Today’s gospel reading is the third resurrection appearance and yet, the disciples are still afraid and doubtful. How in the world can God use these people to spread His word throughout the world? The good news is that God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Jesus did not reproach his doubtful disciples, but empowered them to witness to all God had done.
No matter how bright and learned one may be, it does not mean that he or she is ready to share the faith. We see that Jesus here commissioned his disciples and that’s really exciting. However, they still needed more preparation. You would think the three years they had spent with Jesus would have been more than enough to make them ready.
Before Jesus sends his followers into all the world, he proves that he is risen from the dead, he opens the disciples’ minds to understand scripture and THEN, sends his disciples.
First of all, Jesus proves he is risen. Not only does he prove that, but Jesus made it clear that he was not a ghost (v. 39). God really resurrected Jesus from the dead and Jesus also wanted to show his disciples that it was really him, the Lord they had known and followed for three years. Jesus was not a resuscitated corpse or a ghost. He was really real and he would prove it.
The first proof Jesus offered was his hands and feet, which still bore the marks of his crucifixion. This is important because “If the Jesus who died belongs [only] to the historical past but the one the disciples [see] now and follow is the eternal Christ…[then we have a] spirituality without suffering for others, without a cross, without any engagement of issues of life in this world, all the while expressing devotion to a living, spiritual Chri.st” Jesus’ body witnesses against discipleship that cannot endure scars on behalf of others (Craddock).
However, this first proof was not enough to convince Jesus’ disciples. It did not produce faith, but continued unbelief and amazement. But there’s a funny reason and source of this unbelief and amazement. It was “their joy” (v. 41). The Revised English Bible expresses it in this way, “for it seemed too good to be true.”
Secondly, Jesus asks for food! We don’t know if this was due to hunger or just because he wanted to show his disciples that he was really the Jesus they had known. He ate broiled fish. Aren’t we glad that Holy Communion consists of bread and wine instead of fish and wine?
This second proof is presented with fewer words (“Have you anything here to eat?” v. 41) and we have no response from the disciples. If we look back to the previous appearance story in Emmaus, we see that Jesus’ act of eating with those disciples opened up their eyes to see the truth about him.
There is something different though about Jesus’ risen presence from his presence as he lived and walked among his disciples. Jesus was not initially recognized as himself in any of his post-resurrection appearances.
The next thing Jesus does is he opens his disciples’ minds to understand the scriptures. Jesus’ disciples were not taught anything new by Jesus in this instance. What is stressed is the continuity between the words of the risen Christ and the historical or pre-crucifixion Jesus. Jesus told the disciples, “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you” (v. 44). There’s nothing different being taught by Jesus.
Jesus’ instructions come from two major sources: (1) His words and (2) the three parts of the Hebrew Scriptures: the Law of Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms, which represent the writings. The word alone is not enough to open the minds and hearts of the disciples. One’s mind must be opened by Jesus to properly understand the scriptures.
Jesus was very specific about what the Hebrew Scriptures taught. The Messiah was to suffer and to be raised from the dead on the third day. Repentance leading to the forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in Jesus’ name. In v. 49, which isn’t part of today’s gospel reading, we learn that the gospel is for all nations, beginning with Jerusalem, where they were at that moment.
Luke emphasizes that the gospel is in continuity with what God has been doing and planning in the Jewish scriptures. Remember that in the New Testament, when they refer to scripture, that means the Old Testament. The New Testament writings had not been put together at that time. It was, therefore, the Hebrew Scriptures that constituted the heart of early Christian preaching.
Lastly, Jesus sends his disciples. The commissioning of Jesus’ disciples too is rooted in the teaching of the Old Testament. As stated in v. 46, “Thus it is written,” meaning this has been God’s plan all along.
What seems to be new to the disciples is not new, but rather is the old teaching properly interpreted. God’s plan in scripture already has a message and an offer that make up the charter of the Christian message. That message is that Christ should suffer and be raised on the third day (v. 46). The offer is the gift of repentance and forgiveness of sins (v. 47).
We may wonder if that gift is one that people of today are even interested in; and yet, don’t we often hear of how much people are struggling with guilt? Freedom from guilt comes from repentance and forgiveness.
Even so, Jesus does not leave these disciples or us on our own. There is a promise for each of us. Throughout Luke’s writing (including Acts) is the emphasis of the Holy Spirit empowering the church for its mission in the world. The Holy Spirit moved the church into areas in which it would not have normally engaged. We see this in Acts and elsewhere regarding Gentile believers.
Jesus said his followers were “witnesses of these things” (v. 48). “These things” are Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. They are Jesus’ teaching and the witness of the scriptures. Resurrection and scripture go together and resurrection and mission go together.
So, what does this have to do with us? Being a witness is not a command telling us what to do as much as a statement about who we are. We may be good or bad witnesses, but we are witnesses nevertheless. We are to witness to the same things the early disciples did: God’s ongoing plan revealed in scripture, namely the suffering of the Messiah, Jesus’ resurrection, and the proclamation of repentance that leads to forgiveness.
We can only witness to that which we have experienced. In order to see the hearts of others transformed, our own witness must come from changed hearts. We are made God’s own in baptism, but we cannot stop there. We need to study God’s word, remain in fellowship and engage in the means of grace, the sacraments. Our witness is for all nations, beginning in our own Jerusalem, right where we are now.
Jesus opens our minds and hearts through the Holy Spirit to understand God’s Word and to grow in our faith. Then we can effectively share with others. Isn’t our God the same one the early Christians served? If God could work through the poor and slaves as well as the well-to-do, don’t you think God can work through us as well?
Do you feel ill-prepared for this calling of God? Do you want to have a better understanding of scripture? In the coming weeks, we will be having a Bible study. If you are interested, please see me during fellowship.
We have what the world needs. People are hungry for truth and reality. These are found in Christ. We struggle with reluctance to verbally share our faith with others.
When we let the living and written Word of God capture our hearts, we cannot help but want to respond to God’s mission for us—to be witnesses of God’s love and salvation. We are really good at demonstrating this by much of what we do (the 5 & 2 Ministry as well as so many other things). This is excellent, however, there is more to the Christian life. We need to share our stories of what God has done in our lives. Now if God could do so much with a small group of imperfect people in the first century, just imagine what God can do with us.
Charles B. Cousar, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year B
Fred Craddock, Luke, Interpretation.
John Fairless and Delmer Chilton, The Lectionary Lab Commentary
Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.com