Monday, April 18, 2011

What is the reason for life? Jesus is alive! (Luke 24: 13-32)

If someone you knew was really depressed—I mean really depressed—maybe a spouse has filed for divorce or someone has lost a job and there just doesn't seem to be any future—what would you say? What reason would you give to keep pressing on? For that matter, what reason would you give yourself? What reasons did the disciples have after the death of their master?  Hear now God's word.

“Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They 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; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. 17 He 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. 20 The 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. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see." 25 He 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?" 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 28 As 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. 30 When 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?" (Luke 24:13-32)

Churches around the world are a bit fuller today. Why? Well, it is Easter Sunday. I realize that, but why do we have the idea that going to church on Easter Sunday is a good thing to do? Which it is by the way, but why? What is the reason?

The famous mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal once told his friends, "If I believe in God and life after death and you do not and if there is no God, we both lose and we die. However, if there is a God, you still lose and I gain everything." What do you think of such an argument? Similar arguments can be heard today: "Believe. What have you got to lose?" I heard a prominent preacher on the radio say, "Even if Christianity is not true at least I have led a better life." While such statements are spoken with the best of intentions, the Bible takes an entirely different approach. It is one that may cause offense because it draws a line in the sand; the scriptures pound this stake deep into the ground and boldly proclaim, believe  in Christianity because it is true. Jesus Christ has risen. In 1 Corinthians 15, the scriptures state that if Jesus has not risen from the dead, Christians are to be pitied more than all people. Paul could be looking back on his own life and say, "If Jesus Christ has not risen, I have been beaten, shipwrecked, imprisoned and persecuted for nothing. Indeed if Jesus Christ did not rise, ‘Let us eat drink for tomorrow we die.’" If Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead there is no reason for life, not really, so just go out there and grab all the gusto you can, party hardy because pretty soon you are going to be dead. By all means forget about church because you are just wasting your time. This may sound offensive yet it is precisely what 1 Corinthians 15 states. Do not come to Easter services because it is merely a good thing to do, though it is. Do not believe in the gospel of Christ because it will make you a better person, though it will, believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ because it is true. We know it is true because Christ is risen! Jesus is alive! This is the line in the sand. This is what sets Christianity apart from every other religion in the world. We do not come to practice religion or go through some empty ritual nor do we follow the teachings of one whose body is in the grave and has long ago turned to dust; we come to worship the living savior. Here is the reason for life, the reason to press on. Jesus is alive!

This is truth that is grounded in the scriptures. In verse 27 we read that Jesus, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, explained to the two along the road  what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself. What a Bible class that must have been as the Lord opened up the Scriptures! What verses did Jesus mention? He might have referred to some of the verses printed on your sheet. Genesis 3:15, speaking to the serpent: “The Devil, God says that the seed of the woman, who is Jesus, will crush Satan's head, and you will strike his heel.” This is what occurred as Satan figuratively struck Jesus' heel through the pain of the cross, but through that very same cross Jesus defeated Satan. The suffering of Christ is foretold elsewhere in places like Psalm 22:1 where we read, "my God, my God why have you forsaken me," words which Jesus spoke on the cross; Isaiah 53:5, "he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities." In Zechariah 11:12 we read that the value placed on the Good Shepherds life was 30 pieces of silver, the amount for which Judas betrayed Jesus. Concerning Jesus' resurrection we read in Psalm 16:10 "you will not abandon me to the grave nor will you let your Holy One see decay." a passage Peter referred to in his sermon at Pentecost. Isaiah 53:10, "After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied." Isaiah 25:8, "He will swallow up death forever." Prior to his death Jesus himself told the disciples, "The Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him and turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified.  On the third day he will be raised to life!" The Scriptures pointed to these events. The Scriptures point us to Jesus. You might wonder why is all this necessary? It feels like we are in a class room!

Did you ever wonder why Jesus kept these two men, whom we know very little about except that one was named Cleopas, from recognizing who he was right away? Why didn't he go up to them and say, "Hey guys, it’s me!" I suppose there could be a myriad of explanations but it seems to me that it was very important for the disciples to be grounded in the truth of the God's word before they got carried away with excitement at the appearance of Jesus, which would certainly be understandable.  When the women came to the tomb they didn't see Jesus first; they saw an angel who told them, Jesus is risen just as he said. These vents are rooted and grounded in the scriptures. Again, why is all of this necessary?

Remember the men on the road to Emmaus were downcast, gloomy and sad, verse 17. They had thought that Jesus was to be the Redeemer but now he was dead, their hopes and dreams were smashed. Do you realize that apparently not one single follower of Jesus retained any sense of optimism after the crucifixion? Only gloom and emptiness prevailed. Have you known people mired in such depression?  Have you ever been there? What do you say? 

