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"Raised Bodily!"

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MESSAGE FOR Easter Sunday - April 4, 2010 Text: Luke 24:36-53


          The verses from Luke we read a few minutes ago record the first time Jesus appeared to his disciples as a group after his resurrection and it is distinct from the other resurrection accounts in one sense.  This text, more than any other resurrection text reveals the bodily nature of Christ’s resurrection.  Luke was a physician and if you were to do an in-depth study of Luke’s gospel, you would discover that he brings the kind of emphasis to the physical dimension of life you would expect from a doctor.  More than that, the Holy Spirit who inspires Luke wants all who hear the message of the resurrection to know without doubt that the Jesus who appeared to the disciples after his resurrection is precisely the same Jesus who hung on the cross and died for their sins.  Although his resurrection body has some different capabilities than the one that was beaten and crucified as a bloody sacrifice, it is indeed the same physical body.  Let’s read again just a few verses of this account and this time listen to how important it is to Jesus that the apostles see that he was raised bodily and that he was not a spirit or phantom of some sort.
           36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?
39 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.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed
them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, 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 before them.”  It’s clear that Jesus wants to clear up any misunderstanding about him being a spirit.  As we take a closer look at Luke’s account, I want us to think about three questions.  First, why do the apostles doubt?  Second, how does Jesus overcome the doubts of the disciples?  And third, why does Jesus labor to help the apostles believe in his bodily resurrection? And then we want to see what all that has to do with us.

          First, let’s look at the question: Why do the apostles doubt?  This is a perfectly legitimate question since Jesus himself asks it.  In verse 38 he asks, “…why do doubts arise in your hearts?  We know that Jesus had repeatedly told the apostles about his death and resurrection and so it’s understandable for us to ask, with Jesus, why they doubted.  There may be many reasons but here are three.  First, they doubted because God had kept them from fully understanding his plan that included Jesus’ death and resurrection.  We see this in two places in Luke.  First in Luke 9:44 Jesus says, 44 “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.45 But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.” 

That’s a fascinating verse because on the one hand, Jesus says, “Let these words sink into your ears…” which is the Ancient Near Eastern equivalent to “Hey, listen up—this is important.” But on the other hand, Luke reveals their lack of understanding was caused by the truth being concealed from them, presumably by God.  God clearly has two agendas here.  On the one hand, he wants to be on record as having said these things to the apostles, but on the other, he doesn’t want them to understand this message until later.  Nine chapters later and much later in Jesus’ ministry, Luke records much the same thing in 18:31. 31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” It would be difficult for Jesus to be much more explicit than he is here about what the Gentiles will do to him in his passion.  He gives them every significant detail here except the method of his execution.  Verse 34 continues, “ 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” 

Again, we see two agendas from God.  First, to notify his apostles of what would occur, but also to keep them from really internalizing what was said.  And we know they didn’t grasp this information, because when the events of the passion start to unfold, they act very much like men who are taken completely by surprise.  Why would God on the one hand, notify his apostles, while on the other, supernaturally work to keep that knowledge from sinking in?  There may be several reasons, but one certainly is this—Jesus wanted to go on record about his passion so that in retrospect it would be seen that all of the events of the passion were happening according to his plan.  The Holy Spirit uniquely burdens Luke to get this truth across because we see this emphasis again in Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:23 where he says, 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.  Jesus wants his disciples and us to know that, though his crucifixion was the most wicked, sinful crime in all of recorded history; it was also comprehensively under the sovereign control of God.  It was “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” 

That’s part of why Jesus told them of his passion before it occurred.  So that later on,  they would know that none of the events of his last week took Jesus by surprise, but they were in fact merely the outworking of God’s foreordained plan.  One reason the apostles doubted was because they had been kept from fully understanding it.  A second reason they doubted brings us to the human dynamic.  That is, they doubted because the possibility that the Messiah would be crucified and then resurrected was to them an outlandish notion.  Even though the Pharisees and other Jews believed in a future resurrection, the theology of resurrection was, at the time of Jesus, very much a recent development in Judaism.  There is really no evidence that the Jewish rabbis taught about a resurrection until the second century B.C.[1]  There are only a couple of indisputable Old Testament verses that speak of an individual, physical resurrection[2] and it was only just before the time of Jesus that the Jews were really much influenced by them.  This explains why the Sadducees and other Jews didn’t believe in a resurrection when Jesus came.  The vast majority of Old Testament texts teaching on people’s existence after death speak of a place called Sheol without giving any hope of a future resurrection.  Those who did believe in a future resurrection probably thought of it more in terms of a resurrection of the masses, rather than the kind of isolated, individual resurrection Jesus experienced.

