St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Jesus Comes To His Fearful Disciples

Sermon on Luke 24:36-49

Text: While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 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.”
40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.
44 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 Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the 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.”

There are people who suffer from various types of fears or phobias. Some people suffer from arachnophobia, which is the fear of spiders. There are others who have agoraphobia, which is the fear of crowds. Still others have claustrophobia, which is the fear of closed in spaces. For some people, who suffer from these various phobias, it is a minor irritation, which can be overcome or tolerated. For others, these phobias are incapacitating, so that they cannot move. Fears are a very real part of our lives. This morning, as we again go to the room with the disciples that first Easter evening, we will observe how JESUS COMES TO HIS FEARFUL DISCIPLES. First of all, we note that 1. Their Fears Were Very Real. Then, we will see 2. Jesus Removed All Of Their Fears.

We normally think of Easter as a day of joy, and it certainly is for us today. However, that first Easter was filled with fear. It began with the Roman soldiers who shook and became like dead men at the sight of the angels who came and rolled the stone away from the tomb’s entrance. Then there were the women who came to the tomb and saw the angels who told them that Jesus had risen. We read in Mark 16, “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb.” (Mark 16:8) Finally, we come to the disciples who were in the room, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews. Certainly, they had heard the reports that had come from various sources who said that they saw Jesus alive. Yet, here they were, trembling behind locked doors.

They were talking about the events of the day, when Jesus suddenly came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” (verse 36) Luke tells us, “They were startled and frightened.” (Verse 37) First of all, they were startled. After all, out of nowhere, Jesus is standing there in front of them. You would be startled, too, if someone suddenly appeared to you out of thin air. Luke adds that they were frightened. The vague fog of fear that had permeated the day suddenly intensified when Jesus stood among them. This was almost the straw that broke the camel’s back. The men were terrified at Jesus’ presence among them. It is also quite possible that Jesus’ presence brought terror to their hearts because it stirred up their consciences. Jesus had been right. Despite their objections that they would never leave him, they had run like rabbits in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Doubts still lingered in their minds, even after they saw Jesus. How could they be sure that he was real? How could they be sure that they were not seeing a ghost? It says in verse 41, “They still did not believe it.” Perhaps, they were thinking that this was too good to be true, or that they could not believe their eyes. There was a great struggle going on in the disciples’ hearts between the joy of believing and the dread of being deceived. Even though Jesus was standing right there in front of them, they still had their doubts and fears. These fears were more than just inconvenient. They were incapacitating. They were very real.

What are the things that are causing you fear right now? Perhaps, it is something that is going on in your life that you have no idea how it will turn out. You look at the situation over and over, but there does not seem to be a way out. Perhaps, there is a particular sin that you have committed that continues to plague you. You go over and over in your head what you have done. You know that God is a righteous God who does not look the other way when sin is committed. Scriptures are clear when it says that we deserve to be punished by our God for our sins. Is there a sin that you have committed that causes you to fear? What about death? There are many things that we wonder about when we think of death. Perhaps, the devil even comes in and causes you to doubt that there is such a thing as heaven and eternal life. He tries to get you to doubt if you will have eternal life. These fears, and others like them, are very real to us. Sometimes they may cause us to be troubled. Sometimes they may be truly incapacitating. My dear friends, if the disciples had to struggle to overcome their unbelief, even with their risen Lord standing right in front of them, who are we to suppose that our fight against fear and doubt will be easily or quickly won?

Yet, we are thankful that our Lord does not just dismiss us in our moments of weakness or doubt. We see this in the gentle ways he reassured his disciples. First, Jesus showed them his hands and feet. He told them to touch him and see for themselves that he had risen. Then, because doubts still filled their minds, Jesus asked if they had anything to eat. After they gave Jesus a piece of broiled fish, he ate it in their presence. Jesus did this so that there would be no doubts about his resurrection, both at that moment and in the days to come. Jesus gave them very real, physical evidence that he had risen.

Then, Jesus did something else for them to relieve them of their fears. We read in verse 44, “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.” Jesus went back to the Scriptures and showed them that everything that had happened to him was exactly the way it was supposed to happen. He took them on a journey, starting with the fall into sin, which condemned the whole world. Yet, right on the heels of that first sin, there came the first promise of a Savior, who would crush the power of the devil. Jesus walked his disciples through all those prophecies that foretold what Jesus would do. For example, there is the verse from Isaiah 53, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) There is the verse from Psalm 16, which foretold the resurrection of the Messiah, “My heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.” (Psalm 16:9&10) Luke tells us that, “He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” (Verse 45) Jesus summarized all that was written about him in the Old Testament by saying, “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. You are witnesses of these things.” (Verses 46-48) Jesus took them back to his Word and, through it, calmed any lingering fears that they might still have.

Jesus comes to us in the same way to calm our fears. He does not come and stand in front of us and show us his hands and feet. He does not eat a piece of fish in our presence. He comes to us in his Word and calms our fears. When we find ourselves faced with our doubts and fears about sins that we have committed, Jesus takes us, in his Word, and shows us his blood-stained cross, and reminds us that he suffered and died there to pay for our sins. He paid for all our sins, not just the little white lies that we might tell, the little acts of selfishness that we display. He paid even for those sins that our consciences seem continually to bring before us. Jesus points us back to his Word and shows us that, when he died on the cross, he paid our entire debt before his Father. He says, “Peace be with you,” reminding us that we are at peace with God.

When we find ourselves facing the fear of death, Jesus takes us, in his Word, to the empty tomb. He bids us look inside and see for ourselves that he is not still there. Through the eyes of faith, we see and with the hands of faith we touch the risen hands of our Lord. We thrill to hear the angels remind us that Jesus has arisen. When those doubts and fears about death come stealing into our hearts, we rejoice to hear Jesus tell us, “Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19) He is living. We will live again. We find our comfort in his words, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2&3) Jesus lives to calm our fears about death and the hereafter.

Jesus also calms our fears about the here and now. Though we may not see the answer at this moment, we have Jesus’ assurance that he will continue to care for us. First, Jesus reminds us that, since he has taken care of our eternal welfare, he will surely take care of our physical welfare, as well. He tells us in Matthew 6, “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ . . . Your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” (Matthew 6:31) He also promises us that we will never have to walk through the shadowy valleys on our own. He tells us, “Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Just as Jesus has taken away our fears about our sins and our eternity, he also takes away our fears about our day to day lives.

It would be wrong for us to say that the Christian never has any fears or doubts. Since we are human, we will have them from time to time. Yet, because we are Christians, they need not overwhelm us or incapacitate us. We have a risen Lord, who has conquered all things for us. Because Jesus lives, we have confidence, both for this life and for the life to come. Indeed, we join with the hymn writer and sing, “He lives to silence all my fears; He lives to wipe away my tears. He lives to calm my troubled heart; He lives all blessings to impart. He lives, all glory to his name! He lives, my Jesus, still the same. Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives: ‘I know that my Redeemer lives!’” (CW 152 v. 5&8) Amen.