26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”
The more I read the Gospels the more I am amazed at the literary skill with which they are crafted. Luke is an especially talented writer. He is not simply giving us a record of events, he is weaving a narrative that brings the reader into the presence of the risen Christ – that makes our hearts burn within us – and, hopefully, makes us see the risen Christ in the breaking of the bread.
Luke begins his Gospel with those finely crafted narratives we call the nativity stories. But calling them nativity stories, and turning them into Christmas plays, divorces those narratives from the composition of Luke’s Gospel. It is as if you were to cut off all the scenes in Hobbiton from the start of the Lord of the Rings. Those events at Bilbo’s birthday party are essential to the larger narrative, setting up themes about the goodness of growing things that are crucial to the larger story.
This first volume of Luke’s two-volume work, his narrative of the words and deeds of Jesus, begins and ends in the temple. It opens with Zechariah serving in the temple and concludes with the followers of Jesus “continually in the temple blessing God.” An archangel appears to Zechariah and to Mary and the risen Christ encounters the disciples on the road to Emmaus and in Jerusalem. Mary trusts the promise of God – but the disciples are slow of heart to trust. Angels bear witness to the shepherds and angels encounter the women at the tomb. A rock-hewn tomb holds the body of Jesus as a manger holds the infant. The shepherds come to see “this thing that has taken place” even as the women come to the tomb. Simeon and Anna, looking for the redemption of Israel, recognize the Christ child and the two disciples at Emmaus recognize the risen Lord in the breaking of the bread. The 12-year-old Jesus teaches in the temple just after the beginning of the narrative even as Jesus teaches there just before the end.
There is layer upon layer of rich and wonderful work by Luke knitting his account together. And in that great sweep of the whole narrative we are overwhelmed by the marvel of God’s work, the certainty of God’s hand in all these events, and wonder at the ancient witness of the scriptures fulfilled in all that has taken place.
This is not chance; it is “the plan and foreknowledge of God,” as Peter will say at Pentecost (Acts 2:23). It is the work of a God determined to redeem his world, to gather it back to himself, to lift away the burden and shame of all its sins, and bring it to its ultimate goodness and glory.
Hearing the whole story of these remarkable events leaves you breathless. And this is only the first volume of Luke’s work. The story of Jesus continues with the outpouring of God’s Spirit, the gathering in of Samaritans, the Ethiopian Eunuch and the Roman Centurion. The whole world is drawn into Christ as we follow these witnesses across the ancient Roman world to the heart of the empire itself. In the place where Caesar Augustus proclaimed himself “Savior of the whole world” by the force of his armies, the band of Jesus’ followers proclaim earth’s true savior. The imitation of “peace” created by the threat of Roman force – by the brutality of the cross – yields to the true peace brought by the crucified and risen one. He is God’s anointed, creation’s true lord, earth’s true redeemer.