Despair and turnaround

When you read what the Gospels relate us about Easter, you are struck by the atmosphere among the disciples that day: a deep sadness that goes perhaps to the point of despair.

First they lost their Master, villainously murdered by the authorities, and with him died the hopes they had based on him. And now even his body has disappeared! They had just begun to mourn and already everything is complicated and worse. They were far from the triumph a cursory examination would have expected. And yet this very dark day will end abruptly in overwhelming joy.

What caused this complete reversal of the situation?

Gospel of Luke 24: 13-35

Now that very day two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.They were talking to each other about all the things that had happened.While they were talking and debating these things, Jesus himself approached and began to accompany them (but their eyes were kept from recognizing him).
Then he said to them, “What are these matters you are discussing so intently as you walk along?” And they stood still, looking sad.
Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have happened there in these days?”He said to them, “What things?” “The things concerning Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied, “a man who, with his powerful deeds and words, proved to be a prophet before God and all the people; and how our chief priests and rulers handed him over to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. Not only this, but it is now the third day since these things happened. Furthermore, some women of our group amazed us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back and said they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see him.”
So he said to them, “You foolish people– how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!
Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things written about himself in all the scriptures.
So they approached the village where they were going. He acted as though he wanted to go farther, but they urged him, “Stay with us, because it is getting toward evening and the day is almost done.” So he went in to stay with them.
When he had taken his place at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
At this point their eyes were opened and they recognized him. Then he vanished out of their sight.
They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us while he was speaking with us on the road, while he was explaining the scriptures to us?”So they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and those with them gathered together and saying, “The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon!”Then they told what had happened on the road, and how they recognized him when he broke the bread. 

The events of that Sunday: Resurrection

It was already the third day without the Master, with whom they had been sharing the daily life for more than three years. Helpless, they did not know what to do with their time, nor with themselves. This morning was looking as dark as the day before and in the upper room reigned a heavy silence, despite the number of people gathered there. They stayed there locked for fear of the authorities. These, after having eliminated the Master, definitely should seek to do the same with the disciples, to end this so annoying movement that had so exasperated them.

Early in that morning Mary Magdalene had gone with two other women to make funeral honors to the body of the Lord. But they had returned prematurely, with one more devastating news: the body of the Lord has been stolen! Of course, Mary had added important details (v.23), but the disciples had barely heard them; anyway they were not used to give great credit to what a woman said. Result: the women had confused them (v.22). They heard the news that was the most formidable, but by a woman, therefore it fell flat. Worse, it added to the confusion! The most liberating news that can ever be, received without faith, does not matter to them and can even increase the confusion.
Isn’t it surprising how our ears can be selective when a biblical fact reaches them! Yet the disciples had known Mary for a long time as a serious, reliable person.

On that day two of the disciples went back downcast (v.17) at their home in Emmaus, 12 km from Jerusalem. Indeed their hope that it would be he who would restore Israel (v. 21) is now destroyed and so they have nothing more to do in town. Along the way they encounter a strange unknown rabbi who gives them a Bible class as they had heard only with their Lord. Their heart is burning within them. But they leave it at that, except that in order to learn more, they invite him to spend the night with them. This is the end of this sad day!

Not at all: shortly after, as night had come, we see both leaving again, full of joy, completely transformed and eager to swallow in the opposite direction the 12 km to Jerusalem. Now a normal Jew avoided traveling on foot by night. But both have only one concern: to meet again their friends in the upper room (v. 33). These also are no more the same. No more sadness, they are all excited and say: “The Lord is risen indeed, and he has shown himself to Simon “(v.34). All, now, are convinced that the Lord is risen! But how have they reached this certainty? What was decisive to convince them?

What convinced them ?

First of all two fundamental affirmations: one is familiar to us, but needs further exploration; the second may be surprising at first.

– 1. Miracles alone do not convince.

They surprise, fill people with admiration or enthusiasm, but do not change the spiritual position. Jesus’ friends in the upper room heard the three women announce  the resurrection and nothing changed. Peter went to the grave, he saw it abandoned by the Roman guards and empty. He entered it (John 20) and he especially saw the very special arrangement of Jesus’ bandages, then he left, dismayed, but he did not believe.

The enemies of Jesus had seen Lazarus coming out of his grave, entangled in his bandages. All this inspired them, is the urgency to eliminate as well the resurrected one as the one who brought him back to life, two really too embarrassing evidences. At Mount Carmel the whole Israel saw the sensational intervention of God himself on the request of Elijah. It was so obvious that the they eventually all proclaimed, “The LORD is God! “A truly unique and exhilarating demonstration! But the next day everyone went back to his usual pagan practices (1 Kings 18).

