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“And as they thus spake, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And He said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself: handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have. And when He had thus spoken, He showed them His hands and His feet. And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, He said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And He took it, and did eat before them. And He said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning Me. Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. And He led them out as far as to Bethany, and He lifted up His hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen”—Luke 24:36-53.
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Christ’s commissions to His apostles in regard to carrying His gospel to the world were not given all at one time. In Acts 1:2, 3 Luke tells us that during the forty days between His resurrection and ascension the Lord gave commandment regarding their future service, and spoke of many things “pertaining to the kingdom of God.”
The present section is divided into two portions: Verses 36 to 49 give the first appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ in the upper room in Jerusalem, as referred to in John, chap. 20. The last four verses take us to the slopes of Mount Olivet, from which the Lord ascended to heaven.
We read, “As they thus spake.” That is, while the two who came back from Emmaus were telling of their remarkable experience with the risen Lord, Jesus suddenly appeared standing “in the midst,” having entered the room without opening the closed doors. In His resurrection body He was no longer subject to the laws that He submitted to during His humiliation. “And as they thus spake, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.” He said, “Peace be unto you,” for He had made peace by the blood of His cross (Col. 1:20). He had told them long before, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst” (Matt. 18:20). This is always true: wherever there are two or three, or a great gathering met in His name, He is in the midst. I think if Christians realized this more fully we would not be found absent so often from meetings for prayer and worship. We would take every opportunity to meet with our blessed Lord. We would go, not just to meet one another, nor merely to hear the preaching of the Word, nor to enjoy the singing of the hymns, but to be in His holy presence and be occupied with Christ Himself. When He hung on the tree there were two thieves crucified with Him, and Jesus was in the midst. There He took the place of the sinner and bore the judgment that we so richly deserved. And when His disciples were gathered together He appeared “in the midst” of them. When the apostle John beheld the heavenly home he tells us, “In the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6). His place is always in the midst.
The disciples had heard of the testimony of His resurrection from a number of the others; yet it seemed so utterly impossible that some were filled with terror rather than gladness. They supposed they had seen a spirit, that is, a ghost; they thought a phantom had appeared to them. “They were terrified and affrighted.” They could not credit the testimony of their own senses, so little did they understand about His rising from the dead. They thought they beheld a wraith, and that it boded some evil rather than good. Jesus said, “Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?” He checked their disordered thoughts and rebuked them for their distress, which was caused by unbelief. Had they paid careful attention to His words before His arrest, they would not have been troubled now, but would have rejoiced that they were so gloriously fulfilled. He added, “Behold My hand and My feet, that it is I Myself: handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have.” He bade them grasp His arms firmly to feel for themselves that it was no phantom that had appeared to them, but one in a real body of flesh and bones. He did not say “flesh and blood.” The life of the flesh is in the blood (Lev. 17:11). The resurrection body is apparently bloodless. But it is a material body nevertheless—of flesh and bone —though of a character different from the present body. Then He showed them His hands and His feet. John mentions His hands and side and omits His feet. He directed attention to His wounds, for He bore in His resurrection body the scars that told of His suffering, and He will bear them forever as the supreme reminder of His love.
Recently I was preaching in an eastern city, and I went down to visit a mission with the brother in charge. He told me, as we stood by the pulpit, of a remarkable experience he had there a short time before. He said he was standing in the pulpit, and as he looked down the aisle the door .opened, and a strange-looking figure entered, clothed in a long white robe. Coming to where my friend stood, the stranger looked up at him and said, “I have come to take possession. I am the Lord Jesus Christ.” My friend looked at him for a moment; at first he thought perhaps the man was a maniac, and he had better leave him, but instead he asked, “You say you are the Lord Jesus Christ?” “Yes,” was the reply, “and I have come back as I promised I would.” “Let me see your hands,” said the mission man. The visitor held out his hands. “Oh, no; you are not my Saviour; my Saviour has the prints of the nails in each hand.” The man looked hard at him and turned and left. Jesus bears the marks of identification in His wounded hands and feet. He said, “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself: handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and hones, as ye see Me have.” The natural thing to have said is “A spirit hath not flesh and blood.” But our Lord had poured out His precious blood on Calvary to make atonement for us, and His resurrection body had no need of blood to sustain it. “He said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And He took it, and did eat before them.” They were still incredulous; so He undertook to eat before them, so that they might know beyond all doubt that He stood there in a true human body. Thus He made it clear that He was actually present with them in His resurrection body, not simply a glorified spirit.
