Summary: After the resurrection, Jesus still had ministry to perform on His disciples, to equip them for the work he set before them. What he did for them still bears fruit in the lives of saints today.
A recipe for sainthood
The Apostles of Christ pose a puzzle for us, one that many do not solve very well. On one hand, we have scenes throughout the gospels similar to the one in the gospel lesson for today: the Apostles full of fear, full of unbelief. They have not believed Jesus when he told him he was going to be crucified and then rise from the dead. When it actually happens, they do not believe the report of those who had seen Jesus after his resurrection. Indeed, Luke’s gospel which we have just heard follows Luke’s account of Jesus’ encounter with the disciples on the Emmaus road. And, we have touched on that encounter from time to time recently. They, too, did not understand, and Jesus had to go back over all the things in the Old Testament concerning himself.
The verses just before today’s gospel reads like this: 33So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34saying, ‘The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’ 35And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.”
And then we get the first words of today’s gospel: “Now as they said these things, Jesus appeared in their midst and said, ‘Peace be to you all’ ” In other words, just when the disciples on the Emmaus road are reporting the good news to the Eleven, Jesus appears in the midst of all of them.
And, what? “37But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit.”
On the other hand, not much further into Luke’s account, which we find in the Book of Acts, the disciples are very different. They are no longer afraid. They are no longer hiding for fear of the Jews. They are no longer disbelieving. Their boldness, their confidence, is everywhere obvious and abundant. Why the difference? Many have said that it was the bare fact of the resurrection itself which made the difference. But, clearly that is not the case. For in today’s gospel they disciples have heard of the resurrection twice – from the women at the tomb, and now from these disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Even when Jesus appears in their midst, they are still they are afraid and disbelieving.
Indeed, the Apostles underwent a fabulous change, and I think Luke’s account here shows us how it came about. I’ve heard some preachers and read some teachers that take a holier than thou kind of attitude toward the disciples, as if they themselves would never have been so spiritually dense. That is exactly the analysis of the puzzle which we MUST reject. There are very good reasons for the disciples’ change of heart, and if we understand these reasons rightly, we will avoid that kind of ignorant arrogance.
So, what changed their mind? Three things.
First, of all, it was their first-hand experience of the resurrected Lord Jesus. You see, it was more than just seeing. They DID see, and they were still terrified. So, what does Jesus do? He takes the steps necessary to show them that he is no ghost. “You see?” he said. A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have. Handle Me and see” And, to make the point even further, he asks them for something to eat, and when they produced something, he eats it in front of them. Again, spirits do not bite the food you and I bite. Ghosts do not chew the food you and I chew. Jesus bites and chews and swallows. He is as real as the disciples, and whatever his “realness” is like, it is as real as a piece of fish or a chunk of honeycomb.
This up close and personal encounter with the Lord Jesus seems to have been critical for what Jesus was later to with the Apostles. For, when Jesus commissioned Saul of Tarsus to be an Apostle, just like all the rest, he made a personal appearance to him, and taught him directly as he had earlier taught the Eleven. Paul insists that this is one of the credentials which he has as an Apostle, when he writes to the Corinthians, “Am I not an apostle? … Have I not seen the Lord Jesus?” (1 Cor. 9:1) When he opens his letter to the Galatians, Paul does it this way: “1 Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead), …”
It was not, evidently, enough that the Apostles merely see Jesus. To become what they soon became – men of truly reckless courage and confidence – they needed to do more than merely see the resurrected Jesus. They had to have a fresh, concrete, objective, and sustained encounter with him, when he ate with them, conversed with them, and taught them.