Updated: Jun 3, 2021
Until Jesus returns, His commission is still our mission.
Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Luke 24:36-49
Jesus' resurrection gives us proof that God has made salvation available to us. Jesus' ascension gives us urgency that we are to proclaim His message to all nations. Jesus' promise gives us hope that He has given us the words and the power to complete the mission He gave us.
And look, I am sending you what my Father promised. Luke 24:49
This week's "Things to Think About" is also this week's "Big Idea":
This Week's Big Idea: The Status of Global Missions in 2021
Technically, Matthew's Gospel gives us "The Great Commission" (which we covered in 2017), and I started that lesson with a review of world missions:
Luke's Gospel tells us a different, later exchange (right before Jesus' ascension), but it has many of the same elements, so I believe you could still have a world mission focus.
Here are a few samples of maps, charts, and stories (and their sources) in hopes that you learn something helpful about the world we live in. My point:
Our missionaries have done amazing work in the past few years under increasingly difficult conditions, but there is so much work left to be done. Are we as individual Christians and church members praying, giving, and going in support of that great task?
This map from the IMB gives you a detailed look at the "Christian-ness" of the world. The more green, the more exposed to Christianity. The more yellow/red, the less exposed to Christianity.
Here are the numbers as of January 2021:
Christ-followers: 10% (0.78 billion)
Christian in name but not behavior: 22% (1.72 billion)
Non-Christians who have heard the gospel: 40% (3.12 billion)
People who have not heard the gospel: 28% (2.18 billion)
And here are some very interesting tidbits:
There are 7,359 languages in the world; 2,264 of them have at least the New Testament available -- those languages are spoken by 90% of the population. (That's pretty good.)
There are 17,400 people groups in the world; 7,400 of them are considered unreached (less than 2% are considered Christ-followers). In India, there are 2,717 people groups -- 90% of them are unreached.
Evangelical Christianity is growing a little faster than Islam: 2.6% to 1.9%.
An estimated 95% of pastors worldwide have no formal training.
87% of non-believers have little or no contact with a Christian.
In 1800, 99% of all Christians lived in Europe and North American. Today, only 22% of Christians live in Europe and North America.
[Note: "people group" is a technical term for "the largest group within which the Gospel can spread as a church planting movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance". People groups are generally defined by language, dialect, custom, and social class.]
Sample Prayer Needs
There are 14 prayer requests submitted 5/26 (which is when I wrote this) to the IMB website; here are three to get your juices flowing:
Wassulu of Mali, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire. (WAH-soo-loo) - In the Wassulu village of "Dalton," the small group of believers have been persecuted by cultural, economic, and family pressures for becoming followers of Christ. Adam,* who was among the first of those to hear the call of the gospel, is the first from "Dalton" who has been baptized, and he is the recipient of more persecution tactics from the evil one. Join the workers among the Wassulu today in praying for those being persecuted among the Wassulu in "Dalton" and for Adam in particular. (*name changed)
Middle Eastern Arabs in the Southern United Kingdom. Many people from the Middle East come to Europe to earn advanced degrees, and Thomas* was no exception. He came with his wife and children to get a graduate degree and then return home. He met some believers early on in his studies and defended his faith vigorously with them. He continued to encounter believers in various places and circumstances. After a few years, he completed his degree and decided to investigate faith more thoroughly. Upon looking into the gospel more, he recognized the cost and decided to follow Jesus. He has since had to apply for asylum and has struggled with adapting to a new culture. It is also difficult because he is now in a more humble position as a refugee, whereas before, he was a very prominent member of his home community. Pray for Thomas to be faithful to the gospel and for his family also to believe. (*name changed)
Coffee People of Southeast Asia. Brother Ronny* is a talented artist. He can paint, draw, and sell his artwork. Ronny lives in an unreached area, serving the Lord and meeting people through his profession. He sold a painting for $40 and used all the profits to buy dry food goods to give away to people who are less fortunate. The lingering effects of the economic downturn are an ongoing issue for those in the southern coastal area where Ronny serves. Together with partners from Send Relief, Ronny gave out 15 food bags. Two people professed faith, and others are open to hearing more. Please pray for Ronny as he disciples these new followers of Jesus. (*name changed)
This video is from 2015, but the numbers are close enough that you still get the picture. For folks who prefer to learn via video, this is useful:
[Note: if you Google this topic, you will find a more recent video from "The Traveling Team" with statistics from 2018. The problem I have with that video is the axe they have to grind. They key in on a statistic you'll find below on The Joshua Project - that 90% of missionaries work among people groups that are nominally Christian. They argue that missionaries should work among unreached people groups. While I don't disagree, the problem with the numbers is that a "reached" people group can still be 98% lost! Everywhere we set foot is a mission field. Rather than complain about where missionaries serve, recruit more missionaries.]
