“We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
How is it that, as Christians, we are expected to withstand incredible pressures and not be defeated? How can we possibly stand up against everything the world has to throw at us and still expect to emerge victorious?
The answer lies not in ourselves, but in a divine and unbeatable defense: the armor of God.
What is the armor of God?
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
The armor of God is an amazing metaphor for action we need to take in our spiritual lives. Paul sets the scene for us: We are fighting a war, and the stakes are higher than they have ever been in human history.
So today I was focused on studying up on Army stuff and I was thinking about all the gear I need to be a soldier in the army. There is a lot of stuff but then there is a lot of stuff we need to survive spiritually in this world as well.
Our enemy? Not flesh and blood, no human foe—we fight against a much more fearsome opponent whose forces are described in Ephesians 6:12. Our adversary, Satan the devil, and his host of demons have a single, driving purpose: Obliterate the children of God.
Faced with the cares of this world, we can easily forget about the severity of this battle. But make no mistake: Our spiritual lives and future in God’s Kingdom are on the line. If we lose this war, we lose everything. What can we do in the face of such overwhelming odds? Is there any hope?
Paul has the answer. In Ephesians 6:13, he gives the call to arms. By putting on all of God’s armor, which we will be exploring piece by piece in the following lessons, we can be assured of withstanding our enemy’s onslaughts.
Are there any other references to this armor in the Bible?
For He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head; He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak.
Yes! Though the passages may not explicitly call it the armor of God, there are sections of the Bible that further elaborate on the topic—even in the Old Testament! Isaiah 59:17 refers to two familiar pieces of armor—the helmet and the breastplate—and introduces two other pieces—the clothes of vengeance and cloak of zeal.
We won’t be looking at the clothes of vengeance, since they belong exclusively to God (Hebrews 10:30). The cloak of zeal, however, is an interesting study and one we’ll be spending some time reviewing.
And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
Paul admonishes the Romans to put on both the “armor of light” and “the Lord Jesus Christ.” This passage reveals both that wearing the armor of God is synonymous with having the character of God and that this armor cannot be worn if we are still wearing the “works of darkness”—a lifestyle of sin that separates us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2).
2 Corinthians 6:7
…by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left…
2 Corinthians 10:3-6
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.
In these passages Paul calls it the armor of righteousness and reveals its purpose. We put on the armor and strength of God to effectively wage war against our enemy, the devil. Without it, we are helpless—but with it, we are soldiers of the living God, and “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
Here are my sermon notes for today’s sermon based on John 15:1-8:
What attention might we give to the final words
of someone close to us who is about to die?
John 15 – Personal moment with Jesus and His disciples on the night of His betrayal.
LET’S SET THE STAGE FOR WHERE WE ARE -
On the heels of the Triumphant Entry (John 12:12-16): Disciples don’t understand
What they might have been thinking – Mark 11:1-6
The Passover Feast: One commentator, “The feast had become more luxurious and lavish; the participants no longer sat on stools and ate the meal in haste, but lay around the table on couches, drank wine as in a proper feast, and ate the meal in a leisurely fashion.”
Positioning for greatness in the kingdom: Matthew 20 a mother of two disciples requests the seats at the sides of Jesus;
OYB – in Mark 10 it is actually James and John
Scene of confidence, power, and triumphant. Three years has led to this!
The mood shift – John 13:2-5
Blow #2 – v. 18-22
Blow #3 – John 14:19a
The Final Blow – John 14:30
The mood has shifted. Jesus has their attention, and leads them out (v. 31b)
Begins final “I Am. . .” teaching – John 15: 1-8
MY EXPERIENCE WITH GRAPES & VINES:
Summer job after college
Parents home in Napa Valley
Today we set the stage.
DEFINING ROLES -
Jesus is the Vine: the trunk out of the ground.
God is the Vinedresser: Hired to produce the highest yield of grapes possible.
We are the Branches: That which takes from the trunk and produces fruit.
Hard to see where the trunk stops and the branches begin.
Trellis: Surprise for later.
DEFINING FRUIT -
Not strictly evangelism and conversions.
Titus 3:14 – connection of fruits to good works.
Psalm 1:3 – fruits connected to the prospering of whatever we do.
Galatians 5:22 – Christ like inner fruit.
Fruit = external works (including evangelism and kingdom building to be sure), but also inner works of the Spirit
Fruit should endure (John 15:16) – Both types of fruit, the external works and the inner working produced in our spirit
Fruit is our purpose – The reason we have been chosen by God, is to produce fruit/good works that lasts (Ephesians 2: 10).
Not the first Biblical use of this imagery – Isaiah 5:1-7
JESUS DESCRIBES DIFFERENT TYPES OF BRANCHES:
1. Does not bear fruit (v. 2)
2. Bears fruit (v. 2)
3. Bears more fruit (v. 2)
4. Bears much fruit (v. 5)
DOES NOT BEAR FRUIT
v. 2a: “In Me” – Can be in Christ, and not bear fruit.
Not bearing fruit does not equal not being a Christian.
Being a Christian, does not equal fulfilling God’s will for your life.
Important correction of erroneous teaching and preaching:
airo – never in Biblical or Greek literature means to “cut off”
Imagery of the vineyard provides the imagery of the vinedresser lifting up these branches that don’t bear fruit – lifting up and cleaning them off, and connecting back to the trellis.
Connection to verse 3 -
Others need to be picked up, cleaned and reconnected to bear fruit again.
Example of cleaning the dog or a muddy kid.
Here’s the point:
If your life is not bearing fruit, God does not desire to hack you off the vine, and toss you aside. Rather, Jesus is telling us that when we are not bearing fruit God desires to intervene as the vinedresser, pick us up, clean us up, re-attach us to the trellis, and help us once again bear fruit.
This process of God’s intervention is called discipline. Not discipleship. Discipline. That is how God restores us to bear fruit. Through His discipline.
Here is today’s worship bulletin.
Pondering a sermon and here are a few thoughts from a familiar scripture.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit.You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples. -John 15:1-8 (CEB)
Jesus starts out a new profound teaching (John 15:1-8) about experiencing real life and fruitfulness by making the bold claim that He is the “true” vine. This is one of those exclusivistic statements of Jesus, that rubs people the wrong way. He is in a sense saying that, “I know there are a lot of other options out there of people offering life and purpose and fruitfulness, but I am the only true vine for you branches (v. 5), to tap into. You can try to tap into other things like fame, fortune, career, vacations, luxury, other philosophies, religions or self. You can chase your dreams and follow your heart hoping to find real vitality in life, but you will not find it, except if you tap into me, the true vine. All other ‘sources’ are pretenders and frauds trying to trick you into wasting your life. I am the true vine.”
Lord forgiving me for trying to find meaning, life, fulfillment, purpose and productivity from anywhere else other than you, the true vine. You are our only hope of living that life that is fruitful, full and satisfying.
