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Monday, February 10, 2014

Jesus Meets Us Where We Are

Luke 24

In my readings this week, God brought me to Luke 24. Upon first perusal of the chapter, I recognized it as the last chapter of Luke and the chapter, which tells us about Jesus Christ’s resurrection. This is the great news of the Gospel; Jesus is the Son of God who died to pay the penalty for our sin and He was resurrected. Many of us know this. Many of us have heard it so often we jump around it to progress. We need to remember and recall that if Jesus had not been resurrected and received His glory, we would not be saved from our sins and have eternal life in heaven. This is what Luke wanted us to make sure we know and remember. The end of Luke is the end of Jesus on earth, as He went to His glory outside of Bethany. It begins the rest of the story that Luke told: the beginning of the spread of the Gospel and the beginning of the Christian Church. In the midst of this, the entire big story, Luke paid particular attention to details before Christ’s ascension. Luke showed us one of the important things about Jesus: He meets us where we are. Let us consider this as we read Luke 24.

To understand the beginning of Luke 24, we must understand Jewish burial rituals somewhat. The Jews believed that to deny burial was the greatest indignity because the person became prey for the animals. The Jews based this custom on the criteria in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 not to leave a corpse of an executed person on the tree overnight. Three examples of immediate burials in the New Testament are Jesus, Ananias, and Sapphira (Acts 5:6-10). Burial was so important that, unless a ruling authority, i.e.the Romans or Assyrians, prohibited it, the dead were buried by sundown. Josephus, the great Romano-Jewish scholar and historian noted that it was an inhumanity to let anyone lie unburied. In addition to this, the family or close friends were to wash the body in aromatic water and oils.

This brings us to Jesus’ burial. Jesus’ death occurred on the day before the Jewish Sabbath. Joseph of Arimathea gave his tomb as a burial place for the body of Jesus so that he could be buried before sundown. From sundown on that Friday until our Sunday, the Jews worshipped on their Sabbath. When their Sabbath was over, the women who were followers of Jesus went to perform part of the burial rituals, which went undone before the Sabbath began on Friday evening. They performed their religious duty as any good Jew, considering only their beloved teacher’s body, Jesus’ body. They wanted to bury Him with dignity. What He had taught them and what they saw while He was alive had not filtered into their routines and lives. What they understood was that their loved one was dead and they wanted to honor Him.

Here is where Jesus meets everyone, in his or her daily routines and lives. Until Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection affects us at the core of who we are and affects what we do, think, and believe, we have not truly believed in Him. This changing of life is what Luke showed us in chapter 24. Let us consider each of the encounters in this chapter.

As stated above, the Jewish women disciples went to bathe and anoint Jesus’ body with perfumed water and oil. When they arrived at the tomb, they found the covering stone moved, the tomb open, and Jesus’ body gone. Luke said they “were perplexed” in verse 4. “Perplexed” comes from the Greek word “aporeo” and means to be in doubt and not know which way to turn. They did not know how to decide or what to do. Flummoxed is a good word for this feeling. Two men in dazzling clothing appeared and the women, terrified, bowed to the ground. These women never experienced anything like this before and never considered this happening to them. It was beyond their grasp. The awe took over, though, from their religious training; they bowed to the ground. The angels spoke to them. They recalled to their minds Jesus’ teaching about Himself, His death and resurrection for the salvation of humankind. When the angels recalled this to their minds, “they remembered His words” (vs. 8). The angels reminded and the women remembered what Jesus taught them. Remember this; it is important. At their point of questioning, quandary, and desiring to understand, God’s messengers met them. Mary, Joanna, and Mary Magdalene hurried back to report what they experienced to the apostles. They were renewed and no longer sad. These women were excited. How did the apostles receive the message? Their words appeared as nonsense and they would not believe them (vs. 11). Nonsense can be translated as “idle talk.” The apostles and disciples took what the women said “with a grain of salt.” There was one among them who learned not to doubt the Lord, Peter. Peter wanted to see for himself and ran to the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings with no body and went to his home, marveling at what had happened (vs. 12). “Marveling” means “to wonder at.” Peter considered for himself and sifted he held true. The other apostles may not have wanted to accept the story of the women, but Peter carefully weighed this news for himself.

