The Fulfillment of All that was Written
Series: Easter 2023
All scripture is written about Jesus. Does he live up to the things written of him? In this text, we see that he does in his resurrection, and in his ongoing work to empower his witnesses to proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations.
Expository Thoughts on Luke: Volume 2, J.C. Ryle
Evidently Dave and I can’t hide the fact that we’re basketball fans; he started off his sermon on Good Friday with a basketball illustration, and here I am Easter Sunday with another. The Philadelphia 76ers are the professional basketball team here in the city, and they’re doing pretty well right now. There was a period of years not too long ago however when they were perennially awful. In fact, they were intentionally awful. The general manager at that time had a strategy of prioritizing the future in such a way that the team in the present was bad, but we got good draft picks. So, year after year, fans were told to just wait for the next great draft pick. Philadelphia sports talk radio was filled with conversations about these coming draft picks, and much was written about them. And without naming names, with one notable exception, these drafts picks often failed to live up to the hype. Now, at least half of you here probably don’t care about that at all. It’s a game; it doesn’t matter much. But there are things that do matter, that are literally matters of life or death. That’s the kind of stuff the Bible talks about, and in the Bible, for centuries, God inspired people to write, not of a coming draft pick, but of a coming king, called “the Christ,” meaning “anointed one,” who would die, rise again, and bring salvation to all nations. That matters. And there was a time 2000 years ago where a man named Jesus claimed to be that Christ. Did he live up to the hype? As of Good Friday, it didn’t seem like it. There, in the eyes of the world, he looks like a total bust, dying a shameful death on a cross as a convicted criminal. Will he live up to the hype going forward? When we look at our world today, it still seems pretty far from the promised salvation. In this text, though, we’ll see that he did live up to the hype, and he will, because Jesus will fulfill everything written of him. We’ll look at what he already fulfilled, what he’s still fulfilling, and the end of the fulfillment.
What he already fulfilled
Our passage picks up with Jesus having already been risen from the dead, but only a few people have seen him and begun circulating the report of his resurrection, as we have seen in the scripture readings throughout the service thus far. There were the women who went to the tomb, didn’t find Jesus’ body, and heard from the angels that he was risen. Then two of the disciples were on a walk and the risen Jesus appeared to them. They reported that back to the eleven apostles who had been with Jesus during his ministry on earth, along with other followers of Jesus who were with them. Then, verse 36, as they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them. Luke doesn’t tell us how he appeared, but we’re simply told that it was Jesus himself standing among them. And Luke emphasizes that it was Jesus himself, the same Jesus who died on the cross, the same Jesus whose body was not in the tomb, the same Jesus who walked with two of these disciples, who they had just been talking about, who was now standing among them. Though they had denied and abandoned him as he headed toward crucifixion, his first words to them in verse 36 were, “Peace to you!” He came to them preaching peace.
Nonetheless, Luke tells us in verse 37 that they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. It’s important to realize that the first disciples were not quick to believe in a resurrection. Jesus himself stood among them, and still their first thought was not, “Ah yes, of course Jesus is here. We would expect such a thing.” Dead people didn’t come back to life in the ancient world any more often than they do today. Yet somehow these disciples did come to believe that Jesus really did rise from the dead, and they were so convinced of it, in fact, that they were willing to die for proclaiming it. How’d they become so sure of it? This passage shows us. Though they thought they were seeing a spirit, Jesus tells them in verse 39 to see his hands and his feet, that it is truly him. His hands and his feet would have given special proof that it was truly Jesus, because those are the points at which the nails that fastened him to the cross were put through. He tells them not only to see him, but even to touch him, as verse 39 continues, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as they could see Jesus clearly had. The faith of these first disciples was not a blind faith, nor did Jesus require that it be so. They thought they were seeing a ghost, but Jesus shows them his hands and his feet, he commands them to touch him and so proves that he truly is the same Jesus who died, who is now alive in a true human body, the same one in which he died, with the nail marks to prove it, and the flesh and bones only human bodies have.
