Monday, May 4, 2009
Sermon texts: Luke 24; John 20; 1 Cor 15:3-5
Two men leave Jerusalem on Easter Day, anxious, their minds full of rumors and reports of the Resurrection. Jesus meets them on the road, but he veils his identity. Walking alongside, he leads them through the Old Testament, demonstrating that his death and his rising again were foretold in Moses and the Prophets and finally, when they reach their destination, after he's revealed himself to them in scripture, they and invite him to dinner at their home where he reveals himself, he opens their eyes, at the breaking of the bread and then, suddenly, he's gone.
The men are stunned. The stranger is not a stranger. The Lord they believe dead has been at their side all day. I imagine they sit there for a few moments dumbfounded and then the whole day begins to make sense. Of course it was Jesus. “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”(32) Their hearts knew, their spirits knew, even if their minds did not that the Son of the living God was with them, leading them to a deeper grasp of the bible, to a clearer perception of God and his purposes, giving them reasons to believe what they had heard from the women, opening their eyes, letting them see that he is alive, see the reality of his resurrection—a familiar experience for Christians I think. This is Christ's work in each of us but like the two on the way to Emmaus often we do not see him not so much because he is veiled but because we, at least “I”, do not the attribute whatever growth, maturity, and depth of insight that I have to the Lord as I should.
In any case, that's where we pick up this morning...Luke 24:33. We'll also be looking at John 20 and 1st Corinthians 15, so you might want to bookmark those chapters so you can follow along.
Its early evening, dark by now. Few travel after dark, the roads are not safe, but this cannot news cannot wait. “They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem.”(33) Jerusalem is seven miles away, moving fast it's about a two hour trek—but its dark and its the hill country and the roads are not paved like ours so they probably make it back to the disciples at around 8.30 or 9pm.
Earlier that day, they'd left the disciples in a state of anxiety and despair—but when they arrive, even before they can get a word out, the disciples say to them:
"It is true!” What's true? The women's report—what we thought nonsense is true. “The Lord has risen and...” Something has happened between the time that the two left for Emmaus and their return in the evening to persuade the disciples and those with them that the women were telling the truth, that they were not imagining things. What was it?
Here we learn something that is often missed, “he has appeared to Simon."(34)
The New Testament provides no detail about this first appearance to Peter. Peter himself provides no detail. We do not know the circumstances—when and where Jesus met with Peter or what he said. We do know that Peter saw Jesus—either before Jesus joined the two on the road to Emmaus—early afternoon—or after he disappeared in the evening—We do not know.
Paul in 1st Corinthians 15:3-5 probably refers to the same appearance.
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter...”
Paul, like Luke—and Luke was Paul's missionary companion—does not mention Jesus' appearance to the women. He doesn't deny it but, like Luke, he's building a case—so he presents the strongest evidence, male witnesses. Remember the testimony of women in the first century, and I am trying to think of a proper analogy, was considered about as reliable as “hearsay” is in modern courts...it was considered somewhat worthless as evidence—inadmissible in the courts.
Paul also, if you'll notice, omits the two men on the road to Emmaus either because he doesn't know about it or because he wants to emphasize the role of the disciples. In any case, he puts the appearance to Peter first but like Luke, he gives no details.
I wonder, and we're just speculating now—not a good idea as far as exegesis goes but I'm going to do it anyway—whether Peter ever told anyone the details? Peter denied Jesus—called down cursed on himself in front of a girl because he was afraid. The others just deserted Jesus. Peter publicly lied about his relationship with Jesus and then deserted him.
And yet, Jesus comes to him first among the disciples—and meets him alone. We don't have any record indicating that Peter ever said anything or wrote any sort of account about the experience...perhaps he never spoke of the details, never told anyone what Jesus said or did because it was for him such a sweet but painful reunion—something too important for description. There are times, I think, in our prayers that Jesus meets us in this way—in experiences that go to our core, that are beyond words.
And we see again a picture of grace. Of the remaining disciples—not counting Judas—Peter has been the worst failure. He has fallen from the greatest and now he is the least. And Jesus comes to him first.
Afterwards, Peter tells the rest that the women were not speaking nonsense—that Jesus is alive. By the time the two from Emmaus arrive at 8:30 or 9pm, the disciples and those gathered have already heard the news.
So now, it's evening John tells us (20:19) that they are altogether—the disciples, the two from Emmaus, and Luke tells us (24:33) a number of others—gathered in one room—a room in what has probably been serving as a safe-house, a secret place where they could hide from the authorities. It may be the very same room where they shared the last supper. We don't know. The doors are locked, John tells us, for fear of the Jews (19).
Despite what they've heard from the women, from Peter, and now the two from Emmaus, they're not yet the bold apostles of the book of Acts. They're still fearful, still shell-shocked, still hiding. They're still behaving like accomplices of a criminal rather than messengers of a resurrected Lord.
We shouldn't look down on them for being afraid. Everyone is still against them. Everyone in Jerusalem still thinks Jesus was a fraud and a blasphemer. The “culture” of Jerusalem is hostile and the government actively sought their destruction.
