It’s only been 2 weeks since we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord – the historical and theological foundation of the Christian faith – and yet, for many the joy and enthusiasm and conviction have already faded. For some, even some who worshipped right here, the attitude is one of apathy: Christ is risen – so what? For others it’s: Christ is risen – now what? It’s completely understandable if these weeks feel like something of a letdown after the buildup of Lent, the drama of Holy Week, and the joy of Easter Sunday. Christ is risen and Easter was great but now we’re back to the humdrum of life. Has Easter made any difference at all? If you’ve ever had doubts or fears or sadness or a sense of meaninglessness in life – you’re not alone. On that first Easter evening the disciples were gathered in a locked room – and they’re experiencing their own letdown after the drama of their Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection. The fledgling Christian church was gathered in this room and it was leaderless and purposeless, bordering on hopeless – had the Church died along with Christ? What were they supposed to do now? Jesus had promised before he died: I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you (John 14:18) – and he kept that promise then and he keeps it today. Jesus shows us exactly where to look for continued joy, faith and courage – even in these cold, gloomy days after Easter. He tells us to find him in his powerful Word.
While the disciples in that room had seen the empty tomb and heard from those who had seen the resurrected Lord, there was still a lot of uncertainty as to what, exactly, had happened. Jesus’ body was not in the tomb, but what did that mean? Was he a spirit? A ghost? Were those who had seen him mistaken? Was he simply living on in their hearts in some mystical way? As a careful historian and physician, Luke took great care to record the evidence – we might even say “scientific” evidence – of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. In his Gospel Luke links Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to something that only living, breathing human beings need: food.
Just a few verses earlier, Luke records Jesus’ appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. They didn’t recognize him until he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. (Luke 24:30) Having realized that Jesus was not dead but risen, they rushed back to Jerusalem to give their report to the rest of the disciples. While they were all comparing notes about what they had seen and heard Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” This was a common Jewish greeting in those days (Hebrew shalom) but coming from Jesus, this was more than just a greeting. Jesus distilled the entire Gospel – and spelled out the lasting impact of his suffering, death, and resurrection – in one word. Sin has been paid for once and for all. Guilt is wiped away. God and man have been reconciled. Satan is crushed. Death is defeated. The grave can’t hold us. Our loved ones who died in faith are living in heaven. You will be reunited with them. Nothing in all the world can separate us from God’s love. Add it all up and you get peace.
But the disciples weren’t buying it yet. They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. But this was no ghost. Jesus showed them the nail marks in his hands and feet which mark him as the same man who was nailed to the cross on Calvary. John adds we have heard…we have seen…and our hands have touched. (1 John 1:1) He is touchable. He is real. He has bones and flesh and blood. And there’s more. This real, touchable, flesh and blood Jesus also has a stomach. He asks for something to eat. I don’t read a lot of ghost stories – but I’ve never heard one where the ghost eats your dinner. But Jesus did. Not because he needed food in his glorified state but to give indisputable evidence that he had risen from the dead with a real, human body.
But then Jesus takes things in a direction we wouldn’t expect. Having proven that he is the real, living, breathing, resurrected Savior, Jesus actually directed the disciples’ attention away from himself, his own physical presence among them: 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.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” Why would Jesus rehearse the prophecies of Scripture and his fulfillment of them at this point? Why does he go back to Scripture written hundreds and thousands of years earlier when he’s standing right in front of them? Because he knows something they don’t: he won’t be physically present with them much longer. In only 40 days he will return to his Father’s side in heaven. And when that happened the disciples would need more than their own fickle memories to rest their faith on. They would need solid, documented, incorruptible evidence. More than that, Jesus knew that millions of people would be born after his Ascension, people who would never see him with their own eyes – like us – and that we would need a solid, unchanging foundation for faith. And so in one breath Jesus establishes two important truths for us: 1) He confirms the validity of the Old Testament as God’s own Word and clarifies that its message from Genesis to Malachi is about him and his work of redemption; and 2) he authorizes these disciples to be his witnesses, to be the authors of the NT books which would form the foundation for the Church until the end of time.
But none of this would have mattered if Jesus hadn’t opened their minds to see and believe it. Jesus wasn’t telling the disciples anything they hadn’t heard before. They knew the OT, they had heard Jesus’ preaching, they had seen his suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection with their own eyes. But they still didn’t believe that it all had to happen according to God’s plan of salvation. That tells us something. It tells us that you can know all the facts and still not believe. You can know the Bible by heart and still not trust that it is really good news for you. For believing Christians, this concept may seem strange, but it’s actually our default setting. We were all born spiritually blind by sin and close-minded to the truth. (2 Corinthians 4:4) We are born into this world with the delusion that we are independent, self-sufficient gods. We think our word, our opinions, our feelings carry the day. We imagine that we’re the masters of our own destiny. Worst of all we are wired to believe that we can save ourselves (test it: ask any non-Christian how a person gets to heaven). And we would remain deluded and damned unless God did something about it.
