Luke 24: 13-43
And around the same time on that same day, two of them were journeying to Emmaus a village some 60 stadia [furlongs] from Jerusalem. They discussed [earnestly] with each other all that had happened. And that was when, as they talked together, tossing it all over, that Jesus himself drew near to journey with them. But their eyes were restrained and [so] they did not recognize him. And he said to them:
“So tell me what you are discussing [so seriously] between yourselves as you walk?”
They stopped, downcast, and one of them, Cleopas by name, answered him:
“Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who has not known what has been going on in Jerusalem in these past days?”
And he said to them:
“What things are these?”
And they said to him: “The events relating to Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and in word, before God and all the people. And [we have been discussing] how our chief priests and ruling elite had him handed over, having arranged his crucifixion. But we had been hopeful that he was to be the one to emancipate Israel. But also [there’s more], we are now in the third day since all of this happened and some of the women in our company have completely perplexed us. They went early to the tomb and not finding his body came back saying they had [together] seen a vision of angels who have said [to them] that he lives. And some of our number went to the tomb and indeed found it just as the women had said it had been, yet him they did not see.”
At this point he said this to them, “O you are so wilfully ignorant and so lethargic in your hearts to believe all the things that the prophets have spoken. Were not these things necessarily all part of what the Christ had to suffer before entering into his glory?”
And then beginning from Moses and all of the prophets, he explained to them from the scriptures all the characteristics that pertained to himself. And they drew near to the village to which they were headed and he gave every indication to them that he was going further. And they constrained him, saying: “Remain with us since the evening is coming on and daylight is quickly fading.”
And he accepted their hospitality and went in with them.
And it then happened that as he sat down to dine with them, he took the loaf, gave thanks and, having broken it, he handed them a piece. And from this their eyes were opened [well and truly] and they recognized who he was. And from that was it. He was gone.
And from then [and thereafter] they said to one another: “Did not our hearts light up within us as he spoke to us on the way and as he threw open wide the scriptures?”
And that same hour, they got back on the road and returned to Jerusalem and found the eleven and the others with them having met together with their announcement:
“The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon.”
And they related to them what had happened on their journey and how he had become known to them in the breaking of the bread. And as they recounted these things, there he was standing there right in their midst. But they were in shock, even terrified, and began to think that maybe they were beholding a spirit. And he said to them:
“Why are you so troubled and why are those conflicting thoughts arising in your hearts? See my hands? Look at my feet! [Confirm for yourselves that] it is truly me, myself. Take hold and look closely because a spirit that you may behold does not have the flesh and bones that you see me to have.”
And while they yet disbelieved from joy and with profound shock, he said to them:
“Have you any food here?” And they passed to him a piece of broiled fish. And taking it, he ate it [with them] in their presence.
Many Christians attest to the powerful impact that this part of Luke’s Gospel has had upon them. Indeed, the story of the meeting Jesus with his two perplexed disciples on the road to Emmaus has maintained its profound contribution to the lives of men and women, boys and girls, generation to generation. These two, one named Cleopas and his nameless associate, had their own account and Luke includes it in his Gospel written for Theophilus. They too met the Risen Christ, and upon their hurried return journey to Jerusalem, they were able to tell the gathering that the account of the women had been confirmed to them by Jesus himself. The women, of all the disciples, had come to trust what they were induced to recall of Jesus’ teaching about himself back in Galilee. And now Jesus had come face-to-face with these two and reminded them of what he had, in fact, been teaching them all along. And on their return to Jerusalem, to meet the disciples who had been so saddened them perplexed, the two were to hear the disciples telling them:
The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon.
Presumably, Luke means by this Peter (recall the interpolated v.12 we discussed briefly last time) even if, just a chapter or so earlier, he had introduced Theophilus to another “Simon” (23:26), the conscipted cross-bearer. At this point it is worth our while to try to put ourselves in the reading shoes of Luke’s reader.
Now, if I were Theophilus, might I not be wondering which “Simon” Luke is referring to here?
Apart from the carrier of Jesus’ cross, Luke tells us that Jesus also used the name “Simon” when he told Peter that he would be facing severe temptation in an hour or so time during the Passover celebration (22:31). And much earlier (Luke 7) there was another Simon, a Pharisee, but clearly he is not Luke’s referant on this occasion.
Let us think again and recall what Luke has already told us, and also how we have suggested he has “gone easy” on Peter in his account his actions in Gethsemane as well as his three-fold denial. Then Luke tells us that at the cock-crow, Peter had gone out of the remand centre where Jesus was being held, and he was weeping bitterly. [There is also the question about the scribal interpolation of “Peter” in 23:12]. Theophilus will have known before reading Luke’s Gospel that Jesus had dealt mercifully with Peter who, after Pentecost, was clearly the prominent Apostle, the leader with John of those following “the way”.
So from all that we can, once more, affirm what we have said earlier about Luke’s account: he continues a story in which one thing he has discovered in his investigation leads on to another report. In this case, the one thing was the women’s report of the empty tomb and the angels and the initial inability of the disciples to consider it worthy of their trust. The next thing then is that the convocation of the disciples was presented with evidence from two other disciples of Jesus’ resurrection – confirming the women’s faith which also these two had hitherto found incredible. And it was this return visit, Luke says, that preceded Jesus’ next appearance to the gathering of disciples.
But that was not all that had dispelled the disbelief, or at least profoundly challenged it, of the disciples. When the two from Emmaus gave their report, they were to receive the report of the disciples that
The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon.
And so these are two, in fact three (to include the initial report of the women), mutually confirming affirmations of Jesus’ resurrection.
But let us go back to Jesus’ appearance to, and his late afternoon admonition of the two walkers, who had been trudging along despondently, walking and talking late in the day, on their way home to Emmaus. We get the sense of:
So much for what we had hoped! We thought this was it. This was a truly amazing teacher and with what wonderful deeds and teaching that simply left us wanting more! Do we really need more visions of angels being us by these hyperactive women?
How then do we read Luke’s account of Jesus’ admonition? What was the outcome of his walking and talking – a most ordinary and everyday activity – with them. This was fellowship. This was friendliness. This was neighbourliness. This was going on a walk together. Slowly, slowly their sad perplexity seems to have been dissipated – their sadness is evaporated even while they don’t realise it. They absorbed this Stranger’s teaching.