Given the fact that the theology of a resurrection was not well developed, and that most people probably wouldn’t have applied it to a single, isolated incident, it’s not hard to understand why the disciples doubted this.  Let’s face it—they were human beings well aware of the reality of death.  And no one up to this point had seen a man who had been crucified, his heart stuck through with a spear and buried…get up and live again.  They doubted the resurrection because that notion was outlandish to them.  Finally, they doubted because the idea of a resurrected Jesus was too good to be true.  Luke here shows us that the disciples’ doubt had two very different sources.  Initially, the doubt was rooted in the fact that crucified, pierced, buried people don’t just get up and start walking around.  But after Jesus worked to convince them that he was not a spirit, Luke records in verse 41, “And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling…” Luke wants us to see the continuity of doubt here—they “still disbelieved…”  But the source of their disbelief had shifted to disbelieving “for joy...”  This was just too good to be true. 

Of all the possible outcomes after Jesus’ death, this was the best one they could have hoped for—it was so good, it never even occurred to them.  But now, they are confronted by it and it’s just too good to be true. They don’t believe it—they had just begun to get their arms around the fact that Jesus, their teacher and Messiah was dead, and now they are being asked to believe he is alive. And what’s more—that his death and resurrection were planned in advance as part of his Messianic mission. It was too good to be true!  This text tells us that people can doubt something for more than one reason. Sometimes they doubt because something appears to them outlandish.  At other times, they doubt because something is too good to be true.   For some people, the gospel of forgiveness is just too good to be true.  They need reassurance.  We need to be sensitive to that dynamic as we speak with others about Jesus.

A second question we can ask of this text is: How does Jesus overcome the doubts of the disciples?  Its amazing to me the lengths to which Jesus goes in wiping away the doubts of the apostles.  Notice that the way Jesus erases their doubt is—he confronts their doubt with revelation.[3]  That’s a good response for to remember when we meet people who have doubts.  First, Jesus reveals himself in a unique way to these apostles.  First, he tells them to examine the evidence before them when he says, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.  He knew that the apostles wondered if they were seeing a spirit of some sort, so he works hard to show them that he is real flesh and blood.  He not only invites them to do a visual exam, he also urges them to “Touch me, and see.  Jesus is willing to be handled in much the same way he invites Thomas later on to touch him in order to dispel his doubts.  Next, he explains to them something of the essential difference between spirits and human beings when he says, “…For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 

Finally, when they were still disbelieving for joy, Jesus takes one additional measure to reassure the apostles that he was flesh and blood—the same Jesus who was three days earlier crucified.  He asks in verse 41, “Have you anything here to eat?”  You’ll notice the apostles don’t say, “Oh, don’t bother with that Jesus—we know it's you.”  Luke records, “They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.” The presumption is that spirits don’t eat.  Again, we must see the lengths to which Jesus goes to erase any possible doubts from their minds about his bodily resurrection.  After he reveals himself physically to them, he moves to a second form of revelation—God’s revealed truth in the Scriptures.  Beginning with verse 44 he says, “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…” 

First, he tells them that his death and resurrection were in fulfillment of the entire Old Testament. Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.  Before, God had kept them from understanding this.  Now, Jesus rips the veil away and supernaturally enables them to understand and believe the Biblical record.  Theologians call this “illumination.”  Here, Jesus illumines the minds of the apostles to enable them to understand and more fully appreciate what the Old Testament prophesied about his death and resurrection. 

          A third and final question to ask of this text is: Why does Jesus labor to help the apostles believe in his bodily resurrection?  Jesus is not willing to allow the apostles to misinterpret his appearance.  They must know that it is a physical, bodily resurrection.  Why does he hammer this so hard?  Here are three answers.  First and very quickly: It establishes the apostles as the unique, authoritative witnesses to the resurrection.  The apostles had a unique function in the church that no one else could have and part of that function is to be the officially designated witnesses to the resurrection.  Though many others saw Jesus after he was risen, the apostles’ witness of the resurrection was part of their commission as apostles.  When the apostles set the criteria for an apostle when they replaced Judas, Peter said of the possible candidates for replacement, “one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”[Acts 1:22]  This is what Jesus means when he says to them in verse 48, “You are witnesses of these things.”  The apostles needed this kind of evidence because they were commissioned to act as unshakable witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus.

