“See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this third Sunday of Easter is from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, Peter was in his element. In our First lesson for today, this one-time fisherman was given the opportunity to proclaim the word of God, and He did so with a boldness that makes even us uncomfortable: “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” Jesus, the great teacher from Nazareth, was not dead, but alive! And not only this, but this Jesus was not simply a great teacher, or only a man, but instead He was God in the flesh, the God of the Old Testament patriarchs come to save you and me. And He saved us by giving up His life and rising from the dead. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
What a difference between the boldness of Peter and what we see in our Gospel lesson for today! “As they were talking about these things, Jesus Himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’ But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit.” The disciples were cowering in their locked room, listening to the confession of the Emmaus road disciples, that Jesus had made Himself known to them in the breaking of the bread. They were confused, perplexed by this turn of events, but this was only the beginning of the emotional roller coaster they were preparing to ride. When Jesus suddenly appeared among them, this confusion was replaced with terror and fear. They thought He was a ghost! They hadn’t thought that He would truly rise, and they did not expect a flesh-and-bones Jesus to appear in their midst. Jesus tries to allay their fear, but this rollercoaster was heading downhill in a hurry. “He showed them His hands and His feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling…” Even after they see the wounds of their Lord, they still disbelieve! This was too good to be true, and their emotions and feelings cannot handle it, they are left with scales on their eyes, unable to see the reality standing right in front of them. Jesus has risen!
But Jesus knows that it is not just a rollercoaster of emotion that has their minds closed. “And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your hearts?” The word translated here as ‘doubts’ simply refers to the operation of human reason. Their minds are trying to figure this out, trying to get a grip on what their eyes are telling them. Humanity has always thought more highly of its reason that it ought. The first question from the garden was “did God really say?” and you know, when Adam and Eve thought about it, He probably didn’t. We live in an age when there seems to be no bounds to what humans can do when they put their minds to it. Science and technology are doing things that we never thought were possible, and many believe that we can probe the very origins of life and the universe. Science thinks that it can discount God, or at least make Him irrelevant, and when we live in a world with such man-made wonders, it is easy to see God in that way. On the other end of the spectrum are those who think that we experience God individually, with our own minds. We should just go out to the woods and there we can encounter Him. Once again, this focuses on the use of our own natural reason. Now, there is no doubt that some solitude is good for our souls, but can we learn all that we need to know about God from nature? Can science and our own human reason reveal God to us?
The answer that Scripture gives to us is a resounding ‘NO!’ Our emotions, swinging back and forth, cannot reveal God to us. They simply leave us as confused as the disciples. “But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit.” Looking at creation can lead us to see a Creator at work, but do we have any idea whether He loves us or not? Our own human reason, and its creations, science and technology, can try to give an explanation for everything, but it cannot probe the mind of God. No, by ourselves, with our own human reason, we are blind and deaf- we cannot see or hear Him. Why is that? Because our reason is perverted by sin, just as the rest of us is. We are born into sin, spiritually blind, deaf, and dead before God.
“And when they were talking about these things, Jesus Himself stood among them.” Into their very midst, into this collection of spiritually blind and deaf people, Jesus Christ came. He came to remove spiritual blindness, to replace doubt, the reasonings of sinful human minds, with faith. “And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.” Those last words are a weak translation- Jesus says, ‘See my hands and my feet, that I AM myself.’ The great I AM, Yahweh Himself, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was standing in their midst. As Thomas said last week, this was “My Lord and my God!” And He stood amongst them alive- whole, bodily, physical, real! He was not a ghost as they feared: “Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when they still persisted in unbelief, He gave them another proof: “He said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave Him a piece of broiled fish, and He took it and ate before them.” This was their Lord, their Savior, the great I AM, the same God who delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt was standing among them, there to destroy all doubt, all of human reason’s feeble attempts to understand Him. He was there to create faith in His Resurrection, for these men would be witnesses of it to the ends of the earth.
And so these men needed some more education. Jesus opened up the Scriptures to them and then to us, He opened what to our human reason and scientific inquiry had been a closed book. “Then He said to them, ‘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 and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” And what must be fulfilled? “Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to 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, beginning from Jerusalem.” The whole Bible is about Jesus, and it is all about Jesus for you and me! God was not willing to leave us in our spiritual blindness and death; in fact His love made it necessary that God do something about our situation. And so, from the third chapter of Genesis through the books of Moses, into the prophets, and finally among the beauty of the Psalms, the story of salvation was told. Jesus was proclaimed as the one who would come and deliver us from our blindness. A Savior was promised for you and me, one who would come to deliver us from the domain of death, but this would not be easy. For the Scriptures proclaimed that “the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.” For us, for love of us, Jesus Christ would fulfill the Father’s will, He would take on the necessity declared by Scripture, and He would go to the cross bearing your sin and my sin. He would go there and offer Himself as the price, the great I AM in place of His sinful people. There the debt would be paid, there Christ drank the cup of God’s wrath. But that was not the end. Light broke on Easter dawn to reveal an empty tomb, for Christ had arisen, just as the Scriptures said, and just as He promised. There He triumphed in victory over our enemies, there peace was declared between God and man. That is what Jesus taught His disciples in our text, there He replaced the doubts of their sinful human reason with a new understanding, an understanding shaped by faith.
The disciples are then sent out to illuminate other hearts, to bring this message of all Scripture that Jesus died and rose again to all people, to apply that message directly to you and me. Jesus says, “You are witnesses of these things.” They saw the risen Lord with their own eyes, they touched His wounds, and now they bring this confession to you and me, the bold confession that Peter declared to the crowd in our First lesson: “You killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” It is their task, along with the Church in all ages, to fulfill the divine necessity “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” But they could not do this on their own. “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” It is the Holy Spirit, the promise of the Father, that opens hearts to believe in Christ, He works through the words of the Apostles and the Scriptures they have delivered to us. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes and ears to see and hear Christ, to believe in Him and grasp onto Him as our very own Savior and Redeemer.
With the eyes of faith, we see Jesus as clearly as the disciples ever did- we see Him as the one who delivered us from death, the one who forgave our sins by taking them to the cross, and we see Him as the One proclaimed on every page of the Scriptures. That is where we encounter Him, through the gift of His Word. But He is not simply a spirit to us, He has arisen bodily, physical, whole and complete. He says to us in His Supper: “Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Our human reason is a good gift of God, and now that Christ has given His understanding and opened the Scriptures to us we use it to explore them and defend the faith. Our reason is now in service to the Gospel, in service to the proclamation of Christ crucified and risen, and we use it to engage our world in its doubt and lies. But eyes can only be opened by the Holy Spirit, only He can reveal what our minds cannot comprehend. And so we place our trust in the words that Scripture proclaims to us- Christ became man for us, Christ died for us, and Christ lives for us. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!