Sunday, March 31, 2013

LUKE 24 : “ The Resurrection, the Power of Unbelief and the Need for Revelation”

Dear  brothers and sisters in Christ!
We  are   gathered  in fellowship ( “in mystic sweet communion[1] ) with the great church - past, present and future. We are  gathered  on the first day of the week in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit   to remember  the gospel  -  the things of first importance:  Christ died for our sins  in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day  in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared…”  (1 Cor.  15: 3-5).
The  Eastern  Orthodox church  has a lovely  greeting on  Resurrection Sunday  morning .  The pastor  says in the Greek language:   Χριστός ἀνέστη!" - "Christ is Risen!"   and the congregation  responds:  "Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!"  - "Truly He is Risen!"  

This strikes me as so much more biblical than saying  Happy Easter“.   Most   sources  seem to think  that   the word “Easter” it comes from   the  Anglo-Saxon name  Eostre”,  (and  Norse  “Ostara”) , the  goddess of the sunrise and the spring, who  was worshipped at the time of the (northern hemisphere)  spring  equinox. The direction of the sunrise, the  East, is named  after  her. The  worship  of her was associated  with  the springtime themes of rebirth, new life, new hope, and light - some of the very themes associated with the story of the resurrection. Bunnies  and eggs  were  symbols of fertility  and  so we  find  here  a classic case of  syncretism, i.e. where the Christian faith has been mixed with pagan beliefs .  Enough said about that!  Our passion  is the passion and resurrection  of Christ. Today  we remember especially the  resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

Our text in Luke 24 describes  Luke (the physician’s)  orderly account (Lk. 1:3)  of the resurrection, from  the early dawn  of that  first  day of the week [2]( 24:1)  until the Ascension (24:50-53), 40 days later, with Pentecost (50 days later) implied  in v.49.

There  can be  no doubt that the  significant  theme of this 24th chapter  is the Resurrection of Christ, and the accompanying  proofs  that  He had truly risen. The reason   why the Christian church made the transition between  Yom Shabat (Sabbath Day or 7th day)  to  Yom Rishon  (First Day)   as the  7th day of  rest and  worship  is  simple. This is the day  on which  Yeshua   rose. This was also the day  on which, 50 days later, the Holy Spirit  (Ruach hakodesh)  would be outpoured. It would be the  birthday of the  church (the ekklesia  (Gr.) or k'nessiyah (Hebr.) )

Jesus had often been speaking,  directly and indirectly about  His death  and resurrection  in the course of His ministry (Lk.   9:21-22; 44;  11:29-30; 13:33-35 ;17:25; 18:32-33; 20:9-18, 22:14-23, 37).  But now the time  had come when His words  would be tested. Surely, the supreme test of Christ’s claim to who He is must have been  this : would He  conquer death?  Nobody  had ever   come back from the dead ! Death was  the final curtain. It was the final sting. Death always had the last word, and death always seemed  to have the victory! Why should  this  be different  for  the  miracle-worker  from Nazareth? 

Let’s see, but before we see,  I  want to draw  your attention  to  a remarkable  fact. In the course of His ministry  there were  three people  (that we know of) whom Jesus had raised from the dead:  The widow's son at Nain (Lk 7: 11-17);  Jairus' daughter (Matt. 9:18 18-26)  and Lazarus  (Jn 11: 1-44). These three  people ( and especially the story of Lazarus)  prove that Jesus  had  the power   to  overrule  man’s greatest enemy- death. But would  He Himself  be able to overcome His own death? Who was going to raise Him ?

The Resurrection  ( 24:1-12)
Jesus died on Friday (on the eve  of the Sabbath). On the Sabbath day ( this is significant!)  He rested in the grave. His work was indeed  finished! But  on  Yom Rishon, the first day of the week, He rose from the grave ! We read  that  the   those who  wanted to  embalm  Jesus’ body with spices and ointments  ( see  their names  in v.10)  did not find Jesus in the  tomb that Joseph of Arimathea had so graciously  provided . Very strange - the stone was rolled away! There was no one in the tomb.What happened?
The answer  is provided by  2 men in  dazzling apparel – in shining garments.  Who are these men? It seems clear  that these were  angels of  God. As always, they have a similar effect  on  mankind: “… they( the women)  were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground.” (v.5a). The angels   say to them, “Why do you seek the living (Christ) among  the dead?

The Power of Unbelief
The angels  are   actually rebuking these  faithful  women for  coming to embalm the body.  Christ had told them  so many times, that He was going to be raised from the dead!  So, here unbelief was coming to embalm  Christ’s dead body!
We shall see   that this unbelief  is frequently   addressed in the 24th chapter,  and  it constitutes another  subject   which we shall address in a short while.

And so the angels say to them : “He is not here, but has risen!  Remember  how He told you  while He was still in Galilee (cf. 18:33), that the Son of man  must be delivered into the hands of sinful men  and be crucified and on the third day  rise.” (vv.6,7).
And they remembered  His words…!  (v.8) Ah, it is not that they had not heard Him saying this! This is simply the testimony of the  power of  unbelief. They would not believe  that Jesus  was going to do what He said!  I remind you once again, that if it depended on our faith to be saved, none of us would be saved! 
The mercy and grace of Christ alone saves us! 
Now  hear this (and it reinforces  the point made that  we  ‘hear , but don’t hear!’[3] )  “… and returning  from the tomb they told all these things to the  eleven and to all the rest…but these words seemed to them an idle tale and they did not believe  them! (vv. 9-11) The  power of unbelief  is amplified by the fact that  the  11 disciples (now minus Judas, who was not only possessed by unbelief , but  by Satan himself)  did not believe  the women!  Peter, who fancied himself as the Lord’s  blue eyed boy, and who swore undying  allegiance  to Christ was the chief of unbelievers. We shall meet them again in v.  36.

