By Dan Schaeffer
For over 35 years I have been giving special Easter messages, and many of those messages have dealt with defending the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Defending it historically, scripturally, factually, etc. The resurrection is the lynchpin of the Christian faith. If it isn’t true, none of it is true.
I have defended the resurrection account, I have explained why the alternate theories of what happened to Jesus aren’t logical, coherent, or reasonable. I have reminded people that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the best attested fact of ancient history. The amount of evidence we have is overwhelming.
But the resurrection of Jesus, by itself, simply isn’t enough to bring someone to faith. Not everyone who saw the resurrected Jesus immediately confessed him as Lord and bowed down and worshipped him. In a very familiar story in the resurrection account, an account in which Jesus has already been resurrected…we will see that Jesus was resurrected, but it wasn’t enough. People were not convinced. They needed something more.
It's the same today. Even if I could convince any number of doubters of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that would not necessarily be enough to inspire faith in our Lord. And in fact, as we will see, Jesus himself recognized this and showed us what else is required. You see, even with the resurrection…
“We don’t have all the information we need—and what we have is confusing (Luke 24:13-24)
We’re going to visit two disciples of Jesus three days after His death, who are very sad and making their way to a village named Emmaus. So we read…
“And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. And He said to them, “What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” And they stood still, looking sad. One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” And He said to them, “What things?” And they said to Him, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.”
We come across two disciples, one named Cleopas, who had been in Jerusalem and witnessed or heard of Jesus’ crucifixion. It was three days since Jesus had died and been buried. They were walking from Jerusalem to a village named Emmaus. But they were intensely discussing the events of the crucifixion, so absorbed in them they barely noticed a stranger approaching. Then the stranger began to walk with them, which was not uncommon. On strange roads people stayed together for safety.
But, as we read, “their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him…” So the stranger initiates a conversation with them, asking what they were talking about. Had he been on Mars? It was all anyone was talking about. And then they told him, it was about “Jesus the Nazarene.”
“…who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.”
They were called “disciples of Jesus” indicating that they had followed him and been intrigued by his words. But they weren’t really disciples yet, though they were on their way. That’s actually how conversion works. Jesus finds us; and He has to come looking for us, because we’ll never find Him on our own.
You can find Jesus very intriguing and interesting—and still not know who He really is—and why it matters. It still takes Jesus opening your eyes…you can’t get there alone. He will approach you and begin to travel with you. We all have a blindness to who Jesus really is, which is why we need his help.
Who were they looking for? “A prophet, mighty in deed and word…” This tells us where they had landed with Jesus. He was a teacher, a good guy, a prophet of God like the human prophets of old. He was still Jesus…the Nazarene. Carpenter. Historical Jesus. Martyr Jesus. Strictly human, died a tragic death.
They had harbored some hopes He might be the Messiah, but he had been crucified, so in their eyes, he had been DQ’d. And then some women had been running around saying they had seen him alive. So now they were totally confused. Was he alive or dead, and what did that mean?
So we see that they had a rumor, a report of a resurrected Jesus, but that didn’t comfort them, it confused them. The Messiah wasn’t supposed to die in their minds, so having a missing body wasn’t a comfort, it was distressing.
If you are finally convinced that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead, that, by itself, may not lead you to Christ as your Savior. You can be impressed, confused, even awed with Jesus without ever coming to faith. How else do you explain Judas? He saw every miracle of Jesus for three years.
A resurrection, as amazing and impressive as that is, won’t be enough to lead you to Christ as your Savior. It is the rest of the scriptures that tell us why that needed to happen, what it was for, and what it all meant that we needed. Notice something as we go through this passage: the resurrected Jesus twice took the disciples back to the scriptures…and only then did they really understand and truly believe in Jesus.
The resurrection was not a strange aberration or anomaly of nature; it was the plan of God; the final piece of our redemption that began in Genesis. It was the final, powerful piece of the puzzle picture—but by itself, without all the other pieces, it means…nothing.
Annette and I received a number of puzzles as gifts when I was recovering from an operation. It helped to pass the time when I was recuperating. So we took great pains to put the puzzles together, but as you got near the end there is always one last piece to finish the puzzle, and depending on who is doing the puzzle, that piece will be different for every person.
But when you are finally holding it in your hand there is joy! The last piece completes the picture! Now you can clearly see what the final picture is. For a long time you could only see fragments, not the whole.
