Waiting around in the upper room must have been awful for the disciples. But what do you do after the man you’ve followed and dedicated your life to for the last three years is brutally killed. After the first few hours, reflecting on the whole event must have been agonizing. As the reality of Jesus’ death overwhelmed them – despair, hopelessness and fear became overwhelming. Those who were once caught up in the movement of Jesus, the whispered “Messiah,” now found themselves in hiding, licking their wounds of defeat.
For about three years the disciples followed Jesus. Some of them left their jobs which was easier for some than others. A few of them left their parents behind. And all because this man said to them, “Follow me.” They invested everything they had – reputation, hope, comfort and time – in Jesus. And with every miracle, every healing, every demon cast out, every sermon, every confrontation with the Pharisees and every mercy shown to the lowest of the low pulled them deeper and deeper into the mystique of this man they called the Messiah.
And that title is what they put their hope in, that Jesus was the Messiah, the anointed one of God chosen to bring everlasting glory back to Israel in a very real and political sense. Of course this meant that the common belief was that the Messiah would live and reign forever over the reestablished kingdom of Israel. Evil and corruption would cease. The Lord’s favor would be proclaimed. It was said that the Messiah couldn’t and wouldn’t die, but would live forever. All their hopes for a better life and a better nation were attached to this one man. It all hinged on Jesus.
But Jesus died. And after he died the disciples were suddenly left leaderless and alone. They were left wondering, “What now? Where do we go from here?” What do you do when every facet of your existence was devoted to following a man who is now dead? Not only dead, but crushed; executed by those very people whom the Messiah was to overthrow and reform. One might expect there to have been a sense of embarrassment and shame amongst the disciples for having invested so much into a failed cause.
So what should the disciples have done after Jesus was crucified? After having seen the things they saw – where could they go from there? In terms of grabbing on to something of worth and value, how could they possibly do better or find better than Jesus? How does one go back to life as it was, how does one return to the status quo after all hope has been deflated?
In 1804 Meriwether Lewis with his partner, William Clark, traveled through the unexplored wilderness of America. They began in St. Louis, Missouri and trekked through the virgin wilds of the Great Plains and unexploited countryside of what is now Montana crossing the Rocky Mountains before making it to the northern Pacific coast… and then they made the journey back! The whole trip covered 8,000 miles and took two years.
To think of spending two years away from civilization is almost impossible for us nowadays. Some scholars believe that Lewis was so struck by the beauty and wonder of the untamed wilderness and the immense trials of the journey that he could not adjust to living in civilized life again. It was so much so, that Lewis committed suicide only a few years after the great expedition. He simply could not return to the status quo and no longer understood the world around him.
While the disciples followed Jesus, they believed themselves to be on a journey to a new future, a new golden age. But when Jesus was crucified, the journey came to an abrupt halt. It was as though the disciples essentially had gone nowhere. The world around them was the same as it always had been. People were still oppressed, corrupt and lost. Evil still reigned and sin, humanity’s ancient and incurable disease continued to hold the world captive.
But then, the unexpected happened. Jesus appeared before them. And still being distraught over the death of Jesus, they subconsciously tried to keep Jesus framed within the status quo by believing him to be merely a ghost. The possibility of Jesus being raised from the dead, in the flesh didn’t enter into the equation. After all, according to the status quo, the dead stay dead.
But the good news for you, me and the disciples is that the status is no longer quo. In what we can imagine to be somewhat of a humorous scene, Jesus asks the disciples why they are so frightened and why they continue to doubt that it is truly he who stands before them. “Look at my hands and feet,” he exclaimed. “Touch me and see! Ghosts don’t have skin and bones like I do.” The disciples’ disbelief originally born out of fear now began to turn to a disbelief born out of joy. What they were seeing wasn’t possible, but they liked it.
But Christ did make it possible and in an effort to drive the point home that he was physically standing there before him, he sat down and ate some fish – obviously. In my Monty Pythonesque mind I imagine this playing out as an awkward scene where Jesus is sitting at the table hungrily eating the fish, though he is purposely taking his time in order to savor the dumbfounded look on his gawking disciples.
But when Jesus was finished, he told them what it was all about. “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, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” The phrase, “must be fulfilled,” sounds insignificant, but it picks up on an important theme that runs throughout Luke.
When the women went to the tomb to see Jesus, the angels reminded them of something Christ had said earlier, “that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” Earlier, at the Last Supper Jesus told his disciples “that this Scripture from Isaiah – ‘he was numbered with the transgressors’ – must be fulfilled in me.” This theme of necessity and divine plan goes on and on and each time it emphasizes that it was necessary, it was ordained that Christ must suffer and die and be raised from the dead. But the disciples never got it until now when, as verse 45 tells us, Christ “opened their minds to understand the scriptures.”
All this time the disciples, even though they were following Jesus, were hoping in and trying to grab onto in the wrong thing. We all do this, all the time. We look at the world around us, we look at the sin that pervades our entire being and try to do something or grasp onto something or someone hoping to make a change and get out of the mire of this world and life of sin.
But the only way out, the only way to gain freedom is for Christ to grab us and reveal himself to us. It wasn’t until Jesus revealed himself to the disciples and opened up their minds that they finally got it and understood what it was all about. Only then did they comprehend the necessity of Christ’s death and bodily resurrection as the only cure for the disease of our depravity.
Jesus spelled it out for 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.”
No amount of striving or work we do would ever be able to free us from our captivity to sin, let alone the world’s captivity. Rather it is through Christ’s suffering, through his death, and through his resurrection; it is through the absolutely necessary work Christ was called to do that we are set free. The new reality established by Christ’s resurrection, the new status quo, is the only hope for an utterly fallen and depraved world.
Christ proclaimed the forgiveness of sins to his disciples in his name and we are given the same forgiveness. This morning Christ says you, “I love you and I did this for you. I came for the singular purpose of suffering and dying for you so that you may have forgiveness of sins and live. It was necessary and it was worth it. In my resurrection I claim victory over death for you. There are no ‘ifs’, there are no ‘buts’, there is only me given for you. I claim you and I make known myself to you so that you may have life.”