Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 24:36–24:49
The Third Sunday of Easter
April 18-19, 2015
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! We continue to speak that Easter greeting and we continue to focus on the risen Lord Jesus Christ in this season of Easter. Easter doesn’t end when all the chocolate bunnies have been eaten or after we’ve found all the eggs that have been hidden. Much more than a day – Easter Sunday – Easter is an entire season. In fact, Easter is more than that. Easter is a perspective on life and the world that influences how we see everything around us, even death. In a world that is constantly moving on to whatever the next new and shiny thing is, there is great wisdom in keeping an entire season that is devoted to the truth that we worship and serve a risen Savior. Jesus is not in the grave, but is risen from the dead. He lives and reigns to all eternity. The 50 days of Easter help us to go deeper into what this means for our lives today as we follow Jesus and join him on his mission. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus appears to his startled and frightened disciples who are uncertain at best and despairing at worst. Jesus reveals to them that it is really He himself who is appearing to them, and that his suffering, death and resurrection are all in fulfillment of what was written in Scripture. These uncertain and frightened disciples, they themselves would be the bearers of the good news of repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ Name to all nations. And so the message for this day is entitled “Easter Fulfillment.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
If we’re going to understand what the Scriptures are all about – both Old and New Testaments – then we have to understand who Jesus is. He is the key to unlocking what the Word of God has to say. Apart from him, the Scriptures remain a closed book that is unfulfilled. Anybody here watching the A.D. series on the History channel? I watched the episode last Sunday evening, which was about Jesus’ resurrection appearances to his disciples – very timely. Following his suffering and death upon the cross, Jesus himself must make himself known to his followers, the disciples, because he himself must interpret to them all that has happened. And this is not just for their sake, but for our sake as well. An empty grave could mean many different things, and so could a missing body. In order to dispel all rumor and false reports, the risen Jesus appears to his disciples. And what is the first word out of his mouth? “Peace to you!” (Luke 24:36). For disciples who had all turned tail and run, abandoning their Teacher and Lord in the hour of his greatest need, this surely was not the word they were expecting! His body is now a resurrected body not bound by space or the laws of nature, and yet Jesus invites his dumbfounded disciples: “See my hands and my feet, that is it I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). The risen Savior even eats a piece of broiled fish as they watch him! Luke describes so accurately this moment when he writes: “And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling…” (Luke 24:41a). All of this to convince the disciples that Jesus truly was risen from the dead and standing in their midst!
Having done all this, Jesus tells then tells those same disciples: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). None of what happened was accidental or by chance. No, this was all according to plan – God’s plan. This is what Peter speaks about in today’s Epistle lesson (Acts 3:11-21). After the man who was unable to walk from birth was healed, Peter addressed the crowd: “But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that is Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:18-19). In his sermon at Pentecost, Peter says this also: “… this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:23-24). This is Easter fulfillment – first for Jesus, and through Jesus, for you and for me, and for all who put their trust in him.
After He appeared to them, we are told that Jesus had to open the minds of the disciples to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45). This word “opened” is the same word used earlier in Luke 24 when Jesus appeared to the disciples at Emmaus, when their eyes were opened to recognize Jesus as He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:31), and when Jesus opened the Scriptures to them (Luke 24:31). Jesus has to open our minds also. Truth be told, our minds and our hearts are often closed tight to shut him out, whether we intend to do so or not. After that first Easter, the first disciples weren’t out looking for Jesus. Oh sure, they went to the tomb to check it out, but that was it. They didn’t come to Jesus; He came to them. And that’s still how it works today. The risen Savior comes to us in the midst of our fear and uncertainty. He comes to us and says to us what He said to his first disciples: “Peace to you!” (Luke 24:36) – peace which the world cannot give (John 14:27); peace which passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7)., Jesus alone can give this peace.
This past Thursday, April 16, was a city holiday in Washington, D.C. – Emancipation Day, commemorating President Abraham Lincoln’s signing the Compensated Emancipation Act on April 16, 1862 which freed about 3100 slaves living in the District of Columbia. But in a larger and greater sense, Easter is our Emancipation Day, when we were set free from slavery to sin, death and hell, signed in the blood of our crucified and risen Redeemer, Jesus Christ. In Jesus who has fulfilled all that was written of him in the Law of Moss and the Prophets and the Psalms, we are set free – free to love and serve as He himself has loved and served. This sermon will now end, but it remains to be fulfilled – lived out – in each of our lives. May God help us to do this for Jesus’ sake. Amen.