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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
Luke 24

 

 

Verses 1-53

Chapter 24

THE WRONG PLACE TO LOOK (Luke 24:1-12)

24:1-12 On the first day of the week, at the first streaks of dawn, the women came to the tomb, bearing the spices which they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. They entered in, but they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were at a loss what to make of this--look you--two men stood by them in flashing raiment. They were afraid, and they bowed their faces to the ground. But they said to them, "Why are you looking for him who is alive among the dead? He is not here; he is risen. Remember how he said to you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and that he must be crucified, and that on the third day he would rise again." Then they remembered his words; and they returned from the tomb and brought the news of all these things to the eleven and to the others. Mary Magdalene was there, and Joanna, and Mary, the mother of James. They, and the other women with them, kept telling these things to the apostles. But their words seemed to them an idle tale, and they refused to believe them. But Peter rose up and ran to the tomb; and he stooped down and saw the linen clothes lying all by themselves; and he went away wondering in himself at what had happened.

The Jewish Sabbath, our Saturday, is the last day of the week and commemorates the rest of God after the work of creation. The Christian Sunday is the first day of the week and commemorates the resurrection of Jesus. On this first Christian Sunday the women went to the tomb in order to carry out the last offices of love for the dear dead and to embalm Jesus' body with their spices.

In the east tombs were often carved out of caves in the rock. The body was wrapped in long linen strips like bandages and laid on a shelf in the rock tomb. The tomb was then closed by a great circular stone like a cart-wheel which ran in a groove across the opening. When the women came, they found the stone rolled away.

Just here we have one of those discrepancies in the accounts of the resurrection of which the opponents of Christianity make so much. In Mark the messenger in the tomb is a young man in a long white robe (Mark 16:5); in Matthew he is the angel of the Lord (Matthew 28:2). Here it is two men in flashing raiment; and in John it is two angels (John 20:12). It is true that the differences are there; but it is also true that, whatever the attendant description, the basic fact of the empty tomb never varies, and that is the fact that matters. No two people ever described the same episode in the same terms; nothing so wonderful as the resurrection ever escaped a certain embroidery as it was repeatedly told and retold. But at the heart of this story that all-important fact of the empty tomb remains.

The women returned with their story to the rest of the disciples but they refused to believe them. They called it an idle tale. The word used is one employed by Greek medical writers to describe the babbling of a fevered and insane mind. Only Peter went out to see if it might not possibly be true. The very fact that Peter was there says much for him. The story of his denial of his Master was not a thing that could be kept silent; and yet he had the moral courage to face those who knew his shame. There was something of the hero in Peter, as well as something of the coward. The man who was a fluttering dove is on the way to become a rock.

The all-important and challenging question in this story is that of the messengers in the tomb, "Why are you looking for him who is alive among the dead?" Many of us still look for Jesus among the dead.

(i) There are those who regard him as the greatest man and the noblest hero who ever lived, as one who lived the loveliest life ever seen on earth; but who then died. That will not do. Jesus is not dead; he is alive. He is not merely a hero of the past; he is a living reality of the present.

Shakespeare is dust, and will not come

To question from his Avon tomb,

And Socrates and Shelley keep

An Attic and Italian sleep.

They see not. But, O Christians, who

Throng Holborn and Fifth Avenue,

May you not meet in spite of death,

A traveller from Nazareth?

(ii) There are those who regard Jesus simply as a man whose life must be studied, his words examined, his teaching analysed. There is a tendency to think of Christianity and Christ merely in terms of something to be studied. The tendency may be seen in the quite simple fact of the extension of the study group and the extinction of the prayer meeting. Beyond doubt study is necessary but Jesus is not only someone to be studied; he is someone to be met and lived with every day. He is not only a figure in a book, even if that book be the greatest in the world; he is a living presence.

(iii) There are those who see in Jesus the perfect pattern and example. He is that; but a perfect example can be the most heart-breaking thing in the world. For centuries the birds gave men an example of flight, and yet not till modern times could man fly. Some of us when young were presented at school with a writing book. At the top it had a line of copperplate writing; below it had blank lines on which we had to copy it. How utterly discouraging were our efforts to reproduce that perfect pattern! But then the teacher would come and, with her hand, would guide our hand over the lines and we got nearer the ideal. That is what Jesus does. He is not only the pattern and the example. He helps us and guides us and strengthens us to follow that pattern and example. He is not simply a model for life; he is a living presence to help us to live.

It may well be that our Christianity has lacked an essential something because we too have been looking for him who is alive among the dead.

