God's Grand Opening
God’s Grand Opening
Two ladies who were friends met on the street one day in their small town. They chatted for a moment and then began to move on toward the respective destinations. "Have a good day," one said to the other as she turned to leave. The latter replied, "Thank you. But I have other plans."
That always reminds me of the two disciples on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus on that glorious day of all days when Jesus Christ rose from the grave. These disciples had actually heard about the resurrection, but found the story so incredible that they gave it no stock whatsoever. With every reason to have joy unspeakable – they had other plans.
I’m not a big fan of Woody Allen’s personal life, but there are moments of genius in his perception of the human condition. In one of his most inspired moments, he reflected the primary aspiration of every human heart when he said, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying!” Isn’t that it? Isn’t that what looms at the top of every personal Top 10 list? Number 2 isn’t even visible from there. We want to live. We want life! And on that Sunday, March 25, 29 AD, (or whatever day close to that it actually happened) one of the two most momentous days in the history of the world, life became possible in a way that virtually no one had ever envisioned before. It turns out, life is Jesus Christ. Miss that and you miss the whole ballgame.
This was the day of God’s Grand Opening. This was the day in history when God most clearly, most visibly and most emphatically shouted to all of His creation, “Here is life. Have a great forever!” But the event was so stupendous, so outside the realm of normal reality, so other-worldly, that even most of those closest to Christ during His three years on earth could not believe it. So God in His grace helped them along, opening Himself to His creation in special ways calculated to get their attention and promote their flagging faith – the same thing He wants to do for us, so we don’t miss that great eternal future He has planned.
In Luke 24, my personal favorite chapter in the Bible, we truly enter holy ground that I can never adequately communicate, so join me in praying that God will open Himself to us as He did to those that first Easter morning. [Pray] What four things did God open that led to faith in Him?
I. He Opened the Tomb
First of all, we see that God opened the tomb. Look with me beginning at verse 1: “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they (from the various gospel accounts we know this included Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome and Joanna, as a minimum – all women as best we know) went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2) And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3) but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4) While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5) And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6) He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7) that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8) And they remembered his words, 9) and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10) Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James (Mark tells us Salome was there too) and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11) but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.
I love to read those words, but because we know what we know, it is hard to put ourselves back into the minds of those who first experienced this. You’d have thought their joy would have been immediate and ecstatic, but it was not. I think that hope flickered a bit in the hearts of the women; and like someone blowing on warm embers it begins to heat up.
But that very disparate, beaten group of men – all of whom but John had fled when the going got tough, those specially trained by Jesus for three years – could not believe. The words of the women seemed to them an idle tale. Now, my question is, what words seemed an idle tale? That the stone was rolled away and the body gone? I don’t think they doubted that, but the part about the angel and a resurrection – rubbish. Can’t be. Doesn’t happen. Violates every known law of nature and besides, if He was going to do that, He’d never have let them kill Him in the first place. They did exactly what you and I would have done in the same circumstances – they began to look for natural explanations. I’m sure their first thoughts were a simple question – who moved the body? The Romans or the Sanhedrin? And why? But what they surely did not do immediately on that day of all days, that very first Easter, was have an Easter service! Cuz they didn’t believe yet.
Now, old activist Peter couldn’t sit still for long and so he took off running to see for himself. In fact, according to John’s gospel, John and Peter had a footrace to the tomb with John arriving first but stopping at the entrance and noting that while there was no body, the linen wrappings were still there – very strange if the body had been taken. Let’s pick up the account in John 20, verse 6: “Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He (also) saw the linen cloths lying there, 7) and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Now, don’t miss the “folded” face cloth, or napkin. Is that important? Absolutely! Is it really significant? Yes, if you understand a little bit of Hebrew tradition. Every Jewish boy knew that once a table was set by a servant, then the servant would wait, just out of sight, until the master had finished eating, after which he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers and mouth with that napkin and toss it on to the table. The servant would then know to clear the table. For in those days, the wadded napkin meant, ’I’m done.’ But if the master got up from the table, and folded his napkin, and laid it beside his plate, the servant knew that the folded napkin meant, ’I’m not finished yet.’ The folded napkin meant, ’I’m coming back!’ At least one of those men, John, saw that empty tomb, saw those linens and particularly saw that folded napkin – and he got it. John 20:8 says, “Then the other disciple (John), who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9) for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”
As best we know, John was the first to put it all together on that first Easter morning and he got it! Hopes that had been dashed on Friday were suddenly alive again because Christ is life. John got it first. Did Peter get it? I don’t know. Now or soon after, he did, but John was first.
