The prepared text of the sermon this morning at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York is below. The sermon audio is available here. Next Sunday we will practice what we learned from today’s passage with the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. So let me encourage you to take some time this week to read it, or even read a kid’s story about Joseph, or even watch Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – anything to get that story fresh in your mind so that we can see next Sunday how it teaches that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and on the third day to enter His glory.
A common accusation made against Christians is that we are not open-minded. In fact, skeptics of Christianity label themselves as “open-minded” because they are skeptics of Christianity. Thus some view all Christians as having closed minds. In our day and age being open-minded is a virtue – put positively, we are encouraged to be open to the possibilities, open to new things and new ideas, and sometimes we are even encouraged to be open to a well-reasoned argument. The idea also carries the connotation of being free from prejudice or bias. Someone is prejudiced if, for example, they have made up their mind before even looking at the facts. So being open-minded is considered a good thing. But after the resurrection of Jesus Christ the disciples of Jesus were the ones with closed minds. It wasn’t that they were closed minded about the final resurrection. If you asked them, they would’ve told you that they believed in the resurrection of the dead at the very end of this age. What they were unreasonably biased against was the idea that Jesus would have experienced the final resurrection before they themselves experienced the final resurrection. They were closed minded to Jesus experiencing the final resurrection ahead of time. Twice now in Luke we have seen the pattern of confused disciples who are then rebuked and taught from the word of God. Both times those disciples had a moment when the light-bulb went on and they went and shared the good news with the rest who were still pretty skeptical. Here is the third such account that Luke relates to us starting in verse 36…
- We should be able to sympathize with those who find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
- The disciples of Jesus at the end of the Gospel of Luke believed in the final resurrection and still found it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Jesus asked them, “Why do doubts arise in your hearts?” In fact, the first disciples found it much more plausible that they had seen a spirit rather than the resurrected Jesus. So Jesus said, “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.” And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. And their response was still that of disbelief. Luke says that they disbelieved for joy and were marveling. The response of disbelieving for joy is like saying, “it was too good to be true.” Marveling was the response Peter had to finding only the linen cloth in the tomb. They were just not there yet. So Jesus showed them one more proof that they were not just seeing a spirit. He ate broiled fish. Thus we should be able to sympathize with those who find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead because the first skeptics were His own disciples who knew Him best. This larger group of Jesus’ disciples did not yet believe the Lord is risen. [He is risen indeed.] I’m glad you now are at that point of believing but…
- All of us have had some doubts about Jesus and disillusionment with Jesus. Those who grow up in the church often know some of the stories of Scripture – they know Jesus was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people doing things like healing the sick, casting out demons, and multiplying the five loaves and two fish, they know that the chief priests and rulers of Israel handed Jesus over to be crucified, and they know that the women went and found the tomb empty and reported seeing a vision of angels who told them the Lord is risen. [He is risen indeed.] Yes I’m glad you have resolved many of those doubts in your minds, but clearly we should be able to sympathize with those who find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead because we too have been skeptical at times. Whether it was a season of skepticism when we were teenagers or it was disillusionment with Jesus because of an illness or other hardship in our lives.
- So it should be no surprise that when we share the good news with people who did not even grow up hearing these stories that they too might find it hard to believe at first. The resurrection of Jesus was not just merely the resuscitation of the dead corpse of Jesus, people might find that easier to believe. And the resurrection of Jesus was not merely seeing His spirit raise from the grave, which many people might find easier to believe. No, Jesus experienced the final resurrection, He is the beginning of making all things new, and people are generally skeptical of new things and new ideas. I remember hearing once that the number of Americans who believe in the resurrection of the dead is about one-third. Many more Americans that that say they are Christians, though a large percentage of them may actually believe in moral therapeutic deism (MTD). Many more people find it easier to believe that our spirit going to heaven is the end of the story. But to believe not only that Jesus is coming again but even that the dead will be raised incorruptible. That is much more difficult to believe. It is hard to swallow. So when we share the gospel that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and that the Lord is risen. [He is risen indeed.] We should not be surprised that we do not get that “Risen indeed” response very often. People today do not generally believe in the resurrection of the dead let alone that Jesus has already experienced it. Among them are many Christians who are so focused on going to heaven that they forget that we will one day inherit the earth—not to mention the many who say that they believe in God but also mistakenly think that good people go to heaven when they die—a belief of MTD and a belief that if it were true would mean that Jesus died for no reason. And thus we should not be surprised that people today will find it hard to believe in the risen Jesus and we should sympathize with them. (In fact, even when the disciples were presented with proof that did not automatically create faith. They were still not really open to reason, they had minds that were already made up and closed to the possibility of the risen Jesus. So how is it then that people become open-minded to the resurrected Jesus? And what does that mean?)