Finally, let me share where I got this information:
Resource #1: The International Mission Board
Our Southern Baptist IMB keeps great statistics. I STRONGLY ENCOURAGE all of our church members to be familiar with their website. They have an entire page of interactive maps, a page of charts, and a page of up-to-the-moment prayer requests:
Resource #2: The Joshua Project
The Joshua Project is a research arm for Frontier Ventures, a non-denominational mission agency (they're associated with The Jesus Film). They have a super-abundance of information. Like, an overwhelming amount of data:
That handouts page is tremendous. Here are some titles:
My favorite resource on their website gives a little bit of data about everything:
Memorial Day Tie-in
By all means we need to recognize Memorial Day -- do it however you feel most appropriate for your group -- but I think a key tie-in would be to ask if we're using the freedoms and stability that our soldiers gave their lives to provide for us, namely as witnesses for Jesus Christ.
Where We Are in Luke
We're at the end of Luke's first book. Remember that he immediately carries the story into Acts, which is part of the reason why it reads different from Matthew and Mark.
This is the end of a very special period of 40 days between Jesus' resurrection and ascension. During that 40 days, He made several key appearances to His followers. Last week, we talked about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Here are the rest:
To Peter (Luke 24:34)
To ten disciples in the Upper Room (Luke 24:36-43, John 20:19-25)
To the disciples including Thomas (Mark 16:14, John 20:26-31)
To seven disciples fishing (John 21:1-23)
To the disciples (Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16:15-18)
To the disciples at His ascension (Luke 24:44-49)
After the Great Commission (in Galilee), Jesus took His disciples back through Jerusalem to Bethany, where He repeated His commission and then ascended into heaven.
Part 1: Assures (Luke 24:36-43)
36 As they were saying these things, he himself stood in their midst. He said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost. 38 “Why are you troubled?” he asked them. “And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself! Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” 40 Having said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 But while they still were amazed and in disbelief because of their joy, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 So they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.
Remember the setting from last week. After their visit to the empty tomb, the women returned to the disciples in the Upper Room to say that Jesus was risen, but the disciples didn't believe them. While "The Eleven" were hiding out, two other disciples decided to travel to the village of Emmaus, a journey that Jesus took with them. After those two realized it was Jesus (and Jesus abruptly disappeared), they headed back to Jerusalem and told this to the other disciples in the Upper Room.
[As an aside, verse 34 must have sucked the air out of the room for them -- they came in with this incredible news only to be greeted with "yeah, Peter saw Him too".]
Anyway, while they're talking together, Jesus suddenly appears. John 20:19 makes it clear that the doors were locked (because The Eleven were afraid). Not a good look. No worries -- locked doors are no problem for a glorified body (see below for "glorified body"). This is obviously why they thought He was a ghost -- how else could He walk through a wall? It's a great question that the Bible doesn't answer (because it's not actually important).
In John's account, Jesus says "Peace be with you" twice. "Startled and terrified" is probably an understatement.
