Luke 24:36-43 “While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 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.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.”
Today is Sunday and, as on every Lord’s Day, we are celebrating the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead on the first day of the week. It is quite incredible that there are gatherings of people in this town and elsewhere who still do this. Some of them are quite substantial congregations, in an overwhelmingly secular and materialistic generation which is quite indifferent to the historic Christian faith. Yet we still gather to thank God that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. We hold fast this confession that there was a resurrection in space and time and history of this crucified God-man, and we take that fact as a given for many of our beliefs and values, for matters like how we spend our money, and what we do during our week-ends. For us, what we live for and what our existence is all about, hangs on this fact that on the third day our Lord rose from the dead.
There is no point in my continuing as a preacher for one service longer if Jesus didn’t rise. There is no purpose in holding these meetings on Sundays if Jesus didn’t rise. We face our friends and family and tell them that we have an answer to their problems of guilt. We know how those heavy chains that bind men to their past can be broken because Jesus Christ broke the chains that bound him to death. The message of the Christian religion is that life does have purpose and meaning because final reality is not the coffin and the cremation of the body and the resulting stout plastic bag of ashes waiting to be scattered somewhere. We affirm that that bag with all that grit which was once someone who lived and loved and laughed and worked and sang doesn’t contain the sum total and goal and end of our existence. If Jesus Christ is not raised then death triumphed over him too; it cut down the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount in the full bloom of manhood; it finished him off just like everybody else.
So then who or what was this man who predicted that on the third day he would rise from the dead? Could he have been a loony – a monstrous raving loony – a fruitcake, or a deceiver, an evil man, and yet, how come that he not only preached the Sermon on the Mount but enfleshed it in his divine-human life? He is the most rational and sane man that this world has ever seen. He had no personality problems whatever, and none of us is able to claim that. We measure our sanity alongside his. If Jesus Christ didn’t rise than God is not in control of the world, nor is he in charge of my life, and praying to him is senseless. He couldn’t save Jesus, who claimed to be his Son, from crucifixion.
So why do we gather on a Sunday and stand apart from the secular and unbelieving culture which surrounds us? Why do we make the confession, “There is a heaven to be won. There is eternal life to be received” Our reply is this, that it all hangs on Jesus’ resurrection. If he has risen from the dead then the death that faces each of us is not an annihilation. If Jesus came back from the grave then we don’t have this life alone; we’re not going to be snuffed out when we die. Jesus lives and so shall we. But where?
1. WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE FOR THE RESURRECTION?
In a trial there is the case for the prosecution. The evidence is brought forward why this person is said to have done these things. The case for the resurrection of Jesus must be very strong for it to have lasted almost 2000 years, and more than survive but to be thriving in the most alien of environments, in Marxist materialist China and in scientific America. In those two nations almost 2000 million people live, and faith in the resurrection of Jesus continues to spread in both those continents. Africa and South America is full of people who believe that Jesus rose from the dead. Why do they believe it? What is the evidence for such faith? Is it wishful thinking? Is it some vague desire that there should be more than this life only? What is the rationality for American scientists and capitalists, descendants of those who came over on the Mayflower as well as new emigrants, to believe it? Why do the men and women of China in the face of threats and government opposition confess with their lips that God raised Jesus from the dead? You understand that opposition to the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t come from any factual proof that has arisen in the 20th or 21st centuries, or historical evidence, or scientific advance, or archaeological discoveries. Not at all. Opposition to the claim that Jesus rose comes from philosophical or theological speculation.
The first reason for our belief in the resurrection of Jesus is, as we have seen, the empty tomb, and another reason we are convinced that Jesus rose from the dead is the resurrection appearances, and these we are beginning to look at. The New Testament gospels describes ten appearances. To Mary Magdalene, to the other women, to Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus, to Peter, to ten apostles and others – the appearance in our text today. All these five were on the first Easter Sunday. Then the following Sunday he appears to the eleven, including Thomas. Then later on Jesus appears to the seven by the lake of Tiberias, then to more than 500 of the disciples in the hills of Galilee. Then he appears to James the Lord’s brother, and finally he appears to the eleven followed by his ascension from the Mount of Olives. Outside the gospels there is another appearance and that was on the road to Damascus to Saul of Tarsus. But it is hard to stop. Think of the dying words of Stephen as he was stoned to death, “Look! I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Then there is the sight of the glorified Jesus that John was given on the prison isle of Patmos.