And so they prevail upon him to visit with them and share an evening meal to bring the day to a close. We don’t read of their families sitting down and sharing the meal with this Stranger. And they may have offered him their hospitality but it was he who simply presided over the simple meal he shared with them. [We don’t even hear what was said as “Grace”!]
Our Father in Heaven thankyou for this day and this food. AMEN. Let’s eat!
I do not know how to properly understand the word [ἄφαντος] that is translated as “vanished” or “taken out of sight”. My preference is to avoid a translation that gives any implication of some kind of magical power, and yet clearly this Resurrected Person, the Lord Jesus, is beyond the grasp of those he meets, even when he meets them face to face, shaking hands, breathing the same air, eating the same food. And I also think it is well to recall that Luke is seeking to convey to his friend Theophilus why his faith is well-attested by reliable eye-witnesses who met the resurrected Jesus. His Gospel is in no way an appeal to him (or us) to believe in magic. He is reporting to his fellow, who is also walking on “the way”, something of how Jesus’ resurrection has been discussed among his disciples, among those to whom he appeared before his ascension. On that occasion:
And that was it. Then he had gone.
The emphasis here, and in fact throughout the entire Gospel, is of a Person who simply could not be subjected to human control. Even Pilate discovered that before his execution. And so we might well reflect on what “that” (in my above transliteration) means in this instance.
As with much story-telling a “that” is as much a recognition of limits – as in “and that is the end of the story”. It is also reference to what had happened and how what had happened had a finish. Consider: how does one convey the ending of a meal, of a visit to your house, with a resurrected Person? I think, in this case, it refers to the limits of the evidence given by firsthand witnesses and Luke tries to capture the lot by finishing it off –
And that was it. Then he had gone.
What then is Luke saying to Theophilus? Something like:
And that is about all that can be said because it is all that Cleopas and his friend were able to say. He had waled with them. he had eaten with. And he then went. They had begun to realize who he was and the next minute he was gone.
It bears repeating, as we have said last time: how does a writer of a Gospel convey a resurrection? I’m suggesting that Luke conveys the resurrection in ways that are not too dissimilar to how we live as those blessed by Jesus being raised from the grave:
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And for my part in this I’m going to ask the Father, and he will give you another personal carer to be with you from hereon, the Spirit of truth, not for the world to receive, because it can neither see nor know him. But you’ll know him, because he will dwell with you and in you [John 14:15-17].
We confess that this is the first resurrection, from which our own, in God’s good time, will follow. And here from Luke’s account there is absolutely no indication that the two were offended by any “impolite” departure of Jesus, even if we, reading this now, would wonder what else transpired during that meal. The two fellows we are told, previously so downcast and perplexed had been so lifted out of their depression, and begin to talk between themselves what had taken place. Then, possibly before they realised what they were doing, they hot-footed it back to Jerusalem.
In retrospect, however recent, they lived in the realisation that something enormous, something incredible, something … how is one to ever talk about it? It is like creation – something that is self-evident but cannot be grasped or explained. But once confessed, we might say, a whole new world opens up … in fact God’s creational purposes for what he had made and redeemed become intensely palpable.
Unbelieving attempts to reduce the account of Luke (and the other Gospels) to cognitive dissonance, presume that the discovery of cognitive dissonance explains the resurrection. Luke’s account puts it exactly the other way around. It might better be said that Luke’s account tells us that the disciples who met Jesus face-to-face after his resurrection, found they were being addressed with great kindness and mercy, even if there were form words of admonition given to them. In the same Spirit that Jesus breathed on them, they and those who follow them, were able to face up to their “cognitive dissonance” and not avoid it. Jesus had spoken.
O you are so wilfully ignorant and so lethargic in your hearts to believe all the things that prophets [you continue to say you have trusted] all the things they have spoken. Were not these things necessarily all part of what the Christ had to suffer before entering into his glory?
Jesus asks them, point blank:
Have you really, after all that has happened, and after all that you have been taught, really believed what the prophets have said?
And now with Jesus’ appearing to them, he makes it possible for their wilful ignorance and heart lethargy to be overcome! He calls them – face-to-face – to believe in him! It’s a call full to overflowing with merciful kindness. He makes it possible for those following him to believe. This is also what his resurrection does and continues to do in our lives.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ opens the way for the Spirit to be breathed again upon the image-bearers of the Lord Almighty, those He has all along be seeking to save, ever since the disastrous departure when they had made their wilful ignorance the raison d’etre of their life and their times. The overcoming of that rebellion by God’s own action brings the joyous hope into which Jesus invites his disciples to live, here and now, right away, not to be avoided, here and hereafter. The resurrection of Jesus is given to his disciples, to us, to humankind, not to figure out how or whether it happened; it is a given personal reality in which the Living God reveals himself, in the way that he has chosen to make himself known for the whole world, the world of his creation – redeemed. And in doing so he carries of the fear of death, the dissolution and we might add, as the two on the road experienced, the disillusion.
The response then, as it has been subsequently, is what Luke said:
a joyous moment, a moment so unbelievable
in which he was happy to share a meal with them.
Luke 24: 1-11 (12)
But at the beginning of a new week, while it was still very early, these [same] women came carrying the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from [the entrance to] the tomb, and upon entering they could not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And so they were in great perplexity about this and at this point two men stood by them in shining garments. And as they bowed their faces to the ground, terrified, they said to them:
“Why are you seeking the living among the dead? He is not here but has been raised. Recall how he spoke to you when you were still in Galilee saying, ‘It is necessary for the Son of Man to be handed over into the hands of sinful men and to be crucified and on the third day to be raised.’”
And they did indeed recall these words of his and returning [home] from the tomb they reported all these things to the eleven and all the others as well.
Now it was Mary of Magdala and Joanna and Mary [mother] of James with all the other women who told the apostles these things. But it seemed to them that on the face of it that these words were just talk and so they did not trust it at all.
How does one include a report about a resurrection into one’s account of the events that are presupposed by what we, who confess faith in Jesus Christ, believe? Luke has already told us that Theophilus has come to faith in Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel, the God-given Prince of Princes, the Lord of all.
The Good News proclaimed by the apostles has borne fruit. The faith of Theophilus is already the precedent, and perhaps the motivation, for Luke’s Gospel narrative. And so he, like us, believes that Jesus has indeed transformed our lives, and has indeed been raised even though he, and us, does not have first-hand (i.e. hand-shaking) experience of the Resurrected One. We were not there to meet with him in the 40 day period between his resurrection and ascension having thereafter been received from the apostles and the disciples to sit at God’s right hand. But this does not stop us from returning to this account and this precise point in Luke’s Gospel.
So how do he one report on the resurrection?
Luke reports on what he knows, presumably of what he has been told by reliable eye-witnesses of his coming among them, and who became custodians of his word (Luke 1:2). His Gospel is a narrative of what he has been able to collect from his investigations.
Of course, we are prone to ask: what about what is written in some Bibles in verse 12?
Why is there some question about whether this should be included in Luke’s account?
But Peter got up, and ran to the tomb, and stooping and looking in he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home amazed at what had happened (Luke 24:12).
We could speculate that this had been added by a transcriber of Luke’s Gospel at some later stage on the basis of what had been conveyed to him in the other Gospels. But if that is so, it is a transcription that simply confirms the initial amazement of the women, and all those others who would subsequently become caught up in the conviction that Jesus had been raised. And then we are confronted by the record of all 4 Gospels that Jesus presented himself to them and thus confirmed their faith that God had raised him. They then would live out their lives proclaiming his resurrection and ascension without any shadow of doubt.
It was an event of which they came to be convinced even though they had not been present when it occurred.
So there are questions for us as we turn to read this once more. We re-acquaint ourselves with Jesus’ resurrection, again and again, and not only at Easter time. This is the event that has brought us to the confession that our life is actually in the hands of this Person who was raised. But the question is not only:
How was one, like Luke, to include an account of a resurrection in his Gospel narrative? It is a valid question provoking us to reflection all the more because unlike Jesus’ last breath on the cross, there was no-one present at the precise time, watching and listening, when it occurred.
But also we might go further, having noted the above question about verse 12, and ask:
How does one transcribe Luke’s Gospel account of the resurrection when one knows, from other witnesses, that there was more to it than he has conveyed with what he has written?
How do we, in reading this book today, receive the news of Jesus’ resurrection and, in particular, reckon with what seems to be the main point of Luke’s account?
Luke says the women were terrified but when they were reminded by the angels, the messengers of God, that Jesus had already told them about this event, that he would be raised after a cruel death, they told the eleven and the others that they believed Jesus had been raised. But they were greeted with disbelief.
The Lukan amanuenses who added verse 12, seems keen to have us know that soon the return of the women Peter verified their story, at least that the tomb was empty, and yes he shared their utter amazement. And we can infer that this addition to Luke’s Gospel was based on the reports that are conveyed in the other Gospels.
Thus, we can suggest that Luke is saying to Theophilus:
This brief paragraph tells you what this is all about. It all comes down to this. It all hangs together on what happened on that first day of the week.
Luke, Paul’s loyal companion, who also seems to have been his chronicler, his scribe, now documents for Theophilus, the events that have been fulfilled in their midst. He does not call his correspondent to imagine “the moment”. Theophilus is enjoined to share in the women’s amazement.
Here is an account of a new creation, the raising of Jesus from the grave, that simply cannot be grasped by this or any literary account. The aim here is not to convey a picture; it is no appeal to Theophilus’s imagination. It is, however, what this book presupposes. Without this event this book would not have been written.
In that sense Jesus’ resurrection is like creation itself – our attempt to point to the creation is at every moment constrained by the creational ordering of our lives, of our thoughts, our imagination, our discussion, our writing, our reporting.
There is creational humility in Luke’s account. That is its glory. It is not as if Luke needed to psych himself into a special frame of mind. His “humble record” of this event is without any effort on his part to suggest “what happened”. We are simply told of the women’s loyalty, and their subsequent amazement. The Christian profession of the resurrection of Jesus can only ever be in the creaturely form of words put together to confess the new life that has been poured into our experience by this event. It is with such confessional fragility, such conviction about what God has done, that God has ordained that the Good News of his Son, Jesus Christ, is to be proclaimed.
Luke 23: 44-56
And it was now about midday, and the sun not shining with darkness coming across the entire land until mid-afternoon with the veil of the temple ripped down the middle.
And Jesus, crying with a mighty voice said: “Father, my spirit I leave in your hands”, breathed his last.
And having watched it all take place, the Centurion [on duty] gave [his] praise to God, saying, “Truly this was a righteous man!”
And the crowd of people who had converged to watch first-hand, all went off home beating their breasts. And meanwhile, those whom he had known, the women accompanying him from Galilee, stood far off watching.
And this was when, Joseph comes into this report. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, a good and righteous man, not at all consenting with the council’s decree and what they had done. He was from Arimathea, a Jewish city, waiting expectantly for the Kingdom of God. He had gone to Pilate asking for the body of Jesus and taking it down wrapped it in linen, placing it in a rock-hewn tomb in which no-one had yet been laid.
And of course it was the day of preparation and the Sabbath was immanent. And the women, those having come with him from Galilee saw the tomb, noted how the body was placed therein, and then they went home to prepare spices and oils [for the burial]. And since it was now the Sabbath, they rested.
We have wondered how Luke came by the account of Jesus’ exchange with the two criminals who were executed alongside him. Given that his disciples had forsaken Jesus and fled, we are left wondering who was there who could have provided Luke with the details he presents to us? In asking this, we note that Matthew and Mark with some slight variation give similar accounts to this.
Luke’s brevity is notable and as I have suggested, it is a significant aspect of his creative literary composition. He gives emphasis to the relatively short duration, when all is said and done, between arrest and execution. He appears to be very keen to move on to get to the “punch line”, the explosive reality, and, as it were, to get it all down for Theophilus before the Lord returns. He pauses briefly to tell us that it was a day to be remembered for the failure of the sun to shine and when dark clouds overshadowed the proceedings.
And it was then, on such a gloomy and dismal day, when, as confirmed by Matthew and Mark as well, that the curtain in the temple was torn. Luke says it was “torn down the middle”. Matthew (27:51) and Mark (15:38) say it was torn “top to bottom”. Matthew also refers to other strange miraculous events and sightings as well (27:51-54). And all three mention the Roman officer witnessing the event.