This morning as I was running, I had a thought. Of course, I have many thoughts while I am running but I was thinking about the fact that during boot camp, Soldiers are broken down so they can be remade into, well Soldiers. You have raw recruits who are coming in and need to be shaped up and made ready to serve.
While Christians are not always broken down to be made into Soldiers, I think when we hit our moments of being broken, God remakes us into better people to love and serve God. This morning as I was running, I heard the chorus below and started to sing it and reflect on it.
Brokenness (Brokenness) is what I long for
Brokenness (Brokenness) is what I need
Brokenness (Brokenness) is what You want for me
Those words shot straight to the core of me. I need to be broken before God in order to be used by him. I need to be broken so that any pride that exists can slowly fade away. As I sang those words aloud as cars passed by me, I knew God was showing me that this is where he wants me.
To be broken over the things that break his heart. To be broken over my sin and how it affects others. To allow Christ to break me so that I can better reflect his image to the world around me. To be broken enough so that I realize life is just not all about me (something I reallystruggle with).
I then started to sing the Chorus:
Take my Heart and mold it
Take my mind, transform it
Take my will, conform it
To Yours (to Yours) oh, Lord
I’m so thankful that I can give to him my heart, mind, and will so that he can do what he pleases in my life, even if that means quite a bit of brokenness.
But now, Lord, you are our father. We are the clay, and you are our potter. All of us are the work of your hand. -Isaiah 64:8 (CEB)
I think we need to be broken and shattered before we can fully realize how much we need God. Maybe no. I am envious of those who fully love God without question but I find that I am one of those people who struggle from time to time and need to be reminded that I need God. When I am at my weakest moment, when I am broken, when I am hitting rock bottom, I am at my fullest need for God and in those moments, I am being remade.
Therefore, I’m all right with weaknesses, insults, disasters, harassments, and stressful situations for the sake of Christ, because when I’m weak, then I’m strong. -2 Corinthians 12:10 (CEB)
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength because he considered me faithful. So he appointed me to ministry even though I used to speak against him, attack his people, and I was proud. But I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and without faith. Our Lord’s favor poured all over me along with the faithfulness and love that are in Christ Jesus. -1 Timothy 1:12-14 (CEB)
This morning as I was running, I was continuing to think about ministry (my ministry and ministry in general) and I realized that it is not easy nor is it “clean”. In fact, if you are going to do ministry, you have to be prepared to get dirty. It’s been said that life is like a box of chocolates well ministry is like a messy garage.
In every garage that I have had, there has always been one corner that is a yucky mess. Usually, I clean it out every once in a blue moon. But, it is futile. It returns to its filthy collection of garage goo. Motor oil, grass clippings, spider webs, sawdust, leaves, golf ball, tennis ball, scrap wood, bent nails and the like pile up in this corner. Life can rarely NOT have cast-offs of one sort or another.
There have been moments when I have seen a garage that had all four corners spotlessly clean. But, those were part of houses where there were no people. But, real homes where real lives are lived have at least one of those gathering spots for dirt, grime and grunge. There is a spiritual parallel to this.
Every human has a chapter or two or more in their life that is ugly. That’s why Jesus died for our sins. He forgave us. Paul elevates this general theme to a higher level. Out of sheer gratitude he thanks Jesus Christ for a generous portion of strength. It is a calling to Christian ministry.
Ministry is not a result of self-generated capacity. Rather, Jesus affirms that those who are called have already been faithful in living for Him. He alone determines who is appointed for ministry.
Some people might think that they have the prerogative to make that judgment but that is only an assumption. Ordination councils can recognize who Jesus has called but He alone has the authority to make that calling. Appointment to ministry is exclusively in His hands.
Paul recalls his past of sins. Yet, all of that has been resolved because of what Christ has done for him. That’s the beauty of grace. While humans judge one another, punish, abandon and marginalize those that they do not accept, God pours out His mercy with generosity.
The Apostle adds more to this spectacular gift of grace. Everyone in ministry is intimately familiar with these additions from His mercy. They are faith and love. Faith and love are like Simple Green which can be used to scrub a garage clean. Faith and love can scrub our souls clean and help us help others.
As children of the resurrection and as Easter people, we are called to do more than just sit back and watch the world go by. We are to dive right into the lives of God’s people and even those who do not consider themselves to be God’s people. If we get messy along the way, so be it. Let’s do ministry and let’s do ministry however we are called to do it.
Over the past few weeks, I have been focusing on faith and following Jesus in light of the resurrection. We are people of the resurrection so that defines not only who we are but what we do as well. Today and over a series of guest blog posts, I want to look at different callings and the struggles we encounter as we attempt to live out our callings. I spend a lot of time wrestling with things as I run and this morning was no different. I have been wrestling with this idea for some time but this morning it was really on my mind as I was running.
It has been my experience of late that unless you are following a specific calling, others struggle to understand your calling. In my own life, I am experiencing this first hand. Now, please don’t read this as a criticism – it’s not, but I am finding people are struggling with my calling to be an Army Chaplain. Becoming a chaplain is not something I just woke up one morning and decided to do. I struggled with this call over several years until I fully realized this is where God was calling me. That does not mean it is an easy call. That does not mean I am completely at peace with my call – it just means I am secure in doing what God has called me to do. Being an Army chaplain has its own unique challenges including a higher likelihood of encountering violence and facing your own death.
Callings are very interesting.
As Jesus passed alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” Right away, they left their nets and followed him. After going a little farther, he saw James and John, Zebedee’s sons, in their boat repairing the fishing nets. At that very moment he called them. They followed him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers. -Mark 1:16-20 (CEB)
Now, this particular verse does not differentiate callings as all mentioned were called to be “fishers of people” but it does show a group of people being called into ministry. In this case they were fisherman who had sure work and a routine they followed every day. They were making a living, and while they were living on the margins, they were at least part of society. Accepting Jesus’ call would change all of that. They were not following the traditional path to ministry nor were they considered the likely people to go into ministry in that day. Scripture tells us the struggles they faced along the way as they sought to live out their calling to ministry from God (specifically from the Human One).
Now, I am not comparing myself to the Apostles by any means but I understand some of their struggles. We all have specific views of ministry and when a person seeks a ministry that does not fit into that view, we question it. When a person seeks ministry who does fit our view of a person who should be seeking ministry, we question their calling. We encourage them to seek some other path or direction. This is not a criticism of anyone but rather a view. These observations come from my own experiences and talking with others who are encountering similar things. I will freely admit that I am jealous of my friends and colleagues who are pastors. They have deep relationships with people that come from years of conversation and pastoring. They literally will be with some families from birth to death and everything in between. It is an awesome ministry but it is not my calling. I can be a pastor but it is not what I am called to do – at least not pastoring in a church.
