Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter

Text: Luke 24:13-35
Jesus said to them, "What are you talking about to each other, as you walk along?"
They stood still, with sad faces.
One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn't know the things that have been happening there these last few days?"
"What things?" he asked.
"The things that happened to Jesus of Nazareth," they answered. "This man was a prophet and was considered by God and by all the people to be powerful in everything he said and did.  Our chief priests and rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and he was crucified.  And we had hoped that he would be the one who was going to set Israel free! Besides all that, this is now the third day since it happened". 

Our Emmaus experience

Today’s gospel reading is one of those amazing stories that has lots of detail and gets us in. We feel the sadness and confusion of the two men and we wonder how it is that they don’t recognise the other man walking with them.

As we listen to the conversation between Jesus and the men on the road to Emmaus we find that these two men have heard and maybe even personally witnessed with their own eyes what had happened to Jesus just a couple of days before when he was cruelly treated, abused and nailed to a cross to die. In fact, they tell the man walking with them all about it not knowing that the man who was listening so intently was the one they were talking about.

They had heard that Jesus had risen from the dead and told Jesus what had happened. "Some of the women of our group surprised us; they went at dawn to the tomb, but could not find his body. They came back saying they had seen a vision of angels who told them that he is alive" (Luke 24:22-23).

They’ve heard all this… but they don’t believe it! It’s as if their sadness and confusion about the events of the past few days has completely blinded them to the possibility that Jesus is the Messiah who had been promised throughout the Old Testament and that it is possible that he has risen from the dead. Their sadness and disillusionment was like a thick fog. All they could see was the mist that hid the beauty of what lay beyond it. They could only see tragedy and disappointment and not see the great thing that God had done for them. They saw hopelessness and loss but not the victory Jesus had achieved for them over sin and death.

Let’s look at what happened that day on the road to Emmaus.
Jesus said to them, "What are you talking about to each other, as you walk along?"
They stood still, with sad faces.
One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn't know the things that have been happening there these last few days?"
"What things?" he asked.
"The things that happened to Jesus of Nazareth," they answered. "This man was a prophet and was considered by God and by all the people to be powerful in everything he said and did.  Our chief priests and rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and he was crucified.  And we had hoped that he would be the one who was going to set Israel free! Besides all that, this is now the third day since it happened". 

There are three words in that conversation that tell us something about the sadness and disappointment they were feeling. Those three words are - "We had hoped".
"We had such high hopes that Jesus was the one who would set Israel free.
We had such high hopes in what he would do and we trusted and believed with all our hearts that he was the one who would bring about change and would always be here with us to rule us and guide us as a nation.
We had hoped but now that he’s dead those hopes have blown away like the morning mist".

This loss of hope had so demoralised them that Luke tells us their faces were "downcast", "sad" – an indication of what they were feeling in their hearts – disillusionment, confusion, doubt, and disappointment.

After they had finished their story Jesus does something very unusual – certainly not something I would have done.

If I had been Jesus - and I were faced with these men going through a crisis of faith - I’d have fixed it. As I listened to their story I would hardly be able to wait for them to finish so that I could pull back the sleeves of my coat and shown the nail scars in my wrists and pointed to the nail scars in my feet. I might have opened my shirt to show them the spear wound in my side and maybe even done a miracle like turning a bottle of water into wine to help them understand that I had indeed risen from the dead. I would hardly be able to hold back revealing who I was so that I could see the surprise and excitement on their faces. Maybe as I rolled up my sleeve I would have given a bit of a "tadaaa" to draw their attention to my wounds and reveal that I was the real deal, alive, and in the flesh.

But Jesus doesn’t do anything like that at all. This is a moment for a revelation of another kind – a teaching moment that in their excitement they would miss if they knew that the resurrected Lord was the one walking with them. We are told, "Jesus explained to them what was said about himself in all the Scriptures, beginning with the books of Moses and the writings of all the prophets" (Luke 24:27).

What did Jesus share with these men from the Old Testament? I’m not sure but I reckon I could have pretty good guess.

I think Jesus would have started out telling these men how sin had destroyed the relationship between God and Adam and Eve. God had created these first two people to have a close relationship with him but Adam and Eve blew it. They had allowed themselves to be tempted by Satan to sin and so disobeyed God. Instantly, they were separated from God. They died spiritually and began to die physically. When God pronounced a curse upon Satan he promised that a descendant of the woman will crush Satan’s head and Satan will try to destroy him (Genesis 3:15).

