CJ's Blog

by CJ Alderton of Patrick Crossing

February 25

Sightings, Part 4

I don’t know about you, but once I get home from a long day of work it is very difficult to get motivated to go out the door again. If my main mode of transportation was traversing by foot, that unwillingness would be increased exponentially. And that’s where we find Cleophas and Mary. They have just finished a seven mile hike from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They have met up with up a stranger. The stranger turns out to be quite the chatty Bible scholar. They invite him in for dinner. The stranger grabs a tasty loaf of bread and breaks it apart. As he is passing it around the table a defining moment of revelation takes place – the stranger is Jesus. The moment Jesus sees that the light has flickered on within his hosts, he disappears – he vanishes. Poof! Now, that would qualify as an event that could motivate a person to head back out the door!

And that’s exactly what we find. With no regard to their fatigue Mary and Cleophas fly out the door: They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. ~Luke 24:33 Nothing is given of the conversation that was taking place in the seven mile trudge, but we can guess that it involved the words, “Hurry up!” And so they arrived: There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. ~Luke 24:33-35

This small band of followers can be forgiven their astonishment. Their emotions had ranged from grief, despair and disillusionment to unanticipated joy. Joy that is unanticipated is the best but it can also makes us guarded. We have a natural suspicion of good news. We are like Benjamin Franklin who once said that he preferred to be a pessimist because it rarely left him disappointed! Low expectations are easy to meet. Gloom is a safe bet. But THIS news – that Jesus was alive and poofing in and out and all about Jerusalem was beyond the reach of their fondest hopes and dreams. And then: While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” ~Luke 24:36 Poof…

February 24, 2018

Sightings, Part 3

So, the last couple of days we have raised the possibility that the two travelers on the road to Emmaus may very well have been the husband and wife couple, Cleophas and Mary. It is not essential to our faith that it be so, but I’ve suggested it as a plausible and intriguing possibility. I should mention that a clear reading of the Greek certainly doesn’t dissuade the argument. The description of the pair is given to us by way of impersonal pronouns. (i.e. they, them and such) While some translations suggest that Jesus began a recitation to them with the phrase, “You foolish men, etc.” the Greek text doesn’t support that – at all. It better reads, “You fools…” That’s perhaps way more than you wanted to know but much less than I wanted to say!

As the trio made their way to Emmaus, the stranger began to preach to them and opened their hearts to the truth surrounding the recent events spilling out of Jerusalem:  He said to them, “How unwise you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. ~Luke 24:25-27

Cleophas and Mary got an earful of preaching all the way to Emmaus. As they entered the town, Jesus appeared determined to keep walking but they persuaded him to come inside and have a bite to eat. They still hadn’t a clue as to his identity. That was about to change: 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, and he disappeared from their sight. Luke 24:30,31 

In a flash it became apparent who was sitting with them. In another flash he was gone. As they sat there, gobsmacked, they both agreed on this one thing: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” ~Luke 24:32 Sleep was not now a possibility. They got up and hurried out the door. They were no longer traveling the road to Emmaus, but the road back to Jerusalem.

February 23, 2018

Sightings, Part 2

Do you remember the handful of people who followed Jesus to the very foot of the cross? Let’s look once more at that passage: Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. ~John 19:25 I briefly touched upon the fact that there are church traditions which support the idea that Cleophas was Joseph’s brother thus making his wife, Mary, a sister-in-law of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Got all that?

The name Mary is ubiquitous in the Gospel accounts therefore making the readings quite a challenge. But records going as far back as Eusebius (263-339 AD) make this point. And Eusebius was no slouch. He is considered the “Father of Christian History” and produced the Ecclesiastical History, On the Life of Pamphilus, The Chronicle and On the Martyrs. His access to oral traditions and other extant records take us tantalizingly close to the time of the Apostles.

