From suffering to joy (April 27, 2014)

Scripture Passage and Lesson Focus: Isaiah 53:3-8; Luke 24:25-27; 44-47 

To paraphrase a modern television commercial, to hear a good sermon may be profoundly moving, but to participate in a life-changing Bible study session — that is priceless. How many of us would gladly have traded places with those two travelers on the road to Emmaus! They had the best possible Bible study leader, the resurrected Jesus, who “interpreted to them the things about himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). Their lives were forever changed by what Jesus taught them and shared with them as they walked and then ate a sacramental meal together.

We will never know exactly which passages from the Hebrew Bible Jesus interpreted for the Emmaus road travelers. Judging from early Christian tradition, Isaiah 53 was probably one of them. The New Testament includes numerous specific quotations and many more clear allusions to the well- known “suffering servant” passage from Isaiah 53.

Isaiah 53:3-8 — An innocent and rejected figure suffered vicariously for the sins of humanity
Whether the suffering servant in this passage may be understood to be the people of Israel collectively, or
the prophet Isaiah, or some future messianic figure, for the earliest Christians these prophetic words point to only one person: the crucified and resurrected Jesus of Nazareth. They saw unmistakable allusions in Isaiah 53 to his rejection by his own people, to his silent suffering and to his unjust execution. And all of his suffering was understood as a sacrifice that removed the burden of sin from God’s people. The suffering servant brought wholeness to God’s sinful people.

Luke 24: 25-27 — The central message of the prophets points to Jesus as the Messiah
One of the many instructive features of Luke’s masterfully constructed account of the Emmaus road appearance of the resurrected Jesus is its emphasis on the prophetic understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. Throughout his account of the ministry of Jesus and the rise of the early Christian church, Luke focuses on how the basic message of what Christians traditionally call the Old Testament has been fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Rather than relying on specific proof texts, Luke directs our attention to “all that the prophets have declared.” A key word here is “all” — “all the prophets” and “all the Scriptures.”

Equally important is the word Luke uses to describe Jesus’ teaching method. The Greek word translated “interpreted” carries the nuance of explaining or making clear what is not immediately obvious. A process of translation is required, not in the sense of restating meaning in a different language, but in the sense of placing an entire tradition — in this case the prophetic tradition of Israel — into a new context, the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The suffering of the Messiah was necessary, Luke tells us, because it was in accordance with the Scriptures prophetically understood.

The foolish and slow-to-believe hearts of the Emmaus road travelers had to be opened to a new way of looking at the message of Scripture. Their ambulatory teaching session with Jesus began a process of opening their eyes that was not complete until they recognized their teacher during the ensuing sacramental meal. Luke’s account vividly illustrates how the first followers of Jesus found confirmation of their faith in a new understanding of the basic thrust of the Hebrew prophets and in a communal meal in the presence of the resurrected Jesus.

Luke 24:44-47 — Jesus’ earthly ministry fulfilled the Scriptures and mandated a mission
Luke comes to the conclusion of his Gospel with an anticipation of the story he will tell in his second volume, the Acts of the Apostles. He reports an appearance of the resurrected Jesus to a gathering of disciples in which Jesus demonstrates his bodily resurrection by eating a piece of broiled fish. All three major sections of the Hebrew Bible — the Torah, the prophets and the Psalms — point to the suffering and resurrection glory of Messiah Jesus.

And the Scriptures point to a new mission for God’s people. They are to be witnesses to the new reality of repentance and forgiveness based on Jesus’ resurrection by proclaiming that good news to all nations.

For discussion

  1. Can you describe a time when your understanding of Scripture was profoundly deepened?
  2. Are Christians sufficiently familiar with the Old Testament to see the suffering and glory of Jesus in it?