Sermon Preached at Grace Community Church (EPC)
Sun City Grand, Surprise, AZ Sunday, April 15, 2018 by the Reverend Cooper McWhirter
“Ambassadors for Christ” Luke 24:44-49
If we come away with nothing else concerning the events of that first Easter, it’s the verification of facts substantiated by credible eye-witnesses. For without their testimonies, we would be left with nothing but hearsay and speculation. Two thousand years after Jesus died and rose again, skeptics and naysayers continue to pontificate as to what might have happened; as opposed to what really happened. Assertions, based upon preconceived notions, are commonplace. But remember, these theorists were not there! The last two Sundays we have read testimonies by a few of Jesus’ followers. There were reports by the Roman soldiers who guarded His tomb, who saw a dazzling angel of the Lord with their own eyes and became as ‘dead men’. The Jewish religious leaders tried every conceivable means to squelch the truth. The high priest, Caiaphas, put it bluntly: “…it is expedient that one man should die for the people, so that the whole nation should not perish” [John 11:49, 50]. But to their dismay, they found it easier to oppose Jesus when He walked among the living, then what came afterwards once He was crucified, dead, and was buried!
To hide the truth, the ruling council circulated reports that Jesus’ body was taken away by His disciples. But this was not the reason why Jesus stayed for another forty days before ascending into heaven. No, the real reason Jesus delayed His departure was to further instruct and equip His disciples for their new role as His apostles. No longer were they students in an apprenticeship program. Like that of skilled craftsmen they became journeymen; ‘finely-tuned’ as “Ambassadors for Christ”! In the closing verses of Luke’s narrative and in the opening verses in the Book of Acts, these forty days were crucial. There were hoops to go through. First, the Lord explained to them why: THE SCRIPTURES NEEDED TO BE FULFILLED (repeat).
Early on that first Easter morning, Jesus appeared to Mary and the other women, and then later to Peter. The risen Lord walked beside the two disciples while on the road to Emmaus. That same night, Jesus suddenly appeared to those who were huddled in the Upper Room. Startled by the sight of what they believed was a ghostly spirit, Jesus showed them His hands and His feet. He invited them to touch Him as proof that no spirit being can possess flesh and bone. He even asked them for something to eat and so they served Him a piece of broiled fish. Whereupon 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” [Luke 24:44].
In the days following, Jesus reminded them of what the Old Testament writings foretold of the Messiah. That God’s divine plan of redemption was conceived long before the fall of man. He explained to them that the righteousness of God demanded the shedding of undefiled blood to atone for man’s sins; not the blood of animals for the remission of sin. Without a doubt Christ, and Christ alone, was, is, and remains the only way of salvation. In Holy Writ there are sixty (60) major prophecies about God’s ‘Anointed One’. In addition, there are hundreds of references as to ‘signs and wonders’ accredited only to the Person of Jesus.
For example, the ‘Promised One’ would be born of a virgin [Isaiah 7:14]. His birthplace was Bethlehem of Judea [Micah 5:2]; previously heralded as David’s birthright. Although the Messiah’s origin was ‘from of old’, His earthly ancestry would come forth from out of the root of Jesse, through the tribe of Judah, as was predicted by the prophets Isaiah [11:1, 10] and Zechariah [3:8].
Then, too, there were numerous Messianic psalms which spoke of the ‘Expectant One,’ the ‘Redeemer King,’ the ‘Long Awaited One’ [e.g., Psalms 16, 22, 30, 34, 41, 55 and 69]. In mathematical terms, it is incalculable all these prophecies pointing to this one Person…Jesus of Nazareth. No one else in all of history has ever fulfilled even one of these ancient predictions!
But, besides explaining what the scriptures foretold: JESUS NEEDED TO INSTRUCT THEM FURTHER (repeat).
