Monday, 20 April 2015

The Resurrection Appearance of Jesus

Luke 24.36-49    In the Gospel reading from St. Luke, we heard about the resurrection appearance of our Lord to the eleven disciples. Not only the eleven were present for others were gathered with them including the two who had just returned from the village of Emmaus and who had recognized the Lord when he took bread, blessed and broke it before them.

But now, this appearance to all the disciples is important because collectively they were to be enlightened, instructed and commanded for the future. The story did not end at the Cross for our Lord’s resurrection was a new beginning for the whole world ‘…that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations’. The appearance of our Lord was to give substance to this message for which they were now commissioned.

Firstly they were to witness to the physical resurrection of Jesus.
Secondly, they were to confirm the prophecies of scripture as fulfilled.
Thirdly, they were to be empowered by the Holy Spirit.

If we think carefully about the physical resurrection of Jesus and how important it was for the disciples to see the stigmata and to touch him and even to the point of giving his some food to eat, we may understand how vital it was for the disciples to witness the reality of his body, although glorified and celestial, his body was not just spirit but also flesh and bone. St. Paul gives an explanation of this in 1 Cor 15.35-38. He asks the question ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?' And in reply he says ‘…There are celestial bodies, and there are terrestrial bodies….God gives it a body as he has chosen…This perishable nature must put on the imperishable…the mortal puts on immortality’. So what the disciples recognized was our Lord’s identity with these aspects of being, his individuality and his personality. In Christ we become a new creation. We are being prepared for this amazing bodily change for the new heaven and the new earth. Faith works in the dynamics of our spirit for the meek shall inherit that new heaven and earth.

We should dwell more upon our eternal future in Christ for to live now is Christ but to die is gain (Phil1.20). When we depart this life, it is more of Christ where every experience of our Lord here is perfected for the reality and value of Christ there. We enter more into his kingdom. It is nothing less than a fully developed individuality of mental, spiritual and physical ability.

The word for ‘flesh’ in the Bible can have at least a double meaning. It may, first of all, represent sinful human nature, the carnal mind, the mind of the flesh. But alternatively it may also be descriptive of the body as simple material and physical substance as a vehicle of the spirit of man. That is what our Lord was meaning in this passage: “…handle me and see for a spirit has not flesh and bone as you see I have”. Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit. But when we think of our eternal life we should guard against a selfish prospect in thinking of the old flesh as an improved sense of being, or of the old life under more pleasant circumstances. Our thinking should be guided more in the sense of an immortal body that is sanctified and perfected which is continuous with our moral development here. We take with us the character we make which is the integrating factor between this life and the next. Our life in Christ here starts and continues our destiny with him there. “See my hands and my feet that it is I myself” In seeing Christ in this way we see for ourselves that he is just as real as the disciples saw Jesus on that first day of his resurrection from the dead. Do we contemplate what we will be in Christ’s eternal kingdom? We should think carefully of these scriptures and others relating to his appearances, for those appearances apply to us now as they did to those early disciples, and they are indicative of what we ourselves shall be in heaven. We are witnesses to the physical resurrection of Jesus.

Secondly, the disciples were to confirm in their preaching the fact of the fulfilment of scripture about Jesus v45 “Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures” – Moses, the prophets and the psalms “…that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead”.

