Monday, April 6, 2015

An Empty Tomb & the Emmaus Road.

Luke 24 has a long middle story (the Emmaus Road) with a story of about the women and the Apostles before and after it.
1. The Women and the Empty Tomb.
The death of a messianic hopeful leading a kingdom of God on a Roman cross meant the end of the movement. This is ‘what happened’ in over a dozen such first century movements. But this opening story reveals that the cross was not the end of Jesus.   

But this was difficult for the disciples to believe, even though they were told over and over again. The two angels tell the women how Jesus had told them that he would be delivered over to sinful men, be crucified and then rise from the dead on the third day (Luke 24:6-7). Jesus had told his disciples that he must die and rise again on numerous occasions (Mark 8:31, 9:9, 10:33-34)  Jesus ‘told them so’ but his disciples simply did not hear what Jesus was trying to tell them.

For most Jews in Jesus’ day ‘the resurrection’ was something that God would do for all the ‘righteous’ at the ‘last day’ (John 11:23-24). So it wasn’t just a lack of faith that kept them believing what Jesus had said. One isolated individual being resurrected to a new bodily life, while the rest of the world continued as is was not in their thinking.

The women carried spices to the tomb expecting to find the dead body of Jesus (Luke 24:1). The Apostles didn't expect Jesus to die or rise again from the dead. When the women told the Apostles that they found the tomb empty and how the angels said Jesus was alive their words seemed like nonsense (Luke 24:11-12). Such a wild story might be expected from women overwhelmed with grief over the death of a loved one.

That this was hard for the women and the Apostles to believe actually makes this story more believable. In the ancient world women were not considered credible witnesses. Also the story portrays the apostles not as models of faith; but full of doubt and unbelief. You see this is not the kind of account someone would make up if they were trying to start a religion.

Like many moderns, the Apostles found the story of the empty tomb and the testimony of the angels that Jesus had risen from the dead to be nonsense. They knew just as much as people today know that ‘dead people stay dead’. They were not inclined to believe it even though Jesus ‘told them in advance!’ Let’s be clear, the gospel of the ‘resurrected Messiah’ is not something man would make up (Gal. 1:11). The empty tomb and the testimony of the angels is the beginning of the good news that turns the over wise tragic death of Jesus on a Roman cross. But it was good news that none of Jesus’ disciples expected!
2. The Emmaus Road and the Resurrected Christ.
The first account reveals that the story of Jesus isn't over. The Emmaus road story unfolds what happened and shows how what happened to Jesus opens all of scripture.  
Jesus comes up beside Cleopas and his companion on the Emmaus road but we are told that they were kept from recognizing Jesus. Jesus asks what they were discussing, and they stop with their faces downcast (LK 24:16-17). They can’t recognize Jesus and they can’t believe that he doesn’t know what had happened to the prophet they hoped would redeem Israel. They longed for someone to lead Israel in a New Exodus out from under Roman oppression like Israel had been ‘redeemed’ from Egyptian slavery. They wanted Jesus to liberate Israel from Rome but Rome crucified Jesus. In their thinking Jesus should have defeated the Romans, not die on a cross! That’s why they were so downcast

They failed to recognize Jesus along the Emmaus road at least in part because they couldn’t understand why the Christ would be crucified. They couldn’t see past the cross to the resurrection because they didn’t understand their own need for the cross. Jesus leads a new Exodus but the slave-masters who have enslaved us all are sin and death. Jesus came to deal with their real problem which was not merely the Romans outside them but the sin that was in them. A crucified Messiah is a failed Messiah; the resurrection changed everything!

Jesus explained how all scripture spoke about him, but not just in a few isolated texts. Jesus is the ‘seed of the woman’ that would crush the serpent (Gen.3). Jesus is the seed of Abraham through whom God would bless the world (Gen.12). Jesus is the priest forever after the order of ‘Melchizedek’ (Gen.14, Heb.7). Jesus is the prophet like Moses who we must listen to (Dt.18). Jesus is the Passover lamb who takes away the sins of the world (Ex.12). Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins that that the entire Mosaic sacrificial system pointed to. Jesus is the one who came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Jesus is the Son of David who would have God as his father and reign over God’s kingdom forever (2 Sam.7). Jesus is the temple that Solomon’s temple pointed to and the one who said ‘destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days’ referring to his body. Jesus is the one who was declared with power to be the ‘son of God’ by his resurrection of the dead.

Jesus explains how his death and resurrection unfolds and fulfills the whole Biblical Story. The crucifixion tells me that Jesus’ death made satisfaction for all the sins of all God’s people, and the resurrection was the beginning of God’s new creation. As the ‘very image of God’ Jesus is the second Adam who, even now, is filling the world with redeemed images.   All the promises of God are ‘Yes and Amen’ in Jesus and the resurrection means that Jesus really is the ‘Messiah of Israel’ and the ascension means Jesus is the world’s TRUE Lord.

We need the ‘resurrected Lord Jesus’ to open the scriptures and unlock the Biblical story. This story encourages us to know the story to know Jesus and to know Jesus in the ‘breaking of the bread’. We must pray that Jesus would open our ‘foolish and slow to believe’ hearts and open the story to us so that our hearts will the burn within us (LK 24:32). 

Happy Easter 2015!
Jay, Laura, Clara, Katherine and Lauren Stoms

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