“The Ordinary Greeting”
March 27, 2005
The Resurrection offers peace to ordinary people.
I. A Risen Lord (Luke 24:36-43)
II. A Clear Mission (Luke 24:44-49)
III. A Blessed Hoped (Luke 24:50-53)
MessageLet me ask you a question this Easter morning? Do you think you would be at peace if you had someone wonderful to love, a really satisfying job to do, and abundant hope for the future? I think most people would. Thomas Chalmers, a nineteenth century theologian once said: The grand essentials of happiness are something to love, something to do, and something to hope for. Ben Patterson took that thought and wrote a book Ive talked about before called The Grand Essentials. With worship, work, and hope, he said, life becomes meaningful Now Im sure Luke never read Ben Pattersons book, but the end of his Gospel reflects this same understanding. Luke 24:36-53, seems to say that the essentials of the Christian life are firm faith in a risen Christ, a mission to serve Christ, and a blessed hope from Christ. And I think Chalmers, Patterson, and Luke would agree that with these things in place the believer is likely to have the peace he or she longs for.
I. A Risen Lord (Luke 24:36-43)
Peace be with you. Thats the Easter greeting of our risen Lord. Its an ordinary phrase in that culture; its more than that on the lips of Jesus. Its a greeting made possible and made meaningful by his resurrection. Its the resurrection that offers peace to ordinary people, first, by giving them a firm reason to believe. Luke 24:36-43: While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 37They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39Look 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." 40When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate it in their presence.
If you were at the sunrise service this morning you heard about the encounter two disciples had with Jesus, first on the road to Emmaus, then in their home. They recognized Jesus as he opened Scripture to them, and revealed himself to them. And when they did they ran back to Jerusalem and told the disciples gathered in the upper room, what had happened. In our present text, no time has passed. Theyre still telling this story when suddenly Jesus stands in their midst, and announces himself by saying Peace be with you! Now as Ive already mentioned, this is an ordinary greeting, the greeting you would have used with most people you encountered during the day. Where we say hi or howdy or hello or good morning or how are you, the Jewish person would say shalom, peace. Where we open our letters with Dear so and so, the Greek person would open his letter with peace to you. It was an absolutely normal greeting in those cultures - and as such probably not very meaningful under most circumstances.
But these are not ordinary circumstances. These followers of Jesus had watched their Lord and Master, whom they loved, betrayed, arrested, beaten, whipped, tortured, nailed to a cross and killed. They themselves had denied him explicitly or deserted him in these trials. They had left it to two Pharisees to find a place for his corpse. They had hidden in this upper room in abject fear. If theres one thing they havent had for the last three days, it has been peace. And as far as I can see there is only one thing that could have brought them peace at that moment - the word peace on the lips of the Risen Savior. He whom they had denied and deserted and mourned with their whole hearts was not in the grave. He was in their midst, and peace was on his lips, and because he was alive again all of a sudden they had someone to love and something to do and something to hope for. The word peace on the lips of the Risen Christ was no ordinary greeting, but an extraordinary promise.
So Jesus comes and stands among them, and offers real proof that he has been raised from death. At first the disciples are terrified, thinking he is a spirit or a ghost. Their culture, like ours, had stories and folklore about the spirits of the dead. But Jesus dispels that fear, along with any possibility of mass hypnosis or delusion. He says why are you troubled and why do doubts arise in your minds? Remember, these people have already received three independent reports of the resurrection. There is the report of the women, who saw the empty tomb and were told by angels that he had risen. There is Peters report: he had seen the Lord. And there is the report of the two from Emmaus. This group should have known resurrection was real. But as one commentator pointed out, hearing that someone has risen from the dead, and actually seeing the risen person for yourself are significantly different things. And for most in this room, this is the first real proof Jesus has been raised.
And Jesus, compassionate to them, and caring about our belief as well, proceeds to give several simple proofs that he is alive, and has been raised in a real, material, body. First he says: Look at my hands and feet - It is I myself. He doesnt say: Look at the nail scars, but thats clearly implied, for a hand or a foot by itself will only rarely serve to identify someone, but a hand with a nail scar, a foot with a nail scar, will be clear proof that the one talking to them had been crucified.
Next he says: touch me and see: A ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have. Proof number two that Jesus has really been raised: you can touch him. Not just his flesh, his body, but you can actually feel the bones inside. That baby doll I showed the kids during childrens corner was supposed to feel like a real baby. But it didnt. Let me as you to do the demonstration for yourself that the kids did. Reach out and squeeze the forearm of somebody sitting near you. Go ahead. Gently squeeze their arm, and then let them squeeze yours. Is there anything else in the world that feels like a real living person? No. Is there any way that can be faked? Not easily. Jesus was just as real as that person next to you.
Notice, how the attitude of the disciples changes. In verse 37 they are startled and frightened. In verse 38 they are troubled and doubting. But after these first two proofs, the light is beginning to dawn, and in verse 41 they cant believe it because of joy and amazement. Close your eyes for a second and imagine these changes of expression Startled and frightened. Troubled and doubting. Joyful and amazed.
