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4. Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples

| Martin Charlesworth
Series 14: Episode 4
Luke 24:36-49 Mark 16:14-14 John 20:19-23

Jesus appears to a group of disciples including 10 apostles. He proves his physical resurrection body. He explains to them from the Old Testament that what has happened was predicted and begins to commission them.

Jesus appears to a group of disciples including 10 apostles. He proves his physical resurrection body. He explains to them from the Old Testament that what has happened was predicted and begins to commission them.

Transcript

Hello and welcome to Series 14 and Episode 4 and in this episode, Jesus appears for the first time to his disciples. We're taking up the story as described in Luke chapter 24 verses 36 to 49. We're also going to look at John's account in John 20 verses 19 to 23.

Introduction and Recap

Series 14 is taken up entirely with the accounts in the gospels, and some material from elsewhere in the New Testament, of the resurrection. We're just looking at the resurrection stories. It's been a wonderful story so far in the first three episodes. After the complicated, tragic and intense activities and events that took place on the Thursday evening and the Friday when Jesus was arrested, tried by the Sanhedrin, handed over to Pontius Pilate, tried by the Romans, judicially executed on the Friday, then put into the tomb at the end of the day, just before the Sabbath. These have been the terrible, complex, tragic events of the death of Jesus. After the quiet day of the Sabbath day, when nothing significant happened in this story and Jesus' body was in the tomb, we've had this burst of activity, on Easter Sunday, with the accounts of the resurrection. We're still talking about the events of Easter Sunday here in the fourth episode. We're still on the same day.

Let's just go back in our minds and go through the events of this day. It all started very early in the morning, when the women, the female disciples, who'd come with Jesus from Galilee, and were at the site of the scene when Jesus was crucified, watching the crucifixion, and also watching the place where Jesus was buried - the gospels tell us this specifically - those very women, decided on that Friday evening, that after the Sabbath day, the Saturday, when they weren't allowed to travel around or do anything, they would go to the tomb early on Sunday morning, when the Sabbath came to an end. At the very earliest moment, as we've seen in earlier episodes, these women went to the tomb to see what the situation was, hoping they might get access to the body of Jesus in order to provide full ceremonial burial rites, which had been hastily conducted by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus on Good Friday evening, as they'd buried the body. As the women went to the tomb, they first of all encountered the stone rolled away, angels there, unusual events and circumstances, and then there were two resurrection appearances. John describes to us how Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, one of these women, on her own, while she was temporarily separated from the other women. Then the other gospel writers tell us that Jesus appeared to the other women as well, and these women told the apostles, in the city. So they heard a rumour that there was a resurrection appearance. Peter and John rushed to the tomb, and found the tomb empty. We've seen these dramatic events unfold in Episodes 1 and 2.

In the third episode, the last episode, we switched to Luke's narrative, and Luke tells us, uniquely, of the story of two of the wider group of disciples, one named Cleopas and the other unnamed, who were walking down from the city of Jerusalem to a nearby village called Emmaus, presumably going to their lodgings, and reflecting on the events that had happened in the city, and their perplexity and confusion and their sadness. They were disciples and followers of Jesus, and they didn't really know what to make of the tragic events that had happened. As they were talking together, Jesus came up alongside them, and gradually spoke to them about the events, explained what had happened and then eventually, as they gathered together to have a meal, as they stopped along the way, suddenly they realised it was Jesus, and he immediately left them, ‘he disappeared from their sight’, according to the words of Luke.

The Two Disciples Returned to Jerusalem

This is the immediate introduction to what happens next, because these two disciples, Cleopas and his friend, immediately decided that they were going to go back. They'd come out to Emmaus, and now they were going to go back into the city. We take up our story at the end of the last passage that we looked at in the last episode, just to remind ourselves of exactly what they did and said as they went back to find the disciples and the 11 remaining apostles particularly. Verses 33 to 35 of Luke 24:

33They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.’

Luke 24:33-35, NIV

It's interesting here that they've identified the place where ‘the Eleven’ are, bearing in mind that Judas Iscariot, one of the 12 apostles, has deserted them and committed suicide after he had betrayed Jesus. We told that story very fully in Series 13. They are called ‘the Eleven’ at this particular point, the 11 apostles. They gather, they've got other people with them, they're together, and as they talk we find out that, from the point of view of ‘the Eleven’, they've heard that Jesus has risen from the dead. They've obviously heard from the women, though that's not stated here, but they've also heard from Simon Peter, who's had his own appearance of Jesus - his own resurrection appearance and experience. We don't have any details of that. It's also referred to in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 by Paul. So, that's a key appearance. Then, of course, the two tell ‘the Eleven’ what had happened on the road to Emmaus.

Here we have, towards the end of the day, a gradual awareness amongst the inner circle of Jesus' followers, that something dramatic was unfolding. Some of them were beginning to experience remarkable resurrection events. Jesus appeared to them: first of all the women; then the two travelling to Emmaus; Simon Peter as an individual; and this is the introduction to the events that unfold as they gathered together in this particular episode.

