are we afraid of joy?: Luke 24

read Luke 24.  Thomas Jefferson used a razor to make up his own version of the New Testament; he sliced out everything he considered a miracle.  Why did Jefferson go to all that trouble? Why did he want to exorcise the miracles from the Bible?

When we ask about miracles, the real question we are asking is: is God real?  Because one thing is clear: people who say God doesn’t “interfere” in our lives, or that miracles don’t happen, or who take the “supernatural” out of the Bible, are trying to take God out.  God, by definition, is supernatural.  God’s hand, by definition, works miracles.  God promises to help us with our lives the moment we ask – and if He is real, He helps us all the time, even when we don’t ask.  So really the question is: why do we have trouble believing in God?  Is it just that we are so stuffed full of pride we don’t want to have to bend the knee to anyone?  Or is there another more wonderful reason?

In the last chapter of Luke, Jesus Christ returns from the dead.  Needless to say, Jefferson omitted this chapter from his version.  Luke 24 is full of humans who don’t believe Jesus has come back from the dead. The only person who is not surprised is Jesus.  In one of the most perfect examples of dramatic irony, Cleopas says to Jesus:  “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

One can picture Jesus having trouble keeping a straight face when He asks: “What things?”

Cleopas proceeds to tell Jesus about the crucifixion of Jesus.

This is the kind of dramatic irony in which we engage all the time when we tell God what He should do for us – instead of asking Him to open our eyes to see what He is already doing in the world.  Perhaps one of the problems is that we are looking for the wrong kind of miracle.  Perhaps we are looking for the wrong God.

Jesus meets the disciples’ sorrow, disbelief and doubt with another miracle.  “You foolish people,” Jesus tells the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  “You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures.  Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” Jesus asks.  Luke writes that then “Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”  v. 27.  The disciples exclaim later that their hearts “burned within them” when Jesus spoke.

The same thing happens when the risen Jesus next appears to the eleven remaining disciples and those with him.  They all have trouble believing their eyes, and Jesus says: “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Again, after asking why they don’t believe, “he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”  v. 45.

These two miracles – that twice Jesus opened the minds of humans to “understand the Bible” – are as spectacular as the miracle of God coming back to life after being crucified.  Why?  Because understanding the Bible is the same as being raised from the dead.  Something supernatural happens when God opens our mind to understand the Bible – God enters us.  God explains His ways, and His ways are not our ways.

Why do we have trouble letting God in to show us the truth about Himself?  The Amplified Bible translation says that in Luke 24 the disciples have trouble believing that it’s Jesus standing before them, come back from the dead, even when He holds out his nail-pierced hands, because of their “joy”.

In other words, they have trouble believing something because their joy would be so enormous they fear it might swallow them up.

Is that our problem?  Do we resist God because the hint of joy terrifies us?  Are we afraid to believe the promises of the Bible because they’re so good we fear we might lose ourselves in joy?  Does complete and utter joy terrify us?

I think so.  I think we all start to grasp, just for a minute, that God is real.  We sense that everything He says is true.  We see the clouds billowing like mountains above us, and we know a divine Artist made them.  We consider the possibility that we can trust this Artist.  We feel, just a little, how much He loves us – and then we block our minds to it.  We “suppress the truth,” as Paul wrote in Romans 1.  Why?  Because we’re terrified of joy.  We’re scared of losing ourselves.

What we don’t realize is that losing ourselves to the One who made and loves us, is the only way to have true peace.  Giving ourselves to the One who gave everything to us is the only way to find ourselves.  Surrendering our lives to the one who surrendered himself on the cross is the only way to find complete and perfect fulfillment.  That’s what Jefferson missed when he took a razor to the Bible.  He missed the joy.

The good news is that God knows this about us.  He made us, after all.  Maybe that’s why He lets us experience Him in little pieces.  He doesn’t force us.  Sometimes, He even keeps us from recognizing Him as He did to the disciples on the road to Emmaus – for reasons of His own, but whatever they are, they are loving reasons.  He appears to us in the breaking of the bread – and then disappears – and appears again.  I don’t know why, but this is the dance of Love.

We all know about that dance.  Perhaps the reason that we respond to those stories of the wallflower chosen by the most handsome guy at the high school dance, is that we are all, deep down, a wallflower.  We’re all sidelined by fear, afraid of joy, unable to break free of our obsessions, anxieties and ambitions on our own.  So Love Himself comes to each of us, holds out his hand, and says: “will you dance with me?”

Like the girl no one will dance with, we’re afraid it’s a joke.  We’re afraid that Love will laugh at us.  But God means it. All we have to do is look at the cross to know we can trust Him.  It’s as if Love gave everything He owned to buy a ticket to the dance, just so he can ask us to dance with HIm.  That’s what the cross is about.  That’s the miracle of how much we are loved.  That’s the God we can’t even imagine existing.  We’re looking for a stern God who is angry with us.  But what we find is a Loving God who has already forgiven us.

If we stretch out our hands toward that God, and open our minds to the incredible, terrifying, wonderful, joyful idea that God actually loves us, just the way we are, we discover His miracles happening all over the place.  The miracles are like fireworks on the like Fourth of July – sparking in our kitchens, in the office, on the street, in our cars, on sports fields, as we order from a harried waiter, as we connect with people we never even noticed before.  The miracles start when our hearts start to burn within us as they did for the disciples who listened to Jesus, and we feel the still small voice of God asking us to react with Love when all we want to do is be angry.  We offer grace when we want to pound someone into the sidewalk.  God melts us from within, and the miracles spread without.  All we have to do is open our hearts to Joy – and we discover Joy has already opened His heart completely and wholeheartedly to us.  Joy didn’t hold back.  So why should we?

posted by Caroline Coleman in on March 14, 2012

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1 thought on “are we afraid of joy?: Luke 24

  1. very meaty and interesting idea about the terrifying joy. i do find it all too good to be true. but i’m glad it’s there as an option.

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