I noticed yesterday that Luke seemed to deliberately discuss Barabbas in a way that paralleled Jesus’ work on the cross – Jesus died in the place of a sinful man.
Today I noticed something else: Luke’s use of a very cool literary device, the chiasm. Once you know what a chiasm is, it’s like finding secrets placed just for you all through Scripture.
So before I reveal Luke’s secret, what is a chiasm?
It’s a reverse parallelism. A what?
Let me illustrate. Here’s a three line parallelism in the very first Psalm:
Blessed is the one
1. who does not walk in step with the wicked
2. or stand in the way that sinners take
3. or sit in the company of mockers (Psalm 1:1 NIV)
There are three parallel lines (each numbered by me) in this single verse that basically say the same thing, only with increasing intensity. Once you start looking for these parallels, you find them everywhere – especially in the Poetic literature of the Bible.
The word chiasm comes from the Greek chi or X. A chiasm is also called a chiastic strucure. Chiasms are parallelisms that reverse the order of the words, forming an X (so there are Crosses hidden throughout Scripture, too) as in the third Psalm 145, verse 2:
Every day I will bless You,
And I will praise Your name forever and ever
As with regular parallelism, the intensity builds between the lines. But notice how the sentence structure is reversed between these parallel lines. In the first line, the length of time precedes our action. In the second line, our action precedes the length of time. This forms an X.
Every day I will bless you
I will pray Your name Forever and ever
Now that you understand the cool chiasm (which is everywhere in Scripture – I found 3 or 4 in Philippians), here’s one I found in today’s Luke reading.
First, Luke presents a list of people who were at the cross. After mentioning the women, Luke lists three groups of people who abused Jesus (Luke 23:
- “A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.” (vs. 23, NIV)
- “The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.’” (vs. 35)
- “The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews,save yourself.’ ” (vs. 36-37)
- “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!'” (vs. 39)
Note how those who abused Jesus asked Him to save Himself (and others).
Next, Luke reverses the order, listing the same groups of people, only this time, he reveals those who appear to have faith. The same women end the list, forming a sort of bookend:
- The other criminal hanging by Jesus rebukes the insult, then says, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.'” (vs. 40-43)
- “The centurion [a soldier], seeing what had happened, praised God and said, ‘Surely this was a righteous man.;” (vs.47)
- “When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away.” (vs. 48)
- “But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.” (vs. 49)
Now here’s the best part: Luke uses a chiasm – a cross – to show what the Cross does to us! Those on one side of the chiasm hated God. Those on the other side demonstrated faith.
Jesus refused to save Himself – as the mockers requested – so He could save us and transform us from hating God to having faith in Him.
Isn’t that a great secret?!
Today’s Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1-17:58 , Psalm 57:4-11, Proverbs 15:26, Luke 23:26-56. See About for what I’m up to with these daily posts. Your daily blogger, Holiday Longing (Reproduce with permission only).