3rd Sunday of Easter – Vicar Stoppenhagen
Third Sunday of Easter
Text: Luke 24:36-49
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh
April 18, 2021
In the holy name of Jesus. Amen.
Seeing is not believing—or so it would seem for the disciples. They had heard from the women at the tomb that Jesus was risen, but they couldn’t believe that. Now they had seen Jesus in the flesh, but they still couldn’t believe. It was easier for them to believe that he was a ghost (or a demon, or an angel, or something else that’s neither man nor God) than to believe that it was actually Jesus risen from the dead. Even when he said to them, “See my hands—they can touch you! See my feet—they’re firmly planted on the floor. No floating apparition here! See and touch—it’s really me!” And yet seeing and touching the risen Jesus, the disciples still disbelieved for joy and marveled at him instead.
A lot of preachers think that the main goal behind passages like this one (and “Pouting Thomas” last week) is to confirm the physical reality of Jesus’ resurrection and thereby affirming faith. They think that, since the disciples touched the nail holes in Jesus’ hands and feet and watched him eat some fish, suddenly they had faith, full and unwavering. But as far as we can tell from our text today, that is not what happens to the disciples. Even after they saw Jesus, they still experienced some form of unbelief. Now I admit, I don’t know exactly what it means that the disciples “disbelieved for joy.” I’m a simple man, so a friend summarized it for me last week with, “It was all too good to be true.”
That’s what I think is the real goal behind Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. They’re not to prove that Jesus is truly Jesus after the resurrection, completely God and completely man (even though he is, and these passages do show that). Instead, the goal of a text like this is to show how the resurrection makes it harder for us to believe—that a resurrected Jesus is indeed too good to be true. We can put our fingers into his wounds, we can eat with him, we can learn from him, we can walk with him down the road to Emmaus…but all of that is too wonderful, too fantastic for us to believe it could happen. The resurrection doesn’t make faith any easier; it makes it more difficult.
You see, for many folks in the last two millenia, faith has been easy. Countless people believed (and believe still today) that Jesus was a good man, a moral teacher, a miracle worker, a political leader—maybe even a little divine! And that he ultimately was the expedient sacrifice for the people. But to believe that Jesus himself could be raised from the dead—well, that complicates the whole faith business. That means faith must take a step beyond comprehension. The people of Jesus’ day could see his healings, hear his teaching, touch (and even taste!) his miracles—and they could somehow make sense of them, or at least get something out of them. But Jesus raised from the dead—that was a next-level miracle. They could see it, but no one could make sense of it. Resurrection requires faith to take a step beyond what reason and the senses can perceive.
The disciples had to grapple with this hard truth. Just because the risen Jesus showed up out of the blue and said, “Shalom,” didn’t mean that they immediately believed in him and received his peace. Instead, it has the opposite effect! They’re startled and frightened, a lot like the fear that we see in the women at the tomb. But that fear and trembling, contradictory and complicated as it may seem, opens the door to faith. That fear and confusion about the resurrection is what confirms for us that this Jesus is not merely a man, but that he is the very Son of God. Fear serves as a starting point, the entrance into the peace and wholeness that Jesus brings.
Too often we think that faith is this easy ride down the highway to heaven. Baptism just drops us in a cozy self-driving car, and after a few stops at the church for weddings, funerals, Easters and Christmases, we arrive at our heavenly goal, complete and holy and forgiven. But faith isn’t a one-and-done deal. Yes, the gift of faith is instantaneous, and it’s blessings are guaranteed. But the life of that faith—because the faith is lived, and not just possessed—means that you will constantly be stretched and strengthened, weakened and reinforced, torn down and rebuilt.
The key for sustaining that life of faith as it grows and changes is dwelling in God’s Word. Notice what the risen Jesus does for the disciples, despite their disbelieving hearts: He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. The resurrection gives us a new mind needed for our life of faith, so that we see the scriptures in a different light. Christ shows us that the scriptures aren’t just a bunch of fantastic, disconnected stories that have happened to God’s people over the course of history. Instead, they are all mini-death-and-resurrection-stories, moments when God has remained faithful and redeemed his people. And they all point to the final and ultimate redemption in Christ’s death and resurrection.
Jesus’ resurrection is much more than simple proof of his divinity. It is the high point of salvation history. Everything in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and Psalms was written in anticipation of that moment, when Christ would bring to fulfillment the promise of everlasting life to his people. Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection reveal to us the purpose of God’s activity throughout time—not to punish, destroy, or condemn; but to give forgiveness and life in abundance to his people.
We don’t look back at the resurrection as a mere historical event to lean our faith against. Instead, it drives us forward in our life of faith to what is yet to come. It propels us headlong into the repentance and forgiveness of sins, which are proclaimed in Jesus’ name. In repentance, we literally “change our mind” as we put on the new mind given in the Scriptures. We begin to recognize that the ways of Christ are radically different than the ways of the world. And as we learn to put away our earthly desires and cling to the things of heaven, we lavish in Christ’s gift of forgiveness.
You, dear friends, are witnesses of these things. The resurrected Christ is actively working in you, bringing your dead flesh to new life and planting peace in your hearts. Jesus has caught you up in the momentum of his resurrection and carries you forward to your resurrection. He is casting out the doubt, the despair, the anxiety of this present age and giving you the peace of his mind, the mind of life, freedom, and hope. You share in his death, you share in his resurrection, and as God’s children you will be like him, one with him, and you will see him as he is.
It all sounds a little too good to be true, doesn’t it? But it is true. Feel free to marvel. Be astounded. And don’t worry if you find yourself “disbelieving for joy.” The life of faith wouldn’t be a life without those moments. If Jesus can wow you into unbelief, he can certainly establish in your heart a deep and reverent faith in him. And may that day come soon, when the resurrection reality is revealed in all its fullness and we will see and touch and know that peace which surpasses all understanding.
In the holy name of Jesus. Amen.