They can’t all be hallucinations – like the lady I spoke to in our community who asked me to help her as she claimed she could see a ghostly apparition. No one else who visited the house saw it, not even her teenage daughter, but here in the four gospels are appearances when people are generally together seeing him and speaking to him and all of them are invited even to touch him. Ghosts don’t do that! All of these New Testament appearances of Jesus were over a period of almost six weeks, and then they stop – except for the Damascus Road – and they are all very unghostly occurences. He is seen in the example of our text before us by maybe twenty people, and earlier by two people walking and talking and breaking bread on a journey spending a few hours with them – it was not a fleeting glimpse of a figure at twilight; the Mediterranean sun shone on Jesus and Cleopas and his friend throughout that walk. Then five women see him, then eleven men, seven men, five hundred people – all of them look and look at him, moving about, going nearer, hearing, touching, asking questions and some of them eat with Jesus.
All these meetings were written down during the lifetimes of the people concerned. You can’t extract the last chapters of the gospels and put them in the category of ‘legendary fiction.’ From the beginning this was the testimony of the early church, from the Day of Pentecost. There was no time for legends to grow. We have before us history and credibility that has the most enormous relevance to ourselves, because the man who rose from the dead claims to be the Son of our God – of your God – and he claims to be our future Judge who will determine our destinies, and he says that he is willing to be our Saviour, and that if we come to him he will give us rest, and an easy yoke and a light burden. If we trust in this living Jesus our sins will all be forgiven and he will come to live in us and be with us and guard and keep us all our days. So if this resurrection of Jesus is true then this is crucially important for you to believe the truth. That is the one reason for becoming believers in the Lord Jesus. He rose and he appeared to many people.
2. THIS APPEARANCE TO THE ELEVEN AND SOME DISCIPLES.
Luke tells us that the house was buzzing with conversation. Cleopas and his companion were quizzed about everything they had heard Jesus say and what he had done, and in turn Cleopas wanted to know about Simon Peter seeing the Lord. The scene is not one of conspirators or of shell-shocked traumatized men and women. It is of a group of friends coming to terms with the most wonderful news they had ever heard, news that had transformed their spirits. It was then that Jesus appeared, “while they were still talking about this Jesus himself stood there” (v.36). Let’s interrogate this passage:
i] Who was there? Luke says that it was the eleven and those that were them. John, speaking of the same appearance, speaks of the twelve, and he is using the number symbolically as referring to the apostolate. But we know that the apostle Thomas wasn’t there on this occasion, and Judas was dead, so at the most there would be ten apostles, plus Cleopas and his companion, plus the godly women, five or more of them, and if it were the home of the family of the Zebedees then some of them too. So a substantial group of maybe more than twenty people, all disciples of the Lord Jesus.
ii] How did Jesus enter the room? Now in John’s account of this occurrence he tells us that the doors were locked for fear of the Jews (Jn.20:19). But Luke makes no mention of this. That fact is not important for him. Luke doesn’t even say that Cleopas and his companion knocked to gain admission. Did Jesus knock? We don’t know. Did he cause the lock to open of its own accord? The angel did that when he rescued Peter from prison. The alternative is that Jesus dematerialized and passed through the door and then rematerialized in the room. That is often claimed. It is linked with the grave-clothes wrapped around his body in the sepulchre, where it is suggested that Jesus’ body dematerialized and so the grave-clothes collapsed into two piles. One man claims that Jesus’ body could materialize and de-materialize at will, that this resurrection body transcended the normal laws of physical existence, that his body was not bound by material or spatial limitations. I am not sure about that. When the time came for Jesus to ascend and return to heaven he didn’t dematerialize. He ascended and then a cloud hid his body. I think it more likely that made the door unlock of its own accord, and that he got up in the tomb and he loosened the cloths and napkin around his head and folded them and laid them down neatly. I am very anxious to preserve the reality of the risen body of Jesus Christ and not make it rather unsubstantial and magical. But I am not insisting on this. We’re not given much information.
iii] What did Jesus say? “Peace be with you.” It is the perfect picture of every Lord’s Day from that first one until today. The living Jesus Christ stands in the midst of his people and he says to them, “Peace be with you.” Here was Peter who had denied him three times and other disciples who had run away, shamefully forsaking him, leaving him alone in the hands of the vicious Temple guard. The apostles had broken their promises ‘never’ to leave him. They had quickly forgotten their vain boast that they were ready to die with him. All of them were proven to be backsliders and cowards after being the recipients of such loving pastoral care, with many warnings and encouragements. Think of all that they had been privileged to hear and see, and yet they scarpered and left him all alone. They forgot all he had spoken to them about his death and resurrection and that Satan would come and sift them. What a pathetic crew of men. Then he comes to them, the conqueror of the grave, and what does he say? “How could you do that? How could you run away and leave me alone? I can’t remember seeing many of you at Calvary. Wasn’t I so good to you? Is that the way you rewarded me? I’m really disappointed in you.” No. Not a word like that. He comes to them the very day he rises and he says to them, “Peace be with you!” He speaks of reconciling pardoning mercy.
