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Sunday, April 12, 2015

What Things? (Luke 24.13-31)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
April 12, 2015
Text: Luke 24:13-31

:: Sermon Audio (link) 
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Song of Praise: "Open the Eyes of My Heart" (Baloche)
Song of Praise: "You Have Been Raised" (Sovereign Grace)
Offering of Music: "Hail the Day" (Sovereign Grace)
Hymn of Sending: "In Christ Alone/The Solid Rock" (arr. Travis Cottrell)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

Today’s text, often simply named “The Road to Emmaus,” describes one of many encounters with Jesus after Easter, after his resurrection from the dead. We often hear about the appearance to Mary and the women, or even to Thomas and the disciples in the Upper Room. But in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes that Jesus appeared to over 500 people. Today’s text gives us one of the most in-depth descriptions of one of those encounters.

In doing so, it not only gives us insight into that brief period of time after Easter when Jesus still walked the earth. It also, it offers eye-witness testimony and corroboration of the Easter story. But most personally, it offers us a kind of living parable into how even today people come to faith in the risen Jesus. We will track the coming to faith of the two on the way to Emmaus as we move through the text.

What Things? (vv. 13-20)

The scene opens with two people (Cleopas and another) leaving Jerusalem on Easter afternoon to head to Emmaus, some 7 miles from Jerusalem. Luke has just told us about Mary and the women visiting the empty tomb and then going to tell the disciples. Peter runs to see for himself. That is, in fact, the text we looked at last Sunday for Easter.

Now, on “that very day” these two were heading out of town. And they were talking about and discussing all the things that had taken place in Jerusalem. It had been an eventful week to say the least! And while this was going on, “Jesus himself approached and began traveling with them.” (v. 15) In other post-Easter encounters, Jesus would just kind of show up, but here we have him “approaching.” And they didn’t recognize him. And in so many words, he asks, “What are you talking about?” (v. 17)

And here’s a bit I’ve never noticed before (and I’ve preached on this passage multiple times!). At his question “they stood still, looking sad.” (v. 17) These were not disinterested spectators, but had some vested interest and feelings about what had happened. They also can’t believe the question. Cleopas asks, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” (v. 18)

And Jesus responds, “What things?” (v. 19) And here is where we get both the eye-witness level of detail, but also a glimpse into what they did and didn’t “see” – what they understood and did not understand.

They respond, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene…” (v. 19) – yes, he was from Nazareth, but many others (including Himself) understood him to be the “Son of God,” the “Son of Man,” the “Messiah,” or even “King.” Perhaps they thought he was just the man from Nazareth.

They respond that he was “a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people…” (v. 19) – yes, he was all that; so much so that we now describe his threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King – in the final and ultimate sense. Human prophets spoke the Lord’s Word; Jesus WAS the Word… not to mention that he wasn’t only a prophet. Perhaps they thought he was just another holy man in a long line of holy men.

They respond by describing “how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him” (v. 19) – yes, all true; but either they had not heard yet about the empty grave or did not believe it. Perhaps they thought Jesus was dead and gone.

Sometimes in the midst of singing all out or preaching with all my heart or feeling the warmth and affection of this church family, I find myself wondering what people are experiencing. If I could crawl inside another person’s head or have a super-honest interview, what would I hear. Surely it would resemble what we all see: oh yeah, “I teared up a bit when the choir sang this morning” or “Robert sure was fired up about that tithing sermon” or “It was great to see so-and-so; I sure was missing them.” But do we see and hear and feel – do we comprehend – the whole story?

We Were Hoping (v. 21)

The travelers continue, “But we were hoping that it was he who was going to redeem Israel.” (v. 21) – so they DID know about the whole Messiah thing!

And “Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened.” (v. 21) – wow, they even knew to expect something on the third day! They were way more tuned in than I gave them credit. Jesus did talk about the third day and there were some scriptural allusions to that, but it seemed like mostly his followers didn’t know what to do with that. These guys weren’t just casual observers; they must have been devoted followers of Jesus!

And wow, they DID know about Easter morning: “Some women AMONG US (yes, they are part of the ‘us’) amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive.” (vv. 22-23) – some women AMONG US? These were close followers of Jesus. They were there when the women gave their report!

In fact, “Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said…” (v. 24) – they were even there when Peter left to go to the tomb and returned with his own eye-witness account.” They had seen and heard all that!

And yet, “We were hoping…” is book-ended by “But Him they did not see.” (v. 21) They had heard and seen and witnessed… and hoped and trusted; and those hopes were disappointed.

How many times I have seen (and myself experienced) hoping and losing hope. It is perhaps most keenly felt by those who have spent so much time in the church hearing the great promises and words of God. Is God not faithful and true, loving and powerful? If there is anyone that more deserves God’s blessing than we who hope in God? And yet, sometimes we do not get what we pray for. Sometimes our hopes are dashed. Sometimes we suffer profoundly. And we find ourselves metaphorically walking out of Jerusalem (or literally walking away from church) because “Him we did not see.”

