Jesus - The Majesty - Luke 24:36-53

This is a sermon by Chris Hobbs from the evening service on 7th November 1999.

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"He's a changed man."  You'll have heard that expression before.  Perhaps you've even applied it to someone you know.  Maybe you've had it said about you.  There might even be a man you wish was changed.  For some men, all it takes for them to be changed is to get their degree and start their first job.  For others, marriage does the trick, as for the first time in his life the new husband is seen pushing his trolley round Tesco in, of all places, the vegetable aisle.  If not marriage, then surely becoming a father will do it, as the hard-working, rugby-playing, beer-swilling executive suddenly finds himself on his knees, surrounded by baby kit, changing a nappy.

Tonight we have a story of changed men.  And we're going to see what it was that changed them.  We're not talking about marriage, or fatherhood, or even graduation - important as they are.  We're looking at a dramatic, once-for-all,  life-changing change which came over the disciples.  They were bewildered by what had happened in the last week of Jesus'  life, frightened by what might happen to them now, confused about what they'd heard of Jesus maybe being alive again. They were turned into confident, purposeful, obedient and patient servants - men truly worthy of the name 'disciple' - as they obeyed their Lord and Master and waited for his timing.

We have a beautiful picture of these early Christians, here at the end of Luke's Gospel.  It's as if Luke wants to show us what the ideal church is like - having painted his portrait of Jesus, he wants to show us how to respond, how we should feel and what we should do.  Verses 52-53...  Luke brings his Gospel to a close with these men worshipping Jesus, giving him the honour due as the one who has defeated death and won the forgiveness of sins.  They're obeying Jesus.  That's perhaps not immediately obvious from these verses, but they return to Jerusalem and wait there because that's what Jesus told them to do.  And they're praising God as the one who has done it all.  It is he who has sent his anointed king to rescue his people from their sins, and who has now raised him from the dead to show it to the world.

But how were these men changed?  Only a few verses earlier, this same band of disciples were startled and frightened (v37), troubled and doubting (v38), even unbelieving (v41).  What happened to them, then?  Quite simply, they had an encounter with the risen Christ in all his Majesty.  What happened to them was something truly miraculous.  And the same can happen to us if we similarly encounter the risen Christ in all his Majesty.  The result won't be exactly the same.  We won't be left in the temple, praising God.  Just as, once the Spirit came upon them, these men weren't left in the temple either - or in Jerusalem, for that matter.  In any case, since then, God's people have become  the temple.  We are now the place where people come to meet God.  It is as they come into our meetings and see God at work among his people and hear him speaking to his people that they meet God.

So, what happened to them?  Jesus did three miracles:-


1.  Jesus showed himself to them (v36-43)

Here they are.  They're talking about the news they've just heard - that Jesus is actually alive again and that two of their friends have seen him. Then the news which they've so far only heard about becomes a reality and they see it for themselves: Jesus himself is standing among them.   Verse 36-37.  That's about enough to shock anyone out of their wits, don't you think?  It's enough to be talking about someone when they're not present [not that we do such things, mind you] when they suddenly walk into the room.  It's quite another thing altogether if, the last time you saw that person, they were dead.  What would you think if there was someone you knew well, someone you loved, someone you'd seen die and then buried and then you saw them standing in the room?  Wouldn't you think, " It's a ghost, a Spirit, an apparition."  At the very least, "I must be seeing things. Maybe I ought to see the doctor."  

The account is very real and natural. These men weren't gullible fools who'd believe anything.  The whole point is that they didn't believe it, even when faced with the evidence.  They weren't even expecting to see Jesus alive again.  They should have been, mind you.  He's told them to expect it, several times.  They'd just been talking about him having been seen.  But they still needed persuading. What persuaded them?  Evidence.  That's the only way anyone ever got persuaded, by evidence.  There's no other way.  Some see the evidence and still won't believe it.  [There are some who see the pictures of planet earth taken from Space and still refuse to believe that the earth is round].  You can see the evidence and still not believe, but you can't believe without the evidence.

They saw Jesus as Jesus himself stood among them.  They heard him as he said Peace be with you, and more besides.  They were invited to touch him, to  make sure for themselves, verse 39...  We don't know if they did touch him or not.  Perhaps the rest of the evidence that Jesus was alive was so overwhelming that they didn't need to after all.  But, even by all this evidence, as the truth is slowly dawning on them, as he showed them his hands and feet, we're told, verse 41, they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement.  Isn't that another touch of realism?  This is so true to life and experience.  They were so excited, they could hardly believe their eyes, that's what Luke is telling us.   It was just too good to be true.  And then there's the very mundane thing of eating a bit of food.

This Jesus is no ghost.  He has a real body, with real flesh and bones, and he eats real food.  This Jesus is not just a resuscitated corpse, however that might happen - he later shows that by ascending back to heaven.  This Jesus has been raised to new life.  The voice which was silenced as it breathed its last from the cross, speaks again.  The body which they'd seen the last of as it was laid in the tomb, is seen again.  The hands and feet which had been cruelly pierced by the nails, move and walk again. What these men were witnessing was a miracle.  What we're reading of is a miracle, the miracle of all miracles - death defeated.  How can we be sure it happened?  Because of the evidence, and because of the witnesses.  Jesus says to these very same men, verse 48: You are witnesses of these things. They have been witnesses of the events.  They will now be witnesses to them.

