15 April 2018
Reading Acts 3:12—19
Peter Speaks to the Onlookers
11 While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.
17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.
Reading 1 John 3:1—7
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. 6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.
7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
Gospel Luke 24:36—48
Alleluia, alleluia. I am the first and the last, says the Lord, and the living one; I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore.
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look 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.”
40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.
44 He 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.”
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I 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.”
Today’s gospel passage from the last chapter of Luke follows on from everyone’s favourite travel story—The Road to Emmaus. In Luke’s account, it is Sunday morning—as the day starts two women make their way to the tomb where Jesus has been interred. There they find the stone covering the entrance has been unsealed and rolled aside. Two men in dazzling garments announce to them that Jesus is risen.
Armed with these momentous tidings, the women go straight to the disciples and announce the resurrection. They are not believed—their tidings are judged to be no more than an idle tale.
Peter, however, runs to the tomb and finds it as the women had reported. Apart from confirming that the tomb is empty, Luke does not tell us anything about any conclusions Peter reached. At this point Luke’s narrative cuts abruptly to the account of the Road to and from Emmaus.
Two of the disillusioned disciples have decided to escape from the febrile atmosphere in Jerusalem and start walking the 13 miles home to Emmaus. They encounter, but do not recognise Jesus. They express their disappointment. They hoped that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel, but Jesus explains how everything that happened was necessary according to Scripture.
The two invited Jesus to spend the night with them. During the meal, when Jesus blessed and broke the bread, their eyes were opened, and they recognised him, but he vanished from their sight. They rushed back to Jerusalem and reported to the gathered believers what had happened.
Jesus’s greeting was the first word the disciples had heard from him since the dark and terrible events of the weekend. The word was Shalom. Peace was what the disciples needed to hear. They were in hiding, fearing for their very lives after the leader of their fledgling movement had met his fate. Jesus’s appearing in their very midst, unaccountably, was accompanied by the reassurance that all would be well, despite every indication to the contrary.
Peace is a repeated theme in Luke—think of the angels in the fields, and the hymns of Zechariah and Simeon. But before their minds could be put at rest, the disciples needed assurance they were not seeing an apparition. Jesus showed them the marks of the nails in his hands and feet, but also demonstrated his ability to eat and drink—something phantoms could not do.
In our modern translation, it’s easy to miss Jesus claim to be divine:
Look 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.”
“It is I myself”—ἐγώ εἰμί in Greek—I AM is the name for God. After sharing the peace with his friends, Jesus gives his authority for the peace he shares with them. His credentials are nothing less than the assurance of God the Father. The news must have been startling to the band of disappointed, fearful, disciples who remained in Jerusalem, despite the likelihood they would be betrayed, arrested and killed themselves.
All this can be understood in fulfilment of Scripture. That was why Jesus expounded the law of Moses—effectively what had been written about him—to the disciples in the upper room as he had on the road to Emmaus.
All this is not for interest alone. The elaborate explanation is for a good reason. The disciples, as witnesses of Jesus, are now called to proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations, a theme that will be traced further in Acts.
Both for the early disciples—and also for us—the message of Easter is the fulfilment of what God has been accomplishing throughout human history. The reality of Jesus is the reality of God’s plan revealed. This understanding moves the disciples forward to the future—no longer fearful and alone—but sure in the knowledge of the resurrection through their own witness of a physical Jesus who is very much alive.
Luke in his gospel account immediately follows this episode with a commission to the disciples—and of course the same exhortation to us:
48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I 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.”
Belief in the empty tomb is a prerequisite of every Easter day of our lives. What follows from this confession is our own commission—the same promise and the same assurance as was given to the disciples by the physical Jesus himself.
Luke did not himself witness these things—he is in the same position as we are in that sense. Like the apostles we have to account for what we have done with the witness account we have just read. That is the big question asked of all of us.
You are witnesses of these things, says the Lord. I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore. Amen