So to bring this all home and get back to where I started – what does this have to do with being a people of the resurrection? In light of a loving and living God who seeks to reconcile all of humanity to God, we have been called to ministry – some of us to a specific, ordained ministry but all of us to ministry. Our purpose is to share God’s loving work and reconciliation with the world. There are many ministries and there are many different people to do those ministries.
We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy in proportion to your faith. If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful. -Romans 12:6-8 (CEB)
We may not always understand a ministry or even think it is one we would want to do ourselves. But we need to trust that God has called that person to that ministry and support his or her work as they seek to live out God’s calling on their life.
After embracing the risen and living Christ, the apostles began to get a better idea of their purpose in light of the resurrection. It also helped that Jesus was rather specific in his final instructions to them.
Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the Law from Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. He said to them, “This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. -Luke 24:44-47 (CEB)
We know the rest of the story. They went out from there and spread the good news/gospel to the ends of the known earth and the Church was born. They lived out their purpose in light of the resurrection but what about the rest of us? It is not so simple.
If you listen to some sermons (and read them), it seems we should be out on the streets preaching to people and making sure they know Jesus. I am not mocking this idea but I don’t think everyone is called to this purpose. Instead, I think we are called to live our lives in light of our own purpose. When we live in the hope of our own resurrection, when we live in harmony with others, when we live in harmony with creation, when we deal with pain and suffering with assurance of God’s peace and comfort, we are preaching the good news.
But something even more amazing happens when we live out our life in light of the resurrection. We share in the defeat of death.
Death is the last enemy to be brought to an end, -1 Corinthians 15:26 (CEB)
When we choose to live despite death, despite pain, and despite suffering, we are sharing in the destruction of death that was started by Christ. We are saying to death – you may be able to take my life but I am going to refuse to give it to you. I am not going to fear you or let you destroy this life that I have. It those moments when we live fully and completely in Christ’s resurrection that we are sharing the good news. There is no death when we live in Jesus Christ. This is our hope. This is our assurance. This is our purpose.
He will swallow up death forever. The Lord God will wipe tears from every face; he will remove his people’s disgrace from off the whole earth, for the Lord has spoken. -Isaiah 25:8 (CEB)
Here is today’s sermon based on John 10:11-18:
During CH-BOLC, we had the chance to practice our navigation skills. We did Day Land Nav and Night Land Nav. Now, we were given a map, some coordinates, a compass, a protractor and then sent on our way. We had to follow the course of the coordinates, check in, and find our way back in a reasonable amount of time. It was not a difficult task and we appointed a navigator, a leader, and the rest of us followed in course. We successfully missed the bramble patch, the pond, and the swamp and our squad won the best time. Move ahead 6 hours and we are ready for Night Land Nav. Same parameters and rules except we get our trusty red lens flashlight. It should be easy but that is not the case. Suddenly, everyone has suggestions. Everyone wants to lead. Everyone wants to read the map. We don’t miss the bramble patch, we hit the swamp, and that barbed wire fence? Yeah, there go those pants. We suffered from too many colonels and not enough sergeants. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Too many shepherds and not enough sheep.
I think the same thing happens for us – both individually and collectively as a church. During the good times, when we are walking through the forest in the daylight, we are content to let someone else lead. We will follow someone else and all is fine and dandy. Then we have to live through darkness or storms or whatever and suddenly, we want to take charge. We know best. We think we can do this on our own but it is this time especially, that we need to learn to depend on others. We can’t see the brambles and the swamps. We need others and especially one to guide us.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Jesus is our Good Shepherd. These are some of the most comforting words in Scripture for every believer. Many are familiar with the painting portraying Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Jesus is calmly standing amidst a flock of sheep. In one hand he holds his shepherd’s staff. In the other arm Jesus is securely holding an innocent lamb completely safe. This is a very fitting picture revealing the depth of meaning of the words in our text. This is the picture that the prophet Isaiah painted long before the physical birth of Jesus. ” Like a shepherd, God will tend the flock; he will gather lambs in his arms and lift them onto his lap. He will gently guide the nursing ewes.”(Isaiah 40:11). We direct our attention to this comforting truth in God’s word:
- Love Led Jesus to the Ultimate Sacrifice
- Today’s gospel (John 10:1-18) introduces our sermon text. The “disciples did not understand”.
- Jesus wants to make it very, very clear: “I am the good shepherd”, verses 11a, 14a.
- Verse 11b. The good shepherd would even offer his life in order to save the sheep.
- Verse 12. The hired hand is not like the good shepherd when it comes to dedication and service.
- The original Greek uses a word that shows this hireling only want money and nothing else.
- Verse 13. The sheep mean nothing to the money hungry hired man.
- Verse 14. The good shepherd and the sheep know each other, closely, intimately, and personally.
- Now Jesus wants the disciples to understand he has this same closeness with his Father, v. 15.
- Jesus, the Good Shepherd, will lay down his life for the sheep. This is the ultimate sacrifice.
- We are like sheep. Our sins cause us to wander away. Left to our own we would be lost forever. Like sheep we need a good shepherd to protect us. We need a good shepherd who would even be willing to offer up his life to save us. Most amazing we have that very Good Shepherd. Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd. ” he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”(Philippians 2:8). By grace through faith we know Jesus our Good Shepherd.
- When Jesus died on the cross he was not selective about who would be forgiven. Most amazing, Jesus the Good Shepherd died for the sins of the whole world. His innocent sufferings and death was the price demanded for the payment of sin. Jesus holy, precious blood covered the sins of mankind once and for all. No other sacrifice is ever needed. “He is God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only ours but the sins of the whole world.”(1 John 2:2). This is certainly and truly God’s amazing grace. Sadly, those who reject Christ also reject his forgiveness and heaven itself.
- There are only two types of people in this world: believers and unbelievers. There is a vast difference in the lives of believers and unbelievers. The unbelievers live lives that are very self-centered and self-serving. After all they are only and ever going to look out for number one – themselves. They are the ones who are trying to navigate on their own. I have been one of those people before. I am sure you have too. But the believers look at what the Good Shepherd has done. The believers realize that their lives are completely and forever changed by the love of Christ. ” He gave himself for us in order to rescue us from every kind of lawless behavior, and cleanse a special people for himself who are eager to do good actions.”(Titus 2:14). As believers we live lives that love God and serve our fellow man. By the power of the risen Christ we are able to turn from sin. Living in the resurrected power of our Good Shepherd we live lives that are “eager to do what is good”! We can do this only by God’s grace at work in us.
- Today’s gospel (John 10:1-18) introduces our sermon text. The “disciples did not understand”.
It was love and love alone that led Jesus to the ultimate sacrifice of his life on the cross – for us, and for others. Power provided Jesus with total victory.
- Power Provided Jesus with Total Victory
- Jesus dearly wanted his disciples to understand the simple teaching that he was the Good Shepherd.
- Jesus compared the good shepherd with the hired hand. They were very different.
