Know what brings peace

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Luke 24:36-53

We all want peace

By personality I am a ‘peacemaker’. Like many people, I don’t enjoy conflict or confronting people. I find difficult conversations… difficult! I naturally have a diplomatic manner rather than a ‘tell it like it is’ approach. Basically I like peaceful relationships rather than experiencing conflict…

And I think, regardless of personality type, life for many of us is basically a long path of negotiating and seeking peace – that is, a peaceful, comfortable, enjoyable experience of life. We want the ‘good life’ – life as it is meant to be (if it was ‘meant’ to be anything). And I think, despite the large number of people in this world who seem totally absorbed in themselves, most of us want to bring peace to others. We want to make the world a ‘better place’. We want to see others enjoying peace rather than pain and conflict. We want to know we’ve used our time and energy and resources to contribute towards that – especially for people we care about. We want to live a purposeful life, and what better purpose than bringing ‘world peace’… 

Our instinct for achieving this is to make ourselves as comfortable as possible in terms of our body, our home and our relationships (perhaps as a long term goal after lots of hard work in the meantime), and to work directly against social injustices and environmental problems through human effort and cooperation. Much of what we ‘work at’ in this life – at home, school, uni, work, in the community – it all typically flows from and feeds into this mindset, this approach to achieving the peace we want. We’re putting in the hard work now so we can achieve and experience peace – whether it’s the next weekend, the next holiday, or just that next phase of life when everything’s going to finally fall into place. 

Even within the world of ‘religion’, what our society typically thinks will bring peace is focused on human effort and cooperation through minimising our religious distinctives and instead focusing on ‘universal values’ to work towards mutual understanding and peace. For example, the organisation ‘Religions for Peace Australia’ states that their mission is “to work for interreligious peace and harmony and for social cohesion in Australia as well as upholding the universal values of authentic religion and spirituality…”[1]In this kind of thinking, it’s not the distinctive claims about God, salvation and morality of our faith that will lead to peace, but rather our capacity as a ‘spiritual or religious person’ to work towards social cohesion and mutual understanding.

Now there’s a lot to commend in such thinking and ambitions. Mutual understanding and working together despite our differences towards a peaceful and productive society sounds great! Much better than labelling and demonising people who are different from us and promoting tribal warfare mentality… However (and you knew it was coming!), what we are reminded of in todays passage from Luke’s gospel is that the only real path to world peace – true and lasting peace in the full sense of that word – is through Jesus. This final passage in Luke’s gospel, which presents us with the appearance and teaching of the risen Lord Jesus to his disciples, highlights in particular how the death and resurrection of Jesus and the offer of forgiveness in his name are at the centre of God’s great plan for bringing peace and redemption to his world. It’s a reminder, or a prompt, for us to know what brings peace and to embrace it as God’s good plan.

“Peace be with you”

It all starts with Jesus suddenly appearing amongst his disciples and saying, “Peace be with you.” In terms of the narrative of Luke 24, it’s still Easter Sunday. This same day the woman had found the tomb empty with angels announcing Jesus had risen, and two disciples had met Jesus on the road to a nearby village – although they didn’t realise it at first. And these disciples had rushed back to Jerusalem once they’d realised they had been talking with Jesus himself. You can see from verse 33, the end of our passage last week, that these two, who returned to share what they had experienced, had found the Eleven disciples and others with them, who were now buzzing with their own news – “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.”

And in this context, with all the disciples gathered together buzzing with the wonder of these appearances and the news they were hearing from each other, in the midst of this, as we read in verse 36, suddenly Jesus himself stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

More than a greeting

Now before we go on to the way the disciples react, I just want us to appreciate the significance of this greeting in this context. You see in one sense this is a perfectly normal greeting. It’s what we might expect Jesus to say. Like an Aussie saying, “Hey, how’s it going?” But I think it’s more than that. It’s an important pointer to the significance of his resurrection and appearance to them. He’s not just ‘wishing’ them peace. He’s grantingthem peace in his name as the crucified and risen Lord Jesus. He’s indicating the goal and outworking of everything he’s come to do as their Lord and Messiah.

More than a Feeling

And what he means by peace is not just warm and fuzzy feelings. The biblical meaning of the word peace is built on the Hebrew word ‘shalom’. And it’s much bigger than feelings of peace and comfort. It’s really about life being whole and complete and perfect – as God intends it to be… The guys at the Bible Project have a very helpful word study video and what the Bible means by peace, which helps us grasp the significance of what Jesus is saying here…

View ‘Shalom’ by the Bible Project

You see, when Jesus says ‘peace be with you’, this [see above video]is what he’s talking about. And as they highlight, it’s ultimately only possible through the reconciliation that God has achieved through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And what I want us to appreciate from the rest of this passage in Luke 24 is that we can only truly pursue and promote lasting peace for ourselves and for others in this world through the redemption that God makes available in the name the risen Lord Jesus.

