Acts 3:12-19 & Luke 24:36-48

Jesus Interrupting

Does anybody here watch The Good Place on Netflix? If not, I suggest you do, it’s a really interesting exploration of what makes someone good or bad, and whether you can earn your way to paradise by racking up points by being good during your life on earth. It’s clever, witty and thought provoking. Anyway, that’s not really the reason I mention it. In “The Good Place” there’s a character called Janet. She’s not human, she’s an embodiment of the computer that runs the whole thing, and she appears when she’s called and disappears at the end of conversations. So, whenever anyone says, “Janet”, she appears, whether they intended to call her or not- and sometimes they’re pretty surprised by her appearance. It’s just as well there’s no-one in the Good Place actually called Janet or it would all get pretty confusing. Anyway, to today’s Bible reading and someone else who just pops up without warning.

Our reading from Luke’s account of Jesus’ life begins in the middle of something, “While they were still talking about this….” Still talking about what? What’s this? Well, following the events of the first Easter, when Jesus had died, two of his followers had left Jerusalem, just after the women came back from the empty tomb, and headed out to their home at Emmaus. On the road they had been talking with each other about Jesus and what had happened when this man appeared, walked with them, and explained to them all about how Jesus had had to die and be raised to life. When they arrived at the village it was late, and they invited the man to share a meal with them. As he broke the bread, they recognised him as Jesus, and then he disappeared. They had run all the way back to Jerusalem to tell the others, and that is the “this” that they were talking about.

What happens next? Jesus himself stood among them. There he is, just appearing again, interrupting what was going on. His words may be comforting, “peace be with you” but his presence is not. It is disruptive and upsetting. Remember, these are people who have just been talking about how some of them have seen the risen Jesus, and yet they are still startled and frightened, thinking that they saw a ghost. If you’ve had doubts about whether Jesus really did, physically rise from the dead, you are in good company. His best friends and followers didn’t really believe it for ages, not until they had seen him time and time again. And they had the benefit of being with him, of hearing his voice, of touching him, of seeing him eat bread and fish.

What do we find as we read on? He encourages them to touch him, shows them his wounds. And then what does Luke write? – “they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement”. Well, I guess at least that’s some progress from not believing it from fear that he was a ghost, but its hardly a conviction of deep faith is it! It isn’t really until we get to the next bit that we start to see them understand, that it really sinks in, as Jesus opens their minds. That’s an interesting phrase, isn’t it. Jesus opens their minds. Authentic Christian faith is open minded. It does not dodge difficult questions or ignore evidence, but searches for truth.

And what is it that Jesus opens their minds to? He opens their minds so that they could understand the Scriptures, the writings that recorded the words and actions of God in the history of the people of Israel. When Jesus was speaking the New Testament didn’t exist, he was working from the material of the Old Testament – the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms. Jesus showed how by dying and being raised to life he had fulfilled all the requirements of the law of God. Jesus showed how he had fufilled the prophesies and declarations of what God’s chosen one would do and be, that had been written by the prophets hundreds of years previously. Jesus showed how the poetry and worship of the Psalms pointed to him. Jesus opened their minds so that they could understand the Scriptures.

We now have an even richer resource to understand who Jesus was in the Bibles we hold in our hands. We still have the Old Testament, but we have the New Testament as well. Eye witness accounts of Jesus’ life and of the growth of the early church and letters from church leaders to groups of Christians in a variety of settings. These are some of the best attested historical documents in the world, there are many copies of great antiquity and reliability. The various accounts largely complement and build on each other. There are superficial discrepancies, but nothing beyond what would be expected of slightly different rememberings of events by different people. There is nothing that threatens the deep and resounding core claim that Jesus is God, God who came to live among us, die for us, and was raised to life so that we might live. We can be confident that the Bibles we have that make that claim were written, in good faith, by people who experienced the work and life of Jesus at first hand.

The most astounding claim that they make is that Jesus was raised from the dead. Does anyone here know anybody who has been raised from the dead? No, me neither. This is an outrageous claim. The people who wrote it knew that it was an outrageous claim. They know that people, in general, didn’t return from the dead. We’ve already heard how difficult it was for them to believe it, even when Jesus was there in front of them.

So let’s have a look at this earth shattering claim.

Perhaps he wasn’t dead in the first place, maybe he fainted or fell into a coma and came round in the tomb. This is a non-starter. The Romans knew what they were doing when it came to crucifying people, they had loads of practice. If looked like someone was taking too long to die, they broke their legs so that they couldn’t support their weight and suffocated. Then, as they did with Jesus, they stuck a spear in their side, into their heart to make sure the heart wasn’t beating and the blood had separated out. Jesus was dead when he came down from that cross, there is no doubt about it.

So maybe the disciples stole the body and pretended that Jesus had risen from the dead. Indeed, this is what some people claimed had happened from very early on. But the tomb was under Roman guard, again people who knew what they were doing when it comes to guarding things. And is it really realistic, a conspiracy of silence about something that wasn’t true that held in the face of torture, forced evictions, crucifixion, being fed to lions in the Colosseum. Is that really so imaginable?

So Jesus was dead, and the body wasn’t stolen. Maybe the disciples wanted it so badly, they thought that it was happening, hallucinations of grief that the loved one has returned. This might be an explanation of it weren’t for the sheer numbers of people involved and the fact that the religious leaders didn’t just produce the body of Jesus. That would have answered all the claims of Jesus’ followers that he was and is alive.

There aren’t really very many explanations left to us now. Jesus was dead, his body wasn’t stolen, it can’t have been hallucinations. The only explanation that is consistent with all the information we have is that Jesus really was raised from the dead. We might not have experience of such things happening, but that does not mean that it is impossible. And we have credible witnesses who tell us that these things did happen. Witnesses who don’t pretend to have been perfect, they share their flaws and misunderstandings with us. Witnesses who tell us that it was women who first saw the risen Christ. In the culture of the day, this was a quick route to not being taken seriously, but it was what happened, so they wrote it anyway.

The story that they wrote is one of a God who interrupts, Jesus – the biggest interruption of all time, popping up in the history of humanity to disrupt everything. It is a story of a God who is present in the miraculous and in the mundane, in resurrection from the dead demonstrated by the eating of a bit of fish.

The ongoing witness of people throughout the centuries is that Jesus keeps interrupting, is still opening our minds to the truth revealed in the Scriptures, in the mundane and the miraculous, and is still offering life beyond death to those who believe in him. Because, spoiler alert, none of us can earn enough points doing good things and avoiding doing bad things in this life to deserve a spot in the Good Place. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there is a Good Place, Jesus has gone ahead of us to prepare a place for us there, has done all that needs to be done so that we can go there. All we need to do is to trust him, repent of our sin, and follow him as our Lord and Saviour. Then we will end up in the Good Place, life in all its fulness, for ever. If you’ve not done that before, then you can this morning. You might want to do it in the quiet of your own mind, or you might want someone to pray with you after the service. Go and find someone with a green lanyard and they would be happy to pray with you.

If you’re not there yet, but have been intrigued or have questions about anything that I’ve said this morning, from the reliability of the Scriptures, to the claims that Jesus made about himself, to the evidence for the resurrection, then you might find that the Alpha course is something that would help you to explore these things. It is starting on Tuesday 24th April in Parish Centre, please pick up a post card about it on the way out.

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