He is Risen – Luke 24:13-36
True or false? In Italy for around £3000 you can buy ready-made coffins that have beepers in them, two-way speakers, a torch, a small oxygen tank, and a sensor to detect a person’s heartbeat… just in case! (True)
True or false? In the mid-1700s a Russian peasant named Feodor Vassilyev gave birth to 69 children. (True) In 27 separate pregnancies she had 16 pairs of twins, 7 sets of triplets, and 4 sets of quadruplets. Ouch!
True or false? In 1664, 1785 and 1860 passenger ferries sank while crossing the Menai Straight in North Wales. Amazingly, each disaster occurred on December 5th. Even more bizarre than this is that on all three occasions the name of the sole survivor was Hugh Williams. Citation (True)
These bizarre stories are all true. What about Jesus’ resurrection: is the resurrection really true? Tonight we are going to look at some of the evidence.
As we come to look at our passage from Luke’s Gospel, let me set the timeframe for us: Jesus has been crucified on the Friday. On the third day – Sunday morning (this morning) – He rises from the dead and appears first to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18), then to Simon/Peter (Luke 24:34), then to the two disciples; followers on the road to Emmaus (one of them was named Cleopas, v18), and then to the Eleven apostles (minus Judas) in the upper room on the same day, the evening of Easter Sunday (this evening – right now).
Now it may just be me but I think there’s a touch of humour in this passage. I think the resurrected Jesus, having just accomplished the greatest victory in the history of humankind; I think He was in celebratory mood. I think Jesus was enjoying himself and having a bit of fun; teaching these two travellers and making them think for themselves… but also secretly having some fun with them, and enjoying the moment.
In the passage we read that as the couple – probably Cleopas and Mary, husband and wife (see John 19:25) – as they walked along, deep in discussion, suddenly Jesus appeared out of nowhere and walked beside them: ‘Mind if I join you?’
But God kept them from recognising him (v16). Why the disguise? Why the anonymity? For a bit of fun: Perhaps?
Jesus asked them (v17): ‘What are you talking about so intently as you walk along?’ But He already knew perfectly well what they had been talking about!
Cleopas responds incredulously, ‘You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard all the things that have happened.’
And Jesus, all kind of innocent-like, says (v19), “What things?”
And then, as they approached the outskirts of the village and the end of their journey (v28), Jesus acted as if he were going further; He pretended that He was traveling further than Emmaus.
‘Well, it’s been nice chatting to you but I really must be going now.’
But they urged and pleaded and persuaded him to stay with them for the night…
‘Oh, very well then, if you insist.’
Then, around the supper table, Jesus gives thanks for the bread; He breaks it and suddenly they recognise him, ‘On my God, it’s Jesus!’ (That’s not blaspheming, that’s the truth!), and in the blink of an eye or a puff of smoke… Jesus disappears into thin air!
Jesus is having a bit of fun, isn’t He? By the time we get to the end of the passage the two ‘Emmaus disciples’, in their excitement, have run all the way back to Jerusalem to tell the apostles in the upper room all that has happened. And then Jesus creeps up on them and… Boo! Only joking!
Jesus suddenly stands there among them and says: ‘Peace be with you.’
Is it just me or is there a touch of humour in this passage? What do you think?
Tonight I want us to look at this passage in a bit more detail: in particular I’m going to address three questions:
- Why did Jesus rise from the dead?
- What proof is there for the resurrection?
- Why is the resurrection so important – what does it mean for us?
Firstly then: Why did Jesus rise from the dead?
When He asked the two travellers on the road what they were talking about, they said, (v19-21): “About Jesus of Nazareth. He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”
‘We had hoped he was the one… the Redeeemer!’ These disciples were more than disappointed; they were despairing because they’d lost their hope. Their hopes and dreams had been dashed; killed off with Jesus last Friday, three days previously. What future for them now? They were lost, aimless, despairing and desperately searching for meaning and understanding. How could God let this happen? Is that a place, maybe, where you are at this evening; lost, aimless, despairing; can’t see a way forward? Friends, it might feel like ‘All-is-lost’ Friday but hang on… Sunday is coming!
