Below is my Easter message. He is risen!
Something to Believe In (Luke 24) | 03.27.16 | Kevin P. Larson | KarisChurch.org
Natural disasters. Sex trafficking. What do those two have to do with each other? A lot, actually. A CNN.com article recently explained the connection between the two. Think about it. Something catastrophic hits. What do you have? Kids dazed and walking around. Schools no longer in session. Relatives dead or missing. Homes damaged or destroyed. Disaster comes upon people already in poverty. Those who survive are even more eager to hear a pitch for a better life.
So the vile roam around picking on the vulnerable. They impersonate relief workers or missionaries. They recruit unsuspecting children for the sex trade. This was observed recently in Nepal. Last year a 7.8 magnitude earthquake killed over 8000 people. A 7.3 two weeks later killed even more. But as a result, sex-trafficking surged. Even without earthquakes, experts estimate that as many as 20,000 children are trafficked out of Nepal annually, most of them to India. And that’s just one country.
This is a tough world! That’s so hard to hear. What are you going to believe in? What are you going to do with that? We hear of more airport bombings. More beheadings from ISIS. People are starving all over the world. They’re trapped in nations with corrupt, inept governments.
In our nation, poverty is everywhere. Racism no longer can be denied. Crime makes us live too much in fear. And we look to our leaders to help us, and we’re even more discouraged.
Most of us know someone with cancer. Car accidents take out entire families. And who knows? Maybe a natural disaster will come our way. There’s so much sin. So much suffering. Where can we go? What can we believe in? What are you gonna believe in?
There’s something here, something worth hooking our lives onto. It’s here in Luke chapter 24.
The Tomb Is Empty
In Luke 23, Jesus is crucified between two thieves. As people surround and mock, He breathes His last. He’s buried in a tomb by a kind man. Some women prepare spices for His body.
In chapter 24, they return on the first day of the week. They’re hoping to embalm his body. But they’re shocked. The stone covering the tomb has been rolled away. They body’s not there. Verse 3 says, “When they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” They’re perplexed.
At that moment, two angels appear. Look at verses 5-6. They ask, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” They say, “He is not here, but has risen.” The women should have known this, they remind them. Jesus told you this!
They run out as fast as they can and tell the disciples. But the text says they get laughed out of the room by them. Verse 11 - “but these words seems to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Peter, though, checks things out. He goes to the tomb. He sees Christ’s burial clothes, but not Christ. He runs home, blown away.
Here’s the first fact we see here today: THE TOMB IS EMPTY, BUT THE DISCIPLES STRUGGLE TO BELIEVE.
Jesus is Seen Alive
That same day, two men are walking from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus. Jesus comes up alongside them. He hears them talking and asks what’s going on. They explain the whole thing to the Lord. He ends up giving them a Bible lesson. They should have seen this coming. That’s what He tells them.
At the end of their journey, the men beg Jesus to stay with them and eat with them. They realize who He is just as Jesus disappears. They run to tell the disciples. They tell them, verse 34, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” They begin to recount what just happened.
That’s when Jesus walks in. The men can’t believe it’s real. Verse 37 says, “They were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit.” Verse 41 says “they disbelieved.”
But Jesus is kind to them. He eats some fish with them. He shows them His scars, inviting those disciples to touch him.
He spends time with those disciples. He teaches them from the Bible. He reminds them that He had told them this was coming. He then commissions them. They will go share this news now for Him. He ascends into heaven.
Here’s the second fact we see here in this passage: JESUS IS SEEN ALIVE, BUT THE DISCIPLES HAVE DIFFICULTY TRUSTING.
Let’s pause there for a second. Don’t we have doubts, too? I know I do. Is this all true? Their doubts should encourage us. They’re doubting. And they’re right there in front of Him! Jesus understands. He’s patient with us.
One quick side point: this is another reason why we can trust this account here. If you’re making something up, you don’t show yourself in such a bad light. You don’t make yourself look like an idiot, like a doubter. Right?
Foretold In Scripture
Jesus is patient with these disciples. He spends time with them. He points them to the truth. He says, “Have you guys forgotten your Bibles?” He reminds them that the Scriptures foretold all of this.
Listen to what Jesus says to those men on that road:
Luke 24:25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Hear again what He tells those disciples.
Luke 24:44 “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 and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
Jesus says, “All your Bible points to me! It’s all about my life, death, and resurrection! How can you guys not see this?”
He’s probably reading to them from the book of Isaiah. Look at chapter 53 with me:
Is. 53:10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Is. 53:11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Is. 53:12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
Do you see His cross in those words? What about His resurrection? It’s all there. THE TOMB WAS EMPTY. JESUS WAS SEEN ALIVE. AND THIS WAS FORETOLD IN SCRIPTURE.
Fulfilled in History
BUT IT WAS ALSO FULFILLED IN HISTORY - BECAUSE THE TOMB WAS EMPTY, AND JESUS WAS SEEN ALIVE. Both of those things actually happened. Those prophecies came true. 1 Corinthians 15 says he appeared to Peter, to the twelve, and then to 500 others. The tomb was empty. Jesus was witnessed alive.