Even then verse 41 tells us they disbelieved! That’s how skeptical they were! Only now it is starting to sink in, and it seems the disbelief is more the, “Can it really be? It seems too good to be true” type of disbelief. Perhaps this is still why many of us struggle with doubt. The Easter story just seems too good to be true. Tim Keller, a retired pastor in Manhattan, points out how modern western culture is the only culture to date that considers stories with happy endings inauthentic. In other words, we assume if a story is about the “real” world it will end poorly. But why assume that? That’s not the product of reason; it’s an assumption, and what if the assumption is wrong? What if the same Jesus who really died really rose again, body and all? The first disciples even thought that was too good to be true, and yet they ended up believing it because they could not deny what their eyes saw and what their hands felt. In response to the ongoing unbelief of verse 41, Jesus gives them yet another evidence that he truly is risen from the dead and is not merely some ghost: He asks them for something to eat. Then, in front of them so they all could see, he took a piece of broiled fish and ate it. Ghosts certainly don’t have flesh and bones, and ghosts certainly don’t eat broiled fish. Can you see now, then, why the disciples who were slow to believe that Jesus really rose from the dead, ended up believing it?
Put yourself in their shoes. Maybe you’re a very skeptical person, but if you saw the nail scars in the hands and feet, if you touched the flesh and bones, if you saw him eat the fish, wouldn’t you be forced to conclude he really did rise from the dead? Wouldn’t you be forced to say, “It seems too good to be true, but I guess it is true”? That’s what Luke the historian is showing us. This passage is just another reason we can have certainty that Jesus really did rise from the dead: He had the flesh, the bones, the hands, the feet, and the appetite to prove it.
Now maybe you’re extra skeptical; my flesh is too, and you say, “Well what if they made it all up, and Luke is just gullibly believing them? Or what if Luke made it all up?” Of course, that is theoretically possible, just like it’s theoretically possible that Thucydides made up the Peloponnesian war. This is ancient history; we can’t pull up the video archive or look at the photos. Nonetheless, most today don’t doubt that Sparta and Athens went to war in the 400s BC because Thucydides’ history is based on eyewitness testimony, and it explains what transpired afterwards, how Athens went from a super-power in the region to a relatively weak state. Similarly, we see here that the report of Jesus’ resurrection was based on eyewitness testimony, and consider how well it explains what followed: How else could Christianity have gotten started? Of the eleven disciples that were in the room that day, 10 of them were killed for their faith, and the one who wasn’t died in exile on an island for his faith. How likely is it that all of them would have been willing to die for something they knew they made up? Jesus really did rise from the dead, in the same body in which he died, with nail-scarred hands and feet, flesh, bones, and an appetite to prove it.
That’s the fact Luke the historian reports in verses 36-43. In verse 44, though, Jesus begins to explain its significance. There he says his resurrection from the dead was among the things written about him in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms, which must be fulfilled. Rising from the dead is what he already fulfilled; that’s what verses 36-43 demonstrate. But let’s look at verse 44 more deeply, and it will lead us to what he’s still fulfilling.
What he’s still fulfilling
In verse 44 Jesus says everything written about him in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. The Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms seems to have been a way of designating the entire Bible at the time of Jesus, and here Jesus is saying that whole Bible wrote about me, in such a way that now it all must be fulfilled. So not only can we have certainty that Jesus rose from the dead because of the eyewitness testimony, but we can have certainty about it because it is what the scriptures had foretold all along. It didn’t come out of nowhere. In fact, earlier in the Gospel of Luke even, in 9:22, Jesus said that he must suffer, die, and rise again, but here he’s saying that’s what the Scriptures have always taught! Not everyone understood them that way, though, so in verse 45 we read that he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. Then he taught them what those things were that written of him in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms.
In verse 46 he summarizes all that is written of him in the Scriptures which we now know as the Old Testament, the part of the Bible written before Jesus came. First, we encounter those parts he already fulfilled: That the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead. “The Christ” is a term meaning anointed one, and it referred to a particular office and one who would fill it. This “anointed one” is spoken of especially pointedly in Psalm 2, where we read that the nations rage against the LORD and against “his anointed.” So you see, the Christ must suffer. The nations are in rebellion against God, but God is in the heavens, seated far above where the nations can reach him. So what do the nations do instead? They rage against his anointed. They subject him to suffering. That’s the Psalms. But in the Law of Moses and the Prophets we find another reason the Christ must suffer: A sacrifice must be offered for the sins of the people for them to be forgiven. The Old Testament reveals that God has purposed not simply to judge the nations who are in rebellion against him, but to save a people from the nations who are in rebellion against him, and it shows us that in order to do that, the Christ would have to suffer for the sins of the nations, in their place, so that their rebellion might be punished in him, and forgiveness extended to them. Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer.
