Today is the twenty-fourth day in my reading through the New Testament, and this is my twenty-fourth blog during this reading. We reach the end of the gospel of Luke today, by reading Luke 22 through Luke 24.
These final three chapters concern themselves with Jesus’ final meal with his disciples, his arrest, trial, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.
What strikes me most, today, is how Jesus is identified by those around the scene of his crucifixion.
Because I wonder if we identify Jesus any differently.
Throughout this narrative, Luke portrays Jesus as a man “in control.” We know that because of how much Luke omits from these various stories. The final meal (22:7-28) does not even mention the name of Judas. For Luke, the meal is not about the one who would betray Jesus, but about Jesus’ statements, and the blessing of his self-sacrifice.
On the Mount of Olives, as Jesus prayed, (22:39-46) Luke writes that the disciples who accompanied Jesus were the ones “exhausted with sorrow.” Jesus, on the other hand, is earnest in his prayers, almost unrelenting. Angels come to attend to him, and his sweat turns to blood.
As he is arrested, the scene is filled with chaos around him (22:47-53). There is a crowd approaching Jesus. Chief priests, officers of the temple guard, and elders are there to arrest just one man. And even though one of his disciples manages to remove the ear of one of the arresting soldiers, Jesus quietly heals it.
And so on. Luke is persistent throughout his gospel that Jesus is the central figure in this salvation story. Even at his arrest and death, he is still in control.
So it is with such power that, in this scene, Jesus stands quiet, taking everything given to him. The arrest. The betrayals. And the mockeries.
In the brutality of all of these scenes, then, Luke wants us to see a picture emerge of Jesus. A “before-and-after” picture, from the perspective of those who watch him die. This is what captured my attention today.
Before Jesus died, he was leveled with insults, as if the physical anguish wasn’t enough.
And as he was on the cross, this is what Jesus heard — this is the “before” picture —
The “rulers” mocked him by asking if he was, in fact, the Messiah — and if so, couldn’t he save himself (23:35).
The soldiers mocked him by asking if he was, in fact, the King of the Jews — and if so, couldn’t he save himself (23:36, 37).
The criminal, on a cross next to Jesus, asked if he was the Christ — and if so, couldn’t he save himself … and both of the criminals dying with Jesus (23:39).
Their idea of salvation was for Jesus to remove himself from the cross with power. Salvation, to them, was only an extension of his life. And we see this through Jesus’ very counter-cultural perspective. He offers entrance into paradise for one of the criminals.
They would both still die. But even in that death, salvation would still be achieved.
Yet Jesus was nothing more than a spectacle for all of them.
And this is so hurtful. Even as I finish reading this gospel, I still see our response to Jesus the same way. He is a spectacle. Entertainment. A time-filler. We only want Jesus for the display of his power, not for the depth of his compassion. Because if Jesus doesn’t show up for us, then we have very, very little use for him.
Luke, though, doesn’t leave us here. After Jesus dies, the scene shifts.
The Roman (and Gentile) centurion present, could only remark that Jesus was indeed a righteous man (23:47), and praised God for what he witnessed. Jesus is the righteous one, the elect, the Messiah. And it was first a Gentile who recognized this. Not a Jew.
The crowd, who witnessed it all, only “beat their breasts” (23:48). This very crowd is seen again in Acts 2, who were cut at the testimony and witness of Peter, and who recognized Jesus as the true Messiah. Luke is preparing us for their repentance.
Joseph of Arimathea was a vocal leader, not supportive of the decision to kill this rabbi (23:50, 51). He buried Jesus out of respect.
And the women who followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, to the tomb, and then later, in Acts, also received the gift of the spirit, are those who followed Jesus to the end, and beyond (23:55, 56).
In this after picture, Jesus is seen as the Messiah, the teacher, the cause of repentance, and the resurrected one.
Before we accept Jesus as our own Savior, we mock him. I did. He was an end to a means for me. For you, too, I suspect. There were great, dark times in my life, when my experience with God was clouded with so much doubt. My only response was to see him as meager. Weak. And pointless.
But after his fulfillment of salvation, and my acceptance of that (much, much later than my water baptism, by the way), my perspective of Jesus changed. He is the Messiah, the Word of God fulfilling salvation, releasing me from the oppression of sin, from the oppression of tradition, from the oppression of doubt, as only the Word could do. He gives me acceptance into a world, a paradise, where nothing is broken, where nothing hurts, where nothing disappoints.
And this is my Jesus, the living, dying, and resurrected Word of the one true God.
Thanks for reading today. You can find all the previous posts here.