So yesterday we saw two people walking on the road to Emmaus and chatting away. They are joined in both their walk and their conversation by Jesus. Luke gives us the name of just one of the travellers: One of them, named Cleopas…Luke 24:18. I would suggest that this is the same fellow mentioned in John’s account as the husband of Mary. You may have noticed that the spellings are different between the account in John and the account in Luke. Moreover, some translations of the account in John have it as Clopas. A simple explanation is that there were three languages and many dialects flying about at the time of the Gospel writings and it would be easy, during a transliteration, to insert an alternate spelling. In fact, we would expect it to be so. It still happens today. (e.g Katy, Katie, Kadee, Catie all sound alike and depending on the transcriber, could choose from any of the above).

Is it possible that Jesus has dropped in on his aunt and his uncle as they were heading home? That prospect is strengthened if we back up just a few verses in Luke: When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Luke24:9-11 The third Mary is identified as Mary, the mother of James. Church history identifies her as the mother of “James the Lesser” AND the wife of Cleophas!

Now back to the Emmaus Road. Jesus asks them why they are sad. Cleophas was astonished that this stranger hadn’t heard all of the news boiling out of Jerusalem so he gets right to the point: “…some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.” Luke 24:23-24  Mary, the wife of Cleophas, was one of those women. And I believe she is the silent companion who is standing next to her animated husband as he catches Jesus up on the news. What they didn’t yet realize was that they were standing in the presence of their nephew and their soon to be Savior.

 

February 22, 2018

Sightings, Part 1

The reports of various “sightings” begin to roll in. It is difficult to keep track of the timeline of the recorded appearances of Jesus. Some commentators have drained barrels of ink attempting such tedious chronologies. It’s never concerned me. The chaotic nature makes perfect sense. Jesus was back and he began to go hither and yon. He was once more inhabiting eternity; therefore, Newtonian physics offered no resistance. Seems once you’re resurrected you can get around pretty well. Over the next few days we’ll have a look at a few of these sightings and in no particular order.

If we were hovering above Jerusalem at this moment in time, we might have caught a glimpse of Mary Magdalene scampering from the tomb on her way back to the hideout to announce that Jesus was alive. If we looked west, we could see two people shuffling along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. The two appear to be absorbed in a serious discussion: Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast… ~Luke 24:13-17

I mentioned a couple of writings back something of the playfulness of this brief period of time between the resurrection and Christ’s ascension. I mean no dishonor at all in respect to the gravity of the surrounding events. But it does appear that Jesus is having a nice time of it as he drops in on folks. As with Mary Magdelene, Jesus is not at first recognizable to the downcast travelers. What is also of note is that once more, Jesus is making an appearance to virtual unknowns. But the choice of these two is intriguing if we dig a little deeper. So, let’s dig.

The very next verse gives us a name: One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” Luke 24:18 Wait a minute! That name sounds familiar. The assumption has often been that these were two lads making the journey from Jerusalem, but the Scripture never says that. Perhaps it was a man and a woman.  Perhaps it was a husband and a wife… (Stay tuned)

February 21, 2018

Go…

Mary lunged at Jesus. She was going to hold onto him for all that she was worth. It was beyond wonderful. Words were not enough. Just days before she had seen him broken, bleeding, limp and dead. She had watched the death and the burial from just a few feet away. And now – this! He was here. He was alive. She was sobbing. She had been weeping in grief just seconds before. She was still weeping but now it was a joyful outpouring. Jesus was back. She’d not yet grasped what “back” actually meant. It would be a brief reunion. She would still need to go and live her life. Jesus quelled her momentary celebration: “Don’t hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” ~John 20:17 “Go and tell them Mary. You are the church’s first eyewitness. You are the church’s first evangelist. You are the first to announce to the world my victory over death. You’re the exemplar of my grace and mercy – of a life restored. Now – GO!

