“To Understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:36-49)
Have you ever thought about what the Bible is all about? I mean, if you had to boil it down to just a few short sentences, what would you say is the main message of the Scriptures? You know, a lot of people have a lot of different opinions about the Bible and what it is saying. They pull this verse or that verse out of context and twist it like a wax nose to make it suit their purpose. People approach the Bible with their presuppositions and then find in the Bible what they want to find. But what really is the main message of the Bible, if you had to sum it up? And how would you know if you had summed it up correctly?
Well, today I’m here to tell you that there’s no need for guesswork or random speculation. No, because someone today is going to tell us what the Bible is all about. And more than that, he is someone who knows what he’s talking about. It’s Jesus himself, of course. So let’s listen now as our risen Lord Jesus Christ opens our minds “To Understand the Scriptures.”
To understand the Scriptures. Not just to have read some of the Bible and come up with your own opinions. No, to understand the Scriptures, to truly know what the Scriptures are meant to tell us. What does God intend for us to know and believe by way of the Scriptures? What is God’s intent for what his Word is meant to do to us and for us? That’s what it is to truly understand the Scriptures.
And the first thing to note here is that man on his own, according to his sinful nature and apart from the Holy Spirit, cannot rightly understand the Scriptures. The Bible will always remain a closed book to the unregenerate man, that is, to the person who has not been born again by water and the Spirit. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Oh, an unbeliever may read the Bible and understand what the words are saying, but because he does not have the gift of faith, he will not take it to heart in the way it is meant to be applied to our lives.
So our minds are in darkness, spiritually speaking, until Christ shines the light of the gospel into our lives. Then the Holy Spirit removes the veil and enlightens our understanding, and we begin to grasp the purpose that God has for us in giving us his Word.
You may recall what St. John said toward the end of his gospel in summing up the purpose of his accounts and really of all the Scriptures: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may life in his name.” St. Paul likewise told Timothy that the Scriptures “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” You see? Faith in Jesus, trust in him, to know who he is and what he has done for us to give us life and salvation–that is the purpose of the Scriptures.
And here in our text today, the Holy Gospel from Luke 24, Jesus himself comes and tells us the exact same thing. So let’s go to that text.
It’s Easter, the evening of the day that Christ rose from the dead. He suddenly appears in the room with his disciples, and he greets them with “Peace be with you!” They think it’s a ghost. How could that be their Master, Jesus, alive and standing there among them? Why, he was just crucified and died and was buried, just the other day! How can this be him? But Jesus reassures them and shows them his hands and his feet, still bearing the marks of his crucifixion. No, this is no ghost. This is Jesus himself, alive, risen from the dead, raised bodily, flesh and bone. He even asks for something to eat, to show his physicality.
And so it is this risen Christ, Jesus raised from the dead, who will now tell his disciples what it all means. He reminds them that he had already told them that there must be a fulfillment of everything written about him in the Old Testament Scriptures: “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.” Yes, Jesus had already said that he was the one prophesied in the Old Testament, namely, the Messiah to come. Jesus had already said that the Scriptures were ultimately about him. Jesus had even told his opponents, those like the scribes and the Pharisees, who wrongly thought they could merit salvation by their keeping of the Law–Jesus had told them: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” See, the scribes and Pharisees were reading the Bible, but they were missing the main point, the chief purpose, which is to point us to salvation in Christ!
So Jesus is telling his astonished disciples that everything prophesied about him in the Bible had to be fulfilled. There was a divine necessity about it. And that included both his crucifixion and his resurrection.
Now Jesus puts it all into perspective for them–and for us. Jesus “opens their minds to understand the Scriptures,” it says. And to do so, he proceeds to sum up in just a few short words what the Bible is all about. He says: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
There it is! Jesus’ own summary of the Bible! “Thus it is written,” he says. And he ought to know, he is the very Son of God come in the flesh. Jesus sums up in three brief statements what the Bible’s main message is. Let’s take these three points one at a time.
First: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer.” Now this did not compute. The disciples had not gotten that part. Their expectation of the Christ, the promised Messiah of Israel, did not include the idea that he should suffer. But it was there all the time, in the Old Testament Scriptures–most outstandingly, in the Suffering Servant prophecy of Isaiah 53. There it says of the Lord’s Servant: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. . . . He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” That is the reason that the Christ should suffer: so he could make atonement for our sins! We could not do it. Jesus did it for us. Now we are at peace with God. Christ has taken our punishment and removed the barrier that separated us from God. That’s why he suffered, and thus it is written.
Secondly, what else is written in the Scriptures? Jesus continues: “and on the third day rise from the dead.” Not only would the Christ suffer, he would also rise from the dead. After all, that was the purpose of his suffering and death, to pay for our sins and thus overcome death for us. Jesus shows that forth with his own resurrection.
Remember that death was the curse that fell upon mankind because of our sin, our rebellion against God. “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” The whole rest of the Bible, then, is about how God would undertake a rescue mission, to save us from the misery we had brought upon ourselves. And God would do it by sending a Savior, the seed of the woman. So overcoming death by dealing decisively with sin, and that this would be God’s own doing–that really is the story of the Bible. The resurrection of the Christ is essential to God’s plan. It is the dawning of the new creation, where life now has the upper hand.
And dear friends, this resurrection is for you! Christ has won it for you! You see, you don’t understand the Scriptures until you see your place in it. By trusting in Jesus, you will share in his resurrection victory! And notice, this is a physical resurrection. You will be raised bodily on the day when Christ returns. No more sickness or sorrow or infirmity to cloud the picture. Thus it is written, that the Christ should rise from the dead–and guess what, you will too!
So here’s how Jesus has summarized the Bible so far: “Thus it is written, that a) the Christ should suffer and b) on the third day rise from the dead.” And now Jesus adds a third point to his summary of what is written. He says: “and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Jesus says that this too is what is written, that the proclamation of repentance and forgiveness in his name will go out to all nations.” And think of it: Isn’t that what the Lord told Abraham way back in Genesis 12? “And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” In other words, through Abraham’s offspring, through his seed, the blessing of the Lord would go out to all nations. And Jesus is that seed of Abraham in whom all the nations are being blessed.
The blessing comes through the proclamation. The preaching of repentance and forgiveness in Jesus’ name is what does it. God calls us to repentance. We need to give up on ourselves, on the notion that we are good enough to deserve salvation. No, our sins condemn us. Repentance means to acknowledge our sin and our guilt, and to cry out to God for his mercy. And then that mercy, that forgiveness, comes to us in the preaching of the gospel, the good news that God has indeed had mercy on us through his Son. Jesus Christ has won forgiveness for your sins, all of them, by his death on the cross, and he offers you this priceless treasure free of charge in the preaching of the gospel. Repentance and the forgiveness of sins, the preaching of this life-giving message–this too is what Jesus says is written in the Scriptures.
And today this same message comes to you, dear friends. We truly understand the message of the Bible only when we see how God has included us in the picture: That Jesus Christ suffered for you, for your sins and your forgiveness. That Jesus Christ rose again from the dead for you, to show you that God accepted the sacrifice Christ made on the cross, and that because of it, death is overcome and life is now restored. That God is calling you to repentance and to faith in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Thus it is written, and this is for you.
And so with that, now today Jesus our risen Lord has come here in our midst, and he has opened our minds to understand the Scriptures.