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Explore the Bible Series

April 8, 2007


Background Passage: Luke 24:1-49

Lesson Passage: Luke 24:1-6a, 36-49


Introduction:  Everyone has a certain “life-lens” through which we interpret Scripture.  I, for instance, see the Bible through the eyes of a historian; therefore, I give special attention to the methods of historical research and interpretation as I examine the Bible.  Others, obviously, approach the Bible from a different direction.  It is, I think, the universal book, and it addresses the deepest of human needs and inquiries.  All of us come to the message of the Bible as sinners, moral failures who have disparately fallen short of the glory of God.  This grand book addresses our needs in ways that wonderfully transcend what we could ask or think.


Historians have examined the story of the resurrection in every way imaginable, and I have read some of these studies with great interest.  Their task is two-fold: (1) historians determine, through careful examination of the extant evidence, what happened in a particular situation, (2) these scholars offer learned explanatory hypotheses to explain the meaning and significance of these occurrences.  Antiquarians content themselves with merely ferreting out the data, but historians press beyond that preliminary task to venture on explanatory models.  Dr, Jesse Northcutt, late professor of homiletics at Southwestern seminary, taught me the most important academic lesson I ever learned.  After hearing a student sermon I delivered for my preaching class, the dear old master probed the value of my address by asked me a sobering question, “So what?”  He did not intend to cruelly crush my fragile ego; instead, he taught me that our work (as historians or preachers) must center on meaning.


As a historian, I have examined the four Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus.  While the biblical accounts were not written by trained historians, in the modern sense of that term, they did give eye-witness testimony to what they saw and heard.  It simply won’t do to dismiss these stories as fictional, theological accounts of the dogma of early Christians.  Some believers grow frustrated with the variations in the Bible record of the resurrection (i.e. one angel at the empty tomb or two); however, these dissimilarities actually authenticate the reliability of the accounts.  If the early church had merely manufactured the “story” the writers would have, I think, ironed out the variant wrinkles. Historians cannot “prove” the historicity of the resurrection, but they can establish that the resurrection really happened, but they can affirm that these eye-witnesses really believed they had encountered the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Then, the scholar must ask, “So what?”  What does this testimony mean? 


Scientists view the accounts of the resurrection somewhat differently (if I may be so bold to speak for my scientific colleagues). People trained in the sciences deal with repeatable, testable phenomena.  They can (and should) assert that the scientific method indicates that dead people do not rise from the grave.  At the moment of death, the body begins to undergo certain irreversible processes that make resuscitation impossible.  After a short period of time, the body simply cannot reanimate.  Any reasonable person affirms this unbendable principle of nature, and Christians must acknowledge this.  Jesus died as a result of the unspeakable violence of Roman crucifixion.  The Roman soldiers received thorough training in this form of execution, and victims did not survive this efficient means of disposing of criminals.  Moreover, men did not recover from these atrocities, and I have no doubt that Jesus died from the horrible wounds inflicted by the soldiers.  A few of his disciples had no doubt that he died, and, in the limited time they had, these discouraged followers hurriedly prepared the body for burial and entombed Jesus’ remains in a nearby grave.  His body stayed in that tomb for approximately forty hours (three o’clock Friday afternoon until about six o’clock on Sunday morning).  Jesus died, and his disciples laid his corpse in a rock-hewn grave.  Like the remains of every other human being, scientists would affirm that this irreversible process of decay occurred during those hours.  No man could possibly resurrect from that progression of decay. 


Here, then, is the unique claim of Christianity, a claim that centers on the affirmation that what could not happen, did happen.  The scientist can rightly assert that the resurrection could not occur, but he cannot affirm that it did not happen.  That is the nature of miracles: that which cannot occur, does indeed take place. Christians believe that the impossible, in this case, actually happened.  Jesus rose from the dead in an unrepeatable, unique act of God.  History seems to indicate that First-Century believers affirmed, based on eye-witness accounts, that Jesus resurrected from the dead.  Our lesson for this week examines one of those records of this event.  As the lesson progresses, the text will compel us to determine the significance and meaning of this occurrence.  


Background Passage Outline:


I.                    The Encounter of the Women at the Tomb (24:1-12)

A.     The arrival of the women at the tomb (vv. 1-3):  The previous chapter reveals that several of Jesus’ female followers took great care to prepare the body of Jesus for proper burial.  Each culture has its own practices and rituals related to disposal of corpses, and First-Century Middle groups insisted on wrapping the body in linen fabric and anointing it with expensive, aromatic spices.  Circumstances on Friday prevented these Jewish women from completing the task of preparation; therefore, they returned to the tomb, early Sunday morning, to complete their funereal task.  To their surprise the women found a disturbed gravesite, and, of course, they felt compelled to examine the tomb for evidence concerning the disturbed grave site.  When they stepped into the tomb, they found the body missing. The dismay these women felt on Friday was multiplied as they feared that someone had desecrated Jesus’ grave.

