By Pastor Glenn Pease
During the early part of the World War II, the crew of a vessel in the Caribbean Sea had an experience that illustrates the theme we want to consider on this Easter morning. As reported by Walter Maier, this vessel was carrying a cargo of oil, and was suddenly attacked by an enemy submarine. It raked the decks with shell fire and shrapnel, and before the crew knew what was happening a torpedo hit them. It destroyed the stirring apparatus, and tore a gaping hole in the side. The craft began to sink, and fire broke out. Soon the order came to abandon ship. Only one life boat and three rafts remained undamaged, and so the crew had to squeeze into these, and roll for all they were worth to get out of the danger zone.
The captain and 8 men had been killed in the raid, but all the rest made it into the rafts. There they were, huddled together on a dark lonely sea waiting for the night to pass in great anxiety, and wondering what the future might hold for them. You can imagine the thrill that came to them as the sun came up and they discovered their ship had not gone down. Life took on an altogether different color. The blackness of despair was now the brightness of delight. Hopelessness vanished, and hopefulness filled their hearts. With all the vigor of men who had a good nights rest, they rode back to their ship, and with some emergency adjustments brought it into an American port several days later.
What an illustration of the experience of the disciples. Everything was going so well, when all of the sudden, all the forces of evil on earth and in hell broke loose upon Christ, and they abandoned the ship. The cross was to them like a torpedo that had ripped such a hole in their hopes that there was nothing to do but forsake Jesus, and that they did in despair and utter hopelessness. We want to follow two of these discouraged disciples and look at the three stages they passed though in coming to experience the joy and victory of Easter. The first stage is-
I. HOPE DEFEATED. vv. 13-24.
We know practically nothing about these two discouraged disciples. In fact, we do not even know the name of one of them. Someone has said that Jesus made His most remarkable revelations to the least remarkable people. Here we see Him walking 7 miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus with two people who are never heard of before, and never again after this. This shows there are no such things as unimportant people in the eyes of Christ. Jesus is always busy with important people, for all people are important to Him, even if the rest of the world only knows them as Cleopas and whats his name.
As these two walked along talking of what had happened, Jesus drew near, unrecognized, and asked them why they were so sad. Jesus knew perfectly well what the problem was, but like any good counselor He wanted to draw it out from them. Just as He knows our problems, but wants us to come and share it with Him in prayer. Modern psychology knows that the best medicine is just to talk out your burdens to a sympathetic person.
Cleopas answered this sympathetic stranger, and the jest of his answer as to why they were sad is in verse 21, "We had hoped." Note the past tense-had hoped. We had high hopes that at last the Messiah had come, but the nails they put through His hands punctured our hopes. It is no wonder they were discouraged, disappointed, downcast, and depressed. No one can be happy when their hope has been crushed. All of life is a search to find hopes that cannot be dashed to pieces by circumstances. They thought they had found such hope in Jesus, but now it looked as if this too had been shattered by the cross.
This search for uncrushable hope is true for all of us, and we all go through the experience of seeing that which we had hoped for be demolished by the circumstances of life. These experiences of defeated hopes begin even in childhood. The experience of pastor Donald Bastion is typical of many. Though humorous to us, it is painful to those who pass through it. He tells of how he fell in love in the first grade. He had high hopes in spite of the fact that Marjorie was in the third grade, and she was big for her age, and he was small for his age.
His hope never wavered until one day he fell on some cinders at school.
As first grade boys will do, he began to cry, and walked around the corner of the school building. Of all people, he ran into Marjorie. When she put her arm around him and tried to console him like a mother, it was too much for his male ego, and right there his hope collapsed and was crushed beyond repair. How could a first grader love a girl who treated him like a child? Being a normal boy he recovered, and went on to become a happily married man, but when hopes are crushed in the lives of adults, they often can not adjust as does a youth, and so we have a world in which a suicide is committed every few minutes.
