Sermon Commentary for Sunday, April 14, 2024

Luke 24:36-48 Commentary

We have a different version of last week’s text. It is a gift to us because it highlights another aspect of the human condition. Instead of last week’s gripping fear keeping the disciples from action and belief, this week they are confused and trying to reason things out. The results are the same: both situations require the grace of Jesus’s presence to get the disciples unstuck, and both end with them being sent with the gospel message as witnesses.

In Luke’s account, the disciples have received another set of witnesses to the resurrection as the two sojourners on the road to Emmaus have come back to tell them about their encounter with Jesus. While the disciples were talking about this, trying to make sense and reason out together what meaning they should make, POOF! Jesus “stood among them.”

Like it is in the fourth gospel, Jesus’s first words to them are “Peace be with you” and are meant to address their fear. Unlike in John’s account, the disciples’ fear isn’t about those who put Jesus to death coming after them, it is because Jesus has just appeared in their midst. Even though they are discussing the possibility that Jesus actually is risen from the dead, they immediately assume he is a ghostly apparition! (And not for the first time—they had a similar fear seeing Jesus walk on water.)

Jesus describes what’s happening for us in his questions: “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” The disciples go from discussing the eyewitness account of the two sojourners to internally trying to reason out what they are encountering in that very moment. Yet again (like last week), “doubt” is being used here to simplify something a little more complex—an internal dialogue trying to reason something out. Now, on top of the witness of the sojourners, they have Jesus standing right in front of them, showing them his scars, telling them to touch him so that they will know he is not a ghost.

The ordeal leaves them in a state of joy, disbelief, and wondering, proving that we can feel many different things at once. Their disbelief is a different kind than Thomas’s was last week (two different Greek words are used). It’s less that they are choosing not to believe and more that they refuse to believe in spite of the joy they feel at Jesus’s presence. Because they refuse to believe, they have to keep wondering about what is going on and reason things out some more. How often have you or I encountered God’s Easter power, been overwhelmed in gratitude or joy, but then began to wonder and question its realness? Maybe it wasn’t a miracle… maybe that wasn’t God at work in some extraordinary way… maybe I’m making a bigger deal out of it than is warranted… In other words, we try to diminish the reality of God and God’s goodness in spite of our experiences. That’s also how the disciples’ response here is different than Thomas’s; when he experienced it, he called Jesus God!

Jesus meets them, even here, in the pool of emotions. In the joy he wants them to trust, in the turn to belief he wants them to make, in the wondering and reasoning he wants them to rely less upon because revelation in in their midst. Even so, he gives them more data and proof that he is not a ghost, going so far as to ask them for a snack and eating it in front of them.

Having settled his resurrection realness, Jesus turns to the call. The Scriptures’ teachings play a key role in both the encounter on the road to Emmaus and the one that the disciples have now, but the pattern of being known in the breaking of bread and having the Scriptures explained is reversed. The Emmaus travellers listened as the then-unknown Jesus explained the Scriptures, then had it all click into place as he made himself known to them in the breaking of the bread. Here, the disciples witness Jesus eat the bread before Jesus reminds them of what the Scriptures said would happen.

But there’s more. Jesus doesn’t just remind them of what he’s been telling them about himself, he reminds them what the Scriptures also say about them. They are the witnesses of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, and will be the ones who are sent to spread the word to everyone. Jesus’s presence among them has freed them for a great purpose. May it do the same for us. Amen.

Textual Point

The way that Luke describes this scene makes a whole lot of sense when we remember that the books of Luke and Acts are meant to be read together. In comparison to John’s description of the call Jesus gives the disciples from last week, Luke explicitly explains “that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in [Jesus’s] name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” This is the story of Acts in a nutshell.

Illustration Idea

In the latest season of True Detective (season 4 on HBO), Police Chief Liz Danvers is known for saying, “Wrong question,” with younger police investigators. As the team goes about trying to piece together the evidence and put forward theories, she tells the others to start asking questions then redirects them with “wrong question,” getting them to think a little more deeply about the situation. Often, the younger officers are trying to get at a motive prematurely, asking why instead of how. Chief Danvers knows that the “how” will lead them to the evidence that might reveal the why. Jesus does a similar thing here with the disciples—not about the how of his resurrection, but about the how of his (and their) whole purpose, as it is revealed in Scripture.


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