- What it really means to be open-minded is that Jesus has opened your minds to understand the Old Testament Scriptures that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.
- When the women found the empty tomb the angels told them to remember how Jesus had told them back in Galilee that it was necessary for the Son of Man to be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.
- When the two disciples were going down that road of doubt and disillusionment with Jesus, the road to Emmaus, Jesus said that it was necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory and beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
- And now for the third time, Jesus says that everything written about Him in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms, (the three sections of the Hebrew Scriptures) must be fulfilled. That word “must” is the same Greek word found in the other two stories – it was necessary for Christ to suffer these things and enter into His resurrection glory on the third day. So Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written.” Usually that is the way that you would cite a passage of Scripture, but Jesus is not quoting a particular passage – He tells us that the whole of the Old Testament teaches this: “That the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
- You have an open-mind when you finally understand that the Old Testament says that these things were necessary for the Christ to do. The reason that He can rebuke us for not understanding is that we should understand – and if we had open minds we would understand – but on account of sin we were closed-minded and so it takes supernatural intervention for us to see and understand. And thus it is when Jesus opens our minds to understand the Scriptures, when Jesus makes the light-bulb go on in our heads, if you will, that all this was necessary for Jesus to fulfill the Scriptures that we then move to faith in Him. (And when you finally understand how the whole Old Testament is ultimately about Jesus, you want to show everyone else how it points to Jesus. Even though we know that we are going to meet many people who are closed-minded to the good news, people whose minds are already made up, including many professing Christians, and even when it is dangerous to share the good news because of persecution, when your mind is opened to understand the Scriptures you want to show everyone else too. Even more than just having that desire to share what we now understand…)
- We are led to worship Jesus and are empowered by the Spirit within us to go and boldly proclaim the good news that the Lord is risen. [He is risen indeed.]
- We worship the risen Jesus because we understand that the Scriptures teach that the Christ is God in the flesh. The disciples understood this. Thus in verse 52 it says, “they worshiped Him.” They worshiped Jesus. If He was just simply some created angel or spirit they would not have worshiped Jesus. If He was just simply a good moral teacher, they would not have worshiped Jesus. Even if He was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people but not God in the flesh, they would not have worshiped Jesus. But their minds were opened to understand the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. He is God in final resurrection flesh and bones. He is the Lord.
- And we are empowered by the Holy Spirit within us to go and boldly proclaim the good news of repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name. The promise of my Father that Jesus mentions in verse 49 is the gift of the Holy Spirit who was poured out on the church that first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus describes receiving the Spirit as being clothed with power from on high. So they would be empowered to go share this good news. They testified to what they had seen. They saw the risen Lord. We bear witness to their testimony and we can testify to our own experience of the risen Jesus. We can testify to our own experience of how the Lord has opened our minds by sending us the Holy Spirit to convince us that the Scriptures are the word of God and to interpret those Scriptures to us so that we would begin to understand them. We can share our experience and that often is helpful. But even more powerfully we can reason with people from the Scriptures – including the testimony of the apostles. Not everyone will have an open mind to the good news, they should understand but sin and unbelief clouds the mind, and so the only way that they will understand and we will understand is if the Holy Spirit opens minds—and when we say “understand” we don’t simply mean that they intellectually grasp the idea but we mean believe and grow in faith. Thus you never know who will have an open mind nor when they will have an open mind. Tell everyone again, the Lord is risen. [He is risen indeed.]