It is the evening of that first Easter Sunday. In just a little over three short days the whole world was turned upside down … for some anyway. The disciples had seen a shocking whirlwind of tragic events that had ended with Jesus’ death and burial. Lost and shocked, they had huddled together wondering what to do next, when strange reports began to flood in. The unbelievable had happened! First from the women, then from the Emmaus Disciples, and finally Peter himself came with the news that Jesus wasn’t dead anymore. He was alive again.
And so they begin to hope, to open their hearts just a little to the possibility that maybe it could be true. They begin to open their minds just a smidgen to the unthinkable. 36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them … 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?
I suppose it might be easy for us, so well versed in the Easter story, to sit back and wonder, like Jesus, at their lack of faith. He had told them He would rise again hadn’t He? He had done the same thing for others – the widow’s son, Jairus’ daughter, Lazarus! So why didn’t they get it? Why were there still any doubts? Why indeed. But why do we think that then and there we would have been any different? How many people have you seen go through so much and come back to life again? We know it here (head), but do we truly know it here (heart)? And even if we did, would it make any difference? 41 And … they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, Scared out of their skin, hearts troubled, and minds all stirred-up, they were so happy they couldn’t bring themselves to believe what they were seeing! It was all just too good to be true!
36 Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 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.
For Jesus to say is to do, to speak is to give. The peace He proclaims – is the peace He grants right then and there, by his very words and actions toward these faltering men. He invites them to look closely at His hands and feet, with the marks of His crucifixion plainly showing. And if the evidence of one sense does not suffice, they should take their fingers and pass over His body and convince themselves that there is no ghost before them, but their old true Friend and Master. That same Jesus of Nazareth that was born of the Virgin Mary, that suffered under Pontius Pilate, that was crucified and died, He stood before them.
It is one thing to disbelieve, it is quite another to disbelieve because of joy. The heart is too small all at once to take in the great joy. And therefore Jesus makes use of all patient kindness toward them, giving them time, above all, to get their bearings, and to let the truth gradually penetrate into their understanding. He asked them whether they had anything eatable at hand, and they brought Him a piece of cooked or broiled fish. The fact of His eating before them restored the former sense of nearness to them. It was familiar. It was real and they were now ready to listen to Him.
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 and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Having just given them physical proof of the resurrection, Jesus now begins to give them additional proof from the Scriptures themselves. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection fulfill God’s story of salvation as laid out from day one. Not just the narrative, the story line, that led through the ages to that day – Jesus fulfills everything the Scriptures are about. He, in the resurrected flesh standing before them, is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament’s institutions (prophet, priest, king, temple, sabbath). The have all found their culmination and completion in that once-dead but now alive and eating fish in their midst man named Jesus. His life from birth to death and beyond have fulfilled the prophecies of countless centuries, and the sum of the teachings in the Torah. In an astounding thought of terrifying complexity we come to see that the whole of the Old Testament … all of it … every part of it … leads to this resurrection truth. It is almost too big to think about!
45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, He who once opened eyes to see, ears to hear and mouths to speak now opens hearts and minds to understand. And this is the last step in proclaiming this glorious, startling Easter truth. Evidence is necessary for faith, but it is not sufficient for faith! And unlike every other religion so steeped in myths and story and fantasy, Christianity has the evidence – historical, refutable, recorded (by friend and foe alike) evidence … Jesus lived here in the world. Jesus died on the cross and Jesus is risen bodily! There must be something to believe, but we cannot by our own reason or strength believe it. We are no different in our fears or in our joys than the disciples. As The small catechism so clearly reminds us:
I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church he daily and abundantly forgives all my sins, and the sins of all believers, and on the last day he will raise me and all the dead and will grant eternal life to me and to all who believe in Christ. This is most certainly true.1
Our minds, just like the disciples before us, must be opened to fully understand this Easter miracle. Our hearts are too small to take in the great joy all on our own. God must work that work in us. And being opened to understanding this is what we find: that Jesus did indeed have to suffer and die and rise. It was not a trick of fate, an unforeseen tragedy. It is what God put in place from the beginning to deal with our sin and death. There can be no peace unless it is through the blood of Christ. Secondly, we find that repentance must be proclaimed in Jesus name. Sin is real and sin has really been paid for in the death and resurrection of Christ, but for that knowledge to bring peace it must be received in repentance. And thus, forgiveness of sins must be offered in Jesus’ name to one and to all.
47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. And witnesses we are – as shockingly, wonderfully, stupefied as those disciples – for Jesus is not far off in some resurrected holiness … He is right here with frightened sinners still today. He is here in the Word as the fulfillment of all God’s promises to us. The Good news preached from this pulpit, studied from this place, prayed in our homes. He is here to be touched bodily in the body and blood He offers in the Holy Supper. He is here opening minds to faith and repentance and forgiveness in the waters of Holy Baptism. In these we have not just signs of Jesus, But Jesus Himself, to give what he proclaims, to provide what he pronounces: “Peace to you!” See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see … You are witnesses of these things.
1 Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The book of concord : The confessions of the evangelical Lutheran church (345). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.