I once worked for a company that was concerned about the growing cynicism and deteriorating morale among the work force. The company decided to periodically bring in motivational speakers who would sing, tell jokes and stories and remind us of how special and important we were. One time the company sent us away for a week in the woods where we participated in a ropes course that was very high off the ground. All of these things I suppose were designed to fill us with excitement and enthusiasm for the job and the company, to bring unity among us. To some degree they worked....for a few days. Then the reality of the struggles of the job set in and all the enthusiasm and excitement and renewed dedication went out the window and we were back to where we were before all that money on the seminars was spent. In fact, if anything the cynicism deepened, so much so that when we hear yet another speaker say, "You can do it. You can do it." We might want to say, "Oh will you just be quiet!" Enthusiasm and excitement are good, but you know that we don't live there all the time, even most of the time. Bad reports from the doctor, the death of a loved one, the rebellion of a child, the breakdown of a marriage, the difficulties on the job all have a way of destroying enthusiasm and excitement for life. It seems that the message from so many motivational speakers is the same, "If you think good thoughts and apply yourself, you can do it, you can do it. So don't worry put on a happy face. Think positive."  Have you ever said that to someone who was just been diagnosed with cancer or whose mother just died? Such words ring so hollow. Just go away and leave me alone.         

Though the excitement at his appearing would be legitimate and appropriate, Jesus, it seems, wanted these two men to realize that the events that had unfolded in Jerusalem were all in accordance with the plan of God from the very beginning. Is not Jesus referred to as the lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world? His suffering, his death and his resurrection were all foretold by God. This is the anchor for our lives.  Enthusiasm in our faith comes and goes, but when you or others you know are in despair this anchor remains to hold you fast. The scriptures teach us, yes this is true, Jesus is alive.

This truth was then affirmed by their experience. In verse 30 we read that Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it. Does this sound familiar? Indeed, these are the same words we find in Luke 22:19 at the Last Supper. Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it and said, "This is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me,” thus saying at the moment I am giving myself for you. Here, when he breaks the bread, he is saying, I have given myself for you and I am risen and their eyes are opened and they know that Jesus had been with them. 1 Corinthians teaches us that the women, the apostles and 500 hundred other witnesses saw the risen Christ. We know that Thomas put his finger in Jesus hand and side. They saw with their eyes the risen Lord and have given testimony to that truth. While we do not have the opportunity to see Jesus in this life, we do have their eye witness account. They saw, not one or two people, but hundreds saw the risen Christ. It is true that Jesus is alive.

What difference does it make? It makes all the difference in the world. When these two men realized that it was Jesus who had been with him all of that time, what did they do? Did they say, it's late, I'm tired, let us get a good night sleep and then talk about it in the morning. No! They got up immediately and went back to Jerusalem. I would have loved to have a stop watch and time those two; perhaps in their excitement they would have set the world record for 7 miles. Perhaps Roger Bannister was not the first one to break a four minute mile, maybe it was one of these two on the way back to Jerusalem. I don't know. They went back at night. Jesus is alive! What about the other disciples?  When Jesus was arrested, what did they do? They all fled. They ran away in fear. Peter himself denied knowing the Lord.  Yet we know that these men all suffered for their faith. Most died a martyr’s death. What accounts for this radical transformation from cowards to martyrs? Jesus is alive. It is true! I don't know what is going to happen tomorrow or next week or next year. But I do know that Jesus is alive. This is the one and only reason for life. Are things going well for you?  Great, but even greater is the truth that Jesus is alive! Are you discouraged over the state of affairs in our nation or world? Christ is risen. Are you drowning in your struggle with habits that are hard to break? Jesus is alive! Overwhelmed with grief from the death of a loved one?  Christ is risen. Are you searching for meaning in life? Are you in the midst of a mid-life or late-in-life or early-in-life crisis? Jesus is alive. This is not some mushy gushy feel good positive thinking that is not based in reality and thus quickly fades away or crashes under the weight of life—it is the truth.  Jesus is alive. Hope is found in nowhere or no one else for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. I realize that in this day in age people would object: how can you be so exclusive in your proclamation? Because it is true? Christ is risen. Jesus is alive. We have the scriptures. We have the eyewitness testimony. It is true. In him we find our reason for life, for he is, he alone is the reason for life. Not just for this life, but the one that is come, for it is written: "I will ransom them from the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where O death are your plagues?  Where O grace, is your destruction?" Hallelujah? Let us pray.

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