Thankfully, he did and he does. In the exact same way that Jesus opened the minds of those first disciples. In the third article of the creed we confess: “I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” This is so important: reason and logic and emotional, persuasive arguments – even the miracle of someone rising from the dead (Luke 16:31) – don’t create saving faith. We are so completely dead and blind that God himself must open our minds to believe the things that are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14) The Bible is a closed book without God’s gift of faith, and God himself provides the solution: faith comes from hearing the message. (Romans 10:17) That’s why Jesus didn’t just leave us with a book but sent out apostles to give eyewitness testimony, pastors to preach, teachers to teach, parents and friends to instruct and encourage, and Baptism and a Supper to receive.
Now, some say that preaching and teaching Scripture is not enough, that it’s just a story – and you can’t find God in a story. They’re half right. The Bible is the story of God’s efforts to save a broken world – but that’s not all it is. It is the power of God for salvation. (Romans 1:16) It is living and active. (Hebrews 4:12) It carries God’s guarantee to achieve the purpose for which [he] sent it. (Isaiah 55:11) It’s the only thing that can pry open closed minds and bring forgiveness and life to dead, unbelieving hearts. The suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus is history. That’s true. But his history is our only hope for forgiveness of sins, peace with God, and an eternity in heaven. Can all of those blessings come from something as humble as the Gospel? Think of how you came to faith. Maybe your parents who had you baptized as a baby and gave you the priceless gift of a Christian education. Maybe a coworker, neighbor or friend invited you to a Bible study. Maybe you don’t even know why you woke up one Sunday morning and came to church. But whatever the case, we all have one thing in common – someone told us the simple facts of Jesus’ death and resurrection, God opened our minds through the power of the Word.
And it all started in the most unlikely of circumstances: a locked room full of fearful, doubting, disbelieving disciples. Having opened the disciples’ minds, Jesus also opened their mouths. The rest of the NT records that the disciples did what Jesus commanded, they testified to what they had seen and heard – beginning in Jerusalem and spreading throughout the world. According to tradition John carried the Gospel to Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) and Greece. Thomas preached in India. Philip taught in Armenia. Paul carried the Gospel to Rome and perhaps to Spain. And, by God’s grace, the Gospel has been passed down from them through 2000 years to us.
Now it’s our turn. Now we, too, are witnesses of the Risen Lord. I don’t know about you, but – as the result of the church Growth movement of the past several decades – witnessing is often narrowly defined as knocking on the doors of perfect strangers, having an uncomfortable conversation, and trying to persuade someone to believe something they don’t care about. While I am not saying that door-to-door evangelism is wrong, the fact is that we don’t have a single example of that method in the NT. We do see God arranging circumstances so that his witnesses were in the right place at the right time – think of Philip and the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40) or Paul and the man from Macedonia (Acts 16:9). We see disciples witnessing to friends and parents teaching children. When they were put on trial they testified to the facts. When you read about how the Gospel spread in the early days of the Church, you don’t see any carefully crafted marketing strategies or pitches, you see people – flesh and blood humans like us – simply and calmly explaining the facts of Scripture. Most importantly, the job of a witness is not to convince anyone of anything – only God can do that. We are not salesmen, we are witnesses. Our job is simply to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (1 Peter 3:15). And if you can recite the creeds, you know the facts and reasons. Jesus suffered. Jesus died. Jesus rose. He was handed over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification. (Romans 4:25) And you’ve seen him in the Old and New Testaments. You’ve received him in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. You’ve heard his message of forgiveness. You have the peace and hope he died to win for you. That’s it. That’s witnessing. And growing in our knowledge and love of that good news and sharing it with others is what Jesus has commanded us to do.
So, whenever you think “Christ is risen…now what?” Remember these words of your risen and living Savior. He has not left us without guidance, direction and comfort. He has made us who we are and told what we are to be busy doing. This confused, blind, postmodern world doesn’t need slick marketing schemes, foolish promises of better health or wealth, or one more program to squeeze into already busy schedules. It only needs one thing: it needs Jesus. It needs the One with the wounds and words of salvation. The One who swallowed up death like he swallowed that broiled fish. The One about whom the Scriptures testify. The world needs to hear the Word, repentance and forgiveness of sins, law and gospel. And whenever you doubt that or doubt it’s power, just remember that you are living evidence that it has the power to do exactly what Jesus promised. May God continue to open our minds and our mouths with his powerful Word. Amen.