Our meditation today, with Easter fast approaching, is the resurrection accounts in the Gospel of Luke. Chapter 24 describes the discovery of the empty tomb and three encounters with the risen Christ. Each section of the chapter is a narrative scene that contains material selected to not only relate the events surrounding the resurrection but to make a theological point (or points). These scenes work together to emphasize the following truths about our Lord:
- He was promised in the Scriptures
- His death was the plan of God
- He knew and announced it beforehand
- He is surely risen from the dead in a resurrection body
- His death accomplishes redemption
- He sends the Holy Spirit who empowers
- His death is to be proclaimed to all the nations
- He ascended into Heaven
- He receives the worship of believers
- He is the substance of Praise and Joy
The reader familiar with the major themes in Luke will recognize many of them in this list. Like many of the gospels, the final chapters solidify and reinforce the major themes of the whole book. At the same time, as the disciples believe Christ has risen they move from soul-crushing doubt and despair at the tomb to jubilant praise in the Temple.
In what follows we shall briefly describe the individual scenes by reading the text both vertically (in its own setting) and horizontally (in comparison with other gospels). Given that Luke had these traditions available to him in one form or another, the differences help us identify his emphases. These emphases also ought to be the preachers as he prepares his message.
In the first scene (24: 1 – 12), the empty tomb was discovered, Christ was proclaimed as risen by two angels to a group of women, and Peter inspected the tomb. The report of the women to the disciples was strongly rejected (24:11, λῆρος “nonsense” is used of feverish gibberish or an idle tale in antiquity). After Peter inspected the tomb, he went away marveling “to himself” (πρὸς ἑαυτὸν θαυμάζων, 24:12). Peter’s response falls well short of believing the resurrection had happened. In fact, there is no mention of such belief among the followers of Jesus. When we compare it to other gospel accounts we see that Luke omits the encounter of the risen Christ with Mary (See MT 28:9 and John 20:14–17). He also does not mention the beloved disciple who is said to have believed (JN 20:8). They are likely intentionally omitted to highlight the state of the larger group. Generally, among Christ’s followers, there is a “slider-bar” continuum between unbelief and hope, but no direct mention of belief. The result is that while no accusation that wishful thinking produced mass hysteria will stick, they didn’t believe in the face of hopeful signs.
The next scene (24:13–35), is unique to Luke. In this scene, the longest of the four, two disciples left Jerusalem for Emmaus. They left even though they were well-aware of the reports from the morning (24:14; 22–24). Christ suddenly and surreptitiously joined them on the road. The appearance is related emphatically to the readers. Luke expresses it as “Jesus himself” (αὐτὸς Ἰησοῦς, 24:15). However, while we know it is Jesus, he kept the pair from recognizing him immediately (24:31). Picking up the topic of the previous scene, Jesus admonished them as ignorant and “too dull to believe” (ἀνόητοι καὶ βραδεῖς τῇ καρδίᾳ τοῦ πιστεύειν). He repeated the angels’ reminder that he had to suffer these things (cf. 24:7/24:26) and added the testimony of “Moses and all the prophets” (24:27). Clearly, the sufficiency of the reports of the eyewitnesses and the Scripture should have been enough for belief, as far as Jesus was concerned. After the two turned around and went back to Jerusalem, they heard another report, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.” The emphatic indicative ὄντως ἠγέρθη, “really risen,” described the conclusion that they made from the numerous reports. The slider-bar has generally been moved to the “belief” side but there was more depth that needed to be understood.
In the third scene (24:36 – 49), that depth is given. Christ appeared to the disciples in the upper room. This scene differs from the John’s account in that there is no mention of Thomas or the two appearances in the span of eight days (JN 20:27–28). Instead, we see that Luke only included one visit and has far more regarding the nature of the resurrection body (that he was not a spirit). This suggests it was a leading purpose of the scene in Luke. While an apparition would be quite disturbing, it was part of the cultural beliefs of antiquity. Jesus demonstrated that his is a physical resurrected body. He confirmed it in two stages. First, he presented his hands and feet for them to touch. We are not told if anyone took him up on the offer. At this point the faith response was something like, “this is too good to be true” (24:41). It was not an expression of unbelief but amazement. Second, he ate in their presence. No mere spirit could do that. The slider-bar is completely and securely on the “faith” side now with a better understanding of resurrection.
After his proof, Jesus declared three matters that have been stated repeatedly throughout this chapter and form much of its theological texture. He told them this would happen (24:8, 44); his death was necessary (24:7, 26, 45) it was declared in the Scripture (24:25, 44). Christ summarized the content of the Scripture with three infinitives. He had to 1) suffer (παθεῖν), 2) rise (ἀναστῆναι), and 3) be proclaimed (κηρυχθῆναι) to all nations (24:46–47). Jesus’ admonition “You are witnesses of these things” was a commission to be the heralds to the nations but also staggering in its importance for there are no others to whom he could delegate the task. His directive to wait for empowerment was likewise twofold: it was both a command and an enablement (Acts 1:8 clearly identifies the promise as the Holy Spirit).
The final scene (24:50 – 54) is the ascension and exaltation of Christ. It should be noted that while it is alluded to throughout the NT, only Luke records the ascension (24:51 and Acts 1:9). On surface reading, it looks like one day. However, Luke specifically mentions 40 days of encounters in the period before the ascension (Acts 1:3), so let’s not press the chronology. The ascension is not just going to heaven. It is vindication of Jesus by the Father. It is beginning the ministry of the risen Lord. It is the exaltation to the right hand of God. The response of the disciples is worship of Christ, praise, and great joy. They completed their journey from soul-crushing grief to joy by following the path that is faith in Christ.
The preacher might structure the sermon on the material above in many ways. I always prefer a structure that matches the structure of the text both thematically and grammatically. For example, using the slider-bar analogy, I suggest the preaching of Christ that is also a progression from unbelief to joy. The essence of my sermon is that correct belief about and submission to Christ is the pathway from grief to joy. The movements, matching the movements of the text are as follows:
I.Doubt and Perplexity Displayed (24:1–12).
II. Dejection and Discouragement Destroyed (24:13 – 35)
III. Belief Fortified and Empowered (24:36 – 49)
IV. Joy Established (24:50 – 54)
Brothers, bring the Thunder on Sunday!
About: Dr. Scott Kellum serves as Professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He earned his Master of Divinity from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and his PhD from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Kellum has written several books, including The Cradle, The Cross, and the Crown, and Preaching the Farewell Discourse: An Expository Walk-Through of John 13:31-17:26.