Now, let’s stop our narrative here for a moment to consider what’s happened. The tomb is open. How and why? Various explanations have been given over the years. Some have suggested that Jesus never really died, but merely swooned, later recovered and presented himself as resurrected. But remember that those who crucified Jesus were at pains to insure the security of his gravesite. According to Matthew 27, the Jewish leaders came to Pilate and said, beginning in verse 63, “Listen, that imposter said he would rise in three days. You’ve got to secure that tomb thoroughly.” And he gave them leave to seal it completely and guard it securely. There was nothing slipshod about the security around Jesus’ tomb, and the swoon theorists have yet to explain how Jesus somehow 1) convinced Roman experts that he was dead in the first place, 2) entered a carefully secured tomb, 3) revived himself without help, 4) rolled away a huge stone, 5) overcame the guard detail and 6) presented himself perfectly alive and unharmed, all in the space of a couple of days. Preposterous.
Others suggest that the body was moved by the Jews or Romans – leaving open the question of why it was not immediately produced 7 weeks later when Jesus’ disciples began to turn the city of Jerusalem upside down with their teaching of the resurrection causing apoplexy among rulers on both sides.
Others suggest that the disciples themselves stole the body, leaving open the question of how this completely dispirited, dysfunctional little band of men managed to 1) overcome the guard to get the body in the first place; how they managed to 2) dispose of it so completely it could not be found, and far more importantly 3) why they would then suddenly begin to preach a spiritual kingdom rather than sponsor the physical revolution they had been expecting all along; and finally, 4) why they would themselves all die a martyr’s death for what they knew to be a lie?
None of these explanations holds water. Why? Because Jesus was alive! Jesus Christ is life. I believe that few facts in history are more verifiable than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. More than one member of the unbelieving community has set out to prove once and for all that there was no resurrection. None has ever succeeded but many have become believers in the process, including apologists like Attorney Frank Morison who wrote the classic Who Moved the Stone? as well as others like Josh McDowell and Yale educated journalist, Lee Strobel.
I believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead because there is no other way to explain that empty tomb. I believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead because something like 600 other OT prophesies were fulfilled in his life, so why not those that spoke of His resurrection? I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ because there is no other explanation for the Christian church. The whole message of the early preachers in Acts was the death and resurrection of Christ. There were eyewitnesses galore. Paul says in I Corinthians 15:3, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4) that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5) and that he appeared to Cephas, (Peter) then to the twelve. 6) Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive (so, check it out, Paul is saying), though some have fallen asleep. 7) Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8) Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” You can deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ if you want to, but I must tell you, you have a lot of explaining to do.
The resurrection is the heart of the Christian message. Paul says in I Cor. 15:17, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. When God opened that tomb sometime early that Sunday morning, He provided life with a capital “L”, because life is Jesus Christ. The Open tomb – step one to God and to life.
