Summary: Jesus had give several clues that his crucifixion would not be a defeat; he would be victorious over death. Christian are sometimes prone to fear and discouragement because the fail to listen to Jesus' promises.
It’s Easter—Are You Listening?
Hanging with the drop, the Guillotine, the electric chair, the gas chamber, and lethal injection are all, like crucifixion, means of execution. Yet, they are unlike crucifixion in on important way. Strange as it might seem to our modern sensibilities each of these means of execution, unlike crucifixion, were devised to do their work as humanely as possible. They were designed to minimize the pain and suffering of the victim.
Crucifixion—death by a cross—was a study in inhumanity, designed to maximize the suffering of the victim. Describing crucifixion as death be slow torture is accurate bur covers up the brutality inflicted on the one crucified. And, in the first century, the Romans were masters of this horrific art. Good Friday recalls how they applied this art to Jesus.
As Luke 24 opens, Jesus has already died and his body has been placed in tomb, the gift of an admirer who could no longer keep his devotion quiet. It is now the morning of the third day following Jesus’ death. It is the first day of the week. Listen to what Luke says. [Read Luke 24:1-12]
As I studied this passage I began to realize something. It is a skillfully written story. It has feeling, movement, and tension. Short as the passage may be, it has both a beginning and an end. Like most stories do. But here is where we see Luke’s skill.
Luke’s story begins with the end and ends with the beginning.
Let me explain.
Luke begins by telling us about a group of women who were convinced it was the end.
These women Luke writes about had dared to believe Jesus was God’s Anointed One, the Messiah. Though they may not have fully understood his mission, they believed he had come to change things. They believed he would bring them closer to God. They had sat under his inspiring teaching, marveling as stories about a God who was like a father who yearns for his prodigal son to come home. They had seen him heal the sick and set others free from the power of Satan. One of the women Luke mentions, Mary Magdalene, could testify to having experienced that liberation. They had sensed his respect for everyone regardless of social class or gender. They devoted their time and their possessions to his cause. Then they had watched him die. There was nothing “good” about that Friday for them. For them it was the end.
Do your best to put yourselves in their hearts. Try to forget you’ve heard the story before and you know what’s about to happen. Erase Easter from your mental calendar. Think yourself back to that early morning as these heartbroken woman walked toward the tomb they believed held the body of the man they had placed their hopes in. Above all, don’t be too critical. Remember it was a frightening, painful time. But still they set out on a mission of love.
Heartbroken as they were, they wished to perform a final gesture of respect to honor Jesus. He had been quickly buried. Some efforts had been made to prepare the body, but they wanted to do more. The men burying Jesus had rushed to finish before the Sabbath; they would take their time. So, at dawn on the first day of the week they set out to do this final act of devotion.
Who were these women? Luke names some of them. There was Mary Magdalene, a woman Jesus had set free from “seven demons.” There was another Mary who was the mother of one of the apostle James the Less, called that to distinguish him from John’s brother James. There was Joanna, who was the wife of an official in Herod’s court and who may have been healed by Jesus; Joanna used her personal wealth to support Jesus. Some scholars believe Joanna was Luke’s source for this story. And there were others Luke for some reason doesn’t name.
We can sympathize with these women. As they walked to the tomb that morning, the reality of what had happened must have weighed heavily on them. Maybe they resolved to do their best to keep Jesus’ memory alive. But they probably knew that in two or three generations their family members would think of Jesus as just a man the old folks used to talk about.
While they may have had such thoughts, we know from other gospels they had more practical concerns. They wondered who would roll the heavy stone away from the tomb’s entrance so they could perform their task. As it happened, when they reached the tomb, they found the stone was already rolled away. And, the tomb was empty.
Well, at least the body of Jesus wasn’t there.
Now Luke ends this story by telling us of a group of women who were told of a beginning.