Nothing intensifies a night out camping quite like a good ole fashion ghost story. Sitting around the campfire with the flames dancing up through the wood casting all kinds of shadows on the trees above and around you, having someone holding a flashlight up from under face, and then tell you an eerie story, an eerie ghost story … there’s no better way to put fear into someone who has never been camping before. Once everyone goes to bed and falls asleep, there lies that one person who can’t sleep. Every single little sound, the rustling of leaves, the hoot of an owl, the sound of wind blowing, they all keep that person awake wondering what is out there and if that something out there is going to get them.
Two of the followers of Jesus, probably gasping for air as they just ran the 7 miles from Emmaus back to Jerusalem, are trying to tell the disciples about what they had just experienced. Thinking they were just walking with a normal person, they didn’t realize that they were actually walking with Jesus! They had been listening to Jesus teach about the passages of Scripture which concerned his death and resurrection! And then at supper, as this random traveler broke bread, Jesus revealed himself to them and they physically saw Jesus!
Like an eerie campfire ghost story, this story could have put the disciples on edge. It could raise some doubt in their minds. It could have made them wonder if a person they were talking to on the street could possibly be Jesus. But wait a minute, some of these disciples are the ones who witnessed Jesus die on the cross. They were there when they put his body in the tomb. The story from the women who said that the tomb was empty and that an angel said that Jesus is alive had to be nonsense. No one rises from the dead, especially under his own power.
But as these two men coming back from Emmaus are telling this crazy story to the disciples, “Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’” (Luke 24:36). At this, at Jesus just whabam, all of sudden showing up in front them, Luke says that the disciples were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. Ya think? Jesus was supposed to be dead! If you look at the original Greek of those two words, “startled” and “frightened”, the disciples weren’t startled or frightened in the sense that someone had just snuck up from behind them and said boo. No, they were absolutely terrified, they were in a state of intense fear and desperation. Who in their right mind wouldn’t have been stricken with terror and put into a state of intense fear? The man standing in front of them, the man talking to them died three days earlier!
And yet Jesus asks them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?” Probably absolutely speechless with that deer in the headlight look, the disciples continue to look at Jesus and think … “I thought you were dead! Jesus says, “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” (24:39).
Remember the ghost in the comic, television show, and/or the movie about Casper the Friendly Ghost? Well, in one scene from the 1995 movie, a young girl named Kat is in the dining room with Casper. Armed with a Dustbuster, she is unsure of the whole situation. Not sure of what she is seeing, not sure if she should be scared or not. Casper calms her fears and before eating her breakfast, Kat nervously asks if she can touch Casper. As their hands meet, Casper’s hand goes through Kat’s.
Not the case with Jesus. Jesus says to the disciples, “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.” As he said this, he shows them his hands and feet. After seeing his hands and feet, after seeing the hole from the nails, the disciples still did not believe it because of joy and amazement (24:41). Notice they go from being nearly scared to death to being filled with joy. But wait, is this really Jesus? It would be awesome if it was, but is it really? Remember, dead people don’t come back to life.
Jesus asks them, “‘Do you have anything to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence” (24:41-43). If Jesus was a ghost like Casper, that piece of broiled fish would have gone straight through him to the floor … but it didn’t. As C.S. Lewis suggests, given the circumstances, Jesus’ resurrected body would cast a shadow in the sunlight and make a noise as it tramped across the floor. Ghosts wouldn’t make a sound, ghosts wouldn’t stop the light from shining through them, and ghosts wouldn’t be able to eat food.
But because physically seeing Jesus doesn’t seem to be enough for these disciples, Jesus says, “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” (24:44). Jesus then opens their minds so that they could understand the Scriptures, so that they could understand how the whole Old Testament points to him as the Savior. “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (24:46-47).
Struck with fear, Jesus comes and meets the disciples where they are. He meets them in a locked room for fear of the Jews, he meets them in their overwhelming fear of seeing him standing before them … and he meets them not only to prove that he is physically alive, but he meets them to open up their minds to the Scriptures through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Notice Jesus doesn’t come to them to scare the living daylights out of them. Jesus doesn’t come to them to strike utter fear into their hearts. Jesus doesn’t come to interrogate them as to why they all abandoned him. Jesus comes to give them the peace. To give them the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding. A peace which calms hearts and minds in the midst of fear and anxiety, desperation and disillusionment. With this peace in their hearts, Jesus reassures them that because what the Scriptures say is true and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins is for all people, they have nothing to fear.
Jesus said to the disciples in that locked upper room, and he says to us today … “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?” (24:38). In the midst of trials and temptations, desperation and doubt, in the midst of the chaos and confusion of this broken and falling apart sinful world in which we live … Jesus comes to you as well! Even though you can’t see him physically, each time we gather here, not with the doors locked for fear of the world, each time we gather here, we do so to receive Jesus. Jesus continually speaks to us through his written and spoken Word. Jesus comes to you physically through his body and blood in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. Jesus continues to come to you through the peace of the Holy Spirit which is dwelling within our hearts and minds.
With God living and dwelling within us, with minds opened to the instructions and promises of Scripture, Jesus sends you out, just like he did with the disciples. Jesus told the disciples that “repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (24:47). For you, your Jerusalem is where you live. Repentance and forgiveness of sins begins at home and then goes out from there.
To some, this will sound like a made up campfire ghost story … but let me tell you … with the kind of love the Father has lavished on us through Christ … the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is not your average ghost story because Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in our risen and living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.