Scripture Text: Luke 24.36-53
“From Great Fear to Great Joy”
April 17, 2022 – 6:00pm Evening Service
Faith Presbyterian Church, Tacoma, WA
Pastor Nathaniel H. Gutiérrez
In one of my classes back in seminary, I remember one of my professors us about a trip he took to teach students in China. At that time, there were high consequences for people who would gather together to study God’s word. My professor was given careful guidance by the Christians as he travelled into the country. He was received at the airport, and was taken several hours outside of the main city to a remote house that appeared abandoned.
He had been told that the students had been waiting for him, but when he arrived, there were no lights on in the house, and the front door had a padlock on the outside. His guide told him not to worry.
They unlocked the padlock and when they went inside, he found many students studying their bibles by candlelight. These Christians had travelled long distances at great risk to themselves to learn about God’s word, and in order not to raise suspicion, they had to be locked in from the outside and keep as quiet and invisible as possible.
As he told us about his visit, we felt as though we were there. My professor was terrified, but the students were not. He said that they were extremely attentive to his classes, but what really got him, was that as they sang hymns together, they had to do so in a whispered manner, and he noted that as they sang from their hearts, tears of joy streamed down their faces.
How could these students be so joyful in a situation that would cause such great fear to any one of us?
How could they put their lives at risk to study God’s word and how could they rejoice amid such a terrifying situation? This is the question that we will be addressing tonight.
See, to find joy in the midst of dreadful circumstances requires a hope that goes beyond our circumstances and our abilities. A hope in a reality that is beyond us.
Tonight, as we look at God’s word together, we will see how Jesus enters into the disciple’s grief and pain, and tenderly helps them to see beyond their circumstances, so that they might have true security and hope in him.
That is our scope for this evening.
Now, tonight I will be reading the last half of the last chapter in the gospel of Luke.
But before I do, I want to give a little bit of context. The gospel of John (John 20:19ff), gives us a few extra details about this account that will clue us in as to why the disciples were terrified.
See, John reminds us that the disciples were fearful of the Jews. And that makes sense, because they had just witnessed the way in which the religious leaders had blatantly lied to Pilate so that he would crucify Jesus.
And when you fear for your life, and the lives of those closest to you, you go into hiding. You lock yourselves into a safe place and you bolt the doors, and you board up the windows. You put furniture up against the doors, and wait in fear, hoping and praying that you will be safe.
If you can imagine this, you can imagine what the disciples must have been doing and feeling in this passage. So please follow along with me now in your Bibles.
Luke 24, beginning in verse 36:
Luke 24:36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 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.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.
Luke 24:44 Then he said to them, “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.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Luke 24:50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.
This is the Word of the Lord,
Thanks be to God.
Let’s pray together.
The Danger of Our Perceptions
Have you ever had a gut impulse about someone and been right?
There is something very enjoyable about being able to make a call about someone within a few seconds and being right! It sort of makes you feel like you have some sixth sense, and it makes you more confident the next time you make a judgment based on your gut feelings, right?
Well, a series of experiments made by Princeton psychologists revealed that for most people, all it takes is a tenth of a second to form an impression about someone. Additionally, they found that having more time, only served to boost people’s confidence in their first impressions.
And while some of those first impressions were accurate, there were obviously also some that were inaccurate.
One of the authors of this experiment notes that there is a danger in this type of judgment: “A first impression could be misleading…trying to figure out what a person is like from a simple exposure is basically ridiculous….” 
And while we do not need a study to tell us that it isn’t a good idea to make a decision about someone based on a tenth of a second, we should also not be too quick to dismiss this experiment or its findings.
See, the truth is that we all make split second decisions about all sorts of things all of the time.
We judge people based on looks, personality, clothing and more. We collect clues about situations, and literally make split second decisions about people without even knowing them or their story.
While that is problematic and we should avoid the tendency to judge people based on outward appearance, the reason I bring this up, is because we don’t only do this when it comes to first impressions.
We also do this when it comes to our personal experience in how we make decisions in life.
