The Lord's Day Morning
January 22, 2012
“Jesus Stood Among Them”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke 24. We’re going to look at verses 36 to 49 together this morning. The passage begins with the words, “As they were talking about these things.” It's important for us the last time we were in Luke together Jesus was joining the two, downcast disciples, in their walk from Jerusalem, seven miles to the little village of Emmaus. They didn't realize it was Jesus at first. They were pouring out their hearts at how all their hopes had been dashed when Jesus, whom they had hoped to be the one who would redeem Israel, had been crucified. He had been delivered up by the very chief priests and scribes of the people, the most respected religious leaders, and that conversation is carried on. And then Jesus, still unbeknownst to them, took them to the Scriptures and taught them about the humiliation and the exaltation of the Messiah; and then He sat down with them in their home, He broke bread, and in the breaking of bread, suddenly their eyes were opened and they realized it was Jesus. And then He vanished. We’re told by Luke that they immediately made their way back to Jerusalem to find The Eleven, that is, the core of the apostles that Jesus had left, minus Judas who had already betrayed Him and fallen; minus, at this point, Thomas, who's not there with them, but they’re still called The Eleven because they’re the eleven disciples who still loved and trusted in Jesus. And they go back to tell them that Jesus has been raised from the dead; He is risen indeed. And it's in that context that this story happens, so let's pray and ask for God's blessing as we prepare to hear His Word.
Lord, we ask You to open our eyes as we read the Word. It will become apparent in a few moments to us all why that is so important, but we do ask it, that You would make us to see who Jesus is and what He has done, to see His heart for sinners and to respond believing Him, trusting Him, putting our faith and our hope in Him, finding our joy and our treasure and our delight in Him. We ask this in Jesus' name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it beginning in Luke 24 verse 36:
“As they were talking about these things, Jesus Himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’ But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I myself. Touch Me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, He said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave Him a piece of broiled fish, and He took it and ate before them.
Then He said to them, ‘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.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
It's a remarkable scene in a remarkable chapter. First there were the women, going to the tomb and not finding Jesus there. Then there were two disconsolate disciples, winding their way back to the little village of Emmaus, and suddenly He's there with them but hidden from their eyes, teaching them the Scriptures, building the foundation of their hope up again from the shambles and then revealing Himself to them in the breaking of the bread; and suddenly the joy was there again and the hope returned and the life came to pass and they ran back to speak to the disciples and now they’re telling the disciples about that amazing journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. And while the words are in their mouths describing their interactions with Jesus, He's there and He speaks to the disciples. And the very first word out of His mouth to His disciples — what do you think it would be? It's, “Peace, may the favor of My Father that gives total wellbeing be upon you.” You may have been wondering what Jesus would say. What would His first words be to His disciples? Remember, collectively, they have betrayed Him, denied Him, abandoned Him, and disbelieved Him. What are His words going to be?
My father was a kind and loving man. I sometimes wonder how a marine, who was the son of a father who was not a kind and loving man, could have been as loving as my father. But when my father was angry there was a fury in him. I well remember wrecking my first car and my mother taking me to his office where I was appointed to tell him that I had wrecked my first car. And after ascertaining that my health was intact, he blew up! He said, “You will never drive a car of mine as long as you live!” I knew it was coming. A few hours later it was, “Well, I’ll let you drive occasionally.” And that night it was, “Son, why don't you run up to the grocery store and get me some peanut butter?” It waned after time. But I was dreading that first encounter. I wonder what the disciples thought that Jesus would say to them the first time He saw them after their utter failure to follow Him in faith. And His first word is, “Peace.”
And then even later when they’re still troubled, do you remember how He speaks to them words of comfort? It's just like John 14:1. Remember He's the one going to the cross, but on the night of His betrayal He's telling them these words, “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me.” You see, Jesus is a Savior who speaks peace to sinners. And His marvelous forgiving spirit is on full display. No wonder Wilbur Chapman could write, “Jesus, what a Friend for sinners! Hallelujah, what a Savior!” about a Savior like this. He could have recounted in excruciating detail every failure of their hearts but His word to them is, “Peace.”
You remember He had said to them in John 16, “Peace I give to you. My peace I give to you, not as the world gives, give I unto you; let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. I have overcome the world.” Now He's standing before them and He's saying, “Peace be to you.”
FORGIVENESS AND FORGIVING
You know, that's the kind of forgiving Savior you have. He knows everything there is to know about your heart. He knows everything that there is that ought to condemn you and He says, “Peace to you.” The word, you see, is said here so that there is no sinner in this world who thinks that they are more desirous to be forgiven than He is ready to forgive. There is no one in this world who has ever wanted to be pardoned more than He is ready to pardon. That is His heart of love. And we see it on full display as He comes to His disciples. He could have said, “Told you so.” He could have said, “You didn't listen to Me!” But He said, “Peace to you.”
And there's a word not only in that word for our comfort as we consider that He knows our sins and yet He still is loving and forgiving towards us, there's a word for us in how we deal with others. For how could followers of that kind of a Savior, how could disciples of that kind of a forgiving Lord treasure up bitterness in our hearts and refuse to forgive others? How could we do that? What He has forgiven us is greater than we need to forgive. Should we not have hearts like the Savior who said, “Peace,” to these fumbling, bumbling, stumbling, faithless disciples? And Jesus speaks peace to sinners and that's good news for us and it's an exhortation to forgiven sinners to be forgiving. He's taught us to pray, “Lord, forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And it's no wonder He was a forgiving Savior.
CONDESCENSION AND CONFIRMATION
But He was also a Savior concerned to condescend to His disciples’ needs and you see that especially in verses 37 to 43. Notice how Jesus condescends to attest Himself to these startled, frightened, disbelieving disciples. When Jesus speaks to them, verse 37, their reaction is — they were startled, they were frightened, and they thought they’d seen a ghost! And so again, instead of being impatient with them, instead of being angry with them, Jesus said, “Look at My hands; Look at My feet. Look at the scars. I'm real; I've got a body. Ghosts don't have bodies. It's Me. I'm right here in front of you.”
And then He says – it's the strangest thing. When the disciples hear Him say this, notice what it says in verse 41 — “They still disbelieved for joy.” Now their hearts are beginning to lighten. Now they’re beginning to believe that He's here but they’re disbelieving for joy; it's too good to be true. And at that point He says, “Is there anything here to eat?” And they bring Him a piece of broiled fish and He eats it right in front of them. They hadn't seen many ghosts eat broiled fish. And again, He's condescending to their need; they’re struggling to believe. And here's Jesus, attesting Himself to His disciples. He's not asking His disciples to believe Him in contradiction of their senses. Jesus is so kind. He's not encouraging us to some Gnostic faith where in order to be a Christian we have to be in reality break; we have to deny the nose at the end of our face. No, He says, “I'm real. I'm asking you to believe Me not because I'm not real but because I am. I'm asking you to believe Me not because I'm a spirit and I don't have a body but because I do have a body and I'm standing right in front of you — believe Me!” He attests to His reality and to His resurrection.
ILLUMINATION FOR CLARITY
And then, if you look at verses 44 to 47, He opens their minds to understand the Scriptures. He said to them, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you.” Now remember when the women got to the tomb and the angel spoke to the women, what was the exhortation of the angel to the women? “Remember His words.” And you remember when He was walking along with the disciples on the way to Emmaus and they were struggling with disbelief and hopelessness, He took them to the Scriptures and He taught them from the Scriptures all the things about the humiliation and the exaltation of the Messiah. Now, for the third time, think Luke is trying to press a point home? For the third time in Luke 24, again disciples are taken to the Scriptures to the words of Jesus. And so Jesus opens their minds to understand the Scriptures. He says, “These are the words that I told you about before I was crucified, before I was dead, before I was buried, before I was raised again from the dead, before I was standing before you now. These are the very things that I taught you that the Scriptures said were necessary before any of this ever happened.”
Have you ever had that experience — to be taught a passage of Scripture that's been there for three thousand years and you've read it a hundred times but suddenly your eyes are opened? It happens to me all the time and I wonder, “Have I never seen that before?” It's not that the teaching is new; it's not that the teaching wasn't there; it's that our eyes weren't opened. I can remember as a fourteen year old sitting at a youth conference in Tampa, Florida as a pastor opened up Ephesians chapter 1 and began to preach about God's grace and how God reaches out to us in love before we can reach back to Him in faith and repent of our sins. Now friends, I grew up in a Christian home where a mother and a father taught me those things and I had faithful pastors that preached those things every Sunday and Vacation Bible School teachers and Sunday School table teachers and on and on — youth directors, youth workers that taught me those things. And I'm sure that in a measure I understood those but when that preacher preached through Ephesians 1 it was as if it were the first time I had ever read that passage. My eyes were opened and suddenly I realized that my faith was simply the response to God's initiative to me in love. And it was as if I'd never read that passage before in my life.
Jesus is opening the disciples’ eyes to what He's already been teaching them. He's not going to teach them something new now; He's going to teach them what He had been teaching them but their eyes are opened to it. That's one reason, by the way, that we pray for the Spirit to open our eyes to behold wonderful things in God's Word before we read the Word on Sunday mornings. And that's one reason why it's so important for you to put yourself under the Word of God. The senior pastor that Anne worked for in Columbia used to say, “The sermon you need is the sermon you missed.” You need to put yourself under the Word, because you see, I was under the faithful preaching of two Gospel believing ministers who faithfully preached the Word of God Sunday after Sunday, I was under the ministry of loving, believing parents and youth directors and others, and yet it was that day under Ephesians 1 where my eyes were opened. Put yourself under the Word of God. Put yourself under the Word of God often. Put yourself under the Word of God frequently. Put yourself under the Word of God expectantly and pray that the Holy Spirit will open your eyes.
So Jesus takes His disciples right back to the Word. You see, it's important for them to understand that what had happened had already been taught to them by Jesus and was already in the Scriptures. It was vital for their faith to understand that what had happened to Jesus was not an accident. It was part of God's plan and it was so much a part of God's plan that He's already written about it in His Word. And so notice again for the second time in this passage — what does Jesus teach them about? Look at what He says. “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” verse 45, “and He said to them, ‘Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.’” So once again, just like with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, He shows them the humiliation of the Messiah and the exaltation of the Messiah. It's absolutely that they must understand the work that the Messiah came to do. He came to die and He also came to be raised again from the dead.
MANDATE FOR MISSIONS
But He says there's a third thing in there. And this leads us to my final point. Notice there are three things that Jesus says that the Scriptures teach and that He had taught to them in verses 46 and 47 – that the Christ should suffer, that the Christ should rise, and verse 47, “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Jesus is, in this passage, commissioning His disciples to be witnesses to the nations. Look at the very next verse, verse 48. “You are witnesses of these things.” This is Luke's version of the Great Commission that we so often read from Matthew 28. But notice that Luke said there are three things that He has taught them, that Jesus has taught them from the Scripture — that the Christ should suffer, that the Christ should be raised, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed to all the nations in Jesus Christ. Which of those three things had happened? The Christ has suffered, the Christ has risen — what remains to be done? The proclamation of forgiveness of sins, of repentance in the name of Christ, to the nations. And so what does He say to the disciples? “You are My witnesses.” Jesus is giving a mandate for missions in this passage and He's saying, “I've been teaching you this all along. I will die, I will be raised again from the dead, and you will go to all nations proclaiming the forgiveness of sins that My death and resurrection have brought about, received by faith and by repentance. Now you’re going to be My witnesses.”
And then look at what He says. Look at verse 49. “Behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you.” Now that is a unique phrase to Luke — “the promise of My Father.” What is “the promise of My Father”? Well, that phrase occurs again in Acts chapter 1; no surprise, Acts is the sequel to Luke, written by Luke. And in Acts chapter 1, what does Jesus say that God is going to do? That He is going to baptize the disciples with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the promise of the Father. The Holy Spirit is the promise of the Father. And I want you to see that this is not a New Testament idea; it's an Old Testament idea. Turn with me to Galatians chapter 3. In Galatians chapter 3, look at verse 14. Paul is just explaining the cross. In verse 13 he says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law having become a curse for us…in order that” — look at Galatians 3:14 — “in order that” what? “In order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of Spirit through faith.” The blessing of Abraham, the promise of the Father to Abraham is what? The Holy Spirit. The substance of the promise that God made to Abraham way back in Genesis 12 is the Holy Spirit. In the Holy Spirit we enjoy all the blessings of union with Christ.
Now that is the very foundation of missions and it's not just a New Testament idea. Turn with me to Genesis chapter 12 and let's look at this promise that God the Father made to Abraham. Look at verse 2, Genesis 12 verse 2. “I will make you a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” And if you look at the end of Genesis 12 verse 3 — what kind of a blessing? “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” There's the foundation of missions right there. In the promise of God to Abraham that Abraham is to bring blessing to all the families of the earth.
Well here are the disciples — startled, frightened, disbelieving for joy, just having gone through a Bible study with Jesus again and Jesus says to them, “Now, you are going to be My witnesses to go to all nations to proclaim the forgiveness of sins through My death and resurrection and you’re going to do it in the power that only My Father can give you. And that power comes from the Father's promise and the Father's promise is that you will be empowered and indwelt by the Holy Spirit to do this work. So you stay there in Jerusalem until power from on high comes upon you and then I'm going to send you to all the nations to be witnesses for Me.” And of course that is exactly what happens.
And that is a good place for us to be the week before Missions Conference begins because my friends, it is a part of being a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is a part of following Jesus Christ, that you want others to follow Jesus Christ. And it is a part of following Jesus Christ that you want to heed the last command that He gave to His followers which was, “Be My witnesses to all the nations to the ends of the earth preaching the forgiveness of sins which comes by My death and resurrection.” And this is the mandate for missions that Jesus gave to His disciples and it's a mandate for all of us who are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. That's why we take a week every year and we think about this commission and we think about our participation in that mission. It's our desire, and I know it's our elders’ desire, that our whole congregation will feel personally invested and take personal joy in responding with a resounding, “Yes,” to this mandate that Jesus is giving to His disciples. He's saying, “That's what you are. You are My witnesses.” He doesn't just call you to witness; He calls you to be a witness, to view yourself as one who witnesses to the forgiveness of sins that only comes through Jesus Christ. That is something we ought to be excited about and it's something that ought to be a priority for us. If this Savior knows us and is yet so forgiving — peace be to you. If He's so concerned for our comfort and He condescends to our need, if He teaches us the Scriptures patiently and opens our eyes to understanding, ought we not, with joy, want to witness to Him to the nations and say, “Hallelujah! What a Savior!”?
Heavenly Father, we thank You for the forgiving and comforting and illuminating and commissioning Savior that we meet in this passage. We thank You that Luke recorded this for us for our edification and we ask that by Your Spirit we would not only understand it but that we would be transformed by it, that we would catch something of the power and the majesty of what has been transacted before our very eyes in Jesus Christ and that we would be His witnesses from Jerusalem to the very ends of the earth. We ask this in Jesus' name, amen.
Now let's sing another missions hymn, number 447.
Receive the Savior's blessing. Peace to you who are in Christ Jesus.