Written by Nanette Olsen for the iFace staff retreat in Chicago, May 26-28, 2015
Luke 24: 44 Then 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.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
There are some very basic things about this passage that we all know: We see the essence of the Gospel clearly stated–The Christ suffered for our sins, died and rose again, as it had been prophesied. We know that forgiveness of sins is found when we turn to Him in repentance and faith in His name. We know that the seeds of our faith which were planted in Israel grew and spread from Jerusalem after His resurrection and ascension. We also know that, because Jesus called His disciples, made them witnesses of these things and sent them out, the Gospel has reached us. We are part of the “all nations” to whom the Gospel was and is still being proclaimed.
The key to this passage, besides being Christ-centered and mission-focused, is found in verses 45 and 49. First, He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. Last, He promised to clothe them with power from on high. Apart from the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, which resided with Jesus as He spoke these words, they would have no faith and no hope of success in mission. What was true for the disciples is true for us.
It is mind-boggling to me that the disciples walked with Jesus for three years, yet their minds with respect to the Old Testament Scriptures about the Suffering Servant were still closed until His resurrection and appearance before them all. I see it as part of the glorious unfolding of truth by the sovereign will and plan of the LORD in each of their lives and in mankind as a whole. It is humbling to consider that apart from God’s grace to open my mind, I would have no understanding of the Scriptures. For certainly, if the disciples could not see it clearly, neither could I. It is also true that no one with whom I share the truths of the Gospel can understand it, no matter how clearly and succinctly or thoroughly I state it or expound upon it. Only by having their minds opened and gifted with understanding by God Himself can they grasp the truth.
Even Jesus, being God Himself, was unable by His words alone to convince the Rich Ruler to follow Him in Luke 18. He commented to His disciples in verse 24 “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” The ruler understood what Jesus was asking of him–to put God and His belief in Jesus as Messiah ahead of earthly treasures. So, even if I state the Gospel clearly and my listener is given an understanding of eternal life, their love of this earthly life and the pull toward its temporary pleasures may prevent them from embracing God’s gift of grace in Christ.
As soon as the Holy Spirit removes the blinders and opens their minds, Satan can be there with his lies, vying for their allegiance to the world system. Their own pride may also get in the way of the gift, making them think the Gospel is just too easy. They refuse the gift because they insist that they must suffer or work hard to earn their own way.
Any number of cultural, religious or personal factors can stand in the way of a person who grasps the basic concepts of the Gospel by the understanding God gives them, but refuses to repent and believe for salvation. There is nothing I can do to convince them, just as there was nothing Paul could do or say to convince the Sanhedrin, the High Priest or King Agrippa in Acts 26. In Luke 16:31, Jesus had Abraham speaking to the Rich Man regarding his request to send Lazarus, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” Jesus Himself rose, and still the Scribes and Pharisees refused to believe.
Only God can turn the heart of another human being from the things they think this world has to offer to the simple way of grace–salvation by faith in Christ alone.
Before His resurrection, the disciples were reeling with despair and confusion. They were cowering in fear of what either the religious or political authorities would do to them as Jesus’ followers. They were awaiting an earthly kingdom ruled by their Messiah, whom they had believed to be Jesus, but His crucifixion confused them.
Jesus’ resurrection confirmed that they were right to believe in Him and follow Him, but now they needed to see the Scriptures from a new perspective. Between the work of grace to open their minds, helping them to set aside all of their preconceived notions of Messiah, and Jesus’ explanation of His role as Suffering Servant, they finally got it. But He also knew that He wouldn’t be physically present to dispel their confusion every time their thinking got a little muddied.
He reminded them of the Father’s promise–that He would send another Counselor. In Luke 11:13, in His teaching following the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus had said, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” In John 14:15ff, where the Holy Spirit was promised, He called Him “the Spirit of truth,” saying, “You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” And later, in verses 26-27: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
In Luke 12:11-12, Jesus encouraged them in defending their position on Jesus as Son of Man before synagogues and the rulers and the authorities– “…do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
The mission Jesus was laying out before His disciples was never portrayed as an easy one. They would face opposition. His death had made clear just how severe the opposition would be. But His resurrection and the promised Holy Spirit would serve to embolden them in the face of that opposition. In the verses given me from Luke 24, He commanded them that: “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (47)
At that time, Jerusalem was where their greatest opposition lay. It was the least safe place for them to proclaim salvation in Jesus’ name–the one seen as a false prophet by the religious establishment and by political powers who had allowed His execution, as a rebel leader at worst and an inciter of riots at least. He also commanded: “But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (49)
Previously, Jesus had given them power to heal diseases and cast out demons in His name, and they had rejoiced. The had no power of their own for such ministry, nor for the bold proclamations Jesus was now telling them they must make. And if they thought opposition was great now, just wait until they started fulfilling the “all nations” par of the mission. If the religious leaders hated the role of Suffering Servant preached and fulfilled by Jesus, just think how they would react to the pagans being invited into their heavenly kingdom, on earth and for eternity, in His name.
They would definitely need power from on high to face such opposition. He would be faithful to provide it, but they needed to wait on Him. Had they rushed right out to proclaim the message, they would have been immediately cut down. Then Jesus would have had to raise up others in their place. But it all unfolded according to His will, and they waited in prayerful expectation following His ascension. At that time, in Acts 1:5, He said, “for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” And in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has com upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”
Father, Every morning when I approach the Scriptures, I eagerly anticipate how You will open my mind to understand them. As a university student, when I first began to gobble up Your Word, You opened my eyes to a whole new world. I began to understand my own salvation i ways that truly impacted how I lived my life and prioritized my days. I sensed Your call to every believer to make disciples, and I was eager to cross cultural barriers to do so. Over the years, You have continued to deepen and broaden my understanding of Your plan for what my Cru director back then, Mark Willis, called Total World Domination. It is a glorious, graceful plan unfolding over millennia, and I now feel like the most anticipated match of all time has gone into overtime as cosmic observers await the final victory. Victory was secured on the cross, and for believers, victory will be fully realized at the Rapture and Second Coming. But as I read and understand, I have to remind myself that ultimate victory awaits Your Great White Throne at the end of The Millennium of Christ’s Reign on Earth, when Satan is banished to the Lake of Fire along with every follower. Then, those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will enter the Heavenly Jerusalem in the New Heaven and the New Earth. For now, we proclaim that, “the old is gone, the new has come.” With respect to our persons, this is true. In the dimension of time, we still see the effects of the old, and with respect to the heavens and earth, the new is still yet to come. But You are outside of time, already viewing the New Heaven and the New Earth as reality. To You, it is not future; it is NOW. So with eyes of faith, I can proclaim with you, “the new has come.” One day, with my own eyes, I will see it unfold as You roll back the heavens as a scroll, revealing what was there all along, awaiting each beloved creature You made to dwell in Your glorious, loving presence.
When I consider the mission to reach international students and visitors with Gospel of Jesus Christ, I am humbled by what a privilege it is to be a part of Your grand and glorious plan to bring people of all nations into Your beautiful, magnificent, Heavenly Kingdom–a reality in which there is only love, never hate, only joy, never sorrow, only health, ever pain or disease, only peace, never war, only unity, never factions or division, only light, never darkness, only life, never death or decay–where Your presence and Your power are never questioned. I want to be where You are, LORD, for all eternity beyond time. Multiply my life so that I may bring as many people fo the nations of this world as You see fit to gather into Your heavenly arms through, me, by the power of Your Spirit. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN