Good morning, Friends! Thank you so much for joining us today.
Last week – Easter Sunday – was such a big day that it’s hard to know what’s left to say today. We had food, we had music, we had flowers, we had the greatest story in the world to tell. Where do we go from here?
And come to think of it, where did Jesus go from here? He rose from the dead. Then what? What happens after Easter?
In a way, what happened was the next two thousand years. Everything that’s happened, is the “after Easter story”.
But we’re human, and we’re curious. So we need to answer the question, “What happened next?”
There are four versions, in four different gospels. Today, I’m going to read Luke’s version. It’s the longest and most complete version, so settle back in your seats, and let’s hear it together.
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.
In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.
Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.
As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.
Jesus asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.
And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body.
They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.
They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 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.”
When Jesus had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he 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.
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.Luke 24:1-52
That’s the answer to what happened next. Jesus met people. People saw him. He spoke to them. He walked with them. He sat down and ate meals with them. They saw his wounds. They touched his hands and his side.
As far as everyone was concerned, Jesus was alive.
Depending on which gospel you read, that period when people saw Jesus, lasted just a day or two, or in some versions it lasted about forty days.
There’s a lot of famous pictures and stained glass windows that show Jesus standing there, holding up his hands, and riding his own personal cloud up into the sky, like an elevator.
That’s what it showed in the illustrated children’s Bible I had when I was a kid. And that’s what most people think when they try to tell the story. It was pretty hard for people to believe, even back then, and it’s still pretty hard for people to believe today.
Where did Jesus go? Where is Jesus now?
The gospel of Mark says, “When Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. . .”
There’s a kind of child-like simplicity to that version that I enjoy. Jesus just got up, dusted off his hands, went up to heaven, sat down, and said, “Ahh. . .it’s finished!”
But actually, there’s more to it than that. When it says that Jesus is at the right hand of God, that isn’t just a place. It’s a position of approval. Being “at the right hand of God” is kind of a code or a symbol. It means that Jesus is the favorite, the one and only beloved Son, and one who did everything right and made good.
I remember a story about an old Southern preacher who asked his congregation if they knew where God was at the very beginning.
“Why, He was in the garden of Eden,” they said.
“No!” said the preacher. “Where was God before He made the garden of Eden?”
“Why, he was in the spirit moving on the waters,” they told him.
“No, no!” the preacher said. “I want you to tell me where God was back before anything was created.”
People thought a long time, and they were silent. None of them knew.
So the preacher told them, “I’ll tell you all where God was. God was in His GLORY!”
I think that’s what the gospel is trying to say when it says that Jesus “sat down at the right hand of God.”
It isn’t trying to put it on a map that we can read. It’s saying that when Jesus finished what he had to do here, he went to be with God. And he’s with God, in his glory.
But the gospel also says that even when Jesus went to heaven, that he was still here in very real ways.
I talked about that last Sunday, when I asked you all if you had ever felt that Jesus was with you, down in the valley of illness or grief? Everyone nodded yes.
I asked if you had ever lifted up your eyes, and felt new hope? Same answer.
I told the story of the Prodigal Son and asked if you’ve ever done something wrong, and turned back, and known you were making a change, and known that you’re forgiven? Everyone agreed.
In a very real sense, Jesus is still with us. We hear his voice, when the words of the Bible come alive for us. We see him at work, when people reach out, and give of themselves, even lay down their lives, for people in need.
In the gospel of Mark, it says that Jesus’ friends went out into the world, and preached, and Jesus worked beside them, and confirmed what they did.
Luke’s gospel, the one we read today, says Jesus told them to be witnesses. Our job is to tell everyone that Christ is risen, that Jesus is alive, that heaven is very near to us at all times, not just when we die.
Our job is to share Jesus’ message that people need to turn their lives around, that we need to change direction and head back, toward God. Jesus’ message is that we can be healed. We can be forgiven. We can be restored and welcomed back, no matter what our past is.
All the promises of God now rest on us.
And then, it says, “Jesus led them out of the city, as far as Bethany.” He went for a walk with them, just as he’d done so many times before.
He lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And they parted. And they all went home, praising God and filled with joy.
Why weren’t they upset? Why weren’t they all crying, and saying, “Oh, he’s gone! He’s gone!”
It all comes back to their conviction, their unshakable belief, that Jesus wasn’t dead. He’s alive. And he’s not gone. He’s still with us.
He was still with them. Still working with them. Still blessing them, and still confirming everything, every day. They rejoiced, because the living Christ was with them still.
Every week, when I talk with you abut the presence of God in our midst, when I talk with you about prayer, when I talk with you about listening and opening your mind and your heart, I’m talking about the same thing.
Jesus promised to be with us until the end of the world as we know it, until our life here is over and our day here is done.
The living Christ is real, just as much today as in the time of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Jesus hasn’t gone away. He lives in us. He is with us, still.