Sermon for 05-01-11: “Eyewitness News, Part 1: Road to Emmaus”

I apologize for my quiet, hoarse voice in the following sermon. I had laryngitis and couldn’t talk at all on Thursday and Friday. It’s not too obvious, but I’m not as emphatic as I usually am!

Sermon Text: Luke 24:13-35

I guess my invitation must have gotten lost in the mail, because, like many of you, I wasn’t invited to the royal wedding. I wasn’t even invited to any of the royal wedding viewing parties that some Facebook friends were having. Did any of you throw royal wedding viewing parties at your house? And you didn’t invite me? No, no, that’s O.K…. I don’t think I would have wanted to go, anyway. Way too early in the morning for such nonsense. Plus, I don’t even own one of those funny hats… Or maybe that was just for the women.

Kate and William do have so much to live up to, don’t they? So many high hopes and high expectations… Words like “storybook romance” and “fairytale romance” were being batted around by the media. And of course being married isn’t a storybook or a fairytale. But we want it to be! We want Kate to be the one for William. We want their love to last! We want them to live happily ever after. We want them to live up to our high hopes and high expectations!

These two disciples on the road to Emmaus had high hopes and high expectations for Jesus. Now, we don’t know for sure who these two disciples are. In John’s gospel, one of the women at the cross is named Mary, the wife of Clopas. It’s likely that that’s the same person called Cleopas here—in which case these two are probably husband and wife, Cleopas and Mary. That’s what I’m going to call them.

Like the rest of the disciples, Mary and Cleopas hoped Jesus was the Messiah who would redeem Israel, but they couldn’t imagine how his suffering and death were part of God’s plan. What Jesus needs the two disciples to see is that the cross—far from representing failure and defeat for the Messiah—is the very means by which the Messiah did redeem Israel—and the world. Jesus tells them, “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then it says that Jesus “interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”

Isn’t that something? Wouldn’t you love to have Jesus as your Bible study teacher? When Luke says Jesus “interpreted… the things about himself,” he doesn’t simply mean that Jesus found a dozen or so isolated verses here and there that proved he was the Messiah. No, Jesus showed them that the overarching story of the Old Testament reaches its climax in Jesus on the cross. Jesus showed them that it was God’s plan not to deliver Israel from suffering, but to deliver them through suffering. Jesus showed them that it was God’s plan to have the Messiah bear all of the world’s sin and suffering on the cross, die under its weight, and be raised to life as the beginning of God’s new creation—that this is, indeed, what just happened.1

What would Jesus think of Christians these days who ignore the Old Testament, or act like it’s no longer necessary or important—or that somehow the gospel of Jesus Christ makes it irrelevant? What would Jesus think of this popular misconception that the Old Testament tells the story of an “angry” and “vengeful” God and the New Testament of a loving God? If we read the Old Testament that way, the problem is with us. We’re reading it incorrectly. We need to learn to read the Old Testament the way Jesus himself read it, and see the ways in which it points to the life, death, and resurrection of our Messiah and Savior as the fulfillment of God’s plan. The gospel isn’t only found in the New Testament but is found throughout the Bible. We just need to learn to see it.

There is a high-church tradition that I like a lot but that we don’t follow here in Vinebranch. They do follow it in our traditional services. And that is the tradition of standing for the reading of the gospel. When we stand for the gospel reading, we are not standing because somehow the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are more important than the Old Testament reading, the Psalm, or a reading from one of the New Testament letters. No, we believe it’s all God’s Word. We stand for the same reason that we would stand if the president or Queen of England entered this room. We acknowledge that Jesus is present with us, right here, in our midst, in this place—and we are standing out of respect for him, as if he had just walked into the room and were standing in the aisle. Of course, Jesus is always in our midst when we gather in his name, but this is the place in the service where our body language communicates that. Isn’t that cool? It’s another way of worshiping God not just with our minds and voices, but with our whole bodies. But it certainly doesn’t mean that the words of the gospel are more important than the rest of scripture!

So Jesus “opens the scriptures” to Mary and Cleopas, but they’re still processing what it all means when they arrive home at a village called Emmaus. You might be wondering why I haven’t shared with you my weekly installment of “Brent’s trip to the Holy Land” and shown you pictures of Emmaus. It’s because no one knows where it was. It was seven miles from Jerusalem. The Big Creek Greenway, one of my favorite places in the world is seven miles long—that’s my personal road to Emmaus. And it’s where I go when I, like Mary and Cleopas, need to clear my head and think and work things out. Do you have your own personal road to Emmaus?