The disciples needed to familiarize themselves in the ways of God in Christ Jesus. We read [that]: “He opened their minds to understanding the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His Name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
This was no easy task! His followers would face stiff opposition. The Pharisees and scribes were to remain as ‘keepers of the Law’. They knew the Law of Moses inside and out. What they lacked was the proper ‘application’ of the Law. It’s not enough to simply know the Law. One must embrace the ‘spirit’ of the Law as exemplified in the life and work of Christ.
When the Lord sent His disciples to the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’, He said to them: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore, be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves” [Matthew 10:16]. Thus, the expression: ‘He opened their minds.’ The Lord illuminated their hearts and minds and in doing so, God’s Word came alive!
Put another way, the twelve were no longer simply ‘followers’ of Christ. They became ‘doers’ of His Word! As Jesus’ apostles they became His spokesmen. In diplomatic parlance, it’s called: plenipotentiary status. Like an ambassador, or an emissary dispatched to a foreign country. He is one who speaks freely on behalf of his country’s head of state.
And this same principle applied to the twelve. What they said, and what they wrote, became the ‘gospel truth’. As though the Lord Himself had spoken! But there remained one final hurdle before these neophytes were handed their credentials: THE DISCIPLES NEEDED TO BE HIS WITNESSES (repeat).
The risen Lord would go on to say, “You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you.” ‘The Promise’ Jesus spoke of was none other than the Holy Spirit. This is not to suggest that the Third Person of the Trinity was unknown to them. This same Spirit had inspired the writers of old. However, what occurred at first Christian Pentecost was the ‘indwelling’ of the Holy Spirit. Something that had never happened before as foretold by the prophet Joel.
Ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven, and fifty days after He arose from the dead, the Holy Spirit descended upon the thousands who gathered to hear Peter and the others speak. And, to their amazement, everyone heard Peter’s words in their own native language!
The Spirit enabled the apostles to recall episodes in Jesus’ life (His sermons, His teachings, His prayers, His miraculous deeds etc.). But, just as importantly, the Spirit empowered them to speak boldly, forthrightly.
When Jesus sent His disciples to scour the towns and villages throughout Judea, He cautioned them: “And beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for My sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” [Matthew 10:17-20].
When confronting wrongdoing, we are to: correct, rebuke, and admonish. But always out of a motive of love. And, whenever possible, we should confront, without being confrontational. We must afford the Spirit to prick the heart of the wrongdoer. Prior to Pentecost, however, they were commanded to: “…stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Consider for a moment what these men were called to do! For the remainder of their lives they were subjected to: ridicule, scorn, hatred, and yes, even martyrdom. Yet, not one of the twelve faltered as to their faith in Christ! Did Jesus see such great potential in these mortal men? Doubtful. More likely, the Lord had every confidence in the Comforter, the Paraclete; the One who guides into all truth and dispenses spiritual gifts.
But this passage addresses more than what Jesus commanded His apostles to do on His behalf. No, this passage applies to you and to me. As followers of Christ, we, too, are called to be His ‘ambassadors’. Each succeeding generation must pass the torch to the next, to ensure that His Word goes into all the world. The light of God’s Word must never, ever, be extinguished!
I recall what the evangelist, Bill Fay, recounted on one commercial flight. He struck up a conversation with the person seated next to him. When asked what he did for a living, Bill Fay remarked, “Oh, I’m an ambassador.” This immediately peaked the person’s interest who then asked, “Where is your embassy?” Fay replied, “I serve as a kind of traveling ambassador.” “How does that work?” the person asked. “I am an ambassador for Jesus!” The silence was deafening! This, however, did not deter Bill Fay. He continued carrying on a one-sided conversation until the passenger finally said resignedly, “I don’t know Jesus, but there’s one thing I’m sure of. He sure knows you!”
Those who believe in Christ are His ambassadors! Like the passenger sitting next to Mr. Fay, you might be the only person he will ever catch a glimpse of the real Jesus. Paul said it so eloquently: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” [Philippians 1:6].
Let us pray…