(This was the message I gave for Easter 2016 adapted for this blog. Passages are taken from the NKJV Bible.)
We had a wonderful Easter Egg hunt at our church the day before Easter. I believe that God blessed us with a sunny afternoon and no rain (even though the weather forecasts were anticipating rain!) Several of the adults and older youth spent the early afternoon hiding over 600 eggs in hay that was spread out in the churchyard. I believe all of the children that came out got 40 eggs or something like that. Their baskets weren’t big enough, and it was fun watching them figure out what to do. I was sitting on the picnic tables, watching the children laugh and have a good time searching through the hay. I noticed something then… I didn’t see the disappointment on any of the children’s faces… I only saw joy, because they had found what they were looking for. It was a simple, yet startling realization.They were looking in the right place, they knew what they were looking for, and they believed there were eggs out there. It made me think…
Am I always looking for the things, from the largest to the smallest in my life, in the right place?
Do I always know what I am looking at and what I am looking for?
Do I believe that even when what I seek turns out to be empty, broken or even non-existent, God still had me there seeking in spite of my disappointment?
I’d like to begin this post with a passage that I believe summarizes everything that you’re about to read. It’s found in the book of Isaiah.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says 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.” -Isaiah 55:8 & 9
I believe that we as God’s creation are foolish to act as if we know what God is thinking and planning. His knowledge and wisdom are far greater than any human’s. We may not deny that with our hearts, but I’d wager that at times we all deny that in our actions. I know that I do. Further, God never fits into and he can’t be molded into the plans we create for our lives. We, however, fit perfectly into his plans for us as he molds us and changes us. This post focuses on 2 men, well 3 men technically, but it’s what happened to the 2 that I want to look closer at.
“Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were restrained so that they did not know Him.” Luke 24:13-16
Let’s set up the scene here.
A few days ago, Jesus was crucified by the Romans because of the Sanhedrin (or Jewish High Counsel).
He was tried illegally in a Jewish court, tortured at the hands of the Roman ruler Pilot and sentenced to death instead of a killer.
He was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish High Council (and a secret disciple of Jesus).
Three days have passed since the crucifixion, and now Jesus is alive but missing according to the women who visited early in the morning.
The day was Sunday, the first day of the week for the Jewish people (kind of like our Monday’s) and everything was sinking in.
How can things honestly get much worse in their eyes?
Scripture doesn’t say exactly why Christ’s disciples were going to Emmaus, but from Jerusalem to Emmaus, it’s a 7-mile walk. To get an idea, it takes about 15 to 20 minutes to walk a mile, depending on how quickly you walk. They were on about a 2-hour walk, give or take 20 minutes, so I can’t imagine they were just out for a stroll. These men were walking and discussing everything that had happened in the past few days. As probably every one of us would. These two men didn’t realize the significance of what had happened that morning, and understandably how could they yet? They were so wrapped up in their discussion and disappointment that they didn’t recognize that Jesus was walking with them. This is the first point I want to draw out of this passage…
1.) We can’t let the happenings of this world and their effects on us cause us to miss Christ. He’s there if we pay attention.
These men were walking away from Jerusalem… and away from the support of the other disciples to help them all in that time.
Continuing on in scripture, starting in verse 17….
“And [Jesus] said to them, “What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?” Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?” And He said to them, “What things?” So they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.” Luke 24:17-24
Seriously, how could this man (whoever he is, and wherever he came from) not know what happened? It’s Passover week, and if you’re a good Jew you were in Jerusalem! The trial of Jesus might have happened under the cover of darkness, but his death on the cross was a widely witnessed event. Cleopas and his companion recount the important events that happened from their perspective to this stranger. In the eyes of the disciples and the other followers of Christ, the man who was to save them from Roman rule is dead. (Remember, the disciples didn’t do a great job paying attention to what Christ told them all along about him being the Messiah) In Jesus’ day, most Jews believed that the Old Testament prophecies pointed to a military and political Messiah. They believed that the salvation he brought was for this Earth, right then and there. They didn’t realize that the Messiah had come to save people from their slavery to sin for all time. When Jesus died, therefore, they pretty well lost all hope. These followers knew that the tomb was empty but didn’t understand that Jesus had risen. They had the latest news, and they had solid facts to tell one side of the story. Despite what the women said, the other disciples verified, and despite OT prophecies of Christ dying, they still didn’t believe. Things definitely did not turn out how anyone thought they would. This is the second point that I want to take away from this passage…
2.) Even though our plans and desires may crash and burn, God’s plan never will. By spending time in scripture, praying, attending church, worshiping and witnessing, each day we can work towards making his plan our plan.
