Ascension Week – Part 2

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Devotional Word for Tuesday, May 19, 2020

So, what was Jesus doing during the 40 days between His Resurrection and His Ascension? What was He teaching His followers? There was a fundamental truth or reality He needed them to embrace. On that Resurrection Day, two men were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They were followers of Jesus and greatly disheartened by all that had happened. A stranger came along and began to walk with them. They told the stranger how disappointed and disillusioned they were. Some women had gone to Jesus’ gravesite that morning to attend to His body. Here’s how they described what happened: but they “did not find His body” but they had “seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.” [Luke 24:23-34]

That’s what the men told the stranger. The stranger then began to tell them what the Law of Moses and the Prophets said about the Messiah. They reached their village; they urged the man to stay with them. He agreed, but then as the stranger said the blessing and distributed the bread “He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.” [Luke 24:35] It turned out the stranger was Jesus! But as soon as they recognized Him, “He vanished from their sight.” [Luke 24:31] 

Well, those guys rush back to Jerusalem and head to the Upper Room where the disciples are gathered. It seems that Peter is telling the gathered followers of Christ that Jesus has appeared to him. Remember yesterday’s reading from 1 Cor. 15? First on Paul’s list of those to whom Jesus appeared was Cephas, that is, Peter, who was also known as Simon or as Simon Peter. I mention all those names for a reason. When those two guys get to the Upper Room, they confirm what Peter is telling the others. Here’s what they said: The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon. They began to relate their experiences on the road and how they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread. [Luke 24:34-35]

You must admit Peter is telling a pretty fantastic tale. What would you think of a fellow who said he just had a visit from someone you had seen die a few days earlier, a man into whom you’d seen a Roman soldier shove a spear to confirm His death? I suspect we’d all be more than a little bit skeptical. Peter was confirming what Mary Magdalen related from the tomb that morning, and now these two fellows were confirming what Peter said. Would you be convinced of what they said, or would you think the same delusionary impulse had come over some people you thought you knew very well? Think about it! Mull it over in your mind.

While you’re thinking, guess what? Jesus appears in your midst! Here’s how Luke describes the reaction of those gathered in the Upper Room: They were startled and frightened and thought they were seeing a spirit. [Luke 24:37] They didn’t know what was going on! It was very upsetting. Are they having delusions? Are they losing their minds? 

Jesus speaks to them: Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 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.” [Luke 24:38-39] He wants them to know it really is Him. He wants them to know they’re not seeing a spirit. He wants them to know the body they’ve seen over the previous years, is the body they’re looking at now. He invites them to touch Him. The text doesn’t say if anyone did. What the text does say is They were still disbelieving because of their joy and amazement. [v. 41] What this means is it was too much for them to get their minds around. They are dumbfounded. 

Jesus understands. Guess what He does? He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave Him a piece of broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them. [vss. 41-43] Jesus wants them to know it really is Him. He wants them to know they’re not seeing a spirit. He wants them to know He has a real body, one that can ingest food. It is the same body they’ve seen for years. 

It is important that you and I know those facts as well. We don’t believe in a myth or fairy tale or some heightened spiritual experience not grounded in historical fact. The post-Resurrection body of Jesus, the one that ascends to heaven on Ascension Day, is the same body which walked the earth 2,000 years ago. 

How important is this knowledge? One of the disciples was not present when these things happened. His name was Thomas. When the other disciples told him what had happened, what they had seen and experienced, he told them: Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe. [John 20:25] Thomas wants bodily proof. That’s exactly what Jesus wishes to provide! 

Eight days later the disciples were gathered together again, including Thomas. Suddenly, Jesus is present with them. Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” [vss. 27-28]

What should we think about, what should we consider, as we look forward to Ascension Day? Two facts must be foremost in our minds: 1) Jesus really is risen from the dead. He is alive. He is well. He is real. 2) He has the same body after His resurrection as He had before His resurrection. He is not pure spirit. There is genuine physical continuity between the body of Jesus when He was on earth and the body of Jesus that has ascended to heaven. Yes, there are some differences – and we’ll talk about that this week – but let’s get the foundational facts settled first. 

Unlike the disciples back in the day, I don’t think we’re dumbfounded enough by these facts. We rather take them for granted. We’ve lost our amazement. That’s why we need to make certain we stay historically grounded. These things happened in real time, in real space, with real flesh – and there’s no explanation for it except for the power and purpose of God. May He open our hearts and minds with joy and amazement at what He has done.

Let us pray:  Lord Jesus, we stand amazed at who You are and what You’ve done. Thank You for Your mercy in pressing on us the facticity, the historicity, of Your life and ministry. We know You’re seated at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us. Grant us grace to be amazed and believing! May we know You better, and follow You more faithfully, day by day. We praise Your name. Amen.