Rejoice In Your Sufferings
Seventh Sunday of Easter – May 28, 2017
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 6Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
8Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
By the time of our first lesson this morning, God’s Old Testament people had less than ten years left. Destruction was coming. But no one seemed to care. King Jehoiakim was persecuting God’s prophets. The priests were turning against God. And false prophets were everywhere. If there was ever a time for God’s people to return to God, it was now!
So the Lord sent a prophet named Uriah to the king. “He prophesied the same things” that all the other true prophets had been warning about. It was a dangerous time to be a prophet of the Lord, and Uriah soon found that out. “When King Jehoiakim and all his officers and officials heard his words, the king was determined to put him to death.”
The king had no time for God’s Word. Death was coming for Uriah. So the prophet did what we might do, “Uriah heard of [the plot to kill him] and fled in fear to Egypt.” Egypt probably seemed like the perfect hiding place. They were Israel’s enemy. Surely Uriah could hide out until things calmed down, right?
“King Jehoiakim, however, sent Elnathan son of Akbor to Egypt, along with some other men. They brought Uriah out of Egypt and took him to King Jehoiakim, who had him struck down with a sword.” Look at the extent to which the King and his men went to silence a prophet of the Lord. They pursued him all the way to Egypt, grabbed him, brought him back, and killed him right in front of the king.
Jerusalem had become one of those places that kills prophets. By the time of the apostles in the New Testament, there were many cities happily killing believers. Some would capture believers and throw them in jail. Others would burn them alive unless they gave up their faith. And sometimes they would take the children of believers and leave them in the woods to die.
It was in the midst of these types of persecutions that believers heard the words of Peter in our second lesson. “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering.” Really, Peter? That almost sounds disingenuous, or at the very least pessimistic.
How can we not be surprised? Certainly the prophet of the Lord must have been surprised when men of Israel went to such great lengths to find him him in the enemy’s territory! We get surprised by persecution, too. We get surprised when we’re mocked because of our faith. We are surprised when we are excluded. We are surprised because we don’t think we deserve to be persecuted.
Sometimes, we call things persecution that we actually deserve. “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.” Justified punishment isn’t persecution. Peter reminds us that persecution is “if you suffer as a Christian.”
But the biggest surprise about persecution is when we ask “why?” Why God would allow persecution to come our way in the first place. How can our loving God allow this suffering to tear us apart?
It is so very difficult to stand up under persecution. When our enemies call us names, mock God’s Word, and threaten us physically, it is all we can do to keep ourselves from fighting back. We want to scream back at them that they are wrong. We want to argue with those who don’t believe so that we can prove them wrong.
The devil loves to pick these fights. And all too often, we take the bait. Instead of being self-controlled we lose control of our temper. Instead of resisting a fight, we start swinging with our words, or even physically.
Then there is the most dangerous reaction of all to persecution. When all seem to be against us, when we feel alone in our faith, the devil whispers that there is no use. “Why stand against the entire world? Give in! Give up! End it all! Your faith, your trust, your life.”
Those may have been the words the devil whispered to Jesus during his passion. Persecution is too small a word for what Jesus endured. His betrayal by a close friend and disciple, his apprehension, his beating, his being scourged, and his crucifixion would be enough for any other person to give in and to give up.
Not Jesus. Perfect perseverance prevailed over the most powerful of persecutions. Completely abandoned, Jesus suffered in your place. Experiencing hell, Jesus died for you. And then in victory, Jesus was raised for you.
Jesus remained the epitome of Peter’s list of encouragement. Jesus illustrated perfect humility. He remained completely in control and alert. And although the devil prowled around Jesus like a lion going in for the kill, Jesus took it all to win your victory.
The devil, the world and our sinful nature could not get rid of Jesus. So instead, they target you and me. There is nothing new about that. Persecution is as old as sin. Peter was writing to believers who knew persecution well.
So how could they stand up under persecution? How can we? This morning Peter tells you. “Humble yourselves.” True humility places everyone else above yourself. True humility admits I am not in control of my life – God is. True humility looks to the Lord.
