Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Resurrection and Mission: Part Three. Reflections on Luke 24:36-49

This essay reaches the climactic verses of Luke 24. Read reflections on 24:1-12 and 24:13-35.

In Luke 24:36-49, Jesus appears fully to his gathered disciples. The Resurrected Jesus is before them in all of his glory. There reaction however is puzzling. Reports of Jesus’ resurrection have been trickling in all day (appearances to women and now the report from Cleopas and his friend). 

This passage breaks up neatly into two sections: vv. 36-43 narrates Jesus’ appearance to his astonished disciples and the physical actions that he undertakes to put them at ease; vv. 44-49 contain the Words that Jesus proclaimed to the Eleven regarding their future mission.

Let’s read the first portion of this text:

NRS Luke 24:36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.
I have always been intrigued by Luke’s remark about the disciples in 24:41: “And while they still did not believe because of joy…”
It is as though the disciples were unable to believe because it all seemed too good to be true.
It almost seems counter intuitive. How could they not believe? How could joy keep them from belief? Perhaps the possibility of Jesus’ life was too profound to grasp. After all, if Jesus were alive, then all that He claimed about himself would be true. Jesus would be the Messiah. The Age of salvation would be at hand. God would be acting to bring renewal, hope, and restoration to a broken world.
It is worth pondering this. How many of us today are unable to believe fully the Gospel because of joy?

Vv. 44-49 contains the meat of Luke 24. It ties up several of the recurring elements noted in our reflection on the previous verses. 

 44 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, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
1) Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection was God’s Plan all along. In verse 44 Jesus reminds the disciples of his message before his death. This is crucial. Beginning in Luke 9 following Peter’s confession, Jesus had consistently spoken about his impending death: The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed, and on the third day be raised to life (9:22, cf. 9:44, 12:50, 17:25, 18:31-33 etc). This is important for apologetic reasons. It is not a matter of Christians reinterpreting the Bible in order to explain the death of Jesus. Instead, Jesus himself understood the Old Testament to predict the sort of life and death that he lives as well as his resurrection. What happened to Jesus was not haphazard. It was God’s plan all along to which Jesus the Incarnate Word and Son willingly submitted.
2) The Message of the Scriptures Points to Jesus the Messiah as the Climax of God’s Mission. In verses 45- 47, Jesus (re)teaches the Scriptures to his disciples. I like the phrasing of this passage, “He opened their minds to the Scriptures” He showed them the way to read the Scriptures in a manner consistent with the mission of God in Jesus the Messiah. Notice the points that he emphasized:
a) Suffering Messiah (v. 46)
b) Resurrection on Third Day (v. 46)
c) Proclamation to All Nations of Repentance for the Forgiveness of Sins (v. 47)
Verse 47 is key. It links the necessity of proclamation to the nations with the saving acts of the Messiah. In other words, the mission of the Church is the natural response to the mission of the Messiah. So much so that the Scriptures, says Jesus, foresaw this worldwide proclamation. Christopher Wright has stated that the Church does a much better job of reading the Bible messianically than it does reading it missionally.
3) Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection sends the Church forth in mission.
Jesus opens the disciples minds to the Scriptures. Unlike too much of our teaching and preaching today that merely transfer information, Jesus ends his teaching with a commission:
The language here is more emphatic that our English translations are able to convey.
a) YOU are witnesses. Disciples move from frightened and demoralized people to serving God’s vanguard. Jesus emphasizes the missional role in which each disciple will serve. This makes explicit what has been implicit throughout Luke 24-an encounter with the Risen Jesus unleashes believers into the world as witnesses. Mission is the reason for the existence of God’s people in the post-Resurrection era.
Notice the scope of the sending: all nations. Jerusalem represents the starting point. The world is in view.
How large is my understanding of mission?
b) Witness is empowered by Holy Spirit. God’s missional movement is Spirit-drenched. This is so important that Jesus emphatically orders the disciples to wait for the filling of the Spirit. The emphasis on the work of the Spirit is a good reminder that ultimately the fulfillment of God’s mission is the work of the Spirit through us. We are not called to be super men or women. We are called to be Spirit-filled, sent out humans. The work of God in the world is about power. This power comes only through the Spirit.

© 2015 Brian D. Russell  

Check out my latest book, (re)Aligning with God: Reading Scripture for Church and World .


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