But not only that; it is written also that the Christ should rise again. In the same Psalm, Psalm 2, where we read of the nations raging against the LORD and against his anointed, we read that this anointed one has been begotten by God as his Son, to rule over the nations. In Isaiah 53, one of the clearest places in the prophets where we learn that the Christ must suffer, we also learn that after his sufferings he shall see and be satisfied, and receive the reward for his sufferings. And in the Law of Moses, at the very beginning, we read of a tree of life, from which the first humans who sinned against God were forbidden to eat, lest they eat of it and live forever. We have all been barred from eternal life because of our sins, and so if any of us are to enter eternal life, the Christ must not only die, but enter into eternal life on our behalf, so that we might receive it from him. Thus it is written, that the Christ should rise from the dead.
Now again, to this point in the text Jesus is just recapping what he’s already fulfilled of all that was written about him in the Scriptures. He’s already died for the sins of the people; we talked about that Friday night. He’s already risen from the dead; we saw that in the earlier part of our passage. But now in verse 47 he shows us there is still more to be fulfilled, because after he rose from the dead, the scriptures also taught that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. In God’s providence, we will see, Lord willing, this coming Sunday in Isaiah 49, the prophecy that God will make the Christ a light to the nations, that his salvation may reach the end of the earth. Christ has already suffered for our sins, so that our sins might be forgiven. He’s already inherited eternal life, so that we might receive it from him. What now remains? What’s he still fulfilling? All nations must be told what Jesus has done, and must be taught how to respond if their sins are to be forgiven and they are to receive eternal life. Or, again in the words of verse 47, repentance for the forgiveness of sins must be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
This shows us that all nations stand in need of repentance and forgiveness of their sins. The Jews were prone to think they did not; they had God’s law after all, they were his people. Perhaps you are prone to think you do not; you’ve attended church throughout your life, and you view yourself as a basically decent person. But it was those basically decent people who crucified Jesus, and he makes clear that this message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins must begin from Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jewish people. However religious and good you may feel in your own eyes, there is a real God you have not loved with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and therefore, you need repentance and forgiveness of your sins. On the other hand, we might be prone to think that Gentiles, the non-Jewish people, would not have needed repentance for the forgiveness of their sins. They did not have God’s law; how could they even be counted guilty of sin? Perhaps you did not grow up attending Christian churches, but in your own mind, you’ve done your best to live up to what you did know. Yet there is a real God who also made you, and you have not even lived up to the revelation of himself that he did give you, and therefore you too need repentance for the forgiveness of your sins.
And the good news is that now that the Christ has suffered and risen from the dead, repentance for the forgiveness of sins can be proclaimed to you and me! Repentance refers to a change of mind. It means first admitting that you are a sinner, meaning that by nature you are not someone who hates sin, but someone who loves it. It means by nature though you may believe in God, you don’t love him. That’s true of me and you by nature. Repentance involves admitting that, and then it involves changing your mind toward it: You now turn against the sin and turn to God, instead of continuing to strive against God and turning to sin. And in turning to God, you trust in his promise to forgive your sins in Jesus’ name, and God’s promise to all who do, the proclamation of verse 47, is that to whoever repents, God will forgive all your sins, past, present, and future, not in your name, not because you’ve promised to do better now, but in Jesus’ name, because he, the Christ, suffered and rose again on your behalf.
This is the response God requires of all who hear the good news of Christ’s resurrection. It seems too good to be true, but it’s true! Jesus really died and rose again! Everything written about him must be fulfilled, and he has fulfilled these very things. He’s accomplished everything necessary for the salvation of all the nations, and there is now in Christ a full payment for sin and eternal life. Yet none of that will be yours until Christ becomes yours, and Christ will never be yours if you refuse to repent. You cannot hold on to your sin or to your own imagined goodness and take hold of Christ. Let go of your sin, let go of the good image of yourself you keep propping up, and take hold of Christ. Repent, and your sins will be forgiven in Jesus’ name. There is no other name in which they can be forgiven.
