Acts 13:16, 26-33 / Luke 24:36-47
What will help the unbelieving world receive the Good News in Jesus Christ? After all, we seem to have a strong case: the public witness of his suffering and death, the well-attested places of Golgotha and the tomb, the absence of a body admitted by believers and unbelievers alike, and the multiple witnesses of Jesus risen from the dead, Who was seen for many days by them who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who to this present time are His witnesses to the people. It would seem that this should, at the very least, compel unbelievers to give the Gospel an attentive hearing.
However, we hear today in the Scriptures that even those who we might imagine we most and best prepared to receive Jesus Christ and the Good News of his Resurrection were unable by their own power to do so. As Paul preached in the synagogue in Antioch, they that inhabited Jerusalem, and the rulers thereof, not knowing Jesus, nor the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath, judging Him have fulfilled them. How could this be? How could the very rulers in Jerusalem, the priests and scribes whose very life it was to know the Law of God and to heed the words of his prophets, how is it that such as these knew not the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath?
Nor are the priests and scribes of Jerusalem the only ones slow of heart to believe. Jesus' own disciples, gathered in the upper room, fail repeatedly to receive the visible, indeed literally palpable presence of the risen Christ in their midst. When he first appears and speaks words of peace, they supposed that they saw a spirit. When he presents his hands and feet and asks them to touch him to see that he is no spirit, but risen in his very flesh, they yet believed not, even if they wondered for joy. He asks food from them, shares what he himself does not eat, and reminds them of the words he spoke to them before his death on the Cross, that all things must needs be fulfilled that are written in the law of Moses and in the prophets and in the psalms concerning him. Even then, it was only by his merciful and gracious intervention that He opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures.
Is there anything, then, for us to do in the face of those who know not and receive not the Good News of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead? When those best able to know the Scriptures and to know what Jesus had taught could not come to believe apart from his gift of faith, is there anything we can say or speak to unbelief? We can, of course, and must proclaim the Gospel. We can, of course, and must respond to doubt, to misunderstanding, and to skepticism, both to those outside the Body of Christ and to those who are its members. We must do this hoping that God will work through our words to bring others to faith, but continue faithfully in this task even when our words are not received.
More than this, however, we must follow the express command of Jesus — penance and remission of sin should be preached in His name among all nations. Penance, not simply feeling remorse for bad deeds, but a real transformation of life, a turning away from everything one has known, even things delightful on their own terms, to embrace a way of life that answers the deepest desires of the heart. Remission of sin, not merely a forensic declaration that the evildoer is not free from punishment for his past wickedness, but a whole new principle of life, a share in the inexhaustible joy and immortal glory of God himself which makes the penance not simply a moral effort, but a partaking in the very source of bliss and being itself. This is what Jesus wants the world to hear. This is what we must help them to know, the glorious Good News that is the cause of our endless rejoicing. This is the key, they way past our hardened lines of resistance, the path to bypass our self-delusions of having already found the fount of our flourishing, to accept the Easter Evangel: It behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead the third day.
In this joy, from this faith, we say to those yet to believe and those whose faith has grown cold: The Lord is risen from the sepulcher, Who for us hung upon a tree.