Alien life has been a major Hollywood theme over the last thirty-plus years. America seems to be fascinated by alien lifeforms. Whether it is Men in Black, Aliens, Star Wars, or Star Trek, American culture has had a fascination with alien life ever since Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of a Third Kind. In 1977, Richard Dreyfus starred as Roy Neary, a cableman who, during a routine call, witnessed a bright light leaving his face sunburned. Neary had his first encounter with alien life. He was eager to return home and tell his wife. His excitement is dashed upon his arrival, as his wife refuses to believe in his apparent hallucinations. Neary could not get the vision that he saw out of his head. He becomes consumed with his desire to have a close encounter of a third kind: contact. Neary’s wife ended up taking the kids and leaving him because of his obsession.
Roy Neary’s life was dramatically changed because of his encounter with this Unidentified Flying Object along the roadside. There was no going back. Similarly, the disciples were dramatically changed because of their encounter with the Risen Christ following his death and resurrection. Their lives would never be the same. The major difference between Roy Neary in Close Encounters of a Third Kind and the disciples is that one is grounded in historical fact, while the other is fiction.
Skeptics may want to frame the resurrection of Jesus Christ as a simple tale of make believe, but we cannot take the bait. When the Eleven first heard the news of the resurrection, they believed it was an idle tale told by hysterical, unreliable women, until they encountered the Risen Christ themselves. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not some unbelievable alien encounter, but true historical event that radically transformed his followers to give their lives. Remember Luke is a historian. He carefully analyzed the evidence and wrote an orderly account. Although Luke wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and leaves us his book as the infallible Word of God, he also can be trusted as a careful historian who gives facts of the events surrounding the resurrection. Let us not over mystify the Bible, but carefully consider this account from Luke as reliable historical account of the resurrection, specifically as we examine how the disciples encountered the risen Christ.
The Disciples Saw the Risen Christ
When Jesus encountered the two men on the road to Emmaus, their last words described the mood following the resurrection. Luke 24:24, “Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” These disciples were walking in the opposite direction away from Jerusalem because no one had seen Jesus, but that was all about to change. Luke 24:28-35,
So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:28-35)
Jesus revealed himself to the disciples upon the breaking of bread and their eyes were opened. They saw him. It was their sight that confirmed the reality of what they were feeling.
They testified that their hearts were burning inside them as Jesus opened up the Scriptures as they walked along the road. They knew something was different with this man, but it was not confirmed until Jesus himself opened their eyes. How many times have people said, “I’ll believe it when I see it?” These men were walking away from Jesus, they wanted to believe, but did not see him. And yet, everything changed when their eyes were opened. Notice that they were not the only ones who had encountered Jesus. They returned to the other disciples and they were already saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” The number of people who encountered Jesus in sight was growing, now extending now to Simon Peter.
In 1946, Billy Graham became friends with a fellow evangelist, Charles Templeton. Templeton and Graham traveled the United States preaching the gospel. Unfortunately, as time went on Templeton started to drift from his faith. In his memoir, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith, Templeton recalls a conversation with Graham. Graham said to him,
I’ve discovered something in my ministry: When I take the Bible literally, when I proclaim it as the word of God, my preaching has power. When I stand on the platform and say, ‘God says,’ or ‘The Bible says,’ the Holy Spirit uses me. There are results. Wiser men than you or I have been arguing questions like this for centuries. I don’t have the time or the intellect to examine all sides of the theological dispute, so I’ve decided once for all to stop questioning and accept the Bible as God’s word.”
“But Billy,” I protested, “You cannot do that. You don’t dare stop thinking about the most important question in life. Do it and you begin to die. It’s intellectual suicide.”
“I don’t know about anybody else,” he said, “but I’ve decided that that’s the path for me.”
Beloved, it is not intellectual suicide to believe in the resurrection. The first disciples doubted until they saw Christ. It is not an idle tale, but a fact of history. This is one of the reasons I am so encouraged with the renewed interests of apologetics in our congregation. We have reasons for the faith that is within us. Near the end of Templeton’s life, he was interviewed by Lee Strobel in a Case for Faith. Strobel recounts the conversation,
“And how do you assess this Jesus?” It seemed like the next logical question—but I wasn’t ready for the response it would evoke. “He was,” Templeton began, “the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique. He was the intrinsically wisest person that I’ve ever encountered in my life or in my readings. His commitment was total and led to his own death, much to the detriment of the world. What could one say about him except that this was a form of greatness?”
