Opening the scriptures (Luke 24.13-35) [sermon 4-23-2017]

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April 22, 2017 by jmar198013

Manuscript of my sermon for Sunday, April 23, 2017. From an ongoing series, “Luke and Acts: The Good News of God’s Salvation.”

Text is Luke 24.13-35.

The resources that helped form this sermon are:

Brendan Byrne. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel. rev. ed. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2015), 204-09.

Justo L. Gonzalez. Luke. Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 276-79.

Joel B. Green. The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 840-51.

Beth Kreitzer, ed. New Testament III: Luke. Reformation Commentary on Scripture, ed. Timothy George and Scott M. Manetsch (Downers Grove: IVP, 2015), 483.

An audio link is embedded below for those who’d like to listen:


 

Slouching towards Emmaus

At the beginning of our Gospel lesson, Luke said: Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.

What day was it?

It was the same day the women disciples found the tomb empty, and heard the Good News from the angels: Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised (Luke 24.5-6).

It was the same day the women went and preached this Good News to the men. But the men thought they were just talking crazy, and wouldn’t believe them.

It was also the same day Peter decided maybe the women weren’t crazy, after all. Jesus had told them—more than once!—he would be killed, but rise again on the third day. So he went to investigate things for himself, and found the tomb empty. Just as the women had said. But instead of joining the women in proclaiming the Good News that Jesus had risen, Peter just returned home, wondering what had happened (Luke 24.12). None of them had seen Jesus, after all. An empty tomb wasn’t proof Jesus had been raised. Maybe Joseph of Arimathea’s wife had fussed at him for stashing an executed criminal’s body in the new family tomb or something. So Joseph had moved it somewhere else.

It was still the first day of the week. In other words, it was still Easter. But nobody really knew what that meant, yet.

And so, Luke shows us these two disciples, slouching towards Emmaus, on the very first Easter Sunday.

Their eyes were kept from recognizing him

Who were these two disciples? Luke will go on to name one as Cleopas, a disciple we haven’t heard of yet. The other remains nameless. John 19.25 names a woman disciple, Mary wife of Clopas, who stood with Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalene at the cross. Clopas and Cleopas were two forms of the same name. Could it be that the two disciples on the way to Emmaus were Cleopas and his wife, Mary? But Luke doesn’t spend any time giving us more details about these two disciples. Instead, he wants us to know they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened in Jerusalem.

They were talking about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.

About how the chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.

About how their hope that Jesus was the one to redeem Israel, died with him, and was sealed up in a tomb.

How all this took place three days ago.

But some of the women disciples had gone that morning and found the tomb empty, and they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.

And how some of the other disciples—in last week’s lesson, we heard Luke specifically name Peter—went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.

Luke says that, While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

This idea that Jesus’ disciples are often blind to what is clearly shown to them has come up over and over throughout Luke’s Gospel. Before they left for Jerusalem, Jesus told his disciples when they got there, he would be rejected, tortured, and killed by the authorities; but would rise again on the third day. And Luke says: they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it (Luke 9.45).

And when they were almost to Jerusalem, Jesus told them again that he would be handed over to the Gentiles, mocked, tortured, and killed. But on the third day, he would be raised to life. And still, Luke tells us: they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said (Luke 18.34).

Some have tried to let the disciples off the hook by speculating that the resurrected Jesus must have been some sort of shape-shifter. His glorified appearance was somehow modified. But Luke makes it plain it wasn’t Jesus’ bodily appearance that made the disciples unable to recognize him. Luke says it was their eyes which were kept from seeing him.

This raises the question: What—or who—kept them from seeing? Earlier in the Gospel, it had been their own thoughts, opinions, expectations and fears that had blinded them, so they didn’t understand. But this time, maybe the risen Jesus was playing with them. That’s what a sixteenth-century preacher named Heinrich Bullinger believed. He put it like this:

It was not that he had a different body than the one he had before his death, but only because it pleased him to leave them in the dark a little longer.

Sometimes our Lord Jesus does play hard-to-get. Not to mock us or confuse us. But so, as we continue to travel with him, the truth can be revealed to us precisely when we are ready to understand it.

Off-script?

