On the day of Jesus’ resurrection, Luke tells us that his disciples were all gathered together in a confusion, discussing what had happened and trying to piece together the whole story from the various reports that they were receiving. Luke writes:
36As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39See 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.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate before them. (Luke 24:36-43)
The Peace of Christ’s Resurrection
Immediately after Jesus appears in the midst of his disciples, before the disciples have any time to realize what is happening, Jesus speaks a word of peace: “Peace to you!” This is a magnificent picture of the grace of our Lord: Jesus comes to us bearing a word of peace. He does not wait for us to find him at the end of some kind of a quest, but Jesus simply comes to his people, unbidden–and often unannounced.
And even more critically than the mere fact that Jesus comes at all is the fact that he comes with a word of peace. Jesus’ disciples had all fled from him, abandoning him in his hour of need. Although no one had betrayed Jesus to the extent that Judas had, Jesus’ lead disciple Peter had denied Christ three times, just as Jesus had prophesied.
The Troubled Hearts of the Disciples
The disciples, for their part, were terrified. Despite Jesus’ presence and his word of peace, they were troubled because they thought that they might be seeing a ghost. They still did not understand, nor did they quite yet believe, that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead.
Now, we are sometimes tempted to look down on the disciples for their unbelief; however, preachers have often reminded us that the disciples simply did not have the same amount of revelation that we have today. What we have read and heard and sung and preached, they were living. They did not have the benefit of the New Testament to help them navigate what was happening because they were the ones who would have to write it.
But Martin Luther is helpful to point out something more about their troubled hearts–namely, that we can only receive the gospel as good news from hearts that are troubled from the burdens of our own sin and guilt before God. Luther writes this first:
This is written for us, that we might learn that the Gospel of Christ’s resurrection comforts only the fainthearted. And who are these? They are the poor, conscience-stricken ones, whose sins lie heavily upon them, who feel their faint heart, are loth to die, and are well-nigh started by the sound of a rustling leaf. To these contrite, poor, and needy souls, the Gospel offers comfort, to them it is a sweet savor. (Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. 2, p. 303)
In fact, Luther continues, the Gospel cannot help us unless we receive it from troubled hearts, as the disciples did:
If now the Gospel teaches naught but that Christ has overcome sin and death by his resurrection, then we must indeed confess that it can be of service to none save those who eel sin and death. For they who do not feel their sin, and are not dismayed, nor see their infirmities, profit not a whit by it, nor do they delight in it. And though they hear the Gospel, it has no effect upon them, except that they learn the words, and speak of what they heard. They do not treasure them in their hearts, and receive neither comfort nor joy from them. (Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. 2, p. 303-04)
For those who have hearts just as troubled by your sin as the disciples were in the upper room, hear the word of the Lord: the Gospel of the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ means peace for you.
The Proofs of Jesus
Jesus offers two proofs to ease his disciples’ troubled hearts and to comfort the doubts that arise in their hearts. First, he encourages them to see and touch the wounds of his hands and his feet. Luke tells us that this proof fills them with joy, but that the joy so overwhelmed them that they were still not able to believe: “And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling…”
At this point, Jesus offers a second proof of his resurrection: he eats a piece of broiled fish. In his resurrected body, Jesus has no need for food as a means of sustaining himself, so that the only reason for eating is to bolster their faith.
What incredible kindness! Rather than rebuking them outright for their lack of faith, Jesus patiently demonstrates to them beyond all doubt that he is, indeed, risen from the dead!
This Easter, do you know the peace of Christ’s resurrection? Has your troubled heart been comforted by Christ’s power over sin, death, and the devil? Do you recognize the kindness of his Spirit, who gently leads you to recognize the truth of his resurrection just as much as Jesus himself led his disciples to believe?