- As Good Shepherd, Jesus would always act out of love for the sheep whoever they are.
- But there was more. Jesus had not come only for the lost sheep of Israel but others also, verse 16.
- There were other sheep that needed to be brought into the sheep pen by the voice of Jesus.
- We remember the thief on the cross. Once outside God’s flock and now in paradise.
- Recall the centurion. After the crucifixion he confessed, “Surely this was the Son of God”.
- They heard the voice of Jesus from the cross and listened and followed, other sheep no longer.
- Jesus now describes the power that he has in verses 17, 18a. Jesus lays down his life on his own.
- Six months later the disciples see these words fulfilled. Jesus’ love held him on the cross.
- Jesus laid down his life for one purpose. Verse 18. Giving up his life, Jesus would raise it!
- The Father sent his Son to do all this as the Good Shepherd for all straying, lost sheep.
- We have looked at Jesus’ love that led him to the cross and the ultimate sacrifice. The love of our Good Shepherd did not stop there. Jesus was laid to rest in the tomb. But on Easter the tomb was empty. Jesus took back his life. Jesus rose again in total victory over sin, death, and the devil. By grace we know, believe, and confess this vital victorious truth of the Scriptures. “Since we believe that Jesus died and rose, so we also believe that God will bring with him those who have died in Jesus.”(1 Thessalonians 4:14). The victory that Jesus won was not for himself but for us and for the world.
- Today, some would rather not talk about sin. Sin, well, sin is just too negative. People want to deny sin, reject sin, and cover it up as if it never existed. With no sin there is no need for a Savior. True, it is not pleasant at all to hear that we are sinners. It is not pleasant to be reminded, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags”. But this is the truth of God’s word. Along with this truth of the law come the truth and the comfort of the gospel. “ He destroyed the record of the debt we owed, with its requirements that worked against us. He canceled it by nailing it to the cross. When he disarmed the rulers and authorities, he exposed them to public disgrace by leading them in a triumphal parade.”(Colossians 2:14,15). God’s law has been fulfilled – perfectly and completely. Our Good Shepherd gives us his total victory over sin that we may live to love and serve him.
- Total victory, everyone loves to be a winner. Everyone loves to be a champion. That is what we are. Our Good Shepherd has given us the victory of death itself. This victory, Jesus’ victory, is God’s gift to us. Simply put, we cannot earn salvation. We do not deserve salvation. Freely, through Christ, God gives to every believer his gift of total victory into eternal life! “Now his grace is revealed through the appearance of our savior, Christ Jesus. He destroyed death and brought life and immortality into clear focus through the good news.”(2 Timothy 1:10). Our Good Shepherd gives us his total victory.
- Jesus dearly wanted his disciples to understand the simple teaching that he was the Good Shepherd.
This is Christ the Lord, Jesus the/our Good Shepherd. Once again we have only begun to scratch the surface of the depth of God’s great love for us lost, wandering sheep. We daily stand in awe and wonder at the great and marvelous things God has done for us! What love that Christ would die willingly for us. What love that Christ would freely give us his victory. No matter what we face in this world our Good Shepherd is always there holding us safely, securely in his strong grasp. ” They will make war on the Lamb, but the Lamb will emerge victorious, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings. Those with him are called, chosen, and faithful.””(Revelation 17:14). Love led him to the cross. Power provides us victory. Amen.
Here is today’s worship bulletin.
This morning, I was putting the finishing touches on my sermon for tomorrow. As I considered Jesus’ teachings to his apostles, a thought occurred to me. Despite the fact that the apostles where hanging out with the Human One, they never really grasped what was happening. Not only that, they were also as ordinary and common as you could possibly get. One truth throughout Scripture is that God uses people to fulfill His plans and answer prayer. Sometimes they are people we least expect.
From Genesis to Revelation, the Lord used ordinary people to meet needs and be used as His instruments to bring deliverance, provision, or leadership.
The following in Old Statement are just a few examples of those that the Lord called and used.
- God called a normal man named Abraham to leave everything behind to start a new life in an unknown land he had never seen (Genesis 12).
- Through this man, all peoples would be blessed. Through a man who was disgraced, God delivered a nation from captivity. That man was Moses, a leader who was reluctant and insecure (Exodus 3).
- Gideon was an obscure man from a family of no prominence, but the Lord used him to defeat an enemy that was so oppressive that they impoverished the people of God (Judges 6).
- God chose a young shepherd boy named David to be the King of Israel (1 Samuel 16).
- The prophet Amos answered a critic by saying, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go prophesy to my people Israel’ ” (Amos 7:14-15).
In the New Testament, God used a young virgin to be the mother of Jesus; and the disciples included fisherman, a tax collector, and religious zealots. None of those would have been on the Jerusalem Who’s Who list, but they were chosen by God to turn the world upside down. By the world’s standards and today’s aptitude tests, Judas Iscariot would have been seen as the only one acceptable. He was personally resourceful, financially shrewd, and corporately calculating. The other disciples would have been rejected because they were petty, self-centered, concerned with personal power and position plus rash and vindictive. God, however, chose them before the Holy Spirit changed them and set them ablaze for His purposes. They were ordinary, imperfect, and unprepared, but God knew their potential and promise.
God uses people to meet needs, accomplish worthwhile tasks, and open doors of opportunity that possibly only God and the person in need know about. In faith and trust, we pray and God answers — sometimes in unexpected ways.
When God uses you, past failures do not disqualify you and imperfections do not diminish your abilities. As God calls you, His Spirit is working through you to be effective and powerful. Again, God uses people, and He wants to bless others through you. As you listen and respond to His prompting, you will be blessed. By following God’s lead, you will be an answer to prayer, used to change and save lives. God is using you!
Are you ordinary? If so, you are just the person God is looking for to perform His plan. He has a task for you and it may be something that you might never think you could tackle. On your own, you cannot, but with God’s help, you can do the extraordinary.
Paul said it best in his letter to the Philippians 4:13: I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.
I seem to keep preaching on this but it seems that nearly 5 weeks after Easter, we are returning to normal. People have put away their Easter bonnets, suits, dresses, and now they are living their lives again. It was great while it lasted but the light of Jesus can’t last in this world forever. Right?
Then they pleaded with Jesus to leave their region. -Mark 5:17 (CEB)
This has to be the saddest verse in the whole of scripture. Yet, it is so true today. People refuse the only presence of him who can save and deliver. The very idea of the powerful Jesus creates too many waves, and the implications go beyond what can be envisioned. It is so much turmoil, and so much has to be dealt with. Quite frankly, it is better if he would leave us alone.
These people have no issues regarding what Jesus can do. They have seen it with their own eyes. They understand more than I. Yet they choose to have Jesus leave, and not come back. He creates way to many problems, and they don’t want their lives disrupted. “I beg you sir, please leave us alone.”
