Luke’s Gospel began at Advent for us and concludes today at Easter Sunday. We have journeyed through with great detail the stories from the birth narrative of Jesus to Jesus’ baptism, temptation and transfiguration to the Passion and the Last Supper. This week we remember the Passion of Christ. We even watch movies about the Passion, but what does it all mean? The Passion means the suffering of Christ. Generally, it does not mean his ministry. In it’s narrowest scope, Passion refers to Holy Week. It begins as he enters Jerusalem with shouts of Hosanna. It ends at the cross, what we would call the pinnacle of the priestly sacrificial ministry of Christ. In its broadest sense Passion refers to the “suffering” of Jesus’ whole incarnate life. But we really have to ask ourselves, what was Jesus so Passionate about? Surely, Luke would say, it’s the people!
- Luke 19.29-40 – the Prancing Pony
- Luke 22.1-38 – the Passover
- Luke 22.39-46 – the Prayer
- Luke 22.47-23.25 – the Prisoner
- Luke 23.26-56 – the Price, the Prisoners, Politics, Paradise, & Prophecy
- Luke 24.1-49 – the Big Reveal to the People
The story begins as an early morning surprise. The presence of women witnesses at an empty tomb, a deep discussion of a couple along the Emmaus road, the eye opening experience with the breaking of bread, and the sudden entrance of Jesus into the hideout of the 11 disciples all point to the purpose of the passion. These last three events all happened on what we call Easter.
Resurrection morning came very early in the deep shadows of dawn. The morning of the resurrection did not unfold with a great halleluiah as one might imagine. It did not begin as a glorious day or hallelujah. Resurrection morning began in grief. All four of the Gospels record resurrection day as the first day of the week. The first day of the week became the Christian worship day (Acts 20.7).
The stone that covered the tomb is a memorable icon. The moment the stone was moved, history was forever changed. The stone that had been rolled away from the tomb is in the Perfect Passive Participle denoting that the stone has been moved and the results of that stone being rolled away are still felt.
Two angelic men and a few good women meet under unexpected circumstances. It was an unexpected stepping onto the scene by these two men with clothes shining brightly. It would become a suddenly for the women. Two men would meet them face to face (Luke 24.4) inquiring of their grief, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised.” Two men (angel witnesses) validated the truth of the Resurrection. But two men remind the women of the passion prophecies, “Remember how he told you…” (Luke 9.22, 43-45, 13.33, 17.25, 18.31-33, 22.37, 24.25-27, 44-46). These women were especially named by Luke as the first witnesses to the resurrection. They are Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and the other women with them (Luke 24.10). These were the women who would report what they had seen and heard to the disciples (Luke 24.9-11). The witness of women in was not acceptable in these days (Luke 24.9). Even at his death Jesus is changing how men understand women in their culture. Luke makes it clear that Jesus promoted women as equals in society. Luke explains that women accompanied Jesus and supported his ministry (Luke 8.1-3). Luke will further explain that women what stand in prayer with the apostles after Jesus’ death (Acts 1.14). Here we catch a glimpse at the healing broken identities with the women. In the ancient world women were not respected as witnesses in court of law. And to be sure at the time of death the women would’ve been considered crazy with grief and lack of sleep. At this time in history women were considered to you in motive, too sensitive. A woman’s place was not trustworthy. Yet the vision of angels revealed that Jesus was alive. The women became the first preachers of the gospel of the resurrected Christ Jesus. The mistrust of Eve has been healed in the suffering Messiah.
Peter runs for his life. Peter was also at the tomb, and leaves wondering to himself about what could have happened. In Luke’s Gospel people are often pondering the hard sayings of Jesus. An empty tomb would have been something to ponder. It did not me unbelief. Perhaps his running to the gravesite implies hope or at the least and willingness to defend Christ Jesus in his death. As Peter runs to the graveside it is easy to remember that Peter was one of the three in Jesus’ inner circle. No doubt Peter expected to see the miraculous has he had been on the Mount of Transfiguration. But Peter has lost his life by his own choices.
Let’s flashback to the events of the betrayal. Judas took the bread, then bargained to take the life of the Bread of Heaven. When we think back to Judas’ decision, he too took his life by his own hand prior to suicide, by his choices to sell Jesus for 30 pieces of silver – the price for a slave. Perhaps we can say Judas was trying to turn a stone into bread. His hunger for “substance” overcame him. Judas’ political plot to expose Jesus backfired. Judas’ decision put Jesus on trial for the domain of Israel.
Walk to Emmaus. To be sure Luke’s Gospel is always moving along, and this story continues this style of ministry that Jesus lived. Jesus joints to travelers. The Village of Emmaus was approximately 3.5 miles from Jerusalem where the disciples were still staying, well within walking distance. The two travelers had a heart-aching then heart-warming experience. Here Luke provides two witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, a valid testimony in a court of law. The testimony of the redeemed has power no matter the age – whether historical or contemporary. Their eyes are opened by divine revelation. (Luke also began Jesus is birth story with two witnesses in the Temple, Simeon and Anna, who attested to Jesus being the Messiah.) Here we catch a glimpse of Jesus healing the mind through the revelation of Scripture, healing the will of the people through hospitality, and healing their grieving emotions by being with them along the journey. The two disciples take their experience to the 11 disciples then Jesus appears again.
