The Gospel for Troubled Souls Luke 24:36

The Gospel for Troubled Souls
Luke 24:36-49
Third Sunday of Easter
April 19, 2015
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and
Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text, And [Jesus] said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why
do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I
myself. Touch me, and see.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
To be most literal with this text, we ought focus primarily on
the phrase “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be
proclaimed in his name to all nations,” because that phrase is the
one most directly about us (and we will get to it!). However, though
the first part of the text is historically most accurately about the
Eleven, we may at times apply Scriptural reference about the Eleven
to ourselves because our lives need to be instructed by Jesus’ dealing
with his disciples.
So, a question to consider: Is it a sin to be troubled? We
often read these Easter texts and we focus on the troubled
bewilderment of the disciples or the women at the tomb, and we are
tempted to turn the comfort and joy of the resurrection into a
tongue-lashing of disappointment toward those who are troubled.
“How dare you be troubled?” we think of the poor souls in the text,
“Can’t you believe what Jesus had taught you?!”
So, again, is it a sin to be troubled? Here Jesus asks the
disciples, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your
hearts?” And remember, a similar question had been asked of Mary
Magdalene at the tomb: “Why do you weep?” And, the resurrection
wasn’t the only time such troubled hearts are described. Way back at
the beginning of this same gospel of Luke, the evangelist had used
the same word (in the Greek) to describe the tongue-tied
Zechariah, and again the pondering Mary, as they were both
‘troubled’ () by the greeting of the angel Gabriel who came
to foretell them of the births of John and Jesus.
And, perhaps the most well-known place this word is used to
describe unsteady hearts is when Jesus says to the Twelve, “Let not
your hearts be troubled (). Believe in God; believe also in
Me.” And in all of these situations it’s easy for us to think that the
Scriptures are simply chastising unbelief.
However, as he entered Holy Week, we also hear the sinless
Jesus say this of his sinless self: “Now is my soul troubled
(). And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’?
But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your
name.” (John 12).
The point is, friends, that you ought not read our text and
hear Jesus chastising their troubled minds, as if scolding them, “Why
are you so unbelieving? Stand up like a man and have a firm heart!”
Nor, ought you hear him address them with a condescending tone,
as if he’s annoyed that they’re such cowards. Rather, you ought hear
Jesus address them as one having compassion on them… for he
himself knows what it means to be troubled in his soul. But, he also
knows that the troubled soul does not calm itself, but is comforted
by an objective truth outside itself (you might say, comforted by a
This is true for you, too. We so often are told to deal with
life’s troubled hearts and fear-filled minds by having the gospel fill
your heart. But be careful to discern that properly!
There are two ways to internalize the resurrection… only one
is right: (1) to believe its objective truth and say “Yes, this truth is for
my benefit.” This way is very good and salutary. But, there is a
second way … a trap we fall into often, by which we make the
objective truth subjective and say, “I just need to believe in this idea
– to make it ‘work’ for me – to calm my troubles. I just need to think
positive thoughts, and if I think about this great story of historical
tradition, I’ll eventually calm myself down.” This is a terrible manner
of internalizing the gospel!
The gospel isn’t psychology nor philosophy. It’s not an
ancient story to make you feel better. It’s a historical reality – an
event in history outside of you, the consequences of which are
objective answers to your fears and doubts about life. When Jesus
asks, “Why are you troubled?”, He does intend to point the disciples
to the gospel of the resurrection, but not to say, “Use this as a
positive psychological help,” but rather to say, “The answers to your
doubts/problems don’t lie in your head, rather they lie in the hands
of the One who is risen… look at my hands, my side. Touch me, and
see. This is just as I told you it would be… just as the Law of Moses
and the Prophets and the Psalms foretold. Stop disbelieving. Stop
trying to “feel the gospel” and calm your troubled hearts by your
own psychological self-improvements. Rather, throw your needs at
the feet of him who has conquered all – even death! – and He will
supply for your needs… even the calming of your heart.”
Apply this to daily life to gain an understanding: How many of
us (honestly) don’t have great fears in life. We all do! They come in
all sorts of different forms and many of you have come to your
pastor with a particular form with which you suffer. How relentless is
the devil in the use of fear, of troubled hearts, to stir and agitate our
souls and make us wrestle so that we grow weary and begin to
despair. You may fear losing your money or your house – and you
might! – which can’t be resolved by what you think of Jesus, but is
answered only by how Jesus (outside of you) objectively provides
your daily bread (to you). You may be troubled by the accusations of
the devil, perhaps he even oppresses you… which is why your
defense can’t be merely what you think of Jesus, but only by how
Jesus objectively (outside of you) shields and defends you… or is it
merely a mental exercise to pray “Deliver us from evil”? You may be
daily wrestling with the objective reality of death, which is why your
hope can’t be in merely what you’ve internalized about Jesus (or
think about him when you’re on your death bed), but must be in how
Jesus objectively (outside of you) has conquered death and will raise
you from the grave.