The third proof that Jesus was really raised from the dead, comes when he asks them Do you have anything here to eat? Yea, some of us ordered a pizza a little while ago and weve got a couple of slices left. Good. And he eats it. Hes real. He does the things real people do. If you wanted to prove in a court of law that somebody had been alive and healthy at a certain place and a certain time, and you had more than twelve people who would testify that he had been there, and they had touched him and hed had some pizza, no jury in their right mind would doubt those proofs.
And neither should we. The foundation of our faith is Jesus Christ raised from the dead, so the Gospel of Luke, along with the other Gospels and the book of Acts is at great pains to establish the eye-witness testimony to the resurrection. Why? Because that solidity of proof brings peace, as well as joy and wonder. You can experience these things today in much the same way the disciples did two thousand years ago. And when you do, it gives you a mission and a hope. Whats your mission? Oh I want to tell the good news about forgiveness in Jesus and help people grow in him. Isnt he that dead guy? Yeah. Well, dont bother. Whats your hope? I have the hope of eternal life in Jesus. Isnt he that dead guy? Yeah Not much of a hope. The physical truth of the resurrection is foundational.
So by this ordinary greeting, Peace be with you, Jesus offers plain historical proof that he has conquered death and risen to life. This is the fact that gives us something to believe and someone to love. This same Jesus who died and rose to life told us that his death meant something for us; his body was broken and his blood was poured out for the forgiveness of our sins. On that cross he suffered all the pains of hell as a substitute for those who denied and deserted him, as a substitute for all who sin, who fall short of Gods standard, his holiness. When we lie or lust, hate or rage, when we are sophisticatedly selfish for our own good or intolerantly indifferent to the sufferings of others, we break Gods heart and rebel against his rule and qualify ourselves for the death penalty. But Jesus bore Gods wrath, Jesus took Gods punishment. Jesus paid the penalty we owed on the cross - paid it in full, paid it forever. And the resurrection proves it. If he had stayed dead we would always wonder what his death accomplished - but by rising he showed us that he was victorious over sin and death. His resurrection gives us something to believe in and calls us to faith, to trust that he did it for us and that it counted, and that he offers us resurrection and eternal life in the place of death and eternal punishment. Ordinary people like you and me - sinners - find peace because the resurrection proves we can believe in these truths, and in this person, someone to love.
II. A Clear Mission (Luke 24:44-49)
But Jesus also gives us something to do. In this passage Jesus gives the disciples a clear mission. Luke 24:44-49. 44He 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." 45Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49I 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."
As he did on the road to Emmaus, Jesus opens the meaning of the prophetic Scriptures. Hed told them back in Luke 18:31 "We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He expands that here, telling them that everything written about him in the prophets and the law of Moses and the Psalms will be fulfilled. The Jewish Bible was divided into the law, the writings, and the prophets. Jesus is saying that all three parts witness to him.
So Jesus shows them from the Scriptures that the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day. Ive often wished for a list of the passages he quoted. But we can infer some from what the disciples preached. Christ must suffer and be crucified. When Philip witnessed to the Ethiopian eunuch he used Isaiah 53: He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. Peters first letter also quotes Isaiah 53.
In Psalms, we find several passages the discples used to prove Jesus resurrection and reign. Psalm 16: you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. Psalm 110: The Lord says to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. I think Christ must have cited these passages, because they were so common in the Apostles teaching. Im also sure there were many more. Alfred Eidersheim, in his classic book on Christ in the Old Testament, found more than 400 Messianic prophecies. Some are obscure, but there are at least 100 very clear references to Jesus in Old Testament Scripture. And, by the way, the odds of one person fulfilling all these prophecies without being the Messiah sent from God are almost infinitesimal
But Jesus doesnt only point them back to what has been fulfilled, he also points forward to what will be fulfilled. Luke 24:47 Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. The Apostles will be the vehicles by which other prophecies will be fulfilled. My favorite example is Isaiah 49:6. God says: It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth."
Sharing the good news about Jesus is a major part of the disciples mission. Verse 48: You are witnesses of these things, or you are to be witnesses of these things. Youve seen me, youve heard me explain Scripture, now go and share the message of repentance and forgiveness of sin in my name. Jesus was talking to his disciples in that upper room, but its my opinion, and I believe well grounded, that he really was talking to you. To me as well. We have a mission to share with others the good news about Jesus, the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins.
You may remember the Mercedes commercial from a few years back. It shows their car colliding with a wall in a safety test. Somebody then asks the company spokesman why they dont enforce their patent on the Mercedes-Benz energy absorbing car body, a design evidently copied by others. He replies in a clipped German accent: Because some things are too important not to share. Thats the way it is with this good news. Its the good news of salvation. Its the good news of freedom, the good news of peace and of eternal life. Its news too good not to share. So each of us, whether gifted in evangelism or not, has to be looking for the opportunities God provides to tell our friends, neighbors, relatives the news they need to hear.
