Before we get into today’s text, we need to consider the frame of mind of the disciples before and immediately following Jesus’ crucifixion. So let us do a quick recap. In the early days of Jesus’ ministry, and up until the time of his death, the disciples had believed that Jesus had a special role to play in history. They entertained the notion that Jesus would assume political power at least equal to that of King David. Some of them though, even dared to consider that Jesus might be the long-hoped-for messiah.
But then, horror of horrors, Jesus was crucified?! The disciples were stunned, but that is too mild a word I think. Better, shocked and stupefied-- their dreams had been shattered, their worldview like paper, torn up into little pieces, and then stomped on.
They MUST have wondered, “How did this all happen and why? Was Jesus’ death the result of evil forces—forces that must then have superior power to God’s in this world? Or was Jesus’ death just a random incident? Is life, then, so very uncertain? Where WAS God in all this?
So they are wallowing in all this negativity, when they hear rumors. The tomb is empty? An angel was there instead? There’s just the tiniest seed of suspicion planted in their brains--maybe Jesus’ death has not really been the end of him.
Then in Luke in the beginning of chapter 24, we read the story about two disciples on the road to Emmaus. This stranger follows along beside them, and engages them in conversation. It’s the resurrected Jesus, But before they can act on that realization, poof, Jesus disappears.
Then here, in our story for today, the disciples are all together in their place of meeting, well except for Judas, and Jesus appears. They recognize him straight off, only they can’t believe it. They think the person before them is a ghost. If we think they are just being stupid, or as a friend says, “thick as a plank,” remember. As believing Christians WE have the benefit of hindsight. With all that had happened to them in such a short period of time, the disciples hadn’t put everything together yet—Jesus’ teachings, scriptures’ prophesies, the rumors. They were living out prophesy in real time.
There’s a musical, gee, it’s got some age on it now, it’s called Cotton Patch Gospel. Do you know it? It’s about the life of Jesus as recorded in Matthew, but it takes place in modern day, rural Georgia. Right there you’ve got the makings of humor. Nazareth equals Gainesville Georgia, and Jerusalem, where all the main drama happens, equals Atlanta. The writers of the musical take some liberties with lines of scripture for dramatic effect—so for instance, there’s the line, “Man does not live by grits alone.” True enough if you live in Georgia.
Anyway, in Cotton Patch Gospel, when Jesus comes back to life after having been lynched, he stands center stage, his disciples standing and sitting around, as in our text for today. Jesus proclalims loudly, “HOWD-EE. I’m back!”
That’s the musical’s climax. Then, in Cotton Patch everyone hugs and slaps backs. There is a great celebration and the musical ends as all musicals do, with a final musical number. Banjo, fiddle, and guitar, and bass provide the instrumental. All to say, the musical is serious, but it has some humorous moments.
There is some humor in the story as it unfolds in Luke, too, though --at least I think that there is. The disciples seem to be “thick as planks.” Yes? So, finally, finally, Jesus picks up a piece of fish. Can’t you imagine Jesus has this mischievous grin on his face? Maybe he even waves the fish in the air with dramatic flourish before he, pauses, then pops the fish into his mouth. Jesus watches the disciples’ eyes grow wide--first with wonder, then with “AH HAH got it” expressions, and finally, Jesus watches their faces take on a joyful radiance.
There must have been some celebrating after Jesus’ return from the grave sinks in-- just as in Cotton Patch Gospel. Again, hugs and slaps on the back. We don’t read about that, though. Instead, we read that while the disciples are still trying to grasp the happy fact that death was not the end for their friend and teacher, “Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” You mean, after Jesus comes back from the dead and proves once and for all that he is alive, he has even MORE to reveal to them? Apparently so.
