Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). How does Christ help enquirers and catechumens believe that he is still alive today without showing them his hands and feet? What does he expect of them when they finally come to believe in him? What kind of assistance can they expect from him?
Let us find the answers in Luke’s gospel: “44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:44-49).
He refers them to the word which they had heard from him when he was with them, and puts them in mind of that as the angel had done (v. 44): These are the words which I said unto you in private, many a time, while I was yet with you. We should better understand what Christ does, if we did but better remember what he has said, and had but the art of comparing them together. He then refers them to the word they had read in the Old Testament, to which the word they had heard from him directed them: All things must be fulfilled which were written. God has revealed His will in various ways of writing; but all proceeded from one and the self-same Spirit, who by them gave notice of the coming and kingdom of the Messiah; for to him bore all the prophets witness.
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures, v. 45. In his discourse with the two disciples he took the veil off the text, by opening the scriptures; here he took the veil off the heart, by opening the mind. Observe here,
[1.] That Jesus Christ by his Spirit operates on the minds of all that are his. He has access to our spirits, and can immediately influence them. It is observable how he did now after his resurrection give a specimen of those two great operations of his Spirit upon the spirits of men, his enlightening the intellectual faculties with a divine light, when he opened the understandings of his disciples, and his invigorating the active powers with a divine heat, when he made their hearts burn within them, v. 32.
[2.] Even good men need to have their understandings opened; for though they are not darkness, as they were by nature, yet in many things they are in the dark. David prays, Open mine eyes. Give me understanding. And Paul, who knows so much of Christ, sees his need to learn more. Christ’s way of working faith in the soul, and gaining the throne there, is by opening the understanding to discern the evidence of those things that are to be believed. Thus he comes into the soul by the door, while Satan, as a thief and a robber, climbs up some other way.
[3.] The design of opening the understanding is that we may understand the scriptures; not that we may be wise above what is written, but that we may be wiser in what is written, and may be made wise to salvation by it. The Spirit in the word and the Spirit in the heart say the same thing. Christ’s scholars never learn above their bibles in this world; but they need to be learning still more and more out of their bibles, and to grow more ready and mighty in the scriptures. That we may have right thoughts of Christ, and have our mistakes concerning him rectified, there needs no more than to be made to understand the scriptures.
He gave instructions to the apostles who were to be employed in setting up his kingdom in the world. You are to be witnesses of these things (v. 48), to carry the notice of them to all the world; not only to report them as matter of news, but to assert them as evidence given upon the trial of the great cause that has been so long depending between God and Satan, the issue of which must be the casting down and casting out of the prince of this world. You are fully assured of these things yourselves, you are eye and ear-witnesses of them; go, and assure the world of them; and the same Spirit that has enlightened you shall go along with you for the enlightening of others. Now here they are told,
(1.) They must preach the gospel, the New Testament as the full accomplishment of the Old, as the continuation and conclusion of divine revelation. They must show people how it was written of old concerning the Messiah, and the glories and graces of his kingdom, and then must tell them how, upon their certain knowledge, all this was fulfilled in the Lord Jesus.
[1.] The great gospel truth concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ must be published to the children of men (v. 46). “Go, and tell the world,”
First, “That Christ suffered, as it was written of him. Go, preach Christ crucified; be not ashamed of his cross, not ashamed of a suffering Jesus. Tell them what he suffered, and why he suffered, and how all the scriptures of the Old Testament were fulfilled in his sufferings. Tell them that it behoved him to suffer, that it was necessary to the taking away of the sin of the world, and the deliverance of mankind from death and ruin: nay, it became him to be perfected through sufferings,’ Heb. 2:10.
Secondly, “That he rose from the dead on the third day, by which not only all the offence of the cross was rolled away, but he was declared to be the Son of God with power, and in this also the scriptures were fulfilled (cf. 1 Co. 15:3, 4); go, tell the world how often you saw him after he rose from the dead, and how intimately you conversed with him. Your eyes see’ (as Joseph said to his brothers, when his discovering himself to them was as life from the dead) “that it is my mouth that speaks unto you, Gen. 45:12. Go, and tell them, then, that he that was dead is alive, and lives forevermore, and has the keys of death and the grave,’
[2.] The great gospel duty of repentance must be pressed upon the children of men. Repentance for sin must be preached in Christ’s name, and by his authority, v. 47. All men everywhere must be called and commanded to repent, Acts 17:30. “Go, and tell all people that the God that made them, and the Lord that bought them, expects and requires that, immediately upon this notice given, they turn from the worship of the gods that they have made to the worship of the God that made them; and not only so, but from serving the interests of the world and the flesh; they must turn to the service of God in Christ, must mortify all sinful habits, and forsake all sinful practices. Their hearts and lives must be changed, and they must be universally renewed and reformed.”
[3.] The great gospel privilege of the remission of sins must be proposed to all, and assured to all that repent, and believe the gospel. “Go, tell a guilty world, that stands convicted and condemned at God’s bar, that an act of indemnity has passed the royal assent, which all that repent and believe shall have the benefit of, and not only be pardoned, but preferred by. Tell them that there is hope concerning them.”
(2.) To whom must they carry these proposals, and how far does their commission extend? They are here told,
[1.] That they must preach this among all nations. They must disperse themselves, like the sons of Noah after the flood, some one way and some another, and carry this light along with them wherever they go. The prophets had preached repentance and remission to the Jews, but the apostles must preach them to all the world. None are exempted from the obligations the gospel lays upon men to repent, nor are any excluded from those inestimable benefits which are included in the remission of sins, but those that by their unbelief and impenitency put a bar in their own door.
[2.] That they must begin at Jerusalem. There they must preach their first gospel sermon; there the gospel church must be first formed; there the gospel day must dawn, and thence that light shall go forth which must take hold on the ends of the earth.
(3.) What assistance they should have in preaching. It is a vast undertaking that they are here called to, a very large and difficult province, especially considering the opposition this service would meet with, and the sufferings it would be attended with. If therefore they ask, Who is sufficient for these things? here is an answer ready: Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you, and you shall be clothed with power from on high, v. 49. He here assures them that in a little time the Spirit should be poured out upon them in greater measures than ever, and they should thereby be furnished with all those gifts and graces which were necessary to their discharge of this great trust; and therefore they must tarry at Jerusalem, and not enter upon it till this be done. Note,
[1.] Those who receive the Holy Spirit are thereby clothed with a power from on high, a supernatural power, a power above any of their own; it is from on high, and therefore draws the soul upward, and makes it to aim high.
[2.] Christ’s apostles could never have planted his gospel, and set up his kingdom in the world, as they did, if they had not been clothed with such a power; and their admirable achievements prove that there was an excellency of power going along with them.
[3.] This power from on high was the promise of the Father, the great promise of the New Testament, as the promise of the coming of Christ was of the Old Testament. And, if it be the promise of the Father, we may be sure that the promise is inviolable and the thing promised invaluable.
Let us praise God with the song “He Lives”: