Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt                     Luke 24:36b-48         April 26, 2009

In Jewish tradition, testimony for or against another must be corroborated by an "authenticating second" in order to be legally accepted as truth. Jesus did this when he sent his disciples out in pairs to proclaim the Good News, to heal and teach. The Holy Spirit upholds that principle by appearing wherever "two or three" are gathered together in Christ's name.

Throughout Chapter 24, Luke emphasizes this witness principle in his resurrection narrative. First, two heavenly messengers testify to Jesus' resurrection to several of the women. Then, two travelers along the Emmaus road encounter the risen Jesus. To authenticate the truth (of Jesus, the Christ) takes two.
 
The disciples were frightened, but not necessarily disbelieving. They thought they were seeing a ghost -- some sort of disembodied spirit. Jesus' words and actions in these verses (39-43) all speak to the physical nature of his resurrected body. Jesus explicitly states that he is truly "flesh and bone," not some ghostly being. "Look at my hands and my feet" – touch me and see that I am real.

Once convinced, their fear turns to joy. The "disbelief" (alluded to in verse 41) is closely tied to the physical nature of the resurrection. "They stood there undecided filled with joy and doubt." (LB) As final proof, Jesus asks for food, which he ate while they watched. Now the disciples were convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt: they heard, they saw, they witnessed the resurrected Christ.

Jesus now repeats the same testimonies He had explained to the earlier resurrection witnesses; the angels to the women by the tomb (vv.6-7) and Jesus' discussion with the Emmaus travelers (vv.25-27). Jesus had already explained to them his predicted death, resurrection, and fulfilled prophecies from Scripture.

However, by now repeating these things in the presence of his disciples, Jesus transforms each one present into actual first-hand witnesses to his testimonies as well as to his physical risen body. All this is intimately wrapped up in the fact that they are his eye witnesses as later alluded to in New Testament Scripture. 
 
(In verse 47) Jesus adds that the "repentance and forgiveness of sins" in his name is also part of their post-resurrection mission. Jesus concludes by telling his disciples, "You are witnesses of these things," (v.48). He then alludes to the promised arrival of the Holy Spirit (v.49) which will empower them to proclaim this repentance and forgiveness." There is forgiveness of sins for all who turn to me. You have seen these prophesies come true." (LB).

 
This entire appearance to all the gathered disciples has little to do with belief or disbelief. Instead, it clarifies what they are believing in: the risen physical body of Jesus. It validates the power of their future ministry by making each of them actual witnesses to the resurrection.
 
This notable event may be viewed as a kind of official gathering of Christ's appointed witnesses for his gospel. In a legal sense, the disciples as witnesses must hear with their own ears, from Jesus' own lips, the scriptural prophecies and predictions that have been fulfilled through his crucifixion and resurrection.

Because they are now to be witnesses to others about the saving, forgiving, transforming power of the resurrection, the disciples must know these events as facts in their own lives. The testimony the disciples will give for the rest of their lives is not just their interpretation, their "spin," on the empty tomb. They are actual witnesses to the risen Jesus. They saw with their own eyes and heard with their own ears the resurrected Christ.
 
Now – fast-forward 2000 years.
How do we come up with two witnesses to Jesus (as the Christ) when he is ascended into heaven? First, Jesus is still his own star witness, testifying to his messianic identity. But now he is known to us through the tradition of Scripture and personal experience.

In our case, the second witness, the "authenticating second" to the risen Christ, is the church. The church, in fact, proclaims Jesus alive by becoming the earthly body of Christ. To be the second witness, the church needs that anointing from the Holy Spirit.
 
The promise of the Holy Spirit Jesus gives the disciples in today's text becomes reality on the Day of Pentecost. It was the Holy Spirit that made it possible for a scraggly band of fishermen and tentmakers to witness about Christ across all of Asia Minor. It is the Holy Spirit that continues to make it possible today for any gathering of disciples, no matter how diverse their interests, to become the body of Christ on earth.

If we try to go off on our own power, our own strengths, our own spirit – we’re bound to fail. We cannot present an authentic witness to Jesus Christ without the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst.

The Holy Spirit does not dwell within us so much as among us. The church is a community of faith, a communion of witnesses, and a demonstration of God's love. Alone we are incapable of being vital witnesses to God's redeeming work through Jesus Christ. But with the Spirit in our midst, we can do the impossible. "Where ever two or more are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them.

Too often the church has been thought of as merely an institution, a building, or an organization. The occupying Romans were suspicious that the Early Church might try to usurp their government as a result of their gatherings. Throughout the Middle Ages, the church was seen as mainly accumulating wealth for its own ends.  
 
Granted, there have been abuses and misuses over the centuries by the church. However, behind and beyond any misconduct, the church through the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ remains to be the living, active body of Christ on earth.

 
Here is a story of a little-known saint in American churches. He --
--has been sculptured, painted and crafted in bronze or stained glass more often than almost any other Saint of the Christian Church.
--In England alone, more than 250 churches are named for him, as are 6 in Rome.
--St. Lawrence was martyred in 258 A.D.
 
But we remember him, not for his martyrdom, but for his ministry as Archdeacon of Rome.
 
His responsibilities included maintaining the sacred vessels of the small, struggling church and distributing alms to the poor.
 
While he was Archdeacon, the Governor of Rome took Pope Sextus captive and demanded, "Where is the treasure of the church?"
 
The Pope would not tell, and they tortured him to death.
 
Even though he never disclosed where the sacred vessels were, somehow in his agony and pain, Pope Sextus mentioned the Archdeacon's name.
 
They took Lawrence captive.

"Where is the treasure of the Church?" they demanded, threatening with the same fate that befell the Pope.

Lawrence replied, "Governor, I cannot get it for you instantaneously; but if        you give me three days, I will give you the treasure."
 
The Governor agreed. Lawrence left.
 
Three days later he walked into the Governor's courtyard followed by a            great flood of people.
 
The Governor walked out onto his balcony and said, "Where is the treasure of your church?"

Lawrence stepped forward, and pointed to the crowd that accompanied him -- the lame, the blind, the deaf, the nobodies of society -- and said,
 
"Here are the treasures of the Christian church."

We are that church. We are God's treasure on earth. We are Christ's body.
 
We are testimony to the resurrected Christ – little ole' you and little ole’ me. – Not church buildings, programs, or publications. The church of Jesus Christ is alive and well as long as we are alive.
 
Therefore, I encourage you, “Be an authenticating second!” Amen.
Rev. Rosemary Stelz
 
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