Real Resurrection & Real Hope

So as we move on (finally!) in the narrative to consider the reactions of the disciples to Jesus and what he does to reassure them, keeping all this bigger context in mind, what we are meant to grasp first is the reality and the nature of Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead. It’s really him. He really is a physical human being. He really is alive again. But not just ‘again’… he breaks all known categories of human existence. 

Fear & Doubt

As we read in verse 37, after Jesus appears and speaks, the disciples are startled and frightened, and Luke explains for us that they thought they were seeing a ghost or a spirit. And this reaction is significant isn’t it? On one level who wouldn’t jump and be terrified with someone appearing suddenly out of nowhere and speaking. If you thought the ghost of your dead friend had suddenly appeared before you, you’d be pretty freaked out. But on another level, it shows they hadn’t really come to terms with the reality of Jesus being alive – neither the fact of it, nor the nature of what that really meant. Moments ago (v34) they are all proclaiming that “It’s true! Jesus is risen!” and now they are terrified and think they’re seeing a ghost. The reality hasn’t sunk in and they don’t know how to process what they’re seeing. I wonder if this might be a picture of our own belief in the resurrection at times. We sing that Jesus is risen and say we believe it, but there’s a lot of doubt and confusion and ‘how could it really be true’ mixed up with these convictions in our hearts and minds…

Real, Physical Resurrection 

It’s certainly where the disciples are at, and so Jesus responds, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 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.” And then he shows them his hands and his feet – presumably showing the wounds left from his crucifixion. And when they still seem to be just staring at him in disbelief – thinking this is just too good to be true – Jesus asks for something to eat and then takes and eats a piece of roasted fish in their presence. 

The clear concern here is to help the disciples to grasp clearly the very real and physical nature of his resurrection. It’s really him – the one they knew and followed and saw being crucified. And he really is back from the dead. He’s not a ghost. They can touch him – he has flesh and bones and he eats just like them.

Transformation

But as I said before, he’s more than ‘back from the dead’ isn’t he? He’s physical, he has flesh and bones and he’s eating normal food in front of them… he’s real, but he’s surrealat the same time. He’s appearing in their midst out of nowhere! No wonder they think he’s a spirit! Scholars point out that Luke seems concerned here to point out that Jesus doesn’t fit into any typical categories of beings from the afterlife in Greco-Roman thought. To put it kind of crudely in our terms, Jesus is neither a ghost nor a zombie. Jesus has been resurrected – out the other side of death – as a new, transformed but physical being. There’s continuity with the world we know, and discontinuity. It’s Jesus, the human being they know, but he’s very, very different too.

The physical resurrection means hope for this world

And this is what we need to appreciate from this passage – not just that Jesus really is alive again, but that he’s been raised and transformed physically. Because this reality is fundamental to the whole plan of God to bring his peace – his ‘shalom’ – to the world.

As we will go on to see, the Apostolic witness to Jesus as the risen Lord and the one in whom all people can find forgiveness, hope and life – this message and witness is built on this scene right here. Jesus wants his disciples to know beyond a doubt the real, physical and transformed nature of his resurrection to life, because the hope of the world depends on it.

A Christian theologian and ethicist called Oliver O’Donovan wrote a book decades ago called ‘Resurrection and Moral Order’, which we were supposed to read at Bible college – and thankfully, I actually did read this one. Because it’s amazing! In a way, I felt like much of what we learnt in the first three years of our Bachelor of Theology was designed to help us read and understand this book! Anyway, in his opening chapter, he explains the fundamental importance of the resurrection of Jesus for the hope of the rest of the physical world. He writes…

“It might have been possible, we could say, before Christ rose from the dead, for someone to wonder whether creation was a lost cause. If the creature consistently acted to uncreate itself, and with itself to uncreate the rest of creation, did this not mean that God’s handiwork was flawed beyond hope of repair? It might have been possible before Christ rose from the dead to answer in good faith, Yes. Before God raised Jesus from the dead, the hope that we call ‘gnostic’, the hope for redemption fromcreation rather than for the redemption ofcreation, might have appeared to be the only possible hope. ‘But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…’ (1 Cor 15:20)… The resurrection carries with it the promise that ‘all shall be made alive (v22)… The sign that God has stood by his created order implies that this order, with mankind in its proper place within it, is to be totally restored at the last.”[3]

It takes time to digest what he’s saying, and there’s a lot more to read, but I hope you can see the central idea. With the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead, God has affirmed his original creative purposes. He has declared once and for all that he has not given up on this world – on you and me. And in Jesus he has laid the foundation and shown us the final outcome of the redemption he has promised and is working towards. As we saw in the video, the resurrected Jesus is the shalom– the peace – of God expressed in bodily, human form. The risen Jesus is the basis of our hope for God’s peace, not just because he shows that God can do amazing things, but because he represents and establishes that very wholeness and perfection we long for. The peace we want is available only through participating in the resurrection life of this man Jesus.

