This is a sermon on Luke 24:36-38 that will be published in a preaching journal:
â€œToo Good to Be True?â€
Luke 24:36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” 40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence. 44 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.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
Frankâ€™s dream of visiting the Holy Land had finally come true. He had planned his trip carefully and his visit culminated in an Easter Sunday visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This ancient Church is revered by many Christians as the traditional site of Jesusâ€™ burial and resurrection. As Frank waited in a long line of pilgrims, his anticipation and excitement built. His mind wavered back and forth between images of all the sites that he had visited over the past week and thoughts of standing in the place where Jesus was purported to have been buried following his crucifixion. Finally, it was his turn to enter into the sepulchre itself. Amazingly, Frankâ€™s initial response was not the anticipated euphoria of experiencing a sacred site. Instead, Frank reported feeling a deep disappointment. He caught himself muttering aloud, â€œWhy did I wait so long in line. Itâ€™s just an empty tomb!â€ A woman nearby heard Frankâ€™s soliloquy and interjected, â€œSir, isnâ€™t that the point? It is an empty tomb because Jesus is alive.â€ Frank smiled at these words and realized their truth. His heart beat strongly for the overwhelming sense of joy and peace that came upon him at that moment. Christ is risen, indeed!
Our text from Lukeâ€™s Gospel finds Jesusâ€™ disciples in a similar mood on the first Easter Sunday. They are perplexed, disappointed, troubled, and frightened about the events of the last couple of days. In a little more than a week, they had experienced the exuberance of Jesusâ€™ entry into Jerusalem as the crowd welcomed him as a long awaited figure of royalty. They had listened to him dispute with officials and religious leaders. They had witnessed his arrest and the sham of a trial that ordered his execution. Most troubling of all, they saw firsthand his brutal death on a cross between two criminals. They had even heard his sorrowful cry â€œMy God, my God, why have you forsaken me?â€ These were men who had give given up everything to follow Jesus because they had believed the he was the long-awaited messiah. But now he was gone. Or was he.
Luke 24 contains a series of encounters that would transform a group of frightened and confused disciples into an organized movement of passionate apostles who would live out their days as world-changers. What happened to make this possible? Is the story of Jesusâ€™ resurrection a credible report or is it simply too good to be true?
Luke 24 reports a series of incredible events that followed Jesusâ€™ death on the cross. First, in 24:1-12, a group of women including Mary Magdalene go to the tomb, but discover that its stone seal has been rolled away. They enter the tomb and find that Jesusâ€™ body is not inside. Suddenly they are confronted by two angelic beings who announce that Jesus has risen. They immediately go and report this encounter to the remaining eleven disciples, but they do not believe their report. Peter runs to the tomb to see for himself, but leaves confused and perplexed. Second, 24:13-35 narrates an unusual encounter on the road to Emmaus, a small village seven miles from Jerusalem. Two of Jesusâ€™ disciples were traveling to Emmaus when they were joined by Jesus himself. They, however, did not or could not recognize him. They entered into conversation with this â€œstrangerâ€ about Jesus. They testified to the earlier report by the women. Jesus then immediately rebuked them for failing to see that everything that had happened to Jesus, his suffering and death, had been foretold in the Scriptures. Upon reaching Emmaus, they exhorted â€œJesusâ€ to stay with them. As they gathered at the table for a meal, Jesus took bread, gave thanks for it, broke the bread, and distributed it. At this moment, the eyes of the two disciples were opened and they recognized Jesus. Jesus immediately disappeared.
The two disciples arose at once and raced back to Jerusalem to share this experience with the others. Upon arriving the Eleven were already gathered together, declaring the resurrection of Jesus. The two disciples recounted their story and while they were talking, Jesus himself appears, saying â€œPeace be with youâ€ (24:36).
What is striking about his encounter is the reaction of the disciples. Verse 37 tells us that they were startled and frightened by Jesus. This may seem astonishing to us who would love to have been a fly on the wall on that Sunday so long ago. Why were they frightened? How could they have been so clueless?
Perhaps the story of the Resurrection has become a bit too domesticated for us. We have grown so accustomed to it that we take it for granted. Think about it for a minute: How many dead men and women do we know who have come back to life? Most of us have lived long enough to know that the grave marks the end of life. Most of us have been to dozens of funerals, but it would be a safe bet to say that none of those honored at a funeral have shown up at subsequent family events! Dead men and women do not rise. This is true in 2006 as much as it was true during the 1st century at the time of Jesusâ€™ death. Ancient people were not any more naÃ¯ve about the finality of death than we are today. How many of us really believe that Jesusâ€™ body was literally raised from the dead?
Yet, our text asserts just this. Many of us may relate to the reaction of the disciples in verse 41 â€œWhile in their joy they were disbelievingâ€¦â€ The fact that Jesus stood before their eyes was simply too good to be true. Why? If Jesus were truly alive, then this would mean that he really was the long-awaited Savior from God. If Jesus were truly alive, then everything that he taught and promised would be validated. If Jesus were truly alive, then life would be different. If Jesus were truly alive, the disciplesâ€™ lives would suddenly have infinite value and potential because this same Jesus had called them as his initial followers.
Jesus breaks through the disbelief of the disciples with a simple gesture. He requests some food and eats it in their presence. Apparently, this is enough to gain a hearing with them. In verses 44-48, Jesus offers what must have been the greatest Sunday School class ever taught. He opens their minds to the Scriptures and carefully instructs them on how the Scriptures had forefold his suffering, death, and resurrection and that the result of this would be the proclamation of salvation to all nations beginning with Jerusalem. Jesus then appoints them as his witnesses and promises a power from on high to accomplish the mission.
What is the word here? It is quite simple. Jesusâ€™ resurrection is not merely a story of hope for the future. It is a commission to participate in Godâ€™s plan of salvation. In light of Jesusâ€™ resurrection, his Church is called to mission. The mission begins in our present location and extends to the world. Mission becomes the reason for the disciplesâ€™ continued existence on earth. By being witnesses to the resurrection, they become ambassadors who will carry its true significance to all persons in all places. The resurrection proclaims the possibility of forgiveness and transformation. The world as we know it does not have to be the final word. God intends something better and greater, and he has given this message to Jesusâ€™ followers.
What about us? What does the resurrection mean for us today?
If Jesus is alive today, we have the hope of true and authentic transformation in our lives.
If Jesus is alive today, we can offer the world substantial healing.
If Jesus is alive today, we can live courageously for an ethic greater than our own personal comfort and indulgence.
If Jesus is alive today, we can console a grieving family with the hope of a final resurrection.
If Jesus is alive today, we can work meaningfully on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised.
If Jesus is alive today, we can surrender all of our foibles, infirmities, sins, gifts, talents, and ambitions to God and allow God to raise us to a new life in which we begin to embody Jesusâ€™ values and reflect his character to the world around us which so desperately needs voices of hope and light.
What about us? What if Jesus truly is alive today? What if following Jesus means a radically new life in which we begin to experience the life of the age to come in our own day? Too good to be true? Some would say, â€œYes.â€ The earliest Apostolic witnesses tell us, â€œNo. Jesus is alive and the world will never be the same!â€ What do you say?