Keeping Vigil Before We Wake
Fifth in a series, “Keeping Vigil”
Daniel 12:1–3 // Luke 24:36–49 // Romans 8:18–25
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon theme is Keeping Vigil Before We Wake.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We’ve been keeping vigil in the last few weeks. This captures the strange tension that we’ve been in, ever since the middle of Lent: we’re keeping vigil. We’re watching. We’re waiting. We’re hoping. We’re praying. Today, we are Keeping Vigil Before We Wake.
Until we put his nook away, it had been Amos Stanley’s habit to lose his nook at about 1 or 2am and cry until I would get up and look for it around his bed. First I’d shake the covers, then I’d run my hand on the edge of the bed, then I’d check the near side with the light from my watch. Then I’d move the bed and check the far side. Whenever I found it, I’d pop it back into his mouth, and he would instantly fall asleep again, and then I’d shuffle on back to bed. But, if it had been long enough, I’d be just awake enough that I couldn’t slump off to sleep, and I would lie there, awake, waiting to fall asleep, calculating how much sleep I would get, waiting before I would wake.
That kind of a feeling is a familiar one these days. You’re up, but you’re not up. You lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, wishing that you were either asleep or awake. Not necessarily wanting to do anything but still not doing what you want to be doing. In the predawn, waiting, keeping vigil before we wake.
In Luke 24, we listen in as the story of Easter Sunday keeps unfolding. These disciples, they are at the moment of waking. They are about to be woken up to the mysteries of the Scriptures revealed. They are about to see the risen Christ for exactly who he is: God himself, exalted in all of his glory, with no humiliation left, risen again. They are about to see how all of the Scriptures make this plain in a way that only God can do. They are ABOUT to see that.
But our story for today is in the curious predawn, the grey before the sun rises, the time when comprehension is coming but has not yet come.
Three confusions that we will consider as we see the disciples wake. Confusion #1, that Jesus is real. Confusion #2 that the point of the Scriptures is to speak of Jesus. Confusion #3, that Jesus both sends them and bids them wait at the same time.
Confusion #1, that Jesus is real. He was a real live human being before his death. He continued to be a real, live human being after his resurrection. They were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. But he took a piece of broiled fish, and ate it before them. Did you wonder about the fish? Oddly enough, this is an important detail because Jesus proves that he is bodily among them; he’s no spirit, no ghost; he is real; he is present.
To say it a different way, the same Jesus that was with them in the flesh as a teacher is the same Jesus who hung on the cross and died, is the same Jesus who was raised to life and stands before them now. He is in essence exactly the same as he always was: both God and man. The confusion for the disciples is that they are seeing him now in his glory, and they think that his glory strips him of his humanity. It doesn’t. Instead, his glory ful-fills his humanity. It brings his humanity up.
And it’s like that for us too. Jesus, his glory, his Gospel, doesn’t diminish our humanity; he fulfills it. When you fall headlong into discipleship in Jesus Christ, the hope you have in him fills every relationship, every interaction with the knowledge that our God is working through you to do his will for your neighbor.
Confusion #2, that the point of the Scriptures is to speak of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “These are the words that I spoke to you while I was still with you.” He says, “I already told you all of this! And before you go and say well, Pastor, he may have told them that, but do we have it recorded for us to see? The answer is YES! Three times on the way to Jerusalem, twice in Luke 9, a third time in Luke 18.
The first time, it’s right after Peter confesses him to be the Christ and then Jesus charges them to tell no one what he says. The second time, they don’t understand and they’re too afraid to ask him about it. The third time, it says, the meaning was hidden from them. But here in Luke 24, all that was confusing, all that Jesus had taught them (and they didn’t understand), now he is teaching them to understand it.
And it’s like that for us. We learn the truths of Christianity when we are young, and we never stop relearning them. But. Relearn probably isn’t the best word. We never stop deepening them. We understand them in part, and then we understand more. Christian discipleship never stops, and we never get past the truths you learn in Sunday School; instead they just get deeper.
Confusion #3, that Christ both sends them and bids them to wait for his timing at the same time. Notice this, that we’re still on Easter Sunday. It started early with the women at the tomb. It continued with Peter and John running to the tomb. It continued further on the Road to Emmaus with Cleopas and the other disciple seeing Jesus and coming back. We’re still in the 24 hours of Sunday morning. Jesus promises them the Holy Spirit that very day, and then do you know what happens? He teaches them for 40 more days until he ascends in verse 50. They wait 10 more days until Pentecost, wondering how long they might have to wait. Jesus promises the Holy Spirit, and then he gives it 50 days later. 50 days!!!!!!
And so it is with us. Jesus doesn’t give all of his gifts at once, they unfold over a lifetime of study. We don’t understand his word all at once, but instead, in every the chapter of life, he gives special gifts of understanding, special opportunities to understand his word.
Confusion #1, that Jesus is real. Confusion #2 that the point of the Scriptures is to speak of Jesus. Confusion #3, that Jesus both sends them and bids them wait at the same time. The truth that underlies them all is the truth of the Gospel: that Jesus is the one who brings the truth of clarity, and he gives it to us in his time. Jesus is the one who fills our lives with purpose, because he has won an eternal victory over death for us. Jesus is the one that leads a little longer, a little deeper, until the day dawns.
Two thoughts in conclusion for today.
Thought #1: If the bodily presence of Jesus was peace to his disciples, then I’d invite you to be peace in your neighborhood. Jesus came in bodily among his disciples and said Peace to you. Be peace to your neighbors. Do you know their names? If not, get to know them. I know that I have a few new people who moved in that I haven’t met. If you do know them, what have you done to care for them lately? Do something tangible.
Thought #2: If the mystery of the Scripture only deepens through time, then I’d invite you to be doing what the disciples were doing for those forty days of strange after the resurrection: sitting at Jesus’s feet, coming to Bible study, deepening those truths, with your pastors. You might not understand it today, but it could be the study that God brings back to mind twenty years from now to finish what he started.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town full of folks who are crying and rejoicing at the same time. They are crying with every time that we cannot be together as we wish, but they are rejoicing that God’s plan is bigger than a day, bigger than a season. They are crying with those who are suffering in these days, but they are rejoicing that their God has borne all suffering on the cross. They are crying out to their God when their confusion gets too great, AND they are rejoicing that God gives understanding in his time.
Amen and amen.
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