In the meantime …  on the road to Emmaus ( 24:13-35)
The narrative is disrupted by  an important insert. [4] This happened on the same day as Jesus had risen (v.13). 2 men are walking   from Jerusalem  to  a village named Emmaus- about 12 kilometers. There is ample time to talk, and they talk  about all these things  that have  happened. As  they  are  walking, we read  that  Jesus  joined them  and walked  with them! This is hard to fathom. Jesus  joins their company  and they don’t  recognize Him. Had they never seen him before? This is unlikely .  The  explanation is given in v.16: “But their eyes  were  kept from recognizing  Him.”  Keep that verse in mind until  later,   when we get to  v.31 .
This  account is  not without  a touch of humour.  As Jesus joins them, He says: “So,   what are  you talking about?  With sadness one of them, named   Cleopas  says: “You mean, you haven’t heard? You are coming  from Jerusalem, and you don’t know about the things that have happened there? Jesus plays  dumb: “What things?” And they tell Him about Himself!  … “Jesus of Nazareth… and what the chief priests  did to Him- they crucified Him. He’s dead !  To be honest, we had hoped that He would be the Great Redeemer of Israel. But He’s dead. This is already the third day! But to be honest we have heard a very puzzling  report from some  of our women. Angels told them that  He  had risen from the dead !”   And Jesus  takes them to task: “O foolish ones, and  slow of heart to believe  all that the prophets had spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things  and enter into His  glory?”

Let us  pause here again  for a moment  and  continue to meditate   on this  recurring  matter of unbelief. None  of these New  Testament  personalities actually  believes  Christ’s words . Worse still, none of them  recognize Christ- until He chooses to reveal Himself! And so it is my  dear brothers and sisters !  Without help  we are simply not able  to  see Christ  clearly. We are simply not able to comprehend His truth  fully – even as those who  say that they believe in Him!  We need grace  to understand.  We need revelation.
And thus  Jesus  began  to patiently explain, beginning  "with Moses and all the prophets,  as He interpreted  to them in all  the Scriptures the things concerning himself." (v.27)  We don’t  know precisely  what  He might have  said concerning Himself , but  He  might  have shown them that He   was the fulfillment of every  OT sacrifice; that  He was  the true Deliverer and King, of whom all the judges and deliverers in Jewish history were  but shadows. He was  the true temple  to whom the people were to be gathered;  He  was the coming Prophet greater than Moses.  He  was the  seed of the woman who  would crush the serpent’s  head (Gen 3:16). He was  the One in whom all nations were to be blessed. He was the  true scape-goat that bore away the sins of the people ; He was the  true Lamb  who alone could take our sin. He was  our true High Priest of whom every  priest was a figure. 
Here is the  solution to  our great problem :  If we do not have   revelation, if we do not receive help   from  the  Holy Spirit, we shall never know Him  for who He is!  One of the greatest  works that we can do as a church is to pray  that the Spirit of revelation  may rest upon us and upon  our ministry! Apart from Him we can do nothing! Does that sound familiar  (Jn 15:1-7)

Luke 24:28-35
The  road came to an end, and so  did  the conversation.  Since the day  was now far spent (v.29) these two dear men  prevailed with Christ  (whom they still had not recognized)  to stay with them  overnight . It was only at the supper table  that their eyes were opened as to who had walked with them.  When He  took the bread , blessed it  and gave it to them (v.30)  their eyes were opened.  The passive mood indicates that this was done to them.   
But then  comes  verse 32: “And He vanished from their sight“. This is resurrection body dynamics. He vanishes … He appears (v.36). We won’t be able to understand this yet. Science   cannot explain this dynamic .  
But note the conversation that follows now : “Did not our hearts burn within us  while he talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures? “ This is a very interesting  comment. Christ used  the Scriptures to  explain Himself. Can  we  do any better  than that on this resurrection morning? When  I  open the Scriptures to you, and  show you what is there , and the Holy Spirit is  present,  the Scriptures  make our hearts to burn within us. The truth resonates  within us. Our hearts testify ... this is true … this is true … this is TRUE!  And this is proof of the fact  that our Lord Jesus lives.  Jesus is alive and the Scripture (His Word) is alive. The result of having it  opened up and explained   produces revelation , and where there is such revelation there  is  joy!  
They   returned to Jerusalem within the hour , where they found the 11 disciples  and testified to them:  The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon (Peter) “ , and  our  2 disciples of the Emmaus road  were able to verify this  as they related their own experience  and “ how He was known to them in the ( revelation of) breaking of bread (v.35).This  is followed  by  another  sudden appearance of Jesus (v.36) … and more  fear.. and more being troubled and more doubts… but  v.41 gives  us  a redeeming insight : “ And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling….”  It was dawning on them again. Jesus is alive! , and in v. 45 we read how Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.  

Now  let us learn from  this: Unless the Lord regularly meets us, and helps us to see Him  and opens the Scriptures to us  so that our hearts burn, we will not see, and we will easily lapse into unbelief. Remember that the entire life of a Christian  is lived  by grace and by  revelation from God.  If this were not so,  we would  continue in the  deadness of our unbelief. Thank God then for the resurrection of Christ  by which the Living Lord  comes and  ministers to us! Amen.

[1] The Church’s One Foundation – Samuel J. Stone (1866 )
[2] The first day of the week  ( Sunday) is called  “Yom Rishon”   i.e. “day , the first” 
[3] Isaiah 6:9 – “ Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive…”  quoted  by Jesus in Matt  13:14,15
[4] Only found in Luke’s gospel

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