(Written by Pastor Tim Redfield)
Luke 24:44-53 – He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
In this text, Luke takes us all the way from Easter Sunday to the day that Jesus ascended into heaven. It begins with Jesus talking to the disciples. Jesus was explaining the scriptures to his disciples. Jesus pointed them back to the Old Testament. He said, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44).
The Bible centers on Jesus. The New Testament authors did not create a new religion when they proclaimed Christ. When we pick up the Old Testament we think of Jesus. Going back to the fall into sin, we see that on that very day, God promised a Savior. Throughout the Old Testament there are prophecies about the Messiah. We hear where he would be born, what he would do, things he would say, and even the fact that he would rise from the dead. Jesus “opened” the disciples’ “minds so that they could understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45).
Jesus explains further, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47). Jesus wants his disciples to focus on this: the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. The disciples were beginning to understand. All these things had been predicted in the scriptures. Good Friday and Easter Sunday had to happen. The messages of repentance and forgiveness go back to the cross. Genuine repentance is sorrow over our sins because our sins nailed Jesus to the cross. Real forgiveness of sins does not depend on us. Rather, real forgiveness was won through the suffering, death and resurrection. This message was going to be preached to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.
Who would preach to all nations? Jesus told the disciples, “You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48). The disciples had seen the events. They were there as the Savior was tortured and crucified. They had seen him alive. They knew that he truly rose from the dead. They were the best choice to spread this news to the world. The best source of information is the one who has seen it firsthand. In a court case, the best witness is the one who saw the events. For a news story, the reporters go and ask the people who were there when it happened. The best way to study history is to read the documents that were written by the people who lived through the events. The disciples are the best choice to spread the news about Jesus.
When we sit down and read the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we see that they are eye-witness accounts. The details are from people who lived through the events. Unfortunately, there are people in this world who claim that the authors of the New Testament made up these stories about Jesus so that they could start a religion. These so-called Biblical Scholars try to claim that there was a historical Jesus that was different than the Jesus that is described in the Bible. They claim that it was only after the death of this historical Jesus that these stories made him into a God. The problem with these Scholars is that they have very poor evidence to back up their claims.
The accounts of the Bible read as history. They do not read like a made-up story. In the gospels, the authors mention their eye-witness sources and they include details to show that they were there. They mention specific locations and historical people that they would have had no reason to mention if they were making things up. The gospels were written a few decades after the resurrection. If people were alive who could have discredited the Bible, they never spoke up.
The authors of the Bible include details that would have been foolish to make up if they were trying to create a new religion. It would have been silly to make up the story of the crucifixion if it never happened. Both Greeks and Jews would have automatically assumed that someone who was crucified was a criminal, even if they were told otherwise. If the authors of the Bible were trying to make Jesus into a religious leader, why did they record him praying in Gethsemane that he wanted to get out of his mission? Why did they have him declare on the cross that his Father had abandoned him? Why did they have women as the first eyewitnesses of the resurrection? Society back then assigned a low status to women – they could not even testify in court. The only reason to include all these details is because they actually happened.
It is reassuring to us to know that we have the eye-witness accounts of what our Savior Jesus said and did. We can be confident that this is not a myth that the authors made up to suit their own needs. The authors of these books, the leaders of the early church, included details about how they appeared to be petty, jealous, slow-witted cowards who failed to obey Jesus. They did not show themselves to be good leaders or even good followers of Jesus. We see their sins. The details that the disciples include assure us that they were reporting the facts. They were not making Jesus into someone that he was not. Jesus truly is our Savior.
As we read the Scriptures we can be confident that they are the inspired Word of God. They are factual and without error. The Scriptures tells us that we are saved from all of our sins through Jesus. Because we have the eye-witness testimony of the disciples, we are also witnesses of Jesus death and resurrection. Through faith, we also have a power from on high.
Jesus told the disciples of the power that they would have. He said, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power form on high” (Luke 24:49). After Jesus ascended the disciples were to wait in Jerusalem for a special power from Jesus. That special power was the gift of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit assures us that the message recorded in scripture is the inspired Word of God. The disciples spoke with the authority of God. They had been blessed by Jesus as he ascended. They would again be blessed with the Holy Spirit and they would have the courage to spread the good news.
After the disciples witnessed Jesus being taken into heaven, they worshiped Jesus and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy. “They stayed continually at the temple, praising God” (Luke 24:53). The disciples realized what a joy it had been to see Jesus ascend. They were beginning to understand the events of the past weeks. They had a powerful message – a message from God himself – the message of sin and grace, the law and the gospel, repentance and forgiveness. Yes we are sinners, but that has all been laid on Jesus. We are now free, free to live a life of thankfulness and joy. We are free from sin and death. We are saved.
The disciples may have been curious about what comes next. They may have wondered what Jesus was up to now that he had gone into heaven. The apostle Paul helps us to understand this in the first chapter of Ephesians. God seated Jesus “at his right hand in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 1:20). “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church” (Ephesians 1:22). Jesus is ruling over all things for the good of his believers. Jesus is in a position of power at God’s right hand. Jesus will make sure that his gospel is spread to the world. He shows his power as he continues to send his Spirit into our hearts to carry the Word to the World.
In the picture language of the book of Revelation, Jesus is described as a rider on a white horse that judges with justice and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire and there are many crowns on his head. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood. A sword comes out of his mouth to strike down the nations. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Our Lord Jesus is the ruler over all things. He will come back in the same way he went into heaven. When he returns he will come as our Judge. On that day, all the unbelievers will be sentenced to an eternity in hell. That day will be frightening for those who failed to recognize the truthfulness of God’s Word.
We, on the other hand, look forward to Jesus’ return. We know that on that day we will be welcomed into eternal glory. God has blessed us with a faith that trusts in his Word. The Holy Spirit has overcome our resistance to God’s Word. We trust the eye-witness accounts. The power of the Word is alive in our hearts. This power is renewed more and more as we meditate upon the wonderful gospel message that has been given to us. We have that same power that Jesus gave to his disciples. We have the power of faith.
Now we take the power from on high, the power of the gospel, and we share it with others. We live our faith by providing for the needs of others. We look for opportunities to serve God and his kingdom. We look at the opportunities right in front of us. We share our faith with our families. We invite our neighbors to come and see the joy that we have in Christ. We provide for the hungry and help the poor. We study scripture and see how God wants us to serve others and to follow his teachings. We have an incredible power. The power of forgiveness frees us from sin and enables us to serve God.