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The Resurrection: Luke 24

April 23rd, 2011


This makes for a very long post, but I wanted to combine my three posts on the last chapter of Luke for Easter, because all of the events of that chapter happened that day, except for the last four verses. We’re used to thinking of the Biblical accounts of Jesus’ resurrection being only about the empty tomb in the morning, but Jesus continued to appear throughout that day. The encounter on the road to Emmaus happened that afternoon, and Jesus’ first appearance to his disciples took place that evening. All of these things took place on that first Easter. So although you may not have time to read all of this before you have to get to sunrise service, I hope this look at Luke’s account of the first Easter will be meaningful to you at some point throughout the day. He is risen!

The Resurrection

1On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5In 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? 6He 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.’ ” 8Then they remembered his words.

In my post on the accounts of the resurrection in Mark, I wondered why the women went to the tomb alone, with no one to help roll the stone away. The stone which covered the entrance to the tomb was a heavy, circular shaped stone, running in a groove and settled down into a channel, so it could not be moved except by several strong men. This was done to ensure that no one would disturb the remains. Mark tells us that, on the way there, the women wondered to themselves who would roll the stone away for them (Mark 16:3). The disciples must still have been afraid to go there for fear of arrest by the Roman guard, which should still have been there, guarding the tomb. They had placed a Roman seal on it, which only they had the authority to remove. So the women must have been hoping the soldiers would move the stone for them, so they could complete the anointing of Jesus’ body. These were the same women who had witnessed the crucifixion and Jesus’ burial.

When they arrived, the stone had been rolled away, and the Roman soldiers were gone. The stone was not rolled away so that Jesus could get out. We know from John 20:19 that Jesus in his resurrected body could pass through solid walls. The stone was rolled away so that others could get in and see that he was risen. The women walked in and saw that Jesus’ body was missing. At first, they were puzzled, as anyone would be. As it says in verse 4, while they were wondering about this, two angels appeared to them. Mark only tells us of one angel in the tomb (Mark 16:5). I believe there’s enough Biblical evidence to indicate that Mary, the mother of Jesus was present at this scene. She may have been the “Mary the mother of James” that Luke names in verse 10, since Jesus had a brother named James, who was head of the church in Jerusalem at the time Luke wrote his gospel, which may account for the fact that he refers to Mary in this way. We know she was present at the crucifixion (John 19:25), and many Biblical scholars believe that the myrrh the Magi left as a gift when Jesus was a child (Matthew 2:11) was intended to anoint his body for burial, so it makes sense that she would have been there to use it. Biblical scholars also believe that Luke got a lot of his material from interviews with Mary. I say all of that to say that I can’t help but think it was Mary who told Luke that it wasn’t just one angel, but two. When Mary Magdelene went back to the tomb, she also saw two angels (John 20:11-12).

The angels were dressed in “clothes that gleamed like lightning.” The word used here is similar to the description of Jesus at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:29). The implication is not of a light shining on them, but a brilliant light shining out from within them. They literally shone with the light of Jesus (blog). The angels essentially asked the women why they did not take Jesus at his word when said he would rise on the third day. If they had, they would not be looking for him in a tomb. How good are we at taking Jesus at his word?

9When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12Peter, 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.

The women ran back and told the disciples what they had seen and heard. The disciples didn’t believe it, because “their words seemed to them like nonsense.” Of course a story like this would seem too good to be true. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is, right? But these women were literally telling the gospel of the resurrection of Christ. The Gospel always sounds like nonsense to those who don’t believe (1 Corinthians 1:18). At that point, the women were believers, but Jesus’ own disciples were not.

Then Peter decided to investigate for himself. After hearing the women’s story, he at least believed them enough to accept that it was safe to go there because the Roman soldiers were gone. We know from John’s gospel that John went with him (John 20:3). But where Peter saw the strips of linen lying there, but still went away puzzled, John saw and believed (John 20:8). I have my own theory as to why this is, which you can read in my post on the accounts of the resurrection in Mark and John. But one thing is clear. From the appearance of the grave clothes, it was obvious that the body had not been stolen. If it had been, the thieves would not have unwrapped the body first, nor would they have taken the trouble to fold up the cloth “by itself, separate from the linen,” as John  describes (John 20:6-7).  We don’t know the actual details of Jesus’ resurrection, but we know from the evidence and testimony in the gospels that he is risen. He is risen indeed!

On the Road to Emmaus

13Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. 14They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16but they were kept from recognizing him.

The account of Jesus’ appearance to two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus only appears here, in Luke. It appears to be afternoon, since they say it is “nearly evening” later in the story. Jesus had already appeared to Mary Magdelene (John 20:10-18), and he also appeared to Peter at some point during these two disciples’ journey, though that encounter is not recorded in the gospels. So this seems to be the second or third appearance of the resurrected Jesus. It’s easy to understand why Jesus would appear to Mary and to Peter, since they were both very close to Jesus. But here, Jesus appears to two lesser known disciples, walking on their own. I can’t help but wonder why Jesus chose to appear to these two men in this circumstance. Only one of the two disciples is named, Cleopas. This is probably the Greek version of the Jewish name Clopas. Clopas is identified in John 19:25 as the husband of one of the Marys who was present at the crucifixion. The gospel writers often mentioned people by name because they were known in the early church. Clopas was the father of Simeon, who was later head of the church in Jerusalem.