So she went: Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. ~John 20:18 Heaven’s choice of the church’s very first ambassador is revealing. As Jesus once observed – what heaven has to offer only works for those who take what’s offered: On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17 That was tongue in cheek. None of us are righteous. We are all sinners. Salvation is meant for all, but not all will collect the free gift. Many think themselves too busy or too respectable to hang out with the likes of a woman like Mary Magdalene. “Mary Magdalene. That crazy lady? Wasn’t she that siren who wandered about half-dressed, half-baked, hearing voices and was known as the town floozy?” Heaven thought otherwise. She was the perfect representative of the new kingdom.

February 20, 2018

Howdy Mary

John records that after the foot race to the tomb and the subsequent investigation, Peter and John headed back to their hideout: Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. ~John 20:10 They should have stuck around for a few more minutes. Things were about to get interesting: Now Mary (Magdalene) stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” ~John 20:11-13

Evidently, after alerting the disciples of the empty tomb, she had joined the foot race back to the cemetery. No other conversation is recorded between Mary and the two racing disciples. With John as the author it would seem that if something was said he would have documented it. But, it was a more patriarchal time and it appears she was ignored by the huffing and puffing Peter and John.

I’ve thought about this lack of dialogue quite a lot. John, normally eager to shine a sliver or two of light upon himself, instead gives the story over to this lady with a past. Perhaps it was a softening that had taken place as he aged and turned to writing. Regardless, John gives a beautiful and detailed description of the unspeakable privilege she was about to experience as the church’s first eyewitness.

What is also interesting is that she is not in the least frightened by the angels as she had been earlier. This wasn’t her first angel rodeo. And by now, having made the trip several times, she had little regard for her own well-being. The angels struck up a conversation and she dialogued with them as if it was perfectly normal. But just behind her stood the one who was the source of her greatest anguish and her greatest joy – as it often is with all true loves. Some movement, some shadow interrupted the conversation: At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. ~John 20:14

The lack of recognition lasted only a couple of seconds:  He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). ~John 20:15,16

February 19, 2018

A Foot Race

Our major narrator for this grand tour of the life of Christ has been the Apostle John, or John the beloved. We know he is called beloved because he tells us so. He is stating the facts as he sees them. This small vanity – if that’s what it is – is forgiven a man who followed Jesus all the way to the cross and agreed to take on Mary, the mother of Jesus, as his own kin. That is some beloved stuff right there.

We’re now past the Stations of The Cross. Traditionally they end with the placement of Jesus in the tomb. As we witnessed yesterday, the conspiracy of deception – launched by men who should have known better – now moves into a new kind of conspiracy. It is a conspiracy of joy and endless wonders as Jesus begins to “drop in” at various gatherings and to individuals. There is almost a sense of playfulness to Christ’s choice of venues as his resurrected self brings indescribable delight to his recently disheartened band of followers. It begins with a foot race.

There’s a bit more of harmless vanity at play in this next passage and it has to do with the speed of one disciple over against the other. Let’s have a look: Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. ~John 20:1-4

The “other disciple” is of course, John the beloved. I have a pretty active imagination. I picture the two exiting the door at the same moment with elbows flying. This was big news and they had to go see for themselves. They ran as fast as long gowns and sandals would allow and John broke out into the lead. He reached the tomb and found this: He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. ~John 20:5-7

So, John “outran Peter” and “Simon Peter came along behind him.” But in a moment of honest humility John admits that he didn’t enter the tomb. He just had a peek. It was, after all a grave. John was fast but Peter was fearless. To John’s credit he mentions that Simon Peter went straight into the tomb. A few seconds later John screwed up his courage and plunged in: Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. ~John 20:8a John would be forever changed by what wasn’t there: He saw and believed. ~John 20:8b

February 18, 2018

Via Dolorosa – A Conspiracy is Hatched

The soldiers who had been guarding the tomb hot-footed it to their religious overlords as soon as all heaven broke loose at the tomb. It was a dicey thing to do. As soldiers and guards their very lives were forfeit for allowing a live prisoner to escape. Imagine how much more the retribution (and embarrassment) for losing a dead one!

