THE GOSPEL OF LUKE
The Resurrection of Jesus
When we come to the resurrection of Jesus, we come to the pivotal event in the history of the world. Nothing like it occurred before it and nothing like it has occurred since. It is a unique, momentous event. Before this event every man who died remained dead; the same holds true for every person who died after this event. In this event though we see God breaking the stranglehold of death upon the world. Although Christ died, by His resurrection we see that He lives forevermore. In His own person He put death to death.
This event is not important just for the person of Jesus. It holds significance for you, me, and the rest of creation. It signals that a new day is dawning. In Revelation Jesus is called “the bright morning star” (22:16). The morning star is that solitary star in the sky as dawn breaks to signal that the day is fast approaching. The day has not come yet; however, it is only a matter of time before it is full day. It is not a matter of “if,” only a matter of “when.” In the same way the resurrection of Jesus is that morning star which tells us that the day of God is fast approaching, a day in which God’s people will rise from the dead to experience completely God’s own life and in which the entire universe will be radically transformed to be a suitable dwelling place not only for the children of God but for God Himself (Rev. 21, 22). With the resurrection of Jesus it is not a matter of “if” Christ is going to raise everything from the dead; it’s only a matter of “when.”
When the Gospel writers compose their accounts about the resurrection, they have 2 purposes in mind: (1) they present evidence in order to convince us that Christ really rose from the dead and (2) they explain the significance of the resurrection. Luke follows in this same train. We will touch lightly upon the evidence for the resurrection (focusing primarily on Luke’s unique contribution in this area) and camp out on the significance of the resurrection for the believer.
EVIDENCES FOR THE RESURRECTION (24:1-43)
The Visit of the Women to the Tomb (24:1-12)
Since this evidence is found in all four Gospels, we will only briefly touch upon this episode. On Easter Sunday morning women approached the tomb in order to finish the task of anointing the body. When they arrive, they discover that the stone has been taken away. They encounter angels in the tomb (a sign that God has been at work) who ask them why they would seek Jesus among the dead. The angels wonder why the women would seek the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25) in a place of death. Such thinking is illogical to them. The women then hurry in order to inform the disciples what they have encountered. Since they are women and in the opinion of the apostles most likely hysterical, the disciples doubt their word. (Note that Luke like the other 3 Gospel writers informs us that women were the first preachers of the resurrection.)
The fact that the Gospels record that women were the first witnesses of the resurrection supports their claims for the resurrection. This is something the Gospel writers simply would not have made up since it elicited instant skepticism. Note though that Luke adds something the other Gospels don’t--the names of more than just Mary Magdalene. According to Luke in addition to Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women were present. He is not simply recalling some distant past event which is fading into oblivion; he has done his home work. He has been very specific in who went to that empty tomb, evidence which shows he knows what he is writing about.
The Two Men From Emmaus (24:13-35)
This story is unique to Luke. On that Easter afternoon 2 of Jesus’ disciples are returning home to Emmaus (~7 mi. northwest of Jerusalem) having spent the weekend in Jerusalem celebrating the Passover. (The fact that there are 2 witnesses is important because the Law stated that testimony was valid only if at least 2 or 3 witnesses supported it.) As they are on their way home, Jesus joins them. The disciples do not recognize Jesus most likely because although He is still in His physical body, the resurrection has transformed it so radically into a spiritual body that they can’t recognize Him. When He asks them what they are discussing, they incredulously ask Him if He is the only person in Jerusalem who does not know what has just happened. When Jesus presses them further, they explain that the Jesus who had done good during His public ministry had met an ignominious end on the cross. This event had dashed their hopes because they had believed Him to be the promised Messiah who would redeem (buy from slavery) God’s people. Although their hopes had been dashed by His crucifixion, the disciples had received strange news that day that some women had gone to Jesus’ tomb and had encountered angels who informed them that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. (Just a side note. The outline these 2 disciples gave actually forms the basis of the apostles' preaching in Acts and the outline for the Gospels themselves.)
Jesus then mildly rebukes them: “Oh foolish men, and slow of heart to believe . . .” Jesus then proceeds to show them from the OT that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. Two themes are found in this section. First, in agreement with the next section, Luke emphasizes that the whole OT points to the death and resurrection of Jesus: the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets. We see Jesus in Genesis as the Seed of the woman who destroys the serpent (3:15), in Exodus as the Passover Lamb who protects us from the angel of death (12:1-13), in Leviticus as the Sacrifice who removes our sins, in Numbers as the Star of Jacob (24:17), in Deuteronomy as the one and only God (6:4), in Joshua as the Captain who leads us into the Promised Land, in Judges as the Judge who delivers us from our enemies, in Ruth as our kinsman redeemer, in Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles as David’s son who reigns upon his throne eternally (2 Sam. 7:12-16), in Psalms and Job as the righteous sufferer, in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes as our Wisdom, in Song of Solomon as the Lover of our souls, in Isaiah as the wonderful counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (9:6), in Jeremiah as the watchman on the walls (4:19; 6:17), in Joel and Ezekiel as the Giver of the Spirit in the last days (2:28); in Zechariah as the Humble King who rides into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey (9:9), and finally in Malachi as the Sun of Righteousness who rises with healing in His wings (4:2). The second theme is that the death of Christ is necessary if He is going to have the kind of glory the NT speaks about—resurrection glory. The only way to experience resurrection and obtain its glory is to die first. Death must precede resurrection if one is to obtain resurrection glory.
