A Very Pleasant Surprise
Many years ago now there was a program on television called, “Gomer Pyle USMC”. Gomer was a good old country boy who was in the Marines. The story line of the show revolved around the way Gomer drove his Sergeant, Vince Carter crazy. Gomer was a good man but . . . he was different. One of Gomer’s favorite sayings was “Surprise, Surprise, Surprise”. I take this trip down memory lane because I believe if Gomer Pyle had been present during the event we read about in our text today, I am sure he would have said those very words.
It had been a long and emotionally exhausting day. The day began with the disciples feeling that numbness that comes with losing someone you love. Soon their minds were spinning with reports of the empty tomb. As the day progressed they heard reports from people claiming to have seen Jesus.
Imagine how their minds must have spun. They were filled with questions: What’s going on? Has He truly risen? Are these hallucinations? Is it a ghost that they are seeing? Deep down I’m sure they wanted to believe it was all true. But I suspect they were afraid to believe out of fear of being disappointed again. This is where we pick up our story.
36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 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.”
40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.
Notice that Jesus does not condemn them for their doubts. His followers were confused and they were emotionally exhausted. He understood. Rather than criticize, Jesus helped those present to believe the truth (he did the same thing a week later with Thomas). Jesus had them do several things
- Look at the distinguishing marks on his body
- Touch the wounds in His hands and feet and examine the wound in his side
- Prepare Him some food.
Each of these things was designed to show tangible proof that Jesus stood there as a real person. He was not a ghost; he was alive again yet in a new way. His body bore familiar markings, He was recognizable, yet He was different because He was able to come easily into a locked room and could quickly disappear.
Notice three things:
- The resurrection is the cornerstone doctrine of the Christian faith. Someone said, “some people think of the resurrection as a trailer we attach to our faith. If it is detached (or untrue) it really doesn’t affect us all that much. The Biblical/Christian position is this: the Resurrection is the engine of our faith! Without it, our faith does not function. It is dead. If people reject the resurrection they reject the gospel.”
- It is good, reasonable, and fitting to examine the evidence. Because this is such an important issue, it is appropriate to ask questions. Christians do not ask people to turn off their brains or live contrary to reason. It is OK to examine the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Most of us feel we would believe if only Jesus would stand among us. But the truth is that we believe lots of things for which we don’t have firsthand experience. We believe in the moon landing, in the Civil War, and in the helpfulness of various drugs. But we are not believing blindly. We believe based on the historical record and or the testimony of people whom we trust (like the FDA). We can do the same with the resurrection of Jesus. I encourage you to examine what the Bible says and the testimony of the eyewitnesses. Examine the records that are outside the Bible. Look at the results of this teaching. You have probably heard people criticize the notion of the resurrection . . . why not take some time to see if the critics are basing their ideas on the evidence or on their presuppositions?
- We need to be patient with others like Jesus was with the disciples. We need not be intimidated by the questions of others. Just because you don’t have a ready answer, does not mean there are no answers! Questions are valuable as long as they are not asked with a closed mind.
It appears that the disciples did look at the wounds. They did examine the evidence. They did give Him something to eat. We are told “they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement …” (v. 41a). This is a different kind of unbelief. It is the unbelief of football fans who suddenly and dramatically win a game in the last second. It is so astonishing that you often say, “I can’t believe what just happened!”
44 He 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.”
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
Some believe there is a gap between verses 44 and 45 and this instructing happened over a period of time. That’s possible and maybe even likely . . . but frankly, it also doesn’t matter. This is what happened. Whether this took place that night in that room or in the days ahead, it is still what happened.
Notice again a few things. First, note that Jesus wanted them (and us) us to know and understand the truth. It isn’t enough to simply “have an experience”. Jesus wanted them (and us) to understand and evaluate the experience. He taught them from the Scriptures so they would see that the truth is not something hidden, it is something that has been there all along but they just had never understood it before.