What did Jesus say? What did he reveal? We don’t have a word-for-word account, sadly. The disciples were in no frame of mind to go hunting for papyrus and whatever-it-is-people-wrote-with back then. All we have is a brief few lines—a synopsis. I’m paraphrasing here, but basically, “Scripture has been fulfilled, only not as you ever imagined it would be fulfilled. Turns out God had a plan all along and it has come to pass. Now, go share the good news.”
A veil has been lifted for the disciples. They are seeing into a new reality.
And now I want to leave the disciples for a moment and turn to talk about revelations in a more general way.
Maybe like them, you’ve had one or several revelatory experiences in your life; not as dramatic and not with world consequences as what we’re talking about with the disciples, but still what YOU would consider to be a revelation.
As you may know, because I have mentioned him several times in preaching, I am a fan of Eric Metaxas’ writings. He has written biographies of some really remarkable Christians—including William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and more recently, Martin Luther, the instigator of the Reformation. I have some of his books if you are interested in borrowing them.
Eric Metaxas is a devout Christian NOW, but he wasn’t always. He struggled mightily with faith in his 20’s and into his early thirties. What brought HIM to faith was a revelatory dream.
I’m giving you the short version here, but he has written about it at length. He was born in the US, but as his name implies, Metaxas, his father is Greek Orthodox. Eric himself, was raised in that tradition. He didn’t embrace that faith, though, or any faith, as a young adult. However, he knew through his early upbringing, the sign of the fish. You know that, too, right? You see the fish icon stuck on car bumpers and stitched onto church paraments. The Greek letters for the word fish, icthus, is an acronym for the Greek phrase, Jesus Christ, son of God, Savior.
Eric Metaxas had had some conversations with Christians about their own faith, but he was not convinced of anything. Then, one night, he has a dream that he is ice-fishing, which he did sometimes, for fun, He cuts a hole in the ice. Before he can drop his line in, a fish sticks his nose out of that hole. That never happens in real life apparently, but go with this—it’s a dream, after all. Eric grabs the fish by the gills and pulls it out. He describes the fish as being very large and heavy, and made of solid gold! Eric holds that fish next to his chest, in a firm embrace. That’s his dream.
When he wakes up he knows. Eric Metaxas had in fact, embraced the truth of Jesus Christ, son of God, Savior, Icthus, the gold fish.
Not to be on the same playing field with the disciples or even Eric Metaxas, I myself, had a dream in my early twenties—a dream I consider to be a revelation. It was not too long after my mother died. My life was in turmoil, as I tried to make sense of her passing. In that dream I was communing with God. I say communing, because neither of us spoke with voices. We just “communed.” How did I know it was God? I don’t know. God didn’t have a gold throne—God didn’t even have a body, but then neither did I. God and I were floating in nothingness. No light, no dark, just nothingness. But it was a safe nothingness. I asked God to explain to me what everything was about; what it all meant. Life, death, everything. God told me how the universe works; how the micro and the macro move in concert, under the same God-created principles. In the dream, I remember thinking “Oh my goodness! It’s all so very simple! How could I have missed it?” Finally, God assured me that there is a grand purpose to all that is.
The kicker here is that when I woke up, I couldn’t remember any specifics about how everything worked. However, I did retain the last part, about God’s plan being all encompassing, and of creation being interlocking--everything dependent on everything else--and I knew for certain that 1) God’s in charge, and 2) there is a purpose to everything, even if we can’t understand it. That dream was my revelation and that revelation has become a conviction for me.
When something like that is revealed to you, your life is changed forever. My life was changed with that dream, as was that of Eric Metaxas’, as was that of the disciples when Jesus appears to them, and then opens their minds to scripture.
Oh yes, the disciples! Remember them?
They were living out prophesy and witnessing its fulfillment.
Jesus’ death and resurrection were part of God’s plan for all time. That revelation was so phenomenal, so over-and-above what the disciples and humanity in general had experienced up to that point; that it changed not just the disciples’ lives, but a lot of lives—then as now. Dare we say it, it changed the world.
And that is, after all, a very good reason to celebrate. Amen