But Jesus was no longer dead. He was very much alive. Neither the grave nor grave soldiers could hold him back. And that was a big problem, not just for the humiliated guards but for the religious leaders as well. Let’s listen in: While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day. ~Matthew 28:11-15

So, a conspiracy was hatched. The frantic guards were pacified with hush money and a promise by the Sanhedrin not to report that failure to their superiors. They came up with the most implausible of stories. It involved sleeping guards and sneaky disciples. But it was the best they could come up with on the fly. An honest Roman governor would have seen right through it. But an honest Roman governor was hard to come by. He had moved past the “Jesus problem” with the washing of his hands a few days before.

The whole scenario is dumbfounding. Everyone in that conspiratorial circle knew the truth. Jesus was alive and just as he’d predicted. For a person of average character and modest wisdom that realization normally would have cultivated a bit of humility. Yet, it failed to have that effect with this troupe. Character and wisdom had long ago been brushed aside to allow power and prestige to be enthroned – to become all consuming. They paid graft. They fabricated a story. They were prepared to tell more lies to protect the big lie. They refused to believe what they knew to be true. And that is the most vile unbelief of all.

February 17, 2018

Via Dolorosa – Shaken

The soldiers were no longer a problem. They were terrified and disheveled from the earthquake and by the supernatural figures walking around the cemetery seemingly without a care in the world. The Gospel of Matthew catches up with them as they take flight: Meanwhile, while the women were on their way, some of the guards ran to the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. ~Matthew 28:11

There’s a good chance that these lads saw and felt everything that went down. Certainly they rumbled right along with the earthquake. But instinctively they would quickly recover and turn their gaze back to their task – the tomb of Joseph and the resting place of Jesus. According to what we’ve looked at thus far, they would have seen a supernatural figure flicking the massive boulder away – or perhaps the angel stomped his foot and shook it loose. There is a passage in the Apostle Paul’s writings that refers to the “weight of glory” and you find this sense of heaven crushing down upon the earth in several of CS Lewis’ writings. But whether an angel bench-pressed the stone out of the way or it was shaken loose – these hard-nosed guardians were undone by what they were witnessing. Against all reason and in accord with all terror, the unspeakable happened – a man, a zombie, a something stepped forth into the open air from the inside of the tomb. They were not unaware of the rumors of this man rising again on the third day. That was in fact the whole point of their assignment. Perhaps some of these guards had taken part in the crucifixion. But that notwithstanding, they were in no mood to shake hands with a man who wouldn’t stay dead.

February 16, 2018

Via Dolorosa – Angels & Earthquakes

It was a quick answer to a non-prayer. That sometimes happens. God eavesdrops. The two Marys were merely thinking out loud together regarding the problem of a sealed tomb and burly guards when the ground beneath their feet began to shake. Each gospel writer gives a slightly different account of what came next, which is just fine by me. It is like taking a picture from a number of different positions and angles. The true image is given when it is all pieced together.

Three of the gospels mention an angelic encounter. Angels are not to be trifled with. They can move big stones from the inside of a tomb and they can cause the ground to shake. Because of their spectral countenance, very few meetings between these heavenly messengers and us earthlings begin all that well. Typically we find the human hastily making purchase with the ground with his or her face and the angel saying something along the lines of, “Fear not.” So, as Mary and Mary spot the open tomb they are suddenly met with a dazzling figure: Then they looked up, saw that it had been rolled back—it was a huge stone—and walked right in. They saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed all in white. They were completely taken aback, astonished.  He said, “Don’t be afraid. Mark 16:4-6

As I’ve mentioned, the positions and the number of angels vary from gospel account to gospel account. Scholars have long ago reconciled the reports and it is not necessary for our purposes to labor through all of that. What is striking to me is that it was now the angels who were watching and waiting. After they had tidied up the task of blowing the stone from the entrance to the tomb, they were on the lookout for the two Marys. The love that had led these ladies to the very foot of the cross would now meet with the honor of being the first human ears to hear that Jesus had indeed kept his word. He was back.

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