Sunday, January 13, 2008

Death And Jay Chou In The New Year and Just Looking Study 5 (John 11:1-57)

So the new year began with the reminder that both life and death are unpredictable. 生死難猜.

My father was always grateful to his old teacher who had been magnificently magnanimous to him in the years after World War II in Singapore, when education was a luxury a family, who hadn't even enough to survive on, could barely contemplate. To demonstrate his lifelong gratitude, my father would visit this teacher every Chinese New Year with gifts of oranges and sweet meats. The Chinese/Confucian demonstration of gratitude being not in close relationship but in constant remembering.

A few days after the start of the new year, we found out from national media that the teacher was 82 years old. His decomposing body was discovered along with that of his daughter in a rubbish-strewn flat after neighbours complained of a terrible smell of rot emanating from within.

This is the cumulation of the teacher's 82 years of hopes and dreams and big-heartedness and kindness; this is the remembering the general public will do: a rotting corpse, a nuisance to neighbours, a decomposing hazard to public hygiene, fodder for maybe only 1 day of coffeeshop talk ("middle class lah," it is said with some disappointment,"no money problems"). The futility and the indignity.

Of all 周杰伦 (Jay Chou)'s songs[1], I like the ones about the conquering of kingdoms and the pugilistic world best. 千军万马. 军队蜿蜒如龙. 横刀立马. 马蹄上的尘土. 一统江山. They are full of troops and horses. And troops like dragons. And weapons being wielded and horses charging. And the dust on hooves. And unifying the country. And yet, pathetically, all that bravery and courage, all that blood-rusted armour and flashing swords, is with a view to posterity, to history, to their own memory. 历史留下谁在乱箭之中潇洒.

Perhaps some would-be poet, also with a view to his own legacy, might pen a pretty verse about a fallen warrior, comparing him to a flower that has loses its splendour at nightfall. 花已向晚飄落了燦爛. Life and death are but a scar, 生死不过 一刀的疤, some pseudo-philosopher might add.

But really.

If this life is all there is, then whatever good we think we did in our lives, however many of our achievements are noted in the record books that will soon be eaten by moths, whether anyone thinks we deserve it or not, all we have to show at the end is a file of bloodthirsty ants drawn by our rotting flesh. 一群嗜血的蚂蚁被腐肉所吸引.

*************

Interestingly, we did a Just Looking Study on death and a certain rotting corpse the weekend after:

Just Looking Study 5 (John 11:1-57)

Read John 11:1-57.

Q: What does Jesus do when he hears that his friend Lazarus is sick? (John 11:4-6)
He stays in Jerusalem for 2 more days! Bethany was only 2 miles from Jerusalem. Not far at all, even by sandal.

Q: What does Jesus say about Lazarus' illness?
  • That "his illness does not lead to death".
  • That "it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." (11:4).
Q: Lazarus eventually dies. What does Jesus say about Lazarus' death?
That he is glad that he was not in Bethany then, so that his disciples might believe (11:15).

Q: So Jesus eventually goes to Bethany and Lazarus has been rotting in his tomb for four days. He is met by Martha, Lazarus' sister. What does Martha believe about Jesus? (11:20-22)
That if Jesus had been around, Lazarus would not have died. That Jesus had the power to heal Lazarus.

Q: What does Jesus say is deficient about Martha's belief about him? (11:23-26)
She doesn't realise that Jesus can do more than heal. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Jesus has power over life and death and that the power of resurrection (vs mere resuscitation) has now come with Jesus. Whoever believes in Jesus, though he dies, shall have eternal life, and everyone who lives and believes in Jesus shall never die.

