36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 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.”
40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.
44 He said to them, “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.”
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
As the disciples are mulling over the testimony of the two men who returned from Emmaus, Jesus appears to them. He greets them.
The disciples are frightened by this. They know He died. John witnessed it. Their minds jump to the supernatural explanation that this must be the ghost of Jesus. Jesus invites them to confirm that He is Himself and not a spirit by touching Him. When they still doubt, He displays the scars of His execution and asks for food which He eats before them.
The writer included these details, no doubt, to try and put to rest the gnostic belief that Jesus could not have been flesh and blood since they viewed the material body as an evil. They contended that Jesus only appeared to be human, and Luke’s inclusion of this incident seems to be aimed directly at that belief as well as an attempt to put to rest the idea that the disciples were simply hallucinating the appearance of Christ.
It also manifests the patience of Jesus with mankind. He isn’t short with the disciples for not believing immediately, He takes steps to address their doubts and gives them the proof they require to believe. The gospel of John states that He even makes a special appearance for Thomas.
The final words of Jesus included in Luke address the disciples. He gives them the same crash course in Old Testament prophesy that He gave earlier to the disciples travelling to Emmaus. Like those disciples, the message finally clicks for the twelve. They are expected to go out with this proof to the whole world proclaiming repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Repentance being a change of life. And we’re not simply talking about greater moral purity, but about a radical rejection of the values and philosophy of our culture and an embrace of the values of Jesus Christ which focus on loving God and (or through) loving your fellow man selflessly. It is the proclamation of a new life given through Christ, an end of sin and the curse of death (through Christ), and a resurrection that will allow us to fellowship with Christ and with our fellow man throughout eternity in a familial relationship.
He tells them to wait in Jerusalem until they receive power from on high: the Holy Spirit that would drive them forward in the fulfillment of their commission. Harkening back to the imagery of the Temple veil being torn, the message is that God is no longer distant from mankind, no longer separate, but that He will dwell with and live in the hearts of those belonging to His kingdom.
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
In Acts 1:3, the same author describes a period of 40 days that Jesus spent with the disciples following His resurrection. But here, for some reason, the narrative skips ahead to the final day, when Jesus ascends into heaven. There are times when I would really like to question the authors of the gospels as to why they didn’t include more material for us. It sounds like 40 days of discussions or teachings with the resurrected Lord might be something we’d all be interested in.
Regardless, the ascension of Jesus marks the end of His personal, physical ministry on Earth. It is a passing of the torch from the Master to the students. They are ready and they will be carrying on His work.
It also marks the final acceptance of the Lord’s work by the Father. The Son has done all that He was sent to do and because of His faithfulness, is received by the Father to a heavenly throne and His deserved praise and honors.
Lastly, the act is a promise. Borrowing from Acts 1 again, reportedly two angels appear and promise the disciples that Jesus will return the same way in which He left. This idea culminates in the imagery of Revelation 19 where Jesus descends from heaven with the saints and angels and completes the work of overthrowing the kingdoms of men and their attendant value systems and culture and replaces them with the kingdom of God and its values.
We’ve been through three gospels now and we’re moving on to the more philosophical one next, John.
Throughout the gospels narratives, Jesus is portrayed rather consistently. He spends His time tending the sick and needy, loving the outcasts, and teaching people of the Kingdom of God. He also regularly rails against the religious mindset of the day that was dedicated to separation, self-righteousness and moral superiority, and maintaining a power imbalance between those inside and those outside.
This is a Jesus that I don’t think would be very comfortable in our churches these days, not because they’re full of sinners, but because they are full of Pharisees.
The Life of Christ calls us to reexamine our own lives and compare them with His, especially those of us who call ourselves His disciples. A disciple when fully trained should look like the Master. How many of us can make that claim? How many of us even try? How many of us instead focus on religion and believing the right things and showing up every week and refraining from the “worst” sins? I confess my own life falls incredibly short to the point where I feel ashamed to even apply the word Christian as a descriptor for myself.
And maybe that’s the point. Maybe we take the idea of Christianity lightly and don’t see it for the radical values and lifestyle change that it’s supposed to represent. Or maybe it’s old habits that have crept back into our lives, not just overt sins, but the ideas of what an acceptable religion should be. And these ideas lull us away from a rededication of our lives to loving God through loving people back towards the old time religion of strict behavioral codes and a judgmental mind. Because that’s easier. It’s easier to keep track of my sins and compare them with yours. It’s easier to say a magic prayer that absolves me of my sin and lets me feel morally superior to other people engaging in the same behavior. It’s easier to treat people with indifference or hostility. It’s pretty hard to see some people as human beings who need love and kindness and to be shown the Life of Christ.
The gospels continually call to us. Showing us the Way. Showing us what a life that matters looks like. Showing us that there is an alternative that is Life that can be found in the person of Jesus Christ and His own example.
One more gospel left. Then I guess I’ll keep going into Acts.