Resurrection Sunday is a day to celebrate the majesty, glory, mercy, grace, and transforming power of our God. Each year at this time there are all kinds of programs on television as well as articles online stirring skepticism and planting seeds of doubt about the literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Many of those who love Jesus, respect Jesus, but question the teachings of the Bible say Jesus’ resurrection was simply a “spiritual resurrection,” a metaphor for you and me so we can know there is hope of coming out of painful situations and experiencing new life. Is it enough for us to simply believe that Jesus’ resurrection was a story rich with meaning, filled with metaphors of overcoming, but to stop at that point and refuse to believe that God literally raised Jesus from the dead? The Apostle Paul wrote,

17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17 NIVO)

“…If Christ has not been raised…you are still in your sins.” All of the metaphors in the world can’t unpack the richness and meaning that are contained in Jesus’ death and resurrection for those who believe and trust in Him. I’m certain there are probably some of you here this morning who have wondered if it could really be true? We know that when people die, they are dead. We go to funerals. Our experience supports the evidence that underscores the truth that when people die they are dead.  So how can we believe the stories we read in the Gospels, and the other books of the New Testament, that Jesus did in fact die, yet He is alive, God raised Him from the dead?  That’s a question worth spending some time thinking about this morning. I want us to read Luke 24:13-48 and then we’ll talk. Read along with me.

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. 17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” 33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. 36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” 40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence. 44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:13-48 NIVO)

I want to share three important aspects of the story of the resurrection that I believe underscores the validity and truth of Jesus’ resurrection, His literal resurrection from the dead. 

First of all, none of Jesus’ followers believed that He would actually die and then come back to life. At first hearing you might think that would support not believing in Jesus’ resurrection, but hold your horses. We just read Luke’s Gospel and what were Jesus’ followers, Cleopas and the other disciple, doing? They were leaving Jerusalem discouraged and talking as they walked along the road. They didn’t recognize Jesus as His path merged with theirs. Jesus asked them what they were talking about. Cleopas told Jesus about what had happened to Jesus. Can you imagine what was going through Jesus’ mind as He listened?! Cleopas said,

20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; (Luke 24:20 NIVO)

Cleopas went on to say, “But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” “Had hoped…” Past tense. Their hopes were shattered. This isn’t just true of Cleopas and his buddy, it was true of all of the disciples. They knew Jesus had died and in spite of all that Jesus had told them concerning His death and resurrection while He was alive, they still had no hope that He would come back to life. But then they saw Him and they believed. A little later in Luke 24, when Jesus broke bread with the men, we read,

31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” 33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” (Luke 24:31-33 NIVO)

These men who had been walking with their heads hanging down, all of their hopes and dreams shattered, once they saw Jesus they ran like Olympic sprinters back to Jerusalem to tell everyone that Jesus was alive.

Secondly, Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus after His resurrection. That’s a big problem because in the first century a woman’s testimony was considered unreliable and therefore inadmissible in a court of law in both Roman and Jewish law courts. If the story of Jesus’ resurrection was made up by His followers then they certainly would have been smart enough to name a well-respected member, especially a male member of the community as the first witness.

I hear all the time that the followers of Jesus have changed the Bible through the years. They took out the things they didn’t like, elevated Jesus from His peasant teacher role to the place of Messiah and Savior, and on and on the story goes. If that were the case then I can promise you one of the first things they would have changed would have been the name of the first witness to Jesus’ resurrection, but they didn’t. And why didn’t they? Because it was true. 

Third, it wasn’t one or two people who said they saw Jesus, it was over 500 people. The Apostle Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Corinth and he laid out what had been passed down to him about the appearances of Jesus to His followers following His resurrection. Read along with me from 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8 NIVO)

Jesus’ appearances weren’t grief-driven hallucinations or visions that took place because they loved Jesus so much they just imagined they saw Him. Did you catch what Jesus said to Cleopas and his friend towards the end of the Scripture we read? Let’s read it again.

38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (Luke 24:38-39 NIVO)

Jesus said, “It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” When Jesus appeared to His disciples who were hiding out, fearful the authorities would come for them, Thomas wasn’t with them. One week later, Jesus appeared to His disciples again and this time Thomas was with them. Jesus passed by all of His disciples and went directly to Thomas.