Jesus says repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. But, he cautions, dont start right away - you still lack the one thing that will make this ministry possible - the Holy Spirit. Verse 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. Gods work is done by those who depend on him, who work not in their own strength, but the strength He provides. You cant pursue Christs mission, without the strength and guidance of His Holy Spirit. If you think for a moment about these men and about their task, it will be obvious. What you have here in this upper room is a motley bunch of back-country fishermen and fanatics with little human competence and no influence. They dont have contacts, they dont have degrees, they dont have eloquence, they dont even have courage or strength of conviction, at least they didnt have those things a few days before. Yet their task is to spread the good news about Jesus to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem, the place of greatest danger, where his enemies had so recently won the victory. This sounds impossible - and it is. But if they will only wait for God the Holy Spirit to come, nothing will be impossible. As God, the Holy Spirit can do forty impossible things before breakfast. He still can, even for us.
The people around us arent naturally inclined to hear or believe the good news. The world system isnt set up to honor the proclamation of a unique and risen Lord. We ourselves are filled with fears, doubts, distractions and speechlessness. Were really no more ready than they to change the world. What we need, is God at work in us and in the minds and hearts of those who hear. The Holy Spirit has graciously come to indwell and strengthen all who believe in Jesus, and to convict and bring to faith all who are called according to Gods good purpose. We need to depend on him.
Now someone might say well, thats too hard - couldnt we just believe the resurrection without embarking on this mission. Yes, you can - but I think ultimately you wont have peace. Life needs purpose - and its my conviction that when youve found the highest purpose, the greatest reason to live, when youve been redeemed and filled with the Holy Spirit, you wont have peace until youre living out the life youve been given. Now Im not saying everyone is gifted in evangelism, certainly not all called to full time ministry. What Im saying is what Ive said so many times from this pulpit: life, fulfillment, even peace comes to those who are sold out followers of Jesus Christ. You need a mission and a purpose, and the resurrection gives you that mission and the gift of the Holy Spirit equips you to fulfill that purpose.
III. A Blessed Hoped (Luke 24:50-53)
So what have we seen so far? We have someone to love and worship: the Risen Christ. And we have something to do, a clear mission, to preach Christ to all nations. Finally, we also have a blessed hope. Luke 24:50 to 53, the last verses of the Gospel. 50When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
Luke seems to already be committed to a second volume for his history of Jesus. He only briefly describes Jesus ascension, because he details it in Acts. Even the location is vague - near Bethany; in Acts he says on the Mount of Olives. He gives no time here, but in Acts he says it was forty days after the resurrection. But he does tell us that Jesus parting act was to lift up his hands and bless them. A blessing like this was typically done when a rabbi or leader was preparing to depart. So it was an action that told them he was getting ready to go - and he did. Verse 51: While he was blessing them, he left them, and was taken up to heaven. The word he left them, departed, is the same word used at the Transfiguration to summarize all that would happen at Jerusalem: his crucifixion, death, resurrection and ascension. So now he departs, as predicted, and is taken up into the sky, into heaven. The significant thing about the ascension of Jesus is the hope that it gives us. We have hope because the ascension signals the time when the promise of the Holy Spirit will be fulfilled, and we desperately need the promised Holy Spirit.
But even more significantly, we have hope because we know Jesus is coming again. Luke adds these details in Acts. Jesus said: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."
Jesus is coming again. He has not left us alone - we have the Holy Spirit - and he has not left us for long - hes coming to be with his own. As Paul tells the Thessalonians: the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. This is the blessed hope that he gives us, that the angels affirm even at the moment of his departure. Jesus is coming again.
Third, his ascension is a blessed hope, because of where he is now, seated at the right hand of God in the throne of heaven. The New Testament writers tell us wonderful things about what Jesus is doing at Gods right hand. Acts 2: Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. Romans 8 Christ Jesus, who died__more than that, who was raised to life__ is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Hebrews says that he always lives to intercede for those who come to God through him. And in addition to interceding, he also reigns at the Fathers right hand. Ephesians 1: God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church. 1 Corinthians: For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. Jesus has a wonderful ministry at the right hand of God. He is interceding for and sovereignly governing the church. And one day he will come to complete the victory he has won for us.
As believers, then, we have tremendous hope: The hope of his return, the hope of his ministry for us now at the right hand of the Father, and the hope of the Holy Spirit within us. The Apostle Peter put it this way: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In His great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is this living hope, founded in the resurrection, which sustains our peace. Because of the resurrection we are saved from sin; now we have something to believe, and someone to love, and based on concrete historical evidence. Further, we are empowered for mission. We have something to do with our lives. Still we still live in a fallen world, where temptation abounds and our old nature wants to pull us back into sin. We live in a fallen world where sold out followers of Jesus encounter opposition and trouble. Thats why we are also given something to hope for. The historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus allows us to know with certainty that he will keep his promise to return, that he is now keeping his promise to intercede. Nothing can prevent the fulfillment of the promises of the person who said he would conquer death and did it. The resurrection we celebrate today gives us someone to worship, a mission to accomplish and great things to hope for. Praise God.