Really? Yes, Really, It is Jesus – Luke 24:36-43
By: Northern Seminary
Is it possible to back away from something because it’s so wonderful you find it hard to believe that it can be real? Certainly we should be nervous about some offers of sure-fire financial success. But even when we should believe, sometimes we don’t. ‘Is it really this good?’ we ask ourselves.
If you doubt that can happen, check with everyone who has met the person of their dreams but found it hard to commit. I’m one of them. I’d fallen in love with the person with whom I wanted to share my life, and yet I kept asking myself, ‘Can this be real?’ Alison was patient, and Alistair eventually got there. And it was as real and as wonderful as I always knew it would be. But the very thing that should have propelled me forward, initially made me take a step back.
A reaction like that is part of the next phase of Luke’s account of how the disciples met with the risen Jesus.
36 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.
Luke presents his story here in six short phases or steps.
One, Jesus is suddenly among the disciples – verse 36.
Before this moment stories of Jesus being raised back to life belonged to just a few people. The disciples gathered in that room had listened to the reports of women who went to the tomb and heard a message from angels that Jesus was alive. They also knew that Jesus had appeared to Simon, and they’d just learned he had been recognized by the two who’d hurried back from Emmaus.
But, for most gathered there, all this was just theory.
No more. Suddenly Jesus was there. He was right there.
While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (v. 36)
We don’t know how many believers were together, but probably quite a large number.
We don’t know what time this happened, but most likely late in the evening of the same Sunday.
For an hour or two they have all been very excited. Probably the room is a buzz of conversation, everyone wanting to hear from those who had seen Jesus. Then one or two realize there is another figure in the room, then others see him, and the conversation begins to quieten. Others turn round, and they hush their voices as well. He is there. No one saw him enter and no one heard him enter. But he’s there. And he says, “Peace be with you.”
It would be hard to overstate how overwhelming that moment was for the believers in that room.
Two, the disciples are terrified – verse 37.
They knew Jesus hadn’t come in when others had entered. They knew the doors were shut. So how could he be there? And from their youngest they’d known the basic laws of nature—that a dead man doesn’t come back to life, so he can’t be there.
Therefore, surprised and filled with fear, they reached a crazy but understandable conclusion.
“They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.” (v. 37)
Despite the good news a few among them had brought, and being caught up in the excitement and emotion of that news, the majority were not mentally or spiritually ready for Jesus to be there. So the word went round, “This isn’t real. It’s not actually Jesus. It’s a ghost.” Not really him, just an apparition, a phantom, a bodiless spirit.
Three, Jesus tells them their doubts are unnecessary – verse 38.
“Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?” (v. 38)
There is a mild rebuke in those words, because there are at least two reasons why they should neither have been worried nor doubtful. For one thing, Jesus had told them several times he would rise from the dead. For another thing, others among the believers had already reported that he was alive. He’d told them and they’d told them.
But there are things none of us believe until it’s our own experience. It could be something as mundane as the taste of the steak at a particular restaurant or as sublime as the breathtaking view at dawn from the top of a hill. “I never realized it would be like this,” we say.
No matter what they’d heard before, these believers had never realized that seeing Jesus again would be like this. In theory they shouldn’t have been overwhelmed, but initially this personal experience was more than they could take in.
Four, Jesus shows he has a real body – verses 39-40.
Jesus wanted them to have no doubt that he was really standing there, and no doubt that he was physically raised from death – in other words, no ghost – so he put his body on display to them.
“Look at my hands and my feet,” he said. “Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (v. 39)
In later times there would be people who argued that Jesus was never more than an illusion, that his body was only a phantom. Some of those ideas – called docetism – are refuted in the First Letter of John, and that whole system of thought was labelled a heresy in the early centuries of the Christian church. The very first Christians knew it right at the beginning. Jesus told those in that room to see the marks of his crucifixion and to touch his body.
As they did, Jesus said, “It is I myself!” (v. 39). Those words are very emphatic. “I am here, the Jesus you heard teach, the Jesus you saw drive out demons, heal the sick, raise the dead, feed thousands, walk on water, stand before Pilate, die on a cross. That Jesus – I am here. It is I myself!” No illusion. No phantom. No ghost. The one who stood before them was the Jesus they had always known.
Five, yet they still can’t believe – verse 41.
It is possible for something to be so amazing and so good that people can’t believe it’s true. Despite all they’d heard, and despite Jesus being right in front of them, the disciples were not able to take it in.