Peter continues, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Some of us hold in our worries and let them eat us away from the inside out. Others of us take our worries out on others. Peter tells you to not do either. Instead, throw those cares, concerns and anxieties on Christ.
“Be self-controlled and alert.” Your enemies are trying to rope you in to a fight. Be in control, especially in the midst of persecution. And remember that you are never alone. “You know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
Martin Luther was no stranger to persecution. Standing before the leaders of the church and the empire, he realized how the Lord used that persecution for his good. “It is not by reading, writing, or speculation that one becomes a theologian. Nay, rather, it is living, dying, and being damned that makes one a theologian.”
God uses these persecutions and temptations to make us trust in him all the more. And in the end, it only lasts a little while. Your salvation is won. Your Savior is coming. After all, “[He] called you to his eternal glory in Christ” and “after you have suffered a little while, [he] will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
And so by faith we join with Peter and proudly declare: “To [Christ] be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
The Madness of Murder…And Mercy
Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 21, 2017
Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. 6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” 8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. (Genesis 4:1-16)
“All who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Shakespeare’s masterpiece play, Hamlet, embodies many things. It shows that those who draw the sword die by it. It illustrates how devious and underhanded people can really be. And most of all, it shows how the poison of vengeance can consume a person, and eventually kill him.
In the play, Hamlet came home to the worst of news. His father, the king, had died. His mother had quickly remarried, and the man she married was Hamlet’s uncle. All at once, Hamlet had lost his right to the throne. He couldn’t trust his own family. He had lost everything.
What was a Shakespearean character to do? At first, Hamlet was going to take his own life. How could he live in a world that was set against him? His struggle to live led him to say those famous words: “To be, or not to be?”
He decided “to be.” But that led to something more. Hamlet decided to return vengeance on his enemies. Slowly, Hamlet became the devious, diabolical and vengeful man he never thought he could be. He plans how to get revenge on those who have wronged him. He kills people who come in his way. And at the end of it all, Hamlet draws his sword against his enemy.
The two duel in an epic sword fight. Each man cuts the other, but not mortally. In the midst of the battle, Hamlet gets his enemy’s sword and kills him. It seemed a fitting end, to kill his enemy with his enemy’s own sword! But as his enemy is dying, he tells Hamlet the fateful words – the sword was poisoned, and Hamlet had been cut by it, too. “All who draw the sword will die by the sword.”
Of all the close friendships undone by vengeance, is there any as tragic as Cain and Abel? The first two brothers on earth must have had much in common. They were the second generation of humanity. They had both learned who the true God is from their parents.
They both could look back at the Garden of Eden and see the fiery angel and the flaming sword guarding the way to the Tree of Life.
And both boys, Cain and Abel, sacrificed offerings to the Lord. The brothers had much in common…but not everything. “Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.” The two boys carried on two different, but equally important jobs. They each gave a portion to the Lord. But there was another difference, which proved to be the most important. “In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.”
There was a difference in how the Lord responded to Cain and Abel as well. “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.” Cain brought an offering, but it wasn’t his best. Cain brought an offering, but he didn’t seem to want to.
But here is the thing – Cain knew what was going on. He knew God didn’t favor his offering. “So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” Who wouldn’t be angry? To know that the Lord prefers your sibling’s offering to yours would be too much to take.
But in his love, the Lord came to Cain. “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
Cain was ready to do something. But it didn’t involve a change of heart. In fact, his actions wouldn’t require his heart at all. In a cold, calculating move, Cain laid out a plan of vengeance against his brother that even Hamlet would have marveled at.
“Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” Cain hated his brother. Cain exacted revenge on his brother. And Cain killed his brother.
Cain’s hatred showed itself in the type of vengeance that surprises us. But it shouldn’t. Anger and hatred and vengeance are traits we struggle with, too. Our emotions might not lead us to murder, but jealousy and hatred can lead to other sins. Someone gets the praise I want for myself – so I gossip about them to ruin that good name. Someone is on a better track in life than me, so I give them bad advice to run them off the rails. Someone lovingly shows me my sin, and instead of thanking that person, I yell back.
There is an envious Hamlet and a vengeful Cain in all of us. And those sinful thoughts lead to sinful words, and even sinful actions. No wonder the Lord gives such strong warnings about these sins of retribution. “All who draw the sword will die by the sword.”
