Postman Pat needed to go. So did the Gruffalo and John Cleese; and the couple eating their sandwiches; and the astronauts at the airport; and the shepherd trimming his dog. What do all these characters have in common? They all needed to go to Specsavers! We can see what was happening but they couldn't. Their vision was imperfect. Their perception was impaired.
Today there's much scepticism about the resurrection. Yes, it's possible to believe in the crucifixion. The four gospels and secular writers of the day all agree that it took place. Yes, Jesus could have been crucified … but raised from the dead? That's another matter. That calls for faith and trust: an encounter with the divine - just a bit too much for some people. That sort of unbelief isn't new. When the apostle Paul was in Athens and he spoke about the resurrection - opinion was divided.
"When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, "We will hear you again about this"" (Acts 17:32).
And what about you? Perhaps you are struggling to even believe in Jesus? Perhaps you find it too difficult to believe in the resurrection? Perhaps (even as a believer) you need to be reminded that Jesus Christ is risen today! Halleluiah!
1. Jesus brought Peace
Luke 24 has three contrasting narratives about the resurrection; to the women at the empty tomb, to the couple on the road to Emmaus, to the disciples in Jerusalem. And did you notice that there's a profound difference between the responses of the men and women to the resurrection? The women remembered the words of Jesus and they believed (v.8). Centuries ago this prompted St. Augustine to remark that the women were 'the first preachers of the gospel'. It was the women who first believed. It was the women who told the men. It was the women who testified to the resurrection. The women saw and believed. They understood what had happened - Jesus had risen from the dead. By way of contrast the men were much slower to respond. At the time, the testimony of women was disregarded. To the men their words seemed to be nonsense (v.11). And even when Peter went into the tomb and saw the evidence of the empty grave clothes, he wondered to himself what had happened (v.12). He seemed genuinely surprised. He wasn't expecting the resurrection to have happened, and when the risen Jesus stood before the disciples "they were startled and frightened" (v.37). They were disorientated. They were confused. They couldn't believe their eyes. This can't be possible. It didn't seem to make any sense. For them it was a Victor Meldrew moment. It was 'un-believe-able'; or quite simply, 'I don't believe it'! Perhaps today it may be more a case of 'I don't want to believe it'.
"Why are you troubled?" asked Jesus, "and why do doubts arise in your hearts?" (v.38). To match their fear and their surprise Jesus gave them the traditional Jewish greeting: "Peace to you" (v.36). And those words were exactly what they needed to hear. They had been traumatised by the events of the past 48 hours. They were in turmoil, united in their grief, deeply distressed. And Jesus' greeting to them all was for each one of them. "Peace to you".
What about you tonight? I don't know your particular situation or circumstances – but is this what you too need to hear? Jesus says: "Peace to you". You may feel that your life is falling apart; things are difficult at home; there are issues you have to face each day at work. Jesus says: "Peace to you". And from disappointment and distress, sorrow and sadness, the mood changes to joy and amazement (v.41). Here, for them, was some sure confirmation that Jesus had risen from the dead. He was no longer dead, but very much alive. Is that the sort of inner conviction that you need to have - that Jesus has risen from the dead? That death is not the end, but that in him new life is possible.
2. Jesus brought Confirmation
How could Jesus convince them that he had truly risen? In place of their doubts what further evidence would convince them? He offered them two simple proofs. The first proof was visual and physical. "See my hands and my feet, it is I myself! Touch me, and see" (v.39). Here was no ghost or apparition. No figment of their imagination. Jesus was here standing before them. Outside the tomb Jesus told Mary not to touch him, but here the disciples were told to do so. The second proof was that he was hungry and asked for something to eat. They were having their evening meal and Jesus asked for some grilled fish. And he took it and ate it (vv.41-42). Here was no ghost or apparition, but one who was very much alive. He was hungry and they fed him.
In Acts 1:3 we read that Jesus "gave many convincing proofs that he was alive". Touch and see. Eat and drink. Here was no ghost or apparition. Here was no trick of the light. He who had died on the cross and was placed in a tomb was now risen from the dead and standing before them. It was essential for the disciples to be convinced of the reality of the resurrection. That was to be the main qualification for being an apostle (Acts 1:22). That was to be the heart of their personal testimony and public proclamation – that Jesus had died and risen from the dead.
In the early church there were many corruptions and distortions of the Christian faith. And the seeds of heresy were sown in New Testament times and later flourished in subsequent centuries. One such error was 'Docetism'. It was not so much a distinct heresy but (in the words of an early church historian) "it was an attitude which infected a number of heresies" (J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 141). Basically, Docetism said that Jesus only appeared to have come in the flesh. The divine descended upon him at his baptism and was withdrawn just before his crucifixion. Jesus was a divine being, but he was not a physical being. He only had the appearance of a human; in reality he was only a spirit. And what counters this sort of thinking? What do we find Jesus doing? Before witnesses he ate fish. He was able to be touched and no doubt hugged by his disciples. Jesus had come in the flesh and he had risen physically from the tomb.