That is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we least deserve it and most deserve his rebuke he then comes and smiles and smiles for ever and he speaks of peace with God through him. That is his delight, to show mercy. He is far more willing to remember our sins no more than we are to ask him to do that. He is more ready to pardon us than we are willing to acknowledge that we need his pardon. There is immeasurable willingness in his heart to forgive and forgive and forgive and forgive and forgive and forgive and forgive and forgive and never stop forgiving us, every day of our lives. He will forgive the scarlet sins. He will forgive the same repeated sins. He will forgive the very worst sins. There is the murderer of a six year old child, and all the world is saying about him, “The gallows are too good for him, lock him up and throw away the key,” but the Saviour speaks and says that if that man repents with a repentance in some way commensurate with his wickedness, and if he will confess his sin, and cast himself on the mercy of God then Jesus is faithful and just in saying to him, “Peace be with you.” There can be peace because of the blood of the cross, because God made him sin for us. He bore in his own body our sins on the cross. He died the just for the unrighteous to bring us to God, so that being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. The angels at Jesus’ birth declared “Peace on earth.” That was the focus of his mission to establish that. And now his mission is completed successfully he can speak of peace personally to favoured men and women. How quickly he visits Mary Magdalene and Peter and Cleopas and his companion, and here in this incident he meets many of the disciples all on that same first day to tell them that all is well, that he who died for their sins rose for their justification and there is peace with God. They have a friend and advocate at the right hand of the Almighty.
iv] How did they respond? They were startled and frightened. Of course they were. If it were a ghost who wouldn’t be startled and frightened? Isn’t there something in the hearts of every child and every grown up to make us all afraid of the unknown, and spooky figures and strange noises in the night, and the terror that walks in darkness? Doesn’t that fear speak of our fallen condition? If men are afraid of ghostly apparitions how much more will men fear meeting the living God himself? You may have a friend who is so confident and cool. He is utterly laid back and has no place in his life for religion, so that you sometime think that he would be the very last person to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. Even if he meets God, you think he will have plenty to say and God will be lost for words. It will not be like that. It will not be like that at all. When God arises and strips away all that veils his eternal and infinite glory from us then every mouth will be shut and all will be silent before him, and when men are given the chance to speak they will say, “I wish it wasn’t me.”
In this particular gathering we are looking at people who were all startled and frightened, every single one of them, but how wonderfully caring and wise is the one whose name is Wonderful Counsellor. He protests that they have no need to be troubled. He presents to them his hands and feet, those wounds not yet closed up, the marks of the strength of his redeeming love for them. Incidentally I think that this is the only reference to the wounded feet of Jesus in the New Testament indicating that he had nails through his feet as well as his hands. He’s not asking for blind faith from them, or irrational acceptance that it is he. “See here my visible wounds! See what I have suffered because of my love for you, to obtain your pardon. Grasp me! Grab me!” he urges them. He doesn’t say that to Mary Magdalene as she tries to cling to Jesus because she has to be weaned from a physical dependence on the Lord Jesus. Here is an opportunity for them to be certain that they hadn’t seen a ghost, because many will scorn them in the days and years ahead laughing and saying that they’ been ‘seeing things . . . seeing ghosts.’ “Handle me! Touch me!” He wants them to be absolutely convinced that this is no ghostly apparition. They must never think that. Jesus seems to be suggesting that if they had any doubts as to the evidence of their senses, that it was in fact truly Jesus himself, then he’d understand them rejecting him as un-resurrected and un-risen and un-redeeming. He doesn’t what them to think he is fooling them, that he is a kind of magician.
Jesus then showed them his hands and feet and they still didn’t believe it because of joy and amazement. Believing and unbelieving, startled and joyful, all at once, a maelstrom of emotions, it seemed all too good to be true. He has come back to us, but who rises from the dead? Jesus, who said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” does; he raised others from the dead. He told us he would rise.
v] What sort of body did the risen Jesus have? One thing we know and that is that the Lord Christ had a real body. Luke could not be more insistent on that fact, and give us many examples of the corporeality of the risen Jesus. Christ speaks words to them; ghosts might groan but not converse, and he responds to their fright asking them why they are afraid and troubled and doubting. Then he appeals to their senses, of hearing and sight and touch. “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” (v.39). Then he showed them his hands and feet. In other words, he held them out close up to their faces, and they still were hesitant not believing because it seemed too joyful to be true and breathtakingly amazing. So again, wanting them to believe that this was not his ghost but him as to his glorified boy, he asks for food, “Do you have anything here to eat?” (v.41), and we are told that they gave him “broiled fish” (v.42). ‘Broiled’ simply means cooked ready to eat. Then as they all watched he bit pieces off the fish, masticated them and swallowed them until he had finished eating the food he’d been given. He cleared his plate. It was no optical illusion. I think, incidentally, that the risen Christ eating a creature that had been killed is the end of vegetarianism as a particularly Christian choice. You can be a vegetarian from choice, and then you would produce your arguments and others would produce non-vegetarian arguments, but no one can be a vegetarian because the Christian faith requires it. Later on the beach the risen Jesus kills and cooks fish for his disciples. The inclusion of Jesus eating with them is to underline the fact that this was not a ghostly apparition of Jesus, or his ‘angel’ as some of the superstitious among them might have believed. The Lord Jesus Christ was risen from the dead in his body.
vi] Was there more significance to his eating with them than merely to prove he had a true body? Yes indeed. At the end of the journey to Emmaus he sits down to eat with Cleopas and his companion. In our text he asks for food and eats it in their midst. Then at the side of the lake again he eats with them. It is interesting when Peter goes to the house of the centurion Cornelius and speaks to him and all his servants and friends and tells them about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus that he refers to this incident, Jesus “was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:41).
What is the significance of this? It is not only a proof of his risen-ness. Having a meal with someone declares peace between you, especially if there had been alienation. It declares reconciliation, and here it is reconciliation between sinners and their offended God. What do I mean? It is this fact, consider the first meal recorded in the Bible, a moment heavy with significance that took place in Eden; “the woman took some of the fruit, and ate it; she gave it to her husband, and he ate it; then the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew they were naked” (Gen. 3:6&7). That meal was the sign of defiance and rebellion, of listening to Satan and not to God. There was death in that food. The result was the whole creation being subject to decay, famine and drought. Now Luke and John and the apostles are telling us that the power of the ancient curse is finally to be broken. The last Adam has come and he has eaten and drank and done absolutely everything to the glory of God. By him death itself has been defeated. A new creation has been introduced brimming with life and joy. New possibilities lie before us of a new heaven and new earth and that we will eat and drink at the marriage supper of the Lamb with all those Christ has saved. Here in the Upper Room and by the Sea of Galilee were some little first fruits, the hors d’ouvre of that great feast that we soon shall be enjoying.
vii] What is this resurrection body? Do you understand why I am asking this question and not letting go of it yet? It is highly relevant to everyone here who believes in Jesus, that his body is the model of what will be our resurrected bodies. Jesus’ body’s properties and powers will be the properties and powers of our risen bodies one day. Let us turn to Paul’s letter to the Philippians chapter three and verses 20 and 21; “we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” Whatever the body of Jesus was at that moment, in the Upper Room, surrounded by his disciples, our bodies are going to possess those same properties when they are raised up in the last day.
It takes one of the longest chapters in the New Testament, First Corinthians chapter fifteen, to thrash out our new bodies. Listen to what he says, “But someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another.There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendour of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendour of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendour, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendour. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cors. 15:35-57).
The apostles and Cleopas and the disciples, both men and women, were seeing their own futures in the resurrected body of Jesus Christ. They were seeing what they would become, new embodied life in God’s new world. Their bodies would not be identical to the body they had in this world where we breathe and eat and drink and multiply and sweat and defecate. In the original creation God took dust from the earth and fashioned the shape of a man and breathed the breath of life into the figure’s nostrils and man became a living creature. So it will be on the day of resurrection. Our dust is precious to our Lord and then he will gather it together and there will be a new creation, but at this time with a new type of material, not mere dust subject to weakness and temptation and decay, but rather transfigured, durable, adaptable, and glorious. This is what happened immediately to Jesus. His original body was not permitted to decay; his new body did not have to experience the delay that our dust will have to go through. For Jesus there was an immediate transformation of the old body. It was no longer weak, perishable and dishonourable. It was powerful and spiritual and incorruptible. Now that is also going to be our resurrection bodies.
They will be bodies which are absolutely at home in both dimensions of God’s world, in heaven and on earth. You know how the book of Revelation develops and how at the end heaven and earth are joined together into one. In eternity there will be no shuttling to and fro from heaven to earth and back again. The two dimensions will be fused together. We need that, don’t we? At the present our bodies are designed for this earth only, and when we think of going to heaven we compare such an environmental transformation to the one astronauts make who prepare themselves for orbiting the earth in a situation of weightlessness. They learn to make many adjustments to life in space, or to the weaker gravity force of standing on the moon. The apostle talks of the Christian hope of glory, and he says that he who has such a hope purifies himself as God is pure. We are going to be in a place where there is total love for God and where we love our neighbours as ourselves. There will be no lying, no violence, no greed, no theft, no sexual sin, no discontentedness, no anger, no retaliation or any such thing. That is our destination and so we prepare for that world. It is a huge struggle to adjust to God’s new world now, but when we see Christ we shall be like him, and when he returns at the end of the world he will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. That body will love God as much as Christ loves God. We will love every other inhabitant of heaven as we love ourselves with a hint of jealousy or evil desire. There will be blessed harmony and work that is totally fulfilled for ever.
9th June 2013 GEOFF THOMAS