Fuller

Why It Matters that Jesus Was Not a Ghost

May 4, 2022 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 24:36-43 (NRSV)

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Focus

The Gospel of Luke makes it clear that the resurrected Jesus was truly human. He was not a ghost. The physical resurrection of Jesus reinforces the value of the physical world. That which God created as very good continues to have eternal value. When we grasp the importance of the resurrection of Jesus, we will be assured that what we do in this world matters. As the Bible says, in the Lord our labor is not in vain.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.

Devotion

I’ve been thinking a lot about ghosts recently. No, I haven’t joined the local ghost hunters’ society. (There actually is such a thing where I live, the Pasadena Paranormal Research Society. Though, actually, they spend more time debunking ghost stories than finding ghosts.) Rather, my wife and I have been watching the British sitcom called Ghosts (which is not the same as the CBS series with that name). Ghosts is a light-hearted comedy featuring a mansion full of a variety of ghosts. They aren’t scary so much as silly and sweet, just the kind of ghosts I like at the end of the day.

The ghosts in this BBC sitcom seem continually frustrated by the fact that they cannot affect things in the physical world, except by communicating with human beings who perceive them. For the most part, however, the ghosts are trapped forever in immateriality. They live in this world—sort of, and sort of not. Because of their ghostliness, they are basically irrelevant to the things of earth, a fact that is regularly bothersome to the ghosts.

The New Testament gospels make it clear that Jesus was not a ghost. In the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus walked on the water near his disciples who were in a boat, they were terrified because they thought he was a ghost (Mark 6:49-50). But Jesus reassured them by getting into the boat so they knew who he was.

In Luke 24, when the risen Jesus first appeared to his disciples, they were terrified once again, believing him to be a ghost (Luke 24:37). Once again, Jesus calmed them down, showing them that he had a physical body. He said, “Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (24:39). Then he backed up this offer by eating a piece of fish in their presence. Ghosts cannot eat. I know this definitively from the Ghosts TV program.

We might wonder why it’s so important that the resurrected Jesus had a physical body. What if he had been a ghost? Would that have been so bad? In fact, if the early Christians had claimed that Jesus had been raised only as a spirit, not a body, their message would have been more popular in the Greco-Roman world. Bodily resurrections didn’t sit well with Greek-inspired people.

This actually points to one main reason why the physical resurrection of Jesus matters so much. It affirms the reality and importance of the material world. The Greeks tended to disparage physicality, to value only the spiritual, immaterial aspects of reality. But Jews, basing their worldview on Scripture, affirmed the significance of the material world. God had created it, after all. And, according to God, the creation was good, in fact, very good (see Genesis 1). If Jesus had died and his spirit alone had come back to life somehow while his body remained in the tomb, this would have sent a strong signal about the fact that this world really doesn’t matter. The resurrection sends the opposite message. The same God who created the world raised Jesus from the dead, affirming yet again the importance of the material world.

It’s worth paying attention to this fact because sometimes Christians forget this fundamental truth. We can focus so much on heaven, neglecting the fact that God promises a new heaven and new earth (see Revelations 21), that we fail to care for the things that God cares so much about. We can neglect faithful stewardship of the earth. We can ignore victims of violence and injustice. We can devalue ordinary work, assuming that the only work that really matters is being done by pastors and missionaries. I’m not suggesting that we should care only about the material, only about this present age. But it does seem clear that a follower of the resurrected Jesus should care about this world as well as the world of the age to come.

In the New Testament letter known as 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul makes a strong connection between the resurrection and what we do in this life with our bodies. According to Paul, in the future, our bodies will not be left behind, but will be transformed. Mortality will put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:51-54). So how does this affect our life now? Paul puts it this way, “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). What we do in this world with our mortal bodies makes a significant difference to God.

So, as you consider the non-ghostliness of Jesus, remember that this world matters to God, and so does what we do in this world. Even though sometimes your labors might feel as if they are in vain, be encouraged! Because of the resurrection, you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain!

Reflect

Why do you think so many people are so fascinated by ghosts?

Does it make sense to you that the physical resurrection of Jesus affirms the value of the physical world? If so, explain why. If not, why not?

Do you ever feel as if your labor on earth is “in vain”? How might the resurrection of Jesus speak to this feeling?

Act

As you do your work today, whether your work is paid or not, pay attention to how you are using your body. Offer your work to God as an act of worship.

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for creating this world. Thank you for creating it to be good, indeed, very good. Thank you for giving human beings good work to do in your good creation. Yes, our sin messed things up quite a bit. But what you established at the beginning is still true. This world does matter. And what we do in this world matters to you.

Thank you for raising Jesus in a way that affirms human life and materiality. Thank you for showing us that our future is not ghostly. We will continue to have bodies – transformed bodies – with which to worship you in all we do.

O God, may I use well today the body you have given me, for your glory! Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Our Work Is Not in Vain (1 Corinthians 15:58)


Subscribe to Life for Leaders

Sign up to receive a Life for Leaders devotional each day in your inbox. It’s free to subscribe and you can unsubscribe at any time.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.