These two disciples walked along the road, dejected, yet puzzled by the news they had heard that day. They didn’t yet dare to hope that what they had heard was true. They were so preoccupied with their conversation about everything that had happened, they didn’t notice that a stranger was walking with them. How long did Jesus walk alongside them, listening to their conversation, before they became aware that someone was there? How often do we go through life not realizing that Jesus is right there with us?

17He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18One 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. 20The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21but 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. 22In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”

Jesus interrupts their conversation and asks them what they are talking about so intently. I imagine that he startled them. That may have been the first time they even noticed that someone was there. They stood still, their faces downcast. They were so surprised by this question that they stopped walking. The modern day equivalent of their question to Jesus would be, “Have you been living under a rock?” Everyone in Jerusalem knew of the events of the past few days, and this stranger appeared to be coming from Jerusalem like they were. How could he not know about what had happened with Jesus? Of course, Jesus did know very well. He was drawing them out. Even though God knows very well what’s troubling us, he still wants us to tell him all about it.

Their answer to Jesus revealed how little they understood Jesus’ mission and the nature of his kingdom. Though we understand today that Jesus was more than a prophet, for them to call Jesus “a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people” was high praise, putting him on the same level as Moses, Elijah, Daniel, and others of similar stature in Judaism. They had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. This shows that they had still expected Jesus to be a political Messiah, to free Israel from Roman oppression, in spite of all he had said. The concept of a suffering Messiah was not taught at that time. The idea was completely foreign to them. Then they related to Jesus the women’s account of what they saw at the tomb. So they had been there with the other disciples that morning when the women told their story, and had still been there when Peter and John came back from the tomb, but had not heard Mary Magdelene’s account. Don’t you hate it when you miss the best part?

25He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26Did not the Christ[b] have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Jesus rebukes them for their lack of understanding. He calls them foolish, using the Greek word anoetos, which means “unintelligent, foolish, dull-witted.” He’s calling them idiots! But the real indictment is when he also calls them slow of heart to believe. A lack of intelligence won’t keep us from believing. But being slow of heart to believe will. Then Jesus began what has to be one of the greatest Bible lessons ever given. He went though all of the Old Testament, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, and pointed out to them how each of the prophecies regarding him had been fulfilled. Cleopas and his companion must have related these lessons to the other disciples. These lessons must have formed the basis of much of the Apostles’ teaching later. The Old Testament references quoted in Acts may well have come from Jesus himself in this conversation. One passage in particular that must have have been stressed by Jesus as they walked is the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12. That passage was not taught as Messianic at that time, but if you read it and see the Suffering Servant as the Messiah, it’s clearly a prediction of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s so powerful and compelling that for centuries it was banned from public reading in the synagogues lest any more Jews see the Messiah in it and convert to Christianity.

28As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. 29But 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.

30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

When they arrived at Emmaus, Jesus pretended to be going further, knowing they would invite him to come in. Emmaus must have been where one or both of them lived. They were going home. They probably left Jerusalem when they did in order to get home before dark. They were so enthralled with Jesus’ teaching, still not realizing that it was him, that they invited this stranger in to stay with them and continue his teaching. The more you walk with Jesus, the more you want him around.

They reclined at the table, and though Jesus was a guest, the disciples must have regarded him as a learned rabbi, and asked him to offer the blessing for the bread. This would have been unleavened bread, as the Feast of Unleavened Bread was still going on. It’s at this point that their eyes were opened. There’s lots of speculation about what it was that made them realize that it was Jesus there with them. Two things stand out for me. When Jesus offered the blessing, it would have been the same one he used at the Last Supper, the traditional Jewish blessing of the bread: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the world, who has caused bread to come forth out of the earth.” How many times had these two men seen and heard Jesus offer this blessing before breaking bread? I think when Cleopas and his companion heard Jesus’ blessing, it rang a bell for them. Then Jesus picked up the bread and broke it, using both hands. That made his sleeves drop below his wrists, and they saw the nail scars. That’s when they knew it was Jesus.

As soon as they recognized him, he disappeared! Now why did he do that? Because the whole point of his appearance to them was to get them to believe. As soon as they believed, his appearance to them was no longer necessary. They then realized that Jesus had been with them the whole time. What will it take for us to realize that Jesus is with us all the time? But Luke doesn’t say Jesus vanished from their presence, he only says Jesus vanished from their sight. He reappeared later, after they arrived back in Jerusalem. I think it’s possible that Jesus stayed with them until they were back with the other disciples, then he reappeared. We may not feel like Jesus is there with us all the time, but he is.