B.     The appearance of the angels (vv. 4-8): The appearance of two angels (The text uses the word “men”, but this construction is not unique to this account. The angels appeared, as men, to the women (thus, the Gospel writer used the term “aner” to refer to the heavenly messengers) and interrupted this brief moment of perplexity.  The women, stunned by the glorious appearance of the angels, fell to the ground, and the messengers reminded them of the words of Jesus, “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise from the dead” (See Luke 9:44 11:29-30, and 18:31-33).

C.     The women’s report to the eleven (vv. 9-12):  The other Gospel accounts record the angel’s instructions to the women concerning the report to the eleven, but Luke simply recounts the effect of their commission.  The disciples did not believe the news of Jesus’ resurrection, but Peter, accompanied by john, ran to the tomb to affirm the women’s report.  Peter, of course, found the sepulcher empty, just the women had said.


II.                 The Savior’s Encounter with Two Disciples on the Road to Emmaus (vv. 13-49): Only the Gospel of Luke records this incident (the long ending of Mark may make reference to this episode). The beloved physician, unlike other Gospel writers, did not chronicle several appearances of the Lord; rather, he gave an account of one event, Jesus’ meeting with two men from the extended group of disciples. 

A.     The journey to Emmaus (vv. 13-27): These disciples remained in Jerusalem long enough to hear the claim that Jesus rose from the dead, but they left the city to return to their home.  Clearly, the text indicates that they were perplexed about the report, and, frankly, it appears they did not believe the story.  The passage does not indicate why the men did not recognize Jesus, but they seemed completely unaware of the Savior’s identity. In fact, they didn’t have, it would appear, a clear understanding of the Lord’s person because they simply referred to him as prophet who did miraculous deeds (See v. 19).  Jesus offered a mild rebuke of their unbelief (See v. 25) and began to expound the Scriptures to them.

B.     The arrival at Emmaus (vv. 28-32): The location of Emmaus is uncertain, but it was situated about seven miles from Jerusalem.  Upon arrival in the small town, the mysterious traveler indicated that he intended to travel on, but the two disciples constrained him to stay the night with them.  This kind of hospitality characterized much of the ancient Middle East.  As the three men prepared for the evening meal, they paused to give thanks for the bread, Jesus prayed, broke the bread, and gave it to the two.  This action, of course, revealed Jesus’ identity, and immediately the Lord disappeared from the room.  Note: While this breaking of bread has some resemblance to the Last Supper, perhaps Bible students should exercise some caution in making that connection.  Matthew and Luke indicate that that Jesus marked his final Passover meal with “the twelve.”  It is possible other disciples attended the meal, but the text gives no such indication that I can discern.  Therefore, these two men, not members of the apostolic band, probably had no firsthand recollection of Jesus breaking the Passover bread with his disciples.  Whatever the case, the two men recognized the Lord, and immediately he disappeared from their presence.  This occurrence is shrouded in mystery.  Why did he not remain to seize this teachable moment with these two men?  Why did he disappear without any explanation?  For that matter, why did Jesus conceal his identity from these perplexed followers?  The Bible simply does not answer these questions.

C.     The return of the two disciples to Jerusalem (vv. 33-49)

1.      The immediate return trip to Jerusalem (vv. 33-35): The two wasted no time; they immediately walked the seven miles back to Jerusalem. There, they found the Eleven, conversing about the Lord’s appearance to Simon Peter.  When the two men arrived, they told the story of Jesus’ appearance in Emmaus. 

2.      The Lord’s sudden appearance (vv. 36-42): As the men spoke, Jesus suddenly appeared in the room.  Of course, the men were startled.  Mingled terror and joy filled their hearts, and they could scarcely believe what they saw.  Though the Savior appeared to them in such an unexpected and miraculous way (they thought he was a spirit), the text gives unmistakable evidence that the resurrected Christ possessed a real corporeal body: he invited the men to examine his wounds from Friday’s crucifixion, and he ate fish with them.

3.      The Lord’s teaching (vv. 43-49): Perhaps the Lord did not give further instruction to the men in Emmaus because he anticipated this more strategic opportunity in Jerusalem.  He reminded his followers that none of the events of that holy weekend should have caught them off guard.  He had clearly predicted the sequence of events, and they had been eyewitnesses to occurrences that, from that point onward, would constitute the message they were to take to the nations.  He commissioned these men to go to the nations, beginning in Jerusalem, and preach the necessity of the Lord’s sufferings and his resurrection.  Also, he enjoined them to call sinners to repentance for the remission of sins.  Finally, he compelled the men to remain in Jerusalem for a time.  He promised that they would receive an endowment of power for their essential task.  Clearly, the Lord referred to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.


Conclusion: The lesson outline has addressed one aspect of the historian’s task, an examination of the primary resources, in this case eye-witness accounts, to determine what these people believed had occurred.  Now, I challenge you to complete the task.  Determine, based on the historical data, what all of this means.  Why did the writer recount the story as Luke did?  Since we may surmise that Luke was not an eye-witness to the events surrounding the resurrection, what resources did he likely use to construct the narrative? Why did he select the story of the Emmaus Road to convey his message?  What is the significance of the resurrection of Jesus?