People who commit suicide are not crazy, but on the contrary, they are usually very serious thinkers. They have lost all hope, and have come to the conclusion that life without hope is worse than death, and even hell itself could hardly be as bad. Without hope life is perplexing, puzzling, and even paralyzing. Without hope a person is dead even while they live. That is why the Bible considers those who do not know Jesus Christ as being dead, and as not having real life. They are without God and without hope in the world. The people who scoff at Christians, and call them weak are usually those who do not have the courage to think seriously about the ultimate goal and purpose of life, for they know it will only lead them to the dead end of hopelessness.
Clarence Darrow, one of the most brilliant and successful lawyers America has ever seen, was an unbeliever, and he made the great mistake of doing some serious thinking about the meaning of life, and he became a hopeless skeptic. He was asked once if he had any advice for the youth of America. "Yes," he said, "My advice is to go to the nearest building and jump out of a third story window." He said, "Like if an unpleasant interruption of nothingness." He had everything life could offer, but he had no hope. Hope is essential to meaningful life, and the only hope that cannot be crushed is hope in Jesus Christ.
Getting back to our friends on the road to Emmaus, we see that they did not realize their hope was fulfilled. Jesus not only redeemed Israel, but redeemed the whole world. But this is a truth which does no one any good until they know it, and so we go on to the second stage of their experience.
II. HOPE DEVELOPED. vv. 25-29.
After Jesus listened to their story, He rebuked them for their blindness. The Old Testament prophesied all that had happened, and yet they could not see it. They were blinded by tradition which said the Messiah was to come and overthrow the powers of the world, and the Jews would reign. When Jesus did not do what they thought He should, they lost hope. Jesus teaches a strong lesson when He rebukes them, and goes back to the Scriptures to expound them. The heart of the Protestant faith is here, for Jesus teaches that the Bible is to be our soul authority. If you allow tradition to guide you, you can wind up believing just the opposite of what God reveals.
The quickest way to get out of the will of God is to let a professional do all your thinking for you. That was the problem with these two. They let the religious leaders of the day guide their thinking, rather than the Word of God. There are millions today doing the same thing. They never bother to search the Scripture for themselves. They let professionals take care of that, and rest their salvation on fallible men rather than the infallible Word of God. Following ignorant traditions was the curse of Israel, and it will be the curse of masses of modern people if they do not get back to a biblical faith.
There is a legend about a race of people who lived in an isolated valley surrounded by high hills, and cut off from the outside world. It is called the legend of the valley of ignorance. The hills surrounding them were regarded as sacred, and any attempt to scale them was forbidden by law. One day, however, a youth with a spirit of adventure felt a strong urge to climb to the top and see what was beyond those hills. He did it, and returned to his village with his body weary, and cut from the rugged climb, but so filled with excitement he hardly noticed his injuries. He told others of the land he saw, of fertile pasture, running streams, and of a mighty ocean that lay beyond. The leaders of the valley of ignorance considered him to be a babbling fanatic, and they had him stoned to death.
Many years rolled by, and a famine came to the valley. The streams dried up, the pastures withered, and the cattle began to die. Someone remembered the story of the young man, and hope revived. In desperation they forgot their traditional laws about climbing the hills. They sent a group of men to see what lay beyond. They, of course, returned with a message of hope and salvation. All of the people gathered at the spot where they had stoned the youthful adventurer. They erected a monument to him as the savior of his people. It is only a legend, but so true to life. Tradition is almost always an enemy of truth. It killed the prophets; it killed the Son of God, and will go on cursing all who cling to it rather than the Word of God. Tradition says there are several ways to be saved, but Scripture says there is only one, and that is by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Tradition told these two disciples that Jesus could not have been the Messiah, and so they lost hope. Jesus comes to them with the Word of God, and He shows them that it was necessary that the Christ was to suffer all that He did, and enter into His glory. As He took them through the Old Testament showing them these things a new hope began to develop. Jesus did not reveal Himself to them at this point, but use the Scriptures to develop their hope. He did this in order to teach that the Bible is sufficient to give us the truth of God. They would only see Jesus for a moment, but they would have the Scriptures to guide them always.
