Relieved. Delighted. Confused.
In so many ways, the disciples’ reactions to Jesus’ resurrection mirror my own. I’m relieved to have the long struggle of Lent and the deep sorrow of the cross finally finished. I’m delighted that Jesus is alive, that His story ends in triumph, not defeat. But I’m also confused.
Suffering precedes glory.
Does the road to glory really have to pass through such deep valleys? Why does the cost of victory have to be so high? If God is the Author of His own story, why did He choose to write it this way?
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”
Like the disciples on the Emmaus road, I scratch my head trying to figure out how the glory of the kingdom fits with the agony of the cross. I have expectations of what is good, of how things are supposed to be. The benevolent aren’t supposed to be taken advantage of. The innocent aren’t supposed to be condemned. The gentle aren’t supposed to be abused. The young aren’t supposed to die.
So how do Christ’s sufferings fit with His glory? Why couldn’t He have picked a nicer way to deal with sin and overcome death?
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ 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.
But even as I ask those questions, I hear His gentle, chiding voice, much the way it must have sounded to the disciples. Of course it had to happen this way. Of course suffering precedes glory. That’s the way the story has always gone. Who am I to think I can come up with a better plot line?
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
God has been working this story since the beginning of time. This is exactly the way He intended it to be. The heel that the serpent would strike. The rock that Moses split open. The abused, rejected king of the Psalms. The suffering servant of the prophets. The deliverer always suffers first. The sufferer always rises to glory after.
Extreme glory calls for an extreme story.
I admit that I still struggle to embrace this kind of story. It is so extreme. Intense suffering. Overwhelming glory. My mediocre humanity wants a safer story, one with less risk and more “balance.” But that kind of story would not be true to God’s self-revealing plan. Nor would it fit with the integral role He has prepared for us in it.
That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
Perhaps this is one more bit of supporting evidence for why He deserves to be God and I don’t. He not only wrote the story this way, but He also wrote Himself into it as the greatest sufferer. He could have avoided the pain, claiming immunity as cast director. But as the one who was brought the lowest, He earned the right to be lifted up the highest.
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
And so I stand down in humble amazement. How can I question Him over what He was willing to endure Himself? How can I resist embracing and perpetuating His story in my own life? I will join in that joyful crowd of witnesses, proclaiming and participating in His sufferings so that I, too, may share in the glory of His resurrection. I will make His story my story.
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.