          If the apostles were going to preach the resurrected Christ with the conviction they needed, it was absolutely essential that no trace of doubt remain on the question of the bodily resurrection and Jesus gives them all the evidence they need for absolute certainty.  Second, Jesus labors this truth of his bodily resurrection because: It vindicates his victory over sin, death and Satan.  We must never lose sight of the fact that the cross of Christ and his resurrection were part of an epic, cosmic battle in the heavenlies.  In fact, it was THE decisive spiritual battle where Christ on the cross defeated his enemies and mortally wounded Satan.  The cross and resurrection are the events that bring to fulfillment God’s first mention of the gospel in Genesis 3:15 where he says to the serpent, “he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  Though Christ suffered and died on the cross, it was not ultimately a mortal blow because he didn’t stay dead—it was a heel bruise.  Satan however was plundered and though he still acts in our world, Calvary was a mortal blow to him and the second coming of Jesus will be little more than a clean-up operation because the great battle was fought and won by Jesus on the cross.  By his victory there, Jesus rescued lost sinners from the clutches of darkness.  He showed his supremacy over Satan because he took the worst Satan could dish out and did not sin and the vindication of his victory was his resurrection.  Death could not hold him down.

          Peter in his first sermon at Pentecost says it this way in Acts 2:24.  God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”  Peter pictures death as it is—a spiritual force that keeps people dead with pangs or “cords.”  Those cords are the sin that we commit which keep us dead.  Jesus had no such sin and the power of death was unable to hold him down.  Jesus defeated the power of death.  Do you see how all of this makes the fact that Jesus rose bodily so important?  If it could be shown that Jesus’ resurrection body was not the same one that defeated his enemies on the cross, that would drain the cross of its power. If God merely replaced Jesus’ dead body with a phantom or a spirit, then that would not be a resurrection.  There would be no vindication that Jesus really did defeat the powers of darkness because his body wasn’t raised.  He would be seen as a fraud and his victory on the cross completely negated.  Jesus did raise from the dead physically—the same body that hung on the cross, rose from the dead and in so doing proved that he had won the decisive spiritual battle over the forces of evil.

          A final reason why Jesus drives the truth home of his bodily resurrection is—It establishes Him as the firstfruits of the resurrection.  One of the truths the Bible teaches repeatedly is the goodness of the physical realm including these physical bodies.  In the creation narrative in Genesis, the author repeatedly affirms that this physical reality God created was very good.  The Bible knows nothing of some world views that teach that the physical body is in some way inferior to the spiritual realm. Not at all.  The fact that Jesus Christ took on flesh and blood should tell us that there is nothing inferior about the physical realm.  In fact, Jesus will have a physical body for all eternity and we are never led to believe that in so doing, he is settling for some sort of cursed existence.  His glorified body obviously has some capabilities his earthly body did not have, but it is a physical body, nonetheless.  The reason that is important is because Paul in First Corinthians 15 makes clear that when believers are raised on the last day, it will be a bodily resurrection.  Though our bodies will be different than these earthly, fallen, soulish bodies—they will be bodies and Paul draws a direct line of continuity between these physical bodies and our resurrection bodies.  He also connects Christ’s resurrection body with the resurrection bodies of those who have trusted in Christ.

          In verse 20, he says, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  The firstfruits of a harvest does two things for the farmer. First, they provide the first sample of the harvest and second, they show what the rest of the harvest will be like.  In calling Christ the “firstfruits” of the resurrection, Paul is telling believers what their resurrection bodies will be like—they will be like Christ’s resurrection body. That means--if Jesus did not have a physical body as the firstfruits, neither would believers have a physical body.  If the resurrected Christ was a phantom, then believers in the resurrection will be phantoms.  The truth is—Jesus, in going to some lengths to show them what his body was like, was also showing them what their resurrection bodies would be like.