27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:27-28 NIVO)

You can’t touch a metaphor. You can love someone so much you have dreams about them, even think you hear their voice, but you can’t reach out and literally touch them. Over and over again Jesus showed His followers that He was really alive, literally resurrected from the dead. 

I believe the greatest proof of all to the literal resurrection of Jesus was the transformation that took place in the lives of His followers. Those who were once hopeless were changed. Those who experienced Jesus’ presence after God raised Him from the dead were changed. Everything Jesus had said before He went to the cross suddenly made sense. Jesus told the two men on the road to Emmaus.

46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:46-47 NIV)

Think about Saul of Tarsus with me for a moment. Saul was a Pharisee. He was educated in Jewish theology. He was passionate about his faith and that is why He was convinced that the followers of Jesus had to be annihilated. Acts 8 tells us Saul was present and giving his approval when Stephen, a follower of Jesus, was stoned to death. Acts 8:3 tells us “Saul began to destroy the church.” He went from house to house dragging out the followers of Jesus and taking them to prison. Acts 9 opens with these words, “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples…”  But then suddenly something happened. Saul saw Jesus while he was traveling to Damascus and his life was forever changed. His life wasn’t changed by metaphors and powerful stories that held some kind of symbolic meaning for him. Saul’s life was changed because the One he had formerly hated had truly been resurrected from the dead. Salvation has come through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Lives were changed because Jesus, who died on the cross, had been raised to life! Lives are continuing to be changed in every corner of every country throughout the world to this very day. 

Dr. James Tour grew up in a Jewish family in New York. Dr. Tour is a synthetic organic chemist who received his Ph.D. in synthetic organic and organometallic chemistry from Purdue University. He did postdoctoral work in synthetic organic chemistry at the University of Wisconsin and Stanford University. He has published over 650 research papers, voted one of the Top 50 Scientific Minds in the World in 2019, was named Top Scientist in the World by R&D Magazine in 2013…I could go on and on listing his credentials, but that’s not why I want to share his story with you this morning. 

As I mentioned, Dr. Tour grew up in a Jewish family in New York and had never been around Christians until he went to college and started meeting some kids who called themselves “born again Christians.” He said that was an odd term to him and he wanted to know, “What is a born again Christian?” One day he was in the laundry room doing his laundry and talking to another student when the student said, “Do you mind if I draw you an illustration of the Gospel?”  He took out a pen and began to draw. He drew a cliff and wrote “God” above it. Then, on the other side of the paper he drew another cliff with a little man standing on it. There was a big chasm in between God and the man. In the chasm the student wrote “Sin.” James said, “I’m not a sinner. I’ve never killed anyone. I haven’t robbed a bank.” Then the student asked James to read a verse from the Bible: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23 NIV) The student had James look up another verse, Matthew 5:28. 

28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28 NIV)

James said that when he read the Scripture it was like someone punched him in the gut. He had become addicted to pornography and he didn’t think anyone knew since he was new at college. He said, “All of a sudden, after I read a verse from the Bible, I realized that someone who lived 2,000 years ago was calling me out on it. When I read in the Bible what sin is, I knew I was a sinner.” Dr. Tour told the story of how his eyes were opened and his life changed. These are his words,

On November 7, 1977 I was alone in my room when the realization came to me that Yeshua is the one who died on the cross. I said, ‘Lord, please forgive me, come into my life. And then, all of a sudden, someone was in my room. I was on my knees. I opened my eyes. Who is in my room? That man, Jesus Christ, was in my room and I wasn’t scared, I just started weeping. I didn’t want to get up off of my knees. This amazing sense of forgiveness just started to come upon me.’ (James Tour)

Dr. Tour said after his experience with the Lord he knew he needed to tell someone that he had become a follower of Jesus. He told his cousins and they said, “How can you do that, you’re Jewish?” He told his mother and she started crying. Then she told his father and his parents were not happy at all. His mother said, “I don’t blame them for killing Jesus after the things that he said. Who is he to come against these religious leaders who have dedicated their lives to helping people and to tell them they are white-washed tombs? Who is he, this young man in his 30s, to say this to these scholars? He got what he deserved.” 