Luke’s theology draws strongly on the Old Testament imagery of the Kinsman Redeemer. Jesus himself is said to have pointed to fulfilling the law and the prophets. We can surmise that God’s word is never outdated. God’s work in us is never outdated. The journey to Emmaus with Jesus reflects the hope that Jesus would be Israel’s redeemer, the Kinsman Redeemer. Israel believes that the Messiah would redeem them from suffering, but they misunderstood. Messiah would redeem Israel through suffering.
In this passage Luke really focuses on Jesus’ new body. Jesus walks, talks, reasons, and breaks bread with the disciples. He suddenly appears out of thin air, and possesses physical qualities that one can touch. Jesus’ body belongs to both worlds – heavens and earth. Our resurrected bodies would no longer be subject to death. In the new heaven and earth the two dimensions will be fused together as one. One might say that “heaven” or “paradise” is the place of limbo between this life and the next. When Jesus spoke to the thief on the cross that the moment we die our souls are captured into the heavenly realms or in torment which Jesus called paradise (Luke 16.23-31, Luke 23.43). Paul talked about the third heaven and called it paradise (2 Cor. 12.2, 4). Life beyond death is not a right, but a gift from God. Believers are given a share in immortality. Our spirits are washed with the waters of baptism and nourished by the bread and the wine. Wesley believed that at the time of death the believing soul was entirely sanctified, then taken directly into the presence of God.
For Christians Eternal Life begins at the moment of belief that Jesus is the Son of God and you accept him as your Lord and Savior of the world. We believe in the final triumph of righteousness and in the life everlasting. We believe that eternal life is not simply an extension of life beyond death, but also a quality of life in Christ lived here and now. To live in Christ is to know eternal life. The reign of God is a “new and eternal state of things” – a new age – whereby the fullness of the Kingdom of God comes to bear upon all creation. Eternal life is understood as already present (1 Tim 6.12, 1 John 5) in a sharing of Christ’s own life, death, resurrection, and exaltation. The “last days” is the time between Christ’s coming “this age” and his coming again “the age to come.” Salvation occurs in the present by faith and awaits the age to come. We behold our beginning in God, and our fallen nature, and our redemption in God alone for our final destiny. We behold our death, personal survival, resurrection, and final judgment in God’s promise of life beyond this worldly existence. We understand that our life between birth and death is guided by our choices, and we are accountable to God for our actions (Heb. 10.26-31). When death comes, our choices end.
Easter is the dawn of the new creation when death is swallowed up in the victory of Eternal Life. But death happens to each of us! We should never grief as those who have no hope. For we understand that at the end of time there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and we will possess new bodies that will be a merger of both heaven and earth. There will no longer be a barrier between the heavenly and earthly realms, but they shall be as one. We will have the privilege of enjoying both realities simultaneously.
Perhaps the Easter story is best understood through the lands of the temptation in the desert. Initially, in the desert Jesus would suffer from lack of substance as the Scriptures say, Jesus was starving. Jesus was tempted to seek out earthly substance rather than spiritual substance. Jesus gave up earthly comfort to seek out a spiritual relationship with his Heavenly Father that would provide strength and guidance. At the Passover meal Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper with bread and cup. Jesus chose for bread to be the meal of spiritual substance. But we know Jesus’ personal restraint in not turning a stone into bread and breaking of the bread at the Passover provide the avenue for us today to celebrate this sacred meal that represents the forgiveness of our sins.
Second, Jesus would face the temptation to self-promotion. Jesus was tempted in his vanity (pride) to power, authority, and leadership. Instead Jesus chose to be a servant to his disciples washing their feet and hosting the Passover meal. Jesus instituted a new commandment of servitude, Love one another as I have loved you. Jesus chose to be silent when he was faced legal inquiry about his identity. When asked by religious and political leaders, Jesus did not promote himself as the Messiah or the Son of God. But we know Jesus’ silence at his trials promoted him to the place of King of kings and Lord of lords.
Third, Jesus experienced a vision of dying where the devil would invite him to take his own life: suicide. Jesus refrained, stating, do not test the Lord your God. At the cross Jesus experienced a similar situation where people insulted him saying, save yourself. But we know that Jesus did not take his life and now our lives are spared because of his righteous death. Because of Jesus is righteous death the cross is an icon of hope. It is through the cross that Jesus lost his life and gave us eternal life.
Have been on this journey through Lent by breaking bread each Sunday. We come to the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel and discover that is in the breaking of bread that Jesus is first seen after the resurrection. It is in the instruction of Scripture followed by the Lord’s Supper the other two disciples recognize Jesus. Luke states it plainly that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament. The reason Israel did not recognize Jesus was because they did not understand the Bible. The meal was an invitation to stranger. It was an act of hospitality to open their home and share a meal at the table.
We have been singing the doxology entitled Be Present at our Table, Lord. If you have been wondering why we have been singing this song, it has been pointing us toward this text. We are inviting Jesus to open our minds to understand the Scriptures. We are asking God to open her eyes to recognize Jesus in our midst. The song becomes an invitation for God to warm our hearts along the road of our lives. We turn ourselves toward the door of this church and send ourselves forward two by two into the world to preach the gospel around the table of our home and in the places where we meet our neighbors.
Receive this word as your benediction story. Jesus is in his resurrected body as he walked with the disciples as far as Bethany. In that same body he is taken up into Heaven. Yet, Jesus’ final act is in lifting up his hands and blessing the disciples. And, after he had blessed them they were overwhelmed with joy and gladness continually praising God and worshiping him at the temple. Indeed, may the Lord fill you with overwhelming joy and gladness as you hear God’s Word revealed, sit at the Table, and break bread with Jesus. May you share the Good News of Jesus to your neighbor so that they too can continually praise and worship God.