Do you remember when Jesus said those words? He was being captured in the Garden of Gethsemane and Peter began swinging his sword to save his Savior. Jesus stopped Peter because he knew what had to happen. Jesus had to be handed over to the vengeful. Jesus had to be murdered by those who he came to make his brothers.
On that instrument of murder, the cross, Jesus took away all of our sins of anger and hatred and vengeance. After his resurrection Jesus lovingly explained to his disciples the dangers of that anger and hatred. He showed them love – the very love they would now live for one another.
Cain wanted no part of love. Yet God showed it to him anyway. The Lord came to Cain after he had murdered his brother, asking, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain replied, “I don’t know…Am I my brother’s keeper?” Actually, yes, he was to be his brother’s keeper.
And so are you. Don’t hate your brother, as Cain did. Don’t work to undermine your brother, as Hamlet did. “All who draw the sword will die by the sword.”
Instead, love your brother through your actions, as Jesus did. After all, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” Amen.
The Unlikeliest of Victories
Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 14, 2017
There was war between Abijah and Jeroboam. 3 Abijah went into battle with an army of four hundred thousand able fighting men, and Jeroboam drew up a battle line against him with eight hundred thousand able troops.
4 Abijah stood on Mount Zemaraim, in the hill country of Ephraim, and said, “Jeroboam and all Israel, listen to me! 5 Don’t you know that the Lord, the God of Israel, has given the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants forever by a covenant of salt? 6 Yet Jeroboam son of Nebat, an official of Solomon son of David, rebelled against his master. 7 Some worthless scoundrels gathered around him and opposed Rehoboam son of Solomon when he was young and indecisive and not strong enough to resist them.
8 “And now you plan to resist the kingdom of the Lord, which is in the hands of David’s descendants. You are indeed a vast army and have with you the golden calves that Jeroboam made to be your gods. 9 But didn’t you drive out the priests of the Lord, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and make priests of your own as the peoples of other lands do? Whoever comes to consecrate himself with a young bull and seven rams may become a priest of what are not gods.
10 “As for us, the Lord is our God, and we have not forsaken him. The priests who serve the Lord are sons of Aaron, and the Levites assist them. 11 Every morning and evening they present burnt offerings and fragrant incense to the Lord. They set out the bread on the ceremonially clean table and light the lamps on the gold lampstand every evening. We are observing the requirements of the Lord our God. But you have forsaken him. 12 God is with us; he is our leader. His priests with their trumpets will sound the battle cry against you. People of Israel, do not fight against the Lord, the God of your ancestors, for you will not succeed.” (2 Chronicles 13:1-12)
William Shakespeare once wrote: “My crown is called content: it is a crown that kings seldom enjoy.” The Old Testament Kingdom of Israel had been ruled by more than a few discontented kings. Their first king, King Saul, slowly walked down the road of personal power, wanting nothing to do with God and his word. Israel’s second king, King David, exemplified contentment as he turned Israel back to the Lord. David’s son, Solomon, picked up where his father left off, turning the Kingdom of Israel into a glorious example of wealth and power.
Then everything fell apart. Solomon turned to false gods, then so did many of the people. After Solomon came his son, Rehoboam, who turned the people against himself and split the kingdom. Now the once glorious kingdom of Israel was two kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Hostilities grew between the two kingdoms, but never all-out war. That is, not until our first lesson this morning.
The king of Judah was now Solomon’s grandson, Abijah. He had his work cut out for him. The northern kingdom of Israel had gathered their forces and prepared for war. King Abijah in the south had to do the same. The storm of war and destruction was imminent. Our text ominously begins the scene with the description: “There was war between Abijah and Jeroboam.”
The numbers were astounding. Abijah led the southern Kingdom of Judah into battle with “four hundred thousand able fighting men.” The northern Kingdom of Israel “drew up a battle line against him with eight hundred thousand able troops.” Over a million men were lined up ready for battle.
“Abijah stood on Mount Zemaraim, in the hill country of Ephraim,” looking out at the vast army before him. He was outnumbered two to one. He and his men were standing against an experienced commander who, as far as we know, had never lost a battle.
