They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mark 10:32-34)
When will I die? As I get older, this question takes on more urgency.
A few years ago, we visited the cemetery in my hometown where my parents are buried. It was a beautiful, late summer day, but a somber moment. I’m not sure what we expected to find, but what was there surprised me. This was a newer part of the cemetery and I wandered a bit, seeing who else was there. What surprised me was to find a couple dozen other gravestones telling me that people I had known in high school were also there with my mom and dad. When we are young, we think we will live forever. As we get older, not so much.
But I am about twice the age that Jesus was in this week’s text. He not only knew that he would die, but he had a good idea of when, where, and how. He knew this was his last trip to Jerusalem, a predestined journey that held the fate of humanity in its outcome. He was going to Jerusalem to die, a sacrificial death to take away the sins of those who believe in him.
I was recently interviewed for a story in the Omaha newspaper about the traditions of Easter. Many are a mix of pagan and Christian ideas: bunnies, hot-crossed buns, palm branches, lilies, eggs; the list is long. But it struck me that most of them have to do with the idea of resurrection or renewal. To be sure, the death of Jesus means little without his resurrection, but what does resurrection mean without Jesus’ death? Catholics have long been criticized for the omnipresent crucifix, accused of leaving Jesus on the cross. Protestants present a clean cross, no longer occupied by our crucified Lord, for he is risen, we say. Orthodox folks often have a depiction of the Risen Christ as the central feature of their worship area.
But let’s think a little more this week about the death of Jesus. He knew that death awaited him in Jerusalem, but his face was “set like flint” to go to the holy city. He knew that his death would be painful, shameful, and terrifying, yet he went.
When will I die? When God calls me home. My death is likely to have significance for a small number. Jesus’ death changed everything for billions. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift to us, his Son willing to die for our sins.
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University
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