The first time Jesus appears to anyone in Luke’s version of the story is on the road to Emmaus. Two of his followers, Cleopas and his friend, don’t recognise Jesus as he walks along with them, but when he breaks bread they see that it is Jesus… and then he’s gone.

They rush back to Jerusalem to tell the others. But can you imagine hearing that story?

We were just walking along and this stranger appeared and we started telling him all about what had happened to Jesus and he talked to us about the scriptures. When we got to our home he was going on further, but it was almost dark so we invited him in for a meal. When he broke the bread it was like… it was… well… it was Jesus!!!

So where is he then?

Well… He vanished.

And there’s where the story falls apart, isn’t it?
You can just imagine the prosecutor in a court room turning and smiling at the jury…
‘He just… vanished…’
No further questions, your honour.

That’s the context for our story today. A sketchy story about meeting a stranger who turned out to be Jesus and who vanished as soon as they recognised him.

The disciples are still in the upper room wondering what on earth to do and what to make of Cleopas’ story and Jesus appears.

He’s right there, all of a sudden. In the midst of them.

“Peace be with you”, says Jesus.

And they are terrified. Scared out of their minds. And who wouldn’t be?

“Peace be with you”. The Hebrew word is “Shalom”. As with most words like this Shalom means so much more than ‘peace be with you’. Shalom means peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness… Shalom means reconciliation with God. What greeting could be more appropriate in these circumstances!

All that denial and betrayal. All the hurt and guilt and loss and shame… all of it put aside. Shalom.

I was listening to a podcast from Carey Nieuwhof and the topic was how we change our minds. Adam Grant was the guest. Adam teaches at Harvard and is a organisational psychologist and writer and as part of the conversation he asked Carey about his preaching style. There’s an assumption that’s kind of baked in to preaching; that most of the people listening to a sermon like this already believe in Jesus. I’m not really trying to change anyone’s mind…. It’s more about explaining or opening up something new. Or is it?

It turned into a great conversation as they explored together the ways in which we all have things we believe… and things we don’t. And of course we all have the things we try hard to believe but really struggle with. In our world of fake news and conspiracy theories they talked about how you can engage with people who still hold problematic views, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

One of Carey’s preaching tips was to always try to anticipate the objection. So, when he’s writing his sermon he’ll be mindful of the points people will be thinking, sure… like that really happened! Or… but that’s not what I’ve been told that means!

He’s noticed that when you make a point that raises some of those kinds of questions people get stuck there with their question. They don’t hear the next bit. Carey has found that even just acknowledging those questions as they arise helps people not get stuck there, but to follow on to what comes next, which is often the answer to the question that people wouldn’t hear because they are stuck.

He’ll say, Sure, I know what you’re thinking… but go with me on this because there’s something helpful coming along in a minute….

Or, as Jesus says, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’

Don’t get stuck at this bit. It’s one of the biggest questions about the resurrection, isn’t it. What is Jesus like? Is he a ghost? Is he flesh and blood? This is one of those stories that’s an account of what happened but also an encouragement for all those who were not in the room, like you and me.

Luke wants to answer the questions that we get stuck with and this is a question that perplexed the disciples, the early church, and it’s a question we are still puzzled by. What was the risen Jesus really like?

Luke answers the question. Flesh and blood. See, he even eats! Ghosts don’t do that! And that should be enough. But we still puzzle over things like whether Jesus has wounds, or scars or was completely healed. It’s hard for us to wrap our minds around something so unusual. But when we get stuck there we miss the next part… and the next part is important. Really important.

Jesus wants to listen to their questions and to explain what has happened, but more than that, he puts it all in a much greater context.

Understanding all this stuff is important.

He takes them through the scriptures and points to all the things they have heard before but this time he helps them to connect them all together. To see where the story was heading… and to realise that the conclusion, the Messiah, is sitting there among them. he helps them to rethink.

And then… then he tells them this:

‘This is what is written: the Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.’

The story isn’t over.
This isn’t the final chapter.
It’s not enough that the Messiah had suffered
and had risen from the dead…
there’s more.
So much more.

I mentioned the podcast I was listening to about changing minds.
That’s what repentance means.
To think again.
To change your understanding.

Repentance is important because this all sounds like too much, doesn’t it?
A dead man who is alive?
That just doesn’t happen.

But resurrection is more than resuscitation. This is a story where that flesh and bone reality is at the centre of everything. And that matters!

But Jesus is also more than that. He is God’s son. Fully human and fully divine.

The big question for us, I think, is what does it mean to live in a world where resurrection is a reality?

To get our heads around that we’re going to have to do a lot of re-thinking! Just like those disciples did!

Perhaps one way to help us to understand is to see what happens to the disciples next because the reality of resurrection is as much about us as it is about Jesus…

Luke was so interested in what happened next that he wrote a book all about it… Acts. The Acts of the Apostles. The sequel… part 2… The what happened next…

In chapter 3… just weeks after this encounter with Jesus, Peter and John healed a man. I know, right. The people didn’t believe it either. They couldn’t understand how it had happened. How could two fishermen from Galilee heal a man who had been unable to walk his whole life?

Peter tells them: “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord”

There it is… witnessing. Telling the truth about what happened. Preaching the forgiveness of sins for everyone. Helping people to rethink. To repent.

When people hear that resurrection is real it allows them to see things in a new way.
To rethink.
To leave behind some stuff that they have been carrying for too long.
To step into a new world where guilt and shame and regret and fear don’t hold sway and don’t have the last word.

That’s why resurrection matters.
It matters to you and to me.
It matters because it changes us.
It matters because it changes everything.

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