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Sermon: Five Proofs of Jesus' Resurrection

A Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on April 19, 2015.
3rd Sunday of Easter, Year B (RCL): Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts,
be always acceptable, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

We Christians believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is this belief which distinguishes Christianity from all other world religions. No other faith tradition claims that its leader and founder was bodily raised from the dead and that His spirit now lives in those who worship and serve him.

Jesus the Shepherd was struck down and the sheep had all scattered! The flock responded as you might expect, realizing that now they were on their own. There is no one to lead them, no one to protect them, no one to provide for them. The sheep are frozen with fear and they huddle together in that upper room.

Yet the Great Shepherd is not gone forever. It was three days. Okay people, here comes your wake-up call! Alleluia, Christ is risen! (The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!) On Easter Sunday, we heard from the Gospel of John. Last week, we heard from Mark. So today, we get Luke’s resurrection account when Jesus first comes to his flock to calm their fears. He simply wants them to know that He has returned and that all shall be well.

There are times when it may be hard to imagine Jesus present with us as we worry about things, all that ‘stuff’ that troubles and consumes us. I don’t know how it is for all of you, but since I said ‘Yes’ to this call to ordained ministry, my life has certainly had its challenges: Family issues, graduating from seminary, the process requirements from my diocese, and questions in my own mind; that’s not to mention the General Ordination Examinations that have to be taken, which was light work for some, and required additional work from others (like me). Yet as followers of Christ, there is comfort in knowing that the risen Christ is present with us, and we are not alone.

Yet the world doesn’t seem to accept this. For the world to seek relief from worry and fear means that problems must be fixed. Unless the crisis or catastrophe or injustice is resolved and finally settled, the world says, ‘What good is this Lord of yours? How can you believe in Jesus Christ? Jesus is the divine ‘fix it guy!’ Christ should mend what’s broken and if He doesn’t fix it, then who needs Him?’

We ALL need Him. And for us, it is enough to know that Jesus Christ risen from the dead is present with us. We turn to Jesus for guidance and direction, to guard us and protect us, but in the end we say, “Thy will be done. Lord, just abide with us. Please, Jesus, be with us.” As long as we know His presence, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God.” (Rom 8:28a) We know the peace which passes all understanding, even in the storms of our lives.

Today, Luke returns us to that first Easter Day, when Jesus assures his frightened flock he is risen and present with them. The issue is: They don’t believe it. While gathered in fear, Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you.” What is their reaction? They were startled and terrified, and thought they saw a ghost!

Then, Jesus gently said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” Sometimes I think we’ve heard the Easter story so many times that we miss just how mind-blowing this was for the disciples. Consider that any skeptic who hear this and says, “You really expect me to believe all this?” is listening more closely than we think, and more carefully than we are ourselves.

Jesus faces a room full of skeptics. They are his disciples, but skeptics nonetheless. See how patient Jesus is with them.

Our Lord gives his disciples five proofs of his resurrection. Jesus offers His real presence to them, for their sake, not for his, so they might have the peace He offers simply by being present to them, and with us.

First, Jesus gives visual proof. “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself.” If you say, as we heard from Thomas last week, ‘seeing is believing,’ then Jesus responds with ‘See me.’ Christ, bearing the marks in his hands, feet and side is identified as the crucified One. Jesus eventually expects the disciples to be His ‘eyewitnesses.’ For now, it is so they would believe. But for later, to convince you and me of Christ’s presence with us, the disciples must be able to proclaim, “What we have seen with our own eyes.” (1 Jn 1:1)

Next, Jesus offers them tangible, tactile proof of his resurrected presence. The disciples think this must be a spirit. So Jesus counters their doubt, saying, “Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” For now, Jesus wants them to touch Him so they would believe Christ is really present with them. But later, to convince you and me of Jesus’ presence with us, they would need to be able to say, we “touched with our own hands.” (1 Jn 1:1)
How do they respond to this hard evidence? “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.” With over thirty instances in the Bible where people SING or SHOUT for Joy, this may be the only time someone ‘disbelieved for joy.’ Jesus can’t seem to win for trying. Unbelievers refuse to believe because God allows bad things to happen to good people. Believers sometimes question their belief because God does incredibly good things for bad people.

Next, Jesus eats. Christ proves His presence in the flesh by eating before them. “Have you anything here to eat?” Jesus is given broiled fish. Even after His death and resurrection, our Lord is fully human with bodily needs of people like you and me. This is not spiritual eating of ethereal food. There was no spiritual gullet and transparent gut that looked more like an x-ray! Jesus ate, probably enjoying that fish; maybe he licked his fingers, wiped his mouth, and even rubbed his belly.

So the Shepherd before His sheep provides visible, tangible and audible proof of His presence. For Jesus did speak to his disciples, and they heard Him. All this so that they might stop doubting and start believing, stop being afraid and start to relax, stop worrying and start living again.

And, if visual, tangible, audible evidence was still not enough, Jesus then appeals to their minds. “Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you.” In other words, ‘it all happened just I told you it would.’ If someone’s predictions come true, our confidence in their word increases. The more specific or even more unlikely those predictions are, the greater confidence and trust we give their word when it happens as we were told.

