Lectionary Guide: Easter 2024

April 14 | Third Sunday of Easter | Year B

Luke 24:36b–48

Acts 3:12-19 | Psalm 4 | 1 John 3:1-7

Summary of the Text

Jeff Volkmer

Context

Post-Resurrection Appearances

The four Gospel writers vary in which and how many of Jesus’ thirteen post-resurrection appearances they choose to record. Luke reserves each one of the five episodes containing the risen Jesus that he records for the final chapter of his Gospel (these exclude an additional two appearing in the book of Acts) and their order of appearance seems to betray a certain logic. Those who were first to experience Jesus’ resurrection in Lk 24:1–12 do so by means of the empty tomb and the testimony of the angels, but as the chapter progresses, Jesus Himself appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13–35), and then, finally, the rest of the rest of the disciples in our passage from today, viz., Lk 24:36–48. Thus, Luke arranges his resurrection stories of Jesus according to the number and level of familiarity of those present to experience them.

In proportion to the number of witnesses that Jesus reveals Himself to post-resurrection is the level of explicitness He utilizes in that self-revelation. This is seen both in how readily He can be recognized by those who encounter Him as well as in the length and extent of the Scriptural exposition Jesus employs to demonstrate that He really is the risen Lord. In the first episode of the resurrection, Jesus is not even present. In the second, He appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, but is not at first recognizable, while in the final story, all of His disciples are present and His identity is a foregone conclusion. These stories thus constitute a “reverse funnel” of sorts, gradually widening in their scope and explicitness.

The Final Appearance in Luke

Our Gospel reading for today from Lk 24:36b–48, which records Jesus’ final appearance before His disciples must therefore be read in light of this structure. It is unique amongst Luke’s resurrection accounts, both in terms of the number of those present to witness the resurrected Jesus as well as its explicitness in demonstrating the veracity of His resurrection. Ultimately, it is no coincidence that Luke’s version of the Great Commission (Lk 24:47-48) occurs in this pericope, not only to highlight its connection to the resurrection, but also to invite its readers into the story as participants themselves that therefore participate in the message that “repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem” (Lk 24:47).

Content

Jesus, Resurrected Human Being

The passage opens with an interesting juxtaposition in that while employing a greeting that the disciples would no doubt have recognized as particularly unique to Jesus, “Peace be with you” (cf., Jn 14:27, 20:19–29), they disciples were unsure what to make of His immediate and sudden appearance in their midst. The disciples seem to have recognized that it was Jesus, but failed to correctly grasp that it was Jesus in His humanity as resurrected from the dead before them rather than some kind of ghost (Lk 24:37).

Jesus responds to this uncertainty with an invitation for the disciples to physically inspect His hands and feet, no doubt meaning for them to recognize the marks of the crucifixion that He had undergone just days before. The point of this exercise was to emphasize that it was Jesus, the man who they had known and seen killed, that was now standing before them in His flesh and not a purely spiritual being such as an angel. The emphasis on the humanity of Jesus is repeated often in these short verses (Lk 24:39–43) where He invites His disciples to touch Him, refers to His flesh and bones (24:39), and finally asks for something to something to eat, only to do so right in front of them (24:42–43). Here Jesus means to show that His resurrection is not only a product and proof of His being divine and “consubstantial with the Father” (as in the Nicene Creed), but also a demonstration of His having fully experienced, but then conquered, the death that all of humanity has been consigned to since the Fall. For just as sin and death entered through one man Adam (Rom 5:12), it was important to emphasize that so also will “the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:17).

Implications of Bodily Resurrection

Not only is this a demonstration that Jesus was the only man able to reverse the curse of the Fall, but also a vivid reminder that those who are “in Christ” (to use the Pauline formulation) can look forward to a full redemption of their bodies in addition to their souls. This section of Scriptures serves as a powerful corrective to the Gnosticism and its modern vestiges that have frequently led the Church into err by an over-emphasis of the spiritual at the expense of the physical world that Christ is also reconciling to Himself through the cross (see Col 1). Thus, the implications for Christ’s triumph over death extend well-beyond simply the redemption of our souls, but extends to the far reaches of every aspect of creation that is also being made right by the power of that resurrection.