And I can say that today, not because I witnessed these things, but because Jesus appointed those who did see these things to be his witnesses. That’s what we see in verse 48. But then he adds in verse 49 that he is sending the promise of his Father upon them, which refers to the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, who God had promised in the Scriptures to send upon his people. So he tells them to say in the city until they receive the Holy Spirit, who will give them power from above to be his witnesses to all nations. So, you see, it’s not as though Jesus does the work of dying and rising again, but then leaves the witnessing work to his disciples. He does charge his disciples to be his witnesses, but then he promises to be the one supplying the power they need to do that by sending his Spirit! This is the work the risen Lord Jesus is still fulfilling! By his Spirit, he is still empowering his disciples to take the message of his death and resurrection to the nations, and to call them to repentance for the forgiveness of their sins.
And so, 2000 years later, we are here, along with many more even in this city, let alone throughout the world. These apostles did testify to what they saw and felt when they saw and felt the risen Christ. They started in Jerusalem, and by the power of the Spirit of Jesus, they continued to more nations, and entrusted that message to others, who took it to others, who taught others as well, and this is the message they proclaimed: The Christ suffered, the Christ rose again. Repent for the forgiveness of your sins. That’s what Jesus commissioned them to proclaim. In the 2000 years since then, while that message has been proclaimed, many other things have also been proclaimed in Jesus’ name. Much like a game of telephone, somewhere down the line, this message has been altered from time to time. In medieval times, the message was sometimes distorted from repentance for the forgiveness of sins to submission to the emperor and pope for the forgiveness of sins, or navigating an elaborate system of sacraments for the forgiveness of sins. In our day, the message is sometimes distorted as though the forgiveness of sins was of marginal importance to Christianity, as though the thing that is really central to Christianity is something other than receiving forgiveness for the sins you have personally committed.
But here’s one of the great blessings of having the Scriptures in our language. We aren’t stuck with the game of telephone. We can go back to the source, and right here, in the words of Jesus, we have his summary of everything written about him in the scriptures, of all that must be fulfilled about him: He suffered, he rose again, and it’s repentance for the forgiveness of sins that is proclaimed in his name. That’s what he authorized these first witnesses to proclaim, that’s what they did proclaim, and our mission as the church today, the thing we’ve been authorized to do, is not to come up with something new, but to hold fast to this same message, and to continue holding it out to the nations, beginning where we are, but extending to all. There are still thousands of people groups, thousands of language groups, who have never heard anyone say to them in Jesus’ name in their language that the Christ suffered, died, and rose again. Repent for the forgiveness of your sins. We have neighbors in Philadelphia who have never heard anyone say to that them! And we have the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit, to empower us to say it to them, and to go out from here to the unreached peoples of the world, to say it to them. Let’s go. Let’s do it, because the end of all this fulfillment is a glorious one. Our passage ends with a little preview of it, and that’s where we’ll end today.
The end of the fulfillment
So in verse 50 we read that he led them out as far as Bethany, about 2 miles from Jerusalem, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. When God made the first humans, the first thing he did was bless them, which enabled them to be fruitful and multiply. But then when they sinned against him, they were cursed. The Law of Moses didn’t end there, though. As the story continued, God was showing in various ways that he was going to bring his blessing back to his people. He was determined to bless them. So he blessed one man, Abraham, and said that in his offspring all the nations of the earth would be blessed. He appointed priests to offer sacrifices on behalf of his people, and then to lift their hands and bless them. Their sins having been symbolically atoned for, they could receive God’s blessing. Now here is Jesus, who has offered himself as the perfect sacrifice, and what’s he doing now risen from the dead? He’s lifting his hands and blessing God’s people.