But, imagine you only have that one piece, as critical as it is, and not all the others. They are still lying scattered and confused. That one piece, by itself, cannot make sense of the whole. Even the resurrection, as powerful and important as it is, is not enough to lead someone to true faith—not without all the other pieces.
If Jesus wasn’t the perfect Lamb of God, the great and final atonement for our sin, if he wasn’t sinless, if he wasn’t prophesied to come, if he wasn’t the Son of David, if he wasn’t born of a virgin, then what does his resurrection even mean—beyond being an interesting physical anomaly or scientific curiosity?
Without all the other puzzle pieces being there, and on the table, the final piece, the resurrection, wouldn’t tell us…well anything really. It wouldn’t tell us how much God loves us. It wouldn’t tell us that God always planned to save His people. It wouldn’t tell us of the Son’s love for the Father, or the Father’s love for the Son. It wouldn’t even tell us that God has a plan for our world. It wouldn’t tell us who Jesus really is.
On the other hand, with all those other pieces, the resurrection perfectly, powerfully, and eternally completes the picture. In fact, without the resurrection, the picture can never be completed. So many people in our world have one or the other. They may have a lot of information about Jesus, in a historical or cultural sense. Pieces of the puzzle. Or, they may have heard only of His resurrection. Neither group can finish the puzzle with the pieces they have.
The disciples had a resurrected Jesus, and the scriptures, but they still couldn’t put the puzzle together. Jesus has to show up in every conversion and put all the pieces together in our hearts and minds. That’s how conversion works!
But even with the resurrection we’ll also see…
It is the scriptures that flesh out Jesus, not the resurrection (v.25-35)
Many are convinced that if Jesus was really resurrected, everyone would have instantly believed in him. But that’s not true. So we read…
“And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. And they approached the village where they were going, and He acted as though He were going farther. But they urged Him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.” So He went in to stay with them. When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.” They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.
I find it fascinating that Jesus didn’t just start saying, “Hey guys, clean your glasses!” and smile. He knew what they needed, and when, so he gave it to them. He began to show that their main assumption had been false. They had assumed, and it was conventional religious Jewish wisdom, that when Messiah came, he would come conquering! Messiah could never be crucified! They couldn’t entertain a suffering Messiah in their belief system.
But Jesus begins telling them that a suffering Messiah had been clearly prophesied and described in the Old Testament. In fact, the suffering and death, far from disqualifying him from Messiahship, actually qualified him!
A little history is in order. The Jews would read the passages on the conquering aspects of Messiah and apply that to the coming Messiah. But when they read the passages that spoke of that same Person suffering, they couldn’t reconcile the two ideas, so they applied the suffering passages to Israel. Israel had to suffer, so Messiah could come and rescue them by conquering their enemies.
But that’s not what it said. Jesus basically says, “Guys! Why is this still so hard for you to figure out? It’s all there in black and white in the prophets.” And right then and there these two disciples had the first Messianic conference taught by the Messiah Himself. We don’t know all He told them, but surely He took them to:
Isaiah 53. Speaking of the coming Messiah Isaiah wrote, “He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days…” (Isaiah 53:3-10)
Psalm 22: 1-18 “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; And by night, but I have no rest. Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
In You our fathers trusted; They trusted and You delivered them. To You they cried out and were delivered; In You they trusted and were not disappointed. But I am a worm and not a man, A reproach of men and despised by the people. All who see me sneer at me; They separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying, “Commit yourself to the LORD; let Him deliver him; Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.” Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb;
You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts. Upon You I was cast from birth; You have been my God from my mother’s womb. Be not far from me, for trouble is near; For there is none to help. Many bulls have surrounded me; Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me. They open wide their mouth at me, As a ravening and a roaring lion. I am poured out like water, And all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It is melted within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, And my tongue cleaves to my jaws; And You lay me in the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded me; A band of evildoers has encompassed me; They pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me; They divide my garments among them, And for my clothing they cast lots.”
We are reading the account of a crucifixion hundreds of years before crucifixion was invented. We read about this person being pierced and scourged; Jesus was both. When Jesus was asked to defend himself, he did not. His grave was assigned to be with the two other crucified men and thrown into a pit, the Roman custom; yet Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus come and take his body to Joseph’s tomb; a rich man’s tomb. While on the cross, others mocked him, telling him to come down off the cross if he was really the King of Israel. His bones were out of joint because of the form of execution he was experiencing. The loss of blood made him thirsty. His garments were divided by the soldiers committing the execution, and they cast lots to decide who got what.
We could go on for all the different prophecies fulfilled by Jesus in the scriptures. The possibility of just a handful of these prophecies to be fulfilled by one man hundreds of years later is astronomical. Peter Stoner, in his book, Science Speaks, calculated the chance of any man fulfilling these prophecies alone to be 10 to the 17th power. That’s the equivalent of taking that many silver dollars and laying them across the state of Texas, covering the state two feet deep.
Notice how Jesus walked them through the scriptures—not doing any other confirming miracle. Why? Because the scriptures correctly prophesying these events is a miracle; and in fact it is the most powerful miracle. It begins in Genesis and ends in Revelation. It was the scriptures that revealed Jesus to these men, not another miracle.
As they are listening to all this their hearts are strangely warmed; truth does that. Our hearts are designed to welcome and embrace God’s truth, and when we do that, we are deeply moved. Jesus showed them how he was the fulfillment of all the prophecies, and a risen Nazarene doesn’t communicate a fraction of that. They needed all the pieces. So do we.
It’s like discovering the sports almanac for 1963, with who won at every sport, and then going back in time. You would know precisely who to bet on! The New Testament, along with the Old Testament, tells us who to bet on! Bet on the coming Messiah, bet on a virgin birth, bet on a suffering messiah, bet on a resurrection, bet on a second coming! Bet on it!
And when all the pieces fall together, you suddenly see Jesus clearly. CS Lewis, the famous atheist turned Christian had been gathering pieces about Jesus for awhile, but hadn’t come to faith. Then one day he and his brother went to the Whipsnade Zoo in a motorcycle side car. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he writes, “When I set out I did not believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion. Emotional is perhaps the last word we can apply to some of the most important events. It was more like a man, after a long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake!”
They had Jesus in front of them, but they still couldn’t see him. The scriptures, as he explained them fleshed him out to them. And as he broke the bread with them, the lights suddenly went on…and he disappeared.
We still need Someone to explain the scriptures to us on a personal level (v.36-48)
Without Jesus Spirit personally enlightening us, we would remain lost even with the scriptures. So we read…
“While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and *said to them, “Peace be to you.” But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 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.” And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them. Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
Several times we read Jesus explained the scriptures to them. We are constantly told by secular scholars that the reason Christians believed in Jesus’ resurrection was because they simply could not accept His death, and through a kind of wish fulfillment, they created a belief out of what was really only a wish.
Yet, what does the account really reveal? Jesus appears to the two disciples in person, then in person again…He appears to the original 11 disciples, and then to them…again! They have both already seen Him alive and resurrected. And the result of that was that they thought they “were seeing a spirit…” Where was the wish fulfillment? They had to be convinced twice, both times by a physical resurrection, and the scriptures.
Notice, Jesus revealed himself twice to two different groups of disciples who have already seen him resurrected…and even the sight of a resurrected Jesus did not eliminate all doubt from their minds! He is standing in their presence, alive after being dead three days, in a glorified human body, and instead of focusing on that, he takes them again to the scriptures.
Why did He spend so much time on the scriptures with them? Because He was soon going to leave them, physically. What they would need to keep their faith strong were the scriptures.
This still goes on today. Many people, when they were younger, placed their faith in Jesus. They believed in his death for our sins, and his resurrection. But over time, perhaps years, their faith falters. Doubt creeps in. They wonder if they didn’t believe because they wanted to believe, because it was a happy children’s story. There are so many who doubt what they believed and can’t help wondering if they’ve just been duped.
But while they have lost sight of Jesus; he has not lost sight of them. When we begin to doubt, he does not leave us; he stays with us, revealing himself to us in different ways. It is ultimately he who comes and has to reveal himself to you.
We don’t believe in the resurrection because it makes us feel good. We don’t believe in Jesus because he makes us feel good. Tim Keller once wrote, “…true Christianity will never say, ‘Believe because it’s relevant,’ or ‘Believe because it appeals to you.” Christianity won’t let you get away with that. It says, “Don’t believe Christianity because it’s exciting and practical and relevant—believe it because it’s true. Because if it’s not true, in the end it won’t be practical or relevant.”
These disciples saw only the Old Testament scriptures, and Jesus before them. We see the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the resurrection! We have all the pieces we need. But only Jesus can put them together for you. It’s between you and him now. By itself, we admit, the resurrection isn’t enough…but with the rest of the scriptures, the whole puzzle comes together.
And for me, at least…it is enough. I had the last piece of the puzzle, his resurrection. And when put into place…I believed. And so can you.