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APril 19, 2015 - Luke 24.36b-48

“Real, Live Jesus”

Luke 24:36b-48

April 19, 2015

 

36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence. 44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.

 

At another church, they were discussing the need for more evangelism in their congregation, the need to attract new members to their church.

"Why do you come to this church?" the pastor asked.  Some said that they enjoyed the fellowship. One said that she loved the music. Thank goodness someone mentioned the good preaching!  (We preachers want to feel that what we do makes a difference.) Then a member named Mary said, "I keep coming back, have done so for twenty years, because, of all the places in my life, it is this place that I experience most vividly the presence of Christ. I have hardly ever come here without feeling, at some point in the service, or in conversations before or after, that Jesus is here. That's why I want to be here." 

That seems to me about the best reason to be in church after Easter: because Jesus is here.  Jesus is alive. 

 

In the resurrection, the crucified Jesus returns to his disciples. He will not stay dead and buried, nor will he allow them to stay despondent and hiding behind locked doors. The risen Christ keeps returning to us, revealing who he is, and calling us to follow.

 

For more than two decades, a group of biblical scholars calling themselves the Jesus Seminar, has been meeting regularly in an attempt to figure out the “real Jesus.” They began by considering the words of Jesus. Which, of all the words attributed to Jesus in the gospels, are really the actual words of Jesus?

Not many, according to the Jesus Seminar. Most of those words were actually the words of the early church. The words that are left seem to come from a rather strange, wandering teacher who is strangely worked up over something. When we've sifted through what Jesus might have said and what we can actually believe he said, we honest, modern, intellectual folk know that he didn't say much.

Many (including me) have criticized the Jesus Seminar for their skeptical, minimalist picture of Jesus. Some of the members of the Seminar, like their leader the late Robert Funk, see themselves as courageous pioneers and honest doubters. “Look how fresh, truthful, and honest we are,” the Jesus Seminar seems to say. We can look at Jesus and see a well-meaning, wandering philosopher whose credulous followers got themselves all worked up into believing that he rose from the dead, but we honest, modern, and intellectual folk know that he really didn't.

This is all very strange in the light of today's gospel. The Jesus Seminar really has to just throw out a lot of the Bible for their theories to work, including our text today.

Let’s look at this.  With the resurrection of Jesus, from the very first, from those who knew him best, who had heard all of his words, there were doubts. His followers are not depicted as those who said after his horrible, bloody crucifixion, "Gee, it's almost like he is still with us. Let's all try to believe that he is still with us."

No, his followers are portrayed as those who expected that Good Friday was the end, the very end of the story. Here they huddled down behind closed doors, frightened and worried. There is no doubt lodged by the scholars of the Jesus Seminar that was not first put forward by his own disciples.

Doubt that the crucified Jesus was also raised from the dead, doubt that God really did defeat death and evil, none of this is original with us. His own disciples, those who had been with him from the very first, who had heard all of his teaching, doubted the good news that the women brought to them on Easter morning. They may have lived in the first century, but they weren't stupid. They knew the difference between a dead body and a live person. And they doubted.

 

Have you ever doubted? Have you ever been stunned by the audacity of the church's claim that "Christ is risen, he is risen indeed"?

Well, you are in good company. So did Jesus' first followers. "They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost," says Luke.

Most Easter doubters whom I know are less startled and terrified than they are baffled. A couple of weeks ago, on Easter Sunday, with all the celebration and great music and the crowd, perhaps they were willing to believe. But just a few Sundays later, in the sober light of post-Easter, well, who can say for sure what it all means?

 

So the disciples are doubting, afraid and wondering what it is they are seeing. And what then? What does the risen Christ do? Note: he comes to his doubting, fearful disciples. He "stood among them," and says to them, "Peace!" He stills their fears. He shows them his hands, feet, and the scars of his body. They first thought it was too good to be true ("in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering").

 

There was this fellow who lived on my hall in my dorm during college.  I will call him Eddie.  He was kind of a social moth.  He would come around and say “Hey.  What’s going on?”  But we really never had to deal with him unless he came around, lingered and said, “Hey.  What’s going on?  You got anything to eat?”  Then we knew that Eddie was really in our room and we really had to deal with him.

 

Same thing happens to the disciples. Jesus says, “You got anything to eat?”  He ate a meal with them. He was really there.  They had to really deal with him.  Then he speaks to them, explains the scriptures to them.  Can you be any more real than that?

See? That's us on Sunday, in this time after Easter. We gather here, with all our doubts, all our fears. Is Easter only a pious hope? Something fuzzy and vaguely spiritual? And then he comes to us. Jesus shows us his bodily presence. He shares food with us. He opens up the meaning of scripture for us. And we believe.

 

Belief in the resurrection, the triumph of the resurrected Christ, does not come naturally for us. It comes as a gift from the risen Christ. In the resurrection, we are at the heart of what we believe about the identity of Jesus. He is not only a great teacher, a fine moral example, he is the risen Savior. Faith in that identity is a gift of scripture and the presence of Christ among us.

 

The thing that gives rise to faith, that which makes us Christians, is not that we have done a careful study of the Bible and decided what is really possible to believe. We need to believe ALL of it.  It is not that we have all closed our eyes and tried real hard to believe the unbelievable. The thing that gives rise to faith is that the risen Christ has come to us, has intruded among us, has revealed himself to us, has shared the table with us, has opened the scriptures to us, and we believe.

 

In the resurrection, the crucified Jesus returns to his disciples. He will not stay dead and buried, nor will he allow them to stay despondent and hiding behind locked doors. The risen Christ keeps returning to us, revealing who he is, and calling us to follow.

 

In Pudd'nhead Wilson, published in 1894, Mark Twain summed up his bleak estimate of life's value:  "Whoever has lived long enough to find out what life is, knows how deep a debt of gratitude we owe to Adam, the first great benefactor of our race. He brought death into the world."

Paul speaks of Jesus as the "new Adam," the one who by his life and death brought life into the world.

 

Faith in the risen Christ is not an achievement. It is a gift. It is not a matter of resolving an intellectual dilemma; it is a matter of his loving us enough to reveal himself to us. Poor Jesus Seminar. It's not the words of Jesus that we need to get right; it is his living presence that we need to experience. If Jesus did not come and stand among us, if he did not speak to us and reassure us, there would be no believing, no worship, no faith.

But Jesus has. And that's the major reason why you are here today, why, when the hymns of our faith are sung, you are able to join in with full-throated joy. Christ has come to you. It is not only that he has risen, but that he has risen for you. You have come here because he has come to you.

The Jesus Seminar is trying to do something that is pointless because it is already decided.  They are trying to pack down soil that has already been plowed up, just so they can ask if this ground can ever be plowed?

 

What is the proof of Easter? An empty tomb? A group of scholars who vote nine to one that the resurrection really took place?

If you are committed to doubt, then all words, all arguments, that I might be able to lay upon you would never withstand all of the reasons for doubt.

The only thing that makes any of this believable is that Jesus actually rose from the dead.  He stood with the disciples when they were afraid.  He asked them “You Got Anything to Eat?” Christ has come to us, come back to us, ministered to our fears and doubts, offered his very body as tangible proof to us, shared his table with us, spoken to us, and taught us.

In the resurrection, the crucified Jesus returns to his disciples. He will not stay dead and buried, nor will he allow them to stay despondent and hiding behind locked doors. The risen Christ keeps returning to us, revealing who he is, and calling us to follow. 

 

Thanks be to God.  He is risen!  He is risen indeed!