But you might be thinking, “Of course, the Bible says that. But how do we know it really happened?” Well, the Bible itself is by far the most well-attested ancient book we have. And sources from outside the Bible clearly state that all of this happened.
But you also might ask, “Maybe they made it up to make themselves feel better. Or maybe they came up with it to trick people. Maybe they even convinced themselves. There’s two things I’ll say about that.
That assumes that they actually desired that or thought it would have been believable. N.T. Wright and others have pointed out that the Gentiles would have been repulsed by the idea of a bodily resurrection. They wanted to escape the body. And Jews would have found it simply unbelievable. They looked forward to a future resurrection. But the thought of one guy being resurrected far in advance? They had no categories for that.
But here’s the main way we know this isn’t made up. They gave their lives for it. This new worldview exploded all over that part of the world. And the guys who took that message ended up dying. Somehow they shed their doubts. Why? It gave them hope. Deep, deep hope.
The Resurrection Brings Hope
The tomb was empty. Jesus was seen alive. There are three blessings of that resurrection I want to share with you now. First, the resurrection brings hope.
Do you struggle with hope, as you look at yourself and this fallen world? There is great hope here. As Tim Keller likes to say, even if you struggle to believe this, you want it to be true. It gives us hope for the body. Verse 37 says the disciples think they see a spirit. But they’re wrong. He has a real body. This is a bodily resurrection. He eats with them. He lets them touch him. But there’s something else going on. Verse 36 says Jesus just appears suddenly in the room with them. This is right after he just disappears from the other guys. This is a body, but it’s perfect. It’s in some way, different.
This is our hope, too. Our hope is not a disembodied soul. Not at all. It’s a perfect, glorified body. No more breast cancer. No more back pain. No more heart infections. Someday, we’ll be changed.
This also gives us hope for the creation. Jesus here is a picture of what’s to come. He’s the firstfruits of a creation that will one day be renewed. Romans 8 says that the whole creation groans with us, like a mom in childbirth, for its curse to be lifted. For it all to be renewed. Christ’s resurrection points to that day when He’ll return and raise everything.
That gives us hope, doesn’t it? No more earthquakes. No more tornadoes. Things won’t wear out, break, be polluted. Animals will surely be a part of it, too. Won’t that be awesome? Our hope isn’t to escape the material, to get out of this world, to get to some kind of heaven. The Christian vision is for a renewed creation. Our hope is that one day Christ will bring heaven down to earth.
We’re about to celebrate a Decade of Grace as a church, and it was Easter, ten years ago, when we started worshipping publicly. Why have I and Amy and others kept going? Through all the trials? The message is worth it.
But I haven’t died for it. Many of you have heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He’s known as the pastor who tried to take out Hitler. Listen to what author Eric Metaxas says about this man.
Bonhoeffer believed the Easter story. He actually believed the extraordinary story of God's coming to Earth and dying and then rising from the dead to defeat death forever. He believed that because this was true, he need never fear death. All he needed to worry about was doing the right thing and trusting God with the results. And that he did.
Because Bonhoeffer believed these things he had the courage to do what almost no one else around him could do. He stood up for the Jews of Europe and today he is celebrated and cherished, while Hitler, who condemned him to death and who only believed in himself, is reviled as a monster.
For Bonhoeffer, and for the disciples, this message of Jesus gave them hope. And it was a message they were dying to share. That gave their lives purpose.
The Resurrection Gives Purpose
That’s another blessing I want you to see flowing from this resurrection. Second, the resurrection gives purpose. Maybe you feel like your life is meaningless. Maybe you feel like you’re going nowhere. You have nothing to live for. Or, maybe when you’re honest, what you live for doesn’t amount to much. The resurrection gives us something greater.
It gives the purpose of relieving suffering and fighting sin. Right now, we have a group from our church getting ready to serve in some of the hardest places. They’ll do ministry in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. They’ll visit a place called Crackland that will put all of them into tears. We have two former members, Eric Papp and Jessica Fleshman, who have given their lives to love the people there. This winter, Anna Hulbert traveled to Gabon to give needy people medical care. We have medical professionals right here loving people, healing people.
We’ve always had members helping unwed mothers, trying to get them to keep their babies. We have a number of families here adopting needy children. We have people fighting to end racism in our city.
These are things that Jesus did. So did the disciples, the early church. They met needs. They fought injustice. Why? Those things wouldn’t be there at the resurrection. Those believers knew they couldn’t eradicate sin and suffering, but they were fighting it all they could. That’s our purpose, as well.
It also gives the purpose of displaying and declaring what’s ahead. Take displaying first. Every hour we put into hard, excellent work, we give a glimpse of that new world. Every work of art that’s true, beautiful, and good, shows that renewed planet that’s ahead. Hear N.T. Wright on this:
“Every act of love, every deed done in Christ and by the Spirit, every work of true creativity – doing justice, making peace, healing families, resisting temptation, seeking and winning true freedom – is an earthly event in a long history of things that implement Jesus’s own resurrection and anticipate the final new creation and act as signposts of hope, pointing back to the first and on to the second.” (N.T. Wright)
Every time we worship. Every act of love. It all points to that day. But take declaring. We still have to talk about this. We don’t just point to it with our lives. We declare it with our mouths. We’ve also got two families heading over to Japan. There isn’t much poverty in Tokyo. But the Japanese are just as desperate for the resurrection. Our purpose is to tell people of this world without sin and suffering. We give this hope of bodies liberated from both. That’s our purpose.