The gospel writers record three times when Jesus told his disciples what would happen to Him ahead of time. He said, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.” (Mark 10:33-34) Jesus does this so He can say, “And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.” (John 14:29) Jesus gives the disciples New Testament proof of His risen presence.

Finally, Jesus offers Old Testament proof of His resurrected presence with them. For He “opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” “Everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” These said,“that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day.” Much like Jonah who spent three days in the belly of the great fish before being spewed out to go preach to the unbelieving people of Nineveh, so too Jesus laid three days in the tomb before rising again to preach the gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins to all nations. The Old Testament points to the Christ, a suffering servant who will die for the sins of the world, and be raised up again to rule over his new creation. It all happened just as the Old Testament foretold it.

So what does all this mean to us? As it was then for those gathered in the upper room, so it is for us today: Jesus Christ, crucified for the sins of the whole world, rose from the dead to be present with and among us. Luke’s gospel offers a very important theological message concerning our Christian faith that we dare not overlook. First, Luke stresses the reality of the resurrection. The risen Christ was no phantom or hallucination. He was real. In the flesh. The Jesus who died was the same Christ who rose again. Our Christian faith is not founded upon disordered minds or fevered eyes wanting desperately to see Jesus. Our faith is grounded in historical fact that Christ faced and fought and conquered death to rise again.

Luke stresses the necessity of the cross at Calvary. It was to the Cross that all Scriptures point. The Cross was not forced upon God. It was not an emergency measure because all else had failed and the entire scheme of things had gone wrong. It was part of God’s plan. It is the one place on earth, where in a moment of time, we see God’s eternal love for us.

Luke also stresses the urgency of the task at hand. To all of humankind was the call to repentance given and the offer of forgiveness preached. Followers of Jesus were not left to cower in that upper room; No, the earliest people of the fledgling church were sent out into the world, as the Light of Christ. After tense days huddled together came the first days of a worldwide church missionary movement. We are part of that mission. The days of sorrow had past and tidings of joy must be carried out to the whole world.

Finally, Luke stresses the secret of power. Our lectionary today ends the gospel reading just one verse too soon. Verse 49 reads, “And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” They waited in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come fill them, to empower them, to inspire them for mission. There are occasions when we seem to be losing time and missing opportunities, as we wait in a wise passivity. Action without preparation will most often fail. There are times when we should wait on God, and other times to actively work for God.

Two weeks ago on Easter Sunday, when +Bishop Ted Gulick met with those young people and adults being confirmed and received, he said, “I am significant, but you are IMPORTANT!” Without the eleven being presented, we wouldn’t need the Bishop. He was quick to note that “sign” is in the word Significant. He was significant but they are IMPORTANT!

Today we baptized Sophia Ann McCaslin and welcomed her into the household of God. And like the Bishop, I am a ‘sign’ with some significance in the Church, but Sophia is important because she is are a beloved child of God, made in the image of God, and blessed by God now to be a part of this household which confesses the faith of Christ crucified, proclaims his resurrection, and share with all of us in his eternal priesthood.

As I close, let me tell you about Fay Inchfawn. Inchfawn was the pen-name of Elizabeth Rebecca Daniels, one of the most prolific women writers during the time between the end of the Great War and the beginning of the World War II in Europe. In her poem, “The Housewife,” Inchfawn wrote of days when life seemed to be a losing contest with too many little things to do:

“I wrestle--how I wrestle!-- through the hours.
Nay, not with principalities and powers--
Dark spiritual foes of God’s and man’s--
But with antagonistic pots and pans;
With footmarks on the hall,
With smears upon the wall,
With doubtful ears and small unwashen hands,
And with a babe’s innumerable demands.”

But, in the busyness of daily work, she stops for a moment with God:

“With leisured feet and idle hands, I sat.
I, foolish, fussy, blind as any bat,
Sat down to listen, and to learn. And lo,
My thousand tasks were done the better so.”

Those quiet times when we wait upon the Lord are never wasted; it is in these times when we lay aside life’s tasks that we are strengthened for the very tasks we lay aside.

Jesus Christ, crucified as full atonement of our sins and those of the whole world, has risen from the dead and is present among us. Into this gathering of His flock, Jesus comes to offer us the same proofs of his presence as He did with those disciples so long ago. We hear Him through the Word read and proclaimed. We touch and taste Him as we receive His Body and Blood at this table. We have the evidence of the Old and New Testaments.

The one proof of Christ’s risen presence that the disciples had that we do not have is visual. We cannot see Him with our eyes like they saw Jesus with theirs. So, for now, we believe without seeing, which is how the Bible defines faith. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1)

John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, who was in the upper room with the others that first Easter, tells us proof of Jesus’ presence will not be withheld from us forever. In today’s Epistle, John writes, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (1 Jn 3:2)

So, in the meantime, we live by faith, trusting the word of those who were His eyewitnesses. By their testimony, we live our life with the confident assurance and peace that the resurrected Christ is present with us now. Thanks be to God!

+In the name for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN.