Tonight we’re talking about Jesus’ resurrection. I hope you have Luke 24 open in front of you.
I want to begin this evening by speaking about my mate Jon. Jon was a great bloke, he was friendly, funny, a gifted musician, athletic and intelligent. We were great mates – I knew him from when we first started school, but we really got close as teenagers. When I moved out of home to go to Uni Jon moved into my room and became a boarder with my family – he had left school early and been working, but he came to live with us so he could go back to school and finish off his education.
He finished his exams and then, on the day of his 21st birthday he died suddenly. He died in his sleep, just stopped breathing. The doctors called it Sudden Death Syndrome. But for us it was inexplicable, bewildering. He was young, fit, healthy, with a great future ahead of him. But death took all that away from him, and it took him away from us.
Death takes people from us. Death makes a mockery of life - Jon worked so hard to finish school, and he did really well, but he died before he could pick up his school certificate, let alone put that learning to use in a job. His death left his friends devastated and confused - what had his life been all about? He was too young, had too much promise. It shouldn’t have happened like that.
When Jon died I got a small taste of what it was like for Jesus’ disciples when he was taken from them by crucifixion. That’s the point the disciples are at in our passage, Luke 24. Jesus’ death was devastating for them.
What a shock, what a waste, what a mockery of all his power and his miracles, what a disappointment. Their friend, the man who seemed so likely to be the Christ, was dead. It seemed to them that all of his life had come to nothing. Everything that was said about him at his birth, about redeeming and rescuing and leading, all he had said and taught, all his miracles, it had all come to nothing when he was hung on a cross.
But the gospels record that Jesus didn’t stay dead. Luke 24 tells the story of how the disciples came to know and understand that Jesus was alive again.
Luke tells the story in 3 scenes, 3 episodes, so we’ll spend a little time in each of them. The first begins very early on the 3rd day after Jesus’ death:
Scene One, THE WOMEN GOT TO THE TOMB, Luke 24: 1-12-
And what we learn from Luke here is that, for Jesus, death is not the end.
Luke sets the scene, the women have been resting on the Sabbath, but as soon as the Sabbath is over, very early the next day, they head back to the tomb where they saw Jesus’ body laid 2 days earlier. They had prepared spices and perfume on the day, but there hadn’t been time to anoint the body before the Sabbath, so now they are keen to get it done as early as possible. So they return to the tomb with their spices to anoint the body of their dead Lord.
Or so they think.
But when they get to the tomb things are not as they had left them – verse 2:
‘they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.’
Well, what’s going on here? Could they have simply gone to the wrong tomb? No, they saw where the body was laid. They went to the tomb and the body was missing. Can you imagine what would have been going through their minds?
Have you ever come home to find the back door open – We did it the other day: we went out for a walk and when we got back we came round the corner and saw the back door hanging open. The first thought was that we’d been burgled, maybe someone might even be inside the house - it might not even be safe to go in … but when we went inside and found everything as we left it we realised that we must have left the back door open when we went out the front!
But seeing that open door from the distance must have been like what it was like for those women coming up to the tomb: Has someone broken into the grave? Could someone have taken the body away? but who, why, what?
As these thoughts are flashing through their heads they are suddenly confronted by two men in gleaming clothes – angels – and they fall to the ground in fear. And what the men say takes them completely by surprise – Look at the end of verse 5:
‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’
Well for starters they’re not looking for the living – they’re looking for the body of a man they saw executed just two days ago. They’re carrying perfumes and spices to cover the smell of the corpse, so what’s all this about looking for the living?
The men go on – verse 6:
‘He is not here; he has risen!
What, risen from the dead? That hardly seems likely…
‘Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”
And suddenly, standing there at the tomb, the women remember, yes, Jesus did say that didn’t he – could it be, could it possibly be true, could Jesus be alive, could he have risen from the dead?
So the women return to the disciples – verse 9:
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the others with them who told this to the apostles.
Luke tells it soberly, but you can imagine those women rushing back from the tomb, arriving at the disciples all out of breath and bursting out with this story of an empty tomb and angels and talk that Jesus is risen from the dead and … and its all a little too hard for the disciples to believe, verse 11:
But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense
What they were saying just didn’t make any sense. These men saw the crucifixion. They saw Jesus body broken, the sword through his side; they saw him taken down from the cross, dead, a corpse. But here are these women trying to say that he has risen from the dead! It’s simply not possible.