          As we close, let me give three points where these truths apply to us today.  First, Like Jesus, we must be patient with those who have honest doubts about Jesus and the resurrection.  I say “honest doubts” because there are people who use doubt and skepticism as a shield to ward off the truth because they don’t want to repent of their immoral lifestyle, but there are many who have honest doubts.  We must take Jesus’ example here and labor to convince them of the truth.  If the apostles needed persuading, then its not unreasonable for others to need persuading as well.  If you look at the book of Acts, you will see at least nine times when Paul works to persuade his audience of the truthfulness of what he is saying.  It’s not wrong to try to persuade someone through a coherent argument to place their trust in Christ.  Paul does it all the time in Acts.  What’s wrong is to place our trust in our coherent argument to compel them to believe.  God must convict them of the truth if they are to genuinely believe. Let’s be honest, there are no more people today who have been dead for three days and are now walking the streets, than there were in Jesus’ day.  This is an outlandish thing to many people and so we must help people see the evidence of the resurrection—the fact that 500 people saw Jesus after his resurrection—the fact that twelve men suffered persecution and some, death because they believed Jesus was raised from the dead.  The evidence is robust and sufficient for anyone with honest doubts.  This text helps us to see that we are not being Christ-like if we are impatient with doubters, or if we refuse to work to convince someone of the truth of the risen Christ.  Peter says we are to be able to “give a reason for the hope that is in us.”

          Second, Like Jesus, we must meet doubt with revelation.  Again, we can do no better than follow the example of Jesus here.  Remember, Jesus first revealed the evidence of his resurrection by referencing himself. Reference the Christ in you!  That’s a good plan for us as well.  Testify to the reality of the resurrection of Jesus in your own life, first.  Can people see Christ’s resurrection life at work in you?  Are you a walking advertisement for the resurrection?  Is there a supernatural quality to your life that points to resurrected Christ?  If you are a devout follower of Jesus Christ, your most compelling argument for Jesus and the resurrection is your life—by far.  Start by telling them how God raised you from the dead—give them the evidence—show them how God has saved you and healed you.  You ask me how I know he lives; he lives within my heart.”  Tell others about the reality of the resurrection by referencing Christ in you.  After that, do what Jesus did next and go to the Bible to prove Jesus. 

You don’t have to be a Bible scholar and if someone asks you a question you can’t answer, don’t be afraid to tell them you will study a bit more and get back to them.  We must,  like Paul be “…not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation…  Don’t be intimidated by those who attack the credibility of the Bible.  Remember that the Bible is an anvil that has worn out many hammers.  Be confident of this—there is not one attack against the Bible that hasn’t already been leveled and successfully banished.  The Bible is nuclear powered—don’t allow the devil to tempt you into being ashamed to quote the Bible—“faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.  Hebrews 4:12 says, “12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  The Bible is God’s scalpel and when you use it, you are unleashing supernatural power to expose people’s sin and woundedness and save them by causing them to see the truth about them and about God.

          Third, We must rejoice over Christ as the firstfruits of the resurrection.  The older we get, the more we look forward to leaving this body behind.  It causes so many people nothing but trouble and those who trust in Christ can have confidence of a better, imperishable, immortal, incorruptible body in heaven—one like Christ reveals to these apostles in Luke 24, minus the scars in our hands and feet.  Christ is risen!  That means that all those in Christ will rise from the dead and ascend into the glories of heaven.

          If you are here today and you have not trusted in Christ as your Savior—if you do not genuinely love God or relate to him on a personal, intimate level as his dear child, there’s something you need to know about the resurrection that I haven’t covered.  That is, that everyone—believer and unbeliever will be given a new body at the resurrection in the future.  Jesus says in John 5:28 “ 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.  Those who trust in Christ will be raised to enjoy Christ with their new bodies in heaven.  Those who do not trust in Christ will be given new bodies as well and they will discover to their horror that they have been fitted with a new body so as to receive bodily torment in an eternal hell.  If you haven’t trusted in Christ and his death on the cross as the only way to heaven—as the payment for your sins, then come to Christ—confess your sins and that Jesus is your only hope of heaven.  Repent of your sin and begin the new life in Christ that will enable you to be raised with him to glory.  May God give us all the grace to live resurrection lives in this life.

[1] Resurrection—The OT, “The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology” (electronic version).

[2] Isaiah 26:19; Dan 2:12

[3] Stein, Luke, BECNT, p.1933.


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