Anyway, it says that Jesus intended to keep on going, but they invited him in for supper and lodging. This is practically a physical illustration of Jesus’ words in Revelation 3:20: “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” Jesus doesn’t force himself on any of us. Mary and Cleopas invited him in. We choose to invite Jesus in. We choose to be his disciples and follow him. But choosing Jesus isn’t a one-time decision that we make as 12- or 13-year-olds during confirmation; it isn’t simply accepting Christ as Savior and Lord, like at a Billy Graham Crusade or a revival—and that’s all there is to it. That’s only the beginning. Getting started is important, but being a Christian is really a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, moment-by-moment decision to follow Jesus. Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart right now.

The question isn’t just “Did you open your heart to Jesus one time when you were 12 years old?” —so you’re saved now and that’s all that matters—but “Are you opening your heart and life to him right now? What is Jesus trying to say to you right now? What is Jesus trying to teach you right now? Where is Jesus leading you right now?” Are you going to invite him in, or are you going to let him pass?

So Jesus wants to reveal to these two disciples that he is risen. Wouldn’t it have been easier for Jesus to cut to the chase and say, “Look, guys… See my hands. Feel my side. It’s me, Jesus, your friend, your Lord, the one who was crucified. I’ve risen, just as I told you a while ago and you couldn’t comprehend it”? And the lightbulbs would turn on in their heads, and they would know that it was Jesus. That would have been easier, and it certainly would have been a more dazzling display, but that’s not how Jesus made himself known.

Instead, Jesus made himself known how? Through the Bible. Through a shared meal. Sound familiar? See, instead of Jesus’ enabling these two to physically touch the holes in his hands or feel his injured side, he reveals himself in the same way that he usually reveals himself to us today: through scripture, through the Lord’s Supper—which we’re going to celebrate in a few moments—and through the fellowship of believers.

Do you ever think, “It would be a lot easier to have been one of Jesus’ original disciples—like Mary and Cleopas, for example—who knew Jesus in the flesh, when he was walking around, teaching, preaching, and healing, and saw him in his resurrection. Wouldn’t that have been easier than being a disciple 2,000 years later?” But today’s scripture reminds us in a powerful way that these first disciples didn’t enjoy any advantage over us present-day disciples. Today’s scripture tells us that we have everything that these first disciples had.

In fact, it isn’t too big of a stretch to see that this encounter with the resurrected Lord is practically a model for us present-day disciples to follow. Think about the promises we make when we join this church. We agree to support the church through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. Mary and Cleopas demonstrate each of these commitments!Prayers… They spend a lot of time talking to Jesus on this road to Emmaus, and telling him about their frustration and disappointment. They listen to him give them guidance. That’s prayer!Presence… They have just left the other disciples in Jerusalem, and they return to Jerusalem immediately after Christ leaves them. They don’t live as solitary Christians; they are part of a community, and it’s a priority to them. That’s presence! Gifts and service… They provide a meal for Jesus out of their own resources, and they serve him by providing hospitality, offering him a place to stay for the night. Witness… What do they do the moment they realize that they’ve experienced the resurrected Lord? They go and tell others. That’s witness!

We may be tempted to think, “Oh, I don’t know enough about the Bible or theology to be able to be a witness for Jesus.” But of course you do! You only have to do what Mary and Cleopas do, which is tell people what happened to you. How have you experienced Jesus in your life?

As today’s scripture illustrates, Bible-reading is so important for our own spiritual formation and growth. One practical way to make the Bible a more important part of your life is by taking passages like this one and reading yourself and your own story into it. For example, what is your particular “road to Emmaus”? Where do you go when you’re experiencing disappointment, despair, or failure? Or where do you go when you need to get away and just think, figure things out, work things through? Read today’s scripture and imagine yourself as one of these two disciples on your own personal road to Emmaus. Imagine Jesus’ meeting you there. You don’t even recognize him at first, but he asks you questions about your problem. Tell him in prayer what’s going on. Maybe he will point you to scripture that will encourage or strengthen you. Patiently listen for him to speak. Now imagine inviting him into your home. He loves you so much and wants to stay with you until you find a solution.

This scripture isn’t just a story of people who lived 2,000 years ago. It’s our story, too. We’re living it. And our Lord Jesus Christ, who conquered death and is alive forevermore, is with us through the power of the Holy Spirit. And he’s with us in a powerful and personal way as we come to his table for this holy meal… Indeed, he makes himself known to us through the breaking of the bread.

1. N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone (Louisville, KY: WJK, 2004), 294-295.

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