What would you do if you were king Abijah staring at almost a million people looking to kill you? If you are anything like King Abijah of the southern Kingdom of Judah…you talk. “Jeroboam and all Israel, listen to me! Don’t you know that the Lord, the God of Israel, has given the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants forever?” If Abijah was planning on appeasing this much larger army in front of him, he wasn’t doing a very good job.
What he was doing was stating the spiritual truth. “Now you plan to resist the kingdom of the Lord, which is in the hands of David’s descendants. You are indeed a vast army and have with you the golden calves that Jeroboam made to be your gods.” Abijah had something much greater than golden calves or even numbers of soldiers. “As for us, the Lord is our God, and we have not forsaken him.”
Then came the final warning from the king on the mountain. “God is with us; he is our leader…People of Israel, do not fight against the Lord, the God of your ancestors, for you will not succeed.”
But Israel charged ahead anyway. The northern Kingdom of Israel attacked in the front and sent a large number of troops around Abijah and his men. All at once they were surrounded by almost a million men. And a dangerous thought crept in to the minds of the army of Judah: Maybe the people of Israel would succeed.
To be surrounded by enemies might sound foreign to us, but you have felt like Abijah and his army of Judah. The world and our culture surrounded us with selfish attitudes. The devil prowls around us like a lion looking to tempt us and ultimately to devour us. And there is our sinful nature driving us to selfishly think only about ourselves and what we want.
Couple that with our personal problems that surround us. Financial hardships perhaps threaten us. Relationships and heartache eat away at us. Addictions and depression may feel like common foes to powerful to defeat. Like Abijah and his men, who can we turn to when we are surrounded by so many forces that are stronger than us?
When “Judah turned and saw that they were being attacked at both front and rear…they cried out to the Lord.” Their loving Lord heard their cry for help. “God routed Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah.” The unthinkable had happened. Four hundred thousand men defeated nearly a million. Judah was saved. The line of King David was preserved.
Hundreds of years later another member of that line of David found himself surrounded by enemies. This was great David’s greater son, Jesus. His disciples had betrayed and abandoned him. The Jewish rulers falsely prosecuted him. The Gentile rulers didn’t care enough about him to protect him. The soldiers beat him. Our King was content to wear a crown of thorns. He was crucified.
Like his ancestor, Abijah, Jesus also cried out to his Father in heaven as his enemies surrounded him and moved in for the kill. But on this occasion no answer came for Jesus. It had to be that way. On that cross he suffered and died for all of our wrongs. All our sinful doubts and fears were taken away by the one who didn’t deserve to suffer for them.
And like Abijah’s ancient battlefield, Jesus’ victory was just as surprising. On Easter Sunday Jesus showed his complete victory over sin, the devil and even death itself. Abijah’s age old words continued to ring true to all of Jesus’ enemies: “Do not fight against the Lord…for you will not succeed.”
Now come the battlefields we find ourselves standing on. Enemies continue to surround us. The physical and spiritual struggle often looks bleak. Where do we turn? Turn to your Lord, the maker of heaven and earth, the Savior of the world, the King of kings: Jesus.
Go to the Lord in prayer in those desperate situations. Martin Luther once stated that it is in those types of moments when “Christians are made.” At that time God wanted you to “be too weak to bear and overcome such trouble, in order that you may learn to find strength in him.”
In that way the battle cry that has filled thousands of battlefields will continue to ring true in your life: “Onward, Christian soldiers, Marching as to war, With the cross of Jesus Going on before.” Amen.
Jesus Equips You To Serve
Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 7, 2017
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)
Sir John Franklin’s 1845 expedition to the North Pole was doomed from the start. Franklin and his 138 men anticipated an epic, two to three year journey over treacherous and icy terrain. But there was a problem. Each ship carried only a two-week supply of coal. The men didn’t bring appropriate clothing for the arctic. Instead of bringing the basic necessities for an arctic expedition, they brought a 1,200 volume library, fine china and even an organ. Years later, the natives found the ship and the bodies of these men frozen in the ice.
