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Every Sunday we confess in the creed that Jesus rose again according to the Scriptures. We don’t just say that Jesus rose again. We add that he rose according to the Scriptures, just like the Scriptures said he would. It’s a little phrase that’s easy to overlook. But we shouldn’t be quick to disregard it. This little phrase packs a big punch, and it’s something worth holding onto and using for all it’s worth.
What are we confessing when we say that Jesus rose again according to the Scriptures? We’re saying that God’s plans are always going to have the last word. We’re saying that God’s plans aren’t undone by injustice and death. Instead, injustice and death can only be swallowed up by God’s plans to make good on our evil.
There’s a strange detail in our gospel reading. Two of Jesus’ disciples couldn’t recognize Jesus, risen from the dead, even though they were staring him in the face, walking and talking with him. On that first Easter day, two of his disciples were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, talking about all the things that had happened. And Jesus walked up alongside and joined the conversation. But they couldn’t see that it was Jesus. You would think his own disciples would know him when they saw him. They’ve been with him this whole time. But they thought he was just some guy.
Why couldn’t they recognize him? Their hope was too small. Their expectations for Jesus were too limited. They had hoped that Jesus was the one to redeem Israel. That is, they had hoped that Jesus was the one to set Israel free from its bondage to Roman rule, that Jesus could deliver Israel from the hand of its enemies, so that they might serve God without fear. But those hopes had been dashed. As they said, “Jesus of Nazareth…was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people. [But] our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him.” It makes sense. If their hope was that Jesus would be able to defeat the Romans, the worst thing that could happen to Jesus is that his own people would reject him and hand him over to the Romans, who would then crucify him!
They couldn’t hope past the injustice of their own people. And they couldn’t hope past the cold hard reality of death, especially death by crucifixion. In fact, when the women reported back that the tomb was empty and angels said Jesus was alive, they thought it was an idle tale. And so even though the risen Jesus was walking with them and talking with them, they couldn’t see him for who he was. Injustice won again, and dead was dead. Why should they expect anything more?
So what did Jesus do to open their eyes? He gave them a bigger hope! He explained that death and resurrection was God’s plan all along, according to the Scriptures. “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he opened to them the Scriptures.
Now Luke doesn’t tell us exactly what passages of Scripture Jesus used to give them a bigger hope. Maybe it was Isaiah 53. “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one form whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” Death was not Jesus’ defeat. It was the plan all along. The Christ would deal with our sin and death by suffering it and bearing it for our forgiveness.
Or maybe it was Psalm 16. “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your holy one see corruption.” Death could not be his end because as God’s servant, it was impossible that death could hold him.
Or maybe it was Ezekiel 37, where in a vision, the Lord took the prophet Ezekiel to a valley scattered with bones. And he asked Ezekiel, can these bones live? And then he commanded Ezekiel to prophesy and say to the bones, “Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” And when Ezekiel spoke as the Lord told him, they did. Bone came together with bone, and sinews came upon them and flesh covered them and God breathed into them the breath of life. And the Lord said to Ezekiel, “Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.” Jesus’ death isn’t his defeat. Instead it’s the way God will defeat death. He will raise his people from their graves, and he has started already with Jesus, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Or maybe it was Genesis 3. After the serpent deceived Adam and Eve and they rebelled against God, bringing sin and death into the world, God made a promise: the serpent would bruise the heal of Eve’s offspring. But he would crush the serpent’s head. Jesus’ death isn’t the end. It’s only the sting of the serpent. But the serpent’s head would be crushed by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We don’t know what passages of Scripture Jesus used. There are plenty to choose from. But what we do know is that Jesus opened their eyes to see that God’s plans aren’t undone by injustice and death. Instead, injustice and death are swallowed up by God’s plans to make good on our evil. And once they understood that this was God’s plan all along, once they were given a bigger hope, they were able to see that the guy standing before them wasn’t just some guy; it was Jesus himself, risen from the dead!
That’s what gives this little phrase in the creed, “according to the Scriptures,” such a powerful punch. To confess that Jesus rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures is to say that God’s plans are always going to have the last word. God’s plans aren’t undone by injustice and death. Instead, injustice and death can only be swallowed up by God’s plans to make good on our evil.
And that makes this phrase something worth hanging onto and using for everything it’s worth. I mean, that’s why we recite it every week, so that we can bring it out and use it for all it’s worth.
For example, when we’re face to face with death, and all we can see in front of us is the grave and the cold hard reality that this person is gone. It can seem as if there is nothing more to life than this awful death. But it’s precisely then that we can recall this gift: “He rose again according to the Scriptures,” and remember that no matter how hard and cold death may be, God’s plans had the last word with Jesus, and God’s plans are going to have the last word with us too. God’s plans aren’t undone by death. Instead death can only be swallowed up by God’s plans to make good on our evil.
Or when we’re tempted to despair over all the things that are going wrong in this world. When we’re tempted to despair that the economy is shut down, and that every day we go out to buy groceries or go to work we have the potential of getting sick, and there doesn’t seem to be any easy way that this is all going to resolve itself. It’s then that we can recall this gift: Jesus rose again according to the Scriptures. And we can take heart that no matter how dark these times may be, God’s plans had the last word with Jesus, and God’s plans are going to have the last word with us too. God’s plans aren’t undone by injustice and death. Instead injustice and death can only be swallowed up by God’s plans to make good on our evil.
Or when we’re tempted to despair over our sin and all we can see is how we’ve messed up again, and no matter what good thing God has given us, we’ve always found a way to make the worst of it, it’s then that we can recall that Jesus rose again according to the Scriptures. And we can take heart that no matter how grave our sin, God’s plans had the last word with Jesus, and God’s plans are going to have the last word with us too. God’s plans aren’t undone by our sin. Instead our sin can only be swallowed up by God’s plans to make good on our evil.
We’ve been given a great gift. A gift of hope and promise. A gift to take with us always, to live in every moment, to use for all it’s worth: on the third day, Jesus rose again, according to the Scriptures.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. 28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.