Systematic Scriptural Support

Having given His disciples physical evidence of His resurrection in Lk 24:36–43, Jesus then turns to providing Scriptural evidence in the second half of the passage (24:44–49). To do so, Jesus marshals evidence from the “Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms” (24:44). Prior to the advent of the “New” Testament, it would have been non-sensical to refer to a body of Scripture entitled the “Old” Testament, and so the tri-partite designation of Scripture used by Jesus here is a reference to the TaNaK, an acronym for the three sections of the Old Testament often employed by Jews: the Torah (“Instructions”), Nevi’im (“Prophets”), and the Ketuvim (“The Writings”: the first book of which is the Psalms, hence Jesus refers to the “Psalms”). Hence, Jesus walks His disciples through the entirety of what the Church now refers to as the Old Testament, offering an apologetic for His needing to “suffer and on the third day, rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk 24.46–47).

 

Lesson

The Old Testament in Focus

This dramatic portion of Scripture offers us several important lessons. Working backwards, it is striking that by using only the Old Testament, a portion of Scripture that is often completely ignored in the pulpits of our modern Churches, Jesus is able to provide a fully developed Gospel presentation that demonstrates both His role in rescuing us from our sins and how His words and deeds fulfilled the Messianic expectations expressed there. Secondly, although being rooted and revealed in the Holy Scriptures entrusted and revealed to the Jewish people, Jesus’ recourse to the Old Testament serves to underscore how His mission was nevertheless meant to transcend the political borders of Israel (24:47). In so doing, Luke offers his version of the Great Commission, saying that it was always God’s intention for the Gospel to be initially revealed and then to begin in Jerusalem, but this was nevertheless for the purpose of going out to all the nations by means of the disciples, Jesus’ appointed witnesses (24:48). In this, along with the sending of “the promise of my Father upon you” (24:49), a clear reference to the Holy Spirit (cf., Jn 16:7), we have a clear foreshadowing of Acts 1.8 and a fitting literary hinge between the two books written by Luke.

The manner of Jesus’ self-revelation both physically as well as exegetically in today’s Gospel reading performs another critical rhetorical function that is important not to miss. In reserving the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus that involves the greatest number of direct eyewitnesses for the end of the chapter (and the larger book of which it is a part), Luke achieves what literary theorists have called a “democratizing effect.” That the crowd is present in the last scene is meant as an invitation to the reader to join those physically present and to participate in the examination of Jesus’ claim to Messiahship as well as to sit under His charge to go out into the nations.

Sermon resources

Key Quotes

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

—Carl Sagan, Broca’s Brain (Random House, 1979).

Key Illustration

In 1964 Peter Higgs wrote a paper entitled, “Broken Symmetries and the Masses of Gauge Bosons,” which proposed the existence of a new fundamental particle of matter based solely upon mathematical deductions arising from the examination of various formulae in physics. Despite being observable solely in the mathematical work done by Peter Higgs, this 1964 paper led a generation of physicists to posit the existence of a fundamental building block of matter with so much explanatory power that the Standard Model of quantum mechanics would collapse without it. No physical experiment could be done to confirm this “Higgs Boson” that Higgs’ complex math predicted because doing so required the seemingly impossible task of replicating the massive energy and physical conditions present at the time of the Big Bang.

However, in 2008 after nearly $5 billion and 10 years of work, the 17-mile ring of superconducting electromagnets that make-up the Large Hadron Collider of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) was completed. [1] The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the largest machine that humans have ever made and was built for the sole purpose of accelerating protons and ions to near the speed of light only to smash them together in an effort to directly observe the elementary particles that result from the collision. Amazingly, a series of experiments performed in 2012 at the LHC were actually able to produce observable instances of Higgs Bosons, whose existence up to that time had to be taken on the faith of Peter Higgs’ 1964 mathematical deductions. The extraordinary claims of Higgs’ mathematics demanded the extraordinary evidence that only such a large, complex, and expensive machine could deliver.

In our Gospel story for today Jesus uses the Scriptures to demonstrate that “the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead” (24:46) and so should one want to make a claim of Messiahship, they would need to provide up by some pretty extraordinary evidence! However, in Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance in Lk 24:36b–48, He did just that. By offering His resurrection body for the disciples’ examination, complete with the scars of the crucifixion on His hands and feet, He demonstrated that He really is the Messiah.

