In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5 NIV).
The question stated by the two angels to the women who went to the grave of Jesus Christ is a question that has haunted me. It is a question that contains a subtle twofold characteristic. Firstly, it conveys the wonderful news: Jesus Christ has risen. Secondly, it is a critique of humanity’s morbid perspective. What do I mean with “morbid perspective”?
How many times in history has humanity romanticized death? Let us be brutally honest: mankind, due to our fallen and sinful nature, has a subtle morbid fascination with death and loss. In the 21st century our popular culture is filled with horror and uncanny elements glorifying death. The celebration of Halloween is just one of many examples of the glorification of death. It is an ancient Celtic festival which was originally known as the Festival of Samhain. Samhain being a Celtic deity similar to the grim reaper – the angel of death.
And it gets worse. These days the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT) acts like some organized crime organisation, terrorizing anybody who dares to speak up against them. The LGBT-community glorifies death in the sense that they announce and support the metaphorical death of the original Biblical idea of marriage and heterosexuality. Even though the original holiness of the marriage is still adhered to by those who stay true to the Word of God, any accentuation of the original and pious idea of marriage is frowned upon, mocked and sometimes even outright condemned. It is as if Christianity is an archery-target used for occasional target-practice by the LGBT-community. Or should I say: sometimes it is used occasionally, but a lot of times it is used almost obsessively by some elements within the LGBT-community who seem to have the emotional intelligence of a five year old.
Then there are those who blatantly worship death by supporting abortion and euthanasia. Recently a group of Christians who peacefully protested against abortion in Toronto, Canada were threatened with arrest by the police. What did they do wrong? Absolutely nothing. In fact, they stood up for truth; they stood up against the apathy of a secular world whose jaws are dripping with the blood of so many innocent (infant) beings. Where the LGBT-community uses Christianity for target-practice, the pro-abortion community is like a bulldozer that simply smashes Christians to a pulp.
To get back to the question that the angels asked the women, it should be noted that the two women bowed down before the angels. This is, of course, a gesture of respect. But there is a deeper symbolism here that fits in very well with the topic of this article: in the act of bowing down, the women are looking down. They are not looking up. Traditionally, that which is below is usually associated with death and has an ominous aspect embedded within it. The idea of hell being a place below the earth where the followers of darkness are tormented is a very good example of this. On the contrary, that which is above is associated with holiness, good fortune and all that is positive. Needless to say, heaven is associated with that which is above us.
The women bowing down and looking down can be seen as a metaphor for their inner emotional state. Their emotional state was of such a degree that they forgot that Jesus Christ is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
Let us go back to Matthew 2:1-2:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (NIV).
The magi (wise men) emphasized that they saw a star rose. This star that ascended can be seen as a direct opposite of the inner emotional state of the two women at the empty grave. Their emotions were symbolically descending. They should have remembered that Jesus Christ cannot be associated with anything descending. Even though Jesus descended to the depths of hell, He rose victoriously – He conquered death and ascended to heaven where He sits at the right-hand side of God the Father.
In the 21st century we are living in depression is sowing endless seeds of destruction. We are like the two women at the grave – we are constantly looking down. Even those who are not suffering from depression are looking down. Everybody is constantly looking down at the screens of their cellular phones, tablets and smart phones.
The endless cycle of mechanical reproduction and mass consumption is the symptom of a society sick from apathy and irrationalism – a society who believes that autonomy is the ultimate form of redemption. Van Til (2003: 164-165) states the following:
Moreover, by the same treaty irrationalism has promised to keep out of its own territory any form of authority that might be objectionable to the autonomous intellect. The very idea of pure factuality or chance is the best guarantee that no true authority, such as that of God as the Creator and Judge of men, will ever confront man.
Thus, the notion of the individual in these times we are living in is one of emotional immaturity. The autonomous individual never confronts his or her inner thoughts by doing critical introspection. The nearest the individual ever gets to introspection is when he or she simply identifies the feeling of emptiness within them. In identifying this emptiness a sublime form of abjection overwhelms them and they then seek their comfort in the irrationality of (postmodern) “rationalism”. To make matters worse they constantly fear death, because death means the end of the autonomous individual.
The magi, who saw the star of Bethlehem, were wise enough to see it as a symbol of hope. Contrary to the autonomous individuals of our day and time, they were wise enough to look up and know that it is written in the stars, as the old saying goes. Matthew 2: 1-2 is also an emphasis of what Psalm 19:1-4 states:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (NIV).
The star of Bethlehem is one of the best examples of a heavenly body that declared the glory of God. In silence, the star spoke the loudest and brought the good news to the magi. We should also remember what God said to Job in Job 38:4-7:
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone - while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (NIV).
Du Rand (2007: 337) states that in ancient times stars were mostly associated with angels. But it is very important to remember the context. Du Rand is referring to a more apocalyptical context wherein he uses the verses from Job 38 to support the association of angels with stars regarding The Book of Revelation, while the context of the star of Bethlehem was not an apocalyptical point of reference.
We as Christians need to do constant introspection by asking ourselves: am I looking up or down? Not matter how tough and bleak the times we are living in, we can look up at the stars anytime and remember that the stars (together with the rest of creation) are constantly declaring the glory of God. And when death comes knocking, we know for a fact that we need not fear anything. Jesus Christ conquered death and ascended to heaven.
Du Rand, J. 2007. Die A-Z van Openbaring. Vereeniging: CUM.
Van Til, C. 2003. Christian Apologetics. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing.