“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 marvelling, 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 for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:36–48)
The resurrection has taken place. The women at the tomb have run with their astonishing message to the disciples, and Peter has run straight in to the empty burial chamber. Jesus has appeared to two disciples who were making their way to Emmaus, who at first failed to recognise him. As he broke bread with them, the penny suddenly dropped and they said to each other: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). These two return to Jerusalem, to the disciples, to tell them the news. The eleven are there, with others, marvelling at the fact that Jesus had appeared to Peter and in come the two from Emmaus. It is then that, as we can see from today’s passage, Jesus suddenly appears.
What we find in this passage from Luke are essentially Jesus’s final words to his disciples. He appears to build them up in their faith, and then send them out as witnesses of what they experienced. He does not wish to appear simply to impress them, but to equip them. What the disciples are to experience is nothing less that a turning upside down of all that they know. No wonder Jesus greets them with a simple “peace to you”.
The fact that Jesus simply appears causes a fearful reaction. Is this some sort of ghost, or a wraith standing before them? Those who suggest that the resurrection is simply some sort of wish fulfilment by the disciples have to deal with the fact that the resurrection was the last thing on their minds! Jesus appears, and they don’t welcome him as their risen saviour. They fear they are looking at a spirit.
This fear is dispelled by Jesus insisting that he is really and physically there. This is no ghost - touch and see! Feel the wounded hands and feet and believe! The man standing before them is the same man they saw fixed by those hands and feet to the cross. The same man they saw taken down and laid in the now empty tomb. Jesus will go on to explain all of this in terms of the Scriptures, but first he proves to the disciples that he is there as the same man they have walked with for three years.
All of this of is overwhelming: they “disbelieved for joy” and so Jesus goes on to further reassure them. After casually asking if there’s any food around, he eats a piece of broiled fish before them. No ghost here!
But what to make of all this? As the apostolic minds spin, how can they understand what they are seeing? In answering these unstated questions, Jesus reminds them that he had taught them that scripture had to be fulfilled. He zooms out from the present astonishment so that they might understand all this in the context of Scripture. Jesus insists not only that the Scriptures refer to him, but that he also fulfils them. All the loose ends found in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms are tied up in him. This is no simple resuscitation like Lazarus, but an event with cosmic consequences. To understand who Jesus is and what he did you need to look not only at the Gospels but the entire Old Testament. You need to understand that within the Scriptures we can trace a plot line which builds up and then ends upon the risen Christ.
So it is that Jesus opened the minds of the disciples so that they might understand those Scriptures. He taught them about what was said about the messiah, much hoped for in the lines of the Old Testament. He demonstrated that it was foreseen that this Messiah would in fact suffer, and not be a triumphalist leader. That this Messiah would rise from the dead on the third day. He also taught them more, implications which would change their lives.
This act of the Messiah, Jesus insisted, would lead to the opening up of a way back to God. Repentance and forgiveness of sins are now possible because of this Messiah, this Jesus: “in his name”. We don’t look for forgiveness because of anything we might do, but “in his name”. We stand before God “in his name”. The name of the one who was raised from the dead, appeared before the disciples, and ate fish so that they might know he was truly, physically raised.
And this, says Jesus, is not simply a Jewish affair. The disciples are to go to all nations. All nations. They are to proclaim this new mode of life, life in his name, to all peoples. Working their way out from Jerusalem, they are to encompass the whole world.
I wonder if they trembled at the thought of all this? The vastness of the commission? Yet Jesus assured them that they had what they needed, and would be given yet more. They were simply to act as witnesses, to say: this is what I saw, this is what I experienced. At its core Christian evangelism is simply bearing witness, but it is bearing witness whilst being strengthened by God. Stay put, Jesus urges them, until you are clothed with “power from on high”. Wait until Pentecost, and then go.
Here then is the resurrection. A physical resurrection, long foretold in the Scriptures. An event which enables those selfsame Scriptures to be truly understood. An event which then puts Jesus - his name - at the core of the unfolding revelation of God, and which sends out the disciples to bear witness to these events. Every church, every Christian that you see today is but an after-echo of that event. The world was changed that day. Will you be changed too?