By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
June 2, 2019
Luke 24:44–53 (ESV)
44 Then 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 and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.
The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is something I never seem to tire of. There is so much to learn from the life that continues to cause me to pause and reexamine my own life. Then the willingness to take on the suffering that he experienced for no real human reason. The death of Jesus more than anything proves just how unjust we can be to humanity. What exactly was his crime? What exactly caused the people to turn against him and demand his death? We talk about snowflakes today, the people of the first century killed a person because he offended them. Lastly, we come to the resurrection. Imagine the extreme feelings of loss and hopelessness the various disciples would have been feeling those three days. They did not understand why Jesus had to die. They did not know what the big picture was to be. Thousands of years later we can point to the various prophecies that proclaimed the events that unfolded before their eyes, but for them all they saw was loss. They lost their best friend. They lost their teacher, who encouraged them to strive for something they did not think was possible. They lost the hope for a kingdom that would be different from the kingdom they had experienced their entire lives. A kingdom where they could live and worship without fear, a kingdom where common people, had status, and they were not exploited and looked down upon. They lost hope.
That all changed one Sunday morning, when one of the disciples, a woman by the name of Mary came running to the house in hysterics saying that the body was missing. After two thousand years of hearing the story, are we able to experience the raw emotion and excitement that flowed through their bodies? I work in loss prevention when I am not at the Meetinghouse. My job is to do whatever I can to prevent items from going missing from our store. In the course of my day, I walk around the store observing various items, many of these items I count and record the quantities. There are some days that nothing seems to be missing. But there are other days where my heart sinks. Somehow me and the team I work with missed something, and an item has gone missing. On those days my job is to frantically look for these items in every possible location I can think of and if I still do not find them, I start looking through the recorded video. Our goal is to provide some sort of explanation for loss of our merchandise, if it was a theft, we then do everything we can possibly do to identify who it was and hopefully initiate some sort of recovery of the lost items. My heart races when a $50 bottle of face cream goes missing, for these first century disciples of Jesus a body is missing. Not just a body but the body of their friend, teacher, and potential king. Peter and John went out to investigate and they came back and as far as we know they sat down at the table in total defeat.
These men and women are much like us. How many of us would have come back from the tomb after Mary’s testimony and just sat there? If this happened here today, there would be some excited conversation. What questions would you have asked? They had left Mary at the tomb and came back to the others to discuss what they saw. “We saw the burial clothes but not body just like she said. No, the stone was rolled away. No there was not any marks of dragging.” If you have watched a mystery series on TV, you know the types of questions that would need answered. Then Mary comes and tells an even greater story. The body was not stolen, but Jesus is alive!
After that day and for forty days after Jesus had appeared to the disciples on several occasions. Sometimes he would just appear in the room with them, and he would probably have to revive someone from choking on their food because of the surprise that he initiated. At other times he just happened to meet them on the shore of the sea while they in their confusion and brooding decided to return to their previous lifestyle, only to encourage them remember what he had shown them over the course of his life with them. They still did not understand. They wanted to ask so many questions, but they realized that maybe they did not know anything. They had thought that Jesus was going to become a powerful king, yet he was killed in such a dishonorable way. Could he now bring about the kingdom? Or did the testimony he gave to the Romans, “My kingdom is not of this world,” mean that maybe they did not have the slightest idea of what was going on.
For some of the disciples he had walked along a road with them and explained scripture to them as they walked along the path. For others he merely spoke their name. And others he removed his shirt and showed them the wounds left behind by the nails and the spear.
Today he meets with them once again in a room with a closed door. He shows up and startles them yet again. I do not know for sure if this is the first time, he met with them or if it is some time later, because Luke squeeze the events of forty days into one. But it is clear that there is testimony within these verses that at least the events of a week later when Thomas expresses that he must see the wounds to believe are incorporated into this revelation of the resurrected Christ. They are startled, they think they are looking not at a human body standing with them but a specter, spirit, or ghost. So, Jesus asks them for something to eat.
I find it very interesting that he asks for food. I can just imagine that they are all sitting there with hands poised in front of their open mouths crushing bread in a shocked grip as they gaze at Jesus. I can see a smirk on Jesus’s face as he looks at them in this state, as someone gulps and slides over a plate of fish. Jesus then takes a seat among them, eating the fish, and he begins to teach. He explains summarizes his teachings that he shared for the past few years; he points out how they correspond to the teachings of Moses. He explains the events that they witnessed and how they reflect the oracles of the prophets. He burst out into song while he explains the testimony and praises of the Psalms. And he says to them, “this is all the stuff I was speaking to you while I was still with you. All of this, everything from the Law, the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” He then went deeper, and he opened their minds to understand the scripture.
I love that phrase, “He opened their minds to understand the scripture.” The idea of opening in this sense is to cause a change of perception. It can also mean to let loose or to liberate. He liberated their minds; he causes a change of perception within their understanding so that they were able to understand the scripture. The reason I love this phrase so much is because it shows us that sometimes we can hold an interpretation, an interpretation that has long standing tradition that might just be lacking perspective. These interpretations may not be wrong, in fact they might be pointing in the proper direction, but they might not be complete or fully explored.
I thought about this passage as I was driving down to camp and back. If you have ever driven through the flint hills of Kansas along Interstate 35, you are aware that you drive through one of the largest and last remaining prairies of the United States. Because of this unique aspect of nature, they have built around the Bazaar Cattle Pens an area to stop and view this vast expanse. There is something breath taking about the rolling hills of green grass that stretches for miles. Every time I drive along the highway, I personally feel close to God, for me it is one of those places the early Irish monks would call a thin spot, where heaven and earth meet. I could stand there staring at those hills, smelling the soil, the grasses, and the wildflowers for hours just thinking. And the idea of Jesus, “opening their minds to understand the scripture,” becomes just a bit more tangible.
He was sitting with them, eating fish, and explaining the scriptures. They are staring at him, trying to remember to breath as their minds try to wrap it all in so processing can begin. He probably looks up and sees the blank stares, so he starts again. And finally, they begin to understand, “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
This makes total and complete sense right. Yes, the blank stares remain for thousands of years, but that is ok. Maybe, you need to stop by the cattle pens the next time you drive to the camp. Christ should suffer. Jesus did not only suffer, but he was totally dishonored and shamed. He was wrongfully accused, lied about, put on trial before people that already chose the sentence before he was even given a chance. This was done by his own nation, people of his own heritage and religion. They then took him to the gentiles. The Romans could care less about the Jewish people, as far as they were concerned these people, these non-citizens of the empire, were nothing more than means to an end. That end was profit for themselves. Most of the government officials did not care for the people, their only concern was to keep the cost low and the profits toward the empire high. When the accused was brought before them their only concern was that a riot might begin and a riot would need to be dealt with, and that would cause unneeded attention from those higher in power because valuable resources would be used in a province instead of being sent to Rome. They brought Jesus to the Romans, and they ripped off his clothes, mocking him in ways we really do not want to imagine, and they beat him within an inch of his life. Then they nailed him to a tree. Jesus suffered. Jesus suffered under the hands of Jew and Gentile. His suffering was by the hands of all nations. Sometimes we forget this, but it had to be in this manner. Jesus had to suffer by both groups so that the redemption could be for all nations.
Jesus continues by explaining not only should the Christ suffer, but on the third day he would rise from the dead. Why the third day? Was it simply because he died on a Friday and the third day was the beginning of a new week? I considered this as I looked across the expanse of the prairies, and I remember that it was the third day of creation that life began. It was the third day that God caused dry ground to appear and on that ground grass, herbs yielding seeds, fruit trees began to appear according the desire of God. Life began on the third day. Prior to that day nothing living according to the minds of the ancients existed. The world was empty of life, and then day three God created life. Jesus was dead and on the third day was raised to life. Through Adam all of creation experienced the pangs of death, through Jesus we are given the gift of eternal life. He then encourages his disciples to speak about this life that is gained through repentance to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem.
I stood there along the metal barrier of the cattle pen, and the words of scripture began coming to mind. And as I drove back through the hills as I returned to Kansas City, again I observe the land around me. A song often comes to my mind as I drive this highway. A song oddly enough by the band Third Day, called These Thousand Hills.
These thousand hills roll ever on, footprints of a mighty God, they bring me to my knees in praise, amazing love, amazing grace.
T’was on a hill my savior died a broken heart a bleeding side. Hill of the Skull, Mount Calvary, the blood he shed he shed for me.
When heaven’s hills at last I roam, forever settled in my home. I’ll join the saints around your throne, your kingdom, Lord, rolls ever on.
I look out at those thousand hills, and I see something that you can only notice in the prairies so clearly. Off in the distance you can see the shadow of the clouds in contrast to the light provided by the sun. I watch the clouds building in the distance, you can literally see them growing right before your eyes, and under the clouds patches of shaded grassland. Those clouds we are all aware can be menacing, because they can often build into thunderstorms and tornadoes, but when you are in the prairies you can see beyond the clouds. You can see them build and you can see them break down and disappear. Repentance, Jesus says, that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed. Those disciples that sat there eating fish with him that day, were to be the ones that proclaimed this to Jerusalem because they were the witnesses.
Jesus then took them to Bethany, to the mount of olives. And he lifted his hands to them and blessed them. And from that mount he was lifted into heaven and as he was lifted, they worshiped him. They returned to the city, no longer in a state of confusion or fear, but worshiping and blessing God continuously in the Temple.
I looked at the shadows of the clouds and I watched them as I drove home last evening. I watched as shadows covered an area and moved on with the wind. I watched as the clouds gathered in the eastern sky and I watched, just as quickly they gathered, they began to break down and drift apart. As I watched I thought about several of my friends, and so many others who I do not personally know that often struggle. They are living under the shadow of a storm cloud unable to see the light. How will they know unless those of us who have seen what God can do share with them the hope found when we turn toward Christ? They live under the shadow, in fear and hopeless, but we can see because we have a glimpse from a different perspective. The shadow will pass, and they can stand in the light. Jesus suffers for and with us. He died upon the cross and was buried. Then on the third day he rose to live again.
As we enter this time of Open worship and communion as Friends, I pray that Christ will liberate our minds to understand scripture. Not only to understand the written word, but to understand that word that was made flesh and dwells among us and continuously teaches and guides us. I pray that we will become people that can see beyond the shadows of the clouds and see the light and beauty beyond, sharing our stories of hope in repentance and life renewed by our friend, teacher, king, and God.