Luke next told of the two disciples walking to Emmaus. He said they talked to each other about the things that had taken place. From verse 15, we find it was not chitchat. They were discussing and debating trying to understand by examining what happened in Jerusalem then. “Discussing” is the Greek word “suzeteo” and means to seek and examine together, to dispute and question/debate. They did not pass the time of day; they examined and debated what happened. Another traveler approached them, whom Luke identified for us is Jesus, but whom the two disciples did not recognize. Luke stated in verse 16, “Their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.” The word “prevented” is “krateo” in the Greek and means to have power over someone. God kept them from recognizing (being thoroughly acquainted) with Jesus. We do not know why God chose not to show Jesus’ presence to them yet. Jesus asked them what they were discussing. He did not ask this question because He did not know. He asked them because He wanted to meet them where they were, at their doubt and questioning. They and we are important to Jesus. They looked sad (vs. 17) and expressed amazement that He had been in the near Jerusalem and did not realize what happened in Jerusalem. Jesus wanted them to explain what happened as they perceived it and as it affected them. He wanted them to identify for themselves what they believed and where their belief became doubt. Jesus will meet a person at their point of need and wanting to know.

When Cleopas spoke, he spoke of a teacher, prophet, and human who came from Nazarene (vs. 19), not the Son of God. These disciples listened to Jesus’ teaching and saw His miracles. They had a hard time accepting the idea of Jesus’ resurrection, but hoped that Jesus was the one to redeem Israel. They wanted to accept it, but it was three days since His death then (vs. 21) and no one had seen Jesus alive. The men hoped Jesus was the Christ, but were doubtful of a resurrection. They wanted Israel delivered/redeemed from the hands of their enemies and oppressors. These disciples remembered Jesus said He would return in three days after His death, but they had a hard time believing without seeing. Yet they had hope because of the women reported with amazement seeing the angels at the tomb and found no body lying in it. On top of that, men went to the tomb, Cleopas said, and found the tomb empty just as the women said. After this, they wanted to believe. Jesus told His disciples before His crucifixion He would return in three days. The women told of their encounter and the empty tomb. The men returned from the tomb and found it empty, too. They still doubted though. They expressed their thoughts, feelings, and pointed out their need. Jesus met them at their need.

Jesus explained to them from the writings of Moses (the Pentateuch) and the prophets what was spoken about the Christ. He told how it was necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into His glory (vs. 25-27). Jesus explained God’s plan from the beginning of time for salvation to everyone by using these writings. They learned again that God announced this Messiah through the prophets and Moses and the Jesus is this Messiah, this Christ. Notice, when they arrived in Emmaus, the disciples eagerly listened more and urged Jesus to stay with them. The Greek word for “urged” is “parabiasomai” and means to prevail upon or beg. Were they this adamant because they had begun to feel stirrings in their hearts that they did not yet recognize? Upon being brought food to eat, Jesus took the bread and blessed it. He broke it and began giving it to them, and then their eyes were opened (vs. 30). Jesus took control of the supper as if He were the host in the house. His authority resonated with the men. Aauthority over humankind was natural for Jesus. Could it be that the act of Jesus breaking the bread rang familiar to them and they recognized Jesus from their remembrance? Acts, smells, and sights often remind us of another time, person, or place. Jesus' recalling the words of Moses and the prophets, telling them how God prepared a salvation for them from the beginning of time, combined with this remembered action of breaking bread and then opening their eyes created what was necessary for them to understand and accept Jesus was not just a prophet, but the resurrected Son of God, the Christ. We would like to say that they recognized Him when they first met Jesus on the road, but verse 16 says they were prevented from seeing Jesus. So, we can say Jesus opened their eyes after He reminded them of what they were taught about the Messiah. So, their mental knowledge of Him (their knowledge of His teachings and life) was now in tune with their spiritual knowledge of Him.

These two men expressed their excitement in conversation. They recognized the stirrings in their hearts that equated with their knowledge of Jesus Christ. As disciples of Jesus become more familiar with Christ, they recognize when He is speaking them. These disciples were new to following the risen Lord, though they had known Him as a prophet and teacher. Where once reason and belief collided, Jesus brought clarity with His presence, words, and actions. Now they trusted and accepted Him as the Son of God and Savior. This news was too great to let darkness and fear of road bandits stop them from sharing it with the other disciples and apostles. The revelation compelled them to return to Jerusalem and share the facts of Jesus’ resurrection. Excitement and exhilaration is what new believers experience; they MUST tell others about Him. When these men arrived in Jerusalem and met the others, they received more confirmation of this truth. Jesus had appeared to Simon Peter, too. Christ had shown His resurrected self three times now. There must have been much excitement and emotion as they compared stories. Prior to this, the two disciples on the Emmaus road were perplexed. They wanted to trust what Jesus taught them before His crucifixion, but He was dead, they thought. Now with each of these stories of encounters with the risen Jesus and their own meeting with Him, they desired to believe and follow Him.