By reference to the clouds and the sun withholding its light, Luke also indicates to Theophilus something of the mood that accompanied Jesus’ execution; but he does not expand upon it as Matthew does, nor does he at this point tell us the names of the women who stood at a distance watching (see 24:10). We can say once more that his account – perhaps with the “distraction” of the exchange between the criminals and Jesus – is characterised by his emphasis upon how it was all carried out so efficiently and quickly, even if there was a degree of administrative uncertainty. In writing this account, Luke is eager to get to the main point of his entire exposition ASAP.
When he tells us of Jesus breathing his last breath, we obtain a hint of one primary source for his account – the Roman centurion is quoted and we should also keep in mind that perhaps he was indebted also to the conscripted cross-carrier, Simon of Cyrene.
Then those who had been spectators of the event returned home for the Sabbath. Except Luke now makes a distinction among the bystanders; the woman and some of his companions from Galilee stayed while the corpse was removed from its brutal frame.
And here comes another witness; Joseph is introduced into Luke’s account. The arrival at Golgotha of the Council member from Arimathea is wholly unexpected (by us). It is not only crucial for validating and giving further depth to Luke’s account of the rank injustice that had overtaken the Sanhedrin’s deliberations, but Joseph’s involvement would prove vital when the disciples would later refer to the discovery of an empty tomb, the burial place that had been made available by Joseph’s personal stewardship.
But at this point the disciples had fled. Who was thinking about a burial place? Was not Jesus’ body destined for the same mass grave that would be the resting place for the bodies of the two criminals? John the Baptist’s disciples had taken the headless corpse and laid it in a tomb (Mark 6:29). But apart from Joseph and the women, Jesus’ disciples were in no state of mind to make arrangements for the burial. The women kept an eye on events. Were they perhaps expecting Joseph?
John tells us that Joseph had teamed up with Nicodemus (John 19:39) – the supplier of oils for burial. So Luke points us to a couple of possible reliable witnesses and we recall, as he has said, that this is his attempt to put together an orderly and coherent account of what has transpired, confirming the utter reliability of what Theophilus has already been told concerning the amazing news of Israel’s Messiah and the meaning of his coming for the entire world.
By mentioning the temple’s veil being torn in two, Luke provides his readers with not a few questions. He simply states it as fact. It is as if Theophilus has already some idea of its meaning – it is also a metaphoric allusion to the fulfilment of Jewish temple rituals in the slaying of the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. But the report of a coinciding event that happened on that same day, around that same time, it doesn’t seem to make much sense unless Theophilus had already been instructed in these ancient teachings. In that sense what we have said about Luke’s ongoing interest in linking his account of Jesus’ ministry with that of John the Baptist also comes into focus here. After all, John was well-known among Jesus disciples for having pointed them to Jesus “the Lamb of God who is taking away the sins of the world.”
And that then might suggest that Theophilus has some knowledge of John’s baptism (Acts 1:5; and also significantly 19:1-10). Would it not be another indication of how Luke’s two books were framed to tell how baptism in the name of Jesus, with the coming of God’s spirit, superseded the water baptism of John for repentance?
So far so good, but why does Luke’s narrative not provide us with any account of the 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension? Could it then be that it is not elaborated because it was simply the time when Jesus clarified his teaching for his disciples? Was it not then that he answered their questions in the context of a reiteration of why his suffering was necessary for them. And so we have the repeated refrain in all Gospels that when he told them about his coming suffering they had no idea what he was talking about. Did he not have to provide them with the definitive explanation of the temple’s torn curtain to break through their “wilfully ignorant and lethargic hearts” (Luke 24:25)?
Luke, by his account of the haste by which Jesus’ crucifixion was carried out after his arrest and trial, seems to have taken on that characteristic into his own telling of the story. And indeed, it is, under his hasty telling, that this final chapter of what we have as “Luke’s Gospel” – his announcement of the Good News following Jesus’ suffering and resurrection. This then is all part of culmination of the story“until the day on which he was taken up from them into heaven” (Acts 1:2 see also Luke 24:51), and on the surface, it seems, we learn very little of the 40 days, apart from the account of the meeting on the road to Emmaus.
Of course, we can speculate about the exchange that took place between Jesus and his disciples as they regathered to meet him, and as he met them, in the 40 days between his resurrection and ascension. On one reliably reported occasion there were up to 500 disciples, brothers and sisters, meeting him (1 Corinthians 15:6). But what are we to understand by that 40 days – let alone that crowd of 500 witnesses? What are we to understand concerning what happened during this time? It would seem that these witnesses were participating in Jesus’ glorification in ways not dissimilar to what Peter, James and John had experienced on the “mount of transfiguration”, except now, instead of refraining from talking openly about what they had seen, as Jesus had then instructed them, they were to consider themselves as those called to prepare for the time when they would spread the word to every creature under heaven!
So as we consider that – provoked by the seeming riddle of Luke’s fleeting reference to “the temple curtain torn down the middle” – we might also come to a surprising conclusion. Rather than concluding, as we might easily do, that we only have sparse written accounts of what transpired on the 40 days between resurrection and ascension, we could just as well conclude that we have 4 Gospels which are the definitive account of Jesus’ “intensive” with his disciples during that period. That was when he taught them how his ministry had prepared him and them for his suffering and resurrection as Israel’s Messiah – his death and raising in which they now shared. It was also then that his relation to John the Baptist was clarified, and it was then further elaborated by Luke’s painstaking investigation, the results of which we now have in this Gospel.
After all, the meaning of the “ripped curtain”, is also definitively explained by Jesus in his teaching about himself. Before this curtain was torn in two Zechariah had received the promise of a son from the angelic messenger (Luke 1:21-22). And now, before the close of this scroll, Luke will recount how Jesus in his resurrection power, in his own body represents the tearing of the curtain “down the middle” that the other evangelists denote as a rip that came from “top to bottom”. Jesus challenged the “wilful and lethargic ignorance” of the disciples by presenting himself to them as the one who has brought the true and living way (Hebrews 10:20).
Were not these things necessary for the Anointed to suffer in order to enter into His glory?” And then beginning with Moses and all of the prophets he explained to them all the characteristics of himself from the scriptures (Luke 24:26-27).
Luke 23: 32-43
There were others – two criminals – led away with him to be executed.