And yet there is one aspect of the story that can be verified – they said the tomb was empty. The whole thing can be cleared up by pointing to the body. Peter goes off to inspect the tomb. But when he gets there he doesn’t find anything that would contradict the story of the women, in fact he finds the tomb empty, with the clothes that had been wrapped around the body just lying there. Now what is he to make of this? He doesn’t go back to the disciples, he wanders off to think things through for himself.
This is a good spot for us to stop and think things over too. What can we make from all of this? Well there are a couple of things we really should notice.
Firstly the disciples simply did not expect Jesus to rise from the dead. The women took spices and perfumes because they expected to find a dead body already in the process of rotting away.
But… the disciples should have expected Jesus to rise from the dead; after all he told them that he would. In verse 7 the angels remind the women of what Jesus said to them in Galilee. They say
“The Son of Man must be delivered in the hands of sinful men be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”
They are referring to exactly what Jesus said earlier in Luke 9: 22. You see all the things that happened to Jesus were explained by him before hand. They shouldn’t have been devastated by his death because he was never going to stay dead. And that is Luke’s big point in this section : for Jesus death is not the end.
Now let’s look at the…
Second scene, in Luke 24: THE DISCIPLES ON THE ROAD TO EMMAUS.
The big idea here is that all scriptures teach the Christ will die and rise again.
What would convince you that someone who died had come back to life? Nothing short of a personal visit would convince me… have a look at verses 13 to 34.
We meet 2 disciples on the way out of Jerusalem going to Emmaus, and they’re puzzling over what has happened. It seems they’re going home because things have come to a bad end. Jesus is dead there is nothing more to see in Jerusalem.
As they’re talking it all over, a bloke comes and walks alongside them. They are kept from recognising him, but we are told who it is: it is the risen Jesus. Jesus gets chatting to them and they tell him what they know.
We can see that they just can’t understand what has happened.
Look at verse 18 Cleopas says to Jesus:
"Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?"
There’s unintended irony here – the word only is literally ‘alone’ – are you alone among all the visitors to Jerusalem who doesn’t know what has gone on? Actually Jesus alone of all the visitors does know fully what has gone on, and he alone is able to explain it to them, as they’re about to find out…
Look at how Cleopas’ describes Jesus in verse 19 – a prophet. As far back as Luke chapter nine verse 20 Peter had declared that Jesus was ‘The Christ of God’. But now they are calling him a prophet – obviously there was something about him: he was powerful; he taught with authority, he healed the sick and raised the dead. He must have been at least a prophet. But apparently he wasn’t the Christ after all - see the logic of verse 21 –
‘We had hoped that he would be the one to redeem Israel but he was put to death. We thought he was going to do it, but now that he is dead, well I guess we were wrong…’
The problem with this, no doubt the thing that occupied them most as they discussed things on the road, was that Jesus claimed to be more than a prophet – he claimed to be, seemed to be, the Christ. If his death made a mockery of those claims and their expectations, how then were they to understand his life and ministry; if he was so wrong about who he was and why he came, could they really trust anything he said? If he was not the one who was to come, then who was he, what was his life all about? And if he is not the Messiah, then how will God’s people ever be redeemed?
Adding to their confusion is the report of the women and the empty tomb and talk of visions and angels. The disciples can’t completely reject the things that the women said, because they know the tomb is empty; but still the whole thing just doesn’t make sense.
Having listened to Cleopas’ summary Jesus is surprisingly unimpressed, and he tells his disciples off:
"How foolish you are, [he says in verse 25] and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?"
The angels who spoke to the women they told them they should have known about the resurrection because Jesus told them about it. In a similar way Jesus says the disciples should have known about it because the prophets spoke of it in the OT. Jesus’ death doesn’t rule him out as the Christ, in fact the exact opposite is the case, the Christ had to suffer death and rejection and handing over to the leaders of the people and only then, only after suffering, could he enter into his glory.
And so we read in verse 27 that Jesus opens up the scriptures, the OT, to explain how it points to him, to his death and resurrection. He begins at the beginning, with Moses, and speaks from all the prophets. The sense is that the whole thing speaks about Jesus, about the Christ.