– 2. What is much more unexpected is that the Word of God alone does not convince either.

What better teacher of theology can we wish than Jesus himself? For perhaps two hours on the road to Emmaüs the two disciples has listened to a basic course by the Lord. A serious lecture and their heart was quite moved by it, but they left off there.
An even more surprising fact: in v.19-24 the two men explain to their mysterious companion what makes them so sad: in a few words they expose the essence of the Gospel, including the resurrection! That is what drives them to such a despair!
Even the Sermon on the Mount was not only heard by the disciples, but by all who were there, including those who were to become, nevertheless, his enemies. They were struck, impressed, nothing more. To-day some would say, “This was a beautiful sermon”; “He has well spoken.”
Far from being seduced by this kind of enthusiasm, Jesus distrusted and shunned it.

A miracle is only meaningful when matched by faith with the Word; let us recall John’s reflection before Jesus’ grave
Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, came in, and he saw and believed. (For they did not yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead.) John 20.8-9

And this Word must be centered on Jesus. The eyes of the two men opened (v. 31), when they realized that all the mysterious rabbi had explained, not only applied to Jesus, but focused on the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s Messiah. The resurrection was demonstrated under their eyes by the way so personal and so characteristic of their Master breaking bread. Honest with God and with themselves, they believed, they welcomed the gift of faith and were transformed into depth.

So let us remember this: the decisive aspect of the Easter event is this underlining by faith of the agreement between the prophetic announcements in the Old Testament and by Jesus himself with his death and resurrection. This is what convinces and releases from their dismay the two disciples at Emmaus and the 120 in Jerusalem, this is what causes their courageous testimony. If Scripture does not give us the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the death and resurrection of Jesus do not give us the meaning of Scripture. But the two put together, one as the explanation of the other, form the message of the Good News that revolutionized the world and keeps all his power to do it again.

Let us emphasize this point: what in the work of Jesus must be particularly put in contact with Scripture, is his death and resurrection. This is the intolerable scandal of Christianity: God accepted death and by dying he demonstrated the reality and horror of man’s sin. And those who are scandalized, do not want to see / believe that this same Messiah who died, is also risen, is alive today, is the true Lord of the world and its impending judge.

Crowds like a Messiah who multiplies bread, heals the sick and raises the dead. They would be delighted to be able to make such a man their king. But Jesus refused such a career because beyond the material, legitimate needs of man, he was aiming the fundamental spiritual problem of sin that only he could solve and only this solution can change human existence. And when Jesus came near the goal of his whole ministry, when he was accused by the authorities before Pilate, the same crowds apparently had no difficulty to cry, “Crucify him! »

Christianity, true religion?

Is it not the logical conclusion of all what precedes? Well, even if it means to surprise you again: not at all! Not because his teaching could be wrong, but because there is only one truth, the Bible, and because this Bible condemns as lying or misleading all religions, including and especially including the religious forms of Christianity.

And what is religion? This is a notion on the definition of which specialists are fighting forever. To be simple, even if we miss nuances, we can say that it is a system of intellectual and practical spirituality in which the biblical revelation gets from 0 to 99% space. 0% in the multitude of religions, some of which are said to be very respectable, but where the biblical truth is completely absent. 99% or less could describe my own faith, if I give the human mind a little bit of authority beside or above that of God. Look for example at this definition of grace: grace is the crowning achievement that man makes in order to be saved! It’s subtle, but highly poisonous.

In the minds of people who practice a religion, there is a number of things to do and many things to avoid and then God is favorable to them and blesses them and they can get from him what they want. This is the way Job’s friends think: Job 11.13-18. In such a market system man agrees to pay the price that is asked, with money, efforts or sacrifices and he then thinks he is entitled to expect from God what he asked. This is what means, in the negative form, an exclamation such as: “What have I done to God that he treats me this way? »

At mount Carmel the priests of Baal have done all rituals, sacred dances required in order that Baal makes it rain, he, the god of storms. They even added incisions on their bodies to be sure to convince him and now he dares to do nothing! Facing the true God the religious system crashes. Elijah, on the other hand, doesn’t any religious practice or sport, no ritual, no magic formula. He is sincerely relying on his God, he calls him and receives a fulfillment that goes beyond his own expectations.

Normally the god of a religion does what man is expecting from him. In other words man knows how his god thinks; the thinking of the one is the same as that of the other.Isaiah says exactly the opposite about the true God.

