To All Nations: Reasons for Confidence in the Mission of God (Luke 24:36-53)

(The following is a transcript of a sermon I preached on Sunday, July 3 at West Rome Baptist Church in Manitou Beach, MI.)

Luke 24:36–53

[36] As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” [37] But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. [38] And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? [39] See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” [40] And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. [41] And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” [42] They gave him a piece of broiled fish, [43] and he took it and ate before them.

[44] Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” [45] Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, [46] and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, [47] and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. [48] You are witnesses of these things. [49] And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

[50] And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. [51] While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. [52] And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, [53] and were continually in the temple blessing God. (ESV)

Introduction:

            Our confidence to see a thing accomplished is often directly tied to our trust in the person accomplishing the task. I enjoy cooking, and my wife and I share that task in our home. If it can be grilled or fried, I’m up for the task, confident in my abilities. But if it needs to be baked or boiled, I’m much more confident in her. I can confidently do a few basic car-related tasks. I can change oil and tires, but engines and transmissions are beyond me. Those are entrusted to the professionals.

            What happens when your trust and confidence is proved false in another, or in yourself? Either you despair and are hopeless, or you seek out a greater source of confidence. C. S. Lewis’ character Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe experienced this as he betrayed his siblings and trusted his own instincts and desires in serving the white witch. He is eventually rescued and reunited with his family, but still the witch accuses him before Aslan, the lion.

            “You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch. Of course, everyone present knew that she meant Edmund. But Edmund had got past thinking about himself after all he’d been through and after the talk he’d had that morning. He just went on looking at Aslan. It didn’t seem to matter what the Witch said.[1]

            Isn’t that such a rich picture of what it looks like to be confident in the work of another to accomplish for us what we never could for ourselves? Just like we sing in the old hymn:

When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within,

Upward I look and see him there, Who made an end of all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died my sinful soul is counted free,

For God the Just is satisfied to look on him and pardon me.[2]

Exposition:

            Today, from Luke 24, we will see five reasons for confidence in the global mission that God is accomplishing. By confidence, I don’t mean arrogance. And I’m not oblivious to the many things that make missions hard. I’m not avoiding those to paint a rosy picture. But the end of Luke’s gospel draws our attention to the certainty of the success of God’s mission in spite of whatever difficult opposition we may face in it.