Then Jesus might have turned to Deuteronomy 18:15 where Moses declared,
"The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you – it is to him you shall listen."

Moses was given a specific task - to free his people from slavery in Egypt and to give God's people a new and special covenant that would set them apart to be his holy people. Jesus indeed is a prophet like Moses - he freed his people from the slavery of sin and gave his people a new covenant and set them apart to be God’s holy people.

Then I think Jesus would have taken them to the last few chapters of Isaiah where God tells us what will happen to the one whom he will send to save his people. In Isaiah we read,
"We despised him and rejected him; he endured suffering and pain. .... He endured the suffering that should have been ours, the pain that we should have borne. … Because of our sins he was pierced, beaten because of the evil we did" Isaiah 53:3-4.

Isaiah explicitly describes the Messiah as being wounded and pierced… sent for the specific purpose of taking on the sins of humanity. "He willingly gave his life … and took the place of many sinners and prayed that they might be forgiven" (Isaiah 53:12).

A major theme of the Old Testament is …
somebody’s coming
somebody’s coming
… and when he comes… this is where he will be born, this is what he’ll do, and this is how he’ll teach and this is how he’ll die. And this is what Jesus would have talked to Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus.

All that they had experienced on the previous Friday and now on the first day of the week was the deliberate plan of God and that he had come to save Israel his people from their sins.

When the three men sat down to dinner that night, Cleopas and his friend had a deja vu experience. As Jesus took some bread, broke and gave it to them, we are told that their eyes were opened and they recognised Jesus. The fog of doubt and confusion and disillusionment was suddenly lifted and they could see who it was who had been with them all the time. Jesus was truly alive and he had never left them even when they expressed so much despair and sadness. Even though Jesus disappeared at that very moment, they were changed men.

At some time we all have an Emmaus road experience.
Those men had experienced an inexplicable trauma,
they faced confusion and despair,
they couldn’t see anything good about the present set of circumstances,
there wasn’t anything to look forward to,
their hopes for the future had been dashed,
their hearts were heavy, sad, downcast,
they couldn’t see Jesus.

Don’t we feel like that sometimes? On occasions it seems like the whole world around us doesn’t make any sense any more as one disaster after another rolls over us. On other occasions it might just a small thing that gets all blown out of proportion and we flounder in despair and depression. Whether the cause of our dilemma is big or small, real or imaginary, the result is the same – the feeling of being alone, bewildered, sad and distressed.

The story of these two men is our story. In the middle of the blackest cloud we meet a stranger, hear his words of comfort, sit down at table with him and share a meal.
This story is about meeting the risen Saviour when our sadness is the deepest and our distressed the greatest.
This is a story about the risen Lord walking with us in the darkness of our confusion even when we aren’t aware that he is there with us.
This story set on the road to Emmaus is about our risen Saviour lovingly reminding us and teaching us in the darkness of our despair that he is the one sent by our heavenly Father and that his love for us never fails – to be certain all we have to do is look at his nail pierced hands and feet.
This is a story about the meaning of Easter for us. It enables us to see that the risen Lord gives hope and joy, when all we see is disappointment, discouragement and despair. It enables us to see the world, not as a place of death, decay, and defeat, but as a place waiting, groaning toward God's final victory.

When Jesus taught the disciples that day as they walked to Emmaus he referred to the Old Testament message that somebody’s coming, somebody’s coming. Today we know that this somebody has come, had died and rose again for us, and now walks with us on our Emmaus road wherever that might be leading us at this moment. He invites us to break bread with him, to share in his victory over sin and death and everything else that threatens our peace and security, to join with him in his resurrection. He assures us that whatever happens we are safe in his arms now in this life and in the life to come.

It’s no wonder the disciples reacted the way they did when they realised who it was who had been walking with them, "Wasn’t it like a fire burning within us?" They were in the presence of the risen Saviour and their hearts were ablaze with
a new hope and confidence,
a new light for all to see,
a new boldness and
a new anchor for the tough times in their lives.

Christ has risen from the dead! Let’s remember we are not walking alone. The unseen "stranger", the risen Jesus, is walking with us. The Emmaus road experience didn’t just happen once a long time ago; it happens again and again.

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
8th May 2011
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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