The Blur that Makes Things Clear – Luke 23
Our girl was born two months into my husband’s six-and-a-half-month deployment to Afghanistan. It was late afternoon there when she made her arrival, and his company was out on a mission. There had been a firefight, on account of which he hadn’t slept much and he needed to write and submit some reports to higher headquarters urgently. He didn’t have much access to civilian emails during that time. And the (typically reliable, typically lightning-fast) Red Cross message that a hospital nurse supposedly dispatched to him on my behalf never made it to the Middle East. The result of all this was that Nathan didn’t know about his daughter’s birth until two afternoons later, almost 48 hours after the fact.
Two a.m. local time, he finally called me. “I just found out,” was how our first parental conversation started. There was an uncharacteristic jitter in his voice, and it laid bare some of his feelings about the new and uncharted waters we were in. I could hear it instantly: he was curious, tentative, apologetic, proud, thrilled. But three minutes after I had answered the phone, duty called again, and he had to hang up. He hadn’t even had the chance to hear a Cliff’s Notes version of our first child’s delivery. Initially I was tempted to be upset about this: Wasn’t he at least entitled to a quick overview?
Then again, the more I thought about it, I wasn’t sure if anyone—certainly not I—could have properly remembered the events that had happened two days earlier. The doula had mistakenly turned off her phone that night, and I had dutifully followed the labor nurses’ 2:30am advice to go back home “for a few hours” and let things progress there. Ninety minutes after driving us away from the hospital, my younger brother (the designated delivery chauffeur) was speeding me toward it again, praying there wouldn’t be an emergency roadside labor situation on the way.
She was born about five minutes after he wheelchaired me onto the delivery ward. Still no doula, it hadn’t occurred to me to call a friend, and my brother and I never want to be that close, so in the moment it was just me, alone in the room with a bunch of nameless, faceless medical personnel. The pain and the flurry of bodies obscured their features and other details—to this day I have no idea how many people were present. It could’ve been three, it could’ve been thirty. I do know there was a nurse beside me, because I all-but demanded that she hold my hand. And then suddenly there was one more in our group: a tiny, wrinkled, screaming creature, already boasting a distinctly feminine version of her father’s face.
When I look back now, it’s hard to appreciate the significance of all those events on their own merit alone. They were too much of a blur. At no point, not even briefly, did I consider the value in pausing, getting my bearings, taking everything in. Instead it all simply kept happening, one moment right after the other—too much to digest until it was done.
But the significance of that day—now I experience it profoundly and vividly, because there are evidences of it everywhere. In the way I plan my hours around her nap times and mealtimes and snack times. In the soft little snores that sound over the baby monitor when she sleeps. In the Christmas ornaments that this year must be hung out of her reach. In the love that explodes for her from within me, in the way she has become integral to our everything.
We have come to the pivotal moment in Luke’s gospel. The portion for today is Luke 23, which begins before Pilate and ends in a tomb. In 56 verses, Jesus is accused by Jewish leaders, interrogated by two government officials, given up in a trade-off for a murderer, and lamented on the road to his execution. He preaches a mini-sermon to his mourners, he promises paradise to a criminal, and when he dies, those watching respond with certainty about his innocence and with grief.
This passage is rapid-fire play-by-play from beginning to end: minimal commentary and zero emotional reporting from the author. Considering his story’s content, Luke’s factual, antiseptic delivery of it all is almost alarming. But he doesn’t stray from that trend, not even in the final verses. There we find God’s corpse and a fast-approaching Sabbath—by Jewish law there isn’t much time to tend to Jesus’ burial. A man offers a tomb, and some women help prepare the body. They all leave him there, dead, and after so much cosmic blur, they rest as is required of them.
Read it all, start to finish, without stopping, and don’t be surprised when your reaction is, Wait, what?!?! As familiar as the story may be, Luke’s telling of it has a particular way of whirling by. There is only detail after detail after detail. No dramatic pauses. No breaks to let you stop and take it all in.
Then the whole company of them arose… (verse 1)
Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt…” (verse 4)
Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, [Herod] sent him back to Pilate. (verse 12)
Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people.. (verse 13)
Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting… (verses 20-21)
And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene… (verse 26)
Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” (verse 28)
And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals… (verse 33)
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him… (verse 39)
Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (verse 46)
“Certainly this man was innocent!” (verse 47)
[Joseph] went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. (verse 52)
Then [the women] returned and prepared spices and ointments. (verse 56; all references ESV)
Years ago, as a youth leader I accompanied a high school student to the hospital via ambulance. She had passed out in the middle of a church event, and the paramedics had arrived long before either of her parents could’ve hoped to. After a quick stint in the ER, it was my responsibility to write a report for the church files, as a standard procedure. Because I am
anal-retentive meticulous, the document was massive, something like three pages single-spaced. All facts and particulars, none of the symbolism and poetic phrasing I like so much. I didn’t offer an opinion or comment on anything. The point was to be clear and literal. To provide a record of something that had happened. If others needed to rely on the story someday, they shouldn’t need to sift through any embellishments to get to the truth.
I thought of that old report when reading Luke 23 this week, and the memory helped me be grateful for this gospel’s clear (if jarring) account of Jesus’ death. The machine-gun pace of Luke’s record is a reminder that the story is true. It needs no poetry, no contrived rhythm or meter, no internal commentary. Christ’s death march is significant precisely as the blur that it was. And it is significant because of what that blur birthed.
Look. There is evidence of his life all around you. It’s in the joy you know intimately, having received the endless mercy that his death bought for you. It’s in the relief you feel, being set free from expectations of perfection, which his perfect life met because your sin-steeped one never could. It’s in the comfort you know, being able to entrust your future and uncertainties and pain in hands that bled until the pulse in them was gone. It’s in the assurance you have, knowing that because he paid the full price for sin you’ll never have to.
Or, look. The evidence of him is pronounced loudly in all the joy you lack. In all the rescue you can’t find. In all your hopes for comfort, in all the assurance you long for. In the emptiness you feel but somehow can’t place. In the need that never feels gone, no matter how much you try to erase it. All these things are proof of your heart’s search for him.
Joy to the world! Christ’s life and death were true. His hope is real. His grace for you can be found in the story plainly.
Lisa Velthouse founded Pick Your Portion as a way of encouraging herself and others to choose the good portion every day. Without accountability, she tends to save Bible study and prayer until “a better time,” which typically doesn’t happen until she’s too tired to keep her eyes open. Lisa has been working in publishing and public speaking since the age of 17, releasing two books —Craving Grace (a memoir) and Saving My First Kiss (for teens)—contributing to two other collaborative books, and speaking to audiences across the United States and abroad. Once the “2000 Brio Girl” for Focus on the Family’s Brio magazine, Lisa served for a time on staff at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, MI, and has written for a number of publications. Lisa is married to Nathan, an active-duty Marine Corps infantry officer; together they have one young daughter and live in southern California. LisaVelthouse.com.