Grasping God’s Plan for Salvation

All this is what the disciples eventually came to understand and to share with the world around them. But at first, even as Jesus is proving to them beyond doubt that he really is alive, they still seem dumbfounded. In fact, it’s not the proof of his resurrection in and of itself that transforms their minds and attitudes – it’s what comes next. What they really need is to understand this fact before them as the fulfilment of what God has always promised and revealed in the Scriptures. To truly grasp the reality of the resurrection of Jesus requires not just believing the fact of the event, but grasping that it comes as the culmination of God’s great plan of redemption and peace for the world.

Everything must be Fulfilled

Jesus goes on from verse 44 to explain, “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.”

Jesus wants them to understand finally that what they are seeing and experiencing is the fulfilment of Scripture (which is what he means by ‘the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms’ – it’s a way of referring to the whole OT). He repeatedly told them before his crucifixion that he would suffer and rise again, and he has repeatedly emphasized that this is the necessary plan of God according to Scripture. But up till now they have remained confused by these statements. Up till now they have failed to grasp the true message of the Scriptures and they have failed to grasp the reality and the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. 

Mutual Understanding

What they need is to understand the message of the Bible in light of the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection as God’s Messiah, and conversely, they need to grasp the facts of Jesus death and resurrection in light of the whole story of the Bible. They need to understand these things in light of each other to properly grasp either of them at all, and they need their minds opened by Jesus himself to do so.

It’s like the Old Testament Scriptures and the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection, when viewed in isolation, are like two layers of an image that don’t make sense without each other. The message of the Old Testament is not ultimately self-interpreting – it needs to be understood through the lens of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And likewise, the events of Jesus dying on a Roman cross and somehow rising from the dead 3 days later are not self-interpreting. They need to be understood in relation to and as the fulfilment of the whole Old Testament. And this perspective, this mutual understanding, is something that Jesus himself must give us.

He Opened their Minds to Understand…

And so, as we read from verse 45, Jesus ‘opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”’

Now I think what we have here is the summary of all summaries of conversations. I don’t think what we read in verses 46 and 47 is all that Jesus said to them. Rather it is the essenceof what he helped them understand. He opened their minds by his words and the illuminating power his Spirit to appreciate finally that it is indeed written all through the Scriptures that the Christ will suffer for sins and that he will rise from the dead on the third, and that the good news of forgiveness through repentance and faith in Jesus would be proclaimed to all the world. Luke doesn’t give us particular verses and passages that prove this – he’s not trying to explain it fully to us here and now. No, our own appreciation of how the OT teaches and promises these things is built of the witness of the whole New Testament as our guide. And that’s a key point we need to appreciate.

Having our minds opened – the witness of the NT

You see, we need to understand that a fundamental aspect of God opening ourminds to understand the Scriptures is the opening up of the minds of these disciples. As Jesus goes on to say, “you (that is, they!) are witnesses of these things.” They are the ones who witnessed Jesus’ resurrection, and they are the ones who sat there with the risen Jesus whilst he opened their minds to understand how his death and resurrection are the fulfilment of Scripture. And then as Jesus’ witnesses and the recipients of this ‘mind opening experience’, these disciples go on to share through the power of God’s promised Spirit what they have witnessed and come to understand with the world, beginning at Jerusalem. And what we have in the New Testament captures this witness and this understanding. 

So whilst the message of the Old Testament is not self-interpreting in isolation, wedon’t have it in isolation– we have the New Testament alongside it revealing its true significance in Christ. And whilst the Bible does also affirm that we all need the work of God’s Spirit in our hearts and minds to truly understand and accept the truth of God’s word and to entrust ourselves to it over and against our own wisdom, I don’t think this passage is saying we need a particular ‘mind-opening’ spiritual experience to make sense of the message of the Bible as a whole and to come to grasp the reality and meaning of Jesus’ resurrection. Our understanding and faith rests on the apostolic witness of these disciples, who saw Jesus and touched him for themselves, and had their minds opened to understand how it all fit together. 

