Writer John Irving has always said that he will not write a book unless he knows the last line of his novel. Then, he says, everything leads him to complete the book in a way that is honest to that last line. In Irving’s ‘The World According to Garp’, the last line is, “In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases.” The book and movie is about lost people trying to live their life the best the can. It is comical and sad, and true to the last line, all the major characters do die. (Yet they live wonderful lives before they do).
Author and businessman Stephen R. Covey wrote in his book ‘7 Habits of Highley Effective People’- Always begin with the end in mind. From this, many Christians have coined the phrase, “Always ‘live’ with the end in mind.”
Many of the great saints also encouraged us to be mindful of our final end. Saint Bonaventure, who lived in Italy in the 12th century, wrote, “To lead a good life, a man should always imagine himself at the hour of his death.”
I try not to spend too much time thinking about how I am going to die. It seems rather morbid to me. I suppose the older I get, the more I wonder how much time I have left, but I have too much to do now to die!
In the TV series ‘Early Edition’, Gary Hobson was a man who got tomorrow’s newspaper today. That means he knows what is going to happen before it does and it gives him a chance to stop bad things from happening altogether.
Danish Theologian and Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
How many times have you said, “If I only knew then, what I know now, I would have made different choices?” Sometimes, it might be handy to know what is going to happen to you.
What would you change if you knew the future? I think most of us want to avoid pitfalls and unnecessary conflicts? Right?
That is why, when I read that Jesus knew his future and predicted his untimely death 3 times in the Gospels before it happened, I am amazed. I don’t know about you but I am not sure I would want to know all those details (particularly in his case).
In Mark 8:31 we read, “He then began to teach them, that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”
The second is in Mark 9:30-31 it reads, “From there, they went out and began to go through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know about it. For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.”
The third time is in Mark 10:32-34 as they were on the road going up to Jerusalem, it reads,
“And again He took the twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to Him, saying, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again’.”
The strange thing is, even though he told them over and over again, they never seemed to get it. In truth, they didn’t want to hear it. If we go back to the first time Jesus mention his death, we will see why this is the case.
The disciples have faithfully followed Jesus and witnessed Him perform miracles, healings and share wise words After all they witnessed, they were sure he was the promised Messiah.
In Mark 8:27-30, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do You say I Am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
That must have been a good moment for Jesus. But now that they knew who he was, it was time to reveal why he came. He was about to share his mission with them.
“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed — and after 3 days rise again.”
Scripture says that Jesus spoke plainly about this, in other words, nonchalantly. But Peter could not contain himself; he pulled Jesus aside and rebuked him. Then Jesus utters those famous words, “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Peter tried to rebuke Jesus — and Jesus put him right back in his place!
Taken another way, Jesus is saying, “Get back in line, you are acting like the devil now, not like one of my followers. I am the teacher. You don’t understand the big picture.” It was Jesus’ way of helping them begin to understand that “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.” Isaiah 55:8.
Jesus not only rebukes Peter, but then shocks them by telling them that the cross may well be their future too. Those who would follow him will have to “deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” Jesus continues, “To save your life you must lose it.”
This news was contrary to the disciple’s expectations and difficult to comprehend. The second time he spoke of this they still did not understand him, but (Mark 9:32 tells us), “they were afraid to ask him” probably for fear of being rebuked again.
For just one moment, think about what they were hearing. Jesus was not only proclaiming he would die, but that he would be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They would demand his execution. This had to be a real shock to them. Those who should be the first to recognize and worship Jesus would turn on him.
German Theologian Rudolf Bultmann summarized the scholarly opinion of his day, when he said that the “predictions of the passion and resurrection… have long been recognized as secondary constructions of the church.” In other words he claimed that Jesus never really predicted his death and it was added in at a later date.
I beg to differ. There are many indications that Jesus knew he would certainly die a violent death. First, after John the Baptist was killed by Herod, in Luke 13:32, Jesus said, “Go tell that fox, I will drive out demons and heal people today, tomorrow – and on the third day, I will reach my goal.” (Other versions say, on the third day, I will finish my course or accomplish my purpose)
And Jesus already knew the people he was dealing with, he understood all of the early prophecies. The Prophet Isaiah practically told his whole story. It told who he was, what he came to do and how he would suffer and die. You may recall; when Jesus sat down in the temple to teach, he read from Isaiah 61:1-2.
Just prior to that, Isaiah 59:4-6 explains, “No one calls for justice; no one pleads a case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil… Their deeds are evil deeds, and acts of violence are in their hands.” Also in that paragraph, Isaiah explains that we are like cunning serpents – and spiders whose webs are meant to ensnare others.
Paul explains ‘us’ like this in Romans 3:10-17, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.”
Jesus clearly knew what he was getting himself into. He knew that one of his disciples would betray him and that all of them would abandon him. It is no stretch to think that Jesus knew he would die. The stretch actually comes as the disciples and all of us try to wrap our mind around Jesus’ mission. If you and I were in Jesus’ place, why should we care? Why give our life for such fallen, lost people. Why go through all the pain and suffering?
Jesus knew how bad it would be, why else would he pray and shed tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane for God to remove this cup of suffering? But, Jesus said, God’s will not mine.
You see, that is the real ‘Good News’; listen carefully, no matter who you are, no matter what you have done, God loves you and he sees far more than you or we can see. Each person is of sacred worth.
Our discipline reads, “We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God,” and that all persons need the ministry of the church; all persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status, economic condition, and we can add; gender, sexual orientation or mental state. All need Jesus – and all are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world.
You will notice, there is nothing in there that says we have to agree on everything or affirm every person in every way. But we are called to love like God loves all his people.
Jesus, himself, said it very well when he was asked, which one is the greatest commandment. He replied in Matthew 22:37-40;
He replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
I want to end with this true story. On February 17, 1941, polish priest Maximilian Kolbe was arrested by the German army for helping publish anti-Nazi propaganda. In May he was transferred to Auschwitz. Although he continued to act as a priest in the prison, he suffered harassment, violent beatings and lashings. After one prisoner escaped, they decided to pick 10 men, as examples, to starve them to death.
When one of the men was selected, he screamed, “My wife! My Children!” Having compassion and knowing he had neither a wife nor children, Kolbe volunteered to take his place. He did not know the man or ask any questions; he simple gave his life out of love.
That is living like Jesus Christ.
Your assignment this week is… in your quite time with God, pray this little prayer,
“God, show me who you really are – and not just who I want you to be.”
Then teach us to love others – as you love us all.
May it be so, Amen.