When Jesus and the disciples arrive in Emmaus, Jesus acts as if He is going to go on down the road. The disciples press Him though to come and spend the night with them. When it is time for supper, Jesus plays the host, takes the bread, and after giving thanks, breaks it. It is at this moment that the disciples realize that Jesus is the One standing before them. Why at this moment? Some claim that this passage teaches that Jesus’ presence is experienced during the Lord’s Supper. Whereas I agree with this view of the Lord's Supper, I don’t think it fits the passage. Two other pieces of evidence point to another interpretation. One, there is no mention of wine—an important part of the Lord’s Supper, and two, later when Jesus eats in the presence of the 11 apostles, He eats some fish (24:42-43). The only time we hear of Jesus giving thanks and then eating bread and fish is at the feeding of the 5000. This episode taps into the Jewish belief that when the Messiah came, it would be such a time of feasting and rejoicing that the only thing we have to illustrate it is the banquet. When Jesus fed the 5,000, He was indicating that the time of feasting had begun because the Messiah was in their midst. Now that Jesus has risen from the dead and has given us a glimpse of our future, the time of feasting has kicked into higher gear. The Christian life should be characterized as one of joy. Once Jesus is recognized, He vanishes from sight.
The Disciples in the Upper Room (24:36-43)
At this point the 2 disciples who had wanted to get home before it was dark immediately rushed back into the darkness to head for the upper room where Jesus’ 11 disciples have gathered. When they arrive, the 2 disciples excitedly share about their encounter with Jesus. There they learn that not only did the women encounter the angels that morning but that Simon Peter himself had encountered the risen Lord. Whereas the 11 had viewed the women skeptically, they accepted the witness of Peter (most likely because he was a man and not an hysterical woman).
As they are talking, Jesus appears out of thin air. One minute He is not there, the next minute He is. Jesus greets them with the customary Jewish greeting: “Peace.” This peace though means far more than just “hello.” It first indicates that Jesus’ death on the cross was more than just any other ordinary death. Because Jesus rose from the dead, His death has significance. In this case it means that Christ has removed God’s wrath for our sin and that we now stand in a peaceful relationship with God. Second, His resurrection previews for us our own future. Just like Jesus rose from the dead, so we too as His followers will rise from the dead into a new glorious existence. The sufferings we experience here and now are not the period at the end of the sentence of our lives. The resurrection is. No matter what happens to us, our future is going to be wonderful.
It helps us to persevere whenever we understand that our troubles are temporary and that ultimately our future is glorious. When I was a youth minister, we did 3 lock-ins a year, one for Jr. High, one for Sr. High, and then one for both groups combined. I dreaded them because of the late hours and no sleep. The older I got, the more I dreaded them UNTIL I came to grips with my attitude. I went into the lock-ins almost with the attitude that the lock-in was eternal (at least it seemed that way). Finally, it really dawned upon me that by 7:00 a.m. the next morning the lock-in would be over. All I had to do was last until 7:00 a.m. That changed my whole outlook. I could endure anything as long as I knew it was about to be over. In the same way we need to have the same attitude towards our sufferings. Seven o'clock a.m. is coming, maybe not today, but it is coming one day. I may suffer until the day I die, I may suffer for another 3 mins. However long I suffer though, my sufferings are not eternal. Christ guarantees it with His resurrection from the dead. Like C. S. Lewis wrote, the story for every Christian ends, "And they lived happily ever after."
The disciples are startled first because of this sudden appearance and second because they are not quite sure if it is Jesus or His ghost. Many of us would have thought that Jesus’ ghost would have been Jesus. That is not the way the Jews (nor really we) view people. A person includes body and spirit, not just spirit. Jesus demonstrates to them that it is really He and not a ghost by first showing them His hands and His feet (the wounds in His hands and feet) and second by eating some boiled fish.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE RESURRECTION (24:44-49)
At this point Jesus not only gives evidence of His resurrection, He also explains to the disciples the meaning of the resurrection. Because Jesus humbled Himself completely by obeying the Father even to the point of dying the ignoble death of a cross, the Father has lifted Him up on the cross, from the grave, and into the heavens to sit at His right hand. From this point on Jesus the Messiah (the One anointed with the Spirit) has received fully His position as Messiah, that is, He has begun to reign eternally. To demonstrate this, Jesus the One filled with the Spirit is now about to pour out His Spirit upon His followers. (The fact that He is the One who pours out His Spirit upon us is the incontrovertible truth that He is the Messiah, the One anointed with the Spirit).