II. He Opened the Scriptures
Now, let’s get back to our travelers. Luke 24:13, “That very day (greatest day in history) two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14) and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15) While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16) But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”
These two were in Jerusalem and they heard everything about the resurrection. We generally call them the Emmaus disciples, but the name of one is given here in verse 18. His name is Cleopas, and then elsewhere in the gospel accounts, we’re told of a man named Clopas which is almost the same word and names varied in antiquity. Probably they are the same person, and in the other case we are told that Clopas had a wife whose name was Mary, and so probably this is a couple going home. Cleopas and Mary. And they had heard about the resurrection because the women had been at tomb and had come back and told them. They comment in verse 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.” That would have been Peter and John. And we know John believed by that time, and yet, these persisted in their unbelief and they were on their way home. Unbelief is a persistent enemy, Beloved. Their testimony was this: “It is over! We had thought that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” It’s ironic that they said that because, of course, that’s exactly what he was doing. But they didn’t mean that kind of redemption. They meant driving out the Romans, setting them free from the Roman yoke. “We thought He was going to be a political Messiah, and He obviously isn’t. He’s dead.” And so -- Jesus appears to them. But in their unbelief, they still don’t recognize him.
Now, under the circumstances, if it was me, I would have said to them, “Hey, guys, don’t you understand, it’s me. You know, it’s me, Jesus. Right? And if you don’t believe it, look at my hands. Look, there’s the hole, right? That’s where the nails went in. You want to see my side? That’s where they thrust the spear in. Don’t you believe in the resurrection now?” But that is not at all the way that Jesus handled the situation. What He did instead was to preach a sermon. Why a sermon? Why because He realized as taught in Luke 16 that God’s Word is even more powerful than a resurrection.
Scripture is a powerful, powerful thing, Beloved, and Cleopas and his wife thought so too. They were well-versed in Scripture, but Jesus pointed out their problem in verse 25, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” That little word “all” is key. They did what so many do – pick and choose what they want. You can’t do that, you know. You’ll miss all the important parts. And so Jesus preached a sermon. And furthermore, He preached it from the whole of the Old Testament. It must have been quite a sermon because verse 27 says that “beginning with Moses and the prophets he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.” That’s the Jewish way of talking about the whole OT. They have a word for it. The word is Tanakh. Because the T stands for the Torah – that’s the Moses part. And the N stands for the Nevim – that’s the prophets. And then the Ketuvim – well, those are the writings of the Scripture. So when it says that He began with Moses and all the prophets and explained what was said to them in all the Scriptures concerning Himself; it’s a way of saying he preached a sermon and the whole OT was His text.
Now I read something like that and I say, “Boy, I wish I was there to hear that one!” Because here’s Jesus explaining what the Bible is all about. We know what it’s about. It’s about Himself. It’s His Easter sermon. When I look at that and I say Look, beginning with Moses and the prophets and the Scriptures, I wonder what the texts were that He actually pulled out and explained to them.
Now, it doesn’t tell us what those texts were, but I think that there’s a way of knowing. The reason I say that is that after Christ had ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost, immediately these men that He has left behind to be his witnesses begin to preach. And furthermore, they preach with understanding and they preach biblically, and we say to ourselves, “Where in the world did they learn how to do that?” Well, the answer, of course, is that they learned it from Jesus. That’s what He was doing during those forty days, and He began it here. You can’t tell me that on the road to Emmaus as they listened to Jesus Himself, preach from the OT about Himself, that they forgot the texts that He used. They would have said afterwards as they shared that with one another, “You know, He went to that particular passage and you know what He saw there? I had never seen that there before, but this is the way He explained it and it all had to do with Himself and the fact that He had to suffer and rise again,” and another one would say, “Yeah, and when He was with me He went to this text and He taught it this way,” and they began to reflect on those things. During those forty days between the resurrection, the ascension and the coming of Pentecost at the end of the fifty days, what they were doing was studying the Bible, as Jesus had developed it for them during those days.
Now, it’s not hard to find out what the texts were. All you have to do is go to the book of Acts and look at other portions in the NT to see what happens. Here’s Pentecost. The Holy Spirit comes, a huge crowd gathers, they begin speaking in tongues so that everyone hears in their own language and Peter quotes Joel 2 to explain that they are seeing and hearing that prophecy fulfilled on that very day.
