and mentally. That impacted one of those malefactors. He had a divine revelation of who Jesus was and where he was going to be after this ordeal. In a moment of desperation he was touched by Jesus’ attitude and, probably, all that he had heard earlier about Him came to his mind. Now he asked Jesus to remember him in His Kingdom, and Jesus responded that he would meet Him in Paradise on the same day.
This man probably did not know much theology and he did not go through any religious observations and rituals. All he did was to ask Jesus to remember him and a spectacular change took place in his life. What a joyful conversion at the last moment! He was pardoned of all his past sins. All he had to do was to repent and appeal to the grace of Jesus and he was offered a place with Jesus in eternity. This is the result of coming to Jesus even at the last moment of a person's life. Because of the virus attack, many healthy people are struck down at unexpected times. The story of the robber on the cross gives everybody the hope of eternal life with Jesus.
Another person of interest is a Roman centurion who was a witness to everything that was happening there. Being a Gentile, he, probably had very little insight in to Jewish Scriptures and expectations. He might have been one of the soldiers who were maltreating Jesus earlier. The Roman military officers were trained to be hard-hearted and cruel to the Jews, especially the one who was being punished for claiming to be the king of the Jews, which could be interpreted as insurrection against Roman authority. In his official capacity he might have witnessed numerous scenes like this. But this was different. The crucified man, though in excruciating pain, was quite calm. Rather than crying out in anger and cursing, He was praying to God, addressing Him as His Father. He was praying for the forgiveness of the perpetrators of this cruel act. He was promising forgiveness and eternal life for a well documented evil man who was ridiculing Him a little earlier. As He died, the centurion had a new revelation: He was indeed the Son of God! No human being would behave in this manner under such circumstances.
God shows His new ways in hopeless situations. His enemies get a revelation of spiritual truths as a result of watching those who claim to be His people. While we are going through situations which appear to be hopeless, our trust in God, our response to unbearable sufferings and our attitude towards those who inflict pain upon us and who consider us to be their enemies could have life-changing effects and open new ways for others.
There is another painful scene at the cross. Jesus is hanging from the cross suffering from excruciating pain, panting for breath and undergoing a slow death. He is practically naked, with a large group of onlookers mocking Him. Blood is streaming down from His head, back, wrists and feet. At a distance stood a few women among whom was His own mother Mary. He must have thought about the teenager to whom an angel proclaimed that she was going to conceive a child, the Son of God, before her formal marriage. Though she knew of her possible rejection by her betrothed husband and the humiliation she would be subjected to from the society, she responded, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word!” Now that child, who brought ridicule, humiliation and pain to her for the last thirty-four years is subjected to all this ignominy. It must have caused immeasurable sadness to the Son as well as the mother. He did not want to leave her as a destitute woman and so as He finds His beloved disciple, probably, John standing nearby declares a new relationship there, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He turns to the disciple and tells him, “Behold your mother!” The Bible says that he took her into his own home.
Many people have gone through great losses and suffered unbear able pain as a result of the corona virus. The cross is a place of comfort and consolation and beginning of new relations. When we go through painful experiences we need to remind ourselves that our Lord is always present to comfort us. He will not only bring new people to our fellowship and inner circle to ease the pain, He Himself will be with us. He said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He also assured His followers that He would be with them until the end of the age and in Him they would have peace, no matter what happens in the world.
I would call your attention to one more event at the cross. After it was certified that Jesus had died, a rich member of the Council (the Sanhedrin) by the name Joseph of Arimathea took the lead in giving Jesus a proper burial. It is stated that he was a secret disciple of Jesus and had made an appeal in the council not to put Him to death. He was waiting for the establishment of the kingdom of God and must have believed that Jesus was the expected King. Another person who assisted Joseph in the burial was Nicodemus who had approached Jesus a few years earlier and heard from His mouth the message of being born again (John 3:1-21). That message had an effect on him and he became a secret disciple of Jesus Christ. So far these men did not want to identify with Jesus and to be known as His disciples. At one time Nicodemus was with other leaders of the religion when they reprimanded the officers who refused to arrest Jesus. There Nicodemus put in a word in support of Jesus, but was very weak in His defense of the Messiah (John 7:50). The cross had a great impact upon the lives of Joseph and Nicodemus; they could not remain secret disciples any more. Joseph took the initiative to bury Him offering his new tomb. Nicodemus had prepared a large quantity of an expensive perfume to anoint Him before the burial. The leaders who were timid for the past many years could not hide their allegiance to Him and remain inactive any more. They became bold enough to approach the governor and obtain his permission to bury Jesus, not taking into account the wrath and isolation they could receive from the religious and political leaders. The Cross forced people out of their secret chambers and passive relationship to public testimony and service.