  • 1. The Resurrection of Jesus (36-43)
    • Resurrection is central. In Paul’s classic and crucial defense of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, he states that if Christ is not raised from the dead, then we who believe that he has been raised are of all men most to be pitied. Christians are either the most faithful people in the world or we are the most foolish people in the world, and the determining factor for which side we land on is whether or not Jesus rose from the dead. And because resurrection is central to Christianity, it is essential to Christian missions. If Jesus has not been raised from the dead, don’t be a missionary, and don’t send or support others to go. If Jesus is not risen, there are far better uses for your time and money than spreading word that he is, and few worse uses for them. But if he has been raised, then friends, there are few if any better uses for our lives and resources than spreading this news among the nations.
    • Resurrection requires death. Resurrection only happens when death comes first. Death is an uncomfortable reality, but it is a reality. In that same chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians, Paul writes that death is an enemy. Yet he assures the believers that for them, it is a defeated enemy, one that will soon be put away forever.
      • The irony is that to defeat death Jesus first had to succumb to it. And to die, Jesus first had to become human. Throughout his gospel account Luke is trying to convince us that Jesus really was born and that he really lived and that he really died. The glory of the resurrection was preceded by his humble incarnation and his humiliating suffering (Luke 24:26). The author of Hebrews confirms this in Hebrews 2.
        • Jesus “for a little while was made lower than the angels” and was “crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (v. 9).
        • Jesus partook of flesh and blood “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death…and deliver all those who…were subject to lifelong slavery” (vv. 14-15).
        • Jesus “had to be made like his brothers in every respect…to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (v. 17).
    • Resurrection is real. Luke explicitly shows Jesus, who had been dead, doing what only living people can do, such as:
      • Standing (36)
      • Speaking, including asking questions and offering comfort (36, 38-39, 41)
      • Inviting touch (39)
      • Showing his hands and feet (40)
      • Being hungry, taking food, and eating it (41-43)
    • The reality of the resurrection stirs up certain emotions for those who believe it. Jesus means for his resurrection to be a source of peace for his followers (36). He intends that his resurrection alleviate their troubles and doubts (38). The resurrection brings joy to those who rightly marvel at it (41).
    • The good news of the resurrection is the main message of missions. If you look through Luke’s sequel to his gospel in the book of Acts, you see over and over again the earliest missionaries evangelizing on the basis of the fact of the resurrection and seeking to establish churches grounded in that reality.
      • A few years ago I was teaching through the book of Acts with our youth ministry, and I was noticing how central the resurrection is to so many of Paul’s arguments, particularly as he’s on trial before Felix and Agrippa in Acts 24-26. I won’t rehearse the whole study for you now, but I thought it might be helpful to make note of some of these comments.
        • The hope in God from the Law and the Prophets is that there will be a resurrection from the dead (24:14-21). Without a resurrection there is no hope. What are your ultimate hopes?
        • The dispute against Paul focused on whether or not Jesus had been raised from the dead (25:19). Do people dispute you because you are foolish or faithful?
        • The promise made by God to his people depends on the resurrection, therefore it should be unusual to not believe in it (26:6-8). If no resurrection, God is a liar.
        • The message from the prophets and Moses is that the Christ would suffer and then rise from the dead (26:22-23). If no resurrection, the Scriptures are false.
        • The confidence of belief in the resurrection is based in its truthfulness and reasoning (26:25-26). For a Jew (and a Christian) it is unreasonable to not believe in the resurrection. Do you need proof? There’s no proof, but there is reasoning.
      • There are many good things that can be done in the name of missions. But first and foremost must be the proclamation of the gospel and the resurrection of Christ at its core.
    • Resurrection is the future for every believer. Again, Paul’s 15th chapter to the Corinthians is so helpful. He asserts, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (20-22). I don’t know if you think of your future in heaven like this, but I hope you do. Our eternity will be bodily. We won’t remain spirits forever. The resurrection of Jesus means that one day the grave will have no more success holding your body than it did holding his.
  • 2. The Fulfillment of Scripture (44-48)
    • The whole Bible is about Jesus (44-45).
      • Earlier in Luke 24, as Jesus walked with two disciples on the Emmaus road, Luke records how “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (v. 27). Jesus even went so far as to say that these men were “foolish…and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (v. 25). In other words, they hadn’t correctly read and interpreted the Old Testament. If they had, they would have seen how the people and patterns and practices and events and institutions and types in the OT were pointing forward to what Jesus fulfilled not only in his words and actions while he was alive, but also in his death and resurrection.
      • So both to those men and to the larger group of disciples here in verses 44-45, Jesus teaches them how to correctly read and interpret those OT scriptures. He says that it all was “written about me.” They are Christ-centered in whole and in each part, whether the writings of Moses or of the prophets or of the psalmists. When you read the OT, seek to pick up on what expectations the writers are building. Ask yourself how those passages anticipate their ultimate fulfillment in Christ.
      • By way of example consider these prominent themes.
        • The writings of Moses preview the seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent, the offspring of Abraham through whom every nation on the earth would be blessed, the sacrificial lamb offered in place of the people for the forgiveness of their sins, the lion from the tribe of Judah, the scepter that rises out of Israel to crush the forehead of the enemy, and the prophet like Moses who would speak the words of God, to whom the people should listen.
        • The Prophets depict a Son of Man seated at the right hand of God to whom was given everlasting dominion and authority, a child who would be born the increase of whose government will never cease, a fountain of living water, the righteous branch of David who will reign as king, deal wisely, and execute justice and righteousness in the land.
        • The Psalmists sing of a blessed man whose delight is in the law of the LORD, a Son begotten of God who has the nations as his heritage and the ends of the earth his possession to rule them with a rod of iron, in whose presence there is fullness of joy and at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore, the one forsaken by God and betrayed by his friends, the king and high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
      • These are but a few of the ways that we are helped to center the OT narratives and poems and discourses on the person of Jesus.