[Aside: If you attended our "Hard Questions in the Bible" study, you know that I don't believe in the traditional definition of a ghost (a "ghost" as in the disembodied spirit of a dead person wandering around for some reason or another). The Bible is very clear that when you die, your time on earth is over until you face judgment (see Job 7:9, Psalm 146:3, Ecclesiastes 9:6, Hebrews 9:27). However, I also believe that demons can easily take any form in order to fulfill some devious plan of the evil one. A person who genuinely believes that he has encountered a ghost has likely encountered a demon.]
Anyhoozie, Jesus wants to put their minds at ease. If someone thought you were a ghost, how would you prove to them otherwise? Jesus proves to them that He has a physical body by letting them touch Him and by eating something. Ghosts don't have physical bodies. (Actually, the idea of a ghost eating/drinking something is a pretty common sight gag in silly ghost movies. I think of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie.)
[Aside: don't you find it funny that people have had the same idea about ghosts for more than 2,000 years?]
The point -- Jesus proved to His disciples that He had physically risen from the dead. Are you willing to believe this miracle based solely on their written testimony? Most people think that's all we have, but it's not. If you read The Case for Easter, you know that the rest of their lives, these men and women took this message into all the world. They went from cowering inside a locked room to standing in the middle of the crowds at Pentecost (about one week later). Nearly all of them would die as martyrs still proclaiming the Risen Jesus. If Jesus didn't really rise from the dead and if He didn't really appear to them, do you really think they would live and die for a lie of their own creation?
[Possible discussion topic: we use the phrase "Jesus showed up" to describe an experience that became intensely spiritual. Have you ever been somewhere were "Jesus showed up", and if so, how does that help you imagine what the disciples were feeling?]
Aside: Glorified Bodies
Not everyone uses this term, so let me explain what I mean by this. When I talk about Jesus' "glorified" body, I'm talking about His physically resurrected body. Here, it's important to distinguish between resurrection (which is eternal) and resuscitation (which is temporary). Lazarus rose from the dead, but he eventually died. Lazarus was resuscitated.
Jesus, on the other hand, was resurrected. Paul describes it like this in 1 Cor 15:
51 Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed. 53 For this corruptible body must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body must be clothed with immortality.
Our resurrected body will not be like our current body. Our current body wears out (amen?), but our resurrected body will be eternal. Obviously, that indicates a transformation.
The first true resurrection from the dead was Jesus (see 1 Cor 15:20-23). He was "the firstfruits", meaning the proof that more resurrections like His will come.
So, why do I call it a "glorified body"? Well, in Romans 8:30, being "glorified" seems to be the last step in salvation. I don't think that just means being in the presence of God; I think that describes our actual existence. The best way I know to describe the indescribable is to say that in eternity, our bodies will be "glorified". Yes, that's vague, but we don't know what it's like to live in a perfect body.
Maybe that means we can walk through walls like Jesus, but that's not important. When we are finally resurrected, that's when we step into the presence of Jesus. We won't care at all about our bodies' capabilities (as cool as you might now think it would be to walk through a wall) -- we will care about being with Jesus.
Part 2: Opens (Luke 24:44-46)
44 He told 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, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. 46 He also said to them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead the third day,
There are a lot of echoes of what we talked about last week on the road to Emmaus. (In fact, I have enough space to give you a little bit about the doctrine of illumination below.) Jesus' patience with these disciples is astounding. How many times did He tells them that I was going to be killed and then rise from the dead? Well, see 9:22, 9:44, 17:25, 18:31-33, 22:37, and that's just in Luke's Gospel.
Remember the line from last week:
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow[f] to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Wasn’t it necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted for them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures.
I personally don't think Jesus repeated everything He said on the road to Emmaus -- He didn't need to. But the point is that He helped all of the disciples see that everything that happened to Him was completely in the plan and control of God the Father. Everything we said last week about Jesus in the Old Testament is still applicable in this passage.