The way Luke tells it, Jesus joins these two disciples as a fellow-traveler, and leans into their conversation. He asks them: What are you discussing with each other while you walk along? Literally, he asked: What are these words you’re throwing back-and-forth between you?

And that stopped them in their tracks. They were having an intimate conversation on the road about something deeply personal and traumatic. And now this person they don’t even recognize butts in and starts asking questions.

The question stopped them in their tracks. Luke says: They stood still, looking sad.

After they regained their composure, the disciple named Cleopas answered this stranger who has joined them on the road. We can forgive him for being a bit snippy: Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?

And the stranger replied: What things? I’m getting a kick out of seeing Jesus playing dumb here, aren’t you? I imagine Jesus trying really hard not to smile over how silly this situation is.

So Cleopas and the other disciple answer: The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people …

And in the most ironic case of mansplaining in the history of mansplaining, these two disciples proceed to tell the story of how Jesus was rejected by the authorities, who handed him over to be crucified. And how their hopes that he would restore Israel died with Jesus on that cross. But now some of the women disciples found Jesus’ tomb empty, and angels told them he was alive. And some of the men had gone and confirmed that the tomb was, indeed, empty. But no one had actually seen Jesus yet.

They’re telling all this to Jesus, the one this all happened to. They’re talking about how no one has seen Jesus yet, but they’re looking right at him.

And they don’t know it. All they see is a stranger, and a clueless one at that.

They will soon find out they were the clueless ones. And I bet nobody’s ever been so happy to learn how clueless they were than these two disciples are about to be.

I also bet Cleopas and the other disciple weren’t expecting the sharp, stinging answer they got from this stranger they didn’t know was Jesus: Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?

Think about this: These disciples are acknowledging that they’ve heard about the resurrection. But instead of being happy because Jesus may not, in fact, be dead anymore, they’re pouting: But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.

They’re sad and confused because Jesus didn’t live up to their expectations. They expected Jesus the Messiah to defeat the Romans and make Israel great again. And they’re so bummed out that he hasn’t lived up to their expectations, they can’t even find joy and hope in the rumor of his resurrection.

It’s like they were thinking: Even if it’s true that he’s been raised, he totally went off-script! This should teach us that Jesus is not reading from the same script we are. We had better learn to read from his.

The popular expectation was the Messiah would have a final showdown with the forces of evil. Israel would be restored. And after this, the resurrection. Nobody was expecting the Messiah to die battling the evil forces, and be raised. But Jesus tells them all the prophets have declared it was necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory.

These disciples had to be taught a whole new way to read their Bibles. And so Luke says: beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

These two disciples had probably walked the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus before. But even if that journey was a familiar path, the journey Jesus led them on through the scriptures as they walked along was brand new territory for them.

Have you ever been traveling a familiar path, and been surprised to find something that had been there all along, but you never noticed before? I’m sure that happened to these disciples over and over again as Jesus led them on a journey through the scriptures.

A crucifying world, a resurrecting God

Luke doesn’t tell us exactly what path Jesus took through Moses and the prophets that day—in other words, the Old Testament scriptures. Luke doesn’t tell us exactly how Jesus connected the dots between the Old Testament and himself, to show them the Messiah should suffer rejection, humiliation, and death, and then enter into his glory. But I don’t think Luke has left us totally in the dark, either.

Here’s what I think. I think this new way of reading the Bible Jesus showed those two disciples was handed down to future generations of disciples. And I think Luke does end up showing us what he said. But later, in the book of Acts.

In Acts 7, the first martyr of the church, Stephen, is on trial for blasphemy before the Sanhedrin. And on the spot, he provides an outline of the scriptures for the Jewish leaders that shows how they lead to Jesus—the crucified and resurrected Messiah now in glory at the right hand of God. I strongly suspect this outline of scripture was very similar to the one Jesus told those two disciples on the way to Emmaus.

I’m sure Jesus, like Stephen would remind the Sanhedrin later, reminded these two disciples how: The patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him, and rescued him from all his afflictions (Acts 7.9-10). Just as the authorities, afraid of Jesus’ growing power among the people, had run him out of town and had him crucified. But just as God didn’t let Joseph’s brothers’ evil plans have the final word, God didn’t let those who killed Jesus have the final word. God rescued Jesus from the grave, just as he’d rescued Joseph from the pit. And just as Joseph had gained authority in Egypt as Pharaoh’s right-hand man, now Jesus has authority on earth and in heaven, at God’s right side.