I was taken aback. “You sound like you really care about him,” I said.
“Well, yes, he is the most important thing in my life,” came his reply. “I . . . I . . . I . . . ,” he stuttered, searching for the right word, ‘I know it may sound strange, but I have to say . . . I adore him! . . .Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus. Yes . . . yes. And tough! Just look at Jesus. He castigated people. He was angry. People don’t think of him that way, but they don’t read the Bible. He had a righteous anger. He cared for the oppressed and exploited. There’s no question that he had the highest moral standard, the least duplicity, the greatest compassion, of any human being in history. There have been many other wonderful people, but Jesus is Jesus….’
“Uh . . . but . . . no,’ he said slowly, ‘he’s the most . . .” He stopped, then started again. “In my view,” he declared, “he is the most important human being who has ever existed.”
That’s when Templeton uttered the words I never expected to hear from him. “And if I may put it this way,” he said as his voice began to crack, ‘I . . . miss . . . him!”
This man wanted to believe, but refused to accept the evidence. Beloved, the disciples saw the Risen Christ. The resurrection is not intellectual suicide, but real people seeing the Risen Christ in real history.
The Disciples Touched the Risen Christ
There will always be a few skeptical people in the crowd. Charles Templeton was a skeptic, but there were skeptics among the disciples. While they were all recounted what they had seen, Jesus came to address the skeptics. Luke 24:36-43,
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. 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. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, 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 not a spiritual resurrection, but a literal, bodily resurrection with flesh and bones. Jesus looked at him and said, “Touch me, and see.” He then offers them his hands and his feet so they can touch him and see.
Luke notes that the disciples “still disbelieved for joy and were marveling.” Luke is highlighting the sheer amazement and shock of what they were witnessed. It is similar to when we hear or see something and say, “That is unbelievable.” We do not mean it is actually unbelievable, but we are amazed that it just happened. We know this because Luke says the disciples disbelieved with joy and were marveling; a clear sign of belief. Jesus then removes all doubt by taking a fish and eating it. Although we may draw implications of this meal of Jesus communing with the disciples as in Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me,” Luke’s main point is to confirm the reality of Jesus resurrection. The disciples had good reasons to think that Jesus rose from the dead.
The Disciples Heard the Risen Christ
We have seen throughout Jesus’s ministry that the miraculous events done by his hands were to draw people to his words. He would heal a paralytic or exorcise a demon so that people would listen to his teachings. The same could be said of his resurrection. The resurrection is like the Mount Everest of miracles. It confirms the reality of all the Scriptures and has implications for all of life. The charge that Jesus gives his disciples following the greatest miracles of all history is the charge he gives to us as well. Luke 24:44-49,
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.” 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. You are witnesses of these things. 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.”
The first thing that Jesus does is remind them of the words he has already spoken.
He starts not with sharing with anything new, but that which is from the beginning how everything written in the Law, Prophets and Psalms has been fulfilled. Jesus did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. He has done everything that was required of him. He confirms that the entire Old Testament finds its “Yes and Amen” in Christ Jesus. If we read the Bible and miss the person and work of Jesus Christ, we are misreading the Bible. The main thrust of the Bible is to show us Jesus.
After reminding his disciples of the truth, he then commissions them to go and share this knowledge with the entire world. Jesus said that he suffered and was raised on the third day so that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations. This is the task of the church. This is our mission. We are to go and to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all nations. We are on mission to proclaim that the Kingdom of God has come near in Jesus Christ. Therefore, in order to be faithful to our mission, we must proclaim the message of the gospel, but why would we not want to share it?
Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962), the world-famous violinist, earned a fortune with his concerts and compositions, but he generously gave most of it away. So, when he discovered an exquisite violin on one of his trips, he wasn't able to buy it. Later, having raised enough money to meet the asking price, he returned to the seller, hoping to purchase that beautiful instrument. But to his great dismay it had been sold to a collector. Kreisler made his way to the new owner's home and offered to buy the violin. The collector said it had become his prized possession and he would not sell it. Keenly disappointed, Kreisler was about to leave when he had an idea. "Could I play the instrument once more before it is consigned to silence?" he asked. Permission was granted, and the great virtuoso filled the room with such heart-moving music that the collector's emotions were deeply stirred. "I have no right to keep that to myself," he exclaimed. "It's yours, Mr. Kreisler. Take it into the world, and let people hear it."
Beloved, the gospel message of salvation is so beautiful; we must take it into the entire world. Think back to your salvation: How precious did that grace appear the hour you first believed? Romans 10:15b, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news.” It is a privilege and joy to share the beauty of the gospel with those lost in sin.
Non-Christian, have you ever heard and believed the good news about Jesus Christ? The Bible says that all have sinned and stand condemned before God. Because of God’s perfection he cannot allow sinners into his presence and because of his justice he has to punish sin with death. But the good news is that God sent Jesus Christ into the world to be condemned in our place. And after Jesus was dead and buried, God raised him from the dead as the firstfruits of the resurrection for anyone who would turn and trust in Him as Lord and Savior. Christians cannot imagine better news. We were dead in our trespasses and sin, but have been made alive in Christ. Dear friends, believe the good news of Jesus Christ. The kingdom of God has come near in Christ. This is our mission, but we will not be left alone to complete it.
We can know this that whenever God gives us a mission, he will give us the means to complete that mission. As a church it is easy to give reasons why we cannot complete our mission to reach the world for Jesus Christ. We do not have enough time. We do not have enough energy. We do not have enough money. We do not have a cool, hip pastor. The list can go on and on. We do not need what we think we need, for what we need has already been given to us by God. Remember the promise of the Lord Jesus here, “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.” We will finish our mission because we trust the promise of the perfect Promise-Keeper. God the Son will send the promise of God the Father which is the power of God the Spirit.
Two Greek words in the text should frame our understanding of our task to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. The first word “power” comes from the Greek word dunamis which usually connotes the ability to overcome evil forces. The kingdom of God has been inaugurated by the Lord Jesus and will be ushered in by the Spirit of God at Pentecost where the church will be clothed in the Holy Spirit. The second word “witness” comes from the Greek word marturion which is where we get our English word martyr.
We are called to be powerful witnesses. These two words should frame our understanding of the mission. You will face evil, but you have the power to stand up against that evil with the truth of the gospel in unto death. The Christian mission is one of ultimate victory. God promises opposition, but promises the power to testify in the face of that opposition so that we will be fully and finally blessed. Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12) Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)
The Disciples Believed the Risen Christ
Jesus leads his disciples to Bethany comforting and confirming with them the task that lies before them. He blessed them and then returned to the Father. Luke 24:50-53,
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.
The Resurrected Christ was raised to sit at the right hand of the Majesty on High. He returned to his place of authority and power waiting for the day when all his enemies will be his footstool. The disciples saw, touched and heard the Risen Christ and believed. They worshipped him with great joy continually blessing God in the temple. They encountered the Risen Christ and they believed. Have you encountered Christ? Have you believed?
Encountering Christ will change you. Our faith is not some mystical, idle tale like Roy Neary in Close Encounters, but a reasoned faith grounded the historical eyewitness accounts of those who were there. Let me close with the words of one of the 500 eyewitnesses that saw the Risen Christ, the Apostle John says,
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
That which they had seen and heard, I proclaim to you also that you may have fellowship with God. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Dear friends, listen to those who were there. Believe in evidence. Believe in the Risen Christ and have eternal life.
 http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2013/05/09/charles-templeton-missing-jesus/ accessed 4.18.15
image credit (http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41jNr2olTPL.jpg)
image credit (https://encrypted-tbn1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQHdk1Kew9bubTJJ1x614qYkT9fnBInAWBVjroQD4VbXdVFxABU)
image credit (http://www.toledosnd.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/handJesus.jpg)