Saturday, April 15, 2006

Good Friday (Why Did Jesus Die?)

Last night, Rogers and I went to SGC (my former church in Sungei Besi) to attend the Alpha Course (a 10-week practical introduction to the Christian faith). It provides an opportunity for anyone to explore the Christian faith. It is relaxed, non-threatening, thought-provoking, friendly and fun. We had dinner there and after a brief time of worship, we watched a video featuring Nicky Gumbel. He talked about why Jesus died...

You could say it was because Pilate condemned Him to death by crucifixion. Or because Judas betrayed Him. Or because the Temple priests needed Him dead. All that would be true, but to anyone reading the story in the Gospels it comes across that there is something more to it.

Start with Jesus' own words to His followers: repeatedly He tells them that He, The Son of Man (His way of describing Himself) must suffer much... and be rejected... He will be put to death, but three days later He will rise to life. Jesus doesn't just say He "would", but He MUST, as if it's the most important thing He is to do! And when the first Gospel was written, it gave a third of its length to the last few days of Jesus' life, just to emphasize that.

John's Gospel quotes Jesus as saying something even more startling. He uses a picture of Himself, telling the crowd, "I am the good shepherd. I am willing to die for my sheep." (John 10:11). A little later He adds, "I am willing to give up my life in order that I may receive it back again. No one takes my life away from me. I give it up of my own free will. I have the right to give it up, and I have the right to take it back. This is what my Father has commanded me to do." (John 10:17-18). Not surprisingly, some listeners thought He was mad, or demon-possessed... others said, "someone like that doesn't do miracles like giving sight to the blind."

So John presents Jesus as claiming that His death was His calling from God, and that it would benefit others as an act of supreme sacrifice. The first Gospel also quotes Jesus as making this sort of claim. In Mark 10:45 tells His followers that even Jesus did not come to be served; He came to serve, and to give His life to redeem many people. In other words, Jesus said His death was the greatest act of service He was to do, and His death was the price that had to be paid to release people from slavery... slavery in the sense that we are under the power of sin and death, and need to be set free.

One other comment by Jesus about His death comes on the occasion of His last meal with His followers. He takes one of the cups of wine that were used in the Passover celebration and says, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many." (Mark 14:24) He's talking about His death... "my blood poured out". And He's linking it to the great day when the Jewish nation was solemnly committed to God, and the bond between God and the people was confirmed by a ceremony that included sprinkling the people with "the blood of the covenant" (Exodus 24:8) Remember that Jesus' friends wouldn't need to be told this - unlike us! This is part of what they were celebrating at this Passover meal.

So Jesus is telling us that His death would make it possible for people - and not only Jewish people - to be linked with God in a new committed relationship.

Jesus' words about being "a servant" recall one final piece of the jigsaw. The Jewish Bible, in the book of Isaiah, contains a poem about "The Servant of the Lord". In it are the words, "Because of our sins He was wounded, beaten because of the evil we did. We are healed by the punishment He suffered, made whole by the blows He received." The first Christians, and, it is reasonable to believe, Jesus Himself saw this as a picture of Jesus' death on the Cross. One of His first followers, Peter, wrote "Christ Himself carried our sins in His body to the cross... it is by His wounds that you have been healed." (1 Peter 2:24)

After watching the video, we had a group discussion about the talk that Nicky Gumbel gave. Rogers and I were in Group 1, led by my eldest bro Kenneth, and Shirley Gan. However the group was too big so it had to be split into 2 groups. Rogers was in the other group with Shirley, Han (Samantha's bf), Kelvin (my 2nd elder bro), Chun Hau, Joel, etc. I was in the same group with my bro Kenneth, Wing Fai, Shawn, Li Wern, Wai Han, Sook Yin, Samantha, Li Li (Kenneth's wife), Alrease (Chun Hau's gf) and Joycelyn (Joel's gf). Then after the discussion, Sam asked me some questions about Christianity and I felt happy cuz she said she wanted to go back to the Lord... =) I'm glad than Han is attending this course too... and I hope and pray that they will attend church regularly too.

We left the church at 10 ish (before that, we had to listen to Chun Hau's lame jokes... =_=") and then Sam, Han, Rogers and I went to Sunway Pyramid to catch Gubra, a sequel of sorts to Sepet.

Gubra (Anxiety) tells a story of love and forgiveness, its possibilities and the hopes it brings. Essentially there are two stories which parallel each other, the first is the continuation of Orked's (Sepet's protagonist) life while the second tells the story of a muezzin; Pak Bilal Li and his efforts to assist two prostitutes in finding redemption for themselves and their families.

Seven years after Jason/Ah Loong (Ng Choo Seong), Orked (Sharifah Amani Al-Yahya) is now married to a much older guy, Arif (Adlin Aman Ramlie). Everything seems ideal in their marriage at first glance; Arif loves Orked to bits and theirs seem like a match made in heaven.

One fateful morning, Orked is awakened by a distressing phone call from Mak Inom (Ida Nerina Hussain) with news that Pak Atan (Harith Iskander Musa) has become catatonic due to diabetic complications. Orked rushes to her parents' house, to find Pak Atan unresponsive and ill; Mak Inom and Annuar the family driver are hysterical. Kak Yam (Adibah Noor), the family maid however is rather calm and collected. After some chaos, they take Pak Atan to the hospital. There, Orked bumps into Alan (Alan Yun), Jason's elder brother. His father, Pa (Thor Kah Hoong) has also been hospitalized. As the film develops, we witness the friendship between Alan and Orked flourish, to Arif's apprehension. Perhaps because for Orked, Alan is a link to her first love.

In Gubra, Yasmin Ahmad (the Director) has chosen to compare a conventional and rather stable family, which is forced to adapt to recent and surprising issues; with the unconventional and improvised group that makes up Pak Bilal's family of sorts... who are continually being challenged by the adversities in life. The dramas of these events and the difference in approach as portrayed by these two groups in adapting and overcoming these very real trials is what makes Gubra an entertaining multi-layered examination of human behavior and social perception.

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