Q: Well, Martha didn't quite get the full impact of what Jesus was claiming (11:39-40). What does Jesus do to back up his claim?
Jesus resurrects Lazarus, he raises Lazarus from the dead. (11:38-44)

Q: What reasons does Jesus give for raising Lazarus? (11:40-42)
  • because he told his followers that if they believed in him, they would see God's glory (ties up with what he said in 11:4)
  • to demonstrate to everyone that he was sent by God the Father
Q: Right. How does the raising of Lazarus reveal God's glory? And how does it glorify God's son?
  • death was not in God's original plan for the world. It came about as a result of man's wrongful rebellion against God (Genesis 3:19). Therefore by raising Lazarus from the dead, God is showing through Jesus that he has the power to reverse the rightful curse of death on mankind. We eventually find out, in the rest of the Gospel of John, how God manages to remain just by punishing sin with death and also to be merciful by sparing mankind from eternal death. The glory of God. Akan datang.
  • Jesus is glorified because it will be through him and him alone that eternal life and resurrection from the dead will come to humanity. Also akan datang.
Q: Faced with the Lazarus raising, what were the two reactions of the crowds of witnesses?
  • many put their faith in Jesus (11:45)
  • others told on Jesus (11:46) to the Jewish authorities who plotted to have him arrested (11:57) and killed (11:50,53).
Q: Let's first have a look at the people who've put their faith in Jesus. What do you think it means to "put their faith in him" (11:45)? What's the difference between believing in something and believing something about something?
  • it means they put their trust in Jesus. They've committed, they've stuck their neck out about his trustworthiness and the integrity of his person and his claims.
  • believing something about something is non-committal. No action or response is needed.
Q: Did the people have "blind faith"?
nope. They heard Jesus' promises, then they saw that what he promised did come through so they trusted in him based on sound evidence.

Q: Let's now look at the people who snitched on Jesus to the Jewish authorities. What was the reaction of the Jewish authorities? Why did they react in this manner? (11:47-48)
They probably recognised that Jesus' raising Lazarus from the dead was a major miracle and feared that everyone would believe in Jesus. Then the Romans would come and remove them from their nice cushy positions. And of course, they feared for the future of their nation.

Were these reasonable reasons for rejecting Jesus?
Erm, like, if this was a major miracle, then maybe Jesus is who he claims he is - you know, like, "the Resurrection and the Life" and not believing in him, therefore, would have crap consequences?

In what way is their reaction a warning to us today?
It is often not lack of evidence that stops us from believing in Jesus but fear of the implications for ourselves.

Caiaphas says in 11:50 that it is better for Jesus to die than for the entire Jewish nation to perish through being crushing by the Romans. So the Jews plot to kill off Jesus. But John tells us that God uses Caiaphas' words to prophesy what Jesus' death will achieve. What will it achieve according to 11:51-52?
  • that through his death, Jesus would die for all nations and bring people back into relationship with God.
  • that Jesus' death would achieve this through its substitutionary work for us on the cross, his death taking the punishment for what we rightfully deserve for our rebellion against God and in so doing, free us to get back into a relationship with God. Not totally clear here. Akan datang, really.
Summary
Death is the right punishment for our rebellion against God our Creator. It was not part of God's design for the world.

But death in this life is not the end. And those who believe in Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, the one with power and authority to raise people from the dead and give eternal life, can partake of the benefit of his substitutionary death on the cross on our behalf. They can be restored to perfect relationship with God. If God is the Creator and Sustainer of the world, it would be much better to live as his friend than as his enemy for all eternity.


"Just Looking" Studies
Just Looking Study 1 (John 20:30-31, John 1:1-18)
Just Looking Study 2 (John 3:1-21)
Just Looking Study 3 (John 4:1-30) - from-a-Christian-family version
Just Looking Study 4 (John 5:1-29)
Just Looking Study 5 (John 11:1-57)
Just Looking Study 6 (John 18:28-19:16a)
Just Looking Study 7 (John 19:16b-42)
Just Looking Study 8 (John 20)

[1] Don't laugh. Is 'cos got free ticket to his concert hor. Second row is apparently within sweat-flinging distance so maybe I'll pack a brolly, collect the precipitation and sell small bottles on ebay.

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1 Comments:

At January 21, 2008 8:34 pm , Anonymous bg said...

how was concert? pix pix pix!

 

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