In the early church, when one follower of Jesus would come into contact with another follower of Jesus, he or she would say, “He is Risen!” and the other would respond, “He is Risen indeed!” Throughout history, in times of peace, persecution, and peril, that exchange, “He is Risen!” with the echo, “He is Risen indeed!” has been the firm foundation of God’s people around the world. And here we are this morning, joining with some two billion of our brothers and sisters around the world, in every country, speaking every language, and still proclaiming all of these years later, “He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!”
It’s interesting that at the same time we are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus there is another gathering taking place in our city. The American Atheists are holding their National Convention here in Oklahoma City. I’m certain those who are gathered downtown find it appropriate for Resurrection Sunday to fall on April Fool’s Day. There are many in our society today who doubt or simply do not believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. One of our generations most famous atheists, Dr. Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion, wrote,
Presumably what happened to Jesus was what happens to all of us when we die. We decompose. Accounts of Jesus’s resurrection and ascension are about as well-documented as Jack and the Beanstalk. (Richard Dawkins)
Is this true? Should the story of Jesus’ resurrection be placed on the shelf next to Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, and Harry Potter? I can certainly understand how those who have never looked into the matter, never really taken time to examine the evidence, can dismiss Jesus’ resurrection as nothing more than a fairy tale. I mean just stop and think about it…when was the last time you saw a dead person come back to life? It just doesn’t happen, and yet, God’s Word says it did happen. Not only does the Bible say God raised Jesus from the dead, but as a result a little group of about 20 uneducated, illiterate Jewish peasants spread the Good News and literally changed the world. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today, found in Luke 24:13-53, and then we’ll talk more.
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. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. (Luke 24:13-53 NIVO)
It is a long Scripture, too much for us to go line-by-line and verse-by-verse. What I want to do this morning is to try and understand why the followers of Jesus were so devastated when He died. Of course they loved Him, they had given up everything to follow Him, but there’s more to the story than simply love lost. Secondly, what was it that lifted the heaviness of the finality of Jesus’ death and radically changed the course of each and every one of their lives.
I find the story Luke shares with us about a follower of Jesus named Cleopas and his friend, some say his wife, highlights both of the important points I want to share with you this morning. The story is so interesting because as they were leaving Jerusalem, Jesus joined them on the road, even though they didn’t recognize Him. Jesus quizzed them about what they were talking about. It’s clear from Luke 24:18-21 that Jesus’ followers believed He was the One. They said, “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”
Their hopes had been nailed to a Roman cross. The idea of a coming Messiah was prevalent among the Jewish people. They were anticipating His coming. They believed He would overthrow the powerful Roman Empire and reestablish God’s Chosen People in the land God had given them. There’s no doubt most of Jesus’ followers had this in mind as they followed Him around the Galilee and Jerusalem. Yet, the power they had hoped He would conquer, conquered, humiliated, and shamed Him by nailing Him to a cross. The vast majority of us have no point of reference, no real understanding of what execution on a Roman cross was like. I’ve been reading a powerful book written by an Episcopal priest named Fleming Rutledge called, The Crucifixion. She writes,
Crucifixion as a means of execution in the Roman Empire had as its express purpose the elimination of victims from consideration as members of the human race. It cannot be said too strongly; that was its function. It was meant to indicate to all who might be toying with subversive ideas that crucified persons were not of the same species as either the executioners or the spectators and were therefore not only expendable but also deserving of ritualized extermination. Therefore, the mocking and jeering that accompanied crucifixion were not only allowed, they were part of the spectacle and were programmed into it. In a sense, crucifixion was a form of entertainment. Everyone understood that the specific role of the passerby was to exacerbate the dehumanization and degradation of the person who had been thus designated to be a spectacle. …According to the Christian gospel, the Son of God voluntarily and purposefully absorbed all of that, drawing it into himself. (Rutledge, Fleming. The Crucifixion. pgs. 92-92).
