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On the Road to Emmaus

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On the Road to Emmaus

Do any of you watch Air crash Investigations.

Did you see last Wednesday’s program?

It was the retelling of the story of the 2002 mid air crash between a chartered Russian airplane, carrying a group of children on their way to an holiday excursion, and a DHL freight plane. The planes crashed 12 kilometers up in the air after a miscommunication as to which plane was supposed to fly at which height. 77 people were killed, mostly children.

But, what really struck me about this story was an interview with the mother of a child, a 12 year-old, who said:

            Everything that meant anything, our hope, our future, died along when our children died.

One can understand her grief. The death of a loved one is always a heart breaking experience. It must be even more so when a child dies.

But her remark reminded me of another, similar experience…

A week or so ago, we got word of an acquaintance who had died in an old aged home in South Africa. The lady was well into her eighties, so her passing away as such was not totally unexpected, but, again, what struck me was a remark the person who had informed us of the passing away of this lady, made. She said:

            Death is so final! It truly is the end!

While I understand that this person probably made the remark in the context of her grief, I could not help thinking:

            Is it?

                        Is death really so final?

Brothers and sisters, today is Easter Sunday.

Last Sunday, we celebrated Palm Sunday, and the children, I have heard, did a great job of portraying the joy and celebration when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, on the back of a donkey, like a king.

The bible, as other sources, tells us when this happened in history, and how it happened: there were shouts of joy, Hosannas, and a path of palm branches was laid before Jesus on his donkey.

Here finally, was the moment the Jews had been looking forward too for so long. Their Messiah was finally here.  

This Jesus, His followers believed, was really the saviour Lord who had come to free the Jews from the Roman yoke; the king who would lead the Jews to greatness, no longer slaves, but the ruler of the lands…just like their prophets had foretold it would be. (Well that’s the way the Jewish believers understood it, anyhow)

It was time to celebrate for everything they had been told by the prophets, had come true!

Five days later, only five days, their faith falters.

Five miserable days later, it is what we now call Good Friday, and the mighty King, their saviour warrior has died on the cross after being humiliated and tortured …

until He finally cries out: “Father, in your hands I commend my soul…”

            He was beaten//and he bled;

            he stumbled under the weight of the cross He had to bear; and …

            He died…

not exactly the picture of a Saviour, a Messiah?!

And when He dies, they turn away disappointed –

So, he was not the one who had come to save us after all, they think.

Some, no doubt, give up altogether, ignoring even then the continuing signs, the fulfilment of the prophecies (like the darkness that comes over the land, the earth trembling; the parting of the curtain in the temple – no, these are all just coincidences. Jesus was just a prophet, but He was not the Messiah.

Others cling to hope a while longer. They try to make sense of it as they walk away from the cross, talking among themselves, but their hopes, too, are quickly shattered.

And when three more days go by, many have now given up altogether on their recently acquired faith … and the believers have started dispersing, in spite of the fact that Jesus Himself had given them the assurance that He would rise from the dead after three days.

In hindsight we can say, eight days is all it took for the first believers in Jerusalem to loose their faith.

Forgotten now are the miracles; forgotten are the obvious signs of the coming of Christ, from the earliest of times, as foretold by the scriptures, by the Law and the books of Moses and the prophets.

Forgotten are the mighty deeds of the Lord who had promised - and delivered - on His promises in history, time and time again, and who through his scripture had revealed the coming of His son, the Messiah.

Forgotten, or ignored, are the historical events, from the days of Abraham and Moses and David and the prophets, in which God revealed Himself, all the time pointing to the ultimate revelation – the death of Jesus on the cross for all of our sakes …

            No, Jesus is dead, and with Him has died their hope and their faith…

And so they walk away from the cross, without hope…

Just like the two men, on their way to Emmaus, a town eleven kilometres from Jerusalem…eleven kilometres, or about two hours worth of walking, in which much will change!

When we meet these two people, one called Cleopas, the other unknown (possibly his wife) they, too, are in the depths of despair.

They are pondering the events of the past few days, - like everyone else, the Bible tells us. It was a conversation piece on every street corner it, among Jew and gentile alike – and suddenly they find themselves at a loss for understanding.

So when Jesus catches up with them and asks what they are talking about, Luke places them centre stage: he has them stop dead in their tracks, right in the middle of the road to Emmaus: Verse 17 “Jesus asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

            They stood still, their faces downcast.

