Text: Luke 23-24
Observe: We reach, at last, the denouement of Luke’s Gospel. The Jewish leaders have done their worst in convicting Jesus on their trumped up charges, and have taken Him to governor Pontius Pilate for punishment. After questioning Jesus, Pilate concludes that He has done nothing wrong. The Chief Priests continue their accusations of falsehoods, but since Jesus was from Galilee, Pilate sends him to King Herod for trail. But, Herod is disappointed that Jesus would not perform any “tricks” for him, and despite the leaders’ vehement accusations against Him, finds no fault in Jesus and sends Him back to Pilate. Once again, Pilate finds nothing wrong with Jesus, but he offers to punish Him and then release Him. That’s not good enough for the Jewish leaders, and they demand that Barabbas be released instead, and that Jesus should be crucified. A third time Pilate says he can find no grounds for the death penalty that the crowd is now clamoring for, but his reasoning is rejected by the people, and so he relents and gives the orders for Jesus’ execution.
Jesus is led away, and as He carries the cross, Simon of Cyrene is conscripted to help Him carry it. As they walk along the way, Jesus tells the women crying out not to weep for Him, but to weep for themselves and their children, because difficult times are coming for His followers.
Nailed to the cross, Jesus is mocked by the people, by the soldiers, and even by one of the two criminals crucified alongside Him. The other criminal, however, acknowledges that they are deserving of death for their crimes, but not Jesus who did nothing wrong. After his confession, Jesus forgives the man and tells him that he will enter paradise (the kingdom of God) with Jesus. When Jesus breathed His last, the temple curtain was torn in two, and a Roman centurion praised God and declared Jesus a righteous man. Then Joseph of Arimathea placed Jesus’ body into his own tomb so the body could be properly prepared for burial after the Sabbath.
On the first day of the week, the women came to prepare Jesus’ body for burial but found the stone at the tomb’s entrance had been rolled away and two men in brightly shining clothes inside. The men told the women that Jesus was not there, that He was risen, just as He had foretold them. When the women told the rest of the followers what they had seen, no one believed them, so Peter went and looked for himself. Sure enough the tomb was empty and Peter went away wondering what it all meant.
Later that day, as two of HIs followers were walking along the road to Emmaus, Jesus Himself came alongside them and they had a long conversation about what had happened to Jesus in Jerusalem, but at first they didn’t recognize Him. When they reached their destination, the two men convinced Jesus to stay with them for the evening. It was during supper when Jesus gave thanks, broke the bread and gave it to them that they finally recognized who He was, and then He disappeared from their sight.
Amazed and excited the two men hurried back to Jerusalem to tell the others what they had seen. As they were telling the story, Jesus came and appeared in their midst and said, ”Peace be with you”. The disciples were afraid and thought He was a ghost, but Jesus calmed their fears by showing them the holes in His hands and feet and inviting them to touch His flesh. As final proof, He ate a piece of fish to show that He really had risen. He then opened their minds to the full truth of the scriptures, and confirmed that they were witnesses to all these things. He said they would receive what He had promised them, but they should wait in the city until they had been clothed in power from on High.
After leading His disciples outside, where He gave them their final blessing. And while Jesus was blessing them, He was taken up to heaven, and they returned to the city praising God with great joy.
Interpret: Nobody wanted to take direct responsibility for Jesus’ death. The Jewish leaders had condemned Him, but had no authority to execute Him, nor did they desire to have His blood on their hands. So they sent Him to Pilate. Pilate could find no guilt in Jesus under Roman law, and didn’t want to execute Him just because the Jews had asked him to. He wanted to demonstrate that he was in charge, not them. But he was a weak man, and when he discovered Jesus was from Galilee, he sent Him to King Herod to execute. But Herod had no desire to kill Jesus either because he didn’t take Him seriously and thought He was just a performer. When Jesus wouldn’t perform a miracle for Herod’s entertainment, he was disappointed and sent Jesus back to Pilate. Once again, Pilate could find no fault in Jesus, but not wanting to start a riot among his subjects, caved in to the demands of the leaders, and handed Jesus over for crucifixion.
As this unjust scene was played out, the hypocrisy, deceit, and self-centered character flaws of each of these so-called leaders was exposed for all of us to see, and it was a pathetic display. Only Jesus’ followers showed any sign of compassion or sorrow, and even among them, only a few remained to the very end.
Yet even as Jesus was mocked on the cross, the most fundamental promise of the Christian faith was demonstrated. One of the thieves crucified alongside Jesus confesses that he had done many wrongs and deserved his punishment, but in the final moments of his life, he asks Jesus to remember him when He comes into His kingdom. This is not just lip service by a criminal, with no real love for Jesus hoping to buy his passage to heaven, but a genuine moment of self-reflection and true sorrow for his sin, accompanied by real faith. This is a man with only a few breaths left to live, struggling to speak to Jesus, whose earthly mission is about to end in apparent abject failure, professing his faith in Christ’s heavenly kingdom. And mercifully, Jesus responds by telling him that He would see the man in paradise. The man’s faith in the salvation bought by Jesus is a Divine promise which is good to the very last moment of life. Jesus brings the parable of the Vineyard Workers (Matthew 20) into real life. Regardless of when we come to true faith in Jesus during our lives, whether early in life or at the very last moment, the gift of eternal life is given freely by our gracious God.
After Jesus’ resurrection, we see Him appear to people who knew Him intimately and yet they did not recognize him at first. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognise Him until He opened their eyes at the supper table, even though they had spent much of the day in deep discussion of scripture with Him. The eleven remaining disciples in Jerusalem thought they were seeing a ghost when Jesus appeared in their midst. They had to see the holes in His hands and feet, touch His skin and watch Him eat a piece of fish before they could believe He had actually risen, just as He had told them He would.
Luke’s Gospel ends with Jesus blessing the disciples and rises up to heaven.
Application: An interesting little feature of the resurrection stories in each of the Gospels, including Luke, is the huge stone that was rolled away from the entrance to the tomb. Why was the stone rolled away before the empty tomb was discovered? Surely, it was not needed to be rolled away by the angel just to let Jesus out. The Lord of Creation, who had performed so many healing miracles, calmed the storm, fed the five thousand, returned Lazarus to life, and defeated death itself, would not, could not be prevented from leaving the tomb by a mere rock no matter how big and heavy it was.
The stone was rolled away not to let Jesus out, but to let us see in. The truth of the resurrection, and indeed all of scripture, was laid open before us. God Himself removed the final barrier between Himself and us by paying the ultimate price for our sins, and rising to eternal life. The light of His truth can now flood into the darkest recesses of our lives. In freeing Himself from the tomb of rock, He has freed us from the death of sin. All we have to do is believe in the salvation that Jesus Christ bought for us on the cross. And we will see Him in paradise.
Questions: Is there a stone of unbelief rolled across your heart? Do you believe that Jesus could love you at least as much as the repentant criminal on the cross next to Him? How much proof do you need?
Prayer: Father God, we pray that your Holy Spirit might roll away the stone of doubt in our hearts. Help us to give ourselves to you as freely as the condemned prisoner, that we might work for your glory in all that we do in the work that you have planned for us. In the name of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Song: God’s Not Dead: Newsboys
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.