Jesus Appears to the Disciples

Let's read our text first of all. We're going to read Luke 24 verses 36 to 49:

36While 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 but 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. 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 Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47and repentance for the 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.”’

Luke 24:36-49, NIV

This is an amazing passage and a famous resurrection event.

Who Was Present?

First of all, let's think about who's actually present in this situation? We have ‘the Eleven’, but John tells us in John 20, that Thomas was absent. We'll hear more about that from John's account, because Jesus comes again and appears to Thomas, as we'll find out. So, in fact, 10 out of the 12 apostles are there. We also have Cleopas and his friend and we also have, according to Luke 24 verse 33, ‘those with them’. We've got the inner circle of the apostles and a wider group of disciples who are gathered together. They're in Jerusalem,they're in a house and John tells us that the door of the room that they were in - presumably a large room that they were gathering in- was locked. They were meeting in private; they were still in a mood of anxiety. We must remember that the fear of arrest was very real. The Roman authorities could easily have decided that they wanted to round up all the followers of Jesus, and his key disciples, in the aftermath of his death, in order to suppress the Jesus movement. It's also possible that the Jewish ruling council - the Sanhedrin - could have initiated a search for the disciples, could have arrested them, and punished them under Jewish law, or handed them over to the Romans for execution. So, they were anxious. They didn't know what was going to happen next. Their future was uncertain and, according to John, the door was locked.

Peace Be With You

It's in this context that suddenly, we see at the beginning of this passage it says that

‘Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”’

Luke 24:36, NIV

This is a miraculous event. He didn't walk through the door. The door was locked. He appeared miraculously in their midst. Jesus had the power in all his life to perform miracles, and in his resurrection life he could also perform miracles and do miraculous things. He suddenly appears to them and he greets them. The very first thing he says is, “Peace be with you.” He knows their troubled emotions. He knows the difficulty they're in, the intense uncertainty and confusion and fear that they have; this sense of anticipation; not knowing whether these resurrection appearance stories are real; not knowing what that reality really was and what did it mean; and how was it going to change things? A thousand questions were going through their minds, as Jesus said to them “Peace be with you.” He wanted to calm their troubled emotions.

The Physicality of His Body

He then wanted to reassure them that what they saw before their eyes wasn't a ghost - wasn't a hallucination. Jesus was as real physically as they were. Jesus gave them the invitation to look at him, to touch him, his hands, his feet and his side, according to John 20 verse 20. The side that had been pierced by the Roman sword, the hands and the feet that had been nailed to the cross. These were the parts of his body that indicated specifically the death by crucifixion that he had endured. There were marks and scars from those terrible moments of suffering that Jesus experienced in his hands, his feet, and his side. The physicality of Jesus' body was established. It was affirmed even more when he asked them whether they had anything he could eat. And they brought some fish, some broiled fish. And they watched as Jesus ate the fish. This is a very physical activity. Jesus is demonstrating the physicality of his resurrection body. His resurrection body was as physical as their bodies and the author Luke, and all the gospel writers, underline this point time and time again. We're not talking here about hallucinations, about hypnosis, about some mass hysteria. We're not talking about the appearance of a ghost, the sort of thing that some humans report as their experience of the supernatural or the afterlife. No, this is a body; this is the body of Jesus; this is recognisably Jesus. The very marks on his body indicate the experiences that he has gone through that they know about. The disciples are overjoyed, according to John 20. Filled with joy and amazement according to Luke 24. Even as they're trying to calibrate what's happened, trying to work out what it is that's actually taking place before their eyes, there's a sense of excitement. These stories of the resurrection are looking as though they really are true.

Jesus Teaches Them from the Old Testament

Then Jesus gives them a message. He starts speaking to them. He tells them about the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. We've noticed this already in the story of the road to Emmaus, the two disciples there were given a similar explanation as they were travelling along the road,

‘The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.’

Luke 24:46, NIV

He was speaking to them from the Scriptures, from the prophecies, emphasising again that the Old Testament predicted everything that happened to Jesus. This is a very important theme. Jesus has been explaining these things to his disciples for most of his ministry, as far as we can tell, but his message has fallen, to some extent, on deaf ears, because they found it terribly hard to believe that the Messiah would sufferand rise again on the third day.The suffering and the resurrection were the two things that they found very hard to accept. Now, as stated in the last episode, Jesus would probably have referred to a whole variety of different Scriptures from the Old Testament here, and I gave some examples in the last episode, Episode 3, of some of the Scriptures that Jesus might have been mentioning at this point. We haven't got the detail given to us in the text, but I think it's certain that in this context when Jesus speaks about the Messiah suffering and rising again from the dead, he will have referred to at least three key prophecies and Scriptures. One is the prophecy of the suffering servant, as I mentioned in the last episode, Isaiah 52 verse 13 to 53 verse 12 - a very long and significant prophecy that speaks very clearly about the servant of God being a suffering servant, who will die, verse 5:

‘He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.’