Sometimes it takes once in a lifetime events to embolden secret disciples of Jesus to come out and do what needs to be done. I pray the isolation and anxiety of the pandemic and its consequences will encourage some people who have been putting away their public confession to take action and become bold witnesses of Jesus Christ. Jesus told His followers that many people were reluctant to become His disciples because of their unwillingness to forsake their love for possession, property, position and power. Maybe that was the attitude of Joseph and Nicodemus until now. But not anymore. Often it takes a crisis before a person will surrender completely to Jesus. For these two men of possession and position it was the Cross. Will the pandemic create such a crisis moment for some of us?
Now let us fast forward to the resurrection morning. The Tomb is the scene – actually the empty Tomb! Many people were watching as the body of Jesus Christ was taken inside and the opening to the tomb was closed by moving a large stone to the mouth of the cave. It was then secured with the seal of the Roman empire. Three days later, the day after the Sabbath rest, Mary Magdalene and a few other women came to the tomb to do a service they were not allowed to perform before His burial – to anoint the body. They had one question on their mind – who will move the large stone? To their surprise, it had already been rolled away by an angel. They went in and saw the place where the body had been placed. Jesus was not there and they were told by the angel that He had risen and were comm issioned to communicate the good news to the disciples. While the women ran with fear to find the disciples, Mary Magdalene lingered in the area and had an encounter with Jesus.
Other than Jesus, who are the main characters in the story about the Tomb?
The angel(s). They rolled the large stone away from the mouth of the tomb after breaking the Roman seal. The stone was not moved to facilitate the exit of Jesus from the sepulchre. He had a glorified body which could pass through the tomb cut out in a rock and appear and disappear in closed rooms. But the angels rolled the stone away so that the poor, loving and adoring women could go inside and witness that the tomb was empty. The angel also commissioned the women to proclaim to the disciples that Jesus had risen.
Mark wrote in his Gospel the words of the angel, “But go, tell His disciples – and Peter – that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you” (Mark 16:7). According to Biblical scholars, Mark’s gospel was written on the basis of the information he received from Peter. This verse was special to Peter. Though he was the most prominent of the twelve disciples, he had denied knowing Jesus when He was being tried and insulted by the chief priests. Even though he had repented later, it was only natural to leave him out when they were looking for His disciples to tell them the news of Jesus’ resurrection. But the angel of God did not forget Peter!
Mary Magdalene needs special mention. She was a member of the group of women who came to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. The others seem to be satisfied with seeing the empty tomb and hearing from the angel. Now they were on their mission. But Mary was different. Once Jesus said that to whom much was forgiven, that person would love more. She had been forgiven of many offenses and she owed the Lord much love. Somehow she wanted to see her Master, at least His corpse. Jesus appeared to her and revealed Himself. She became the first person who saw the risen Lord. Even the most desperate moments in life could turn out to be an occasion for a glorious encounter with the risen Lord, if you long for it.
The guards. They were given special instructions to be extra vigilant, and they must have been. Still they did not see Jesus coming out of the tomb; it is possible that He did not come through the mouth of the cave where their eyes were focussed. They did not see the angel rolling the stone away either. They were privy to watch only natural occurrences. Then they became part of a scheme of the religious leaders to generate a myth that the disciples of Jesus stole His body when they were asleep. While the unfamiliar circumstances we find ourselves in could lead us to knowing the Truth, some are fearful of the Truth and influenced by powerful people to propagate lies and myths. It is a matter of choice!
The Tomb is a place of victory and hope. Along with the Cross, the Tomb is the foundation of Christian faith. The women were wondering who would remove the large stone that posed a hindrance for the fulfillment of their mission. The angel had already done that. Also their mission was changed. They need not anoint the Lord’s dead body anymore; they were instructed to tell others that He was risen. In other words, they were given a new mission. God saw the heart of Peter and knew how much encouragement he needed. The women might have ignored Peter, but God would not.
Human beings are creatures of habit. A crisis will constrain us to pause and rethink our motives, plans and actions. This happened at the Tomb. This past year gave us an opportunity to rethink our values, our paths and actions. Is a new course needed? Or at least a mid-course correction? Or are we satisfied with the status quo? Is status quo a viable option? I believe that the Tomb projected the women, especially Mary, to a new orbit. Women were not given due respect in the society and their testimony in a court was not given much credence. But God saw it fit to appoint women to be the first messengers of the resurrection of His Son. Jesus first appeared to a woman who had earlier been possessed by evil spirits. God’s new ways are spectacular beyond our imagination!
It is sad that there were many individuals – a crucified robber, religious and political leaders, soldiers, passers-by and onlookers – who were apparently unaffected by the crises they witnessed. The Cross and the Tomb did not mean much to them. Whatever condition we find ourselves in during this crisis period, let us trust God that He will do some supernatural things in our lives to enable us to have a personal encounter with Him and willfully receive the commission that He is entrusting us with. For a follower of Jesus Christ, the Cross is not a place of defeat, it is a place of salvation and deliverance; the Tomb does not signify the end, it is a symbol of victory and hope. In this Covid-19 pandemic God has new ways for His children.