First in Series of Four on Annual Theme, “With Burning Hearts, We Believe”
Luke 24: 10-17
Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.
13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad.
Dear Christian Friends,
The kingdom of God is like a Christian couple who worked hard all their lives, and God blessed their labors in incredible fashion. They lived to ripe old ages, they died, and were buried. When their last will and testament was read aloud, it came to be that they were able to give away no less than ten million dollars. One million dollars each for each of their three sons, and one million dollars each for 7 other institutions and charities, including a couple of churches, a Christian camp, the Salvation Army, and the local dog shelter.
The reading of their will brought three distinct reactions from their three sons.
• Son #1 received his inheritance with absolute gratitude from Day #1. He was overjoyed with his parent’s generosity and proceeded to spend the rest of his days sharing his good fortune.
• Son #2 wasn’t quite sure what to think. He was grateful and yet he wondered why a dog shelter should get a million dollars. He had more questions than answers. Should he save his money for a rainy day? Should he pay his bills and buy a bigger house? Should he spread it around and leave a portion for his own kids? As time went on, his eyes were opened, and he came to the same conclusion as son #1.
• Son #3 had the opposite reaction. He resented the idea that he had not received a third of the money. He spent every last dollar on himself and lived out his life with a stingy heart.
Three lessons we want to learn today, in this first of four sermons focused on Luke 24 and our annual theme, “With Burning Hearts.”
The first lesson is that really good news always brings (mixed) reactions. As evidence of that theory of mine, I give three examples. 1) When the Vikings win the Super Bowl this year, there will be a mixed reaction. Vikings fans will be ecstatic, a lifelong dream has come true. Bear fans won’t really care one way or another. Packer fans will be absolutely dismayed that they will no longer be able to ask their favorite question, “How many super bowl rings do the Vikings have?” 2) A more serious and likely example is at the gravesite of a loved one who has suffered long and hard and then breathed her last.” In the same family, there will be mixed reactions. One brother will be mostly grateful that the suffering is over and will be fixed on the promises of heavenly mansions, another brother will walk away mainly resenting that there had to be so much suffering and believing that his sister deserved way better than that from God.
A third example is in our text for today, as the news began to spread that the grave was empty and that in fact Jesus was alive. Reactions were mixed, to say the least. Scribes and Pharisees were angry that someone had stolen the body, and Roman soldiers were no doubt embarrassed that it had happened on their watch. The women couldn’t stop talking and reporting the good news, and the apostles just wanted them to shut up and quit being so silly. Peter went away by himself muttering and marveling and wondering what had happened.
In one corner there was a heart where faith was duking it out with unbelief. Not too far away was a mind where Sunday joy was wrestling in the mud with Friday’s sadness. Nearby there was a believer taking one step forward in confident manner, then two steps back into doubt despair. That seemed to be the case with Clopas and his friend as they made the seven mile journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Wanting to believe that Jesus was alive but not wanting to have their hopes dashed yet one more time. On the road talking a mile a minute, remembering in one moment and forgetting in the next what Jesus had predicted. Hoping what the women said was true and yet suspecting it was just a false rumor. Before the day ended, they would see clearly, but for the time being, Luke records, their eyes were kept from recognizing Jesus, even as He walked alongside of them and began to engage in conversation with them. I’d like to think Jesus had a twinkle in his eye and a bit of playfulness in his voice as he drew near and asked, “Hey, what are you guys talking about?” Knowing full well what they were talking about! Lesson #1 – The Good News of Jesus Christ will always bring mixed reactions and responses.
Which brings us to our second lesson learned in this text, Conversations with Jesus often include all kinds of (confusion) on the way to clarity. An honest survey of the ministry of Jesus will show that Jesus often spoke in such a way as to puzzle the hearer for a time, but with the hope that eventually they would understand and accept the truth of the obscurity. Jesus wanted people to know the truth, but to go through a bit of chaos in their heart on the way to that truth. Instead of teaching people what to think, it seems as though He wanted to teach them how to think correctly and in accordance with God’s Word.
A couple of examples. One of my favorites is “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” His point? Your sin problem isn’t your hand, it’s your heart. Another example could be that to one audience He says, “Peace I leave with you,” and to another audience, He quips, “I have not come to bring peace, but division.”
We may be sure that Jesus never spoke with hidden meanings just to be cute or for obscurity’s sake. There is always a purpose to His apparent madness. Sometimes Jesus was trying to startle the smug, and at other times He was rebuking the scoffer. At times He was simply expressing heavenly truth, as when He told Nicodemus that he had to be born again. And on other occasions, He would plant a time-delay charge, such as His prediction that He could destroy the temple and in three days raise it up again. Virtually all of our Lord’s predictions concerning the cross and resurrection fall into this latter category. The disciples heard these predictions but were slow to understand. They believed that the Messiah would deliver their nation from Roman oppression, but could not understand how death by crucifixion fit into that picture.
Lesson #2 is that there will be hours and days and even seasons of our life where God seems far away or even absent. As children hide so that other children come looking for them, so does God hide in the circumstances of life so that we will come looking. Seek and ye shall find. Ask and ye shall receive. Knock and the doors of the kingdom will be opened unto you.
Lesson #3 today as we focus on two disciples journeying on their way to Emmaus is that darkness doesn’t have a (prayer) in the presence of Jesus. Jesus knew that He would be revealing Himself to them in the breaking of the bread in the evening, and so He could hide himself for a time during the day. He knew that they would be believing once they could see clearly, and so He took the time to walk alongside. He took the time to listen to and care about their story. He took the time to let them babble their way through with all kinds of ifs, ands, or buts – knowing all along there would be a happy ending. Not only would there be a happy ending to their day as they recognized their Risen Savior, there would be a happy ending for time and eternity for all who would discern that this very body had been broken and this blood had been shed on their behalf.
The Bible says that it was for the joy set before Him that Jesus endured the cross, scorned its shame, and was crucified until He was dead and buried. Jesus knew that Easter Sunday was coming and that’s why He took the time to come from heaven down to earth, that’s why He took the time to fulfill the law in every way, that’s why He took the time to teach His disciples slowly but surely, that’s why Jesus took the time to be beaten bloody and that’s why He took the time to be slapped silly and that’s why He took the time to be tortured in total fashion on your behalf and mine. He knew that once the price was paid, debt would be cancelled. He knew that once the sacrifice was offered, sins would be forgiven. That once death had been swallowed, it would be swallowed forever. That once eyes were opened, then hearts would begin to burn, and that once hearts began to burn with resurrection truths, the lies of Satan would have to slither away into the dust from which they came.
The kingdom of God is like a large congregation of believers in a small town whose hearts are burning, some days flickering and other days going strong. They are learning again and again that darkness doesn’t have a prayer in the presence of Jesus. That although there may be weeping in the night time, the mercies of God will be cause for laughter in the morning. That as often as they draw near to their God in Divine Service or in private conversations, their God has a heart with a burning desire to give them a second chance and yet another new beginning.
The kingdom of God is like a den of Boy Scouts who know exactly how to build a fire. In the early stages, the fire is unimpressive and small. There are moments when it seems as though the drizzle and the darkness will win the day, but their teachers have taught them well. Their fire ends up ruling the night, and day by day they keep on having happy endings. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
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