We rely heavily on our experiences and gut feelings for big and important decisions in life. We make judgment calls on life, relationships, churches, and God based on how certain things made us feel. And we can often fall into the dangerous trap of trusting in our experience over and against what God’s word actually teaches.
And I think this was what was going on with Jesus’ disciples.
See, the disciples were terrified, and their experience at that moment of intense adversity so overwhelmed their thinking that they were making split-second decisions based on their circumstances.
They were collecting clues.
These might have been some of the clues that they had swirling around in their heads:
Jesus was dead. Judas, who had been with them this whole time had betrayed him, and Judas knew who each and every one of them were and where they tended to camp out, what they used to do.
It is not hard to imagine that they might have wondered if Judas would betray them as he had done to Jesus, and that he might lead the religious leaders to their hiding place as well. What if the religious leaders did the same thing with them as they did with Jesus? After all they had managed to crucify Jesus over false pretenses.
Or what if the Romans would come after them since they were accused of stirring up trouble? Or perhaps there might be another traitor within their midst. I’m sure trust among them eroded. If it happened once, why couldn’t it happen again?!
You could imagine how the disciples must have been reformulating their lives, and their thinking. How they must have been terrified for their lives, but also for their livelihood. They had left everything behind to follow Jesus.
And now based on what was happening around them, their hearts were consumed with fear. Where was Jesus?! How could he have died!? They were consumed with fear, and the only logical or human conclusion they could come up with was that they were in deep trouble. That Jesus wasn’t really who he said he was. That they had had the wool pulled over their eyes.
Thoughts like these must have been flooding their mind. And the danger with their perception of reality was that it was flawed, and it was incomplete.
While their situation was very tragic, they were missing understanding.
I think we can all understand what was happening to them. We’ve all been to a place where, based on the circumstances we find ourselves in, we find ourselves like a deer in the headlights – not knowing what to do. All we see is what we can literally see in front of us. All hope for our lives is bound up in our present circumstances.
And we are often fearful when we can’t make sense of things and we feel like everything is out of control.
It can be a terrifying place. But again, it is incomplete.
God’s Purposes Revealed
And it is exactly at that moment, in their greatest moment of fear, that Jesus enters the place the disciples were in – literally. Remember, they likely used every resource available to them to keep themselves protected and locked in, and Jesus just bypassed it all and appeared in the room with them.
And this is one of the things I love the most about this passage. Jesus patiently, calmly teaches the disciples what they have not yet understood.
They thought he was a ghost, and Jesus takes all the measures necessary to calm their fears. He demonstrates that he is not a spirit, nor a ghost, but flesh and bones.
He lets them see his hands and his feet (the same hands and feet that had been pierced by the nails on the cross.) And even after all this, when they still disbelieved, he asked for food and ate it before them, because they had so little faith.
And in doing these things he calmed their fears on a visual level. Then he proceeded to give them an even greater reason not to fear.
See, what they needed most, was not just to see him alive. Even when other had reported him being alive, that was not enough to comfort them.
Even when he was in front of them, they had trouble believing! They benefited from seeing him, but what they needed more than that was to be able to have trust that their future was secure.
To see beyond their circumstances and experiences and be reminded of what he had taught them.
On Friday night, we read Isaiah 53:10. It reads, “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;”
Jesus’ disciples needed to know that Jesus’ death was all part of God’s sovereign plan. That it was God’s will to crush Jesus.
We know that they needed to hear this, because in v. 44 Jesus takes them there. He takes them away from physical and visual examples to the larger story and purpose of God. Jesus doesn’t just remind them of the recent events, but he goes back to whole of Scripture and demonstrates to them the foundation of their faith.
And that in v. 44 we see that the foundation of our faith is, “that everything written …. in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
See, Jesus points them to the bedrock of their faith. That bedrock was the OT Scriptures that demonstrated, without a doubt, that Jesus’ death on the cross was God’s sovereign plan all along.
If you have your Bibles open, you can see it there in v. 44, but then you can also look back about 10 verses to Luke 24:27 and see how even on the Road the Emmaus, Jesus did the same thing to bring hope to the disciples.
It reads: “Beginning with Moses, and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)
The solution to the fear and dread the disciples felt was not only a future hope, but a clear demonstration that the whole of the history of the world, all of Scripture, was orchestrated by God’s omnipotent hand in such a way as to demonstrate to his disciples that God has ALWAYS been sovereign over history.
God has ALWAYS fulfilled his promises and prophecies. Nothing was out of his control. Jesus’ death was part of the plan, and if the disciples had understood Jesus’ teaching, they would have known he would rise again.
Even the angels say, in v. 5 said to the women who followed Jesus, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise. And [it says] they remembered his words….”
You see, Jesus was demonstrating that the Scriptures not only pointed to and foreshadowed his coming, his suffering, his death and resurrection, but it also fulfilled all the prophecies that God has spoken through the mouths of his servants.
This was God’s plan. This is what Jesus had been saying all along.
The omnipotent God, who has always fulfilled his promises and prophecies throughout the ages did so again in such a way that the disciples themselves could see the Messiah’s resurrected presence!
And that means that EVERYTHING that Jesus said was true. That means that when he told them that they too would join him in everlasting life, they really would. They could trust him, because all that had happened throughout history had happened, just as he said.
That was the more complete image that the disciples needed to see.
And we need to see that image too.
When I was a younger, tv shows weren’t available on demand. If you wanted to watch a series of movies or shows, you had to go rent all the VHS tapes or DVDs so that you could binge watch them. But that was expensive and that was a rare thing. Sometimes those DVDs were checked out and you’d have to wait until someone returned it to see the next episode.
And those episodes often didn’t end with a nice peaceful ending. They would leave us with cliff-hangers, and it would be torture. You’d get into a show just to find out that Jack Bauer had found a bomb with only 5 minutes remaining in the episode, and just as he defused it against all odds, you’d learn that there were 4 other bombs throughout the city with even larger impacts that were also going to go off soon. What would happen? Well…you’d have to wait and see. Until someone returned that disc!
Life can be that way. We get only tidbits of what is going on at a time. We don’t get it all in one sitting. We don’t get to binge-watch our lives and know what is going to happen at the end of the story. We are left with cliff-hangers.
We don’t know what is going to happen with our jobs, with our children, or our relationships. We don’t know when or if we will get sick, or if or when we will get better. We have no idea if we will make it to 103 years old, or if we will die tomorrow.
The uncertainty of what will happen next in our lives, can be so unsettling. WE WANT TO KNOW WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN! And since we simply cannot know, we start to try to imagine it. And in the process become incredibly fearful.
When bad things happen, we begin to make split-second assumptions about everything. We picture the worst catastrophic possibility and begin to work backwards.
You might think otherwise, but I would guess that if someone were to tell you that your young 5-year-old son was taken to the emergency room while you were in a meeting, you would probably immediately think of the worst-case-scenario. You would picture an ambulance rushing off from a scene of an accident, or some sort of life-threatening disaster and begin to find ways to get there as soon as possible. After hearing the news, you might not even be willing to wait to hear that the real reason that he had gone to the hospital was just because he had a gummy bear stuck in his ear.
We have a tendency to go to dark places very quickly and assume the worst. And a lot of that is because we know that we are not able to control the circumstances of our lives. And I think that maybe we suppose that if we expect the worst, then the hardship won’t hit us as hard if it turns out to be true. We want to protect ourselves from the pain, so we worry about all the potential scenarios, we cover our bases, and then brace for impact…all the while knowing fully well that our preparation is not enough.
And the problem with all this is that we are deceiving ourselves. We can’t actually play reverse psychology with our own minds. We aren’t smart enough to outwit ourselves!
We can lock up the doors of our houses, and we can pile furniture in front of the doors, board up the windows and make an airtight escape plan, but we all know that it is not enough. It’s never enough.
In our fearfulness, we are only trying to control that which is out of our control.
But trying to control everything is exhausting.
Rather than try to control that which is out of our control, rather than seek to avoid all the difficulties in our lives, and prevent ourselves from facing all hardships this life presents, may Jesus’ words to his disciples be a comfort and peace for us.
For here he comforts them by reminding them that God is in control. He calls them to look back to the beginning. To look back to the books of the law, look back to all the prophets, to all the Psalms and all of the Scriptures. All of that was perfectly orchestrated by God himself to save us. It is the story of the redemption of God’s people.
See, when we know the end from the beginning, when we know that the same God who was sovereign over history is the same God who is sovereign over our present and future, then are lives are different. Our perspective changes.
When we know God is sovereign over all, we can rest and find comfort in the fact that the God who raised Jesus from the dead, will also watch over us and raise us from the dead.
And that means that even though we cannot see the future, we can trust that God has secured it for us in Jesus.
Joy in Jesus
But what about suffering?
You might have noticed that Jesus showed them the Scriptures, and told them about his suffering, but did not say that they would be free from suffering.
Jesus had the power to decimate all the religious leaders, the Roman army, Judas, and all other potential troublemakers that the disciples would face in the future. Jesus could have removed Paul’s thorn in the flesh.
Jesus could have removed all sickness, addiction, mental illness, temptation, sin and evil in the world, but he didn’t. But that time will come.
But for now, just as in all generations before us, in God’s all-knowing and perfect wisdom, he has chosen not to remove the present and immediate threats we face in this life. He has allowed them to continue.
And while Jesus has not yet removed the immediate threats we face, he has overcome our ultimate threat we face once and for all. And these two are tied together.
See, one day he will come again. On that resurrection day, some will rise to everlasting life and healing and perfection, and others to everlasting condemnation. In the resurrection, God will bring justice once and for all, and bring an end to all our threats.
In that glorious day, we will be free from all the pain and suffering and illness, sin, and death that we face, and we will have our resurrected bodies. But Jesus shows us here, that we will have to wait patiently for that day.
And our joy will need to be anchored not to our present circumstances (either good or bad), nor to the pain in our lives. Our joy must be found and anchored in knowing and trusting in God’s perfect wisdom and will for our lives.
Paul, despairing of life himself, writes these words on the resurrection:
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10)
Paul’s hope, even while on the edge of death itself, is that the God who raises the dead will deliver him from all despair and brokenness. And that brought him peace and joy.
As a loving Father, God is teaching us not to rely on ourselves, but to rely on our awesome God who raises the dead through Jesus our Lord. For Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
At the beginning of this message, I mentioned the account of my professor and the Christians who had to meet in secret locations throughout rural areas in China. How they had to meet by candlelight in a locked home.
One of the questions I asked was how could these Christians – under such significant persecution, be joyful? How could they weep with joy as they sang hymns together? And how could the disciples go from such great fear to such great joy?
And the answer is, they turned to such great joy and worship and praise because the God of all creation came and showed them his plan of salvation. He showed them that not only does he have a perfect plan, but that they are part of it.
And that while that plan includes suffering, pain and even death in this life, it also includes life everlasting in the presence of a sovereign God who has promised that he will never leave them or forsake them.
This was their great hope, and it is our great hope and joy as well, as we trust in Jesus, our resurrection and life.
This sermon draws on material from:
Duncan, Mick. “Jesus Is NOT All You Need in Overcoming Fear.” The Bonhoeffer Legacy 7, no. 1–2 (2019): 13–23.
Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew: Volume 1 The Christ Book Matthew 1-12 (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1987), 318.
Green, Joel B. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997.
Hendrickson, William. New Testament Commentary: Luke. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1980.
Keller, Timothy. Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter. New York, New York: Viking, 2021.
Tish Harrison Warren, “How a Cancer Diagnosis Makes Jesus’ Death and Resurrection Mean More” New York Times, April 10, 2022.
 Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov. “First Impressions,” Psychological Science, July 1, 2006.
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