The Gospel text for this Sunday is well known for Jesus' appearance to his followers on the road to Emmaus. One problem is that the location of the town of Emmaus is basically a mystery. Another mystery is the name of the other person (not Cleopas). And it is interesting that the one name we do have, that of Cleopas, is short for Cleopatros, and this means 'famous father'.
Jesus sort of treats the two like little children when he says they are foolish and slow to believe all that has been written in (what we know as) the Old Testament, the scriptures. I think the most wonderful part of the text is when it says that he basically goes through the whole of the Old Testament--he mentions Moses and he says that ALL the prophets are included--and he says that these writers pointed to him as both a suffering and exalted savior.
I think that is extremely difficult for some people to get. For some the Bible focuses more on God (as a whole); for others, more on man (and his actions). Either way you go, you can easily end up with the implication that it is now up to the reader or listener to do something in response. And, depending on how optimistic a person is about their strength--whether spiritual, mental, or even physical--that response could be extremely varied.
The text focuses, rather, on how God became man in Jesus, and that savior went through an awful lot for people. God needed an actual race of people to be an actual man. He did not pick a very important race. Rather, he picked a very special race that showed his very special grace. So, because he was a man, he died, and because he was God, that death meant something significant for us.
It might be good to just sit back and enjoy the text and hear how, again and again, Jesus does something for the person who, unfortunately, is in the dark.
And you might want to marvel a bit at the two who end up going back to Jerusalem that night--about seven miles in the dark (and one of the possible Emmaus locations was NINETEEN miles away--some manuscripts do have 160 stadia as an option instead of 60; I don't know why this is not considered the more difficult reading and put within the text)!
What people sometimes do for Jesus these days....
What Jesus did for us in those days....
Please don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that John 20:31 is one of the most important passages in the scriptures. And it's in the text for this time. It's also a verse that essentially a book could be written about. (I recently heard the comment that "lots of ink has been spilled" over something, and, within that context, I actually thought that it was a cute picture to visualize, but there is no way I would use it here; this verse is much too important. All the ink--or toner--used would be worth it.)
I will give the verse to you here in a somewhat literal fashion, but hopefully you are already somewhat familiar with it: "...these things have been written in order that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and in order that, believing, you may have life in his name." There is, literally, so much here.
Where to begin? How about with one of the smallest words, "you"? The writer didn't say "lot's of people"; he used a direct pronoun. In a way, he is talking to the person who is reading or listening to the text.
But, also, in a way, he isn't. The form of "you" here is plural. In a way--in a very different way--he is saying, "y'all". He is talking to a group.
And that is a good reminder that this book doesn't promote a "me and Jesus" relationship. If you are by yourself, the devil can attack in lots of different ways, and he can certainly use your old sinful nature as his "trusty assistant". This verse sounds like it was meant to be read among a group.
And another issue is whether or not there is a "sigma"--the Greek letter "s"--in the phrase (actually it's just one word in Greek) "you may believe". With the letter, it sounds as if this account was addressed to non-Christians so that they might come to believe. Without the letter, it sounds as if this account was addressed to Christians so that their faith might be strengthened. That's certainly a lot of pressure on one letter! And there are old manuscripts both with and without this letter.
If you noticed, the way I translated it above was somewhat vague, "that you may believe...." I didn't want to confuse things there, but here I will state that I think it should be translated, "that you may continue to believe..."
The gospel accounts were written for use in the synagogues among the earliest Christians. They were treated with great reverence, much in the same way as the Old Testament was treated. The earliest Christians didn't have the money to give out gospel accounts like tracts. Paper was extremely expensive. And, as I have said before, they crafted these accounts very carefully. They wanted to make sure that they focused on Jesus.
I also wanted to say that I think we so easily pass by the part at the end, that we have life in his name. Notice that the pressure isn't on us to do something. We receive something here that is very special. The disciples showed us, in many and various ways, how what they did didn't amount to very much.