And they came to what is known as Skull Place and there they crucified him along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left.
And it was then that Jesus said:
“Father forgive them. They do not know what they are doing!”
And they divided up his clothing [among themselves] and cast lots for it.
And the people were standing watching [as if they were spectators], among them the [city’s] leading men, turning up their noses at him: “He saved others. Let him [now] save himself, if he is indeed the Anointed of God, the chosen one. [Ha!]”
And the soldiers made sport of it all, making out to pay due respect, when offering him vinegar saying: “Well if you are King of the Jews [as the sign says, now is the time to] save yourself.”
For there was a public notice explaining: “This is the King of the Jews.”
And [with all this going on] one of the criminals [joined in and] abused him: “Are you not the Anointed? Save yourself and us!”
But the other countered this, rebuking him: “Have you no fear of God since you are now under the same sentence as he is. And we indeed now receive our just deserts for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, will you remember me when you come to inherit your Kingdom?”
And he said to him: “Truly I am telling you, today [this very day] you will be with me in paradise.”
Trust in the system of criminal justice under Roman dominance may have been busy undermining itself, as we have noted, with the kind of wheeling and dealing that had Jesus traded with the insurrectionist zealot, Barabbas. But in that hour of satirical brutality, there was one person there, one person who was able to take a stand, and he too was one of the criminal class. And Jesus’ own disciples had either fled or stood afar off.
Jesus not only suffered abuse from his sworn enemies. Luke presents us with those standing by, watching proceedings as if this barbaric cruelty was simply being depicted in street theatre terms. And so, for such a spectacle, the city’s elite offer, as if by perverted instinct, their cat-calls.
Luke catches this mood by depicting such abuse in sharp contrast with the intercession of the one criminally convicted.
Father, forgive them. They simply have no idea of what they are doing!
That is not only putting it kindly, it remains the evidence that God’s Anointed did not turn away from those bent on destruction of himself and themselves but turned to them in love. The gallery of spectators, at least those who came close to get a clear picture of the agony, obviously could not face the gruesome reality. Not really. They needed to turn it into something else. The soldiers turned it into a dice game, playing among themselves for the royal robe. Jesus had been given this robe thanks to Herod’s condescending satirical brutality and this, as we have said, set the scene; for Herod and Pilate it was now as much entertainment, a distraction, and as their entertainment it was their invitation to others standing by to endure its bloody cruelty as a joke.
And so, Luke tells us, the Jerusalem elite played their obsequious part, making stupid, abusive cat-calls and their cruel conduct was confirmed by Pilate’s own prop, a multi-lingual bill-board (his equivalent for his time of a Face Book page).
Here hangs the King of the Jews!
And then, as if this is not over-the-top already, one of the criminals – no doubt in horrendous pain as his life began to ebb away – gets caught up in the blood-lust, the pagan mood and joins in.
Will there be no-one to come to Jesus’ aid in all this cruelty, in this resounding chorus of satirical abuse? Does Jesus have to suffer this thoroughly demeaning invective as a value-added part of his punishment?
And here, in the full agony of this sorry tale – a tale we now read as a story which should evoke our tears – were people just like ourselves, people who could be so cruel and unremitting in their venom even there, in the context of an execution that made an abattoirs look squeaky clean.
Here, in the midst of this miscarriage of justice, this gross administrative and government sin, is the thoroughly undignified, foul and obscene attempt to turn it into a mere theatrical event so that those who have responsibility for carrying it out can cope. Forget the needs of the three who have to be despatched from this life. They have to be done and dusted, but those involved in carrying out the execution have to get on with the rest of their lives. Treating it as a game, as theatre, was claimed to be simply part of the gruesome reality they had to deal with.
And yet, here is this other criminal, who demonstrated that this was a view that spits in the face of God himself. For him, it simply was not right. Faced with his companion’s blast of life-concluding anger, pouring out his venom onto the innocent hanging helplessly alongside him, he has had enough of this sport. He turned to his friend and rebuked him, reminding him that this was no theatre of the kind that his words suggest. He tells his fellow that this grievous moment is being played out before the Almighty’s Throne. He might as well have been singing Psalm 91:
He who dwells within the shelter
Of the Most High finds his place,
He who lives beneath the shadow
Of the Almighty’s word of grace,
Says straight up: “You are my lookout,
Refuge sure that’s built to last!
Your love is the source of power,
My life long you’ll have my trust!”
With his last gasps he makes this appeal to his still unrepentant colleague:
Have you no fear of God at all?
Yes, this is a rebuke of unrighteousness arising from the agony of crucifixion. Luke details this courage effort to distance himself from those who are wanting to pretend it is all a matter of cat-calls and abuse. In the presence of the One who has been satirically proclaimed as king, this dying criminal refuses to be part of a game that reviles Israel’s hope of a coming Messiah. We do not know anything else about this man. The two of them were executed together for their crimes. It may be a fair question to ask whether the two of them had been convicted along with Barabbas for insurrection. Luke does not tell us. Yes, Jesus is interchange for the one who has been granted the Passover release.
We do not know whether these two were Barabbas’s accomplices but with Jesus hanging there too we are left to wonder. Luke hasn’t deemed it necessary to say so. What he does tell us is that this man, dying with Jesus, turned to him and asked him for his merciful attention.
Remember me, Jesus, when you come to inherit what is rightfully yours in God’s Kingdom!
And Jesus’ response – can it ever be penned without tears, stated in words without a lump rising in the throat? – is to tell him, a criminal who will die a criminal’s death, that having given his allegiance to God’s servant in this way, means he will inherit a share with him in his Father’s vineyard:
Truly, I am telling you, today, this very day, you will be with me in Paradise!
- How did Pilate and Herod respond to the challenge of having to pass judgement on a Galilean Rabbi who had been betrayed into the hands of those who had long conspired against him?
- How did the soldiers, provoked by the lamentation of the women and the song with which Jesus joined in their paean of woe, conscript an extra for the drama in which they were required to play their part?
- Why should they have played dice while these dying men breathed their last? Why grab the opportunity to score a royal robe?
- Why should the city’s elite have felt constrained to be there, let alone resort to satirical cat-calls? Why should the soldiers, whose job it was to oversee this barbaric punishment until the victim had died, mimic such cruel abuse?