Verse 45 is one of the most compelling lines in all of the Bible: "then He opened their minds..." But was it a New Age-y "open your mind to the universe" or a Mainstream Christianity "open your minds to people who disagree with the Bible"? NO! He opened their minds TO UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE. It's so clear how the Bible is fundamental and central to the Christian faith (which -- as I said last week -- is why we focus on Bible study).
This is what is so compelling about the passage: Jesus helped them understand the Scriptures. That implies there is a difference between knowing the Bible and understanding the Bible. Certainly, the Pharisees knew the Old Testament very well! And yet they could not recognize their Messiah even when they interrogated Him! This verse can be and has been grossly misapplied, so I give you a section on it below.
But let's move on -- what is this fundamental message of the Scriptures (and remember -- to the disciples, we're really talking about the Old Testament at this point)? It is the biography of the Messiah:
that He would suffer,
that He would rise, and
that He would be proclaimed around the world.
That's it. That's what we need to know. And that is basically what Paul said:
3 For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
Guess where Paul said that? In 1 Corinthians 15 -- the chapter I quoted above about the resurrection! The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the lynchpin of the entire Bible and thus the centerpiece of the simple gospel message. Jesus Christ died for our sins. Jesus Christ rose from the dead, proving that God accepting that sacrifice on our behalf. Jesus Christ appeared in a glorified body, demonstrating the future hope that everyone has in Him. It's that simple. It's that wonderful. It's that encouraging.
Not surprisingly, Paul focused on that theme at the beginning of his letter to Corinth:
1:18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is the power of God to us who are being saved.
2:7 On the contrary, we speak God’s hidden wisdom in a mystery, a wisdom God predestined before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age knew this wisdom, because if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
As simple and wonderful as the message of the Messiah is, it's still unbelievable, and that's why it requires the Spirit's intervention for us to truly believe. But let me say more about that in the next section.
Aside: The Doctrine of Illumination
What Luke describes in this passage is what we often call "the doctrine of illumination". With respect to the Bible, we believe three key things:
Revelation explains that anything we truly/truthfully know about the world and eternity is because God revealed it to us.
Inspiration explains that the Holy Spirit guided the Bible authors to write down that "special revelation".
Illumination explains that the Spirit helps us understand the meaning of the Bible.
So now let's dig into Illumination a little more. In the Bible, it takes several forms:
The general enlightenment that Christ brought to all people through His living and dying (John 1:9, 2 Tim 1:10) -- by coming into the world, Jesus gave all people access to the basic facts of the gospel.
The unique enlightenment that all Christians have in salvation (Heb 6:4, 10:32) -- when we become saved, we each have been given a "taste" of glory, and we are all under the guidance/conviction of the Holy Spirit.
Most commonly, it is used to refer to the more detailed understanding of Christian truth (i.e. the Bible) from the Spirit, as Jesus explained in John 16:13:
13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak on his own, but he will speak whatever he hears. He will also declare to you what is to come.
In other words, if you are a Christian, you have access through the Spirit to God's truth.
Hopefully, you had a couple of twinges when you read that. "Couldn't someone say that 'the Spirit gave me a new way to understand the Bible' and use that as an excuse to start a new church?" Yes, they can and they have. That's basically where Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses come from. That's still out there today -- perhaps you've seen something on the internet like "If you want to really understand the Bible, you need to take my course".
Sadly, there's nothing we can do about that. Jesus warned us about that possibility.
Matt 7:22 "On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’ 23 Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!’
True spiritual illumination happens to those who are in step with Jesus being led by the Spirit. Don't worry -- Jesus gave us the solution:
Matt 7:15 “Be on your guard against false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. 16 You’ll recognize them by their fruit."
If you're a Christian, God wants to help you understand His Word.
Part 3: Sends (Luke 24:47-49)
47 and repentance for forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And look, I am sending you what my Father promised. As for you, stay in the city until you are empowered from on high.”
Hopefully you see similarities with the Great Commission from Matthew's Gospel. I encourage you to take a look at what I said in that Bible Study Post, particularly the section called "The Heart of a Baptist":
World missions is always a good topic for a Baptist church to talk about!