Ending on a positive (godly) note, is a much better thing. There's another chapter in this account, but I will save that for another time--and, by the way, it also focuses on Jesus.
Perhaps you have heard of the book, The Bible Code. It's a book that came out in 1997 and predicted lots of weird things because of the way certain parts of the bible were arranged. I certainly don't recommend buying that book, but I bring it up because, when people start counting things in the bible, it can remind some people of that.
In many of the early manuscripts, there were no spaces between the words. This obviously made it hard to read. WhatifIdidthatfortheentiretime? I would think that you would quickly give up trying to read this. But if the topic was important, and if you already knew a little bit about the subject matter, you might be able to handle it. And, of course, having no spaces would save some extremely valuable paper. So I say this to make the point that counting words would be very helpful to make sure that a person has a good understanding of the text.
And I bring all of this up because, with it being Easter Sunday, the text is part of the last chapter of Matthew, the resurrection account of that gospel. All the accounts are significantly different when it comes to the resurrection, and that makes sense. As Jesus had somewhat different roles before his crucifixion--all of which would fit with his being Savior--he had slightly different roles after his resurrection which, again, would fit with his role as Savior.
So when Jesus tells the women to go and tell the disciples that they had seen him, the word used is one for giving a report. It's very similar to the word 'angel', an appointed messenger. Jesus, in a way, is instructing the women, and, when he will be meeting with the disciples, he will instruct them as well; and he will be telling them to instruct others. Jesus has been a 'Savior-Teacher' all through this account.
So, looking at the text in the original language, we have Jesus' words in basically the middle of the chapter and basically at the very end as well. That's an unusual structure that I would like to write more about some other time.
But I was looking at the number of words at both points, and it was interesting to see that, at the end of the chapter, the very middle word of Jesus' words to his disciples is the word 'Son'; it's in the middle of the baptismal formula. And the middle of the middle quotation (if you count the one word greeting as well) is after the word 'my' of 'my brothers' and before the word 'that', telling the disciples what to do. What I thought was interesting as well was that this was the middle point of the entire chapter. That, of course, may be a coincidence (and I may have counted wrong). But it also may be a very carefully crafted text.
I think I've mentioned before that the middle point of a text is an important part of the Hebrew writing style of that day and in the Old Testament as well. And we see that again in this text. I think that it's a very carefully written text.
It's one thing to look at the bible and say that it's going to predict an attack on America. It's a totally different thing to say that the bible centers on Jesus. And it's a slightly different thing from that to say that a certain part of the text of the bible REALLY centers on Jesus.
And I thought it was great that Jesus calls the disciples his brothers. Those were the ones who just left him when things started to get difficult. Jesus takes them back with his kind words. And he takes us back as well.
I might say that I am 'passionate' about Passion Sunday, not only to be funny, but to say that there are some significant differences within the three most similar gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) that are worth investigating a bit more.
This is the Sunday where, in some churches, the whole of Jesus' passion is read, his last few days before his death. This is the year we are looking at the Gospel according to Matthew, and so, from the end of Jesus' last sermon to when he is put into the grave, all of Matthew 26 and 27, is to be read.
Obviously there is a lot of similar material in the three similar accounts--often called 'synoptic', because of their similar views. But this is a Sunday where the particular uniqueness of an account will be somewhat obvious. (You can imagine that there is a special word for this as well, and this time it's a German one, 'sondergut'.)
The most unique thing within those 141 verses (75 in chapter 26, and 66 in chapter 27) is the story of what happened to Judas. To be helpful, and since most people are extremely unfamiliar with this, I have it here in the English Standard Version (ESV):
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, 'I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.' They said, 'What is that to us? See to it yourself.' And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, and said, 'It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.' So they took counsel and bought with them the potter's field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, 'And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord directed me (Matthew 27:3-10).'
There is literally an awful lot I could talk about here. And a lot of it is extremely good (especially when keeping into account, not the fact that Judas killed himself, but that the word 'sondergut' means, in a way, something especially good)!