- And then Pilate whose sense of justice failed him, also grabbed the opportunity to advertise his strong arm, using Jesus’ cross as a bill-board announcing his intolerance of this all too Messianic Jewish hope. Was it not a pantomime anyway? Did he not seek to advertise his judgement on this case so all could read his billboard, whatever their language?
And then one of the criminals chimed in, only to be countered by his associate:
Have you no fear of God?
This indeed was no play. This was not theatre.
If this is to be seen by you, with your foul dying breath, as theatre, look again, look again at what we have here. Here is a righteous man alongside of us! Does he not remind you of your need to plead to God for mercy?
But that was not all. He turned to Jesus and Jesus replied with kindness and with compassion.
Truly, I am telling you, today, this very day, you will be with me in Paradise!
His turning to Jesus had been confirmed by Jesus’ own assurance; Jesus speaking to him minutes before both of them breathed their last. Luke’s informant here seems to be via the Centurion who was on duty and who listened in wonder to this exchange.
Luke 23: 26-31
And leading him away, they conscripted Simon, a Cyrenian, who just happened to be coming that way [through the city] from the country and lumbered him with the cross to carry it behind Jesus.
And following him was a great crowd of people, including women who began a concerted lament on his behalf. Turning to them, Jesus said:
“Daughters of Jerusalem. Do not shed your tears for me but shed tears for yourselves and for your children. For take note: the days are [certainly] coming in which they shall say: Blessed are the barren and the wombs that give not forth and the breasts that give no nourishment. That will be when they will be pleading for the mountains to fall on us and to the hills to give us cover. Because if they do this when the tree is full of sap, what will it be when the tree is died out.”
Simon of Cyrene now comes into Luke’s account. Is this the Simeon we read about in the Book of Acts (11:19-26; 13:1) at the refugee church Antioch? There is a record of a Simeon among the leaders of the Antioch congregation, with Niger of Cyrene. And given that in the transcription of Acts, Simon Peter has also been referred to as Simeon (Acts 15:14) we have some reason to believe that Luke might well be referring to the same person. We can say that Simon, the man who helped Jesus by carrying his cross, very probably came to be known by the members of the church.
And so Simon had been conscripted, arbitrarily it would seem, to carry the beam or post of Jesus’ cross. He joins the procession, and a lamentation comes forth, mainly from the women in the crowd. And so Luke was able, presumably from Simon’s eye-witness account, or an account of someone who received his account, of what transpired and how Jesus responded.
Did Jesus join in the lamentation? Was the comment he made sung as counter-point to their lament? Could it have been another of his compositions? We recall what we have said about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
Daughters of Jerusalem,
Weep not for me but for yourselves!
Weep also for your children.
For surely comes the time
When they will say:
“How blessed are the wombs that never conceived,
How blessed the breasts that never gave nurture.”
Then they indeed shall say to the mountains:
“Come fall on us!”
And to the hills:
“Gives us complete cover!”
For if they do such things now,
Now, when the tree is full of sap,
What is to happen when it is dried out?
This paean is composed with references to the Old Testament. There is Exodus (23:26) with God’s promises of abundant fertility. Isaiah (2:9-10) and Hosea (10:8) prophesy that when Israel becomes an idol-worshipper her cry will be to be protected from the mountains and hills. There are allusion allusions that remind us of Proverbs (11:27-31) and Psalm 129.
Whether Luke learned of this lamentation of Jesus from Simon himself we do not know. But his account certainly gives us pause to reflect upon the poetic creativity of Jesus. Why should we not view this as the song Jesus sang, in genuine lamentation, on his way to his cruel execution? And Luke has certainly kept it alive for us by including it within his Gospel narrative.
Simon lived to tell the story of how he came to be involved in Jesus’ crucifixion. And Luke has included in his account his recognition that the story of Jesus has connections with all kinds of people. Two others were also crucified that day and, unlike Simon, it was not them that could tell the story of their contact with Jesus.
Pilate and Herod Become Best Mates
Luke 23: 1-25
And the entire assembly rose as one and brought him to Pilate. And they began to make their accusations saying: “We find this man has been corrupting our nation, forbidding the paying of taxes to Caesar, saying that he is the Christ and thus a King.”
And Pilate cross-examined him saying, “So, you are the King of the Jews are you?”
And he replied, “That is what you say! [Those are your words].”
And [finally] Pilate said to the chief priests and the assembled crowd: “I can find no crime in this man!”
But they were insistent, saying, “He stirs up the people with his teaching throughout all of Judaea, beginning with Galilee and now he has come here.”
Having heard of Galilee, Pilate made enquiries as to whether he was a Galilean. And as soon as he realised he was from Herod’s jurisdiction he arranged for him to be taken to Herod, since he too had come up to Jerusalem at that time.
And upon seeing Jesus, Herod was very pleased. He had been hearing about him for some time and was hoped to see some sign wrought by him. And he questioned him at length but Jesus said not a word.
Meanwhile, the chief priests and the scribes were also present, throwing malicious accusations at him. Having come to despise him, Herod and his soldiers mocked him by dressing him in a gorgeous robe to be then sent back to Pilate. And from that day, Pilate and Herod became friends because up to that point they had been each other’s enemies.
And Pilate called together chief priests and the rulers, with the people, to tell them:
“You brought this man before me accusing him of corrupting the people. And now, take note, I have examined him before you and found he has done nothing worthy of death. Neither has Herod for he sent him back to us. I will reprimand him and release him.”
But the crowd shouted in reply: “Away with this man and release Barabbas for us!”
This was the man imprisoned because of a rebellion staged in the city and for murder. But Pilate called out to them, pleading, wishing to release Jesus. But they shouted back:
“Crucify! Crucify him!”
He, now for a third time, replied to them: “What evil has he done? I found nothing in the case [you brought against him] that deserves death. I will reprimand him and let him go.”
But with a concerted chant they demanded his crucifixion. And their voices prevailed.
And that was how Pilate came to pass judgement at their request, releasing [at the same time] the one who had been thrown into prison for rebellion and murder, according to their request. But Jesus he handed him over according to their will.