No doubt Jesus pointed to texts such as Psalm 16 and 110 and Isaiah 53 which speak of the Christ and of suffering and resurrection. More than that he would have explained how the whole history of Israel prefigured the rejection of the Christ, since Israel always rejected the prophets.
At some point as the walkers are talking they arrive at Emmaus and Jesus is set to continue on (verse 28), but, still ignorant of his identity, they encourage him to stay with them, because its getting late.
So in verse 30, Jesus comes in and reclines at the table with them and giving thanks, breaks bread and hands it to them, just like when he fed the 5000.
Suddenly their eyes are opened and they recognize him – this knowledgeable stranger is Jesus. It is the Lord Jesus, risen from the dead! The women were right, he was dead, but now he is alive!
And at the very moment (verse 31) when they recognize him, he disappears again. Can you imagine the emotions, the excitement, the light bulbs going off in their heads – so that was what was going on, finally the whole thing makes sense. Jesus is the Christ; he suffered and died because that is what the Christ had to do. But he didn’t stay dead, he rose again and now he reigns as Lord. They left Jerusalem dispirited and confused; now they get up, and hurry back to Jerusalem, back to the disciples, full of the good news – Jesus has risen! And when they arrive they find the disciples no longer scattered but together and full of excitement because the Lord has appeared to Simon – he has risen indeed!
As the disciples tell how they met Jesus on the road and recognized him in the breaking of the bread we again have a moment to reflect on what has happened to them. What have we learnt from their conversation with the risen Jesus?
Well its that all scriptures teach the Christ will die and rise again. The whole bible looks forward to death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.
So finally we come to…
Scene Three, JESUS APPEARS TO THE DISCIPLES IN THE UPPER ROOM (verses 33 – 49).
Here the big point is that Jesus’ death and Resurrection brings forgiveness to all people.
We might think at this point that the disciples understand what is going on, but when Jesus appears they fall to pieces – look at verses 36 and 37: Jesus comes and stands among them and proclaims ‘Peace be with you’ and they are, what: happy to see him? Excited that Jesus has fulfilled the OT and kept his promises? Sadly not, they were terrified and thought he was a ghost!
The disciples’ unbelief leads to a remarkable demonstration of the reality of Jesus’ resurrected body.
Have a look at verses 39-41: He shows them the physical marks of his crucifixion, and invites them to touch him. While they’re still gob smacked he asks for food and eats in front of them. Here is compelling evidence that this is a real flesh and blood body, a man raised from the dead, not an apparition or a ghost.
And following on from these proofs Jesus again interprets his death and resurrection in terms of the OT predictions.
In v 44-46 Jesus reminds us that the scriptures must be fulfilled. These say that the Christ will suffer and rise again. He uses the phrase ‘the law of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms’. These are Jewish headings for the three parts of the OT. So when in v44 he says that ‘the Law of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms’ are written about him, he is saying that all of the OT points to him.
But in v47 we note the new element that Jesus adds here. After his death and resurrection, indeed because of his death and resurrection, repentance and forgiveness will be preached. You see Jesus brings forgiveness to all people.
So it is that when Jesus appears to his disciples he says ‘Peace be with you’. His death and resurrection signal the climax of God’s plan of salvation for all people. Through the death of the Christ God has undone the curse of sin, as the one perfect man died on the cross he died death for all, when he rose from the dead he opened the way for life after death for all peoples everywhere. On the basis of his death all people can be forgiven and have new life, peace with God.
So what have we learnt from these three scenes of Luke 24? Luke has walked us through the experiences of the disciples to bring us to the same confidence they had. They began confused and perplexed over his death - it seemed to rule him out of contention as the Christ, it brought all of his life to nothing. But, they were confronted with compelling evidence that he did not remain dead, he rose to life again. Death was not the end for this man. Not only that but his death and resurrection were part of the plan all along - death and resurrection were the very job description of the Christ. All the scriptures said that the Christ would die and be raised from the death. His death and resurrection showed that he was the Christ. Finally, his death and resurrection allow him to offer forgiveness to all people. Death makes a mockery of life - but not this death. This death means new life to all who trust in him. On the basis of Jesus death repentance and forgiveness of sins can be preached to all the world.