THE SUNSET ROAD THAT TURNED TO DAWN (Luke 24:13-35)

24:13-35 Now--look you--on that same day two of them were on the way to a village called Emmaus, which is about seven miles from Jerusalem; and they talked with each other about all the things which had happened. As they talked about them, and discussed them, Jesus himself came up to them and joined them on their way. But their eyes were fastened so that they did not recognize him. He said to them, "What words are these that you are exchanging with each other as you walk?" And they stood with faces twisted with grief One of them, called Cleopas, answered, "Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who does not know the things that happened in it in these days?" "What kind of things?" he said to them. They said to him, "The story of Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and in word before God and all the people; and how our chief priests and rulers handed him over to sentence of death and how they crucified him. As for us--we were hoping that he was the one who was going to rescue Israel. Yes--and to add to it all--this is the third day since these things happened. Yes and some women of our number astonished us, for they went early to the tomb, and, when they did not find his body, they came saying that they had seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. And some of our company went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said--but they did not see him." He said to them, "O foolish ones and slow in heart to believe in all the things that the prophets said! Was it not necessary that the anointed one should suffer and enter into his glory?" And beginning from Moses and all the prophets, he expounded to them the things concerning himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he made as if he would have gone on; and they pressed him. "Stay with us," they said, "because it is towards evening, and the day is already far spent." So he came in to stay with them. When he had taken his place at table with them, he took bread, and blessed it and broke it, and gave it to them; and their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, "Was not our heart burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, as he opened the scriptures to us?" And they arose that very hour and went back to Jerusalem and found the eleven gathered together and those with them, and found that they were saying, "It is a fact that the Lord has risen, and he has appeared to Simon." So they recounted all that had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of bread.

This is another of the immortal short stories of the world.

(i) It tells of two men who were walking towards the sunset. It has been suggested that that is the very reason why they did not recognize Jesus. Emmaus was west of Jerusalem. The sun was sinking, and the setting sun so dazzled them that they did not know their Lord. However that may be, it is true that the Christian is a man who walks not towards the sunset but towards the sunrise. Long ago it was said to the children of Israel that they journeyed in the wilderness towards the sunrising. (Numbers 21:11.) The Christian goes onwards, not to a night which falls, but to a dawn which breaks--and that is what, in their sorrow and their disappointment, the two on the Emmaus road had not realized.

(ii) It tells us of the ability of Jesus to make sense of things. The whole situation seemed to these two men to have no explanation. Their hopes and dreams were shattered. There is all the poignant, wistful, bewildered regret in the world in their sorrowing words, "We were hoping that he was the one who was going to rescue Israel." They were the words of men whose hopes were dead and buried. Then Jesus came and talked with them, and the meaning of life became clear and the darkness became light. A story-teller makes one of his characters say to the one with whom he has fallen in love, "I never knew what life meant until I saw it in your eyes." It is only in Jesus that, even in the bewildering times, we learn what life means.

(iii) It tells us of the courtesy of Jesus. He made as if he would have gone on. He would not force himself upon them; he awaited their invitation to come in. God gave to men the greatest and the most perilous gift in the world, the gift of free-will; we can use it to invite Christ to enter our lives or to allow him to pass on.

(iv) It tells how he was known to them in the breaking of bread. This always sounds a little as if it meant the sacrament; but it does not. It was at an ordinary meal in an ordinary house, when an ordinary loaf was being divided, that these men recognized Jesus. It has been beautifully suggested that perhaps they were present at the feeding of the five thousand, and, as he broke the bread in their cottage home, they recognized his hands again. It is not only at the communion table we can be with Christ; we can be with him at the dinner table too. He is not only the host in his Church; he is the guest in every home. Fay Inchfawn wrote,

Sometimes, when everything goes wrong;

When days are short and nights are long;

When wash-day brings so dull a sky

That not a single thing will dry.

And when the kitchen chimney smokes,

And when there's naught so 'queer' as folks!

When friends deplore my faded youth,

And when the baby cuts a tooth.

While John, the baby last but one,

Clings round my skirts till day is done;

And fat, good-tempered Jane is glum,

And butcher's man forgets to come.

Sometimes I say on days like these,

I get a sudden gleam of bliss.

Not on some sunny day of ease,

He'll come ... but on a day like this!

The Christian lives always and everywhere in a Christ-filled world.

(v) It tells how these two men, when they received such great joy, hastened to share it. It was a seven miles tramp back to Jerusalem, but they could not keep the good news to themselves. The Christian message is never fully ours until we have shared it with someone else.

(vi) It tells how, when they reached Jerusalem, they found others who had already shared their experience. It is the glory of the Christian that he lives in a fellowship of people who have had the same experience as he has had. It has been said that true friendship begins only when people share a common memory and can say to each other, "Do you remember?" Each of us is one of a great fellowship of people who share a common experience and a common memory of their Lord.