Luke’s account of Jesus’ trial and committal hearing tells Theophilus that the Roman Governor had no special interest in this case. He obviously knew little about Jesus; it was only from the Jewish Council that he now learned about him. We can speculate upon what took place beyond what the Gospels tell us, but Jesus’ case was achieved with what seems relative efficiency. There is Pilate’s uncertainty , and his wife’s dream. But what we have here is in many respects a similar account to what is reported in John 18:28-40. Luke is telling his account with an emphasis upon the haste with which his judicial murder was carried out. Barabbas was obviously guilty and he was still in prison and his crime had taken place some time previously. Barabbas was presumably subject to some negotiation between the Governor’s administration and those wanting to make political capital for themselves from his incarceration.
But with Jesus’ “trial”, if we can call it that, it is the haste of his enemies that Luke emphasizes. But there is one feature that Luke adds to our Gospel knowledge of Jesus’ crucifixion – before he was nailed to the cross he was sent over to the (holidaying) Herod. Presumably, this was Pilate’s device to get himself off the hook, and Jesus’ enemies off his back.
And whatever Pilate’s exact motive may have been, Luke is also reminding Theophilus of the man who ended the life of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. The actual story of John’s beheading is not recounted by Luke – we find it in Matthew (14:1-12) and Mark (6:14-29). But Luke’s account tells us explicitly that Jesus did not take the opportunity to discuss “religion” or any other relevant topic with the gutless monarch. He remained silent.
That silence, says Luke, simply inflamed Herod’s instinctive abuse and mockery. He had this “king” dressed in a royal robe and sent him back to Pilate.
We have to wonder why it was that they became friends from that day on. Was it not that they had shared a theatrical event that goes them a moment’s respite from their respective uncertainty when faced by this innocent Teacher, let alone their boredom with the duties of public office.
And so, Herod entertained Pilate on that day – one can only wonder how Pilate greeted the mob of High Priests and rulers who brought him back to Pilate for concluding the charade. Herod had endeared himself to Pilate; we guess it was the royal robe. And with that development, Pilate resolved – Matthew tells us he was subject to his wife’s plea (Matthew 27:19) – to let him go.
And so the negotiation begins again with Jesus’ enemies and this time he is ready with a carefully formulated judgement
You brought me this man accusing him of sedition. Take note, I have examined him before you and found he has done nothing worthy of death. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. I will reprimand him and release him.
But Jesus’ accusers are ready. They have the Barabbas issue to resolve and besides it’s the day when a prisoner can be released.
Come on you guys. We know each other, don’t we. I can’t condemn this innocent man. You haven’t told me what evil he has done!
But what was he to do with demands for Barabbas’ release now being shouted from the roof-tops?
Luke tells us what we already know: Pilate’s uncertainty caved in.
We may now wonder whether Pilate had to deal with his wife’s subsequent sleepless night because of the injustice wrought on “that innocent man”, but Luke was telling Theophilus that efficiency prevailed and that a most convenient political friendship had arisen from a theatrical moment in the proceedings. Herod obviously knew how to engage in the art of dealing with conflicting demands. Nice touch that. Good theatre with that gorgeous royal robe. Helps a lot.
It may have been a difficult day for Pilate, as he confronted the organised insistence of Jesus’ enemies, but then his action betrays the realpolitik cop-out: that’s the reality of political life, isn’t it?
Besides he and Herod had shared a theatrical moment together, a joke that may have been at this poor man’s expense, but then the friendship between the Judaean Monarch and the Roman Governor was forged wasn’t it? Public administration, especially of such a difficult polity, needs such friendships, doesn’t it? It’s all part of the deal!
BCW 17th February 2017.
Luke 22: 66-23:1
And then when day dawns, the people’s elders, the Chief Priests and the scribes, had him brought [from where he was remanded] to their council where they asked him:
“If you are indeed the Christ, then [have the courtesy to] tell us.”
And he said: “Even if I were to answer your question you would not believe me! Likewise, were I to put questions to you, you would refuse to answer me. But from here on the Son of Man will be sitting [taking his seat] at the right hand of God’s power”
And they together demanded:
“Are you the Son of God!”
And to this he answered:
“It is you who say that I am.”
And they said, “What further witness do we need? Have we not heard this from his own mouth?”
At this, the entire assembly rose as one and brought him to Pilate.
Luke’s account to Theophilus raises the possibility of a hastily convened meeting of the Sanhedrin council. It is now Friday morning after all and those pulling the strings do not want things to drag out. It is thus necessary that the Council convenes and transacts its business at the earliest possible hour.
But what is the charge? What are they going to enter into their books concerning the crime of the man? They are not the civil authority. What they will say to Pilate is well in hand. They can allege his rebellion against Caesar and with Herod in town they can tell of Jesus’ challenge to the tax farming with all the evidence that has come from Zacchaeus’ public commitment to a new way of collecting taxes. They can also say that he has called himself, or allowed himself to be called, a king. How can there be more than one king of Caesar’s realm? But fine, what of the specific offence that brings him before this religious court?
So those in charge of proceedings felt they had to cut to the chase:
Now Jesus, you don’t want this to drag on unnecessarily do you? After all, you’d like us to release your wouldn’t you, so you can go on to the Temple and continue your teaching. Tomorrow is the Sabbath and a good day’s teaching will prepare us all for the holy day. So please let’s not drag this out. let’s have it short and sweet. Tell us whether or not you are the Christ, the Anointed, Israel’s Messiah, God’s true son.
And again, when we compare what Luke says in comparison with the other Gospels, we are impressed by Luke’s brevity. The above prologue to the examination is purely my imagination, putting words into the mouth of the President of the Sanhedrin. But what Luke is emphasizing, is what I have there inferred from my reading of this, comparing and contrasting it with the other accounts. Luke is focusing upon the haste. Those engineering Jesus’ demise, want it done and dusted. It is Friday. Sunset means that no more activity can be contemplated until after the Sabbath. These are events orchestrated by schemers who are grasping their “window of opportunity”. They have to work fast. They have to form the event so that they can counter the sympathies of any crowd that gathers when Jesus is brought before Pilate.
Their colleagues in crime are obviously busy finding a convenient “rent a mob”. (These days would they not be using Twitter to cause maximum distraction and agitation to entrench their dodgy processes?).
Jesus’ reply, as here reported, suggests that he simply told them that he knew that they were primarily interested in getting the formalities of his execution over and done with. This was no opportunity for the Sanhedrin to engage the Galilean Rabbi in discussion about his teaching.
