It is possible to hold in theory to the power, authority and sufficiency of God’s Bible Word, but in the actual practice of our lives express a lack of confidence that anything ‘really happens’ when we read, hear or teach the Scriptures. We see this happening for example, when ‘Bible study groups,’ retain that title while in fact they have become sharing and support groups, with some prayer at the end if we don’t run out of time. The desire for a more direct encounter with God (and, perhaps, specific guidance in regard to my life decisions) makes us increasingly impatient, until the thought of ‘working through a whole Bible book together,’ sounds about as appetising as ploughing through a kilo-sized bowl of Brussel sprouts.
Sometimes we think, ‘if only I could have been there, sitting around the campfire with the disciples when the risen Lord Jesus cooked up a breakfast of bread and fish, it would be so much easier to believe in and live for Him (John 21:1-14)!’ It might be surprising then to discover that the one thing the risen Lord Jesus was determined to do with His followers before He ascended to Heaven … was lead them through an Old Testament Bible study! As we’ll discover, this pattern set by Jesus is life-changing (and world-changing).
It might be surprising to discover that the one thing the risen Lord Jesus was determined to do with His followers before He ascended to Heaven was lead them through an OT Bible study!
Three Stories of Disappointment
In Luke 24, we meet three groups who encounter Jesus after he was raised from the dead:
- The women who first discover the empty tomb, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James & John (and shortly afterwards Peter) (24:1-12);
- Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus (24:13-32);
- The eleven remaining disciples in Jerusalem (24:33-49).
The first thing that all of these people have in common is that they see Jesus’ death on the cross not as the climax of his ministry, but as an inglorious defeat. They all have fond memories of Jesus, but now mourn him as a dead friend, a defeated hero and a failed Messiah.
We know that the women have not understood, because they are going to Jesus’ tomb not expecting to find him risen as he promised, but as a dead body that they can anoint with spices (v.1).
We know that the two friends have not understood by their words in verse 21: “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” Even with the news of the empty tomb, they still see Jesus’ death as an end to his messianic claim and ministry.
And as for the eleven, they are still hiding away in Jerusalem in fear and confusion.
Three Stories of Truth, Hope and Purpose
Yet, by the end of this chapter, we see a very different picture. These people are all transformed from disillusioned disciples into powerful witnesses to the risen Lord Jesus Christ. By the end of Luke’s sequel (the book of Acts), God will have used these same people to turn the world upside down (e.g. Acts 17:1-9). So what made the difference?
The two angels that appear to the women at the tomb hit the nail on the head: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” (v.5) They go on to point out that it should come as no surprise that Jesus had risen because: “this is what he (Jesus) told you while he was still with you in Galilee” (v.6). That Jesus had to be betrayed, crucified and raised from the dead, was something that he had repeatedly taught them (e.g. Mark 8:31-38; 9:30-32; 10:32-34). The angels remind the women of these words of Christ and they begin to make sense of the situation: ‘They remembered His words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the eleven and to all the others.’ (vv. 8-9)
It is Jesus himself who appears to the two friends on the road to Emmaus. As Jesus points out, they too should have known better, because this is what the Bible is all about:
‘How foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken…’ And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself. (vv.25-26).
In other words, if they had listened to God’s words in the Bible (our Old Testament) they would have understood who Jesus was, and why he had to die and be raised from the dead. That is, Jesus is saying that he is who the Bible is all about.
If they had listened to God’s words in the Old Testament, they would have understood who Jesus was. He is who the Bible is all about.
What about the eleven? When he appears to them, Jesus brings his own past words together with what the Bible says. He explains that if they’d paid attention to God’s words, they would have understood who he was and why He had to die (vv. 44-46). More than this, they would have understood what their mission was to be; namely that repentance and forgiveness of sins would be preached in Christ’s name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem (v.47).
Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Apostles
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, his followers had their own agenda for him (e.g. Mark 8:31-33). In Luke 24, we also see that their scientific understanding of death was very much the same as ours—that dead people stay dead!
But we also see that Jesus did not leave His disciples with their own (mis)understanding of these events. Through his own words spoken (and now recorded in the Gospels), and God’s words written down for them to read (in the Old Testament), he gave them the true interpretation—God’s interpretation—of these things.
In verse 49 of this chapter, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, who, as Jesus did in his earthly ministry (see v.45 cf. John 6:60-63; 16:5-11), would open the minds of God’s people and convince them of the truth of his word. In fact, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would complete the writing of the Scriptures through the witness of the Apostles whom he had appointed: the apostolic writings which we now know as the New Testament (Lk 24:48 cf. John 14:25-26; 16:12-16; 17:20 cf. Ephesians 2:20 & Jude 3).
So, while we may feel tempted to envy those first eyewitnesses who got to be in a Bible study led by Jesus, we must remember that in God’s goodness we now have the complete Scriptures. We also have the Holy Spirit at work in us—enabling us to receive God’s word and its subject, Jesus; and helping us discover our own identity as his people (e.g. 1Cor2).
Jesus taught his first followers well. In the first sermons in Acts, we find the Apostles using the Old Testament to explain his identity and how they (and we) must respond to him. Luke’s second volume ends in much the same way. In the last two years of his life as a prisoner in Rome, Christ’s Apostle Paul dedicated himself to proclaiming Christ from the Old Testament (Acts 28:17-31). (Have a look at the ‘teaching method’ of the writer to the Hebrews for another classic example of this).
Jesus, the Bible and Us
On the eve of the out-break of world war two in Nazi Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer had this urgent message to give to ministers in training who were determined to resist the status quo and change the world for God’s glory:
It is in fact far more important for us to know what God did to Israel, to His Son Jesus Christ, than to seek what God intends for us today. The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I shall die, and the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, shall be raised on the Last Day…What we call our life, our troubles, our guilt, is by no means all of reality; there in the Scripture is our life, our need, our guilt, and our salvation…Only in the Holy Scriptures do we learn to know our own history.’
If we really want to understand the nature and purpose of human history—if we are serious about obeying Jesus; if we truly desire to hear and receive the transformative Spirit-breathed words of our loving Master—we will be people who not only believe that the Bible is God’s word, but who in the everyday practice of our lives take him at his word and actually use the Bible. Only then will we know Christ, and know who we are as his saved people, and so carry out His commission to make him known in the world.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, (San Francisco: Harper; 1954 (1938)), p.54.