And having done that he begins to preach Jesus and he has two texts that explain that. He talks about Psalm 16 quoting verses 8-11. Verse 10 (Acts 2:27) says, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol (the grave), or let your holy one see corruption.” Now, undoubtedly before the teaching of Jesus Christ they read that as any Jew would read it, and they said, “Well, this is David. He’s writing about the future. I don’t quite understand verse 10 there about being abandoned to the grave,” but they wouldn’t have seen any more than that. But now Jesus has explained it and Peter understands it, and so he stands up at Pentecost and he says, “Here is David speaking as a prophet, and he’s not writing about himself. He’s writing about the Messiah who is to come. He’s prophesying the resurrection, because, “Look, he says, you will not abandon me to the grave; you will not let your holy one see corruption. Now David did see corruption, and if you don’t believe it, go open up his tomb. It’s right outside the city there. You can see that. Nobody’s going to question that. But, as you well know, there is also another tomb out there now – and it is empty. So David, writing as a prophet is writing about whom? He must be writing about the Messiah over 1,000 years ago, and all of that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ being resurrected and it’s happened in your lifetime and in your days.” And that empty tomb is the proof.
Then he quotes from Psalm 110:1 -- the verse of the OT that’s most quoted in the NT. David writing says, “The Lord (Jehovah) said to my Lord (who in the world could have been David’s Lord – he was king), sit at my right hand until I made your enemies your footstool.” That was a tough passage for the Jews. Jesus himself had thrown it out to those who were interrogating Him to challenge them. “Can you explain that? Here’s David writing, and he’s talking about one who is His Lord to whom Jehovah is speaking. How could anyone other than God be David’s Lord?” And when Jesus threw out the question, they had no answer to that. They didn’t know how to explain it. But now in the meantime, Jesus has explained it, Peter has learned it and he says, “The answer is obvious. This one who is descended of David, though he’s a son of David, perfectly human through the incarnation, is nevertheless more than a mere human being, He’s God incarnate. So David is saying, “The Lord (Jehovah) said to my Lord (who we now know is none of other than Jesus Christ whom you folks just crucified 7 weeks ago) sit at my right hand (where he is even now) until I made your enemies (that’s you folks) your footstool.” Peter goes on: “This one whom you crucified, God the Father, Jehovah, has made the Lord. And He’s going to be the judge. Furthermore you have to stand before him one day. And what you need to do is repent of your sin and come to Him.” That was the first great sermon. That’s what Pentecost was all about. And that’s why 3,000 of them did indeed repent! And, Beloved, in the very same way, our sin nailed him to the cross. And so we also must repent. Christianity is not the do good religion that most people think it to be. It’s a He’s righteous and you need him faith.
But back to Cleopas and Mary. All the while, as Jesus was sharing these passages and many others that I wish we had time to go to – passages like Psalm 118 and Exodus 32, and especially Isaiah 53 and Genesis 22, showing how they pointed to his death – and his resurrection, I can only imagine that Cleopas and his wife were wondering two things – Why haven’t we ever seen that before? It’s been there all this time. And second – who is this guy? We know for sure what their reaction was because they say in verse 32, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” I love that verse. To have Jesus preaching Jesus on that greatest of all days – were these not two of the most privileged people in history? No wonder their hearts burned within them. He opened the Scriptures and showed them Himself.
III. He Opened Their Eyes
Having opened the Scriptures, we find next that He opened their eyes. As they neared Emmaus, Jesus made as though he would go on, but by now, they were not about to let Him go. They invited Him in (urged Him strongly, v. 29), more than convinced by this time, I believe, that Jesus was alive, but not yet recognizing Him. So we read beginning in verse 30, “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31) And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.” I find it interesting that almost everyone had a little trouble recognizing Jesus at first glance after his resurrection. My own suspicion is that in his new, glorious, resurrection body – the precursor for ours, by the way, He was perfect in every way – every way, that is, except for the scars that were left to be a reminder for all eternity of why we are with Him for eternity. So perhaps he looked a bit younger, a little less careworn, I don’t know, but I know that when he broke bread – thus revealing to them His nail-scarred hands – they got it. Notice verse 35 says, “ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.” Jesus continually used his nail-scarred hands in those remaining days on earth to prove his identity. What a day for Cleopas and his companion. They had seen Jesus who gave them new life because Jesus Christ is life – life with a capital L!