This is very often the issue in our world today. Communities try to make “a no-Jesus zone.” Elements such as taverns, and casinos, media, porn parlors and Planned Parenthood centers find themselves steered into conflict with Jesus. There is a suppression of goodness, and it becomes slandered and mocked. But the core issue, the basic factors are being ignored with the idea that Jesus, andChristianity have become obsolete. This is the deliberate blindness of those who claim their allegiance to the dark.
To ask Jesus to leave, is to invite darkness to follow. There can be no vacuum. If he is not present and active, darkness is sure to pour in. There is so much at stake here. It essentially boils down into a quasi-apocalyptic issues. Evil begins to triumph, and darkness pours into the throne room. But asking Jesus to leave us alone creates a brand new set of problems.
All to often (way to often) we stumble with what we think is quite important. We exalt the reasoning power of our intellect. We feel that we should not be manipulated or controlled. We bar the Holy Spirit‘s activity. We don’t want to see or hear of it. We create a dark immunity that hides us from reality.
The heart of Jesus looks for us—- you and me. He very much wants to reside with us, and teach us out of this wicked trap. His love is quite real, and it is an intense power that enters into our weakness without judgement or condemnation. We must invite him to come. To become hospitable andwelcoming to him. We need Jesus, and he must live with us and do his will
On that same day, two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking to each other about everything that had happened. While they were discussing these things, Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey. They were prevented from recognizing him. He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” They stopped, their faces downcast. The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?” He said to them, “What things?” They said to him, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth. Because of his powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago. But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.” Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?” They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!” Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread. -Luke 24:13-35 (CEB)
This gospel passage affords us a chance to revisit one of the truly great narratives of the scriptures. In just a relatively brief passage, Luke reviews for us the kernel of Christian life.
Luke employs a literary conceit throughout his gospel to make a central theological point: where the other gospels have Jesus throughout his ministry moving back and forth between Jerusalem and Galilee, Luke’s gospel has Jesus on a continuous single journey toward Jerusalem. For Luke, Jesus’ entire ministry is prelude and progress toward the single goal of what happens at Jerusalem in the Lord’s suffering, death, and glorification at Passover.
In today’s passage, the two disciples are walking away from Jerusalem, that is, they are walking away from the entire goal of Jesus’ mission. But in an immense irony, they meet Jesus on the road, even though they do not recognize him. This “stranger,” Jesus, explains to them all the scriptures that foretold how the Messiah would have to suffer before he entered his glory. At the conclusion of the journey, Jesus makes as if he will go on, but the disciples invite him to spend the night with them. During supper, Jesus breaks bread and blesses it, and the disciples recognize him in the breaking of the bread.
How often in our lives do we walk away from Jesus only to encounter the Lord in some stranger we had not factored into our equations? How often do we find the Lord because we offer hospitality to someone we meet on the road? And when we break open the scriptures and break bread at our sharing in the Eucharist, is not our Lord there to be found?
I have been thinking about the road to Emmaus story and how Jesus opened scripture to a couple of discouraged believers and I have been trying to imagine what it would feel like…
“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.” (24:12). Jesus has finished his ministry; a whirlwind three years of teaching and healing had seemingly ended with his death on a disgraceful cross. Sure he foretold the necessity of his death but how could his followers fully grasp the idea in his midst, breaking bread with him and seeing lives changed. Without regard to their disbelief though, zealous Jews and a Roman court sent Jesus to be crucified and his followers watched as the one they thought to be the Messiah was beaten, stripped and tortured to death on a wooden plank near the refuse pile of Jerusalem.
Rumblings of hope were growing however and by the third day the most explosive event of history would be upon an empire and the world. Jesus was no longer dead and his grave was empty. We can only imagine the elation of Peter as he returned home to “marvel” at what had happened. But the absent tomb was only the beginning. It is with this hope and anticipation that we meet two believers, somewhat discouraged, on a road to Emmaus.
As they discuss all that happened in Jerusalem a stranger joins them and challenges them to change their views of what the Messiah’s true role was, rather than a conquering ruler he was a resurrected savior. The promised return has now happened and without this story, the believers would still be waiting and anticipating their Messiah’s appearance.
While Jesus would later appear to the disciples in Jerusalem the experience on the road to Emmaus gives us an important lesson on the revelation of Christ throughout all of scripture and our need to recognize how he was the fulfillment of prophesy and the savior we first heard of in Genesis 3. Without it we might be prone to shape the image of Christ on something other than scripture and the truth that only comes from godly revelation.
It’s funny. Now that we are nearly 4 weeks past Easter, people seem to be returning to their normal paths and ways. We spent 40 days in the Wilderness as we journeyed to Easter and we sang hymns and praise. Now we are at a crossroads of sort between Easter and “normal” and what do we do?
The Lord proclaims: Stop at the crossroads and look around; ask for the ancient paths. Where is the good way? Then walk in it and find a resting place for yourselves. But you said, “We won’t go!” Still, I have appointed watchmen to warn you. But you said, “We won’t listen!” Therefore, pay attention, nations; take notice, assembly, what is ahead of them. Pay attention, earth: I’m bringing disaster upon my people, the fruit of their own devices, because they have ignored my words and they have rejected my teaching. -Jeremiah 6:16-19 (CEB)
The people of Israel have an opportunity to stand where others have stood before, to see where others have followed God before, and find the rest that they need. Their response? We’ll pass. We think we’re doing just fine as it is.
In ancient times there were markers that were placed in intervals along a path to mark it. Usually these markers were only reserved for paths where it was either difficult terrain or the path was unclear. If you had a well-traveled road then the traffic alone would have created a natural outline for the path.
Godliness isn’t a well-traveled path. Sadly there isn’t enough traffic to clearly outline where the path should be. Following Christ should be a well-traveled, well-worn path straight towards the cross. It should be but it’s not. When it comes to following Christ we’re constantly standing at a crossroad. Will we choose to follow the path that godly men and women have followed before us? Or, like the people of Israel, will we allow our pride to pull us away from the leading of God?
As a parent, I am aware that I have eyes on me watching my every move and that I serve as a marker to how to live well. As a pastor and chaplain, I am aware that I have eyes watching my every move and that I serve as a marker to how to live well. As a Christian, I am aware that I have eyes watching my every move… you get the idea. The path is important but not as important as the markers along the way – us. We serve as those markers that guide people (or force people away from) to Jesus.
Stand at the crossroads. Listen for the trumpet. Look for the path that godly, more mature believers have followed. Look for the markers that they have left along the path. If you’re following Christ, leave markers behind for others to follow.
Yesterday, the lectionary text visited the road to Emmaus. You probably know the story. Two disciples are walking along with Jesus and they don’t recognize him. There are various theories as to why but it is interesting because clearly they knew him and spent time with him.
