Look: “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:45)
Throughout Luke 24, which is where we read Luke’s account of Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples struggle to “get” what’s happened.
The women see the empty tomb. But it takes a reminder of “two men” whose clothes gleamed like white lightning, to remind them of how Jesus had said that He would be crucified, then rise from the dead (vv.7-8).
Peter runs to the empty tomb, but wondered “to himself what had happened” (v.12). The other disciples had written off the women’s witness as “nonsense” (v.11).
Cleopas and the other disciple (maybe his wife) unknowingly encountered the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus and only recognize Him after He breaks and gives the bread to them (vv.30-31).
Later, when some of them are gathered in Jerusalem, Jesus suddenly appears among them. Even with Him there among them, they doubted, thinking that they were seeing a ghost (vv.38-39).
Finally, in verse 45, Jesus opens their minds to understand what they were seeing.
What interests me is the word, understand. In the Greek in which Luke wrote his gospel, the word is συνιέναι. It carries the meaning of comprehending. But it’s a compound word having the literal meaning put together. Any time we understand something, it’s the result of putting together multiple facts.
For the disciples, it wasn’t enough to see the risen Jesus before them. They’d never seen a resurrected person. (They had seen people raised from the dead by Jesus. But, they’d never thought that Jesus would be raised if He were killed. Who, they would have reasoned, was going to do the raising?) For the disciples to believe the evidence that stood before them, it was necessary to put that evidence together with other things: the reminder of Jesus’ past prophecy; the way the risen Jesus broke and served bread the way He had before He was crucified; the witness of the Law, the Prophets, and the psalms; and finally, Jesus unfolding the Scriptures for them.
When God’s Word was brought to bear on the claim that Jesus was risen, the disciples were able to put things together. They could understand.
Listen: This chapter and this verse in particular, underscore how completely dependent we are on Jesus to integrate what we see or hear from the Word of God with our openness to Jesus’ teaching, to Jesus Himself. The disciples knew the Scriptures. They knew what they’d heard Jesus say before His crucifixion. They could see the risen Jesus. But until Jesus “opened their minds,” they couldn’t “understand the Scriptures.” They couldn't understand Jesus and the new thing He was doing. They couldn’t put things together.
Martin Luther writes: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in the true faith.”
Memorizing God’s Word is a great way to allow God’s truth to permeate our lives. But if we look at it only as a way to gain head knowledge or to find justifications for our own sinful behaviors and decisions, we will never understand the Word. We won’t put it together. It’s only when we, like Mary, as described earlier in Luke's gospel, place ourselves at the feet of God, our Teacher, that anything about the risen Jesus or the life to which He calls me will make any sense. (Luke 10:38-42)
I’m reminded of the passage from Proverbs 3:5-6, we’ve been memorizing for our discipleship small groups: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.”
Without the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus to be My teacher, Christian faith will be nothing but a clump of words and assertions. When I place myself at Jesus’ disposal and ask Him, “What are to you telling me here, Lord?,” I begin to understand...at least I begin to understand what I need to understand for that moment.
Respond: Lead me today, Lord, and help me not to resist. Bring to mind Your Word whenever I’m about to speak, when I’m tempted, when I’m with others, when I pray. Open me up so that I can integrate Your Word and Your will with my life today. Help me to experience Your living Word. In Jesus’ name. Amen
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. I'm also married, the father of two grown children, a son, a brother, a 1975 graduate of The Ohio State University (Bachelor of Science in Social Studies Education), holder of a Master of Divinity degree, a reader, a nerd, and a fan of baseball and rock music. Oh, and I fix egg whites and turkey bacon most mornings for breakfast. I love the small group of men with whom I presently participate in a small discipleship group twice a month. And I really miss my friends in Woof, our one-time wine-drinking, snack-gnoshing, theology-talking, friend-supporting group who gathered each week around our dining room table after a church Bible study. And I love it when I get to interact with elementary and high school classmates.]