James’ parents weren’t happy with him, but he kept loving them and honoring them. Later in life, at the age of 72, James’ mother called him one day and said, “Jimmy, you won’t believe what happened to me!” James said, “What happened mom?” She said, “I was just reading the Bible and it hit me, it hit me, the way he gave his life. I believe it now. Jesus is the Son of God!”

Another man who experienced the transforming power of Jesus’ resurrection is Nabeel Qureshi. Nabeel’s family are descendants of the Quraysh tribe, Muhammad’s tribe. His grandfather and great-grandfathers were Muslim missionaries in Indonesia and Uganda. Nabeel, by the age of 5, had recited the entire Qur’an in Arabic and memorized the last seven chapters. By the age of 15, he had committed the last 15 chapters of the Qur’an to memory, both in Arabic and English. 

While Nabeel was a freshman at Old Dominion University he met a friend named David Wood. David was a Christian, but he wasn’t a Christian like many of the Christians Nabeel had known in the past. David lived his faith in Jesus, he wasn’t threatened by Nabeel’s faith in Islam, and the two became best friends. They would talk about their faith, ask one another questions, and challenge each other. David encouraged Nabeel, if he was seeking the truth, to investigate the claims of Jesus. Was He really God come down to save us from our sins? Did Jesus truly, literally rise from the dead and is living to this day? After three years of study Nabeel was convinced that the Bible was reliable, that Jesus died on the cross, rose from the dead, and is God. But, he still had not become a follower of Jesus because of what he called some unconscious barriers. First, he had been taught in the Qu’ran that if a person believed Jesus was God they would go to hell. It is stated in Qu’ran 5:72. This is classified as the only unforgivable sin. An even greater barrier was his family. Nabeel said,

How could I betray my family after all they had done for me? By becoming a Christian, not only would I lose all connection with the Muslim community around me, my family would lose their honor as well. My decision would not only destroy me, it would also destroy my family, the ones who loved me most and sacrificed so much for me. (Nabeel Qureshi)

Nabeel was torn. He wanted to make the right decision. If Islam was true he wanted to follow the path of Islam, but if Jesus was truly who He claimed to be then he wanted to follow Jesus. Nabeel said that his background in Islam had taught him that he could seek guidance from God through a specific prayer Muslims pray called “Salat Istikhara” where Muslims get on their knees and say, “God guide me through dreams.” Nabeel’s family had practiced Salat Istikara on a regular basis. Nabeel fell to his knees and began to ask God for guidance. Nabeel said all Muslims expect God to guide them through dreams and visions. 

Nabeel had a dream one night in which he was standing at the threshold of a very narrow door. The door was just wide enough to fit his shoulders and just tall enough for his head to enter. As Nabeel looked into the room it was set for a feast with round tables and the food already set out. The people were all there at what looked like a wedding feast. The people were not eating yet, but they were all looking in one direction as if they were waiting on the speaker to arrive. Nabeel’s friend was in the dream, he was standing in the door. Nabeel couldn’t get in, David was in the way, and Nabeel said to David, “I thought we were going to eat together?” David said, “You haven’t responded.” Nabeel said in the dream he knew he had to respond to David’s invitation to get into the feast.

When Nabeel woke up he called David and told him about the dream. He asked David, “What do you think it means?” David said, “Nabeel, I don’t need to interpret it for you, just go to the Bible. Read Luke 13.” Nabeel opened the Bible David had given him and when he got to Luke 13 there was a heading, “The Narrow Door.” Nabeel read, beginning in verse 22,

Jesus was going through the towns and villages preaching the good news and the disciples asked Him, “Lord are many going to be saved?” and He said, “Make every effort to enter through that narrow door for many will try and few will be able. And you will see people sitting inside at the wedding feast of heaven. Make every effort to enter before the owner comes and closes that door.” (Luke 13:22-25)

It was at that moment that Nabeel knew that God had given him a dream and showed him right where he stood. Jesus was who He claimed to be and Nabeel was standing outside of the feast. Nabeel knew that Jesus was God and no matter what it might cost him, he must follow Jesus. 

After reading God’s Word, Nabeel knew where he stood and he made the most important and costly decision of his life. The question is, “Where do you stand this morning?” Do you believe Jesus died for your sins and was raised on the third day for your salvation? If so, then I want to invite to you to become a follower of Jesus this morning.

Mike Hays

Britton Christian Church

March 31, 2024

Changed!
Luke 24:13-48
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