Text: Luke 24:36-49
Date: Easter III + 4/15/18
I always get tripped up when I read this account of our Lord’s final Easter appearance to His disciples when St. Luke tells us, “they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling.” How can someone disbelieve and yet be happy about it? One commentator suggests this means “a purely emotional response which is so powerful that they are too overwhelmed to really ‘believe’ it in the sense of committing themselves to its reality.” I assume we’ve all experience at some time or another what many call “a mountain top experience,” a moment of spiritual enlightenment not normally experienced in daily life. It may have even led us to say things that are beyond the reality of true faith. The question of this text is do we truly believe or do we still disbelieve though be it for joy? Easter is a happy, even a triumphant celebration with full organ and even full churches with brass and choir and timpani joyfully raising the roof. But then what happens? What happens to the joy we felt when we return to what strikes us as the “same old same old” of our lives? What happens? Disbelief?
Jesus was convincing them that it was really Himself, the same Jesus they had followed and knew; not a spirit or apparition but a human body just like theirs with hands and feet, flesh and bones. He could even still eat (even though He didn’t really need to I assume). But now what is it that can change our disbelief, or anyone’s to real, convinced, committed, vibrant saving faith?
We’re not surprised, of course, at the disbelief of people around us. Especially in these days we see an increase of not only doubt but outright criticism, persecution and even mockery of the Christian faith. During my lifetime, albeit slowly, things began to change as when the government declared prayer to be barred, eliminated from our public schools. Thanks be to God for our even older Lutheran schools which were not affected. But then any instruction in or use of the Bible was and is forbidden. Some say that even the mention of God is to be removed from the national Pledge of Allegiance. Symbols and plaques and statues representing the Ten Commandments, Christmas or other Biblical subjects have been removed. Churches are getting smaller. The theology and teaching of many churches is deteriorating to fit with modern (non)sensibilities, not to mention the public decay of morality especially in the area of sexuality.
Now we’re not done. For it is easier for us to point the finger at others while disguising our own be it private or partial participation. For that we turn to the second section of our text.
To move from disbelief and joy to joyful faith takes having your mind opened to understand the Holy Scriptures of God’s revelation and Word which we still have (thanks be to God) in most translations of the Bible. For it is only by God Himself, the Holy Spirit working in minds and hearts through hearing God’s Word that He creates faith. Right? “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17).
First a person needs to hear the promise of salvation through the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms. Without this background one is always left with wondering what the New Testament and our Lord is really talking about. Then we need to hear the Gospel. Not just happy hopes for good days but how forgiveness of sins and salvation come solely through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For that of course you need first to know who Jesus Christ is to understand why what He has done should mean anything to you.
On the basis of the revelation of these things from God’s Word then, this Gospel needs to be preached and heard. “Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in Christ’s name to all nations.” “You are witnesses of these things,” that is, this is your task, your responsibility.
In order to hear the Gospel of course a person first needs to be told, convinced and believe his or her need for forgiveness. Forgiveness of what? That each person is a sinner and a slave to sin. It is sin that kills and destroys us and the whole world. We talk about sins of thought, word, and deed. Sinful thoughts lead to expressing it in words and then doing it. It may be a child’s angering at his or her parents, or anyone’s dishonor and disobedience to worldly authorities. What about the times when you either thought of hurting or harming someone much less actually doing it. Are the recent shootings and terror attacks really worse than that bit of gossip you yourself participated it? Need we talk about sexual purity and decency, dishonesty, slander or coveting? Or how about the Second Commandment and the modern, social media phrase, “OMG”? Yes, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. God’s judgment against sin includes not only the trouble or suffering you endure now because of it but also that, if it goes unconfessed, unforgiven now, there is a judgment day when those who have ignored or neglected God’s claim of you will be rejected by God in everlasting punishment.
Then, if and when a person realizes his or her true need of forgiveness is the heart opened to hear, to really hear, to love and believe the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins that is to be found in Jesus Christ alone. Most of the time true faith and belief is not experienced in times of joy but through tears of sadness, repentant tears. There is no other way. Yet to your surprise this faith is not difficult to have for it is the gift of God to all who hear. Though our believing may be motivated at times only by occasional joys or temporary fears, we must know that this gift is ours by God’s grace if only we do not ignore or reject it.
Finally, Jesus points to the promise of His Father, that is the Holy Spirit who clothes you with power from on high, that power called faith. “Faith is a mighty, active, living thing,” “a daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times” said Martin Luther.
The good news for us is that you can have both, both saving faith to believe and to be joyful over it. Today with the first disciples we continue to rejoice in the Lord, the risen and living Lord, our Savior, Jesus Christ. The Lord is risen, He is risen, indeed.
 L.T. Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, 402.