‘We had hoped he was the one… to redeem us!’
Before our two travellers could understand what had happened they needed to see who Jesus is from the Scriptures; they needed to see him spiritually, so to speak, and not just physically. Maybe this was the reason why they were withheld from recognising Him. Like everyone else in Israel, they’d misunderstood what the Messiah would come to do. They saw the Scriptures foretelling how God would set the Jewish nation free from servitude to Rome. They thought prophecy spoke of how God would redeem Israel from suffering, but instead it was how God would redeem His people through suffering; in particular, the suffering laid upon the Messiah.
Jesus’ death was part of God’s predetermined plan for our redemption.
A little while later, Simon Peter, addressing the crowd at Pentecost, said: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2v23). Amazingly, mankind’s wicked act of rejection is also God’s divine act of salvation. Jesus’ willing sacrifice; His death on the cross, was all part of God’s set purpose and foreknowledge. God was behind all of it… but we still remain responsible for all of it!
I read an account a few years ago about a little girl, Lucy, who was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her five-year old brother, who had thankfully survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother and asked the boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister.
He hesitated for a moment, took a deep breath and the said, ‘Yes, I’ll do it if it will save her.’
Well, as the transfusion progressed, he lay in a bed next to his sister and smiled, seeing the colour returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, ‘Will I start to die straight away?’
Being so young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor: He thought he was going to have to give her all his blood! Citation
In a sense that’s what Jesus did for us. Each one of us has a serious disease – it’s called sin! Each one of us needs to be saved from the consequences of this deadly disease and Jesus is the only one who can save us; He sacrificed himself and paid the price for our salvation with his own blood. This is the gospel: the bad news has become good news. We receive forgiveness and are saved from God’s judgement and being eternally separated from God, only when we accept that what Jesus accomplished on the cross; his willing sacrifice paid for our sins. At the end of the day all sin has to be paid for but God in His wonderful grace and mercy has provided us with a way out; a choice: We can accept Jesus’ offer, and He pays for our sin for us – for free – or people can reject Jesus and pay for their sin themselves… but then they’ll have hell to pay for it!
On several occasions Jesus had predicted and foretold his own death and rising again on the third day (Matthew 16:21; 20:17; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34; Luke 9:22; 18:31-33), but the disciples just didn’t get it; they didn’t understand; they were stuck in Friday-mode! Their hopes had been dashed, their leader killed, they were lost, destitute and fearful for their own lives. What future was there for them now? – Do you ever think like that; lost, fearful, stuck in Friday-mode?
Friends, it might feel like Friday… but Sunday is coming! Believe that.
The disciples didn’t understand or had forgotten about Jesus’ promise about rising on the third day… and that’s the same with us sometimes: when we forget God’s promises we start to imagine the worst possible scenario and can end up despairing! But friends get this: Jesus is the only man to ever make an appointment beyond the grave and three days later show up for it! It may have looked bad on Friday… but Sunday is coming, and has already arrived!
Good Friday would not be good if it were not followed by Easter Sunday.
The disciples didn’t understand that Jesus had to die and that He had to rise from the dead. That’s why Jesus said to the two travellers on the Emmaus road (v25-27): ‘“How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all of the Scriptures concerning himself.’
To fulfil the Scriptures Jesus had to die, and He also had to rise from the dead: it was inevitable. A dead Saviour cannot save anybody! – I love the way Judah Smith puts it: “We have to understand that death was not part of God’s original creation. Death was an effect of sin. So, if death defeated Jesus, then sin has not been dealt with, and we are still lost. Here’s the deal: If Jesus died and that was it, well there’s nothing remarkable about that. But if it’s true Jesus rose from the dead, then that changes everything. That means he conquered the final enemy: death. That means that everything he claimed about himself is true. He isn’t just human. He is God. He is the answer to mankind’s problems. He is Saviour. (…) Jesus didn’t just die. He rose from the dead. That’s what God would do, because an eternal, infinite God can’t be killed off – at least not permanently – by his creation. The resurrection proves that everything Jesus said was true. The resurrection gives us power to live in victory in this life, and it proves that life continues after our time on earth is over.” Citation – The gospel is good news because of the resurrection.