(vii) It tells that Jesus appeared to Peter. That must remain one of the great untold stories of the world. But surely it is a lovely thing that Jesus should make one of his first appearances to the man who had denied him. It is the glory of Jesus that he can give the penitent sinner back his self-respect.

IN THE UPPER ROOM (Luke 24:36-49)

24:36-49 While they were still speaking, Jesus stood in the midst of them, and said to them, "Peace to you!" They were terrified and afraid, because they thought that they were seeing a spirit. He said to them, "Why are you troubled? And why do the questions arise in your heart? See my hands and my feet--that it is I--myself. Handle me and see, for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this he showed them his hands and his feet. When they still thought it too good to be true, and when they were astonished he said to them. "Have you anything to eat here?" They gave him part of a cooked fish, and he took it and ate it before them.

He said to them, "These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you--that all the things which stand written about me in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds so that they understood the scriptures; and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the anointed one should suffer and should rise from the dead on the third day; and that repentance in his name and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. And--look you--I send out the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in this city until you will be clothed with power from on high."

Here we read of how Jesus came to his own when they were gathered in the upper room. In this passage certain great notes of the Christian faith are resonantly struck.

(i) It stresses the reality of the resurrection. The risen Lord was no phantom or hallucination. He was real. The Jesus who died was in truth the Christ who rose again. Christianity is not founded on the dreams of men's disordered minds or the visions of their fevered eyes, but on one who in actual historical fact faced and fought and conquered death and rose again.

(ii) It stresses the necessity of the cross. It was to the cross that all the scriptures looked forward. The cross was not forced on God; it was not an emergency measure when all else had failed and when the scheme of things had gone wrong. It was part of the plan of God, for it is the one place on earth, where in a moment of time, we see his eternal love.

(iii) It stresses the urgency of the task. Out to all men had to go the call to repentance and the offer of forgiveness. The church was not left to live forever in the upper room; it was sent out into all the world. After the upper room came the world-wide mission of the church. The days of sorrow were past and the tidings of joy must be taken to all men.

(iv) It stresses the secret of power. They had to wait in Jerusalem until power from on high came upon them. There are occasions when the Christian may seem to be wasting time, as he waits in a wise passivity. Action without preparation must often fail. There is a time to wait on God and a time to work for God. Fay Inchfawn writes of the days when life is a losing contest with a thousand little things.

"I wrestle--how I wrestle!--through the hours.

Nay, not with principalities and powers--

Dark spiritual foes of God's and man's--

But with antagonistic pots and pans;

With footmarks on the hall,

With smears upon the wall,

With doubtful ears and small unwashen hands,

And with a babe's innumerable demands."

And then, even in the busyness she lays aside her work to be for a moment with God.

"With leisured feet and idle hands, I sat.

I, foolish, fussy, blind as any bat,

Sat down to listen, and to learn. And lo,

My thousand tasks were done the better so."

The quiet times in which we wait on God are never wasted; for it is in these times when we lay aside life's tasks that we are strengthened for the very tasks we lay aside.

THE HAPPY ENDING (Luke 24:50-53)

24:50-53 Jesus led them out as far as Bethany; and he raised his hands and blessed them; and as he was blessing them he parted from them, and was borne up into heaven. And when they had worshipped him they returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the Temple praising God.

The ascension must always remain a mystery, for it attempts to put into words what is beyond words and to describe what is beyond description. But that something such should happen was essential. It was unthinkable that the appearances of Jesus should grow fewer and fewer until finally they petered out. That would have effectively wrecked the faith of men. There had to come a day of dividing when the Jesus of earth finally became the Christ of heaven. But to the disciples the ascension was obviously three things.

(i) It was an ending. The days when their faith was faith in a flesh and blood person and depended on his flesh and blood presence were over. Now they were linked to someone who was forever independent of space and time.

(ii) Equally it was a beginning. The disciples did not leave the scene heart-broken; they left it with great joy, because now they knew that they had a Master from whom nothing could separate them any more.

I know not where his islands lift

Their fronded palms in air;

I only know I cannot drift

Beyond his love and care.

"I am sure," said Paul, "that nothing--nothing in life or death--can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39.)

(iii) Further, the ascension gave the disciples the certainty that they had a friend, not only on earth, but in heaven. Surely it is the most precious thing of all to know that in heaven there awaits us that self-same Jesus who on earth was wondrous kind. To die is not to go out into the dark; it is to go to him.

So they went back to Jerusalem, and they were continually in the Temple praising God. It is not by accident that Luke's gospel ends where it began--in the house of God.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Luke 24:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/luke-24.html. 1956-1959.

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