We have to align our desires with God’s desires and our will with God’s will. It goes beyond the laws and technicalities of religion; it has to become a personal relationship before it makes any sense.
Let’s see how Jesus responds to his disciple’s account of his death starting again in verse 25.
“Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther. But they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in to stay with them. Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.” Luke 24:25-31
This is where Jesus starts to open their spiritual eyes (so to speak). They can see physically, but they’re spiritually blind. Jesus started with what these men knew… and that’s the Torah (or what we know as the Old Testament today). These two men knew the biblical prophecies, but they failed to understand that Christ’s death was his path to glory. They could not understand why God had not intervened to save Jesus from the cross. While the Sanhedrin were mocking Christ asking him why he couldn’t save himself from the cross, other witnesses were wondering the same thing. In their eyes, Jesus’ path to glory as the Messiah involved armies, battle and driving out the Romans, not dying on a cross. As Jesus was walking with them on the road to Emmaus, he was walking them through the scriptures. Towards the end of the day, the men arrived at their destination and noticed that their new friend was traveling on. They invited Jesus in to spend the night, and have dinner together. After Jesus blessed their meal, their “eyes” were fully opened. Christ revealing himself as being alive to these men was very personal and deep. He gave hope back to 2 hopeless men. That is exactly the third point I’d like to take from this passage…
3.) Just as Jesus met these men where they were at, he will meet you where you are to help you start opening your spiritual eyes when you’re at the end of your rope. If all you can see is darkness, look to Christ in scripture (I’d recommend the book of John. You can listen here or read it here!).
Finishing up the passage of scripture, let’s take a look back in verse 32.
“And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.” Luke 24:32-35
Even before their eyes, ears, and brains understood what was happening, their hearts knew and were responding to Christ. They realized that after hearing the Word in the flesh, their hearts were lit on fire again. A fire that was put out a few days ago. After having their eyes opened, the two men rushed back to Jerusalem and found the disciples much like themselves. These men discovered that they weren’t alone in being visited personally by Christ. What’s interesting to me is that Christ also chose Peter. There were 11 other disciples and many, many followers…
Matthew 26:69-75 reveals the answer to this.
“Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came to him, saying, “You also were with Jesus of Galilee.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are saying.” And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, “This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth.” But again he denied with an oath, “I do not know the Man!” And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, “Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you.” Then he began to curse and swear, saying, “I do not know the Man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” So he went out and wept bitterly.”
We read how Peter denied Christ 3 times. Not once, but 3 times and then wept bitterly. The Bible tells us that Peter is a bold man. His denials became bolder and bolder until he finally had to face the truth head-on. When Peter finally received the signal that Christ told him would happen, his walls came tumbling down and he was alone. Peter was afraid for his life and made a poor choice… I imagine he felt unworthy, defeated and ashamed after the dust settled. 1 Corinthians 15:5 tells me that Christ met Peter after his resurrection. All of the disciples fled, but Peter vocally denied Christ. Christ knew Peter’s heart, and he knew where Peter was at. He saw the man that Peter was to become, not the decision he made.
The final point I’d like to take away from these scriptures is simply this…
4.) Let us try to see and love others as God sees and loves others. Let us see past the decisions that people make, and see their hearts. Let us see the brokenness, the abandonment, the betrayal, the anger, the jealousy, the lies… everything. Christ died for everyone. If God only saw who we are, and not who we could be and if he only saw what we’re doing, and not why we’re doing it I have a hard time believing that he’d have given his Son for his creation on Earth.
Even when things don’t go as expected in life, our God is still on the throne and he’s still in control. We must set our faith and our focus on him, and trust him no matter what our eyes and ears report to us here on Earth. This story hits close to home, in that it could have been any one of us walking down that road if you think about it. How many times have you been walking with a friend or a family member telling them about how things didn’t go as you planned? When things happen close to home, it may seem like we’re lost and wandering, but this story reminds me that Christ is closer than I know. I can’t think of a better day than today to be reminded that even a millennium ago, people were facing the same heartbreaks, disappointments, and brokenness that each one of us faces here in 2016. As we continue to celebrate Easter today, I hope that each of you will take some time and reflect on this account. Over 2000 years ago, Christ rose from the grave so that we can accept his gift of salvation to us. If our eyes are anywhere but on him, we’ll only experience disappointment in this life. Let his resurrection bring you new life.
Happy (Belated) Easter, and God Bless!