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Sermon – You Shall Be Witnesses

You Shall Be Witnesses

Sermon Preached by Reverend Stuart Langshaw on Sunday, 14 April 2024.

Luke 24:36b-48. Gospel for Third Sunday of Easter Year B

This is not going to be a sermon as much as it is going to be a Bible study of the gospel passage for today with an application at the end. If you want to keep an eye on where I am going, you could turn up Luke 24 in the Bibles in the pews. It’s on page 84 in the New Testament section of those pew Bibles.

Easter is a 6 week season. So we have 4 weeks left in which to eat and relish Easter eggs without feeling guilty. 2 weeks ago we celebrated Easter itself with all its gladness and celebration and alleluias. Last week we investigated why Thomas the disciple is not to be remembered as doubting Thomas at all. This week we have Jesus speaking to all the disciples.

The trouble is that we can’t just look at today’s gospel reading without attaching to it the paragraph that precedes it … the account of the two of Jesus’ followers who were on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a walk of 12 kilometres (Adelaide to Somerton Park). These two were joined by a stranger whom they eventually realised was Jesus. But more of that as we go along.

Let’s look at verses 36 and 37 of Luke 24 in today’s gospel. (“As they (the disciples) were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them. They were startled and frightened, and supposed hat they saw a spirit.”) The followers were together, and Jesus just appears. You bet they were startled and frightened!! They were convinced that Jesus was dead and buried, but here he was alive and far from buried. It was their conviction that they were seeing a ghost … a spirit. It was Jewish belief that the spirits of dead people went to Sheol – a gloomy place of waiting, an ethereal, shadowy existence. It’s an underworld place of stillness and murkiness and obscurity. If what the disciples were seeing was a spirit from this Sheol no wonder they were startled and frightened.

Jesus tried to put their minds and emotions at rest by assuring them it really was him – it was their Lord and Master. You’ll see in verses 39 and 40 of Luke 24 (“See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me and see; for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”) that Jesus invites them to do exactly what Thomas said he would have to do – to see Jesus’ hands and feet, and handle him, touch him, so that they would know that he was solid, real flesh and not a spirit from Sheol. He assured them that he could do with some food, and they watched him eat. Spirits from Sheol don’t need to eat or drink – they just go on and on and on and on in a spirit state without the need for physical nourishment. They are spirits, after all.

I think it’s interesting that the two disciples on the road to Emmaus walked with Jesus, spoke with Jesus for 2 ½ to 3 hours of walking, without recognising him. It was when they got to Emmaus, and only when they had a meal, as Jesus broke the bread loaf and gave it to them, that the two men realised who he was. In verse 35 of Luke 24 they reported “how Jesus was known to them in the breaking of the bread.” In the case of the disciples who stayed in Jerusalem and thought they were seeing a spirit from Sheol, Jesus was known to them in the eating of the fish. I don’t think that the meal in Emmaus was a sort of Holy Communion experience – the breaking of the bread. I think it was simply the carbohydrate evening meal together- just as the Jerusalem disciples had had a seafood evening meal together when Jesus appeared.

With the disciples who went to Emmaus, beginning with Moses and all tne prophets, Jesus interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself, Luke 24 verse 27 tells us. With the disciples who stayed in Jerusalem, after eating the fish, Jesus said in verse 44, “ … that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” The Jews divided their Scriptures (our Old Testament) into three sections – the Law (Torah); the Prophets (Neviim); the Writings (Ketubim). Jesus said to both sets of disciples – Emmaus and Jerusalem – that the whole Old Testament, every part of it, from ‘go’ to ‘whoa’, speaks about me – the Messiah – the Christ.

I wonder if you’d please look at verse 44 “Then Jesus said to them, ‘These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you.” There’s no doubt that this is a true translation of the original text. But I found a helpful explanation that suggests that Jesus stretched out his arms and showed the disciples the nail wounds in his wrists, and they also saw the nail wounds in his feet – “THESE … these wounds are my words – these wounds are the things I was speaking about before my arrest and crucifixion … then verse 46 – ‘that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.” What Jesus was saying was that the whole Old Testament spoke about him as the suffering Messiah, and he had also said the same in his words to his disciples as he taught them before his arrest.

But there was more!!! Rather like the steak knives in the old TV advertisement.

The Scriptures and Jesus had said, in verse 47, that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

That’s a big mission, and last week we heard how Thomas went to India to “preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins.” Other apostles went to other parts of the world. St Paul was a great missionary who preached repentance and forgiveness of sins. That was their new mission, a world-wide mission.

The very final verse of this morning’s gospel reading bears Jesus’ words – “You are witnesses of these things.” (Verse 48). The disciples were witnesses in the sense that they had heard Jesus teaching from the whole Old Testament; they had seen the crucifixion and resurrection; they had been encountered by the risen Christ who bore the wounds, the real, unmistakable, genuine Jesus, their Lord and Master – not a spirit, not a hallucination – the real Jesus. They were witnesses who had seen. And they were to be witnesses in the sense that they would now go and tell what they had seen and experienced. They were to be witnesses who bore witness, who spoke, who testified about the greatness of the risen Christ Jesus.

This is quite a rich, challenging passage from Luke’s Gospel.

We too are witnesses of these things. We have witnessed the growth of the Christian movement and its spread all around the world all the way to us here. We have witnessed the amazing changes that come into our lives and others’ lives through the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. We are witnesses in the sense that we have seen all this and experienced it for ourselves. And we are witnesses in the sense that we must now go and tell what we have seen and experienced. Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in Jesus’ name to all nations, beginning from Walkerville.” One of the great coincidences of the Christian life is that the final hymn for today’s service was chosen by someone else weeks and weeks before I wrote this sermon this week. In that hymn we shall sing, “We have a gospel to proclaim, good news for all throughout the earth … tell of that glorious Easter morn, empty the tomb for he was free … Jesus is Lord of all the earth. This gospel-message we proclaim…”

We are witnesses of these things – so, by our lives and by our words, let’s go and witness!