In my previous post [here] we examined the famous condemnations of Jesus. The Gospel of Luke was written to Theophilus and to us to ensure us all that God loves the whole world, but Jesus found in the religious leaders a tremendous obstacle to the world hearing that good news. Jesus condemned them for their self-centered hypocrisy and for behaving in a way that kept the nations from hearing the good news of God’s salvation.
The final feature of the Gospel of Luke we will consider in this series is a teaching of Jesus during his last days on earth. After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to his followers on a variety of occasions, and each of those visitations was unique. Luke records the appearance of the resurrected Jesus to his followers on the Emmaus road in Luke 24, and his last words to them highlight Luke’s entire purpose for writing.
When Jesus first speaks to these disciples, they don’t recognize him, and he plays dumb. “What’s going on?” Jesus asks. Their response is incredulity: “Are you the only person in Israel who hasn’t heard what has happened?” Jesus insists that they explain it all to him, so they do. They tell Jesus all that happened . . .
19 . . . “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.”
These disciples have a measure of faith and a good bit more insight that many. They understand the basic nature of the messiah correctly. Most in Luke’s Gospel don’t. They are struggling with his death, but they believe that he is the one to “redeem Israel.” They are struggling to believe in the resurrection, and their words are filled with confusion and dashed hopes.
Jesus gently chides them for their responses and for their lack of faith. He doesn’t criticize them for their failure to understand the events of their day. He criticizes them for not believing all that Moses and the Prophets had spoken. Then, beginning with Moses, Jesus walks these disciples through the Old Testament, showing them that everything that has come to pass has happened exactly as God said it would.
Jesus spends the rest of the evening with them, reveals himself to them and then vanishes before their eyes. In that moment their confusion gives way to clarity, and their dashed hopes vanish with him
Luke then puts a second appearance story right next to this one. Jesus appears in a room with his disciples, and demonstrates to them that he is not a ghost. He is Jesus, risen from the dead, in his body. He shows them his wounds and eats with them. Then he teaches them in a similar fashion to the disciples on the Emmaus road.
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, Jesus insists, tell the story of Jesus in a way that they should understand. And the heart of that message, the message of the Old Testament and the message of Jesus, is this: “Repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” The disciples, Jesus says, are the first witnesses, and they will start their witnessing in Jerusalem.
These two stories are connected by the teaching of Jesus that the story of the good news of salvation for the whole world is a Jewish story, a story from Moses and the Prophets and the Writings. Jesus ends this teaching—and Luke ends his Gospel—by calling all “Jesus followers” to be witnesses to the truth about Jesus to every corner of the gentile world.
Jesus taught the truth that the good news of salvation is for the whole world. Luke wants to make sure that message comes through in his Gospel loud and clear, so he curates for us the collection of parables, narratives, condemnations, and teachings that highlights that truth. He even structures his Gospel around these teachings to be sure we don’t miss his point. Christians through the centuries, however, have struggled to keep the great commission at the center of all we do. We would do well to hear the gospel again with fresh ears and to heed the admonition of our savior: “that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in Jesus’ name to all nations.” Those words aren’t simply a prediction of what will be, and they aren’t merely inspirational. They are a commission to us, the Church. They are the reason the Church exists. Those words form the mission for all of our lives.