Strange that just as I was preparing this part of the sermon the doorbell rang. On the doorstep were two friendly Jehovah's Witnesses. And it was their presence that reminded me that when we look at early corruptions and distortions of the Christian faith, that such deviants are still with us today. The Jehovah's Witnesses may not be Docetists, but in their case they are modern-day Arians. They claim to be Christians but they are not. They claim to follow the teaching of the Bible but they do not. They claim to have the truth and to know the truth, but they do not. They teach false things about Jesus' origins and nature.
And for you, is the Jesus who died and rose again at the heart of your faith? Or, is what you believe only partial, or ill-informed, or insufficiently rooted in scripture? For us the scriptures are foundational. What we believe was attested by these early disciples. And their testimony is to be trusted and believed.
3. Jesus the Divine Teacher
From physical and human proof, we move onto Jesus the teacher. We know that Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God; we know of him delivering the Sermon on the Mount and of him telling parables; we also read of him teaching broad themes, prophetic themes, themes that find their fulfilment in him. His teaching was not just short pithy sayings and stories, but extended teaching too. Just as he unfolded the scriptures to the two people on the road to Emmaus; so Jesus gave the disciples a broad brush exposition of scripture. He made it clear that at long last the scriptures had been fulfilled – and that they pointed forward to him!
Look with me at Luke 24:27 and 44. Jesus referred to the Law, the Prophets and the Writings – for the Jews this was their threefold division of the Old Testament: the Law (the first five books of Moses), the Prophets (both major and minor) and the Writings (the wisdom books including the Psalms). And what is Jesus saying about the Law, the Prophets and the Writings? Quite simply that they point forward to him. In other words, in him they are fulfilled. They are like a signpost that points you in the right direction, the Satnav that tells you that you've arrived at your destination. The underlying text of the Old Testament points us to Jesus. Sometimes we have to admit it's hard to find the connection, but at other times it's crystal clear. What do you make of these verses from Psalms and Isaiah and Job?
"My, God, my God, why have you forsaken me? … I can count all of my bones, they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots" (Ps. 22:1, 17-18).
"He was oppressed, and he was afflicted; yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth" (Isaiah 53:7).
"I know that my redeemer lives and at the last he will stand upon the earth" (Job 19:25).
These verses are fulfilled in Jesus! The Old Testament is foundational to the New Testament. The New Testament stands upon the shoulders of the Old Testament. One points forward; the other points backward. We read the Word of the Lord in the writings of the prophets; and we read the Word of the Lord in the writings of the apostles. They are the key which, when turned, points us to the Lord Jesus Christ. They are fulfilled in Christ. Paul makes it perfectly clear that: "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures" and "that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3-4).
We need all of scriptures - the Old Testament and the New Testament - to find the Lord, and for the Lord to find us, as he speaks to us, as he challenges us and as he draws us to himself. How is your Bible reading going? Is it constant or haphazard? Superficial or studied at some depth? How open are you to the Word of God - by the illumination of the Spirit of God - to direct you to the Son of God?
4. Jesus and You and Me
You may well be thinking; 'this is all very interesting… Jesus was seen by the disciples, they were convinced that he had risen from the dead, they appreciated that he was the divine teacher and that the scriptures pointed to him. But so what? How does this impact upon me and my life?' The answer lies in Luke 24:46-49. After the resurrection the disciples were told to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit had come upon them and empowered them to proclaim the good news, beginning in Jerusalem and then beyond Israel to include all nations. For them: throughout the Mediterranean. For us: the whole world. That's what we find in Acts 1:8 when Jesus told the disciples that
"you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth".
And what was to be at the heart of their message? It was the good news that Jesus had died and that Jesus was alive. He died on a cross and rose from a tomb. And both the cross and the tomb were empty. Some Christian traditions have a crucifix of a man on a cross: but the Christian faith is not just about a man on a cross. Yes, the Christian faith rightly focuses on the death of Christ, of the one dying for the many. But the Christian faith is also about the resurrection. Christ has died; Christ is risen! After the cross the victory has been won. Death has been defeated. God the Father had accepted what God the Son had done. Jesus had accomplished all that he had come to do.
And did you notice what was said in v.47, "that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name"? That's a neat summary of the main doctrines of the Christian faith. It speaks of the necessity of personal repentance and the assurance of sins forgiven. On the cross the Lord Jesus died and took upon himself the burden of sin and the weight of Divine wrath. He came to die for us and to save us from sin and death. And since we are all sinners we need to come to him in penitence and faith; and as we do so we have the assurance that he will forgive us and cleanse us and renew us.
You may have come here tonight but have never ever committed your life to Christ. But today is a wonderful opportunity for you to do so: on this day of resurrection. Last Friday we thought of the death of Christ and today we thank God for the resurrection of Christ. Many of you here this evening have been Christians for many years. You can testify to your longstanding faith in Jesus. For you - on this day of celebration and rejoicing – why not rededicate yourself afresh to the One who died for you and rose again for you that you might live in his presence and reign with him in glory?