“They still did not believe it because of joy and amazement.” (v. 41)
What was happening was far beyond any frame of reference they had. If this was true, it would be wonderful. But it was too wonderful to believe. When an athlete has won a major trophy, perhaps an Olympic gold medal, an interviewer asks, “So how do you feel about your victory?” The most common answer? “I’m so excited it’s not real yet. I can’t take it in.” If an athlete who has trained for years can’t believe they’ve actually won their race, it’s no surprise these believers couldn’t take in something so amazing and awesome as their Savior being raised back to life. This didn’t fit. It wasn’t anywhere in their paradigm for life and death. Surely the figure before them had to be a ghost.
Six, Jesus provides the ultimate proof that he’s real – verses 41-43.
A ghost could pass through walls. A ghost could be seen. A ghost could talk. But there was one thing a ghost could not do: eat!
So Jesus asked them: “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. (vs. 41-43)
I doubt if Jesus was hungry. But he ate. A ghost would not and could not do that. He did it openly. They all saw. There was no trickery. He ate some broiled fish.
This risen, glorified body of Jesus could do very special things (including appearing right in the middle of a room of believers), but the body which ate that fish was still the one which had walked the roads with the disciples, crossed the Sea of Galilee, lain down to sleep, stood or sat to teach crowds, and shared meals with those who travelled with him. Now, on resurrection day, he again shared a meal with his disciples. This was no different person and this was no ghost. This was Jesus himself.
So, Luke has taken us step by step through the story of Jesus appearing before a large gathering of his followers. He has shown how Jesus left these believers with no doubt about two immensely significant things.
First, without any doubt, Jesus had been raised from the dead.
- Jesus didn’t leave them with only rumors.
- Jesus didn’t leave them with only the message of angels.
- Jesus didn’t leave them with the testimony of just a few.
Jesus came right into the middle of all the assembled believers. They were all there. They all saw him.
When the Apostle Paul wrote about the resurrection, he stressed that Jesus had been seen many times and by many different witnesses:
He appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time… Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also. (1 Cor. 15:5-8)
Every now and then stories are told that famous people are not really dead but still alive. Many have claimed to see Elvis Presley despite all the evidence that he died in 1977. A British aristocrat, John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan (also known as Lord Lucan) disappeared in 1974 when he was suspected of murder. He has never been found, and most suppose he committed suicide. But down through the years there have been many shadowy sightings. Some of those reports were proved as mistaken identity. Others lacked any substantial evidence it was Lucan. Others did not come from credible witnesses.
The appearances of Jesus are wholly different from anything like these. Jesus was seen many times by witnesses who knew him well. He spoke with them. He bore the marks of crucifixion. He allowed people to touch him. He shared food with them. There was nothing shadowy, nothing doubtful, nothing uncertain. Yes, it was hard to believe it was true. But eventually these believers were so convinced it was true they were willing to die for that conviction. Jesus truly is risen.
Second, without any doubt, the glorified body of this risen Jesus was still also his human body.
Yes, at first sighting and overwhelmed by terror, the believers could only explain what they were seeing as a ghost. Luke was not afraid to report that initial reaction.
But no apparition would have spoken peace to the assembled disciples. No apparition would have shown nail-scarred hands and feet. No apparition would have allowed them to touch his body. No apparition would have asked for food and then eaten it with everyone watching. And – anticipating what comes next in Luke’s gospel – no apparition would then have gone on to preach a sermon to them from the Scriptures!
If we think of Jesus raised from the dead as some wandering spirit, or his soul come back to life, we fail to do justice to the evidence that Luke and all the gospel writers present. There was a vacancy in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea on that Sunday because the physical body of Jesus walked the road to Emmaus and now stood in a room in Jerusalem in front of his disciples. His wounded body was transformed, but it was still his body. Jesus was alive.
These two great truths give us certainty that we will also be raised to new life. Because he is risen, still human as well as divine, so all those who belong to him can know for certain they too will be raised to life eternal.
“Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” (1 Cor. 15:20-23)
My theology professor was fond of saying: “There is a man in heaven, and his name is Jesus Christ.” That is a remarkable statement, and a deeply significant truth. Heaven is open to human beings. Because Jesus is there, a man raised from the dead, so one day we shall be there also.
We can be thankful to Luke that he laid out all the steps and stages in the story of Jesus’ appearing so that we can be sure of that.
 John, in his gospel, specifically says the doors were locked when Jesus appeared in the room – John 20:19.
 Reactions like this are worth noting. Through the centuries some have theorized that resurrection stories developed because disciples so believed it would happen it became real in their minds. The evidence is strongly to the contrary, that they had little or no expectation of Jesus rising from the dead.
 Rejected completely at the First Council of Nicaea in 325.