TITLE: Jesus -- First But Not Last SCRIPTURE: Luke 24:36b-48
It was Easter evening. It had been a big day. Mary Magdalene and several other women had gone to the tomb to anoint Jesus, but found the tomb empty. Two angels were there. They asked:
"Why do you look for the living among the dead?
He is not here, but has risen" (Luke 24:5).
These women reported to the apostles what they had seen, but the apostles wrote off their testimony as "an idle tale" (24:11) -- wishful thinking -- women's imaginations working overtime.
Then Jesus appeared to two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. These disciples were returning home after celebrating Passover in Jerusalem. They had loved Jesus, and were grieving his death.
When Jesus joined them, they failed to recognize him. Perhaps God clouded their vision. Perhaps Jesus' resurrected body looked different. We don't know.
As they walked along the road, Jesus taught these two disciples what the scriptures had to say about the Messiah.
When they reached Emmaus, the two disciples invited Jesus to their home for dinner. Then Luke tells us:
"When Jesus was at table with them,
he took bread, blessed and broke it,
and gave it to them" (24:30).
You recognize those words, don't you! They are Eucharistic words -- words that we use to celebrate the Lord's Supper:
Jesus "took bread, blessed and broke it,
and gave it to them" (24:30).
Then Luke says:
"Then their eyes were opened,
and they recognized him;
and he vanished from their sight" (24:31).
It was nearly evening and a two-hour walk to Jerusalem -- but these two disciples started out. It was probably dark when they reached Jerusalem. There were no street lights. I can imagine them feeling their way through the darkness -- looking for the apostles. It must have been difficult -- but they did it. They found the apostles, and reported what they had seen. This time the apostles listened, because Peter had also reported seeing Jesus (24:34).
Then, suddenly, Jesus was in the room with them. Luke doesn't tell us how he got there. The Gospel of John says that the door was locked (John 20:19). Did Jesus come through the locked door? Did he just materialize in their midst? We don't know.
But we do know this. The disciples were terrified. They were scared to death. They thought they were seeing a ghost.
And we know this. Jesus invited them to touch his hands and feet -- to examine the nail prints -- to prove beyond doubt that this was Jesus.
And this. Jesus asked the disciples to give him something to eat -- and he ate it in their presence (Luke 24:41-43).
And this. Jesus began to explain the scriptures to them -- the scriptures that foretold that the Messiah would suffer and die -- and rise from the dead on the third day (24:46).
And this. Jesus told the disciples to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations.
And this. Jesus said, "You are witnesses of these things" (24:48). These disciples had witnessed his death and were now witnessing his resurrection.
And we know this -- listen carefully. We know that these disciples, who had locked themselves in a hidden room because they were afraid (John 20:19), were transformed -- no longer afraid. They went to the streets of Jerusalem and began preaching publicly -- preaching about Jesus -- and great things happened.
One of the best evidences that we have of the resurrection is the transformation of these disciples after they had seen Jesus. They had been afraid -- scared TO death -- scared OF death -- but after seeing Jesus, they were no longer afraid.
This story gives us some insights into what it means to be resurrected from the dead. It tells us that Jesus had a body -- much like the body that he had before he died. The disciples recognized him. Jesus invited them to touch his hands and feet -- to inspect the nail prints -- to prove that he was the same Jesus who had died on Friday. The disciples could touch him. Jesus could eat.
But there was also something mysterious about Jesus' resurrected body. Did Jesus come through the locked door? Did he just materialize? We don't know. These resurrection stories tell us a great deal, but leave the rest to our imagination.
But who cares if Jesus had a physical body after his resurrection? What difference does it make? That was then. This is now. Why should we care? How does it affect us?
It affects us in this way. What happened to Jesus is going to happen to us. We, too, will experience resurrection after death. We, too, will live again -- will live again with a physical body -- a recognizable physical body.
The Apostle Paul spoke of the resurrected Christ as "the first fruits of those who have died" (1 Corinthians 15:20). Listen to that one more time. The resurrected Christ is "the first fruits of those who have died."