I would love nothing more than to pull up a chair and simply read The Crucifixion to you this morning. That’s not really possible since it is 600 pages, but you should all buy it and read it yourself. Let me just share a couple of important truths with you so you can have a better understanding of just how horrible, how heinous, execution by crucifixion truly was for Jesus.
Roman law prohibited Roman citizens from being executed by crucifixion, it was reserved for the dregs of society, the lower classes, slaves, and insurrectionists. The first element of execution was scourging, being whipped by a man holding a wooden handle with leather cords which had small pieces of metal or bone fastened to the ends. Stripped naked and tied to a stake the flesh and muscles of the victim’s back was shredded to ribbons. Then the Romans would parade the victims through the streets where they found no compassion; only mocking and people spitting on them. Once they arrived at the place of crucifixion the victim was nailed through the wrists to the cross piece, the patibulum, which was then hoisted onto the stipes, and the process of crucifixion began. The pain the victims suffered was excruciating pain. It’s interesting that we get our word, “excruciating” from two Latin words: “ex cruciatus,” or “out of the cross.” Along with the pain, the victim found it nearly impossible to breath. Fleming Rutledge writes,
Passive exhalation, which we all do thousands of times a day without thinking about it, becomes impossible for a person hanging on a cross. The weight of a body hanging by its wrists would depress the muscles required for breathing out. Therefore, each exhaled breath could only be achieved by a tremendous effort. The only way to gain a breath at all would be by pushing oneself up from the legs and feet, or pulling oneself up by the arms, either of which would cause intense agony. Add to this primary factor the following secondary ones: bodily functions uncontrolled, insects feasting on wounds and orifices, unspeakable thirst, muscle cramps, bolts of pain from the severed median nerves in the wrists, scourged back scraping against the wooden stipes. It is more than any of us are capable of fully imagining. (Rutledge, Fleming, The Crucifixion. pg. 95)
The description should drop every one of us to our knees, move us to tears, when we realize that Jesus willingly submitted Himself to such humiliation and degradation at the hands of those He came to save.
Jesus’ death was not the biggest hurdle for Jesus’ Jewish followers; it was the manner in which He died. We have to remember, Jesus’ earliest followers were Jewish and in the Hebrew Bible, in Deuteronomy 21:23, there is this announcement: “…anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.” For the Jews, anyone who was executed by crucifixion was excluded from the people of God, rejected by God. The prophet Isaiah had written, 700 years before Jesus was born, a prophecy which can only be fulfilled in Jesus. He wrote about One who would come, a Suffering Servant of God, in Isaiah 53:3-4, with these words,
3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:3-4 NIVO)
Even with Isaiah’s prophecy, no Jew would ever connect the dots between Isaiah 53 and the One who hung bloody, writhing in anguish upon the cross. The thought that the Messiah would suffer in this manner was just simply incomprehensible. They were looking for the One who would come to overthrow the power of the Romans. You can’t do that when the power of Rome has humiliated you and nailed you to a cross. Jesus was hung on a tree, nailed to a cross, judged by God, cursed by God. Yet, they didn’t know that it was their own sin He came to carry to the cross so they might be restored, reconciled, to God!
Gloom and doom were the order of the day, the supposed course of the rest of their lives, for those who had believed. He had been humiliated, degraded, and executed at the hands of a pagan power. How then do you explain what happened to those disciples who scattered to the hills while Jesus was hanging on the cross? How do you explain the darkness turned to delight, the gloom transformed into glory, and the cowardice fade into a courage that was willing even to die for the sake of their Risen Savior? Let’s go back and visit Cleopas and his friend who were walking with Jesus, even though they were unaware. Let’s pick up the story in Luke 24:25-35.
