Jesus Is Alive—And That Changes Everything! (preaching resource for 4/23/23, Easter 3)
This post, which exegetes Luke chapter 24, provides context for the 4/23/23 RCL Gospel reading, drawing on commentary from Warren Wiersbe ("Bible Expository Commentary"), Howard Marshall ("New Bible Commentary") and Robert Farrar Capon ("Kingdom, Grace, Judgment").
|"The Pilgrims of Emmaus on the Road" by Tissot|
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
Luke chapter 23 tells of the disciples’ sorrow, fear and hopelessness in seeing Jesus die on Good Friday, and lie entombed on Holy Saturday. But now in chapter 24 we come to Easter Sunday. Notice what Luke tells us in 24:1-3:
1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
Joseph of Arimathea had placed Jesus’ body in an empty tomb as the sun was setting Friday evening. Rushed by the onset of the Sabbath, Joseph did not have time to embalm Jesus’ body. So early Sunday morning, some women come to Jesus’ tomb to finish the task. There they find the stone that sealed the tomb, rolled aside. Looking in, they find the tomb empty. Jesus is missing! But there is more to the story, and Luke concludes his Gospel with an account of what happens next with a focus on the progressive reactions of these women and others—reacting first to Jesus’ absence, then to his glorious presence. As a result, doubts are challenged, hearts are encouraged, fears are calmed and lives are focused.
Doubts are challenged (24:4–12)
4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! 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.'" 8 Then they remembered his words. 9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
Two angels appear to interpret what the women are witnessing. Earlier, Jesus told his followers that he would suffer, die and rise (Luke 9:22, 18:33). Now the women begin to understand. They run to tell others the good news, but the men do not believe! However, Peter (and also John, see John 20:1–10), run to the tomb to see for themselves. They too find it empty.
Their doubts are being challenged.
Hearts are encouraged (24:13–35)
13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. 17 He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?" They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?" 19 "What things?" he asked. "About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see." 25 He said to them, "How foolish you are, 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?" 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" 33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon." 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
It’s still Easter Sunday, and two of Jesus’ disciples are walking to Emmaus, a small village several miles outside Jerusalem. They are deeply discouraged. They “had hoped” Jesus would be Israel’s redeemer (v21), but those hopes now lie in ruin. As they walk, Jesus joins them. The two disciples, one named Cleopas, are prevented from recognizing Jesus (v16). At first, Jesus listens to their “animated heated conversation” (v17, Wuest translation), probably quoting Old Testament prophecies, and trying to remember what Jesus taught. But they are unable to put it all together. Jesus then questions them, and Cleopas replies with a recounting of recent events, including the testimony that the tomb is empty. Yet they do not believe. So Jesus rebukes them, recounting the Scriptural evidence that identifies him as Messiah. Their main problem, however, is not lack of knowledge—they need their hearts opened to Jesus.
When Jesus indicates he will go on alone, the two disciples urge him to go home with them. There is something attractive about this new friend and his insightful words. Indeed, their hearts “burn” in his presence (v32)—they want the feeling to last. Jesus accepts the invitation. At meal, they ask Jesus to give the traditional blessing, which includes breaking of the bread. The language Luke uses here is reminiscent of that describing the actions of Jesus at the feeding miracles and the Last Supper (Luke 9:16; 22:19). As a result of Jesus’ words and actions, “their eyes were opened and they recognize him” (v31). Now they know it is Jesus—now they know he is alive! Then Jesus vanishes—but they see him soon. The two disciples immediately leave Emmaus and return to Jerusalem. When they arrive, the apostles and others tell them that Jesus has been seen.
Their hearts are being encouraged.
Fears are calmed (24:36–46)
36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look 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." 40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence. 44 He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day…”
While they compare notes about seeing Jesus, the Lord suddenly appears in their midst. But rather than receiving him with joy and worship, they are terrified. Is this a ghost? Jesus calms their fears—first with a traditional blessing, “Peace be with you.” Then he demonstrates that he is not a ghost—he shows them his hands and feet (still bearing his crucifixion scars, see John 20:24-29). The resurrected Jesus remains “flesh and bones”—still human, though now a glorified human (and thus able to appear and disappear). Jesus eats honey and fish to prove his physicality (he is not a “spirit being” in the sense of being non-physical). He invites them to feel his body (v39; 1 John 1:1).
Luke 24:41 describes their perplexing response: they “did not believe…because of joy and amazement.” It seems too good to be true! But it is true!—Jesus has indeed fulfilled his promise that they would see him again (John 16:22). Jesus then takes another step to calm their fears—he miraculously opens their minds to understand both the Scriptures and what he had taught them—all concerning his identity and work as the Savior of humankind. Now they begin to understand why Jesus suffered and died, and how all this relates to the promised kingdom (see 1Peter 1:10–12).
Their fears are being calmed.
Lives are focused (24:47–51)
47 “…and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." 50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.
Jesus then tells them of their calling to be witnesses of all he has said and done (see Acts 1:8; the word witness is used 29 times in Acts). How could this rag-tag group of common people ever hope to fulfill this commission? Jesus’ answer in Luke 24:49, is that he will send them “what my Father has promised” —the Holy Spirit. And that is what Jesus did several days later on Pentecost Sunday—he sent the Spirit to empower them for this mission. After Pentecost, the Spirit will continue to fill them as they enter this mission (see Acts 4:33).
Following this conversation, Jesus is “taken up into heaven” (Luke 24:51b). His ascension proves he has conquered every enemy and reigns “above all” (Eph. 1:18–23). From heaven, the God-man Jesus ministers out of the humanity he shares with us as our High Priest (Heb. 7:25). In that priestly role, he , equips his people to participate with him in his ongoing mission and ministry in the Spirit (Eph. 4:7–16).
Their lives are being focused.
NOTE: Luke’s account here could be taken to imply that the resurrection and ascension happened the same day. But this would contradict Luke’s further account in Acts chapter 1. What is here described briefly and compactly took place over a longer period.
52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
The response of the disciples to the resurrected and now ascended Jesus is worship! Fueled by this worship, we see them in Acts (the second volume in Luke’s account) active in witness (mission). Note that Luke's Gospel begins and ends in the temple, and between these scenes Jesus has completed his work of redemption. In Acts, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, Jesus leads his followers out of Jerusalem into all the world as witnesses.
And so we conclude with this great good news: Jesus is alive! May that reality change everything for you. May Jesus, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, challenge your doubts, encourage your heart, calm your fears, and focus your life. Amen.