“And He said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning Me.” The risen Lord here authenticates the entire Old Testament by declaring without any equivocation that all things written in the law, the prophets, and the psalms, concerning Him must be fulfilled. This goes on to His second coming and kingdom. Nothing is to be cancelled. All must take place as written. This is our authority for believing in the literal fulfilment of prophecy. It is a great mistake to spiritualize the prophecies and suppose that God is going to go back on His word.
Then the Lord Jesus Christ did something for the disciples that we would have Him do for us, “Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures.” It is only as the Lord, through His Spirit, opens the understanding of men and women that they can comprehend the truth that God has revealed in His Word. In this chapter, ver. 31, we read, “And their eyes were opened, and they knew Him.” Here we are told that the Lord opened their understanding; and after He had disappeared from the room, the Emmaus disciples said one to another, “Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures?” Link these three together: He opened the Scriptures, their eyes, and their understanding. It is only in this way that we can learn the mind of God. It is a great thing to go back to what is written in the Scriptures. We get so occupied with human theories that we fail to depend on what is written in the Word. “And He said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things.” Jerusalem at that time was the guiltiest city on the face of the earth. Its people had gone so far as to crucify their own blessed, adorable King. One might have wondered if God in His wrath would not wipe that city off the face of the earth; but it was there that He was to begin showing the exceeding riches of His grace. Within a short time three thousand persons were led to accept Christ as Saviour and having accepted Him, were baptized in His Name; that is, by His authority. After beginning in Jerusalem, the apostles were to be witnesses to His resurrection through the entire world. In Acts 1:8 we read, “And ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
Notice that in the commission as given here there are two things that God has joined together: personal repentance and remission of sin. What is repentance? It is nothing meritorious; it is the recognition of the disease that is destroying us. When we acknowledge our sinfulness we are glad to avail ourselves of the salvation God has provided. Then one is ready for the message which tells him that Christ has done for him that which he cannot do for himself. When he puts his trust in Christ he receives remission of sins. To believe in Him is to put your trust in Him, and when you do that you receive remission of sins. How do you know when your sins are forgiven? You must take God at His word; believe it because He says so. It is not because of a happy feeling that you know you are forgiven, but because you know that God cannot lie.
Our Lord added, “And, behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” They were not to go at once, however. The promised Comforter must come first, whom the Father was to send in His name (John 14:26). He would empower them to preach so as to carry conviction to the hearts of their hearers. They were to wait in Jerusalem until this promise was fulfilled. After ten days the Spirit of God came upon them in an absolutely new way. This was their power for testimony. The reason why much of our witnessing does not amount to more than it does is that we witness in our own strength and not in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Following these instructions, “He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands, and blessed them.” In order to reach Bethany one must climb up the Mount of Olives, and then go down a little on the eastern side. The Lord Jesus often visited in Bethany at the home ,of Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. On the mountain-side near this town He lifted up His hands and blessed His disciples, and then ascended to heaven, and a cloud received Him and hid Him from their view. His work on earth was finished, and He returned to the Father and to the glory that He had with Him before the world began.
We are told that they “worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” All questions as to the mystery of His Person were now at an end. They adored Him as the Eternal Son of the Father, and then, in obedience to His word, “returned to Jerusalem with great joy” to await the descent .of the Holy Spirit. “They were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God.” During the tarrying period they seem to have dwelt together in one common home, where they spent time in prayer (Acts 1:13,14), but during the greater part of the days they were found in the temple courts, “praising and blessing God.” It was not, as some have concluded without proper evidence, that a prayer-meeting went on continually for the ten-day period.
The one great fact which is brought before us in this lesson is that we who know Christ as Saviour are responsible to carry the gospel to all the people of the world. It is not for us to enjoy the goodness of the Lord ourselves, while forgetting the need of lost souls all about us, and those in distant lands who are still sitting in darkness and the shadow of death. Nor are we cast upon our own resources in the carrying out of our commission. He who sends also empowers. By the Holy Spirit He fits His servants to go forth, as His anointed heralds, to make known the riches of His grace to men of every nation. Increased blessing comes to the Church at home as her members reach out into the regions beyond. With this Luke closes this account to take it up again in the first chapter of the Book of Acts.
Nothing is more pitiable than to hear Christians arguing about the application of the great commission, while neglecting to obey it. We are responsible to give our generation the opportunity of hearing the gospel. In a future day God will have His witnesses to the nations, but this does not relieve us of present accountability to make known the grace of God everywhere, so far as it is in our power. He who knows the blessing of salvation is called to make Christ known to others even though his circle be a very limited one. All are not gifted preachers or evangelists, but all saved ones can tell someone else of the Lord Jesus and the way of life. If we know Christ for ourselves, are we doing all we can to extend this knowledge to those who are still in their sins? Repentance and remission of sins go together, for when one owns his lost condition, he is prepared to trust the only Saviour. Have we done this?