Jesus showed them the truth by opening up the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. This is the Jewish way of referring to the entire Old Testament. All throughout the Old Testament we are told about God’s character, His redemption, and about “one who was to come.” As we read the Old Testament we realize that there are really two stories. There is the story of the Jewish people and there is the bigger story of God’s redeeming purpose and love.
Notice second, that spiritual truth comes from God. In 1 Corinthians 2:14 the Apostle Paul wrote,
“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Paul is not saying that the gospel is something mystical. He is telling us that we need the enlightenment of God’s Spirit to really “get it”. Practically speaking this means that if you want to really understand the Bible you need to ask the Lord to open your heart and your mind to His instruction. We won’t see this “big picture” until we have the help and instruction of the Lord himself.
People don’t understand calculus just by looking at it (I know I don’t). They need to be taught Calculus. It is the same way with many of the things we learn . . . we need someone to instruct us or enlighten us so that we can come to understanding. This is what Jesus did for the disciples and what the Holy Spirit does for us.
When we are thus enlightened words that seemed foreign on the page suddenly (it seems) have meaning and power. The symbols of higher math no longer seem like hieroglyphics, they become expressions of mathematical truth. It is the same way with the Gospel. As the Holy Spirit instructs us we will see the Bible come alive.
The basic truths. Luke gives us the basic truths of the gospel as revealed in the Old Testament.
- Christ will suffer. Isaiah 53, Psalm 22 and many other places point to a suffering servant. Passover and the sacrificial system points to the need for a sacrifice for sin.
- Christ will be raised. The sacrifice of Jesus is only effective if Christ actually returned from the grave. Christ had to overcome death so that we could overcome it as well. He not only came back from the dead but He then ascended to the place of authority in Heaven (more on that next week).
- Repentance and forgiveness will be preached in his name to all nations. The message of the gospel calls us to repentance and forgiveness. It is tempting to talk only about blessings without talking about the very real costs. Forgiveness does not come to us simply because we “ask”. Forgiveness is ours because we repent. To repent is to recognize sin as a true offense against God. Understanding this we turn from that sin so that we might again follow the ways of God. A person who doesn’t repent is not really sorry.
Let me illustrate. A person may say with great sincerity that they are sorry for the mean things they said. But if that person continues to slander you and say mean things about you, would you be inclined to forgive them? No because the actions of their lives indicate that their words of sorrow were insincere.
There is something dramatic in the words of Jesus that we can easily miss. Jesus told them that the message would be preached, “to all nations”. The Jews had thought of themselves as the people of God and everyone else was a pagan. Now the door was opened to the entire world! Yet, this is not a new plan of God. From the very beginning God said to Abraham (in Genesis 12) “through Abraham’s seed ALL nations would be blessed.” As you read the book of Acts, Peter was summoned by God to the home of a Gentile by the name of Cornelius. Cornelius and his friends and family received the message of Christ and salvation. From that point on believers came from every nation.
Jesus gave his followers an assignment.
48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I 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.”
Notice the challenge He gives. Be a Good Witness. A person who observes an accident or a crime is called a witness. They are valuable because they can enlighten those who do not know what happened.
These men were to be witnesses to the world of the message and work of Christ. This is why they wrote the gospels in the first place. Think of it like a deposition in a court case. It is the eyewitness testimony of those who were present with Jesus. They are testifying to what they have seen, heard, and touched.
We too are witnesses though in a different way. We cannot give our own personal eyewitness testimony but we can pass on the eyewitness testimony of the Apostles. We can point people to the Scriptures. We can also testify to the continuing work of Christ in our lives and in the world. Unless we speak up and tell the truth, people are left in the dark.
Think about some of the big trials of our lifetimes like O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony. Evidence was brought forward but the defendant (the only person who knew the truth) was never put on the stand (which is their legal right). They remained silent and as a result it was impossible for the jury to reach a verdict “beyond a reasonable doubt”. Witnesses are vital to making informed decisions.