Was it Not Necessary? (vv. 26-27)

One of the most frustrating things about not getting what we pray for or hope for is that we are so sure we know what is best. And why would God not want that for us? Isn’t God good? (Yes!) Isn’t God powerful? (Yes!)

Isaiah 55:8-9 provides perspective: “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”

Or as Jesus put it to these two: “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” (vv. 25-26)

Was it necessary? Did Christ have to suffer? To die? To bear accusation and blame and punishment? Was it necessary for his blood to be shed? Jesus turned to their scripture – Moses and the prophets – to demonstrate the necessity of it. You heard examples of that as the call to worship today. In Genesis, the cosmic battle between Satan and humanity, sin’s curse and God’s blessing, was set forth. In Numbers God provided a means of healing from death – the people looking at the symbol of their sin’s consequence lifted high on a pole, and trusting in faith for God’s help. Jesus would later use that very event to explain his own coming crucifixion to Nicodemus. Isaiah foretold the Light in the darkness, the chosen and anointed One, the suffering servant. Zechariah foretold the coming of a King bringing salvation. Jesus didn’t just show up to a generation to impart some memorable moral lessons; he came at a time of God’s own choosing to accomplish salvation in and for history, from creation through consummation, as described, foreshadowed, depicted, taught, and promised over the centuries by God’s own Word and prophets.

God’s Word is more than an “explanation” of this or that; it is the comprehensive story of God’s dealings with humanity and points in its entirety to who Jesus was and what God accomplished through him. And we have access to that! Probably every one of us has one copy, if not five or ten, in our homes! And yet, like Cleopas and his companion, we too can be so foolish and slow of heart to believe what God has written.

At this point, Jesus prepared to part ways with them, but they asked him to say with them. It is not clear whether that invitation was only an act of hospitality (at least that – a strong commitment for middle-easterners) or perhaps a yearning within them to see and understand what they did not yet see and understand. And so Jesus stayed with them to share a meal and that is when their eyes were finally opened.

The only other time I am aware of that phrase “eyes being opened” was when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden and they became aware of good and evil; in moving validation of what scripture would later teach, Christ the second Adam reversed the curse of the first Adam, seen here by opening their eyes to God once again!

Then Their Eyes Were Opened (vv. 28-31)

It is also not clear exactly why their eyes were opened at that point. Maybe it was the act of inviting him to stay – to “abide” with them. Maybe it was the repetition of what would become the Lord’s Supper – the breaking and blessing of the bread, so evocative of the sacrifice of Christ’s body (and blood) for us. Or maybe it was God opening their eyes in God’s own timing.

As I think about our own modern experiences of Christ, I probably would go with “all of the above.” What is clear to me is that neither knowledge nor experience is sufficient to create faith. These two knew the scriptures – the equivalent of having grown up going to Sunday school and church… knowing all the Bible stories and promises. In fact, they even HOPED in the promises of scripture, so it wasn’t just that they had a cold and dispassionate view of the scripture. But that was not enough for faith.

Surely, then a personal experience of God would suffice. Who of us hasn’t said or thought, “If God just talked out of a burning bush, it would be easy to believe.” But listen, Jesus was walking and talking with these two and giving what might have been the best Bible study ever given, and it didn’t create faith.

When did their faith bloom? It was when they asked this stranger to stay with them for a while. It was when he connected the common – breaking of bread – with the uncommon sacrifice and offering of his body. And it was when God granted the eyes of faith.

What does that look like for us? I do think it is so important to read and learn scripture. Otherwise, there is no soil for faith to root or grow. I do think it is so important to worship in community. Otherwise, there is no encouragement or accountability. We often wait to “invite Christ into our life” until we believe. But look what these men did; hopes disappointed, not fully understanding, instinctively yearning for something more, they asked him to stay. Have you asked God to live in and with you, to “abide” with you, to “open the eyes of your heart?” Ultimately I do think faith is a gift from God. If we could do three things and guarantee it, we’d do that. But God’s timing and God’s ways are beyond ours. And yet, I think that is a request and prayer God delights to answer… in His time.

I’m also going to ask you, if your eyes have been opened, to think about your experience of that… to consider sharing that in some form with the church. In the month of May I’m going to be looking very basically at what is the “good news” about Jesus and I’d like to have someone share briefly each week – either in person or on video – about your own experience of having your eyes opened to Christ. Would you consider if you’d be willing to do that and let me know?

In closing, you know that song we started with? It’s a little dated now, but I love it because it comes straight from scripture. We sang, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord; I want to see Jesus…. Jesus, high and lifted up… Jesus, the holy one.” It’s taken from a prayer in the first chapter of Ephesians. I’d offer that for you and with all who would pray it as we close:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. (vv. 18-19a)  Amen.

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