Sadly, a lot of people get things all muddled up when thinking about the resurrection of Jesus and the evidence for it.  They spend their time either ignoring the witnesses altogether or listening instead to people who weren't there to see what happened.  You can hardly imagine getting away with that sort of thing in a court of law today.  There I am, in the witness box, and the Judge addresses me:  "Mr Hobbs, tell us what you saw of the accident."  "Well, your honour, I wasn't there myself, but my wife's hairdresser has another client and her husband's a builder who was working on a site just round the corner.  He wasn't there at the time himself, but one of his mates says he heard something."  "Stop wasting my time.  Get this man out of my court."  Here the disciples are the witnesses who heard and saw what happened.

If we're going to be any use to Christ, we must be persuaded that he is alive, the victor over sin and death, the Lord of heaven and earth, the one who can and does give life to the dead.  We don't follow a dead leader, and we're not asking anyone to give themselves to a dead leader - but to the risen Lord.


2.  Jesus opened their minds to the Scriptures (v44-47)

It may seem strange to us, when so many struggle to believe in the resurrection at all, and when it is such an astounding miracle, that Jesus doesn't stop at showing them that he's alive.  He doesn't seem to think that's enough.  And nor is it.   Until his disciples understand that this is what had to happen, that it's all part of God's great plan of salvation, they're not properly equipped to be his witnesses.  And it's the same for us.  It's not enough to be able to show people that Jesus really rose.  We have to know why.

That's what Jesus did for his disciples that day.  He's alreaady taught them, now he reminds them, verse 44-47...  They need to know that what has happened - The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day - is all in God's plan.  And they need to know what God's plan holds for the future: repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his mame to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  Luke's Gospel has told the story of what has happened, the suffering and rising of the Christ.  Luke's sequel, the book of Acts, will tell the story of repentance and forgiveness of sins being preached to the nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Have you noticed, by the way, the strong parallels between our story and that of the road to Emmaus?  In both, Jesus appears to disciples, but the appearance is misunderstood.  In both, Jesus clears up the misunderstanding by opening the Scriptures to them.  The difference is that, on the road to Emmaus, they couldn't see that Jesus had to die.  Here, they couldn't see that Jesus really was alive.  But both are true and both are what the Scriptures teach.

It really is beyond me how anyone can be in any doubt what lies at the heart of the Christian message.  At least if they read the Gospels.  It's as plain as the noses on our faces.  The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead.  If we can't get that right, then we might as well pack up and go home.

And it's beyond me how anyone can be in any doubt what lies at the heart of the church's mission - that is, unless they've not been reading their Bibles.  It couldn't be plainer: repentance and forgiveness will be preached in his name to all nations, begining at Jerusalem.  And if anyone think it's anything else, then they'd better take that up with the apostles.  Because, if you read the book of Acts, that's what you'll find them doing.

I say it's beyond me - and it is at a purely human level.  But we're not operating here at a purely human level.  Jesus had to open their minds to the could understand the Scriptures.  There is a spiritual dimension here too.  The nose on my face may be plain enough, but if I'm blind I won't be able to see it.  My eyes have tobe opened.  Isn't that what happened to you, if you're a Christian?  There came a time when, maybe after the gospel had been explained to you time and time again, that you said, "Oh, now I see."  It wasn't anything new that anyone said to you, it was just that God opened your eyes for you to see it.  That's the second  miracle that Jesus worked in the lives of his disciples that day.  Maybe not as spectacular as rising from the dead, but just as miraculous and just as important.


3.  Jesus empowered them to obey him

Strictly speaking, this third miracle doesn't take place in the passage we have before us.  We have to wait for the Acts of the Apostles to read about it. But Jesus does promise them power here and he does give them the command to obey.  Luke leaves us waiting for it all to happen, confident that it's just a matter of time.

Verse 46: He told them: This is what is written:... verse 47: repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached.  It will happen.  It's a necessity.  But how  will it happen?  Only as they obey him and he empowers them.  Verse 49...  Here again is His Majesty, the risen Lord Jesus Christ. He has the authority to conquer death.  He has the authority to open God's own word.  He has the authority to fulfil God's own promise:  I am going to send you what my Father has promised.  It's little references like this which help to persuade me of who Jesus really is.  He speaks with all the authority of God himself, and he does it almost in passing.  He's not arguing the case for his own divinity, although he can do that and does so elsewhere.  He simply and naturally assumes he has the authority of God himself.

So, Jesus commands his disciples, but he also empowers them to keep the command.  You see, their obedience is a miracle, just as any obedience to Jesus is.  When someone hears Christ commanding them and they say, "All right, I'll do it."  Or they simply get on with it without saying a word, that is supernatural.  That is a miracle which only God can work. It seems to me that these men basically received two commands from the risen Jesus.  One was explicit and could be obeyed imediately.  That was to stay in the city until they had been clothed with power from on high.  And so, we find, verse 52, that they returned to Jerusalem and stayed continually at the temple.

But there is a second, implicit, command - and that is the preaching of repentance and forgiveness.  That's what they need the power of the Spirit to obey and what they must wait for.  Because they obeyed that command we have the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament.  Because others followed in their steps and obeyed the same command, someone preached the same message to someone who preached the same message to.... until someone preached it to us.  It's not going to stop with us, is it?  Surely it's not all going to end here?

 

There's a story of a young man reading the lesson at his own ordination service.  Understandably, he was a little nervous.  So, when he got to the end he didn't get it quite right, but said, "Here endeth the Gospel."  At which point the bishop was heard to mutter, "Heaven forbid!"  This may be the end of Luke's Gospel, but he has no thought of bringing an end to the Gospel of Christ.  He knows that it will last for all time.  He knows it must be takenn to all nations.  By men and women whose lives have been changed for ever by - by people who have encountered the risen Christ, in all his Majesty.
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