The doctrine of illumination is also important, so you might spend time on that. A third topic would be Pentecost (see below). I think it would be hard to cover all three in depth, so you probably want to choose one to focus on.
In verse 47, we get a really valuable distinction:
The facts of the gospel are that Jesus died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose from the dead on the third day.
The proper response to the gospel is to repent of our sins and receive forgiveness through believing the facts of the gospel.
No matter what you choose to focus on, make sure that everyone understands these simple points. (For that matter, make sure that everyone has responded properly!)
Jesus then makes clear (again) that His mission is worldwide. Remember that Acts is the direct sequel to Luke, so these words would be "on the next page" so to speak:
1:8 "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
As we know, the promise of the Father was the gift of the Holy Spirit. Think about this question: why did the disciples need to wait for the Holy Spirit before going out on their worldwide mission?
It's a question I wish we all spent more time thinking about.
In a nutshell, it wasn't the disciples' mission. It was God's mission. He chose to send the disciples to accomplish it. That means the disciples needed to wait in order to have God's guidance and God's resources. When we charge into a plan of our own making, we do that in our own (very limited) strength and wisdom. When we follow God, we have access to His limitless strength and wisdom. Are you uncertain of how to know the difference? Pray! The Bible tells us that God will give us the wisdom to know the difference if we ask Him.
Here are the two relevant Acts lessons from 2016:
The first one is practically a repeat of our lesson today, but the second one goes into a little more detail about what Jesus was promising in our passage. The main thing to know is that this promise was fulfilled at Pentecost, which we now consider to be the "birthday of the church".
In summary, how "on mission" are you? What do you need to do to improve your praying, giving, and going? Don't try to do it by yourself, and don't try to do it in your own power. We are in this together as a church family in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Closing Thoughts: Standpoint Hermeneutics
This week's passage identifies the fundamental flaw of the so-called "standpoint hermeneutics" that seems to be one of the products of Critical Race Theory. People who hold to standpoint hermeneutics/epistemology use the Obi Wan Kenobi "certain point of view" train of thought when it comes to truth and Bible interpretation. People interpret the Bible for themselves based on their unique identity, therefore the Bible's meaning changes from person to person. This is where things get testy -- in the background is the claim that the old white men who are writing the books on what the Bible means have an incomplete understanding of the Bible. They need to have people of diverse color and gender help them understand the full meaning of the Bible. Thus, anyone who argues that this viewpoint is flawed is labeled a racist and sexist.
So, let's start with a valid point raised by this approach. It is always wise to lean on the largest group of Christians possible to attempt to understand God's will and word. Paul calls this "the mind of Christ" -- the more Christians we are engaged with, the more confident we can be that we to truly understand what God is saying to us. That's why God created the church to be a community. If the hermeneutic we use (meaning the rules we use to interpret the Bible) is incomplete, then we need to work together to improve it.
Then, let's clarify something that I think has been misunderstood by outside observers to this debate. People interpret and apply the Bible based on their life situation, basically what I called a "people group" above. People groups are often defined by language and ethnicity, so yes, that would mean that depending on what community you live in, you are likely to "have a different take" on the Bible than someone in a different people group. But really, that's talking about how we apply the Bible to our lives. Even though there is a true, central meaning to a text, it may play out differently for each one of us individually in our unique life circumstances.
But that's not what standpoint hermeneutics is arguing. Standpoint hermeneutics says that we cannot understand what the Bible means unless people of diverse ethnicities and genders tell us. That is directly contrary to the model given us in our passage this week.
We believe that the Holy Spirit is more than capable of enabling any Christian in any circumstance anywhere in the world to understand the Bible. Can He use other people to help us understand the Bible? Of course -- and often He does (it's called the church). But this idea that the Holy Spirit cannot give one people group an accurate understanding of the Bible is simply unbiblical and thus self-defeating.