Nor does he stop doing it. In verse 51, it’s while he’s blessing them that he parts from them and is carried up into heaven. We call this the ascension, which answers the question why, if Jesus rose from the dead, can we not see and touch him now? Because he has ascended into heaven. But the thing to note here is not so much that he ascended; it’s how he did. He did it still blessing his people. This is the heart of Christ toward his people from his glorious throne in heaven: He is blessing us. The sacrifice has already been offered; no further sacrifice will ever be required, and there is therefore now no curse for those who are in Christ. It is all blessing, all the time, every spiritual blessing even in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
The result of that in verse 52 is that they worship him, return to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. Let’s touch on each of those briefly. First, they worship him. If you need more proof that Jesus is truly God, here it is. There is a story in the book of Acts, written by the same author, where someone does this to Peter, same word: He worshiped Peter. And do you know what Peter did in response? He told him not to do that, because, Peter said, he is just another man. Do you see that Jesus doesn’t do that here? Why? Because he’s not just another man! Though he is truly man, he is also truly God, and now ascended into heaven, he is seated in his proper place and revealed to be true God from true God, begotten not made, one in being with the Father, and therefore worthy of our worship! Many admire the life or teachings of Jesus, but the only way to truly honor Jesus is to worship him.
And the worship of which he is worthy is no begrudging worship; it is worship that produces great joy! The disciples now see that the news that seemed too good to be true is true! Jesus really was the Christ, he really died and rose again, and he came to them preaching peace! Their sins were forgiven! He blessed them, and ascended into heaven still blessing them! What could take away such joy? Yes, they had work to do: They were to be his witnesses to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem, but they also had his promise to give them the power to do the work! Yes, it meant they’d basically all be killed for doing it, but now they had resurrection hope, and looked forward to the day when they too would be risen from the dead with Jesus! Such a hope was not mere wishful thinking; they’d seen someone come back to life from the dead! They knew it was real, and so they had great joy. Do you have that kind of joy? If not, why not? Almost invariably, it is because we are grieving something we’ve already lost in this world, or fearing what we might lose in the future in this world. That’s reasonable to a point; we do live in this world. But such things don’t have to stop us from rejoicing, because this world isn’t ultimate! To you who are repenting and trusting in Jesus today for the forgiveness of your sins, your story has a happy ending! It really does! I know it seems too good to be true, but Jesus’ resurrection proves it is true! Rejoice with great joy.
And finally, we read that they were continually in the temple blessing God. Jesus blessed them, so they blessed God. When Jesus blessed them, he was declaring them to be in the favor of God. When they bless God, they are declaring him to be the eternally blessed, truly glorious one. Their worship of Jesus was not in competition with the glory of God the Father. Rather, their worship of Jesus leads them deeper into the glory of the Father. When Jesus first came, the angels sang of his birth with these words: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14). Now here, at the end of Luke’s Gospel, we find both have gotten their start. Jesus appeared to his disciples and said, “Peace to you.” There is now peace on earth among those with whom he is pleased. And now at the end, his disciples are giving glory to God in the highest, continually in the temple blessing God.
That’s the end of Luke’s Gospel, but I’ve already alluded to the fact that Luke wrote a second book which we call Acts, a kind of sequel to this Gospel, which tells the history of the early church. The end of his Gospel prepares us for that. It shows us Jesus blessing his Jewish disciples, and it shows them rejoicing with great joy in Jerusalem at the temple. That’s the effect of Jesus’ work in them: Their joy and God’s glory. But remember what Jesus said. Everything written about him must be fulfilled, and this picture we get in verses 50-53 therefore cannot end in Jerusalem. One of the things that must be fulfilled still is that repentance for the forgiveness of sins must be proclaimed to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. Verses 50-53 are a preview of what will reach to the end of the earth. From Jerusalem, from the temple, will go out the word that Christ has fulfilled what was written of him in the scriptures. The Christ has died, the Christ has risen, repent for the forgiveness of sins, and as he empowers that word with his Spirit, his blessing will extend to the end of the earth. He is the offspring of Abraham, in whom all the nations will be blessed. And so a people from all the nations will rejoice with great joy, and spend eternity in a new temple, a new heaven and a new earth, blessing God forever. That’s the end of the fulfillment, and he himself will ensure that it will be fulfilled.
He fulfilled what was written about the Christ’s sufferings when he suffered and died on the cross. He fulfilled what was written about the Christ rising again when he rose from the dead, with the nail-pierced hands and feet, the flesh and bones, and the appetite to prove it. By his Spirit, he is now fulfilling what was written about repentance for the forgiveness of sins being proclaimed in his name to all nations. Repent for the forgiveness of your sins. Go to the nations with this message. And rejoice with great joy as you give glory to God in the highest.