Reading Luke and Acts in 2020
Week 23 | Luke 23
Luke 23 Reflections and Questions
From the Trial to the Tomb
By Jane Newman Brooks
My goodness, we are experiencing disturbing events in our communities and the world. I wonder if we have reached the nadir of human depravity evidenced by callous disregard by some for the value of the lives of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Brionna Taylor? Have we hit rock bottom with the violence of looting, fires, rubber bullets, and tear gas? Have we given up as a novel virus sweeps across the earth bringing death in a matter of months to unprecedented numbers of people?
Humanity has been here before, many times. Is there any hope for us? Let us read through Luke 23. It begins with Jesus before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate; Jesus is murdered by crucifixion in the middle of the chapter, and it concludes with his tortured, lifeless body laid in a fresh tomb, provided by Joseph of Arimathea.
The Jewish council hurled made up accusations at Jesus. Urged on by a crowd of bystanders inspired by lurid spectacle, Jesus’ accusers persuaded a reluctant, indifferent Pilate to arrest him and ultimately have him executed. All the manifestations of human sin and brokenness are on display in Luke’s narrative. Lying, mockery, powerlust, blackmail, blaming, fear, greed, avoidance, mob mentality, blasphemy, violence and murder.
Take a look at Luke 23:1-26. What does Pilate say three times about Jesus, in response to the demands of the Council?
Read vs 23-25. The crowd prevailed over Pilate with shouts of “Crucify, crucify him!” Is Pilate’s decision the result of his convictions or does he give into popular opinion and the voice of the crowd? What are the voices and values that influence the decisions we make?
In vs 26, Jesus was led away as the humiliation and brutality continued. Imagine the shouting and derisive laughter of the crowd that followed behind Simon of Cyrene and Jesus. Hear Jesus call out to the women who were beating their breasts and crying after him. If you have ever been to Jerusalem and walked the via dolorosa, perhaps you can envision this cruel parade winding the narrow route between market stalls and people going about their business. Do you think the crowd who followed and the soldiers who led the way knew what they were doing? When we “go along with crowd” how aware are we of what we are doing; of the choices we are making; of the impact on others?
At the place called The Skull, they nailed him to a cross and killed him. Before he succumbed, we heard the first words of Jesus from the cross. We heard a prayer that is unmatched in mercy and love. Jesus said “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (v34) Why did Jesus ask for them to be forgiven? Why is forgiveness important? In what ways is giving and receiving forgiveness life changing?
Jesus was crucified between two thieves suffering the same form of execution. Beginning with v 39, compare the attitudes of the two thieves. One joined the crowd in mocking him and calling for him to save himself. But the other thief gave a rebuke and confessed that they both deserved their punishment for what they had done. Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus received him, saying, “truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (v 43). What inspired the thief to respond to Jesus in this way? What is the role of confession in this exchange between Jesus and the criminal? How does this apply to us?
Luke described how people responded to Jesus’ death, beginning with v 47. What happened to the crowd? What did the Centurion say? What was Joseph of Arimathea moved to do? And how did the women who had followed him respond?
These are dark days we live in. Have we reached the bottom of despair? Where is our hope as individuals and as a people? I believe our hope for our redemption and the redemption of our nation and world is in Jesus, the One “who, though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:6-8. Jesus graciously, amazingly, as he suffered humiliation and excruciating pain for sins he did not do, offered life-changing forgiveness. It is an offer that extends down through the ages to us and beyond. Will you search the deepest recesses of your heart for thoughts, actions, and attitudes for which you need forgiveness? In what ways will you allow the forgiveness Jesus offered to you and to the world as a gift, to change you and change the world?
Rev. Jane Newman Brooks serves as Assistant to the Bishop and as District Superintendent of the Atlanta-Emory District.