We don't face even half the danger they faced that evening but we often match their fearfulness. People don't want to put us in jail yet—but as our culture becomes more hostile, more contemptuous, as people around us—friends, neighbors—grow impatient and even angry at what they perceive as Christian intransigence and intolerance, we too feel the temptation to shrink back, to feel somehow ashamed of our identity, to let the verdict of the culture against Christ lock us inside the room of church.
We don't worry so much about arrest or floggings, but I think a lot of us are afraid of not being liked or, worse, of confirming people's stereotypes about us. And that fear impacts the way we talk about Jesus. Sometimes, I think, in the name of “evangelism” we so tame Jesus and so conventionalize his message, and so silence his claims, and smoothe out his rough edges that the Jesus we talk about would never be crucified—never be rejected or despised.
In the face of an increasingly hostile culture, we begin to think of evangelism as “making people like Jesus”.
So we make "Jesus the mimic".
In the south, Jesus becomes the Republican who hates high taxes, government intervention, and liberals from Berkley. In the northeast, we make him the friendly social worker with a low carbon footprint who hates big corporations, isn't in the least bit concerned about abortion or sex, wants government sponsored free health-care for all—who unfailingly supports the social “justice” cause du jour—who's looking for ways to affirm majority opinion, conventional wisdom, established values—because this Jesus is one the world will receive and when they receive him they will also receive us, which is, I think, what we sometimes want most. But Jesus, the real Jesus as he is revealed in the New Testament is no more a Man of our times than he was a Man of his—He's just not. He is the Lord of Heaven and Earth--who rose victorious over death. He comes neither to affirm nor condemn, but to convict the world of sin and call the world to repent.
He changes hearts and transforms lives, brings and joy and salvation and resurrection but he does these things via the narrow pathway of repentance and sacrifice—the way of the cross—and it is His way and there is no other. So here is the dilemma for these first Christians huddled in the locked room and for us : We know this. We know Christ is Risen and that he is Lord but we face a city and a culture and a world bent on his death and, by extension, ours. So the temptation is to hide. “Yes” we say with the disciples behind our closed doors, we believe that Jesus is risen and is Lord but the people outside this room don't believe it and don't like him and if we speak to clearly they won't like us.
The disciples here, at this point, know the Lord is alive and they are excitedly talking about that fact amongst themselves (Lk 24:36), but they're afraid to unlock the door, because they've not yet come to the conviction that the risen Lord Jesus is Lord beyond the sanctuary of the upper room. They're not yet firm and solid on the fact that he is Lord of the Jerusalem streets, Lord in the Temple, Lord over the Romans, Lord over the Sanhedrin and Lord over the flagellum and the cross and death.
At some point after the arrival of the two from Emmaus, Thomas leaves. He was there when the two arrive because Luke tells us that all eleven disciples were present. But for some reason and we do not know why, as they are discussing these things, he leaves.
And suddenly, and both Luke and John indicate that it is a sudden sort of thing, Jesus is there. John's account is shorter than Luke's but it's obvious that both are giving accounts of the same event. John gives a first hand eyewitness account, his memory of the event. Luke gives us the event as he's investigated it and understood it from his research and interviews with those who were there. They fit together easily and well.
Luke says, “While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." John's account is almost identical: “when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" (20:19)
Some make too big a deal about the door being locked and assume that Jesus has walked through the door. And on the basis of that assumption say all kinds of weird things about the nature of the resurrected body—that it naturally has the capacity to walk through solid walls. I don't see that in either John or Luke. John says he “came” or “appeared” and “stood”. There's no indication that walked through the locked door. In Luke's account he appears as suddenly as he disappeared in Emmaus. There's a lot we can say about the resurrected body from these accounts but we can also say too much if we're not careful.
Luke tells us their immediate reaction (37). He writes: “ They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.” This, also, is a response that many make too much of. The disciples did not think he was a ghost because because he looked ghostish or opaque or because he walked through the door.. They thought he was a ghost because he was dead and now he's standing there in front of them and despite what they've heard, their minds go immediately to the thought: “ghost”
They do not have the New Testament to teach them the Doctrine of the Bodily Resurrection. They know the tomb is empty. They've been told about all the appearances so far, but things are happening quickly. They're not sure about how exactly these appearances are taking place. Is Jesus appearing as an apparition like Samuel did for Saul and the witch of Endor? There are clear hints in the accounts so far that his resurrection is a bodily physical one...the fact of the empty tomb the women clasping his feet, his hands holding and breaking bread, but these have all taken place in one day and in three different places. They haven't had time to put all of this altogether into a cohesive doctrine of the resurrection. So, suddenly, they see Jesus standing there. They're startled. They're frightened. They think they see a ghost.
Jesus speaks. We're still in Luke(37-39) “He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39Look 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."
It's me, he says, Look and see and touch holes left by the nails in my feet and wrists. John tells us in 20 that he showed them the hole in his side. I am alive. I have flesh. I have bones. Look into my eyes and know me. I'm here with you.
We have to stop here...we'll pick the rest of this appearance up and move to Jesus' appearance to Thomas next week.