Text: Luke 24:36-49
Date: Easter III + 4/19/14
To be “open minded” people usually mean that a person is willing to consider all sides of an issue. A person, on the other hand, whose mind is made up and will not give another view even a fair hearing is said to be closed minded. There is one other category, of course. For it can be said or suspected of some that they are so open minded that their brains have fallen out.
We have heard how the first eyewitnesses of the crucified Lord Jesus Christ now risen from the dead were “alarmed” according to St. Mark, “and they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). Today St. Luke reports Jesus’ appearance to his disciples and how “they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a ghost” (Luke 24:37). Last Sunday we heard from St. John how even Thomas, one of the twelve, would not believe that Jesus had risen and appeared to the other eleven until the Lord made a special appearance to Thomas himself. Then, just before our text today, we’re told of the two disciples returning home on the Emmaus road and how, even though Jesus was walking with them, they didn’t recognize Him until He made Himself known to them “in the breaking of the bread.” Today St. Luke reports how Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” When it comes to saving faith Jesus must first make Himself known to you.
Our minds need to be opened. We all have a spiritual problem. You may recall St. Paul’s words, saying, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). According to our fallen nature he says in another place, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor 4:4). When our text says that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” we learn as of first importance that the understanding of faith must be given to us by God the Holy Spirit, and that happens only as He operates in your head and your heart through the outward means of the preached Word of God, the water of Holy Baptism, the Body and Blood of the Lord given in the sacrament, the Word of Absolution spoken to repentant sinners. It is not enough to try to open your own mind just as a blind person will not see even though he opens his eye lids. The problem is deeper than that.
That spiritual blindness threatens the vision of faith constantly. It’s still there in us. So today I’m asking you, do you really believe that Jesus is risen from the dead, that He not only lives and reigns at the right hand of God the Father but that He is also with us, standing among His worshipping disciples, even as he promised?
It would be one thing if the gospel of salvation could be summarized with Jesus Christ coming to earth, teaching, preaching and healing, then suffering death, then rising from the dead and finally ascending back to heaven where He safely and sovereignly reigns at the Father’s right hand until it is time for Him to return again to draw everything to a close. In fact that’s how many view the Savior, safely locked up in heaven somewhere but no longer really, bodily here. But wouldn’t it be something if we should find out, if we should learn and believe that this Christ isn’t absent but is still with us? St. Luke uses the strange phrase how the first disciples, when they saw the risen Lord, “still disbelieved for joy and were marveling.” In other words, that the risen and ascended Lord they saw can still be with us bodily is, as we say, “too good to be true.” But this “too-good-to-be-true” fact is indeed true! Ever since the incarnation wherever Jesus is He is with both His divine and human natures in one Person. That’s the main issue of this ending of St. Luke’s first volume of the gospel. Today we are to understand that the incarnate, crucified, risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ is not absent but is really and truly present in the midst of His worshiping disciples. Today we discover this blessed and amazing truth as our Lord Himself opens our minds to understand the Scriptures as He did the first disciples.
Our Lord says “that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Jesus Christ is the key to truly understanding what was promised and foretold in what we today refer to as the Old Testament. From the beginning Moses describes sacrifices of lambs, beginning with the sacrifice of Abel and those on Jewish altars slain ever since then. So from the beginning is the sign of the Lamb of God who is the sacrifice for sin and His entire Person, divine and with His assumed human body, on the altar of His kingdom that has no end. When we see that the Law of Moses points to Jesus then that Law has accomplished in us that for which it was sent. For instance, the prophecy of Moses pointed to Jesus as he said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen” (Dt 18:15). And sure enough when the disciples saw Moses talking with Jesus at His transfiguration we hear the voice echo from heaven saying, “Listen! Listen to Him!” (Mk 9:7). The Christian heart is moved as when we hear the prophet Isaiah describing the promised Christ some 700 years earlier as the suffering servant with such detail fulfilled in the Lord’s suffering and death on the cross. “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Is 53:5). But then the prophet even foretells also the Lord’s resurrection when he writes, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand” (Is 53:10).
Likewise the Psalms, and especially Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” “All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’” That’s from the psalm not the New Testament! “They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (Ps 22:1, 7-8, 18).
When God opens your mind to understand the Scriptures you live in a whole new world. Jesus calls it “the truth.” And so we gather in worship and first confess that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” But then, on the basis of the mere promise of God’s Word we confess and believe that “if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
Indeed, when God opens our minds to understand the Scriptures, we believe Jesus meant what He said, saying, “This is my body,” “This is my blood.” This is the answer of the true faith to the question of “where is Jesus’ body since He ascended into heaven? Locked up in heaven?” No. Here, the Lamb of God on the altar of the worshipping community of His disciples and in us, the Body of Christ. Only God-given faith can understand this, can believe this.
May the Lord Himself open your minds to understand the Scriptures. May the Lord Himself reveal the truth of His continued presence with you. May the Lord Jesus Himself strengthen your faith and give you confidence, joy, peace and hope.