He Is Risen!

If ever there is a grace note in history, it is here!

News March 25, 2024

25 March 2024| St. Albans, UK [David Neal]

“Only one act of pure love, unsullied by any taint of ulterior motive, has ever been performed in the history of the world, namely the self-giving of God in Christ on the cross for undeserving sinners. That is why, if we are looking for a definition of love, we should look not in a dictionary, but at Calvary.” (1)

“MASTER!” they exclaimed. And in that moment He disappeared from their sight. With a half-eaten meal they are again in a state of shock, coming to terms with this amazing turnaround of events, now overwhelmed in a state of almost ecstatic joy. In that dark, shadowy room, I imagine them getting up from their reclined meal position, looking at each other bewilderedly, checking with each other to confirm their thoughts. “Did you see what I saw? The Stranger? It was Jesus! I knew it, I knew it!” exclaimed Cleopas. ‘They said to each other, “Wasn’t it like a fire burning in us when he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” ’ (Luke 24:32, GNB.)

What happens to a person on a journey, growing in the realisation that Jesus is more than an interesting figure in history? What happens when the story of this fully God and fully human Person – His life and His teachings, and His ability to conquer death, the event most of us fear the most — makes an impact on our lives, both intellectually and emotionally? What happens when the light goes on? What is that fire?

“I felt my heart strangely warmed.” 

John Wesley on 24 May 1738 tells the story of his journey. ‘In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street (London), where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation; and an assurance was given me, that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’ (2)

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, experienced his ‘warm heart’ at what today is called ‘Wesley’s Chapel’, Aldersgate, London.

Hold Wesley’s experience there for a moment, because Luke just keeps this story going. To make sure he doesn’t lose the reader for a second, he relates the disciples’ sense of urgency: ‘And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem’ (Luke 24:33, ESV).

Fired up with amazingly good news, the best news ever, they moved into ‘We have to get back to Jerusalem and tell the others’ mode. To wait until morning to make the seven-mile return journey was not an option. And even if they had stayed overnight in Emmaus, would they have been able to sleep, knowing what they knew? ‘And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together’ (24:33 continued, ESV).

He is risen – but what does it mean?

If you think the Gospel has already shone its brightest in this story, I would have to admit to a “yes, but”: because the three words, “He is risen”, are the answer to every question; but what Luke hasn’t yet shared is what “He is risen” means.

Read background commentary articles on Luke and how he writes, and some authors say that the way he writes suggests that he has a theological agenda. So what if he does? Because it’s the most beautiful agenda in the history of the universe! A more dispassionate view is taken by Donald Guthrie, who points out in his New Testament Introduction, ‘No one would deny that Luke’s purpose is theological,’ but ‘it is truer to say that Luke brings out the theological significance of history.’ (3)

Unlike Paul’s letter to the Romans, Luke is not sharing a theological treatise. He’s telling a story, and it is in this next line of the story that we find yet another unexpected twist and turn – demonstrating the meaning of the resurrection, with the theology of the Gospel shining as bright as it ever can. ‘The Lord has risen indeed . . .’ (Luke 24:34, first part, ESV), a great line in itself, but still not complete. As thrilling as those words are, there is still the ‘so what?’ element. What’s the big deal? What difference does it make?

The grace note in history.

‘The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’ (Luke 24:34, ESV.) Did you read what I just read? ‘. . . and has appeared to Simon’? Shaky Simon? Really? The foul-mouthed fella who denied Jesus? Why does Luke even dare to mention the cocksure, blunt-speaking northern fisherman from Galilee who didn’t have the courage of his convictions? ‘All mouth and no action,’ some would say: a good enough excuse, if one were needed, to erase him from the story. Let him get lost in history – not least as the failed disciple!

“And tell Peter…”

Among the disciples gathered in that Jerusalem room, would some have cause to wonder if Simon would be the next Judas? As Mark’s gospel records the story of the resurrection (Mark 16:1-8), Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome encounter the ‘young man’ sitting in the tomb. He tells them, ‘He [Jesus] has risen’ – but, astonishingly, here again Peter is singled out for special mention: ‘But go, tell his disciples and Peter’ (Mark 16:7, ESV). If ever there was a grace note in history, it is here!

And the meaning of the Gospel is? 

Luke and Mark had every good reason to erase Peter from the story. What an embarrassment! But they could not, because ‘the Stranger’ who walked on the road to Emmaus, who explained the Crucifixion story from the ‘law and the testimony’, went to the Cross for Peter! And the meaning of the Gospel is – make sure Peter knows that!

That’s the story. No more twists and turns to Luke’s story. In the complexity, confusion and despair of the moment, Luke provides the hope we are looking for. To be sure, hope is to be found in the Word of God; but, far from dry, ancient words – even when ever true, the story is a redemptive one.

Who of us has not had ‘Shaky Simon’ moments? Who of us at times in moments of deep and unexpected crises has not struggled to take to heart the frequent ‘fear not’ words of Scripture? (4) Is anyone confused and perplexed trying to solve the current complex life issues we face? And yet it is because of the resurrection, and what it means – and the very singling out of Peter – that we have the potential to turn difficult and complex and disturbing issues into a deep-rooted calm.

For me they are summed up best in four words from a line of a familiar hymn: ‘Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven.’ (5)

Three cheers for God – the fire within still burns!

_______________________________________________________________________

1. John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 212.

2. The Journal of the Reverend John Wesley, vol. 1, p. 102. And yet it must also to be recognised that there is no one size fits all moment 0r experience of conversion. In distinct contrast to Wesley, the experience of  the twentieth century British defender of Christianity, C. S. Lewis is worth noting as he shared in his 1955 book ‘Surprised by Joy’: “I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken. I was driven to Whipsnade (Zoo) one sunny morning. When I set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion.”  (C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life [New York: Harcourt Brace & World, 1955] 237)

3. Donald Guthrie, ‘Luke’s Gospel’, New Testament Introduction, p. 94

4. https://www.soulshepherding.org/fear-not-365-days-a-year/

5. Third line of the hymn by Henry F. Lyte (1793-1847), ‘Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven’ (Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, number 4).

All images: Shutterstock

 

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