Yasser Arafat has died. The Australian news network commented about his life in this way –
He was to the end a man of many mysteries and paradoxes – terrorist, statesman, autocrat and peacemaker… Ordinary Palestinians prayed for his well being, but expressed deep frustration over his failure to improve their lives… Arafat’s failure to groom a successor complicated his passing, raising the danger of factional conflict among Palestinians… Revered by his own people, Arafat was reviled by others. He was accused of secretly fomenting attacks on Israelis while proclaiming brotherhood and claiming to have put terrorism aside…
However we may have viewed Yasser Arafat and his cause, our heart-felt prayer must be for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. The original goal of the destruction of the State of Israel (only removed from the Palestinian National Covenant at the end of 1998) was modified to seek the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The news media have noted Arafat’s failure to achieve his goal and the complications caused for moderate Arab leaders like him by the rise of radical Islam. He has consistently refused to groom a successor and this has raised the possibility of factional conflict. Already the group known as the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade has expressed dissatisfaction with the interim leadership.
Nearly two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ died. Before he died, his twelve faithful disciples were already arguing about which one of them would be the greatest in the Kingdom. One of them, Judas, chose to betray Jesus to his opponents – some have thought Judas hoped to force Jesus to declare himself. Anyway, Jesus died.
But that wasn’t the end. Three days later the word around Jerusalem was that Jesus had come alive again. The official account was that the disciples had stolen the body while the guards were asleep. It was an unlikely story, but the alternative was disturbing, since the leadership and many of the people in Jerusalem had agreed with the crucifixion.
No, it wasn’t the end. And the knowledge that Jesus was truly alive put a whole new perspective on his ministry and mission. The word had to get out. The risen Jesus said to his disciples, “This is what is written: ‘The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things…” (Lk. 24.46-48).
Just before he died, Jesus had said, “It is finished” (Jn 19.30). It had been gasped out in weakness, but now they knew it to be words of triumph. It was a kind of “mission accomplished”. Because of what he had “finished”, repentance and forgiveness of sins could be preached in his name.
In a physical sense he was about to leave the scene, but the application of his “finished” work to the people of the world has to go on. He committed it to his disciples. As he put it in his last words to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt. 28.18-20).
He didn’t give detailed instructions about how the Church should be ordered (episcopal, presbyterial, congregational, or whatever). He didn’t say whether people should be immersed or sprinkled, nor in what form we should celebrate communion. Different groups look back to the Bible and find good sound reasons for doing things this way or that, but really so much is flexible and open.
However, the “finished” work of Christ is central to what we do. That is the basis of the grace offered in the gospel. The Holy Spirit makes the presence of Christ real to us and applies the “finished” work of Christ to our lives. And the written Word of God, the Bible, “controls” our message and “nourishes and regulates” our faith and obedience, as the Basis of Union puts it (para 5).
Yasser Arafat has died, and the world waits with uncertainty. Will we move into an era of peace or into an escalation of conflict?
Jesus Christ died and rose again. The work of discipling the nations began – and the Work goes on!
Alison and I are nearing the end of five years with you. Have we done all we hoped? No, we haven’t! But we have been with you in your mission. And the Work goes on! Thank you for the privilege of working with you!
At the end of December, we complete our time here in readiness for retirement at the end of March 2005. Paul and Becky Clark will be here from January – together with Jennifer and Simon – to share with you in your mission.
It is the Lord’s Work. We know that he will be with you as you “work at it” together with Paul and Becky. God bless you all!
© Peter J. Blackburn, Link, December 2004