In verse 32 they admit to each other that their hearts burned within them as He talked with them, and open to them the Scriptures. The evidence that new hope began to develop in their hearts is seen already in verses 28-29. When they came to Emmaus Jesus made as if He would go on, but they constrain Him to abide with them. They hungered to know more of that which He spoke. This gives us a real clue as to why Jesus revealed Himself to these two. They wanted to know. No one is ever hopeless who really wants to know the truth. Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled. Jesus had stimulated new hope in them, and they desired to develop it further.
We notice here the courtesy of Jesus. He did not force Himself upon them. If they had had no interest, He would have gone on. Jesus will knock at the door, but He will not break it down. Jesus would not approve of cramming the Gospel down anyone throat. When He sent the 70 out, He said, if they don't want your Gospel just shake off the dust of your feet and move on. There is no point in trying to force a decision, for only those who decide because they desire to do so have a decision that counts. These two desired Jesus to abide with them, and so He came, and that brings us to the third stage of their experience.
III. HOPE DISCOVERED. vv. 30-35.
As Jesus sat at the table with them, He took bread and blest it, and broke it as He had done so often. And in so doing their eyes were opened, and they saw it was Jesus. Maybe it was the prayer, or the way He broke the bread, or the nail prints in His hands, that made them see He was the risen Christ. Whatever, it was, as soon as they recognized Him He vanished. Jesus had no intention of staying with them. He was only concerned to lead them to discover that their hope in Him was not in vain. It was perfectly fulfilled as Scripture foretold.
At that moment they experienced the meaning of Easter. They discovered the reality of the resurrection, which meant that in Christ we can have a hope that is eternal and uncrushable. Not all the darkness of hell and death could quench His life and light. Never again did they need to be without hope. There cold hopeless hearts were kindled into flame, and as with those men on the sea who saw their ship afloat, knew life pulsed through their veins. Hope in the soul gives strength to the body, and so they rose up and returned in haste to Jerusalem. A new engine of purpose had been placed under the hood of their life, and with high octane hope they ran back to Jerusalem. I wouldn't be surprised if eternity reveals that they were the first to break the four minute mile.
Crushed hopes are like heavy chains around our ankles, but the hope that comes to those who discover the living Christ is like helium from heaven that lifts and lightens. Some people make a great deal of the empty tomb, and that is essential, but it is the negative aspect of the resurrection. The positive aspect is the full heart. The heart filled and flaming with hope because Christ is risen and is ever present is the necessary positive side. They knew of the empty tomb before, but that is not enough without the positive awareness of the living Christ.
I can imagine a beggar setting at the gate of Jerusalem seeing these two race past him in excitement, and thinking to himself, "Isn't that those same two who came dragging themselves along only a few hours ago with long sad faces? What a change has come over them." What a change comes to anyone who discovers the living Christ. You cannot come to know Christ and be the same. There is new hope, and a new flame that is set to burning, and it consumes that which does not belong.
When Blaise Pascal, the famous French genius, and inventor, discovered Christ, he wrote in his diary that Nov. 23, 1624 the word fire, and after that he jotted "joy, joy, joy, tears of joy-Jesus Christ." Such was the experience of John Wesley when he felt his heart strangely warmed as he trusted in Jesus as his Savior. And such has been the experience of millions who have discovered the living Christ.
When these two disciples walked out of Jerusalem that first Easter they were saying, "This is the end, this is the end." They were right, of course, but they did not realize which end it was. But after their discovery they realized it was the beginning end of a hope that would have no end. It was not the end; not even the beginning of the end. It was just the end of the beginning. The message of Easter is eternal hope, a hope that cannot end. Life with Christ is endless hope, but without Him it is a hopeless end.
Christ is risen, Christ is risen,
Sins long triumph now is o'er.
Christ is risen, death's dark prison
Now can hold his saints no more.