Sunday, April 8, 2012

"Then their eyes were opened" (Luke 24:31)

  Countless thousands of people were crucified in the ancient world. A mode of execution probably invented by the Persians around the sixth century B.C. was perfected by the Romans and lasted until abolished by Constantine in the fourth century A.D. Thousands of Jewish men were crucified by the Romans especially leading up to the revolt in 67 A.D. Yet one crucifixion emerges in history to stand alone from all others, one crucifixion has happened that has in many way changed how we even see a cross today. Is it not amazing that Paul could write in Galatians 6:14 "May I never boast except in the cross of my Lord Jesus Christ". How could Paul say that his boast was in a crucifixion? especially in that time period. How to Paul could one who was executed in this way emerge to become his Lord?
  From a Roman perspective the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth was just another day, it was just another illustration of what happens when the empire responds to a perceived threat to its peace and stability. In fact it isn't really discussed much at all in their ancient writings. Death on a cross was associated with such shame that it was not a topic for polite company. Even surprisingly the Gospel writings are reserved when speaking of the crucifixion, they simply say "they crucified him", without much of the horrific detail. To the Roman mind it was foolishness to ascribe anything to Jesus honorary. Probably the oldest depiction of Jesus being crucified was found on a plaster wall in the ancient city of Rome. It is called the "Alexamenos graffito" and you can see photographs of it on the internet. It is a inscription of a figure upon a cross with the head of a donkey and a young man is standing to the side with a hand raised in homage. Then there is a caption in Greek that says "Alexamenos worships his God". Justin Martyr a second century Christian apologist writes "they say our madness consists in the fact that we put a crucified man in second place after the unchangeable and eternal God, the creator of the world". All in all to the Romans, and everyone else for that matter, crucifixion was a humiliation, it labeled one as a outcast, and asserted the authority of the empire.
  In Luke chapter 24, I hope you take five minutes to read the chapter to get the context, we meet two despondent souls who had put their hope in Jesus of Nazareth but had witnessed his death. Cleopas and perhaps his wife (John 19:25) were returning home on the Sunday morning after being in Jerusalem and they happen upon a "stranger". As a conversation ensues among these travelers they tell how they had hoped this Jesus would have been the one to have "redeemed Israel". They were telling the story from the perspective of what crucifixion meant to them, not yet understanding the meaning of his death, it was simply hopes dashed.
  Something remarkable happened, something beautiful, as they travel along the way they reach their destination in the village of Emmaus and persuade this "stranger" to eat supper with them and stay with them since it was evening. As the meal begins we read "When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him". Their eyes were now opened to behold the resurrected Jesus, yes vindicated from death, beginning the reversal of the curse. That wonderful phrase "their eyes were opened" is found at another meal setting in the Scriptures though in a much less wonderful setting. The serpent tempts Eve to eat of the tree that God had forbidden them to eat of, then her and Adam both eat of it and "the eyes of both of them were opened" (Genesis 3:7). They were opened to behold guilt, shame, and alienation from God. But in Luke 24, Cleopas and his wife experience renewal, hope restored, joy and a communion with God who raises the dead. This Jesus had come into this world, a world that loves its darkness, and he endured the ferocity of it. Evil itself exhausted its power on Jesus, and he took on himself, my sins, your sins, the sins of the world and laid them in a grave so that he could emerge from that tomb victorious and usher in a new reality for every nation. Yes a new world is being born through the resurrection of Jesus, I hope you will be part of it, Being born again of "water and the Spirit" (John 3:5) and experience new life in Jesus.

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