33They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Clepoas and the other disciple got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. The NLB and Amplified Bible say that they returned within the hour. I imagine that they forgot all about the meal they were about to eat, and left it uneaten on the table. They were so excited that Jesus is alive, they forgot about their hunger. How excited are we that Jesus is alive?

When they got back to the rest of the disciples, they found that Jesus had already appeared to Peter. The disciples didn’t mention that Jesus had also appeared to Mary Magdelene, or at least Luke doesn’t record that they did. But Jesus had now appeared to at least two men. The requirement for legal testimony in Judaism is two witnesses. In the Jewish mind at that time, that would be considered confirmation that a story was true. That may be why they didn’t mention Mary’s story. I could be wrong about this, but I don’t believe women were allowed to testify in court in that culture. But the fact that the disciples now had two male eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection made them believe that it was true.

36While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

37They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39Look 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.”

40When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate it in their presence.

John says the disciples had their doors locked for fear of the Jews (John 20:19). So just as Jesus had vanished from the home of Cleopas, he reappeared in the house where the disciples were. Locked doors were no obstacle for him. John also confirms that this happened on the evening of Easter Sunday. This was still the same day that Jesus rose. Jesus knew what their reaction would be to his sudden appearance, so the first thing he says is, “Peace be with you.”

The disciples thought they were seeing a ghost, which is understandable. Jesus understood their fear and reluctance to accept what they saw, so he provided demonstrations to prove that his body is physical. He showed them his scars, and ate a piece of fish. The resurrected Jesus also ate with his disciples by the sea of Galilee, when he restored Peter (John 21:13-15). Luke and John didn’t give us these details lightly. They were purposely included to prove that Jesus was resurrected bodily from the grave. At the time the gospels were written, there was a form of heresy going around called Gnosticism, which held that the flesh is evil and spirit is good, therefore Jesus did not have a physical body. Luke and John were refuting that heresy by making sure their readers knew that Jesus did have a physical body, before and after he rose. But his resurrected body wasn’t bound by time and space like ours are, and like his body was before his resurrection.

I have believed for many years that the resurrected body of Jesus is the model of what our resurrected bodies will be like. 1 Corinthans 15:49 says, “And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” The resurrected Jesus was not a phantom, or a disembodied spirit. He walked for miles on the road to Emmaus. He had flesh and bones. He still had his scars. It was recognizably him. I believe that our resurrected bodies will be like that. We won’t be disembodied spirits, but will have physical bodies that will be recognizably us. I know people hope that our resurrected bodies will be perfect, young, and thin. But Jesus’ resurrected body still had its scars. That may have been a special case, but I doubt it. I don’t think that means that we will still have the infirmities that we had in this life. Those infirmities make us mortal, and our resurrected bodies will be immortal (1 Corinthians 15:53). But if you look like Danny Devito now, I don’t think you’ll be able to choose to look like Brad Pitt. You’ll look like yourself. In fact, you’ll be yourself more completely than you ever were in this life. You just won’t care about your appearance like you do now. Earthly standards of beauty will no longer apply. We will be like him, for we will see him as he is (1 John 3:2).

44He 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.”

45Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49I 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.”

Jesus then reminded them again of how he had told them what he must suffer, so that all of the prophecies about him could be fulfilled. But they still didn’t get it until he opened their minds. I feel that, over the course of writing this blog since August of 2008, God has opened my mind to the scriptures, and he continues to do so. Lord, open our minds so that we can understand and believe what you’re trying to tell us! In verse 46, Jesus combines his suffering, death and resurrection with the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sin into one sentence. The two go together. The cross was not some obstacle Jesus had to overcome to get to his glory. It’s the cross that makes repentance and forgiveness possible. In verse 48, he calls his disciples witnesses. That doesn’t just mean that they saw what happened, but that they were to bear witness, like testifying at a trial. And they did testify to the resurrection, both in evangelism and in testifying at their own trials, where many of them were martyred.

The disciples may have wanted to rush out into the countryside and start telling people that Jesus was alive right then and there, but Jesus told them to stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. The disciples’ testimony would not have the power it needed until Jesus sent what his Father had promised, and they were clothed with power from on high. Our testimony will not have the power we need it to have if we speak in our own strength. We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit, so we can be clothed with power from on high.

50When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

We know from John 21 that Jesus did appear to his disciples again, by the Sea of Galilee. Luke provides a few more details about the ascension in the first chapter of Acts in the form of a “flashback.” (Acts 1:6-11, blog). But here, he focuses on the disciples. Verse 52 says they worshiped him. That means they accepted that Jesus is God. Only God is worthy of our worship. After Jesus had risen and ascended into Heaven, their fear of the religious leadership vanished. They didn’t hide behind locked doors anymore. Instead, they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. When we have really had an encounter with the resurrected Jesus, our lives are lives of worship and praise. Have you met the risen Lord?

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