Lk 24:36-39 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
One modern crusading atheist complained in his book that modern preachers have to spend so much time explaining that there must be something wrong if they have to go into such convoluted explanations. It is possible, if you have been reading these resurrection mediations (or studies) over the past week, that you might be feeling that this is exactly what I have been doing. If that is so, let me explain. It is just because of these crusading atheists – who I believe have done us a favour by stirring up questions. It seems that, so often, they make shallow comments indicating that they have neither read the text nor, if they had read the Gospels, done their homework and looked into why it was so written and what the culture was behind it. For just those reasons I have written these particular studies, looking at the background or style and comparing the Gospel texts. I hope I have shown that when we do that intelligently we find we have little to be concerned about. Yes, there are lots of question marks over what happened because, as I have taken pains to show, there are big gaps where we wished there were none, but they don’t undermine the story, only add interest to it.
We arrive now at the point, late in the day, when the two disciples get back from Emmaus and meet with the others who are still gathered together in one house. They have been discussing what seems to have happened in the day. Yes, Peter had seen him, the women had seen him, Mary Magdalene had seen him, and now these other two disciples had seen him. But each of their encounters had been fleeting and so, at the end of a tiring day, their minds are wondering did they each dream it. Was it all just wishful thinking? Some questioners today ask, was it really a form of mass hysteria, was it something they all deep down so wanted to happen that they convinced themselves that it was Jesus they had seen. It was made worse by Mary confessing that at first she had thought he was simply the gardener, and then the two from Emmaus confessing that not until the end did they recognise him. There are doubts and possibilities flying around the room.
Perhaps those who didn’t want to doubt came up with the logical answers. It couldn’t have been mass hysteria because mostly they were alone or in small groups. Mass hysteria is something that is usually worked up, and none of them had just been through an experience where they had been emotionally worked up. If anything they were emotionally drained. As for wishful thinking, they had been so certain that he was dead that there was no question of such a thing. In fact they had struggled in their minds to believe what their eyes and their ears were telling them. No, none of those explanations fitted the circumstances. Oh yes, doubts and questions were surely flying round the room. Why am I so sure of this? I’m sure of it because of what immediately followed.
Suddenly, without any warning, with no knock on the locked door, no sound of a door opening, Jesus is standing in their midst. Do they, after their experiences of the day, after their discussion or debate, welcome him with open arms and celebration? No they do not! They were scared silly because, despite all that has gone before, they think they are seeing a ghost – and yes, they are all seeing it! They were clearly ‘troubled’ and they clearly ‘doubted’ and Jesus sees that and confronts it. In modern parlance he would say, “Guys, get cool, get real, it’s me, look at me, touch me, feel me! Ghosts can’t be touched and felt!” If we read the text, he then asks for something to eat and eats some fish in front of them. It is the most ordinary, down to earth action he could have done. Then he reminds them of what he had taught them previously, about how he would die and then come to life again to fulfil all the prophetic scriptures of the Old Testament. We’ll stop the account there because we have one more of these studies about the resurrection appearances to do tomorrow before we finish this mini-series.
But take note of what has happened. The disciples doubted all that had gone before and so Jesus came to them and stood in their midst and acted perfectly normally to convince them. You want your past experiences to be verified? That’s what he basically asks them. Then touch me, encounter me, and you’ll know.
Now I keep finding sceptics saying, tell me what you believe, tell me what this evidence is you keep talking about, show me some means of verification to convince me! OK, we’ve been examining the evidence for this past week. Anyone who will examine the evidence of the Gospels with an open mind will be convinced. There are many people who said they were sceptics – until they read the Gospels. In the first meditation we referred to Frank Morison, a lawyer who started out to debunk the Gospel accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and ended up being utterly convinced of the veracity of the story. A similar person was J.B.Phillips who started out in the middle of last century to produce a fresh translation of the New Testament. He ended up writing a book called Ring of Truth, because that is what he concluded the Gospel accounts had. Examine the evidence as you would any other historical documents and you find there is more there than you ever believed before.
But what about today, my sceptical friend asks? Very well, I reply, put aside all your stereotypes of Christians that you have been fed, and come and meet the people of my church, and of many other churches that I know. Talk to these down to earth ordinary people, experience their love, acceptance and compassionate concern. Listen to their testimonies and you’ll find something unnervingly similar in all of them. They heard the good news about Jesus Christ and it seemed real to them. They responded to what they had been told and they prayed and asked God, on the basis of what they heard about Jesus, to forgive them and give them new lives. Without exception they will tell you about how their lives were transformed. They aren’t perfect but they have been mightily changed. Now they keep coming up with stories about how God has helped them or spoken to them and how their lives have been getting better and better.
This is normal Christian experience and it can be repeated millions of times over. You can test it against lots of other possibilities but none of them ring true for all the cases. The only one that satisfies is the one we’ve just put forward. Yes, it IS verifiable; you only have to come to the same place where you are willing to check out Jesus, seek God for forgiveness for your self-centred, godless life so far, ask for His power and direction to give you a new life – and watch out! Why is it so difficult to believe? Why do we keep on looking for escape alternatives so we don’t do that? Think about it – and be honest. Jesus verified his reality to his disciples when he was still on earth. He still does it today by his Spirit and millions can verify that!