Notice, the answer is not to take the mind (which has already
proven its imperfection by the very fact that it fears)… and
require/expect more of that sinful mind. “If only I think better
thoughts… if only I think about the resurrection and really make
myself believe in Jesus.” How much deeper of a hole will we dig
when we try to internalize the good news in a way as if its only
something within us and not an objective truth outside of us… when
we try to make our mental response to the gospel our comfort and
strength, rather than the gospel itself – the risen Christ himself –
who is our comfort and strength.
In other words, don’t say to yourself, “If only I use Jesus’
gospel to think better thoughts, then I will free myself from my
doubt and despair.” Rather, say to yourself, “Because I cannot
depend on my own strength, I will appeal to the one outside of me
to strengthen and sustain me. I will not just think good thoughts to
myself (which is really depending on myself), but I will appeal to
Jesus himself through prayer (which teaches me to depend on
someone outside myself), who will answer me through Word and
Isn’t this even what the sinless Jesus did when he said not,
“My soul is troubled, but I will remember that I am the Son of God!”,
but rather, “My soul is troubled, ( but he prayed), ‘Father (outside of
me), glorify your name’?”
So also, friends, the resurrection of Jesus shows that you may
appeal to something steadfast and immovable and trustworthy
outside of yourself… “O Lord, my soul is troubled… troubled with
fears, troubled with despair; my heart is in turmoil within me. Thus, I
appeal to the flesh and bone truth of Jesus crucified and risen for
me. I appeal to something not just in my heart but outside of me –
even as he said, “See my hands and feet. Touch me and see.’ I appeal
to him and I throw my fears at his feet and I ask him to calm my
wavering heart and my troubled mind.”
Indeed, friends, this text teaches us to repent of our fear. For,
it’s not that we are troubled that is the problem (Jesus himself was
troubled). It’s that we think we have reason to be troubled… as if
Jesus is not trustworthy and true. Christ had reason to be troubled;
he carried all the sins of all the world on his shoulders, and no one
could take the burden from him. But, what’s your reason for being
troubled? If Christ has conquered death itself, silenced sin itself,
what greater enemy can you possibly have from which he can’t
defend you?
This is why Jesus asks, “Why are you troubled? You suppose
you see a ghost because you’re not confident I’d overcome the
grave? But, touch me and see (he says), for as I am risen from the
dead, then you have no need to be troubled, no need to fear the
fears of life. They are all answered by and answered in Me” (he says).
Notice, he does not say, “They are answered in your ability to
believe in me.” Your fears and your troubles are not answered by
“your really strong faith” or the power of positive thinking about
Jesus. Your troubles are answered by Jesus himself. So throw the
troubles at his feet, lay them in front of him, and he will deliver you.
Our text says that when, notice, it says how faith came to
these troubled disciples! It says, “Then he opened their minds to
understand the Scriptures.” Not “They opened their minds,” but “He
opened their minds.” Faith doesn’t come from within. It doesn’t
come from your troubled mind figuring out how to calm itself and
hold on to Jesus. If we are so broken in our sinful frames that we are
driven to depression and despair over things of this world, how
ought we expect our minds to steer us straight in the things of the
life of the world to come? Instead of looking inside yourself for the
answers, instead of rationalizing the Scriptures to calm your troubled
mind, be calmed by the great truth that not only do the Scriptures
come from outside of man (by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit), but
so also is the origin of faith itself:
As the Small Catechism teaches: “I cannot by my own reason or
strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him.” In other
words, “I cannot by my own depressed mind, despairing heart, and
troubled soul make use of the good news or believe it to be for my
benefit. I cannot trust in me to make the gospel work for me.” Rather,
“The Holy Spirit has called me with the gospel, enlightened me with
his gifts (Word and Sacrament), sanctified and kept me in the one
true faith.”
And, if it is from outside of you that your sustenance comes,
then all the baggage that is on the inside of you ought be disowned,
repented of, thrown at the feet of Christ, trusting that He will care for it
for you. “Here, My Lord, I cannot carry it. You carry it, for you have
promised to remove it from me.”
Is it just coincidence that Jesus concludes by appealing to
repentance (despairing of what’s from you) and the forgiveness of sins
(the good news coming from outside of you, from God in Christ)? –
“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day
rise again from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of
sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”
For all the notions of how to proclaim a ‘relevant’ sermon, Jesus puts
them all to rest when he says, “preach repentance and forgiveness.
There’s the answer to your doubts, your despairs, your timid hearts:
You doubt, you fear, you are troubled because you depend on
yourself rather than on the risen Christ. You locate truth in yourself
rather than outside of you in the risen Christ. You define life based
on yourself rather than on the risen Christ. Repent of yourself.
Receive forgiveness from the risen Christ.”… for where there is
forgiveness, there is life and salvation… not only is there ‘what you
think of life and salvation’, but there is life and salvation itself –
outside of you, for you… just as objectively real and true as the risen
Christ himself.
In the Name of the Father
And of the Son
And of the Holy Spirit.
+ AMEN +
Rev. Mark C. Bestul
Calvary Lutheran Church
April 19, 2015