Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.Luke 24:46-48
What is the point of the resurrection? Why did Jesus die and rise again? It’s a pretty important question, isn’t it? And not as easy to answer as we might think. But we receive an answer in today’s gospel reading (Luke 24:36-48).
This is our third and final week looking at the resurrection stories in the gospels. Last week we heard a story recorded in John’s Gospel; this week one from Luke’s Gospel. In both cases, Jesus comes to his disciples, after being raised from the dead, to offer them his peace. In both cases, Jesus also offers them proof that he was raised from the dead – not just spiritually, but physically.
But then, today, Jesus does something else that is quite extraordinary: he opens the minds of his disciples to understand the Scriptures. He helps them to understand the point of it all: Why he died. Why he rose again. And what happens next. And he even sums it all up, in a short but very important sentence – the focus of my sermon today. It is arguably the most important sentence in all of Luke’s Gospel, because it is Jesus’ own summary of the Gospel itself. You might think of it as the “John 3:16” of Luke’s Gospel. The whole thing summed up in a sentence. This is what he said:
“Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
So what is Jesus saying here? Let’s break it down into three key points.
The Messiah Is to Suffer and to Rise from the Dead
First of all, Jesus says that the Messiah had to suffer and to rise from the dead. There was no other way. There’s nothing new here, of course, but it sure is important. In fact, it is the very core of our faith – that Jesus died for our sins and that he rose from the dead. Everything else is just filling in that central point.
So, first of all, we believe that Jesus is the Messiah. And we believe that he suffered and died for us. And, finally, we believe that he rose from the dead. All of those are important, even crucial. If Jesus is not the Messiah, then his death is in vain. If he didn’t die, then our sins are not forgiven. And if he wasn’t raised from the dead, then our hope of eternal life is worthless.
And it is crucial not just that he was raised from the dead spiritually. But raised from the dead physically. That is why he invites his disciples to touch him. It is why he ate a piece of broiled fish in their presence. To show them that he was physically raised from the dead.
So, why is that important? Because first of all, it means that our resurrection will also be physical. You and I will one day be physically raised from the dead. Think of that: Your body already contains in it the seed of eternity. You are carrying around with you – today – eternity. Amazing, isn’t it?
But our bodies after the resurrection will be changed, just like Jesus’ body was changed. So if there’s something that you can’t do so well anymore, don’t worry. Your body will be raised, and it will be changed. Do you remember how Paul describes this?
Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.1 Corinthians 15:51-54
We will be raised from the dead, physically. And we will be changed. That’s what the bodily resurrection of Jesus means for us.
But it means even more than this. Because it also means, simply put, that this world matters. It means that Jesus didn’t just become flesh to help us escape this world into heaven. No. This world matters. Creation matters. This life of ours matters. We get to enjoy eternal life right now. Because we get to live in Jesus’ presence right now. Or, as the Psalms put, we get to walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living. On this earth. In this lifetime.
The bodily resurrection means that this life, this world, matters to God. But it also means that this life is not the end. We will be raised from the dead, and we will live forever in the very presence of God, because the messiah suffered for our sins, and was raised from the dead on the third day.
Repentance and Forgiveness of Sins Is to Be Proclaimed
That’s the beginning of Jesus’ summary of the gospel. But he goes on to say something else, our second key point: that now repentance and the forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations. Jesus is very clear about the message that his church is to proclaim, that we are to proclaim. It is not a promise of wealth and happiness. It is not a promise of good health or perfect relationships. And it is not a promise that we can do whatever we want, or believe whatever we want, and it won’t matter because Jesus died for us. No. What he does promise is the forgiveness of sins in his name. And he invites us to repent and believe this.
You might be surprised that even here – after his death and resurrection – Jesus is still talking about repentance, and not just forgiveness. But this is not anything complicated or surprising. It simply means that receiving this message, believing Jesus to be our Savior, accepting his gift of the forgiveness of our sins in his name, requires us to turn from whatever else it is that we are putting our hope in. And turn to him.
Repentance in this case simply means waking up from our sin, realizing our need for a Savior, and turning from our sin, to Jesus. And when you do this, it changes you. How could it not? Your life is never the same when you let the risen Christ into it! When you believe that Jesus died for your sins, and rose from the dead, and is present now in your life, you are changed forever. Because you are changed from the inside out. And it becomes clear to you that nothing else in your life is as important as this. Everything else in life simply pales in comparison. This is what Jesus invites you to when he invites you to repent and believe.
You Are Witnesses of These Things
And when you have done this, Jesus has one more mission for you, which is the last part of his instruction in this summary of Luke’s Gospel, and our third key point: You are called to be witnesses of these things. You are called to bear witness to the good news of the Resurrection. You and I are called to go forth and proclaim to a confused world the simple, clear message of the gospel: That the Messiah suffered and died for our sins and for the sins of the world, and that God raised Him from the dead. And that we are invited to repent and believe this good news, that through him our sins are forgiven.
And if you wonder just how you are to do this, there is a perfect example of it in our first reading for today, from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 3:12-19).
In this reading, Peter does exactly what the risen Christ commands him, and us, to do. Simply put, Peter bears witness to these things. He does this right after he and John have healed a crippled beggar. The crowd is surprised. But Peter says to them, do not be surprised by this, for it was done in the name of Jesus. And then he says to them:
“You killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses … Now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance … In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.” (Acts 3:15-19)
Isn’t that a great sermon?! Nothing fancy. Just plain truth. Your sins put Jesus on the cross. But God raised him from the dead. Repent, therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out. That’s the core of the Good News. That’s what we are called to proclaim to the nations. And there’s nothing we can do that’s more important.
We weren’t with the disciples on that first Easter evening, of course. We were not blessed to be “witnesses to these things” in the same way. We didn’t get to see the risen Jesus, to touch him, and to have him open our minds to the Scriptures. But those first disciples shared what they learned. They opened the minds of others. And what they learned was eventually written down. And we are blessed to be able to read their inspired words, and to have our minds opened, too. We are blessed to be invited again today to turn from whatever we are placing our ultimate hope and trust in, and to place it in our risen Lord, Jesus. And then, of course, we are invited to go and bear witness to these things. To proclaim this message, this simple, clear message. That Christ died, for all. That Christ was raised again, for all. And that Christ will come again, for all. Thanks be to God. Amen