“Ghosts and Transformation”
April 22, 2018
By John Partridge*
Luke 24:36b-48 Acts 3:12-19 1 John 3:1-7
Have you seen all the paranormal shows on television? It isn’t just funny movies like “Ghostbusters” anymore, there’s “Ghost Hunters,” “Paranormal Lockdown,” “Ghost Adventures,” “The Dead Files” and something like sixty others that are either currently on television or older series that are sometimes rebroadcast. With varying degrees of seriousness, these shows describe, or investigate, the activities of supernatural, non-spiritual, beings. More simply, ghosts. These ghost hunters or paranormal investigators do not even consider the possibility that the disturbances they are searching for might well be the same sorts of creatures described in the Bible, but in any case there are some things that haven’t changed.
In two thousand years of history, there are some things that everyone seems to know about ghosts. 1) Ghosts can pass through walls and locked doors. 2) Ghosts are not bound by the laws of physics as we understand them. By that I mean that not only can they pass through walls and locked doors, but that they can fly, swim, walk on water, and other things that living people cannot do. 3) Ghosts are generally quiet but can also occasionally communicate with the living. 4) Ghosts are not solid so you cannot shake hands with one and they have been known to pass right through a living person as well as solid objects. And 5) because ghosts are not solid, they generally can’t move solid objects and certainly can’t eat or drink.
Do why does any of this matter?
It matters, because there were several moments when Jesus’ disciples thought that Jesus was a ghost, and each time it scared the snot out of them. You may remember that when the disciples first saw Jesus walking on the water in the middle of a storm, they were frightened because they thought that he was a ghost. Jesus had to call out to them, calm the storm, and explain that it was really Jesus. And as we continue reading the Easter story, our first scripture also finds the disciples, shortly after listening to the story told by the men who had returned from Emmaus. The disciples are afraid because, once again, they think they’ve seen a ghost. (Luke 24:36b-48)
36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.
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.”
This clearly one of the best arguments that Jesus simply appeared, rather than knocking and being let in through the front door. Jesus was supposed to be dead, but there he was and the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost. Jesus shows them his hands, and his feet and lets them touch him. But just to be sure, he asks for something to eat, is given a piece of fish, and eats it in front of them. Since everyone knows that ghosts can’t eat solid food, Jesus is obviously trying to calm their fears and convince them that he is not a ghost before he begins teaching. And once he begins his teaching, he explains from scripture why the Messiah had to suffer, die, be buried, and rise from the dead after three days. Jesus then explains that because he has done this, the next step will be theirs. Jesus declares that the news of repentance and forgiveness of sins must be preached to every nation, and that soon he would be sending them out to tell the world.
But not yet.
For now, Jesus tells the disciples that he is sending them a gift and that they need to stay in Jerusalem for a little longer until it arrives. While they wait, Peter and the others travel to the temple daily to pray. And one day, after the events of Pentecost, on the way to the temple, Peter heals a lame beggar that had spent years of his life begging at the same gate to the city. After he is healed, he is seen running, and jumping, and praising God in the temple courts and that attracts a crowd. People recognize the beggar that they have often walked past and they wonder if this could be the same man. (Acts 3:12-19)
12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.
17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 1
Remember, that just a month or so before, Peter and the other disciples had met Jesus while they were together in a house in which they had closed the windows and locked the doors. They were living in fear. They feared being discovered. They feared being arrested. They feared death. They were afraid of ghosts. They were afraid that Jesus was a ghost. And Jesus had to keep telling them, “Peace be with you.” A month or so earlier, Jesus could not communicate with the disciples without repeatedly telling them not to be afraid. But now, together they walk boldly to the temple, Peter heals a lame beggar sitting at the gate to the city, and then stands up and witnesses and preaches to the gathering crowd about the risen Jesus.
In the span of a month to a month and a half, the disciples have been completely transformed. Where they were quiet and afraid, they are now bold, courageous, loud, and in-your-face. Where they had been afraid to be associated with Jesus, now they are proclaiming it in the center of the temple mount. So dramatic is the change in the disciples, that one could easily say that they are hardly the same men. The difference is both stark and dramatic.
This is not the change that you would expect if they had seen a ghost.
People who see ghosts tend to be more afraid, not less.
But meeting the risen Jesus has had quite the opposite effect. Seeing Jesus, or rather, meeting Jesus, has transformed the disciples from a gaggle of frightened fisherman and businessmen into fearless and passionate witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus.
For the disciples, meeting the risen Jesus was a transformational experience. Their lives were fundamentally and demonstrably changed. How they acted, what they did, and even where they did it, was dramatically different after the resurrection than before it.
But what does that mean for us?
We didn’t have the opportunity to walk with, and learn from, Jesus for three years. Most of us haven’t been to seminary, or to bible college. So what does it mean for us to follow Jesus and to be his disciples?
In what scholars think is probably a letter to churches in Asia, the Apostle John wrote these words:
(1 John 3:1-7)
3:1See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. 6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.
7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
At first that may not seem to answer our question, but if we look a little deeper, we can find what we were looking for. First, John reminds us how much God loved us and how much of his love he “lavishly” poured out on us so that we could be called the children of God. God loved us so much that he stepped down from his throne in heaven, came down to earth, became a human being, suffered alongside of us, and then was tortured, hung on a cross, and died in our place all so that we could be forgiven by, and reconciled to, God. When we put our trust in Jesus we know that we will one day be like him and live with him in his father’s house in heaven.
But John also says that “All who have this hope, purify themselves, just as he is pure.” John also says, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” And finally, John says, “7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.” Each of these statements tells us something about who we should be and what we should be doing.
John knows what it means to have his life transformed by meeting the risen Jesus.
And that’s exactly what he’s describing for the rest of us.
Everyone who comes to faith in Jesus begins to pursue purity. They do not immediately become pure, but begin to work at purifying themselves because our desire is to become more like Jesus. John also says that if we have seen the risen Jesus or if we even know Jesus, then we will do everything we can to stop sinning. We want to do what is right, because Jesus has done, and is doing, what is right. What John is describing for us, is nothing less than the total transformation of our lives. Meeting the risen Jesus has always been, and remains still, nothing short of a transformational experience. Once we meet Jesus, we want to become like him and we begin to do whatever we can to do so.
Two thousand years ago, the disciples at first thought they were seeing a ghost.
But ghosts don’t transform lives.
Only a living and resurrected Jesus does that.
Two thousand years later, the risen Jesus is still transforming lives.
Jesus is transforming lives in this church today.
Have you met my Jesus?
If you haven’t, I’d love to talk to you.
Maybe today is the day, that your life begins to change.
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at email@example.com. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.