And Cleopas asks him: verse 18 “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

Here we again see Luke at his best, building this narration to its highpoint, highlighting the irony of Cleopas’ question: Jesus is not the stranger, it is they who are strangers – strangers to the truth!

Jesus experienced the events in Jerusalem first hand.

Could it be that it is this same unfamiliarity with the evident truth, a truth that has rung in their ears for a long, long time //that resulted in their not recognising Jesus when he joined them?

These two, although they are not strangers to Jerusalem, although they should not be strangers to the truth that Jesus was indeed the one – and importantly, that to be the One, he would have had to suffer the death and the humiliation of the cross, for their sakes and for our sakes – these two then, did not see the truth …even as Jesus hanged from the cross…

And now, he is here, on the road with them, and they again do not see. Verse 16 “but they were kept from recognizing him. Could it be their lack of faith that hinders them to recognise Jesus?

Jesus is about to be revealed to them, but before that happens, he is going to show them, in probably the most important lesson of their lives, that the Jesus on the Cross, was indeed the saviour King.

Jesus is going to show them from all of scripture, all the books of Moses and the Psalms and the Prophets, all of the Old Testament, pointing out that it all culminates in the suffering and death of Jesus on the Cross, and His resurrection and ascension into heaven – that is Gospel of the Bible throughout all the ages, Jesus is saying. Why will you not believe, why do you not recognise me. I suspect it is because of their lack of faith.

Brothers and sisters, how many times have we heard this Gospel….and yet, how often do we find ourselves back on the road to Emmaus, alone with our doubt, unable to see that Jesus is there with us, strengthening us, pointing us toward His cross and saying: can’t you see? I had to suffer for you – for your sin and unbelief, the sins of this world was to grave and it would have kept you out of the Kingdom of God forever – I had to pay the price, so that you, too, may all share in God’s glory!

But they do not see. Cleopas asks him: verse 18 “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

 

And Jesus asks: 19 “What things?”.  

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.

Now their unbelief is clear. These two have actually decided Jesus is not the Messiah! He was a prophet, they say (Isn’t it strange how today, 2000 years later, this is a statement we often hear today “Jesus was no more than a prophet, people say).

And then they even categorize their unbelief: they say…

            Jesus could not have been the Messiah, for he died; verse  20 “The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him;”  

            He could not have been the Messiah for He did not redeem Israel: verse  21 “but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And Israel has not been redeemed, they say.

            And what is more, they say verse 21 and onwards ”…it is the third day since all this took place. With other words three days have gone past and nothing has happened. And we don’t believe that anything will change anymore.

And they do not stop there:

            In addition, they say, verse 22 “In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24  Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 

They are saying…We did not find Him there. We did not see Him….how can we believe…

            //and yet//He is right there with them// and still they do not see Him, just as they did not see Him for who He was as he hanged from the Cross.

And then Jesus starts showing himself to them, in a way that they could quite easily, by he grace of God, have found out the truth about Him for themselves – he reminds them of scriptures and the fact that it is all there…just take it and read it and believe it, He says to them! It is all there, he explains. Why will you not believe?

Verse 25 “He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

This, brothers and sisters, verse 26, I think is the main idea of this part of Luke’s gospel. Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”

And did not everybody witness the Christ’s suffering, Was not everybody talking about it?

What Jesus is saying is this: How blind can you be? Here you are, your hopes dashed because you have witnessed the crucifixion but have seen nothing else in it but a man dying on a cross.

You are doubting because you did not find my body in the tomb; because you did not see me alive for yourselves, as the women had told you I was;

after just three days you have decided that I will now surely no longer return to redeem Israel…

             and yet – the very proof lies in the fact that you witnessed my suffering.

It is exactly Jesus’ suffering, as it had been foretold throughout scripture, that is the proof of my being!

And what is more, because I am the truth, the promised future glory of God, also, is the truth – and all who believe, will truly share in it!

If we were Thomas we would no doubt have said: Where in the Old testament do we see Jesus foretold?

There is little doubt that Jesus showed them, pointed them, among others, to the following sections

            Isaiah 53:3 He was despised and rejected by men,

a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.

Like one from whom men hide their faces

he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he took up our infirmities

and carried our sorrows,

yet we considered him stricken by God,

smitten by him, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,

and by his wounds we are healed.

6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

each of us has turned to his own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

the iniquity of us all.



And Psalm 22

            1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me,

so far from the words of my groaning?

2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,

by night, and am not silent.

3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;

you are the praise of Israel.

4 In you our fathers put their trust;

they trusted and you delivered them.

5 They cried to you and were saved;

in you they trusted and were not disappointed.

And Zechariah 13:

            The Shepherd Struck, the Sheep Scattered

7 “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,

against the man who is close to me!”

declares the Lord Almighty.

“Strike the shepherd,

and the sheep will be scattered,

and I will turn my hand against the little ones.

8 In the whole land,” declares the Lord,

“two-thirds will be struck down and perish;

yet one-third will be left in it.

9 This third I will bring into the fire;

I will refine them like silver

and test them like gold.

They will call on my name

and I will answer them;

I will say, ‘They are my people,’

and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’”

Look towards scripture, Jesus says. It is all there…and then look towards the cross – remember the cross and my suffering, for in my very suffering lies your salvation, just as God promised.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus died on the cross, but it did not end there. On the third day (exactly the day that the two men from Emmaus say, look it is already the third day and nothing has happened…) Jesus has risen and is alive for all eternity, for your sake and mine.

Jesus had to suffer death on the cross to fulfil all that God has promised –a time when we, too, will no longer be subject to pain and suffering, nor death.

Why?

Because Jesus in His suffering, his unavoidable suffering for our sakes, has defeated death.

Friends in our Lord, our risen lord, you will remember the two illustrations I shared with you in the beginning of this sermon,

            of the hopelessness of the mother whose child had died in the plane crash;

            and of the lack of understanding of  the certainty of an everlasting future in the glory of the Kingdom of God …

do you see, brothers and sisters, that because Jesus suffered on the cross, death is in fact neither final nor certain at all?

Death is not final. As sure as the Lord Jesus suffered and died on the cross, the Lord Jesus also conquered death and sin and suffering.

When we die, when our children die, when our loved ones die, our hope is not dashed. The future does not cease to be when we or our loved ones die, like the mother of the child in that air crash said.

Our experience of these elements, of death and dying, like our experience of life here on earth, is but temporary, not final!

For when the time comes, we will join our lord and Saviour in His wonderful Kingdom, just like he has always promised. That is a certainty.

As I end…just a few last observations…Just before Jesus seemed like He was going to leave the men he had met on their way to Emmaus, they asked him to stay with them for the night.

And now the moment of truth would arrive for them – their eyes would be opened and they would understand everything that Jesus had said to them … when? When he breaks the bread and serves it to them, then, suddenly, they believe.

No doubt he urges them again to remember his body on the cross, and to believe, just as he did during the last supper, urging the apostles to remember Him whenever they broke bread and shared it and the wine – the symbols of His body and His blood.

And we read that when they understood this, they believed: verse 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

 

And what do they do?

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.”

 

Now they do not stop in there tracks any more, they continue their journey, immediately, full of joy and faith, for their eyes have been opened. They immediately take to the road again, back to Jerusalem, another eleven kilometre stretch, for the news, the knowledge is too good to keep to themselves.

Now the recognise Jesus for who He is, even though he had by then disappeared from their sight.

Now they will believe even though he is no longer with them, not for three days, or five days or even eight days, but forever and ever, for now they know that the crucified Lord has indeed suffered, and has indeed been resurrected, just as the Bible has always said it would be, just as the Bible said it had to be, for my sake and for yours.

Now they really do believe that the Lord has risen.

In days gone by there was a wonderful custom among church goers.

Many may still remember it, - it is not that old, and it is quite sad that we have lost this custom.

Perhaps we should revive it?

The custom was this - When a congregation gathered at Church on Easter Sunday, they would greet each other in the following way. Shaking each other’s hand or hugging each other, in stead of saying good morning or good evening, the one person would say to the other: The Lord has risen!

To which the other person would reply – “The Lord has truly risen!”

As this Easter Sunday of 2006 draws to an end, can I ask us to greet each other in that way again this evening as we leave here, arming each other with this wonderful truth as we go back into the world.

It is in this spirit that I greet you now…

            Brothers and sisters, The Lord has risen!

And you respond by saying: (The Lord has truly risen)

Amen! Lets pray…

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