But this is not all that He did. For the disciples charged with bringing the message of “forgiveness of sins” to the world, Jesus also produced the kind of physical evidence that could give them the confidence and conviction required of their message, a message that was ultimately shared at the cost of many of their lives.

Christians today are not only beneficiaries of the Gospel message that was proclaimed through the power of the resurrection, but can draw upon the same confidence that Jesus’ physical resurrection must have given the early disciples.

[1] See C. Roche, “How much money did CERN’s Large Hadron Collider cost to build and who paid for it?” Diario AS. Last updated July 6, 2022. https://en.as.com/latest_news/how-much-money-did-cerns-large-hadron-collider-cost-to-build-and-who-paid-for-it-n/

—Jeff Volkmer

Discussion Questions

  • Is there a time when you struggled with doubts in your Christian faith?
  • What were these and how did you deal with them?
  • The lectionary guide mentions the “error of Gnosticism,” which in essence, is an over-emphasis on spiritual things at the expense of the physical world/creation. Have you seen this in the Church? How?
  • It was often said that today’s Gospel reading contains Luke’s version of the “Great Commission.” Read Matthew 28:16–20, what is often referred to as the Great Commission. What do you see there that is similar and/or different?
  • It was also said above that today’s Gospel reading serves as a hinge that joins Luke’s Gospel with the other New Testament book he penned, the book of Acts. In particular, this is the case with Acts 1:8 and Luke 24:36b–48. In comparing these two sections of Scripture, how has this “hinge” been accomplished by Luke?

Liturgical resources

Call to Worship

Adapted from John 12 and Isaiah 60

Leader: Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you.”

People: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”

Leader: “If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going.”

People: “For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon us and His glory will appear over us.”

Leader: “While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”

People: Nations shall come to our light, and kings to the brightness of our dawn.

(Jn 12:35-36, Is 60:1-3, NRSVUE, adapted for liturgical use)

Prayer of Confession

Merciful Lord, You are holy, You are mighty, You are worthy of praise! Holy Father, You are majestic, You are powerful, You are awesome in every way! We have seen Your glory, And experienced Your joy. But often our hearts are fickle, and the awe and wonder of Your saving grace becomes common and mundane. In Your mercy, please forgive our sin; cleanse us from our unrighteousness and heal our wayward and feckless hearts. We find hope and comfort in Your promise to forgive. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church

Assurance of Pardon

Inspired by Psalm 51:9-12

The Lord has hidden his face from our sin. He has blotted out all of our iniquity. In Christ and his cross, he has created within us a clean heart and renewed a right spirit within us, so that we are not cast away from his presence. We are endowed with his Holy Spirit, restored to the joy of God’s salvation and given a willing spirit to do all that he asks and desires of us. For in Christ Jesus, the perfect suffered for the imperfect, the sinless became sin for the sinner; we are forgiven and freed to live in a right relationship with God. Brothers and sisters, you are forgiven, indeed! Amen.

We affirm the good news that this statement is completely true and should be universally accepted: Christ Jesus entered the world to save sinners. He personally bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might be dead to sin and alive to God.  In Christ we are forgiven.  Amen.

—Stuart Strachan Jr.

Benediction

Romans 8:9a & 11

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

(ESV, adapted for liturgical use)

Detail of a painting by Rubens depicting Christ showing his resurrected body, with its wounds, to three of the disciples.
Detail of Christ’s Apparition to the Disciples, from the Rockox Triptych, by Flemish Master Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) in 1613-15. Oil on panel. Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp.
Jesus shows his wounds on his resurrected body to three disciples.
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

More Quotes: Easter 3

More Illustrations: Easter 3

Jeff Volkmer

Headshot of Jeff Volkmer.

Jeff Volkmer has served in a wide variety of both academic and pastoral positions over his 25-year career in ministry, with most of these spent as a professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages.

Jeff has a passion to help others see the wonder and beauty of the Scriptures in a way that allows them to know the Lord more fully and love Him more deeply, and simply put, to help make the Bible make sense to believers and non-believers alike. He holds a ThM in Old Testament from Dallas Theological Seminary and is in the final stages of a doctorate in Semitic Linguistics from the University of Oxford.

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