Isaiah 53:5, NIV

for example; a central verse. And again, to repeat what I've said before, verse 11:

‘After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.’

Isaiah 53:11, NIV

These are just two verses from this very rich and powerful passage that tells us about the suffering and also the resurrection of the Messiah. We know from Peter's sermon, on the day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts chapter 2, that he quoted Psalm 16, a Psalm of David about the afterlife, very decisively, in order to indicate that the Son of David, the Messiah, would rise again from the dead. I'm going to read this passage to you from the day of Pentecost and the sermon of Peter, just to indicate the significance of this Scripture. This was probably one of the other Scriptures that Jesus mentioned in this meeting with the disciples that we're discussing right now. But let me read what Peter says just a few weeks later, on the day of Pentecost. It was fresh in his mind from what Jesus had taught. So, Acts 2 verse 25, speaking about Jesus, Peter says,

‘David said about him:’ (quoting Psalm 16) “‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 26Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in h ope,27because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your holy one see decay. 28You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.”’And, explaining this passage very significantly, Peter goes on to say, ‘29“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day.”’(that means in Jerusalem, where his tomb was)’ 30“But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are witnesses of it.”’

Acts 2:25-32, NIV

This, almost certainly, was one of the passages that Jesus mentioned here when he said ‘The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.’ And Peter took it up in his very first sermon. There would have been a number of other Old Testament prophecies that Jesus would have discussed.

Jesus Commissions His Disciples

This statement here, tells us that the disciples are witnesses of the resurrection, and they're going to be preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jerusalem, and to all nations. There's a commissioning of the disciples going on even at this moment. They're going to experience the resurrection and then they're going to start preaching the good news. Jesus says that the Holy Spirit is going to come.

“Stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Luke 24:49, NIV

The Holy Spirit's power is going to come upon them. In John's account of the same event, in John chapter 20 verse 22 it says,

22And with that he breathed on them and said, ”Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone's sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”’

John 20:22-23, NIV

This is almost certainly a prophetic statement. Jesus in this meeting with his disciples is prophesying the coming of the Holy Spirit in power, which will give them authority to preach the gospel, which includes, centrally, the authority to proclaim the forgiveness of sins through the death of Jesus.

What a remarkable passage. What a remarkable encounter. This is a turnaround. So, we come to the end of Easter Sunday, the dramatic day where we've seen a number of different resurrection appearances take place. Five. Five different appearances: to Mary Magdalene; to the women; to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus; to Simon Peter; and then to a wider group of disciples, including the apostles with the exception of Thomas, who was absent on that day.

Reflections

As I make some concluding reflections on this remarkable account, I think I'd say that the interesting thing here is, that this is all based on eyewitness testimony. We know how important eyewitness testimony was to the gospel writers and Luke speaks of this explicitly at the very beginning of his account, but there are many people who could have given their eyewitness testimony to Luke and of course, in John's account, John was an eyewitness to those events anyway. This is an eyewitness account of some of the most remarkable things that happened in the whole of the life of Jesus.

We get here quite a few insights into resurrection life. We see physical touch, and the physicality of the body, we see the eating of food, we see Jesus communicating exactly as he did before, recalling the past, even though he's been through death and come through resurrection he can recall the past accurately. He can relate in a fully human way. This is a very human Jesus that we are dealing with. But his resurrection body has an extra dimension of permanence and glory and incorruptibility and miraculous power. He can move from place to place; he can come in through the locked doors.

In this passage also we have an emphasis on the great commission of the disciples to go and preach the gospel, to not only the Jews but to all the nations of the world. We're going to see this emphasised further on other occasions, and most particularly in Matthew's account. The last verses of Matthew's Gospel, Matthew 28 verses 16 to 20, gives us the greatest and clearest definition of the great commission.

But the power to preach is also promised. They're to wait in Jerusalem until they experience the coming of the Holy Spirit in power. This is a turning point. This whole day is the turning point in the story. The resurrection has truly happened and by the end of this day virtually every one of Jesus' inner circle is fully aware that Jesus has risen from the dead. As Jesus came to them, he came bringing this wonderful message, “Peace be with you.” Don't be agitated, don't be worried, don't be anxious, don't be confused. Gradually he explains what is happening.

Some people think that the resurrection of Jesus took place on Easter Sunday and that's more or less the end of the story. This is not how the gospels present it. Although there was a lot of activity on Easter Sunday as we've seen, we're going to follow, in the next few episodes, further resurrection appearances that took place over a six-week period between Easter Sunday and the ascension of Jesus to heaven, which took place just before the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came. For a number of weeks and many days, Jesus is going to appear to his disciples in different ways, in different contexts, in different places, in order to underline the significance of his resurrection, and in order to communicate important things to them, to teach them and to prepare them for the great mission and huge responsibilities that are going to lie ahead of them. We're going to continue this story in the next episode and we're going to see what happens in the days that follow Easter Sunday, and I hope you'll join us as we do that.

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