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The disciples returned--full of joy and praise and love for God. Now that's an ending worthy of the Gospel!
Then Jesus said to them [his eleven disciples and the others with them], "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me. He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.
He said, "It was necessary for the 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 to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high."
He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He blessed them, He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. They worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen.
Luke 24:44-53 NKJV, condensed
This time when Jesus parted from his disciples, there was a finality about it. Yet they were filled with joy! Full of praise to God! Continuous praise! What had happened to them? How did these men and women advance from being fearful disciples hiding in some upper room, to being overjoyed in full public view in the temple courtyards!
The text says Jesus opened their understanding. What in the world did he explain to them that would bring on this hallelujah chorus! For one thing, Jesus showed them it wasn't their fault that he was crucified. There was nothing they could have done to stop the grave injustice because, as Jesus said, it was necessary for him to suffer and be resurrected.
Jesus' words freed them from all guilt for not defending and protecting him. Since it was God's plan that Jesus died, a great weight fell off their shoulders. That issue was closed and they could move on to the surprises Jesus had in store for them.
While they listened intently, Jesus turned to the ancient writings of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. It was a comprehensive lesson on how God works, mostly behind the scenes and out of sight. Jesus might have highlighted the unique history of their forefathers and mothers who, made in the image of God, learned to distinguish God's voice from all other voices. These were the men and women who longed for a Messiah to save them from oppressive superpowers and establish God's justice and righteousness on earth.
Jesus showed his disciples that suffering, even his death on a cross, has a purpose. He assured them the victory of God's salvation would belong, not with the powerful and the strong, but to the humble souls who seek God's face above all others.
Next, Jesus restored them to a place of honor. They would be his primary witnesses. Having already spent three years with Jesus, they had seen and heard a lot, firsthand. They knew the individual stories of those who resisted Jesus and others whose lives were transformed by a simple touch from Jesus' hand.
But mainly, Jesus was concerned that his message of repentance and forgiveness not be lost. Jesus began his ministry with the word, "Repent!" And it was still on his lips as he passed the mantle to his beloved disciples. It's a word we must not ignore in our generation, either. How often we are on the wrong road, heading in the wrong direction, with our back toward God. When we repent we turn around and move toward our loving heavenly Father--while he runs to meet us! It's a scene that evokes happy tears, sometimes uncontainable joy, in heaven and on earth.
Jesus doesn't want any of his people to be living under a burden of sin. His voice rings out, "Repent!" If and when we are wise, we will turn away from sin and ask Jesus to forgive. Repentance sets us free. Free to sing hallelujahs like the disciples in this text. Next came a promise with a capital P.
From other scriptures, we know this to be the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, the Power from on high. Always and forever, God would make his followers able to do what he asks them to do. The strength, the wisdom, the courage will be there when they need it. But first they must wait in faith and expectation.
Did the disciples deserve to receive all this--the trust, the responsibility and blessing? Worthiness didn't matter. God loved them, unconditionally. Worthy or not. Ready or not. Adequate or not. The Spirit will come and work in and through all who are willing.
Then they took a walk, as far as Bethany, a village two miles from Jerusalem. There Jesus performed his final earthly act. He blessed his followers who now were becoming leaders. While he blessed them, they saw him ascend into the heavens. With emotions overflowing, they dropped to their knees in worship. They rose from this sacred ground as new men and women who were full of joy, praise and love for God. Expectant, yet not really knowing what to expect, they returned to Jerusalem to wait for the Promise.
[Luke continues the Gospel story in his sequel, Acts.]
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: When, where, or why do you feel like singing a hallelujah chorus?
Think of a time when someone explained something to you in a way that finally made sense. How do such insights usually happen for you?Has anyone ever awakened your interest in some verse or part of the Bible? If so, describe that experience.
Jesus had some explaining to do about how his life, death and resurrection fulfilled holy scriptures. Read an Old Testament scripture such as Isaiah 53, Isaiah 9:6-9, or Psalm 22. Look for specific words or phrases which remind you of Jesus. How could it happen that these words, written hundreds of years before Jesus' birth, describe the experience of Jesus?
One basis for the Lamb of God concept is Exodus 12:1-14. Notice the images of bondage, the lamb without blemish, bitter herbs, haste, judgment, sacrificial blood, deliverance and the start of a new journey. How do these images fit with your church's doctrine of salvation?
Jesus believed his sufferings served the purposes of God. Could you say the same thing about your own sufferings? Why or why not?.
One of the surprises for Jesus' disciples was that they were to preach, not only to fellow Jews, but to people in all nations. How would this directive change the way they thought about themselves? How they thought about Gentiles? And how they thought about God?
People always received from Jesus according to their faith. Would the same be true for receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit? Both Matthew and Luke allude to the ever-abiding presence of Jesus for those who carry forward the ministry of Jesus. In what ways do you participate in the ministry of Jesus? Is Jesus with you at all times, or just when you are doing his work?
Discuss how this final text from Luke is like a graduation season of endings and beginnings. Is there anything ending or beginning in your life? Or maybe in your spiritual life? How do you account for the joy of the disciples despite the fact that Jesus ascended and left them here on earth to continue his work? <Prev