Let’s Get Physical

“Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio

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As they were talking about these things, Jesus Himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 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 while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave Him a piece of broiled fish, and He took it and ate before them.

Then He said to them, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, 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 are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:36-49).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

The two men had just told them an incredible story about their trip to Emmaus earlier that day. As they walked on the road, the two had been talking about all these things that had happened in Jerusalem over the last couple of days. A man had come up to them asking what they were talking about. Surprised that anyone could have been in Jerusalem the last few days and not know what had been going on, Cleopas told the man about what had happened with Jesus of Nazareth, how the chief priests and rulers had delivered Him to be condemned and crucified. Jesus’ followers had hoped He would be the one to redeem Israel. Now it was the third day since and some of the women had come back with the news that Jesus’ tomb was empty. They had seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. It sounded like crazy talk, so some of them had gone back to the tomb and found everything as the women had said, but they still hadn’t seen Jesus.

At that point, the man had interrupted their story. He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” And then He went through the Scriptures and showed them how all of them spoke of this Messiah.

When they got to Emmaus, the stranger acted as though He was still going farther. But it was getting late, so they invited the man to stay with them. When they sat down to eat, the man took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized it was Jesus!

And just as suddenly as the man had appeared them, the Lord vanished from their sight!

So, the two men got up and hurried back to Jerusalem as fast as they could so they could tell the Eleven and the others with them that they had seen the risen Lord! They told them everything that had happened on the road, and how they recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. The Eleven told them how Jesus had also appeared to Simon!

As they were all talking about these things, and trying to figure them out, Jesus Himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!”

You might think the Emmaus disciples would be thinking, “See! We told you!” But if they thought it, Luke does not tell us they said it. Instead, they (together with the Eleven and the others) were incredulous. “They were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit” (Luke 24:37).

Their disbelief was understandable. Jesus had been dead. There was no mistaking it. But now He stood among them. Apparently, modern skeptics in our scientific age were not the first to have trouble believing a body could literally rise from the dead. So, also did the disciples—and they were there in person! They had seen Jesus raise others from the dead. They had heard Him foretell His own resurrection on the third day, but still they had trouble with a bodily resurrection. People in those days generally believed that the souls of the dead were able to walk the earth. There was a great fear of ghosts. Ghosts they could accept, but it was unthinkable that a dead person could make bodily appearances.

Yet that is exactly what Jesus did: with His glorified body He appeared to Mary Magdalene, to Peter, to the Emmaus disciples, and to the group that had assembled in the locked room.

Jesus first wanted to convince His disciples that they are not seeing a ghost but rather a real, live person. He showed them His hands and feet still marked with the wounds He suffered. He invited them to touch Him to demonstrate that He has flesh and blood and is not a ghost. But even that was not enough for them. Luke tells us that after seeing Jesus’ hands and feet they “disbelieved for joy and were marveling” (Luke 24:41). There was a great struggle going on in their hearts between the joy of believing and the dread of being deceived. Faith often wrestles with doubt in the Christian’s heart. In our world, if something seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t.

So Jesus asked them for something to eat. They gave Him a piece of broiled fish. Jesus ate it before their doubting eyes to show that He is alive and that the body that appeared before them was just like their body, with flesh and bones. It was the same body that was nailed to the cross. This was the same crucified and risen Lord! This is the same Lord who taught in their homes and ate at their tables. He suffered, died, and now was risen to abide among them.

Luke’s message is clear. This was no spiritual or metaphorical resurrection. The physical body which had been dead was now alive and well—even a little hungry.

But what does it matter to you? Jesus’ physical resurrection was good for Him, but unless you have some advantageous connection to Him, the fact of His resurrection does not matter much. This is where some apologetic attempts to demonstrate proof of a physical resurrection fall short. Even if we had evidence of the empty tomb, the benefit of Jesus’ resurrection for anyone beside Himself would still be a matter of faith.

Luke emphasizes the physical reality of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. But without the promise of the Gospel this is simply news. Wonderful, unique news, to be sure, but nevertheless, merely news. It becomes good news for us when we connect Jesus’ resurrection to our own.

Throughout the Scriptures we read Jesus is the first to be raised. St. Paul writes, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). “And He is the head of the body, the Church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:18). Before Agrippa, Paul attested, “I stand here testifying both to small and great what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: The Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:23). We believe that after Him will rise all who die in Him. “Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:23). Our epistle reading points in this direction, too. At Jesus’ return, “We shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2).

In other words, the physical resurrection of Jesus signals our own. After more than a year of facing our collective mortality as a species, the promise of a physical resurrection is welcome news. Christian hope is not based on inoculation or herd immunity. It is not subject to the vagaries of variants or vaccines. Instead, we find hope and strength in the promise of our own physical resurrection.

When Jesus appeared to His disciples, He did not simply show Himself to be a living person; He opened their minds to an understanding of the Scriptures. He showed them how Scriptures had foretold His suffering, death, and resurrection. Today we do not have the privilege of seeing the body of our risen Lord face-to-face, but we have the Scriptures which bear witness to Him. We have His very body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and the wine, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. Through these means of grace, He promises to be with us always to the end of the age.

Furthermore, this promise invites us to live courageously. We know, at least cognitively, that we will not live in this world forever. If the pandemic does not get us, something else will. Unless the Lord returns for us first, we will all move on from this mortal coil. This does not lead us to be cavalier, but rather confident and caring toward others. This promise frees us to serve others in word and deed, to sacrifice for others and put their physical needs ahead of our own.

As we continue to celebrate Easter this week, let the physical nature of Jesus’ resurrection shape your understanding of your own resurrection. Let it provide the motivation for you to give yourself in service to others, so all might come to believe the resurrection at His return. Amen

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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