IV. He Opened Their Minds
Of course, Cleopas and Mary didn’t just sit on this information on this greatest of all days. We read beginning in verse 33: “And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem (7 miles back – a lot faster than the original trip, but still probably early to mid-evening by now). And they found the eleven (technical term, for John tells us in 20:24 that Thomas was absent) and those who were with them gathered together 34) saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” (Before they can even tell their story, the gathered group shouts their news, and by now Jesus has at sometime most graciously appeared to Peter who had most resolutely denied him and must have been experiencing the most awful guilt – an event and conversation not recorded but also mentioned by Paul in I Cor 15:5) 35) Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. 36) As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them (oh, to have been there on this greatest of all days), and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37) But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38) And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? (despite everything – still doubts!) 39) 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.” 40) And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41) And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42) They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43) and he took it and ate before them. 44) 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.” 45) Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46) and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47) and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48) You are witnesses of these things.”
Now, don’t miss what happened here. Jesus had previously said in Luke 16, “If you won’t believe the Bible, you won’t believe even if someone comes back from the dead.” Now, he stands before them, absolutely returned from the dead, and still they didn’t believe fully until what? Until he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. Even the Scriptures aren’t enough. They had had them all along. Our minds must be enlightened by God.
Fortunately for us, God is in the mind-opening business if we will give Him the chance. Thomas would absolutely not believe the eyewitness testimony of all his best friends, but when Jesus showed him the scars, he acknowledge, “My Lord and My God.” Then Jesus said to him in John 20:29, “Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” So for us, it’s now a matter of faith. How do we get that? Paul says in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” We start there – with open Scripture. Then Paul says in I Corinthians 2: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— 10) these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” Minds opened, by the Spirit of God. [Possibly leave out]
How would you like to achieve immortality – not by your work, but by not dying? Well, you can! You can! But you have to know Jesus Christ. Jesus said in John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” But you have to come to Him by faith. When I was a lot younger I used to run a Boy’s Brigade program. We had around 40 junior high and high school kids and used to do a lot of backpacking. We also did some rope climbing which was always fun given something we accidentally stumbled onto. We’d give training, and then we’d get the older boys – the high school seniors all hooked up to a belay or safety rope, along with a rappelling rope. Then it was time to go to the actual cliff and back over. If you’ve never done it, there is no way to describe the fear of that first step – even when you know that you are safely attached. I have seen boys stand there for as long as 30 or 40 minutes and never get up the courage to go over. But what was amazing was, you put one of those seventh graders into the same situation and almost inevitably, they went right on over – simply hadn’t had the life experiences to fear as much. Of course, that would absolutely humiliate the older boys and they usually made it with another try.
But the point is, at some point, you have to step out in faith. And, dear friends, it’s the same with Christ. He offers life eternal. He’s done absolutely everything possible to demonstrate the validity of His claims including returning from the dead. But you’ll never come to Him on intellect alone. You must open yourself to the ministry of His Spirit to open your mind to accept the truth of His Word. Have you ever thought of this – what if Cleopas and has companion had never invited Jesus in? They only knew Him after they invited Him in. The scary thing is, it’s possible for God to make absolutely every provision for you salvation, to do all He can do and you can still miss it – because the one thing He will never do is impose Himself on your will. The decision has to be yours. The ropes are there; the cliff of eternity stands before you. Sooner or later you must step over into eternity. The resurrection is God saying – “Step on over with faith in me and Have a great forever”. Don’t, I beg you, do not say to Him, “Thanks, but I have other plans.” Make sure that when your time comes you step into eternity with Jesus Christ, for He, alone, is life eternal. Decide for Him. Decide for Him now. Make this your greatest of all days.