We have the closest disciples – the ones we refer to as apostles. In the last hours of his life Jesus was sharing a meal with his disciples. One them, Philip, said, “Lord, show us the Father.” Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:9 CEB). At that point, Jesus had been with Philip and the other disciples for approximately three years.
It has now been almost two thousand years since Jesus was raised from the dead and proclaimed as Lord. That is over 600 times as long for his disciples to be studying him! Has this not been long enough for us to recognize that seeing Jesus is seeing the Father? Why do we still think there’s someone else besides him? We have 2000 years of church history and tradition. We have scholars who have studied Jesus’ words and teachings. In fact, I have my own collection of Jesus’ teachings – the Bible and yet I am not sure I always recognize him either. Why?
It is because we have not looked closely enough at Him. By all means, seek Christ anew!
Here is today’s sermon based on Luke 24:13-35:
I read about a minister who was given the honor of preaching at an important meeting of his denomination. Just before he was to start his sermon he was seen to be looking anxiously around the congregation. The chairman whispered to him, “What’s the problem? Is there someone here who’s heard the sermon before?” “No,” replied the minister, “I was looking to see if there’s anybody who hasn’t heard it before!” How embarrassing! I’m in a slightly similar position, because at Easter, it’s almost certain you’ve all heard a sermon based on what happened on the road to Emmaus – although not from me!
It’s a story worth repeating again and again because it’s at the very heart of the Gospel. It highlights the living hope found only in the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. St Paul wrote to his friends at Corinth, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead” (1 Cor 15:19,20). But on that first Easter day that living hope was far from being established in the experience of the two people we read of in the New Testament lesson (Luke 24:13-35). Let’s put ourselves in their shoes as they set out on the seven-mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus. It was a:
Have you ever noticed that some of the saddest words in our language begin with the letter D? For example, disappointment, doubt, disillusionment, defeat, despair and death. All of these are summed up in the words of Cleopas and his companion to the stranger who joined them on the Emmaus road. They had left the dispirited and confused band of disciples with the events of Good Friday fresh in their memories. We can sympathize with their bewilderment.
The Master they had revered, loved and followed had been horribly put to death – a cruel death of the most degrading kind. Death by crucifixion was the most shameful of deaths; the victim was made a public spectacle, exposed to the jeers of all that passed by. Only a week before, on Palm Sunday, the disciples’ hopes had risen to fever pitch when the excited crowds had hailed their Master as the longed-for deliverer from the tyranny of Roman occupation but now he lay dead in a sealed tomb! Their hopes were dashed; the dream was over!
The band of Jesus’ followers was leaderless and was falling apart, with two of them already on their way home. The reports that Christ’s tomb was empty did nothing to alter their thinking; it only confused them. Their entire world had come apart. The two despondent disciples summed up the situation very neatly, “we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”
Human hope is a fragile thing, and when it withers it’s difficult to revive. Hopelessness as a disease of the human spirit is desperately hard to cure. When you see someone you love and care for overtaken by illness, which goes on, and on, despair sets in. It almost becomes impossible to hope for recovery, to be even afraid to hope because of not being able to cope with another letdown.
The Emmaus Two had erected a wall of hopelessness around them, and they were trapped in their misery. “We had hoped …” What they were saying is “We don’t expect it now, but once we did. We had it, this thing called hope, but now it’s gone.” I wonder if this is something that we can identify with? Has something or someone come between our relationship with God? If so, listen to the Emmaus story because the heart-breaking experience is only its beginning!
As the travellers made their weary way to Emmaus a stranger fell alongside them. It was going to be one of the most wonderful walks in history! We know, of course, that it was the risen Jesus, but somehow they didn’t recognize him. In fact Luke tells us “they were kept from recognizing him.” It wasn’t an accident that they didn’t notice who he is or that they were too preoccupied to look at him in the eye. No, they weren’t allowed to recognize Jesus for a purpose. It was so that they might be in the same position as ourselves some 2,000 years later.
Visual appearances of Jesus ceased at his Ascension. They are not granted to us. Like the two on the road we have to make do with other people’s testimony that Jesus has risen from the dead. Like them we don’t know quite what to make of it. Did it really happen? What precisely happened? How could it have happened? A few years ago the controversial former bishop of Durham, England asked, “Is the Resurrection the result of a conjuring trick with bones?” We have to make up our minds as to what we believe.
The stranger asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” And so they poured out their sad story to someone who seemed so willing to listen. How wonderfully kind and compassionate is our Lord. He could well have ticked them off, to say the least, for their lack of faith in him. Hadn’t he told them that “unless a seed dies, it abides alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit”? (John 12:24). But no, Jesus doesn’t berate them, but rather, as someone put it in moving words, “In his infinite courtesy, Jesus remembered the frailty of over-strained nerves and bewildered minds and came, not too suddenly or overwhelming upon them, but in a way which He alone could do, revealed Himself as the Risen Christ.”
The way that Jesus dealt with the situation is a lesson to all that are in a position to help those who have lost hope. They need companionship. They need a listening ear before a stream of good advice. The last thing they need is a brisk “cheering up” talk or being told to “snap out of it”. Instead, let’s be there with them. Let’s love them by listening, by accepting what it is that they feel. There’ll be time later to point them to the way of hope, to the One in whom hope is to be found, but first things first. It’s then that the heart-breaking experience changes to a:
Their spokesman, Cleopas, expressed surprise at even being asked what was worrying them, “Are you the only one living in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have happened there in these days?” There seems to be a note of incredulity in the voice of Cleopas, but Jesus continues patiently and innocently asks, “What things?” “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they eagerly replied.
The two Emmaus bound disciples were correct in their theology as far as it went. They told the stranger that this Jesus “was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people” (20). “He was …” – notice the use of the past tense, which strongly implies that he wasn’t relevant to the present or otherwise they wouldn’t have been in their present downcast state of mind. Their experience of Jesus was in the past, and they thought they were alone. The Cross had taken him from them, and their minds hadn’t made sense of the changed situation, or adjusted to it. The Cross was just a great negative to them.
We’ve all heard exciting testimonies of what Jesus has done in the past – but what about the present? The past is history. The question must be: is Jesus “a present, bright reality” to those who give their experience, to you and me? Do we always recognize him beside us? Life has many distractions – hard work, routine, tiredness, ill health – which can so grind us down that we carry on mechanically, never lifting our eyes – or minds – from the dust of the earthly road we travel. We become unaware of the glory and strength of his presence with us. Life loses its meaning and leaves us washed out, but this story gives us hope.
Jesus is still there. He’s the unseen “stranger”, walking with us, listening to us and, if we are willing to hear his voice, revealing himself to us. As the two disciples spoke of the Cross he took hold of their bewilderment and sorrow and gave them a heart-ing experience. How did he do it? He pointed them to God’s self-revelation in the Scriptures. Luke tells us, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” What! The Old Testament! Yes!
