Sunday, April 07, 2013

Sermon: Luke 24: 13-35 Seeing Jesus on the Emmaus Road

Have you ever had the experience of not being able to see something for looking at it? You go into a room for something, you spend ages looking for it, you can’t find it; yet it’s right in front of you. It’s normally the case that someone else will be able to spot it immediately... You’re looking at it, but you just can’t see it.

What’s maybe worse, though, is when you’re looking at someone. You know you should know them, you chat away, but all the time you’re thinking ‘who are you?...’ I’ll confess that I had this before Christmas when I bumped into a lady, knew I should know her, but it took ten full minutes of conversation and stumbling questions before I worked out who she was. Oops!

This morning in our reading, the two disciples have a series of experiences just like this. They’re walking home from Jerusalem to Emmaus, and they’re talking about what had happened in recent days. As they walk along, they’re joined by someone they should recognise, but they don’t know him. They see him, but they don’t recognise him.

When he asks what they’re talking about, they’re amazed he’s even asked the question. ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place?’

Cleopas and his friend had been followers of Jesus. They knew he was a prophet mighty in deed and word - but he had been crucified. Listen to the disappointment in their words: ‘But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.’ They had high hopes, but they had been dashed. Their expectations had been exhausted. Their dreams are deflated.

Now as if that disappointment wasn’t enough - they’re confused by the strange events of the morning. All this talk of visions of angels and word of Jesus being alive. Yet Cleopas and friend haven’t stayed around. No one has seen Jesus yet; It all seems so strange. They just can’t make sense of it all.

They’ve been expecting Jesus to redeem Israel - by kicking out the Roman oppressors and winning the victory. They thought things would work out in a particular way, but they haven’t. I wonder if you’ve ever found that as well? You have your life all planned out, but things don’t turn out that way. You expect a life of ease and comfort, but then sorrow surrounds you - what should have been victory turned into defeat. You’re left wondering if God is really in control. Where is God when these things happen?

It might be hard to see where Jesus fits into it all; it might appear as if Jesus isn’t with you in the middle of the trouble. You’re confused, disappointed, sad. They just can’t see Jesus; can’t understand what he’s doing - even when he’s right beside them; even as he’s speaking to them.

Yet Jesus enables them to see. Now notice that he doesn’t immediately say: ‘There’s nothing to worry about, sure, did you not recognise me? It’s me, Jesus, alive and kicking...’ Rather he helps them to see his death and resurrection as laid out in the Old Testament.

I wonder if you were caught out at all last Monday morning. There were a few dubious news stories knocking about; and a few tall tales as well. It was April Fools’ Day, where people try to catch each other out, while trying to avoid being the fool themselves. Yet here Jesus says that these two were ‘foolish... and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared.’
Jesus is saying that they should have expected his death and resurrection, precisely because it had been written about in advance in the Old Testament. They didn’t see Jesus in the scriptures, which was why they were finding it hard to understand what was happening that very day. He goes on: ‘Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ He then gives them the best ever Bible study, as he explains from Moses and all the prophets the things about himself ‘in all the scriptures.’

The Old Testament isn’t irrelevant for us; because it’s all about Jesus. Over 300 specific details of his life, death and resurrection are given, hundreds of years before he was born - all of which gives us confidence that God knows what he is doing; how he is in control of history; how his purposes do not fail.

Cleopas and his friend talk later about how their hearts ‘burned within us’ while he was opening the scriptures. That excitement of knowing and understanding the Bible, seeing it all click together; seeing the Lord Jesus in the Scriptures - what a thrill to be able to open the Bible together and hear God speaking to us. Do you take time to hear him speak? [Bible reading resources...]
Their hearts were open to see Jesus in the scripture; yet they still didn’t know who the man walking with them was. They come to the end of their seven mile walk (as if they’d walked from Fivemiletown to Aghavea), but the stranger appears to be heading on further. They urge him to stay with them. He is the guest, yet he takes the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them.

It’s the same set of words used of the time Jesus fed the five thousand; the same words from the Last Supper just a few days before. And it’s at that moment that their eyes are open; they recognise Jesus; they see him for who he is; and he suddenly disappears from their sight.

Though they didn’t realise it; though they couldn’t see him; Jesus was alive - Jesus had been with them the whole time. The knowledge that Jesus is alive is enough to transform these sad, disappointed, weary disciples into joyful resurrection people. Despite the hour; despite having walked seven miles, they get their coats on and go back the same road; back to Jerusalem and the eleven and the others. They have good news to share!

The good news is shared - Jesus is risen, he’s alive; he has even appeared to Simon (Peter - the one who had denied Jesus). They share how they recognised him in the breaking of the bread.

Perhaps today you’re weary, sad and disappointed. You’re wondering why things are the way they are. You just can’t see God’s purpose in the events of your life. Jesus invites us to meet with him at his table - as we break bread together, we’re reminded of God’s love for us; of how God could use the darkest of days to bring about the brightest of days; how violence and shame and hatred were transformed in the cross of Christ to offer hope and forgiveness and victory.

As we hear his word and share at his table, so he meets with us. He invites us to see him, to know his presence with us - not just here, but everywhere we go, in whatever situation we find ourselves. The good news of Easter isn’t just for one day in the year; we live each day in the light of the resurrection - the knowledge that Jesus is alive; that Jesus is with us; that God is fulfilling his promises, and will continue to do so. Just as Jesus met his disciples on the Emmaus road, so he’ll meet us on the Aghavea road, the Main Street, or whatever your new address is...

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 7th April 2013.

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