We need to realize that the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament can only be seen as fulfilment if we have the body and substance of Christ and of his resurrection from the dead. Remove Jesus and there remains nothing but a conflicting heap of vague hopes and images. Without the Christ of flesh and blood the Old Testament is vague and confusing. For the believer, the Old Testament becomes the instrument through which God taught that Israel was chosen and from whom the Christ Messiah came. This was God’s eternal plan. What we have to learn from the apostolic witness are the various connections between the Old and New Testaments. “Jesus opened their mind to understand the scriptures”. I think it is true to say that some Christians have a tendency to neglect the Old Testament and to abandon their reading of it because Christ has now come, all is fulfilled. We are no longer under law but under grace. That may be true for the ceremonial law, yet that part of the law has much to teach us about God’s holiness. The moral law as represented by the Ten Commandments is still necessary. Article VII says “…no Christian whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral”. There is much we learn of God’s work of salvation in the Old Testament – his loyalty and majesty, his love and justice, his holiness and his ways through Israel to all mankind. It is like a golden thread of which the coming of Jesus is the continuation and final phase of God’s revelation. In all the sorrows of Israel the people’s disobedience and captivity, we see revealed Jesus as a light shining ever bright until the day he was born as a baby in Bethlehem.  Throughout the Old Testament we have the prospect of the Kingdom of God. There are typologies or parallels. For example we have the typology of Jesus and the raised Temple. “Destroy this Temple and in three days I shall raise it up”. There is preparation by what is expressed for example in Isaiah chapter 53. of the suffering servant of God. Then there are similarities of ideas such as the old and new covenants. There are contrasts between things that are ready to pass away in the Old because they were imperfect and temporary. The Epistle to the Hebrews brings out these contrasts. All the sacrifices ever performed on the altar of Solomon were but a foreshadowing of the death of Christ.

The disciples were to have a new understanding of scripture that was fulfilled, and so they gathered or collected Christ from the Old Testament. Of course it was not the manhood of Christ that they collected. He, as a man had stood before them. They saw and heard him with their own eyes and ears. But it was the being of God in Christ that they searched for and found in the Old Testament. They drew upon this resource for their preaching. It was the whole fullness of the Old Testament that led to Christ. God made it known in the sense that we are fallen and it is God’s sheer grace that redeems us. It dawns upon our minds that we can only be saved by grace. It is impossible to keep God’s law. The grace of God had been promised and fulfilled in the coming of the Christ. That was what the apostles went out to tell the world. There is salvation only in Christ by grace through faith.

Thirdly, the disciples were to be filled with the Holy Spirit. “You are witnesses” said Jesus…”behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you”. In their own strength the disciples would never be capable of performing Christ’s commission. The promise of the Father had been given in the Old Testament in Ezekiel 37. “I will put my Spirit within you and you will live”. And in Joel 2 “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh”. To this day the power of the Holy Spirit continues to inspire, train, correct and guide the servants of Christ in all their endeavours for him.

The question is: Does Christ speak to us differently about the Holy Spirit from what he said to the disciples on that first Easter Day? The answer is an emphatic no! If it were different we would be in a hopeless predicament. The fact is Christ speaks to us directly now by his Spirit just as he spoke to his disciples then. Notice the order: The disciples believed his word and command, and recognized him as the Christ. There was no other way for them to know him but by his plain word of promise. It is exactly the same for ourselves. We cannot continue to know Christ without at the same time hearing his word through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The step forward for us is to remember this fact that the word of Christ is no longer a ‘mere word’ but it is a Person. He is the Word of God incarnate. The witness and message of the disciple is simply the personal presence of God. Immanuel – God with us. While Jesus lived on earth the disciples had God’s word as a person living with them. But if Jesus had not risen from the dead they would have had him merely as a memory. But now that they saw he was risen and with the gift of his Spirit they each stood in a personal fellowship with him, and by prayer they had a personal encounter with Jesus as the Risen Christ who lives in them by his Spirit. It is precisely the same for ourselves. Christ is the living Lord of our lives. Our encounter with him discloses his word for each one of us. To know Christ means to know him as a risen and living Lord and Saviour. This is the Easter message he has given and this is the Easter message that must be passed on to others by faith and love. 

So let us remember this progressive experience of our risen Lord and Saviour.
We know his risen presence day by day and will not cease for all eternity
We know God’s plan and purpose that had been promised and fulfilled in the Old Testament. We learn about God and ourselves and our calling to faith and obedience.
We may know our Lord’s presence by the gift of his Holy Spirit for each one of us.
Because of this, we may know his unfailing love and grace day by day until we see him face to face.

Rev. Bernard Hughes: Sermon at Parish Communion, Christ Church. 19.04.15