[May 31, 2009] Today’s gospel reading (Luke 24:36-53) is the end of The Gospel according to Luke. But unlike the ending of the other gospels, this gospel continues with the Acts of the Apostles. The end of Luke segues into Acts. Let us see how Luke ends his gospel to prepare us for the story that we read in Acts.
How he ends his gospel also concludes everything that went before.
Jesus Comes in Our Midst (Luke 24:36-43)
According to Acts 1:3-4a, Jesus appeared to His disciples, and ate with them, for a period of forty days. What we read about in Luke 24:36-49 takes place during that time, beginning on the evening of Easter Sunday. During that time He liked to meet with them when they were together. One of the most important characteristics of Christianity is that we come together, we gather. In Acts, when the apostles went out and proclaimed the Gospel, it was never enough to persuade people to believe. They always taught the believers to gather together. Why? Because the resurrected Jesus continues to meet with us when we gather in His name.
The gathering that the New Testament always encourages is not a passive collection of people, but it is always something in which you are actively involved with others and personally relating to them. We like to do this anyway, and the reason is that we are meant to. God meets us in the community of persons, when we are face-to-face. Of course God communes with us when we are alone, but it is not enough. God wants to reveal to us His own personal nature as Father, Son and Holy Spirit as we relate to one another as persons. When we gather together God does not thunder from above, but comes in the personal connections we create between us.
When Jesus resurrected, He no longer confined His divine nature to His one time and place. His human nature, resurrected, is now eternal and omnipresent, because it shares all the characteristics of His divine nature. In His incarnation, God the Son “emptied” Himself to become human. Now in resurrection, He no longer empties Himself. He appeared to His disciples for forty days to teach them this. After He ascended into heaven, He continues to be among us.
Whenever He appeared to them He would say, “Peace to you.” We are in the world. It seems Jesus is no longer among us. The disciples saw Him crucified—even He succumbed to the powers of the world, it seemed. So we see that without Jesus among us, we too are living under the conditions of God’s judgment of the world. We suffer under the assault of the powers of the world the same as everyone else. Since we have known Jesus, and have seen the signs of the age to come, we feel as though God has abandoned us. Naturally, we are afraid. We are overwhelmed.
But when we come together, Jesus stands in our midst and says, “Peace to you.” He has not abandoned us but is with us. He is not with us the way an idea or memory is, but He is actually and personally with us. The Jesus whom we have known in the Gospel stories—who lived, taught, and died—is alive and fully present among us in all that He was. He even shows them the marks of the nails in His hands and feet. What He was, He still is.
To prove this, He asks them to see and touch Him. He even eats with them—the sign in both the gospel and Acts of reconciliation, fellowship, satisfaction and fullness. He is physically present among us, as if to say He is actually and fully present. His whole “history” is present at this very moment, because His human time has become eternal. Not merely as a memory, but actually.
The forty days was to teach them what continues to be true. When we gather, He is in our midst, and when we realize this, we have peace. Even though we live in the world, even though we suffer tragedy and abuse, everything will be okay. Everything IS okay. He is with us. He is in the connections we create by our fellowship (Colossians 2:19; Ephesians 4:16). And there He is really present. When our eyes are open and we see this, we have peace.
The Word (24:44-48)
Jesus next shows the disciples that He is revealed in the Scriptures. When the Jews gathered in the synagogue, they gathered around the Scriptures. The church continues this practice. Only, what Jesus is telling us here is the reason why. He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures. So when we read the Scriptures, He is revealed in them. We read the Scriptures so that our eyes can be opened to see Him, to know who He is and to know Him present in our midst.
Verse 48 says, “You are witnesses of these things.” By these words Jesus refers to the role of the New Testament. Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures of the Old Testament, but gospels are the eyewitness testimony to this. It is not the objective eyewitness account that historians are interested in, but these are eyewitnesses to whom it was revealed WHO they witnessed. They are witnesses with the proper lens. They are chosen eyewitnesses, whose testimony is given from the point of view of revelation. The gospels are their eyewitness record (seen through the lens of revelation) and the writings of the apostles are the interpretation and application of the Gospel for the churches.
