Tuesday, March 24, 2015

In the Tomb: Luke 23

In Summary:

Luke 23 is the conclusion of the human story of Jesus. Luke has tracked the miracle-working, people-loving “Son of Man” from his birth all the way through his death and burial. If Luke had written the chapter divisions, he almost certainly would have placed the break here where we find it.

As you read through Luke 23, it feels like a conclusion. Especially in the modern era of leaving stories with unhappy endings (Nicolas Sparks, anyone?) in the interest of reflecting reality, we see all the opportunities to stop the execution of Jesus and think, well, no, that chance was missed. He’s got no one to save him now.

You have the political machinations with Herod and Pilate, but through those, there is no stopping the crucifixion. We expect the crowd to support the one who has done so many miracles, but they do not. We see Jesus falter under the weight of the cross and think…is there no limit to the cruelty? Is there not a centurion who will say “He’s too weak now, let’s do this later?”

There is not. The sin-soaked world we live in keeps hammering away. The problems just pile on, and there is nothing to stop it. Luke 23 runs Jesus through the gauntlet we live in, where everything from friends to government fail us. Life seems to conspire to our destruction.

In Focus:

The last verse, the last half of the last verse, draws our focus today. Jesus has died. The Gospels all bear witness to this as historical fact, and he is at this point in the tomb. Joseph of Arimathea (who inspires Arthurian legends and Python references) has buried Jesus in a new tomb. Some effort to prepare the body for burial has been made, but the full preparation must wait. It is the Sabbath, after all, and that work will need to be completed the next day.

Being the Sabbath, all work was prohibited. This was the Covenant Law, dating back to the Exodus, and part of the strict observance of the Jews. The Sabbath law was drawn from the example of God, who according to Genesis 1-2 rested from labor on the Sabbath. If the Lord their God had taken off that day, it was surely possible for the people of Israel to do so.

The women, then, are following the command of God when they rest. Luke notes this as he highlights that they “rested according to the commandment.” Even in the midst of the frustrations and death, the Word of God was to be obeyed: rest on the Sabbath.

In Practice:

What, then, shall we do? Here are my suggestions:

First, obey the Word of God as far as you know it. The women in Luke 23 knew it was time to rest to obey the Ten Commandments. We see, frequently, commands in Scripture that should be obeyed—and rest remains one of those. Whether that is in the Sabbath connotation or as we see in Psalm 46:10 to “cease striving” with the Lord, in 1 Peter or in Philippians where we see that our cares and anxiety should be subsumed under rejoicing in what God has done for us.

Second, remember that you are not living in a world driven by the human story. Our world, like Luke, does not end in the tomb. We get one more chapter. Not because people are writing the story—the best efforts of humanity end in the same place, but because God is writing the story. The very next word, Luke 24:1, is “but,” the great contrasting conjunction that brings hope—because the results are always different than expected!

In Nerdiness: 

What can be said in nerd land here? I’ll give you one quick one, then suggest you grab some history books and catch up on what happened in those days. It’s often presented that the crowd that cries “Crucify” in this chapter is the same crowd that shouted “Hosanna” in the previous one. Or it’s presented that people who think that are just stupid buffoons. I’ve seen both in the Internet world.

The truth is, as it often is in history, probably in the middle. Consider the differing situations of the two events. The Triumphal Entry occurs on a Sunday afternoon. The trial/near-riot happens early on Friday morning. The city of Jerusalem is pretty crowded at this time of year. It is within possibility that there are crowd participants in both events that are far enough away from the action that they are swayed by those up close.

After all, it would not be the only time in history that a cheering crowd turned on the ones they cheered, would it? History is replete with those examples. I would suggest the solution falls here: close in to the entry route for Palm Sunday were those who had followed Jesus. Likewise, close in to the trial and leading the shouts of “Crucify” would have been those seeded there by the religious leaders. Outside of that? An easy place to be swept up without knowing what’s happening, especially for outsiders making the trip to Jerusalem.

So let’s avoid claiming the whole crowd turned…but let’s also avoid ridiculing those who suggest the possibility there was overlap. We’ve got better ways to spend our energy.

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