Why did Jesus rise from the dead? Because the resurrection is God’s ‘YES’ to the sacrifice Jesus made being accepted. That’s why Jesus didn’t stay dead? His resurrection is the absolute proof that Jesus’ sacrifice is all-sufficient for the forgiveness of sins, and its proof too, that all believers will inherit eternal life, just as Jesus promised… John 11v25-26 (NIV): “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”
Think about it: if Jesus had remained dead, how would we ever know we are forgiven? If there was no resurrection there’s no forgiveness, no judgement, no punishment or reward; no heaven! If there is no resurrection, then this life is all there is! But there is life after death and the evidence for it is overwhelming, which leads me to my second point:
What proof is there that the resurrection is true?
Picking up our reading at v30: ‘When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him.’ – Jesus revealed himself, firstly, when He opening the Scriptures to them while they were on the road – v32: ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us’ – and then Jesus revealed himself in the meal – in the breaking of bread. It’s as if Jesus was deliberately weaning them off his physical presence and revealing himself to them spiritually through Word and Sacrament. It’s the same with us: We also are invited to meet with the risen Jesus through the Word and the Sacraments of bread and wine.
But what about Jesus’ resurrection on the third day: can we be sure it’s true?
On that first Easter morning the stone at the entrance to the tomb wasn’t rolled away to let Jesus out, it was rolled away to let the eye witnesses in to declare: “He is risen!” The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities: a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb. We’ll leave the miracle of the virgin birth until Christmas but over the years unbelievers and sceptics have come up with several proposed explanations for the empty tomb. For example:
- It is sometimes said, Jesus was only unconscious and he later revived. But a Roman soldier told Pilate that Jesus was dead (Mark 15:44-45); and the reason the soldiers didn’t break Jesus’ legs was because he had already died. You remember one of them pierced Jesus’ side with a spear. And Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped Jesus’ body and placed it in the tomb. (John 19:32-34, 38-40)
- It has been suggested that the women must have made a mistake and gone to the wrong tomb. But Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw Jesus placed in the tomb (Matthew 27:59-61, Mark 15:47, Luke 23:55). And on Sunday morning Peter and John also went to the same tomb. (John 20:3-9)
- Some say that unknown thieves must have stolen Jesus’ body. But the tomb was sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers. (Matthew 27:65-66)
- And if for some strange reason the Roman or Jewish authorities had removed the body from the tomb, well then they would have produced it as soon as Jesus’ followers claimed that he was alive again and the Christian church would have collapsed on the spot.
- Some even think what the witnesses saw was a hallucination. But that’s not possible because so many people saw the risen Jesus at different times, including natural sceptics like ‘doubting Thomas.’ In fact there are over 550 eye witness accounts of the resurrection in the New Testament, including once by over 500 people at one time, and when the apostle Paul recorded that event, well over half of those people were still alive and could confirm the fact (see 1 Corinthians 15:6).
- Before Jesus rose from the dead his followers hid behind locked doors ‘for fear of the Jews’ (John 20:19). Yet a few weeks later they risked persecution, imprisonment, torture and even death because they had seen Jesus alive again. People sometimes die for something they believe to be true but nobody is prepared to die for something they know is false, especially if they concocted the lie.
- As author John Blanchard writes: ‘The Christian church is the largest religious body the world has ever known (over two billion and growing by the thousand every day) and no other group, religious or otherwise, has made a greater contribution to the well-being of humankind. Yet the church is not based on the moral example Jesus set, nor on his death: it is based on his resurrection. For 2,000 years this has been its driving force and the only explanation for its existence. The first Christian church was known as ‘the Way’ (Acts 9:2), but if Jesus had remained in the grave ‘the Way’ would have become a dead end!
As one preacher put it, ‘The Grand Canyon wasn’t caused by an Indian dragging a stick, and the Christian church wasn’t created by a myth.’
A former Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Darling, said of the resurrection: ‘In its favour as a living truth there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true.’