Let me explain that phrase, "first fruits." In the early summer, those of us who plant tomatoes in our gardens get to experience a special treat. We get to go to our garden and pick a fresh, vine-ripened, homegrown tomato. We not only get to pick it -- we also get to eat it. We might put it in a salad -- or we might put a slice on a hamburger -- or we might just eat it like an apple.
But however we do it, that tomato will taste better than any tomato that we have eaten in the past year. It will certainly taste better than the winter tomatoes that we purchased in the supermarket. But it will also taste better than the tomato from our garden that we ate last August. By August we had grown accustomed to fresh tomatoes. They didn't seem as special as the first tomato of the season. What's the difference? The difference is that, in the early summer, we have been waiting all winter for a good tomato. When we finally get a fresh, vine-ripened, homegrown tomato -- the first one from the garden -- it tastes better than any tomato since the first tomato of the previous year.
That first tomato is what they called "first fruits" in the Bible. It is special. It is special because it tastes good, but it is also special because it holds the promise of more tomatoes through the summer. It isn't the "last fruit" or the "only fruit" but the "first fruits." It holds the promise of baskets full of wonderful tomatoes. It holds the promise of a wonderful summer.
Paul says that Jesus is "the first fruits of those who have died." Jesus' resurrection was not the "last fruit" or the "only fruit." It is the "first fruits" -- and it holds the promise of many resurrections to come -- the resurrections of our loved ones -- our resurrection. Just as Jesus was resurrected with the physical body, so also we will be resurrected with a physical body.
That raises all kinds of questions:
- What about someone whose body was ravaged by disease?
- What about someone whose body was torn apart by an explosion?
- What about someone who donated organs to help other people?
- What about the person whose body long ago turned to dust?
- What about the person who was cremated?
Let me ask you this question. Don't you think that the God who "formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" can figure it out? Don't you think that the God who created us can put us back together again? I am confident that God can do that -- and will do that.
What about those of us who would rather have a different body -- a slender body -- a beautiful body? I believe that, in the resurrection, we will all see each other as beautiful. There won't be any "Oh, I'm fat!" or "Oh, I'm ugly!" There will be only "Oh, I'm happy!"
A special note about people who sign a donor's card to allow the use of their organs to help other people. Jesus spent his life helping people who couldn't help themselves -- healing them -- feeding them -- teaching them about God's love. He died and was resurrected so that we who were helpless in the face of death can be helpless no more.
Jesus wants us to follow in his footsteps. He wants us to love people as he loved them and to help people as he helped them. Therefore, I believe that he will give a special blessing to those who help other people by signing a donor's card to allow the use of their organs after their death. Don't worry about how God will put your body together again in the resurrection. Be sure that God will manage just fine.
Lots of people would like to have the assurance that Christians have already -- the assurance of the resurrection -- and that leads them to do bizarre things.
David and Trudy Pizer have arranged with Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona to freeze their bodies when they die. They hope that, during the next century, someone will figure out a way to bring a frozen body back to life -- and that the someone will remember to bring them back to life. To make sure that they have plenty of money when they come back to life, they are trying to set up a "personal revival trust" with $10 million that they will receive when they come back to life.
It costs $150,000 to have your body frozen and stored at Alcor, but some people opt to have just their heads frozen for $80,000. They hope that they will be able to attach their heads to someone else's body when they come back to life. I'm not sure where they expect to find a spare body.
The question is: Who do you trust? Do you trust whoever happens to be running Alcor a century from now -- or do you trust Jesus? Personally, I'm happy to trust Jesus!
Let me close with two pieces of Good News:
- The first is that Jesus rose from the dead.
- The second is that he was the "first fruits" of the resurrection -- the promise of many more resurrections -- including our own resurrections.
The Good News is that, just as Jesus was resurrected from the dead, so also we will be resurrected from the dead. Jesus has conquered death. Thanks be to God!
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