Jesus must have given the Emmaus travelers the greatest Old Testament exposition in history – to a congregation of two! It was then that the jigsaw of the types, shadows and symbols of the Old Testament revelation began to come together. He would have reminded them that right back at the Fall of Mankind the apparently victorious Satan, in the form of the serpent, was told that the seed, the offspring of the woman “will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15). What a wonderful anticipation of Jesus at Calvary.
And so was foretold the story of the cosmic struggle between death and life, of the pattern of death and resurrection in the Old Testament revelation. It’s clearly visible in the life of Abraham, sacrificing his dear and only son Isaac and getting him back again; of Joseph, preserved to become the benefactor of his brothers who tried to destroy him; of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt after having been saved from the angel of death through the sign of the blood of the Passover lamb.
Jesus would have recalled his own teaching of how the Israelites escaped physical death in the wilderness from a plague of serpents when they looked trustingly to a great bronze serpent which Moses raised on a pole, pointing out that he too would be lifted up on the Cross, “that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life in him” (John 3:15). Jesus would surely have taken the now speechless disciples through the Suffering Servant of Jehovah passages in Isaiah. He would have recounted how the nation of Israel, taken into exile and brought back again to rebuild Jerusalem, was a symbol of the greater redemption through personal salvation through faith in him.
Here was proof that Jesus had fulfilled that which had been prophesied over the centuries; that these Old Testament anticipations of his passion and triumph of life over death, proved that he was indeed the Messiah. The two disciples couldn’t have expected that sharing their problem with the stranger on the Emmaus road brought them towards a solution. But there was more to it than that. Christ wasn’t there besides them simply to help them to find solutions – he was in the problem itself. Jesus told his two listeners, “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things …”
The problem for the disciples was how to make sense of the Cross, how to accept it. Jesus helped them to do that, showing them that the Cross itself was the creative act of God. The apostle Paul would later write, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Cor 5:19). The Cross of shame and suffering had become the Cross of Redemption for all who would come to Jesus in repentance and faith.
When Jesus intrudes into our lives, probing our thoughts, it is for the purpose of blessing us. But how do we respond? Do we, like the disciples from Emmaus, welcome his initiative and let him minister to us? Do we want him to keep talking and explaining what previously baffled us? Sometimes the things he reveals are uncomfortable as he encroaches into our conscience, and invades the private areas of our lives.
Cleopas and his companion accepted the gentle rebuke that Jesus made, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” Perhaps the key word is “all”. It wasn’t that they hadn’t read the prophets of old, but perhaps they’d read the Scriptures selectively, concentrating on those parts that spoke of a triumphant Messiah who would be kind to his enemies and be victorious. The passages that spoke of a suffering servant didn’t fit in with their expectation of the Messiah and they’d tended to skip over them. When they had been given the exposition from the Scriptures they reacted positively, and in fact they wanted even more, which led them to:
THE HEART-BURNING EXPERIENCE
Their two-hour journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus must have seemed like five minutes, being so wrapped up in this absorbing conversation with the Lord they hadn’t yet recognized. Luke informs us that, “As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he was going further.” Jesus is a gentleman; he won’t force himself if he’s not really wanted. He awaited their invitation to come in.
God gave to the world the greatest and the most perilous gift in the world, the gift of free will; and we can use it to invite Christ into our hearts or allow him to pass on. In the vision of the Book of the Revelation we find his words, “… Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (3:19,20).
There’s a famous picture painted of this scene, of Jesus knocking at a door, but there’s no handle to it. I expect there is a handle, but it’s on the inside! This is very much the situation in the Emmaus story. We’re told that “Jesus acted as if he was going further.” It was a test to see if the disciples had more appetite for the things of God. They did. We’re told, “They urged Jesus strongly, ‘Stay with us …’” That’s the sort of invitation that Jesus can’t resist! “He went in to stay with them.”
They needn’t have asked him in; he was ready to move on. But no, their hearts had been won over. A basic meal was quickly got ready. The bread is on the table and the moment for Jesus’ disclosure has come. How does he do it? “He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.” It was the action of the breaking of bread. They saw his hands – they were different from when he had broken bread at the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and at the Last Supper. They were the nail-pierced hands of Jesus. In an instant they knew him. And in an instant, he’s gone.
Why did Jesus have to disappear? Couldn’t he have stayed longer? He could, but he didn’t because it’s all part of the education of his last 40 days on Earth – how to manage without his bodily presence from now on; exactly the same as we have to do some 2,000 years on. But he is with us still by his Spirit; he is with us as we fellowship with him in worship and, in obedience to his command, as we remember him in the “breaking of bread” service.
I can imagine Cleopas and his friend standing in amazement; perhaps embracing in great joy, asking each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Their world had come together again. That heart-burning experience is something that we all need. We need it in a conversion experience when the Spirit of God makes us realize that we need Jesus as our Savior and Lord. We need it as we allow the Holy Spirit to apply the truths of Scripture in our daily walk with Jesus.
Well, where are we in our experience? Are we still heart-breaking because we need to meet the risen Christ? Perhaps we’re still in a heart-searching process – if so, let it continue as it will surely lead to the heart-burning experience we all need. God deeply longs for each one of us to walk with Him in close fellowship so He can fulfill His plans for our lives. The Emmaus Two no doubt had walked this way many times before. Yet this day would be different, for it was the time for a life-changing encounter with their Lord. He can draw near to us at any time. The ways of God aren’t always obvious so we must be open to allow him to enlighten our understanding, to take us into a new level in our spiritual experience. Life will never be the same again!
Christ is risen from the dead! Christ is the Savior! Christ is the hope of the world! The two disciples lost no time in retracing their steps to Jerusalem to share the Good News. May that be our experience this Easter time and for the rest of our life.
Here is today’s worship bulletin.
“And the goal of a Christian life becomes not enlightenment but wholeness – an acceptance of this complicated and muddled bundle of experiences as a possible theater of God’s creative work.”
Have you ever noticed that the best movies somehow tap into the deep sorrows we experience in life? And have you ever wondered why? I think the answer is that we live in the constant awareness of our fallen condition – It isn’t always sad, but it is always there. And regardless of the packaging, deep down every human knows that he or she is broken. So consequently every one of us is somehow mysteriously relieved when we feel as though someone else can relate to that – when someone, or something (like a movie) confirms that we are not alone.
The problem with the culture is that while it can identify our brokenness well, and then yearn beautifully for something redemptive . Death is the ultimate and most violent reminder that the world is broken.
For some reason it struck today in the few weeks since Easter, that I had never considered two statements regarding Jesus’ death, as they relate to one another. One came from the Cross, when Jesus cried, ‘My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me!’ The other came at Pentecost, when Peter, in his first sermon, quoted Psalm 16:10 (“he was not abandoned to the grave”) – In other words, the Resurrection is the rest of the story – the story the culture longs for but always misses, and the one we sometimes forget – or doubt – or ignore – you insert the right words.