John Blanchard put it like this: “If Jesus never rose from the dead, the New Testament has no more value than a handful of confetti. If Jesus never rose from the dead the disciples were blasphemous deceivers, the early Christian church was a rabble of misguided bigots, all Christian martyrs have spilled their blood defending a non-event and the church’s great reformers of society were motivated by a pack of lies. What’s more, every Christian church building is a monument to a myth, all its ministers are liars, every prayer offered to or in the name of Jesus is pointless prattle, all who claim a living relationship with him are pathetically deceived, every Christian service is a farce, every Easter day commemorates something that never happened and any hope of life after death is deluded daydreaming.” Citation
If Jesus never rose from the dead, then our meeting here this evening is a complete waste of time. But Jesus did rise from the dead and Jesus is alive.
“God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact,” said Peter to the crowds in Acts 2:32, with the other disciples stood beside him (they were all witnesses). And we also know that God raised Jesus to life because the entire New Testament bears witness to His resurrection. The fact is the Church only began because of the resurrection, and the Church stands and falls on this one truth!
So, if Jesus has risen, where is He now? Peter again answers that question at Pentecost (Acts 2v33): “Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” Jesus has been glorified and exalted to the right hand of God where He now reigns and waits for the Second Coming. It’s brilliant: Jesus has no longer limited himself to one physical human body in order for us to meet with Him. Now, He has poured out the Holy Spirit on all believers, and today Jesus is just as real with us spiritually as he ever was physically. The Holy Spirit is like God’s engagement ring, His pledge of heaven given to us while we are still on earth. Again, if there was no resurrection there was no Pentecost and no outpouring of the Holy Spirit on believers. But the Spirit we have within us, the Spirit that makes our hearts burn with fire as we open the Scriptures and worship together – is proof that Jesus is alive. (Interesting, that the verb ‘pour out’ (in Acts 2:33) illustrates that God’s gift of the Holy Spirit is neither a drizzle nor a shower but a pouring out; a downpour! God wants us to be completely saturated in the Spirit, so that we overflow and pour out the Holy Spirit to others.)
So what does all this mean, then? Our third point…
Why is the resurrection so important – what does it mean for us?
At Jesus’ birth the angels announce the arrival of peace – peace between men and God. At his resurrection, the announcement is the same: Jesus appears to the disciples and says (v36): ‘Peace be with you.’ Peace between men and God, which is only possible because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for you and me. In conclusion, then, why is the resurrection so important and what exactly does it mean for us? As we’ve already seen…
- Jesus’ resurrection from the dead demonstrates His power to defeat Satan… death could not keep its hold on him (Acts 2:24).
- And Jesus’ resurrection is also God’s affirmation or ‘yes’to the sacrifice Jesus made being accepted. That’s why Jesus didn’t stay dead? His resurrection is the absolute proof that Jesus’ sacrifice is all-sufficient for the forgiveness of sins. – If we accept Jesus; if we trust Him and follow Him, we are cleansed and forgiven and receive the promise of eternal life.
- The resurrection verifies the truth of Scripture.Both in the Old Testament (e.g. Psalm 16v10; 110v1) and in the words of Jesus, His resurrection is clearly taught. (If Jesus did not rise from the dead then the Bible would not be true.)
- The resurrection also proves that there is going to be a Judgment Day. Acts 17:31 says: “[God] has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.” This promise of future judgment helps us, as Christians, to live in this fallen world where evil pervades, and it assures us that one day justice will be done. (If there was no Judgment Day some people would literally get away with murder.)
- The resurrection proves that Jesus is who He says He is… “I am the gate for the sheep, whoever enters through me will be saved… I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:7, 9, 11).
- And Jesus’s resurrection assures us of our own resurrection and future inheritance. Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25). He went on to say, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3).
What will our future inheritance look like? We don’t really know for certain because we are not given detailed information. Instead, we are given picture language, poetry and symbols, to try and describe the indescribable. In fact the Bible says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). That’s how wonderful it’s going to be, so wonderful it’s indescribable in earthly terms!
(For further resources see Forgiveness, Repentance, Resurrection, and How can one man’s death on a cross 200 years ago possible affect me?)