Were I to play your game and give you an answer to your question about who I am, and why I have been sent, do you really think I am going to believe that that you are serious and that you might even believe what I say? Of course you are not! You’ve already decided who I am and in your view I am the one for whom you paid cash, bug bucks, to get me here; I am the one you want to drag over to Pilate’s pavement to accuse me of sedition. I am the one you’ve decided will have to be crucified. And anyway, if I were to ask you questions about your actions, and what they are saying to the whole world, are you suggesting that you are going to allow yourselves to discuss your conduct with me?
This is our interpolation to confirm Luke’s effort to convey to Theophilus that Jesus continued to maintain a true and righteous stand. he has already conveyed to Theophilus that they have covenanted among themselves to have Jesus murdered (11:53-54; 19:47-48; 20:19; 22:1-6).
Interestingly Luke does not include the Pharisees among the plotters. The yeast of the Pharisees was being mixed with the yeast of Herod in the crowds that came to hear him in Galilee and Judaea, but the Pharisees, we are told (Luke 13:31), had got wind of Herod’s plot against Jesus and wanted Jesus to escape.
As much as we have seen already indications of Luke’s pastoral concern for Peter, we might also discern from this, an educative role for Paul’s edification, by recounting, again and again, Jesus’ attitude to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Was the persecution following Stephen’s definitive retelling of the story of God’s covenant, the moment when the Pharisees, led by a fanatical Paul, stiffened in their opposition to Jesus? Jesus’ words to Saul as he groped his way on the Damascus road, as Luke tell it, should seem to suggest that it was!
At this point in the Council’s deliberations, Luke tells us that Jesus referred them to the apocalyptic account of Daniel (Daniel 7:9-13) concerning the final judgement, the opening of the books, and the handing over of power to the Son of Man. It was Jesus’ reminded to them that their court was under heaven’s jurisdiction.
This also indicates to Theophilus that Jesus had taken his position before the Sanhedrin by appeal to what David had prophesied concerning the seating of the priest of the order of Melchizedek at God’s right hand. To plumb the depths of Jesus retort to his fellow Israelites, these murderous Jewish religious leaders, Theophilus will need to immerse himself in the teaching of the Old Testament.
If Luke is signalling here the need for a new New Testament scroll to be written, we have that with the Letter to the Hebrews.
As a Gentile believer, Theophilus is being made aware of his need for his fellow Jewish believers to help him understand what is being referred to in the confrontation.
And so Luke concludes the interrogation of the Council by reference to an ambiguous, final exchange:
Are you the Son of God then?
The question comes from the Council as a body. Jesus’ reply is to confront head-on the ambiguous hypocrisy that is implicit in the question.
It is you who are saying that I am.
I guess that Theophilus, like ourselves, appreciate that Luke’s account is but a sketch by an outsider to another outsider and he is trying to convey the main drift of this orchestrated interrogation (that sought to use Jesus’ words to confirm their plot) and Jesus’ reply:
It is you who say that I am i.e. the Son of God.
Are we meant to read and hear this as Jesus’ commentary, his summing up, of what the action of the Sanhedrin (including this question) is saying? By reference to Daniel 7 and Psalm 110 it would seem that Jesus is well aware of communication ambiguity and breakdown when evil distorts the exchange. So could this be read as Jesus’ invitation to the Sanhedrin to make the kind of confession that Peter had made earlier in Jesus’ ministry in answer to a question of Jesus that is somewhat similar to that he now puts to the Sanhedrin:
But who do you say that I am? (Luke 9:20)
Except, however, as Luke tells it, Jesus seems to be telling the Sanhedrin that they are putting themselves in a position where they are conceding that he is agreeing with the words that they are wishing to pin on him.
This was also the profession made by demons, right at the outset of his ministry after the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law.
And demons came out of many with the cry: “You are the son of God!” And rebuking them, he would not allow them to speak, because they knew him to by the Christ (Luke 4:41).
This then stands as background to Luke’s account – the accusation that he was casting out demons by an alliance with Beelzebul (Luke 11:15). And that accusation had presumably arisen from the yeast of the Pharisees and scribes when it was mixed with that of Herod (Luke 12).
We note here that Luke says that Jesus’ reply was sufficient for their purposes. We do not actually have to grasp the logic of what they concluded. It simply followed from an authoritative judgement that Jesus’ reply was sufficient. Rather than go further and explore what Jesus may have meant they push on in their haste; they have already decided that they will not take his statement seriously and in fact Jesus had already pointed that out to them.
But what does it mean to consider Jesus’ answer: “You say that I am!”? Might it not be an invitation to finding out what he meant? Might it not mean actually listening to his exposition of Daniel and the Psalms? Might it not mean listening to his teaching?
It seems to imply the following:
You brought me here even as I was fully aware that at some point I would have to confront you. So if I am Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, I will only be so in a righteous way according to the law and the prophets. That means it is your confession that is invited here!
That, I am suggesting, is why they could say:
What further witness do we need here? Have we not now heard the words out of his mouth?
Luke has already told us that Jesus has said that he knows they are not interested in a genuine conversation about his calling. Given what Luke has repeatedly told Theophilus of Jesus’ teaching about the sufferings of the Lord’s anointed, that from “Jesus side” of this exchange we can infer that the co-opted Sanhedrin is confirming their deepest fears.
You say that I am.
So, we imagine some silent member of the Council, asking himself:
Could it be so? Could we, as Council, be involved in fulfilling the apocalyptic disclosures of Daniel and David? Is it possible?
And the pencilled judgement that is just waiting to be inked in is handed down:
What further evidence do we need? No more witnesses are needed! Have we not just heard these words which confirm our accusations from his own mouth?
And before he can think further about this, the presiding High Priest says:
Times up. No more time for discussion. It’s Friday remember. We have what we need – the words of his own mouth are enough for our purposes to condemn him. We’ve wasted enough time.
Due process. Due process. Due process. Transparency! Transparency! And we need to avoid any more delays. We’ve got to get him to Pilate so we can now get his tax evasion scheme nailed as well as his seditious claims to be King.
And with that, Luke tells us, the hastily convened Sanhedrin council was just as hastily dissolved and as one body they hauled him off to Pilate.