I’m sure Jesus, like Stephen would later, reminded these two disciples how God had sent Moses to rescue Israel from slavery in Egypt. But also how: Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him; instead, they pushed him aside, and in their hearts they turned back to Egypt (Acts 7.39).

And I’m nearly 100% certain Jesus, like Stephen did later, reminded them that there wasn’t a single prophet your ancestors didn’t harass. And how: They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One (Acts 7.52).

In other words, Jesus reminded them that God had always sent prophets to save and lead his people. And—this is a human problem, not just a Jewish one—they’d always refused to listen to the prophets. They’d bullied them, banished them; and if they couldn’t get them to shut up those ways, killed them. The survival rate among those God sent to save his people was never very good.

So why should they have expected it would be any different with Jesus? Jesus didn’t expect it would go differently for him, and prepared his disciples multiple times. Father God certainly didn’t expect it would go differently.

And I think that’s the route Jesus took as he led Cleopas and that other disciple on a journey through the scriptures that day: This world has always been a world that crucifies. But God has always been a resurrecting God.

That’s the lesson you learn when you read the scriptures in light of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

God has never been a God to let death have the final word. That’s the Good News of God’s salvation.

Made known in the breaking of the bread

Luke says when they got in sight of Emmaus, Jesus—still a stranger in their eyes—was acting like he was going to continue on. But they refused to let him go on alone. They brought him as a guest into the place where they were staying. But at the dinner table that night, Jesus the guest became Jesus the host.

Luke tells us: When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

If you’re not a first-time reader of Luke, you know that some of Jesus’ most significant ministry happened at a meal, around a table. And that this is not the first time Luke has used the words: he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

For instance, Luke 9.10-17 tells a famous story about how Jesus fed 5,000 with five loaves and two fish. How does Luke say he did that? And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd (Luke 9.16). He took the food. He blessed the food. He broke the food. And he gave them the food.

Then there was the Last Supper—the final Passover meal Jesus shared with his disciples on the night he was betrayed. Luke says: he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22.19). Again, he took the bread. He blessed it. He broke it. And he gave it to them. And he added, Remember me whenever this is done.

And you know what? That must have stuck with them. Because they did remember Jesus that evening when he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. Luke says: Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

Cleopas and the other disciple weren’t disappointed when Jesus vanished. I’m sure they probably just figured it was somebody else’s turn to meet the risen Jesus. No, they were full of joy and new hope. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

I love that phrase. They said Jesus opened the scriptures to them. The meaning of the scriptures has been fully embodied in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And now their eyes are opened to see it. The world crucifies. But God resurrects. That’s who God has always been, and who God will always be.

Doesn’t that set your heart on fire with hope and joy? It does mine.

Because it means Jesus really did have a showdown with evil on the cross, and he won a victory for us all, and all creation, in his resurrection. The devil, the world and its fallen powers, other people—they can hurt us. They can harass us. They can even kill us. But you know what they can’t do? They can’t make us victims. People who believe in God as revealed in the cross and resurrection of Christ can never be victims. Because we know that sorrow and shame and suffering and death don’t get the final word.

So, full of joy, they got right up and ran back to Jerusalem. To the other disciples. And when they got there, they found out that Jesus had also appeared to Simon Peter. They overheard their friends saying: The Lord has risen indeed! And they had their own story to share, to spread the joy around: they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

He is still made known to us in the breaking of the bread. As we gather each week around his table to remember him. How he gave his body to be broken for us, to bless us. Our eyes are opened, the scriptures are opened, and our hearts are warmed. Because we know the truth: The world crucifies, but God resurrects.

Jesus still journeys with his church, just as he did those two disciples on the way from Jerusalem to Emmaus. And every time we take and bless and break and share the bread that is his body and the wine that is his blood, the crucified and resurrected Jesus is our host. He is made known to us. We can join with the disciples who first proclaimed: The Lord has risen indeed! And we can know that because he has been raised from the dead, so will we.

That’s the Good News of God’s salvation.

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