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.” (Luke 24:25-34 NIVO)
There are two important elements that we simply cannot miss. First of all, Jesus was alive. They were so stunned. They thought they were seeing a ghost, but Jesus showed them His hands and feet, His nail scarred hands and feet. He ate with them. Ghosts don’t eat. They were not the only ones who saw the Risen Savior. The first people who saw Jesus after His resurrection were the women who had gone to His tomb. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that Jesus appeared to Peter, James, His disciples, and then to more than 500 people. Paul throws in “…most of whom are still living…” (1 Corinthians 15:6 NIVO) as if to say, “Go check it out for yourself.” Paul also adds,
8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Corinthians 15:8-9 NIVO)
The conversion of Saul of Tarsus, whom we know as Paul, is the greatest conversion story of all-time. Paul persecuted the followers of Jesus, traveled near and far to try and wipe out the followers of Jesus. Paul was there, he was the ringleader, when the first of Jesus’ followers were killed for no other reason than being a follower of Jesus. For Paul, there was no way a crucified Man could be the long awaited Messiah of Israel, and then Paul the Pharisee, a member of the Jewish intelligentsia, the persecutor of the followers of Jesus, became a messenger of the Crucified One. He was well familiar with the scandal of the cross, the embarrassment of the cross, and this is why he wrote,
22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:22-24 NIVO)
The “stumbling block” for Jews is the scandal of the cross. There’s just no way the Messiah would ever suffer such humiliation and degradation. To the Galatians, Paul called it the “offense of the cross” (Galatians 5:11). What, at one time, was incomprehensible to Paul became his sole message and only reason for boasting. Paul wrote,
14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14 NIVO)
What is it about the cross that Paul found so comforting, so overwhelming? It was when he discovered that God’s means of reconciliation came through the cross event, through the shed blood of Jesus upon the cross.
That leads me to the final important detail of the story of the opening of the eyes of Cleopas and his friend. We read, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Moses and the Prophets died before Jesus was ever born and yet Jesus let Cleopas and his friend know Moses and all the Prophets wrote about Him. It’s remarkable isn’t it!? Prophecy after prophecy, some 300 in all, point to the One who would be born in Bethlehem and crucified on a hill in Jerusalem.
Pierre-Robert Olivetan was the first person to translate the Hebrew Scriptures and Greek New Testament into the French language, 1535. He was the cousin of the great Bible teacher John Calvin. Calvin wrote the preface of the French New Testament. He wrote,
He [Christ] is Isaac, the beloved Son of the Father who was offered as a sacrifice, but nevertheless did not succumb to the power of death. He is Jacob the watchful shepherd, who has such great care for the sheep which he guards. He is the good and compassionate brother Joseph, who in his glory was not ashamed to acknowledge his brothers, however lowly and abject their condition. He is the great sacrificer and bishop Melchizedek, who has offered an eternal sacrifice once for all. He is the sovereign lawgiver Moses, writing his law on the tables of our hearts by his Spirit. He is the faithful captain and guide Joshua, to lead us to the Promised Land. He is the victorious and noble king David, bringing by his hand all rebellious power to subjection. He is the magnificent and triumphant king Solomon, governing his kingdom in peace and prosperity. He is the strong and powerful Samson, who by his death has overwhelmed all his enemies. This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father. If one were to sift thoroughly the Law and the Prophets, he would not find a single word which would not draw and bring us to him. (John Calvin)
My friend, if you are here today and you have questions, you are a skeptic, cynic, or atheist I want to invite you to explore the Bible. There are countless men and women who at one time were doubters or atheists, but when they examined the Bible they fell to their knees in worship.
Let me close with a story. Dr. Francis Collins is best known for his work as a geneticist. He was the Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. It’s one of the greatest accomplishments of our lifetime. Dr. Collins and his team worked for 15 years in laying out the map and order of the 3 billion letters of the human DNA instruction book. Francis grew up an agnostic, he just didn’t know, didn’t have an opinion, but in college he became an atheist. I’ll let him tell his story. (show video)
Dr. Collins had never investigated the claims of Jesus, the authenticity of Scripture, and therefore he easily dismissed Jesus. If you are here this morning and you’ve never considered Jesus, thoroughly taken a look at God’s Word, then I want to invite you to begin that journey this morning.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
April 1, 2018