Sometimes all we have to hold on to is that we live in the promise of God’s new world. In a sense everything comes down to that reality, and ultimately it is enough. I know, I know, when in the midst of pain and sorrow this isn’t always easy to swallow or believe. Sometimes, on an emotional level we walk away from what we know and believe. And yet amazingly, the scriptures don’t teach that we don’t abandon God – they teach that He doesn’t abandon us. So there is even grace for those many moments when we want to chuck it all – It never did depend on us in the first place.
In the meantime we belong to a God who delights in His children and sprinkles His lovely creative mercies upon our lives. We rebel. We forget. We wander. We struggle. Let’s face it – we are unfinished. And throughout our lives, and from time to time, we taste the bitterness of the fall – we taste in part the forsakenness that Jesus bore in fullness on the Cross. But we are never abandoned – not even to the grave.
Because we are His.
And that is sweet, good news…
On that same day, two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking to each other about everything that had happened. While they were discussing these things, Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey. They were prevented from recognizing him. He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” They stopped, their faces downcast. The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?” He said to them, “What things?” They said to him, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth. Because of his powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago.But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.” Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets. When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?” They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!” Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread. -Luke 24:12-35 (CEB)
The wisdom of the Zen Masters holds that we can never be any different at any given moment than we are. Human development cannot be rushed, genuine maturity cannot be forced, and wisdom cannot be gained prematurely. The process of spiritual growth proceeds from healthy psychological and emotional development, a process that asks us to engage in continual self-examination that pushes us past our self-imposed limits.
The disciples were a lot like this. They could never be any different than they were at any point. The disciples could never fully grasp Jesus despite their many encounters with him along the way. They knew him (they thought); they understood him (they thought); they recognized him (they thought).
Faith development has been likened to a journey, a path along which we encounter God many times and under many different circumstances throughout our lives. Perhaps the measure of mature Christian faith lies in our ability to recognize Christ when we meet him. He’s always present, but our eyes are sometimes focused elsewhere. Just as the 18 year old could not recognize the presence of wisdom in his father, we’re often unable to recognize the presence of God in the people with whom we share our lives.
One of the most interesting things about the resurrection accounts is that no one seemed to recognize the Risen Jesus. Mary Magdalene didn’t recognize him at the tomb, nor did Thomas when Jesus stood before him in the room where the disciples were hiding. The apostles on the road to Emmaus walked seven miles with Jesus without knowing who he was. The disciples who were fishing on the Sea of Tiberius saw Jesus standing on the shore, but knew him not. The Lord’s last days in Jerusalem hadn’t unfolded as they expected. Their confusion blinded them to Christ’s power and presence when he stood right before them.
We can all fall victim to spiritual blindness at times, particularly when we’re disappointed or distracted by our biases, prejudices or immature patterns that linger throughout our lives. A distorted vision can cause us to lose sight of Jesus, to miss his cues and misunderstand the ways in which he is present to us daily.
There will be no trumpets to announce his arrival, no flags will be raised when he is present among us. Chances are, Jesus will remain hidden in plain sight among those we love, among the poor, the marginalized and those with whom we share the journey toward wholeness (holiness).
Thomas Merton once said that the only journey worth taking is the journey inward. The Paschal Mystery is unraveled in the mystery of our humanity and the mystery of our most intimate relationships, those who challenge us to open our eyes and ears to the truth of who we are and who God is among us.
The third watch of the night is an interesting time. I am up running at this time of morning and I enjoy watching as the darkness grows just a little darker before it begins to lighten as the sunrise approaches. There is something very mystical and spiritual about the entire experience. This morning as I was running, I was thinking of the first Easter morning and how everything must have seemed so dark and that the light would never again shine. I was reminded (and continue to be reminded) that we have all been at that point in our lives from time to time. We are in a situation where there seems to be no way out and we are afraid that the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel may very well be a train. In my own case, it has been my dealing with the Army and navigating through it.
Then I was reminded of Jesus and that he goes before us. Even in death.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead. He’s the first crop of the harvest of those who have died. Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came through one too. In the same way that everyone dies in Adam, so also everyone will be given life in Christ. -1 Corinthians 15:20-22 (CEB)
Even in the darkness, light will come again. Even in death, life will come again. Even in the midst of hopelessness, hope will come again. I am simply reminded that no matter what, Jesus has already been there and is, in fact, already there. If I consider Paul’s words that everyone will die but everyone will also be given life in Christ – there is hope. I know I have to die but I also know that Jesus died as well. Jesus came through death and I will as well.
In my mind, it is like that first tiny hint of light on the horizon. It is dark but then you notice a slight lightening in the distance. It is not as dark as it was. Then suddenly it is growing lighter quickly and the sun rises. A new day is here and things don’t seem as bad in the light as they did in the darkness.
That first Easter morning, in the light of Christ, things must have seemed so much better (once they got over their fear) and filled with hope. I keep repeating it but it is worth repeating – Jesus has already been there. Jesus is already there.
Just some thoughts from the third watch. The darkness is never as bad as it seems. It is never as hopeless as it seems. It will get better one day. Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow. But one day soon.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. -Revelation 21:4 (CEB)
I am comforted knowing that not only has Jesus gone there before but he is already there waiting for me. What a great thought for today and always.
Easter is behind us and we are faced with months of commonality until we get close to the season of Advent. We traveled the journey of Lent towards joyful anticipation of Easter and then it is past. We are a resurrection people but what do we do in this season when the joy of Easter is slowly fading away from us?
I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. -Philippians 1:6 (CEB)
Like New Year’s, at Easter, I think a lot of people make a commitment to come to church more often and be a better person. I mean, how can they not when we look at the resurrection and realize what it means for us.
Take, for instance, walking in love. A believer reads a passage in the Bible, and the Holy Spirit uses it to remind them of areas in their lives that need some work. They come away encouraged and ready to love, love, love. They’re filled to the brim with the love of God, and start letting it pour out on others.
This goes on for weeks, and one day they stub their toe and cuss. Then they cuss at the dog, and maybe even the kids. This starts a tailspin of strife, and everyone in the house ends up grumpy (except the dog—he’s just doing his best to stay out of the way at this point). The next morning they feel like they’ve been drug through the mud. Guilt overwhelms them, and they think that they’ve blown it entirely.
But no, He who began a good work in them will complete it. So they fell off the horse. All they have to do is get back on and pick up where they left off.
We may falter from time to time but if God can be patient with us long enough to finish the good works that were started within us, then we can be patient with ourselves and get up and keep going. God will not abandon us because we make a mistake – it may be hard to imagine sometimes but somehow in someway, we are part of God’s plan and so those works he began in us will grow and reach maturity one day. I look forward to looking back and seeing God’s work in me even when I don’t think it is there or I feel like I have failed. Then, I can be like Paul and say:
I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. -2 Timothy 4:7 (CEB)