With such a large gathering of Jesus’ followers, would it not be great if they could experience the risen Jesus together? Luke told us, “While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be to you’’ (vs. 36). There was much chatter occurring and, with that, individual thoughts of who Jesus was and is being reconciled to what they had experienced. Jesus came into this cacophony of thought and sound and declared peace, a heart and soul peace, to His loved apostles and disciples. Jesus startled and frightened them (vs. 37). They feared they were seeing a spirit, a soul of the departed Jesus. See, they still were not completely sure what they believed concerning Jesus and His teachings. It had not affected their everyday life and thinking. Jesus asked why they were troubled. Why did they have inner commotion and no calmness of mind? Why were they doubting and deliberating amongst themselves. Next, Jesus gives them three ways to know He is real - to know His body was resurrected and He is not just a spirit as they feared. Jesus told them to see His hands and feet; they are flesh and bone. Jesus told them to touch Him. Finally, He asked for food and at it in their presence. Three times, He proved He was standing in His body. He did these three things for emphasis. We must understand, too, lest we be too harsh on the disciples, that for Greeks, the idea of resurrection was not appealing. It did not make any sense and the Greeks were people of logic and reason. So, Jesus made sure they realized He was resurrected. When Luke wrote His gospel, he wanted to make sure Greeks understood this person was the resurrected Jesus. Jesus met these followers at their point of need. He showed them His resurrected body and made sure they accepted without doubt He was real and not a spirit. Jesus reminded them of what He taught them during His three years of ministry, too. He reminded them how the scriptures from Moses, the prophets, and Psalms spoke of God sending a Messiah. He made sure to remind them He told them He is the Messiah. Next He helped them understand how His birth, life, death, and, now, resurrection fulfilled all the Scriptures. Jesus had to become a man to be acquainted with man. He had to suffer and die so that He could relate to humankind and them to Him. He became the offering for sin to provide salvation. Jesus had to be resurrected and enter His glory to have power over death and give us eternal life. The disciples may not have understood this when He was alive walking with and teaching them. They listened, but did not grasp what that meant. Jesus was there in that room explaining it from the past tense so they could grasp, trust, and accept it. 

One other thing had to occur now. Luke stated it in verse 45, “Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” He taught them the Scriptures and they believed. Now, He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. This is what the Holy Spirit does for us now that Jesus has returned to heaven. Jesus re-taught the disciples on the way to Emmaus and in Jerusalem together. The angels re-taught the women at the tomb. Now they are all together in the room with the apostles and Jesus opens their minds to understand the Scripture so they can be commissioned for His service. This is what Jesus does for each of believer when He calls them to be His own. He teaches them, makes them strong in Him, opens their minds to Him completely, and then sends them out to bear witness of Him. Jesus told them, “You are witnesses of these things” (vs. 48). They witnessed His birth, life, death, and resurrection. They learned from Jesus directly. He opened their minds to understand Scripture. They were eyewitnesses, not just the students of the rabbi or teacher. They are heirs of salvation.

We each are eyewitnesses of God’s working in the world. We each are taught, had our eyes opened, and are commanded to go out to the world proclaiming that forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available through Jesus Christ. Christ sent forth those disciples armed with His promise, the Holy Spirit. He sends His disciples from every generations armed with His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches us, remind us, and guide us on the journey to be witnesses to the world of God and His Son, Jesus the Christ. Lest we consider this the end of the story, we must remember that with the ending of Luke’s Gospel and Christ’s ascension is the beginning of the church and the call to everyone to come, hear, see, and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah of God from the beginning of time.

Jesus meets people where they are, whether they have known Him for a long time or never met Him. He met the women doing their Jewish burial duty. He met the two travelers at their point of debate and confusion. He met the apostles and disciples as they relayed with amazement these things and wondered if they were real. Jesus continues to meet people at their need, be it physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual. Jesus comes to where you are, where you are walking, living, and searching. He is not a scheme or trick. God’s plan to give salvation came before time and was told throughout time, as seen in the Old Testament and New Testaments. God’s plan to be in a relationship with you came before He created the first man and woman. He created you to be in relationship with Him. Jesus is the way to our fulfillment, to be in a relationship with Him.

What will it take for you to believe?

He is with you now. Will you see Him, accept Him, and believe?

Jesus wants to meet you where you are right now.