    • Christ fulfilled the biblical pattern of suffering then glory (45-46). Because the Bible is a Christ-centered text, it’s not surprising that the pattern of Jesus’ life reflects many who came before him. We could ask, “In what sense can Luke record and Jesus say that ‘it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead’?” After all, there’s not a direct statement like that in the OT. And I think the answer is that even though there’s not a matching scriptural statement there are several matching scriptural patterns.
      • Joseph was rejected by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused, and wrongfully imprisoned before being exalted to the right hand of the throne in Egypt.
      • “Moses was rejected by his Hebrew kinsman (Exod 2:11-14; Acts 7:23-29), and Pharaoh sought to kill him (2:15).”[3] The nation of Israel “grumbled against him…and even sought to put him to death.”[4] His own brother and sister even opposed him before he eventually led the nation to the brink of the land God had promised, identifying Moses as a prophet like unto whom none had arisen after.
      • Other examples could be given, but even with these two we can see that this pattern of “rejection then exaltation” or “suffering then glory” is prominent among God’s people in the OT. It should not surprised us then, that such was the case for Jesus as well. He was “at least initially, rejected by his brothers.”[5] He was betrayed, falsely accused, and put to death before being lifted from the pit and raised to sit at the right hand of the throne of God. It is in these ways that such things were written.
      • And according to statements made by both Paul and Peter, it should not surprise us when our lives follow the same pattern. Do not be surprised when fiery trials come upon you, because through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.
    • The scriptures testify to the knowledge of God spreading around the world (47-48). Not only is it “written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead” (v. 45), but according to Luke’s record of Jesus’ next statement, it is also written “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (47). The book of Acts, also written by Luke, is often described as a missionary book. Because of the missions emphasis of Paul’s letters and John’s visions of the nations in Revelation, some even go so far as to identify the whole NT as a missions text. But verse 47 makes the case, and I think it’s a convincing one, that even the OT is a missions document. And if that’s the case, then we can rightly conclude that indeed the whole Bible has missions as a prominent theme.
      • From the very beginning God intends for his name and image and glory to spread throughout the whole earth, as seen in his command to Adam in Genesis 1 that he “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over” what walks and crawls and swims on the earth (Gen 1:28).
      • God promised Abraham that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him (Gen 12:3).
      • In Psalm 22:27-28, David taught Israel to sing, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.”
      • And in Psalm 46:10, the Lord instructs them, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
      • Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord promises Israel, “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (49:6).
      • And Malachi records the Lord’s statement, “From the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts” (1:11), and “I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations” (1:14).
      • When Jesus tells his followers in v. 48, “You are witnesses of these things,” he seems to mean that they have seen salvation accomplished and forgiveness of sins secured through what he had done and now they are to proclaim such to the nations in fulfillment of what the Scriptures testified.
      • Just as everything concerning Christ in the Scripture was fulfilled, so we can be confident that everything concerning the glory of God among all the nations will be fulfilled.
  • 3. The Power of the Holy Spirit (49)
    • The command for the apostles to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth in Acts 1:8 is strengthened by the promise that the power of the Holy Spirit would come upon them.
    • Jesus doesn’t leave us alone to just do the best we can in the great commission. He sends his Spirit, so that we have the presence of God with us and in us as we make disciples of all nations.
  • 4. The Expectation of Christ’s Return (50-51)
    • Again, the statements here at the end of Luke dovetail with the beginning of the book of Acts.
    • Angels came to the place from which Jesus ascended and asked the crowd there, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
    • Jesus himself assured his followers in Matthew 24:14 that “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
    • Why might it seem to us that Christ is delayed in his coming? Because the task of missions is not yet done. Christ is patient and longsuffering, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. Which is why we proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins. And as we do, we can be confident that God is drawing his people to himself, and that the day of Christ’s return is drawing near.
  • 5. The Activity of the Church (52-53)
    • The joyful worship of the believers at the temple in Jerusalem once again previews how the church is portrayed in the early chapters of Acts.
      • It was at the temple that the first converts within the congregation at Jerusalem “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of break and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). They daily interacted at the temple for worship and prayer and fellowship and meals and hospitality as “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (2:47).
      • “And every day in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” (Acts 5:42).
    • Matthew’s record of Jesus’ commission records how they were to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20). In other words, do for others what I have done for you. Where is it that Jesus’ followers are baptized, and that people are taught to obey Jesus’ commands? Most commonly these things happen in local churches. Every time you gather as the people of God on the Lord’s Day you are, even in what may seem like a small way, fulfilling the great commission. Every gathering of the church is a step toward and a preview of that day when every tribe, tongue, people, and nation will be gathered around the throne of God. So let us confidently assemble and worship and pray and go and send so that more churches can be planted around the world for the glory of God.

Conclusion:

            Why are we especially confident in these things? Because these are things only achievable by God. By placing our confidence in these things, we affirm our trust in God, not ourselves. God does not guarantee the success of your specific local church, but he does of his global church. He does not guarantee the well-being of my missions team, but he does guarantee that his mission will succeed. So our trust and confidence are in him. To him alone be the glory forevermore.


[1]C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1950), 141.

[2]Charitie Lees Bancroft, “Before the Throne of God Above,” 1860.

[3]James M. Hamilton Jr., Typology—Understanding the Bible’s Promise-Shaped Patterns: How Old Testament Expectations are Fulfilled in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2022), 178.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Ibid., 179.


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