God’s plan for peace and the preaching of the gospel

And the final point we should appreciate from what Jesus says here is that it’s not just the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection that are written about in the Scriptures, but also the ongoing preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus to all nations. The preaching of the gospel is just as much the fulfilment of God’s great plans for redemption, revealed in the unfolding story of the Bible, as the events of the life, death and resurrection of the Messiah themselves, which the gospel is based on. 

This is really the point that we’ve been working towards and that I started with. We all want to experience peace, and we all (if we’re not totally self-absorbed!) want to help make the world a better place – to help establish peace in this world. And that peace is made possible, made available, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And now that peace is offered and manifest in the world through the call to repentance and faith in Jesus and offer of forgiveness in his name. The great plan of God to redeem this world and bring the peace we long for is focused right now on the work of preaching ‘repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ in the name of Jesus. You want to make the world a better place? Get onboard with God’s plan and call people to repent from serving themselves and entrust themselves to God’s forgiveness and peace made available in Christ.

This doesn’t mean that loving people practically or working to alleviate poverty and the effects of environmental disasters etc… doesn’t matter! Of course it does! In fact a life of love and peace-making is exactly what repentance and faith in Jesus is supposed to bring about in us. God cares about the physical and social wellbeing of people! And of course, complete physical and social wellbeing is the end point of the salvation that begins with repentance, faith and forgiveness. The final goal or outworking of forgiveness in Christ is to share in the reality of his resurrection. 

But we need to remember that true transformation starts with repentance and faith in Jesus, and will only be fully realised by sharing in the resurrection of Jesus. Peace-making that skips repentance and faith in Jesus and forgets the ultimate goal of resurrection is shallow and short-lived. It’s like trying to keep flowers that have been cut from the plant looking alive and pretty for as long as possible. In the end they will wither and die. The only hope for a branch that has been cut from a tree is to be grafted in to a living plant. We really do offer lasting and transforming hope and peace to people in our lives when we help them repent and accept forgiveness in Jesus and look forwards to sharing in his resurrection. 

Human cooperation in working against injustice and efforts towards social cohesion are valuable and important. But it is in fact the distinctive claims of the Christian faith – the claims that God has revealed himself to us in Jesus and that he has suffered in our place as one of us and risen to new life, and that we can enjoy forgiveness and reconciliation with God and look forward to participating in a renewed world through repentance and faith – it is in fact maintaining these distinctive claims in our world that is the most valuable and effective thing we can do to work towards true peace.

To be continued…

As we finish up, in the final few verses, from verse 50 to the end, we see the impact that this mind-opening experience has had on Jesus’ disciples. Now we know from the book of Acts and the other gospels that what’s reported here happened about 40 days after that first Easter Sunday, but at this point, Luke wants us to appreciate the connection with what he’s just reported, and so the narrative just flows on. He explains that Jesus leads them out to the vicinity of Bethany, lifts up his hands and blesses them, and while he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. And at this point the disciples worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, staying at the temple in Jerusalem (as Jesus told them to!) praising God.

These disciples initially ‘still did not believebecause of joy and amazement’ even as Jesus stood before them, showing his hands and feet and eating fish. Now they rejoice greatly, worshipping Jesus and praising God. They understand. They know. They believe. Jesus istheir God and their Lord. He has come and suffered in their place and risen to provide forgiveness and new life in fulfilment of all God has promised and revealed in the past. He has conquered death and returned to rule with God the Father and will return again to establish peace once and for all. And so they do what they have never been described as doing before… they worship Jesus. This simple description reveals that finally it has all sunk in. When we repent of worshipping other gods and reorientate our life around Jesus as our Lord and God, our creator and our saviour, giving him the thanks and praise he is due… that’s when we show our minds have been opened to understand God’s good purposes in this world. That’s when we know what brings peace.

And so the book finishes with this simple description of the disciples staying continually at the temple, praising God. It seems like an ending, but of course we know from what Jesus has just said, that it is really just the beginning. They are not merely stayingin the temple – they are waiting. Waiting for the promised Spirit to be poured out, clothing them with power, so they might embrace their role as Jesus’ witnesses, bringing the good news of his salvation to the ends of the earth. It’s a story that is to be continued… it’s continued of course in the book of Acts, Luke’s second volume, and it’s continued through to this very day as followers of Jesus continue to embrace their role in preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus. It’s a story that is continued in our lives and in our community each day as we take up this privilege and responsibility to bring peace to our world.


[1]http://religionsforpeaceaustralia.org.au

[2]https://thebibleproject.com/videos/shalom-peace/

[3]O’Donovan, Resurrection & Moral Order, pp14-15