The world’s jury is making a decision on Jesus. The jury members include your family, friends, and neighbors. They need to know the testimony of the witnesses! They need to understand several things: First, being a follower of Christ is not about going to church, being baptized, or knowing certain facts. It may include those things, but it is not those things. Being a follower of Jesus involves recognizing Jesus as the one who was promised by God; the only One who can set us free from our bondage to sin and futility; Being a follower means embracing Him as the one who has risen from the dead; It means surrendering to Him as the One uniquely qualified to guide and direct our lives.
They need to see that being a follower of Jesus is not just about what happens to us when we die. Becoming His follower is about what happens in our life right now! It impacts the choices we make, the amusements in which we engage, and the way we speak. It will impact the way we do our jobs and the way we relate to others. It changes our values and our pursuits. Being a follower of Jesus starts now and goes on forever.
They need to see that Jesus is the only one who can save them. I understand why people want to say that anyone who is sincere will go to Heaven but it just isn’t true. We have a specific need: sin has separated us from a Holy God. Only Jesus can address that need because only He was perfect. Only He has enough merit (as the Son of God) to trade His life for all who believe.
Finally, the world needs to be told the truth that each person must make this decision for themselves. A person doesn’t become right with God because their parents were good Christians. They don’t become a follower of Jesus because of the church to which they belong. Though we serve with other believers and are a family together; we must each make a personal decision about our relationship with Christ.
Wait for Power. The final thing Jesus told his disciples was to wait for the power of God. This is an obvious reference to the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, the 50th day after Passover. In Acts 2 we read the story of how the Holy Spirit equipped the disciples and early believers so they could powerfully share the message of Christ.
In his book Sharing Jesus Without Fear, William Fay emphasizes this very point. He wrote,
The Holy Spirit, not you, is in charge of all the convincing and convictions. You are only in the page-turning business with one goal, to stay out of God’s way.(Kindle 778)
Our job is to share the truth and then wait for the Holy Spirit to work in the heart and mind of the one who hears.
The Resurrection of Jesus is fact not fiction. Jesus took great pains to make sure that the disciples were able to verify the facts. The message of Christ dying for sin and rising to redeem us is not a story made up by someone, It is not a message designed to produce a certain kind of society . . . it is the truth.
Paul belabors this point in 1 Corinthians 15. He said, If Christ is did not really rise then
- We can’t know for sure if there really is life beyond the grave
- Our religious devotion is a waste of time
- Our preaching is deception because it proclaims the resurrection
- The sacrifices we make for faith and for others are foolish
- We are still in our sins
But if He did rise from the dead
- We know that there is life beyond the grave
- We know Jesus is the true Savior and only Lord
- We know that we too can live even though we die if we put our trust in Christ (because this man who lived after He died said so)
- We can be confident that someday God will indeed right all wrongs
- We know our most urgent task is to proclaim this message to others.
The Resurrection is the cornerstone doctrine of our faith. If it is not true, Christianity is not true. If it is true (and I believe wholeheartedly that it is) then it means we should follow Christ with every ounce of energy we can muster.
Doubts are not the problem . . . close-mindedness is. Honest questions are welcomed by the Lord. An honest question is one where you are willing to critically look at the evidence rather than simply parroting what someone has taught you. If you are willing to look at the Bible; if you are willing to think reasonably; if you are willing to turn from faulty (or stinking) thinking; then you don’t need to be afraid to ask your questions. Ask and it will be given; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened.
I hope you have seen over the last three weeks that he story of the resurrection of Christ is not just for Easter Sunday. It is a vital message for every day of our lives. It is our strength in the times of trial. It is our assurance in the time of doubt. It is our confidence at the time of death. And it is our motivation for living for Him every day of our lives. For some of you this is old yet wonderful news. However, if it is new to you, you may just find yourself saying, “Well, Golllll-y! Surprise, surprise, surprise!”