Jesus commissions His disciples and us in verses 46 through 49. Listen to his words.
Luke 24:46 “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and 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.”
We are to declare His death and resurrection. We’re to call people to respond to those truths. We’re to do it in the power of the Holy Spirit. What a purpose!
The Resurrection Provides Joy
The resurrection blesses us: with hope and with purpose. Here’s a third thing: the resurrection provides joy. Check the words following those we just read:
Luke 24:50 Then 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.
Look at the transition of these men. From doubting and scoffing to rejoicing and blessing. Why? What are they so happy about? Where is there joy for us? One of my biggest personal battles over the last ten years is looking around and seeing things I want to fix, seeing things I think are wrong, and not finding joy in all I have. And there is so much.
Is that your struggle, too? The resurrection provides joy. It provides joy in a victorious king. Why are these guys so joyful? The King is alive! He has been vindicated by the empty tomb! He has defeated death - once for all! He will reign over His kingdom - forever!
Shouldn’t that give us joy? We get excited when “our guy” gets in office, but that will never give us joy. We see chaos all over the world. But still we know He’s ruling. That should give us joy.
He has ascended. He is ruling at the Father’s right hand. As a man. With a body. He will one day return, when His final resurrection will come. On that day, He’ll fully reign. Where He is right now. Where He’ll one day be. That vision should give us joy.
But the people of that day were hung up. They couldn’t understand Jesus. They had been waiting for a king. They just expected Him to reign through conquest. And they wanted His kingdom right then and there. They wanted Jesus to smash their enemies and put them in power.
That’s not to far from us, right? We want a ruler who will bring us back to the good ol’ days. Where we’re in charge. Right here, right now.
But slowly the disciples realized Jesus was a different sort of King. He would reign over a bigger kingdom. And one that would take some time to grow. A kingdom that would need them as ambassadors. One that would come about through the word and through prayer. And, first and foremost, through His cross.
The resurrection gives joy in another way. It provides joy in a suffering servant. The Book of Isaiah gives a picture of a king. But it also gives one of a servant. That’s what the disciples missed as they read their Bibles. This King would come and reign. But first, He would die.
Is. 53:3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Is. 53:4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. Is. 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. Is. 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Did you catch that? “Pierced for our transgressions.” “Crushed for OUR iniquities.” All because of God’s plan. He was “stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” For that reason, we have peace, it says. We are healed, it says. And, through all of that, we have joy.
In verse 41 of Luke 24, the writer says this of the disciples as they were standing before the risen Jesus: “They disbelieved for joy.” Joy was right in front of their eyes. And they just couldn’t believe. It’s right in front of ours.
Why do we call it Good Friday? The servant King took our place. He bore our punishment. He brought us to God. That’s good. Joy!
What about Easter? Why such joy in the resurrection? The payment was received by the Father. It went through. It paid our debt. The Father is satisfied. We’re forgiven.
In verse 26, Jesus tells this to the guys on that road: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and then enter into His glory?” It was. Suffering and glory. And we take joy in both. In His. And ours. The disciples were so enamored with this joy, that they gave it all. They held nothing back.
Friends, Jesus is alive. He is risen! That blesses us with hope, purpose, and joy.
Give Me Something to Believe In
But let’s not forget about where I began. It’s a cruel world. There are three ways we can turn. We can’t look inward. Jesus suffered for us. We’re a part of the problem in this world. We sin against others. We cause suffering ourselves. We can’t possibly do enough in our power to change the world. We certainly can’t do enough to impress God. That just makes things worse.
We can’t look outward. Not to condemn. What good does that accomplish? It just turns us more inward. Certainly not for some kind of solace. Reading online news will depress you really fast. So much sin and suffering. And no earthly king or kingdom will really help.
Looking inward and outward usually lead to one place. Self-medicating. Maybe substances. More likely, entertainment. We divert our minds. We amuse ourselves to death while death is all around us.
We have to look upward. And trust what He has done, as well what He’ll do. Jesus has risen from the dead. He is King. His kingdom has come in part. One day, He’ll return and it’ll come in full. He has dealt with sin and death on the cross. One day He’ll reverse it all at His return through His resurrection.
The tomb is empty! He is alive! What was prophesied has been fulfilled. We now have this great hope, purpose, and joy.
Now there is something you and I can believe in. But it’s so easy to doubt. The disciples eventually got it. Will we? But our Lord understands. He compassionately says these words to us in verse 38: “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” Fight off those doubts, friends. Beg Him for help. Believe.
He says, in verse 39, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Look on Him in faith, church. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Despite how it may seem, He is making all things new.