 Indeed, my plans are not like your plans, and my deeds are not like your deeds, for just as the sky is higher than the earth, so my deeds are superior to your deeds and my plans superior to your plans. Isaiah 55.8-9

Paul uses the same language

But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him.” God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.1 Corinthians 2.9-10

Pagan priests may be criticized, but the Jewish religious authorities who sovereignly despise the idol worshipers, yet have the same mentality. According to their designs the Messiah will come, clothed in God’s power, to restore the former glory of the kingdom of David and expel the occupying Romans. But Jesus refused throughout his ministry all that the Jewish religious conceptions wanted him to become or to do as a human Messiah. And for that refusal he was murdered.Even the devil  thinks this way. “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread…”

The Son of God has no reason to be limited by the general human condition; he has advantages he can freely enjoy. The promoters of the prosperity theology live in a shocking luxury on the backs of their followers they exploit ,under the pretext that a child of God is not to be poor. The Vatican has always considered that the Vicar of Christ on earth was to live in a pomp worthy of God.

In religion there are miracles and celestial apparitions, extraordinary signs regarded as proofs of the genuineness of this religion. No need to dwell on the countless miracles we can call absurd, because they are made only to impress the gullible: coagulated blood that becomes liquid again, the sun that spins, an alleged virgin who appears to children. Let us rather talk about religious miracles centered on Jesus, “Master, we would see a sign from thee”, i. e. organize for us a beautiful religious show! “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself from the top of Temple”, i. e. so you shall get for you the striking confirmation that you are the Son of God and especially the people will be obliged to believe in you. Obliged to believe!! Or an even more inescapable demonstration: “If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross and we shall believe..!”

Here appears the most definitive difference between the religions, even the Christian ones, and the biblical revelation. Here we can see the crassly human nature of every religion, even if it claims to be revealed. Sooner or later, and often very quickly, religion, such as political ideologies, fall into the temptation to force people to believe and therefore they persecute and even torture those who have not freely chosen to believe in them.

We must dare to make this double affirmation: Any system that allows itself to use of violence, persecution, to gain or keep followers, is thereby proving that it is human, miserably human, whatever be the sacred rags under which it disguises its origin. Then a system that needs violence to impose itself, proves so that it does not believe in itself, in its relevance, in its strength, and even that it is afraid, consciously or not, to collapse, if it does not use violence to maintain itself.

To all that we oppose two central facts of the Bible. First, Jesus never used or permitted or recommended the use of violence to spread or save the Gospel. In its history the so-called Christian Church has dared to do so and some denominations blithely take it up today. May God have mercy with them! Secondly, God loves man, his creature; he respects his choices, whatever they are, and the only relationship he wishes, is a relation freely chosen and cultivated by man.

All these suggestions, temptations whispered to Jesus by the religious spirit to force people to believe in him, he rejected. Because of this the disappointed, exasperated religion assassinated him. But the cross on which religion has avenged itself, this cross sealed the death of religion. The wonder of Easter is not the miracle of those who claim that the Son of God could have been replaced at the last minute by another and has therefore escaped death this way. The Easter miracle is that Jesus faced frankly Satan and death and religion and sin. He defeated them all and proved it by his resurrection. And for anyone who believes in the resurrection, this victory frees him from the terrifying face of death, opening eternal life for him. It frees him from sin for which forgiveness is offered : sin is no more an inevitable fate. It frees him from religion where man remains alone in his legalism, facing a silent deity. Now he is loved as a child of God and by his Son who come both to dwell in him and welcome him into the family of the Church. The Christian is not a “slave” , as some claim to be, but a free child of God; he is free, because “if the Son sets someone free, this one is truly free” (John 8.36). Free and loved, and loved because free, which leads naturally to want to serve God, by choice and not by obligation.

This respect of the Creator for his creature, his refusal of any other relationship with him/her than a relationship based on love and cultivated in confidence, is also what makes biblical faith most noble and most contrary to religion. It is the resurrection that opens and guarantees to man this new perspective of life with his Creator, here and now on earth and in eternity with him. The tempter offers to man religion with legalism, uncertainty about the future and fear of death. The Risen one brings and guarantees to the repentant sinner forgiveness, inner peace, freedom, the joy of being loved and to love in return. All this without end.

Desperate because of the death of Christ, the disciples experience a complete reversal of the situation: on the way to Emmaus he explains to them that his death and resurrection were necessary.

Desperate because of the death of their Lord, Jesus’ disciples experience a complete reversal of the situation, when Christ appears to them on the way to Emmaus and explains to them with the Ancient Testament that his death and resurrection were necessary.

J.J.S.