The story of Franklin’s lost ship fell into legend. Years passed and the account became a haunting ghost story. For years after the famous shipwreck, the native Inuit people said they saw strange sights in the ice where the ship wrecked. At times they saw the tall masts of a ship frozen in the ice. Other times, they said they saw the entire ship sailing between the ice. In the eyes of the locals, one thing was for sure, the ship was cursed and the area haunted…perhaps for all time.
Stories like that one catch our attention for a couple of reasons. We are drawn in by famous expeditions to places we have never been. We are intrigued by an epic tragedy. And perhaps most of all, we are attracted to the words of those who have witnessed a strange and ghostly sight.
A journey no one had made before; a tragic ending; and a ghostly, seemingly unbelievable return to life – sound familiar? The believers on that first Easter were enthralled to hear about their Lord and Savior, who had very much died only days earlier, and now had risen again. It was so amazing because no one saw Jesus’ resurrection coming. Although they should have.
God was always up front with his people about his eternal covenant. He gave his people the law, which demanded perfection. God commanded his people to sacrifice lambs as a reminder of just how awful sin is. It all pointed to the coming Savior. The writer of the book of Hebrews connects the Old Testament covenant with what Jesus did, “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus.”
God’s people were supposed to know that. But when Jesus came, no one was ready. Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion on them because they were “like sheep without a shepherd.” He was their shepherd and they didn’t even realize it. He was their Savior, and they didn’t even know they needed one.
To put it another way, the Jews were not equipped to recognize Jesus. Their Jewish teachers, the Pharisees and their rulers had improperly equipped them. They should have given the Jews a spiritual looking glass through which they could recognize their Savior. Instead, they gave the people miserable tools with which they were expected to become their own saviors.
They were as ill equipped for recognizing Jesus as John Franklin’s crew was for their North Pole expedition. By the time Jesus arrived among his people, all he saw were frozen hearts, and people who looked alive, but were spiritually dead. That must have been a haunting sight.
It is always easy to laugh at those who were not prepared. You snicker at the person next to you at the cold football game because he didn’t think he needed to wear a coat. We look at the Jews and we are amazed to see so little understanding. But had we been there, we probably wouldn’t have been any different.
In fact, we have been just as unprepared as those Jews were in Jesus’ day. A friend asks you a question about why we walk up to the front of church for communion – do you know the answer to that, or are you unprepared? A family member asks you to remind her about the difference between the prophet Elijah and Elisha – do you remember or are you unprepared?
Those times in our lives might sound trivial, but had we been prepared we would have known the answer. And perhaps the most indicting example in our lives is when we have an opportunity to share our faith, and we stumble over our words, forgetting what to say. We weren’t prepared.
This is also true when a personal crisis threatens us. An illness literally knocks us off our feet and we are left wondering why God would allow such a thing to happen. We weren’t prepared with that spiritual answer. A loved one dies and sadness and longing consume us. We weren’t prepared to return to God’s Word right away.
Unprepared as the Jews of Jesus’ day were, and unprepared as we have been, Jesus our Good Shepherd remained always prepared. Jesus was prepared for the spontaneous singing of the crowds on Palm Sunday. He was prepared for that final Passover on Maundy Thursday. He knew when and where and how Judas would betray him. When the rest of the world felt unprepared for Jesus’ trial and suffering on the cross, Jesus was. And even at his death, Jesus was prepared with the right words at just the right time.
Three days later, no one was prepared for what would happen next. When everyone from soldiers to Jewish rulers to disciples expected Jesus’ dead body in the tomb, the unexpected happened – Jesus had risen. It is what he had been preparing for since the beginning of the world. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
But not yet. You are still looking ahead to that eternal life Jesus won for you. In the meantime, Jesus doesn’t leave you ill-equipped. “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will.”
So how does he do that? Jesus equips you for a life of faithful service through his word. It is God’s Word that guides your life. It is God’s Word that gives you the words to say when you are asked those questions. And it is God’s Word that shows you what really matters in life.
