Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sermon: Luke 24: 36-53 Fulfilling the Scriptures

I have a really bad habit when I’m reading. I like to know how many pages I have left to read. So early on, I flick to the end to see the last page number. It’s not too bad if it’s a book on theology or history, but there is a time when it becomes a problem. Every so often, I like to read a thriller or murder mystery type book. The danger is, though, when I look at the page number, I might catch a glimpse of a spoiler - perhaps the name of the culprit as they’re driven away in a police car. Or the knowledge that a character must make it through the story.

Very often, the last page is the place where the whole story is understood - and not until then. If you read it through a second time, you realise there were hints the whole way through, but you only really get it at the very end. In some ways, that’s how it is with Luke’s Gospel. Having walked the Emmaus Road last week, we now find ourselves in the upper room with the disciples as they discuss what has happened. They know that Jesus is risen, but then suddenly, Jesus appears in the room with them.
While he is with them, he explains to them what has happened in recent days. Look with me at verse 44: ‘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.’

Earlier this week I saw a photo of a movie script for a film Tom Cruise was starring in. All over the script he had added extra ideas and suggested different lines to those the writer had prepared. He felt free to improvise and make it up as he went along in the scene. But Jesus is saying here that the script of his life had been written in advance - and everything had to be as written. ‘Everything written... must be fulfilled.’

Now when he speaks of the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms, those are the three parts of the Old Testament. The scriptures together laid out what Jesus did; he lived in obedience to them, so that everything would be as they said. So why didn’t the disciples realise in advance? How come they didn’t understand that Jesus’ death was happening in this way for this reason? Why didn’t they greet the first Good Friday as a good day the way we do now? It’s because they didn’t at that stage understand the scriptures. As Jesus teaches them, he ‘opened their minds to understand the scriptures’ so that they could grasp it.

If the first disciples of Jesus needed God’s help to read and understand, how much more we? We need to come humbly, asking God to open our minds to receive his word - we’ll never understand them by our own power. Perhaps you’ve discovered that as you’ve tried to help someone to see why Jesus is so important; you’ve shared a verse of the Bible but they just don’t get it - even if it seems obvious to us. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4 that the god of this world (the devil) has blinded the minds of unbelievers. We need God’s help to understand his word.

So what was it that ‘must be fulfilled’? Jesus gives us the three things that must be fulfilled beginning in verse 46. ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to’ ONE: suffer. The sufferings of the Messiah are written of in advance throughout the Old Testament - Psalm 22, Isaiah 53 to name but two. It’s why in verse 39 Jesus says ‘Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself.’ The hands and feet - the places on his body where the nails pierced him; the wounds of love are still to be seen; permanent reminders of Jesus’ love for us.

But that’s not all. ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to...’ TWO: rise from the dead on the third day. Jesus did not stay dead; the scriptures had promised that the Messiah would rise - and on the third day. Psalm 16, Hosea 6, as well as Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. In the first part of our reading Jesus goes to great pains to make absolutely certain that he is risen from the dead - alive, bodily raised - inviting them to touch him, to see his hands and feet, and, because they still wonder and disbelieve for joy, he eats some cooked fish. This isn’t just a spirit; this isn’t a ghost; this is Jesus, raised from the dead. Just as was written in the scriptures!

Now you might be thinking to yourself that’s a great ending. There’s only a few verses of the book left. So Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, that’s nice. But he isn’t finished yet. You see, there were three things written of the Messiah. 1 - suffer; 2 - rise; THREE: that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Because Jesus is the Messiah, because he suffered death and rose again, he is the one who brings forgiveness of sins. It’s there in his words of greeting: ‘Peace be with you.’ In a world that is lacking peace; to people who are in guilt and shame of sin; Jesus brings them peace. Peace with God. Peace with each other. This peace is now to be spread, as repentance (turning from sin) and forgiveness of our sins is proclaimed.

One of the big employers in Dromore when I was growing up was a firm called John Graham. They do all sorts of things - build roads; buildings, all sorts of things. You’ve maybe even seen their distinctive green vans and huts and hoardings at their building sites. If you were to ring up their office, you couldn’t speak to John Graham now - he has long since perished, but the company continues to act in his name.

Last week the film critic Roger Ebert died. A few days after his death, his account sent out a new message on Twitter. He wasn’t tweeting from beyond the grave - rather his wife is carrying on his work. She is tweeting in his name.

Now John Graham and Roger Ebert have both died. But the risen Jesus sends the first disciples to act in his name - to do the final thing written of him on his behalf. From their starting point of Jerusalem, they are to go to all nations, proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins - because ‘You are witnesses of these things.’ Look back again to verse 39. What’s the word that jumps out in repetition? ‘See’ I had never seen it before, but now it’s like that children’s rhyme: ‘A sailor went to sea sea sea to see what he could see see see...’

The disciples were witnesses of Jesus’ death (hands and feet) and his resurrection (see) and of the forgiveness that comes through Jesus (they’ve experienced it themselves). They are sent out to all nations - but not until they have been clothed with power - the Holy Spirit.

We come to the end of Luke’s gospel, but we discover the story isn’t over. Rather, it’s only just beginning. Luke has written another book - the continuing story of what Jesus does, how the proclamation begins to be made in the Acts of the Apostles. And even when that book comes to an end, the story hasn’t finished. And that’s where we come in. Jesus, the Messiah, continues to send us out to act in his name, to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins both here in this parish and across the world. Jesus has done all that is necessary for peace with him; he empowers us with the Spirit; our task is to point to Jesus.

Having met with Jesus, the disciples would never be the same again. How will be step out in obedience to share the good news?

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 14th April 2013.

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