Pouring out His Spirit upon us has 2 results. First, we too are going to experience the same kind of resurrection Jesus experienced. Why? Because the Spirit is the One who raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 8:11). Moreover, He will also radically transform the universe just like He radically transformed Jesus’ body and just like He will radically transform our bodies to be like Jesus’ (Rom. 8:18-25). Most of us think of this resurrection only in a physical sense in that it will affect only our bodies. This resurrection though also affects our spirits and souls. In fact whereas our physical resurrection will occur only when Jesus returns, right now we are to be experiencing the resurrection of the soul and of the spirit. Right now we should be experiencing the kind of life that Jesus Himself experiences.
How can we do this? How can we release the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives right now? Two ways. First, we are to follow Jesus by obeying His word to us. How does Jesus speak to us? Through the Bible, through prayer, through preaching, through teaching of God’s Word, through the counsel of godly people, and through circumstances. This explains for us the reason we should be involved in Bible study and worship each Sunday—to hear God speak to us. We don’t attend in order to check off this item on our list of things to do in order to feel good about ourselves or to be right with God. We go hear what God is speaking to us today. Circumstances are excellent ways God uses as checks and balances. Sometimes we are so convinced God wants us to move somewhere; however, He doesn’t give us a job in the place we want to move to and He doesn’t let us sell the house we presently live in. We say that we only want God’s will and then we get angry because the circumstances are against us. That’s contradictory. Our anger is not against our circumstances but against the God of the circumstances. In order to hear God, we need to get up fresh each morning and pray so that we can get spiritually sensitive to God so that we can hear Him throughout the day.
Following Christ should produce a life like Jesus’: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22, 23). Following Jesus does not mean that our lives are going to be easy from now on; it means that no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in, Christ is going to produce His life in us. If this life is not being produced, then you are not following Jesus because this is the life He produces when we follow Him.
The second result of Jesus pouring out His Spirit upon us is that we become witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When you study the life of Christ, you discover that Jesus almost exclusively ministered to the Jews. His ministry to the Gentiles was sporadic at best. Jesus conducted this almost-exclusive ministry to Jews in order to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham. The Jews all along though for the most part had misunderstood God’s promise to Abraham. They thought that God had made them His people so that He might bless them exclusively. That simply was not true. He blessed them so that He might bless the rest of the world through them. Now that Jesus had reached out to the Jews, He was now expecting them to reach out to the Gentiles. According to Jesus not only were His death and resurrection prophesied in the OT, the mission to the Gentiles also was prophesied in the OT. In fact after the Jews had attacked him for ministering to the Gentiles, Paul justifies His outreach to the Gentiles by quoting the OT: “I have placed you as a light for the Gentiles that you should bring salvation to the end of the earth” (Acts 13:47 quoting Isaiah 42:6; 49:6). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. As a result He conducts the same ministry in you and me that He conducted in Jesus. What was that ministry? Reaching out to a lost and dying world. Acts which is the second half of Luke shows us that whenever the HS takes hold of a Christian, that Christian becomes a witness for Jesus Christ to that world.
Bill Bright, founder and former president of Campus Crusade for Christ, claims that the church of Christ does not experience the power of Christ because it is not fulfilling the very purpose Christ gave us His Spirit in the first place, to bear witness to Christ. Christ gave us spiritual power to tell others about Jesus. We, on the other hand, want Him to give us that spiritual power so that we can do our own thing. Jesus though refuses to be used. If we want to experience the power of Christ, then we need to be about the work of Christ, reaching out to others. The 2 go hand-in-hand.
THE ASCENSION (24:50-53)
Following a period of 40 days (Acts 1:3), Jesus with His disciples travels to Bethany on the eastern side of the Mount of Olives. From there Jesus ascends into heaven to take His seat at the right hand of God. From there He reigns as Messiah, Lord over the universe. Only the Father is not subjected to His rule. As He ascends, the disciples respond by worshiping Jesus.
Many times we reduce worship to being nothing more than singing a few songs emotionally and getting a warm fuzzy feeling on the inside. That’s not worship. Worship means “worth-ship,” that is, giving Jesus the worth He deserves. What does He deserve? In Greek the word worship is literally proskuneo (prahs-ku-neh-oh). It literally means “to bow the knee.” It means to bow down before Jesus, not simply the knee of the leg but also the knee of the heart. It is the attitude which led Thomas the Doubter to proclaim in Jesus' presence: "My Lord and My God" (John 20:28).