READ : Luke 24:13-35
Meeting the living Lord Jesus will produce the biggest change that could ever happen to your life.
What a remarkable day it had been! Without question, it was the most astonishing day the world has ever seen. The unusual events that set this day apart from every other one before or since began just after sunrise when a small group of women approached a tomb in a garden. They were coming, as they thought, to finish anointing the body of their master for burial. Jesus had been crucified two days before and because he died just as the Jewish Sabbath was about to begin, there hadn’t been time to bury him properly. So a handful of women, among them some of his relatives and one or two of his most devoted followers, were now intending to finish the job. It was little enough that they could do for him. They couldn’t wipe away the shame and the injustice of his death by crucifixion, but at least they could see that his body was paid every respect. He would not be simply hurried into the ground like a common criminal. His body would be buried with all the care that love could show.
But when the women reached the grave, they found that the great stone blocking its entrance had been rolled away and the tomb itself was empty. They were more than puzzled. They were deeply disturbed, and their confusion only worsened when two angels appeared to them and announced that the reason the Lord’s body was gone was because he had risen from the dead. The women’s reaction to that piece of news was pretty much what I think yours or mine would have been. They found it hard to believe.
The women mostly scattered and ran in panic, some to tell the disciples what they had heard, others simply wandering about in shock and grief. Eventually several of them came in with the most incredible story of all – that they had seen the Lord with their own eyes! He was alive! He had risen from death! The disciples refused to believe the women, although a couple of them did run to the garden and confirmed that Jesus’ tomb was indeed empty.
ON THE ROAD TO EMMAUS
Now it was late afternoon on this confusing day, the day that would later come to be called Easter. Two more of Jesus’ followers were walking from Jerusalem to the little town of Emmaus, about seven miles distant, where they lived. One was a man named Cleopas. We don’t know who the other disciple was except that he was not one of the original twelve. In fact, the second disciple may not have been a “he” at all; since these two apparently lived together, it would be natural to assume that they were husband and wife. At any rate, these disciples were just as bewildered as all the rest. To the heartsick grief they felt at losing the Lord they had loved, they now added the confusion of wondering what had become of his body. What in the world was happening?
As these two walked along the road, they naturally talked about all the strange reports that were flying about. During their discussion they were joined by another man whom they did not recognize but who began to question them about their conversation. When they told the stranger about Jesus’ death and their own disappointment and grief, he immediately rebuked them for their doubt. Then he opened the scriptures to them, showing how the Old Testament spoke of the necessity of the Messiah’s suffering and death and also prophesying the glory of his resurrection.
When they finally reached Emmaus, Cleopas and his companion prevailed upon the stranger (who, of course, was Jesus himself) to stop at their home and share the evening meal with them. What happened next was truly astonishing.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
(Luke 24:30-32, niv)
Cleopas and his companion immediately got up, hurried back to Jerusalem to the house where Jesus’ followers were gathered (how the miles must have flown beneath their feet!), and burst in with their news.
“PEACE BE WITH YOU”
But the day’s amazing events were not finished yet.
While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look 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.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.
When Jesus appeared to the assembled disciples on Easter evening, his first concern had to be to prove to them that he was real, and not a ghost or a vision. So he invited them to touch him, to confirm that he was physical and substantial, that his body was no mere phantom but a solid thing. He showed them his hands and his feet, still bearing the wounds of the cross – not because his resurrection body was marred or imperfect but as evidence that it was really he himself, the same Jesus who had died and was now alive forevermore. He even took food and ate it in order to calm their fears. He did all this because when he suddenly appeared in their midst his followers reacted exactly as we should have expected them to. They “were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost” (v. 37).
This entire account by the New Testament historian Luke rings absolutely true to human psychology. Some critics have argued that the resurrection of Jesus is a sort of myth, a symbolic story invented by the early church to account for their conviction that Jesus’ spirit and influence lived on with his followers after his crucifixion. But the disciples, as we meet them in the Easter story, don’t look anything like mythmakers. They weren’t sitting around thinking lofty thoughts about the nobility of Jesus’ teaching. They weren’t looking for ways to preserve his memory for posterity. They weren’t consulting together on a plan to ensure that their late master’s influence extended to succeeding generations. To a man (and woman), Jesus’ followers were confused and helpless, terrified that what had happened to him might befall them as well. The last thing they expected was to see him again.
After all, they had seen him die. These men and women were not ignorant or naive. People back then knew just as well as we do – probably better – what happens to bodies after they die. Now with a shock, they look up to see the Lord walking among them and talking to them. Of course they reacted naturally, just as any normal person would. They thought what they saw wasn’t real.
Jesus had a tough time getting them to believe their own eyes. In fact, it took him longer than just one day. Luke writes in another place that he appeared over forty days and offered his disciples “many convincing proofs of his resurrection,” meaning that the evidences he gave them were both numerous and eventually successful. Though it took some doing, Jesus finally did convince his doubtful followers that he was alive. Biblical Christianity is just the opposite of blind faith. It’s based on evidence that points to facts. It is solidly grounded in historical reality, not in shadowy legends or speculative ideas.
Once the pandemonium in the Upper Room had settled down and the disciples, while not altogether comfortable, at least became quiet, he began to teach them.
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.”
The first Christians were a group of ordinary men and women. They weren’t particularly well educated or wealthy. They weren’t drawn from the circles of society’s powerful and elite. To start with they weren’t highly motivated, or well organized or disciplined. If anything, the opposite was true. But something happened to them that day that turned this disheartened little band into the community of the Easter people, and the world has never been the same since.
Who are Easter people? Easter people are those who have met Jesus Christ, and who have peace and joy and purpose in living as a result. No matter what the circumstances, no matter how dark and confused life becomes, there is a reality, a joy, that nothing can shake. It seems that after their initial bewilderment at seeing Jesus wore off, the thing that kept most of the disciples from believing wholeheartedly in him was their amazement that this was just too good to be true. Yet, true it was.
Easter people know that the end of the story is not death. Death doesn’t have the last word because Jesus is alive. Novelist Frederick Beuchner beautifully tells the story of Brendon, an Irish saint who lived 1500 years ago. One Easter Brendon and his friends celebrated the joy of Jesus’ resurrection together.
“O jubilate! O jubilo!” cry the five of us to the wind . . . Clown Crosan picks stones off the beach. He juggles them grave-faced.
“They blocked him in his grave with stones like these. They might as well have used eggs,” says he.
He follows their curved path thru the air with his eyes, “Whoopsa! Now you don’t see him, now you do!” he cries. “Fresh as dawn rose he. There’s no such ugly thing at all as death for them as have their sunrise life from him.”
(Frederick Beuchner, Brendan)
Easter people are also people who bear witness to the truth about Jesus and his risen life. A witness is someone who can testify to the facts. A witness doesn’t necessarily have to be eloquent or brilliant in debate or know everything. All a good witness has to do is know the truth about the matter in question and be willing to speak up about it. In the case of the gospel, the facts are these: Christ suffered and died, but he rose from the dead on the third day, and in his name repentance and the forgiveness of sins is offered to the whole world (vv. 46-48). All anyone has to do is turn from the emptiness of life without him to the fullness of life with him.
I’d like to bear witness to you right now. Jesus died long ago, but he is alive today. He rose, really and truly, from the grave. Nothing like that has ever happened anywhere else. And I’m convinced that what will make all the difference in the world to you, the thing that will change your life forever, is not merely to hear about Jesus’ resurrection but to meet the risen Christ himself. You can do that too. Will you bow your head right now and pray?
“Lord Jesus, I would like to be one of your Easter people. I ask you to meet me now with your life and power. I believe in you; I commit myself entirely to you. Amen!”