Luke 24: 36b – 48 (Act 3: 12-19)
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
If our phone rings before 10am it is usually someone wanting to
1. save us money on domestic appliance insurance,
2. prevent us from being charged for something expensive we never knew we'd bought from Amazon,
3. or to tell us we have a problem with our internet which they'd like to resolve for us.
I'm afraid they all usually get pretty short shrift from me.
The other week we did have a problem with our internet, and an engineer from Openreach came and sorted it out for us – but just after he left we had a phone call “about our internet”. How were we to know whether it was a genuine follow up or another would-be scammer? That was an easy one, but unfortunately many of us hear the words without comprehending their meaning.
We've also heard a lot about fake news recently – and for some of us even April Fool jokes were difficult to recognise. It now seems that we live in a society where truth is often more unbelievable than fiction – and fraudsters play on that.
The events described in our reading from Luke 24 were not easy to believe either – but these were genuine. They took place on the evening of Jesus' resurrection. Late that afternoon the risen Jesus met Cleopas and another disciple as they walked on the Emmaus Road. After Jesus had left them they went to tell the other disciples that they had seen Jesus.
Despite that – when Jesus appeared to the rest of the disciples, v37 tells us “they were startled and terrified, as though they were seeing a ghost”. ….. and it wasn't as if Jesus himself hadn't prepared them what was going to happen either. It is there in v46: “thus it is written that the Messiah is to suffer and rise from the dead on the third day”.
But if you look at v44 you will see there is more to it than that - Jesus tells them “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written in the law of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled”. Here Jesus is summarizing the message of the OT – i.e. what is happening now is what God always planned, as he had revealed in his Word.
Yes the Easter events are the fulfilment of scripture – but God's plan doesn't stop there – because he tells us in v47 that “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name, to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem”
Jesus had taught all this to his disciples but – as we might say today – the message hadn't sunk in. Their minds were not yet open to understand what they had been taught.
Move on for a moment to Acts 3 (our first reading). It is now after Pentecost. The Holy Spirit had been poured out on the disciples – Peter is a new man - and almost unrecognisable from when he denied Jesus in the High Priest's court a few weeks previously.
Here he is now standing in Solomon's portico (part of the Temple where Jesus had taught the disciples) addressing the people and he is really socking it to them:
• you rejected Jesus and handed him over to Pilate
• you rejected Pilate's finding of his innocence
• you demanded the release of a convicted murderer in his stead
• you killed Jesus, the author of life, whom God raised from the dead
Collective responsibility has always been a contentious issue.
• The church gets blamed for what it does as much as it gets blamed for what it fails to do.
• A good proportion of the population think of the church only as the buildings - a view we would probably refute,
• but another sector of society blame the nearest Christian they can find for anything the church does which they don't like – whether we happen to agree with it or not.
Here Peter was using the word you in a collective sense, LAOS was the collective noun for the Jewish people = it was you Jews who were collectively responsible for the death of Jesus – not his listeners individually.
However – and this is a very important point – we cannot stop there - as some throughout history have done. Peter (v 17) puts this in context “I know you acted in ignorance, as did your rulers – but this is how God fulfilled what the prophets had foretold, that the Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore and turn to God that your sins may be wiped out.”
The 19th century German poet Heinrich Heine was visited by a priest who urged him to make his peace with God while he still had time. Heine replied flippantly “God will forgive me – that's his job”
That is a very dangerous assumption - we cannot expect God to ignore our sins, but we have the assurance that he pardons those sins which we confess and renounce.
The renounce bit is important and sometimes is more difficult than the confession itself. It's not much good confessing what we did wrong last week, unless we resolve not to repeat the misdemeanour next week.
Of course we don't always get it right straight away and God may still forgive us again – but that doesn't give us a licence to go on sinning provided we confess afterwards. We have to keep working at renouncing and hopefully move on.
Here Peter was not suggesting the sin of the Jewish people and their leaders was excusable, nor was he implying that forgiveness was unnecessary – but he was showing why forgiveness was possible – through Jesus the slate can be wiped clean.
So here we see Peter and the disciples taking up that command from Luke 24. They have started to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins, but so far they are only at stage 1 - “beginning from Jerusalem” and of course the job is nowhere near finished yet 2,000 years later.
The on-going mission of the church is the responsibility of God's people in every generation. As Paul Dawson reminded us last week we benefit from those who brought the gospel to this country 1500 years ago and from those who established Christianity and built and endowed our churches in the centuries since. .
God promised Abraham that the good news would be shared with All Nations – so we are but one generation in God's purposes. Our role is not just to preserve and conserve that which we have inherited – and that seems difficult enough at times – but to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who do not know him.
I don't know about you but I've found that a particularly difficult thing to do in the last year or so, so it is my prayer for us all that God will open each of our minds to understand the Scriptures better - that we may be open to his leading as we face the opportunities, and challenges, that come to us as individuals and as a church.
The YouTube version is here https://youtu.be/Y7hvo8JVsOY