Almost Too Good To Be Believed

March 24, 2014Filed under theology#devotionsMarkdown source

I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: Psalm 61–62, Proverbs 24, and Luke 22–24.

The final chapters of Luke are absolutely packed with material. The chapters sweep from the Jewish leaders’ plot with Judas to get Jesus’ turned over to them, through Jesus’ celebration of the Passover with his disciples,1 through his prayers in the garden and betrayal by Judas, through his multiple farcical trials, through his brutal crucifixion and death, to his resurrection from the dead and revelation of himself as the Anointed One of God to his disciples. Luke’s narrative up to this point has a fairly measured pace, with a great deal of time devoted to long stretches of Jesus’ teaching, but here at the climax event piles on event in a way that seems designed to take one’s breath away. Here is the finale toward which Jesus had been pointing ever since the hinge in the book back in the ninth chapter: his death and resurrection.

A few observations that particularly stood out to me today. First, when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, he also told his disciples of the betrayal that would shortly come at one of their hands, and they were troubled. They “began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this” (Luke 22:23). What Luke drops in next is a surprise:2 at the same time, they started arguing about who was the greatest (22:24). They did not recognize that the same basic impulse that would motivate one of them to betray the one they confessed as Lord and Messiah—fallen human self-absorption and self-interest—also motivated this discussion of greatness. Jesus upends this, pointing out here that he had come “as the one who serves” (22:7). Their reward would be greater than any of them could wish: being enthroned beside him to judge the twelve tribes of Israel—but because they had stayed with him in his trials, not because of their own inherent greatness (22:28–30).

Jesus instructed the disciples to sell a cloak to buy a sword, learned that they had a pair of swords, and told them that it was enough (22:37–38). Then, when the disciples actually went to use those swords, Jesus forbade them, and undid what they had done. It is almost as if he made sure that they had the swords there precisely so that he could teach this object lesson. The Anointed One of God came not to kill but to be killed, just as he had come not to be served but to serve.

In his trial, Jesus simply did not answer his accusers. They took his silence, and his acknowledgment that they were accusing him, as all the proof they needed. Why? Because they needed no more proof than their accusations. Interestingly, both Herod and Pilate clearly abuse their authority, causing Jesus to be mocked and beaten even while admitting that they found nothing for which he ought to be punished (still less crucified). Pilate in particular comes off looking terrible: he repeatedly tells the crowd that he can see no reason why Jesus ought to be crucified, and that he intends to let him go, but caves to the pressure of the crowd (23:1–25). The fear of man can lead us to do wretched things. Pilate decided to release a murderer and insurrectionist—the latter being precisely the crime of which Jesus was accused!—instead of an innocent man, because of the demands of a crowd.

Barabbas himself strikes me as an interesting figure in Luke’s narrative. He was what Jesus was accused of being, and he went free with Jesus taking his place. Every time I read through this passage, it strikes me again that Luke gave us here a clear picture of the substitutionary work of Christ on our behalf. Here we have a man who clearly deserved his punishment under the law of his day, going free with Jesus being punished instead. I have no idea whether Barabbas ever truly appreciated what happened to him, by which I mean whether he repented of his sins and believed in the one who was his substitute in more ways than one. I do know that the picture, especially when set side by side with Paul’s teaching on the topic, reminds me that I am like Barabbas in the story: set free because of Jesus’ going in my stead.

Finally, I love reading the narratives of the resurrection. It was then as it is now: too good to be true, almost too good to be believed. The disciples, though Jesus had taught them that he would die and be resurrected, simply did not grasp his meaning. Even when they were told that he had been raised, they did not believe it until he showed himself to them—and then they thought they saw a ghost until he convinced them by eating some fish! The resurrection was in no one’s game plan but God’s. But now it is our future hope and our joyful expectation as well. And it is because of the resurrection from the dead that they went, and that we go to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name to all nations (Luke 24:46–47).

  1. Apparently a couple days early, based on Luke’s comments in chapter 23 and John’s narrative.

  2. Though yet again one obscured by the blasted heading markers inserted in the text.