Don’t worry about ghost-ships forever frozen in the ice. You are appropriately equipped for life. It is also the calling of your minister to assist you in this. God’s Word states that your pastor is here “to equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”
Through the direction of his Word, and through the power of the sacraments, may our Lord and Savior, our Good Shepherd, continue to “work in us what is pleasing to him.” And may this always be done “through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Jesus Journeys With You
3rd Sunday of Easter – April 30, 2017
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16but they were kept from recognizing him.
17He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 18One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19”What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”
25He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. 29But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” 33They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. (Luke 24:13-35)
C. S. Lewis once said, “If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” At the beginning of his life, C. S. Lewis didn’t recommend Christianity to anyone. He was an atheist, and he was proud of it.
C. S. Lewis had taken the logical approach to faith and the unknown. God couldn’t be seen. God couldn’t be proved. Therefore God must not exist. When a Christian friend of C. S. Lewis tried to convince him of the truth of God, he yelled back “You take too many things for granted. You can’t start with God. I don’t accept God!”
The truth was, C. S. Lewis was struggling. He had lost his mother at a young age. He had become estranged from his father. And all he saw in the world was pain and suffering. He later wrote, “Money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—[is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”
Nothing made C. S. Lewis happy. He was on a spiritual journey to which there seemed to be no end in sight. But every journey has meaning. The book of Proverbs states, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”
So it was for two men traveling on Easter Sunday. Like C. S. Lewis, these two men had also experienced the loss of a loved one. Like Lewis, they were struggling in the wake of that spiritual storm. And now, they were leaving the city that they now associated all of their grief with. They were traveling to Emmaus.
As they were walking they discussed everything that had happened the past week. Then, all of a sudden a stranger came up. He was walking in the same direction – away from Jerusalem. But surprisingly, he didn’t know anything about what had just happened the past week.
“What are you discussing together as you walk along?” The question was too much. The men stopped walking. They looked to the ground in sadness, not wanting to answer. How could this man not know? “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
Once again, the man simply answered, “What things?” So the two men shared the entire sad story. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” That hope was gone. “In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”
That was a spiritual event that can shake a person’s faith to the core. Their Lord was dead. His grave was empty. Three days had passed. What next? If there truly is a God, why would he allow such awful things to happen?
Every human from Adam to you has asked that question at one point. For much of his life, C. S. Lewis had been asking that question. Then, something changed. His father had died and he started reading the Gospel of John. Then he realized something: “Atheism turns out to be too simple.” Everything changed. His eyes were open, and he wrote, “Here and here only in all time the myth must have become fact; the Word, flesh; God, Man.”
It was that faith in Jesus’s death and resurrection that led C. S. Lewis to write about lions and witches and wardrobes. It also led him to write perhaps one of the most beautiful sentences he ever penned, “[Jesus] died not for men, but for each man. If each man had been the only man made, He would have done no less.”
That Jesus was walking with two men on the road to Emmaus on Easter Sunday. They had just shared the sad story with the man who lived it. Now it was Jesus’ turn to talk. “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” In other words – Don’t be foolish! The evidence is right in front of you! “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”
That is how Jesus always talked about his suffering on our behalf. He had to do it. There was never a question of if. Jesus had to show these two men how Scripture prophesied his suffering and death and resurrection. The men wanted to hear more, so they asked Jesus to stay. As he broke the bread and gave it to them “Their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” Then, as quickly as he had come, he was gone – vanished.
C. S. Lewis knew what it was like to have your eyes opened. He once wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” These two disciples now saw everything differently. They couldn’t contain their joy. Somewhat dangerously, they ran back all the way to Jerusalem in the evening to share the good news with the other disciples. That good news was in great supply among believers on Easter Sunday. They could all say together, “It is true! The Lord has risen.”
It is quite a journey we find ourselves on in this life. The broken roads we walk, the tears we shed, the loss we feel are all so very real. I think we would agree “If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable…don’t recommend Christianity.” But earthly comfort was never Jesus’ goal for you. He came to win for you eternal peace. He came to make things right between you and your Father in heaven.
And now he sends you back on to the road. This isn’t the road of discovery. It isn’t the road to earthly success. It is the road to the next soul who needs to hear that good news. You might not know the exact route or the perfect destination. That’s okay. Your risen Lord determines your steps – here in this world, and through all eternity. Amen.