Now put these two things together: the resurrected Jesus is actually present in our midst when we gather. And when we gather, we open our Bibles so that our eyes can be opened to see Him. See? When we follow our reading with the Lord’s Supper, we are realizing how tangible His presence is—as tangible as bread and wine—and thus we “remember” Him in this way, and receive Him by faith.
The Spirit (24:49)
Jesus adds another very important component: the power of the Holy Spirit. The resurrected Jesus is present among us, really but invisibly. He gives us the gift of the Scriptures to reveal Himself to us, to open our eyes that we may see Him. But He also gives us power, which means capability, equipment, gifts. What does this power do?
It is the power to BE the church. The church really began on Easter, but it lacked power. That power came on Pentecost. The disciples gathered, and Jesus was in their midst, but they were still not proactive. They were still receiving rather than giving. Pentecost changed that. On Pentecost the church was really born when Peter preached. We read towards the end of Acts 2: “Those who received his word were baptized … and they continued steadfastly in the teaching and the fellowship of the apostles, in the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
According to the image in Psalm 133 and Peter’s words in Acts 2:33, when Christ ascended into heaven, the power of the Holy Spirit was poured out on Him to continue the work He began on earth (see Acts 1:1), and as a result, the Spirit spontaneously came upon His gathered disciples. He is the head and they are His body. What happened to Him automatically happened to them.
Notice that the Spirit did not come upon them as individuals, like it did with the Old Testament prophets. In the New Testament, the Spirit comes upon the church, not upon individuals except as part of the church. As members of the body of Christ, we are not individuals anymore. We are members of one another. Christ may dwell in us individually; we may have a wonderful devotional and prayer life. But the power—the capacity to function—is not there. The Spirit comes on us when we gather. Sometimes it may be just two of you, as when Ananias laid hands on Saul (Paul). But the Spirit seems to require that we be related to the body of Christ.
When the Spirit comes upon us when we gather, the power of the Spirit also transforms us into a functioning body, so that we can share Christ with one another (the reality of what happens when we fellowship in the Holy Spirit) and Christ can minister to us and through us. We can be very different from one another, but in the church, when Christ is working among us, these differences do not seem to matter anymore. What we share with one another is Christ in us. We experience real love, not just concern but also regard and esteem for one another. We receive and we give—mutually. The confusion of Babel in the world becomes the unity of love in the church.
If we read verse 47 in the light of Acts 2, we see that the power of the Spirit comes upon us so that we can share the Gospel with those who do not yet know Jesus. The gift of tongues was a sign that the Gospel was to go into the whole world, to all groups of people, and to all lost individuals. The Spirit works when we say something to our neighbor—not only in giving us the right words at the right moment, but also in the circumstances of their lives, in their minds and in their hearts. The Spirit works on the whole situation. So we just need to be open and honest with people, share our love of Jesus, and let the Holy Spirit do the work. The Spirit has already been poured out.
We can continue until next Pentecost unfolding the different aspects of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but we will make only one further point right now. This is very important.
The power of the Holy Spirit—the Spirit’s capacity, equipping and gifting—is not only given to some individuals. It is first of all given to the whole body universally, and next, to the whole of the gathered believers wherever and whenever they gather, but it is also given to every individual believer. Every believer is meant to function in the body of Christ. There are no spectators. If you think you are only watching from the sidelines, you may not have noticed that you have a bat in your hands and the ball is coming your way. Just because you are afraid, or do not believe in yourself, is not an excuse to bury your gift in the dirt under your tent. You can serve others in practical ways, and that is important. Also realize, though, that what the Spirit teaches you is also meant to be shared with others. Do you think it is too elementary, too simple? Let me tell you that I need to hear what encourages you. I need to let it encourage me. We all do.
Do not wait for the Spirit to come upon you. If you are a believer, you are already part of the body. The Spirit has already come upon you. Do not wait any longer for some experience to happen. You are ready to act, to obey. When you obey, the Spirit will be there. The Spirit will fill you at the moment, and may not even let you know. Just trust Him.