I have been interested in the structure of the Gospel according to Matthew for many years now, and I would like to try to support the writer for what I consider to be a masterpiece of Hebrew-based literature--even if it was written originally in Greek. (For those who are unfamiliar with this issue, a man named Papias, who lived right after the apostles, wrote that Matthew was written in a Hebrew 'dialect', and that word could be translated as 'language', but it could be also translated as the word 'style', and that is the way I am understanding the word. There is no hard evidence that this gospel account of Matthew is a Greek translation of an originally Hebrew text.)
This Hebrew style can be seen in many parts throughout the Old Testament, but it is especially in a book such as Jeremiah, and, interestingly enough, only in the Hebrew version. There it has, in the middle, what is called a 'Book of Comfort' (chapters 30-33). What is even more interesting is that, in the Greek translation of that book, the parts are arranged in a different way, more chronological.
So, back to the Matthew text, some people have pointed out that it seems like Matthew made a mistake. The Old Testament quote from the text above comes more from Zechariah (11:13) than Jeremiah (32:6-9). But I would like to say, in defense of Matthew, that this is a great literary tool. All through this gospel account, there have been various emphases that have been in the middle of a section. That is what could be understood as a Hebrew style. The middle use of the word 'Father' in the Sermon on the Mount, for example, is the 'Our Father' in the Lord's Prayer.
If one adds the last 20 verses of chapter 28 to the 141 verses of the previous two chapters, the middle of the entire end of this gospel account is this text about Judas, the one containing Matthew's so-called 'mistake'. So if you go through this whole account, always looking for what is in the middle, you could miss the most important thing at the end, the one who died and rose for you.
And there are a few people today who are looking at the scriptures but, unfortunately, missing its center.
'There are twelve hours in the day, aren't there?' That's a more literal translation of the first part of verse 9 in John 11, a small part of the text for this Sunday. It's a question given by Jesus with an expected 'yes' answer.
Obviously there are more important issues, like a man who has been dead for four days--enough to make him stink--comes back to life. But Jesus' question hit me a little harder this year. Perhaps it was because it's April 1st on this Sabbath day, known to many modern cultures as April Fool's Day. I'm not sure what is all behind that, but that doesn't really matter.
So my first thought to Jesus' question was, no, of course not, there AREN'T twelve hours in a day; there are TWENTY-FOUR!
It's interesting how we count the hours. We count ALL the hours. Centuries ago, they counted only the daylight hours, and then they divided them into twelve parts. Having a sundial would help determine how long an hour would be.
Just the thought of having twenty-four hours in the day instead of twelve can be very relieving. You might think, 'I have a lot of time to get this done.' But that's not always true.
I have written this in the past, but it's even more appropriate with this text from the Gospel according to John, that what is done by human hands really comes from the Lord's blessing and not from our ability to do something because, according to our judgment, there were enough things on our part.
Would it have been nice to see Lazarus come out of the grave on that day? A better question might be this: What does Jesus say in response to Thomas' confession of the Risen Christ? Thomas was saying that, unless he saw Jesus, he wouldn't believe.
Jesus says, 'Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe (John 20:29).' There are many people who are being blessed because of those few words. It's much the same thing in Baptism, Confession, and the Lord's Supper.
It's important to remember that blessing is not a feeling. It's not a miracle you can see. Dr. Luther emphasized this many times that the Apostles' Creed says, 'I believe in the ... resurrection of the body; I believe ... in the holy, Christian Church.' We don't say that we see those things.
If there are only twelve hours in the day, that's fine with me. I remember hearing that the day, in Jewish time, started with the sunset of the previous day and went until the sunset of the present day. And I also remember hearing that this particular way of designating a day was a good reminder that a day is primarily about what God is doing and not us. It starts with the night, and God is much more active during the night than we are. He's a bit more important in the whole scheme of things.