Luke 24:13-35 ~ "To Emmaus: The Road Less Traveled" Easter Sermon
A number of years ago when Chloe was still a baby, my wife and I had taken a brief vacation down to the Sunshine Coast along the coast of Oregon. We were visiting a number of different places and spending time with family. At one point in time I ducked out into a used book shop to do some shopping for inexpensive books as that's what a Texan will do. He'll go to a place where you can find lots of stuff for relatively cheap. I was in the book shop looking and I came across two volumes which struck my fancy. One was on existentialism and human nature by the French philosopher John-Paul Sartre and the other book was a history of Baptist work in British Columbia and the Yukon. I found both of these books on a shelf there in Oregon and I thought I am going to buy both of these books. They were both for pennies on the dollar; probably about $.50 for the Baptist works in about a $1.50 for the existentialist work. The lady at the bookstore took the books and as she is ringing them into the cash register she notice Sartre's existentialism book and she said “oh this book is so good. This is a good book.” I said “really?” and she said “Yes, I read this book when I was in university.” She looked like she was maybe just out of university and she said it really inspired her. I said “would you consider yourself an existentialist?” And she said “absolutely I would actually.”
Now for those of you who don't know what an existentialist is, it is an individual who believes that existence precedes meaning. For those of us who are here who are Christians, who find our truth in Christ, we understand that meaning starts with God. He is the ultimate reality and that from him all of life, all the universe, all that is, flows meaning and God precedes our existence. But, for an existentialist life has no meaning except for that meaning which they give to it. An existentialist will interpret life on the basis of their own views and their own ideas; therefore, your existence and your personhood as you are comes first and out of your own experiences and your family upbringing. These different ideas that they from those things they will assign to life the meaning that they think it ought to have and that they want to take from it.
So, this lady says to me “I very much so do consider myself an existentialist.” Of course I could not resist. Sometimes the Holy Spirit comes up and gives you a little poke and you know you have to say something. I posed the question to her “How did it work out for John-Paul Sartre? Being a university student who obviously had taken courses in philosophy she knew that it didn't work out very well. John-Paul Sartre was struck suddenly ill and on his deathbed he was asked the question “what if you could go on another 10 years?” and he said “to be honest with you, I don't think I could bear another 10 years of existence.” Sartre was confronted with the problem that every philosopher encounters at some point in time or another and that is the problem that Solomon identified and referred to in the book of Ecclesiastes as vanity. Trying to understand what the real meaning and the real purpose of life is. Of course philosophers can't use that term “vanity” because it's entirely too biblical and they are trying to keep God out of the equation; hence they are philosophers. Instead, they invented their own term of “absurdity”. Now, life can mean whatever you want it to mean and you can tell yourself that and you can deceive yourself into thinking that life is what you make of it. If you decided that life is there for you to enjoy it and get all you can and you can have as much fun as possible and live life to the most if you think that the purpose of life and the ultimate meaning of life is nothing but pleasure then you're going to confront, sooner or later, what every philosopher has had to confront and that is this problem of absurdity, or as Solomon says in the book of Ecclesiastes, this problem a vanity. Sooner or later something tragic will happen. You are living life and things are going great and you're getting pleasure out of the way you are choosing to exist, but sooner or later something tragic will happen. Maybe inadvertently while fiddling with the radio on your dashboard you ran over that precious 10-year-old girl that you didn't see. Sooner or later that wife that you love and have been married to for 40 years who brings you so much joy will be struck with cancer. Sooner or later all of us come to that moment where we know we are going to die. Which means that this idea that we can make life mean whatever we want it to for ourselves is eventually going to lead us face-to-face with the, to use the philosopher's term, absurd. As Solomon said over 3000 years ago we are all going to come face-to-face with the fact that everything done under the sun apart from Christ is vanity.
As Christians we need to stop for a moment and reflect. If you're here today and you have lived life for yourself apart from Christ this message is for you. If you are here today and you are living life with Christ this message is still for you. Regardless of who you are or what your beliefs are, as you gather together here this morning we have all made the mistake of sometimes approaching life by trying to force our own meaning upon it rather then turning to God and seeking his meaning. Christians are just as guilty of this as unbelievers. If you turn with me in your Bibles to Luke 24:13-35, you find two disciples on the road to Emmaus. One's name is Cleopas, but we don't know what the other's name was. They had just lived through some of the most amazing, most powerful and most miraculous times that were ever known and that have ever been known in Palestine. They had witnessed some of the most profound healings and some of the most miraculous achievements. They'd seen people raised from the dead, they'd seen the masses fed, they'd seen demons cast out, they’d seen diseases healed, they'd seen it all. They'd seen all that you could possibly see in order to ascribe to anyone the potential title of deity. They'd seen it in Jesus Christ. After what was the most exciting week of conflict and controversy in which Christ came face to face with the religious establishment of his day and confronting them, challenging them and rebuking them, tragically, he was executed. There was a bit of fanfare and to-do for sure, but everything that we thought and believed to be true about this man was called the question because he is now dead.
On Sunday mid morning to afternoon perhaps, we are not exactly sure, these two disciples needed journey to Emmaus. They were on their way and talking about of these events when a stranger approached them. Undoubtedly, he is also travelling from Jerusalem and on his way to Emmaus where He overtook them on the road. He listened to the conversation in their own their dialogue for a while and then asked the question “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk? The response is one of incredulity as if to portray the comment “Jerusalem is a big city, but how did this escape your attention buddy? We are talking about the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified on Friday!”
Look with me verse 18 “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn't know the things that have happened there in these days?” Imagine if he knew it was Jesus he was talking to! Jesus responds and they don't know that it that it is Jesus. This is the omniscient all-knowing Father of the universe. He knows what things the things that they're talking about, but he's drawing them out. Look carefully at how they answered him “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified Him.” Look at verse 21; this is their meaning that they are forcing on the situation, this is their existentialism coming out into their Christianity. “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” We had hoped that this Jesus of Nazareth could save us. For those of you who are here and who are Christians, we've lived our whole lives having this truth explained to us. We lived our whole lives and every Easter having this idea pounded into us over and over again. You might think that it's easy for us, but of course these guys were swept up and caught up in the confusion and the excitement of the days and perhaps all these details just went over their heads except for one slight fact that defies that notion, Jesus on multiple occasions made it clear that he was to be crucified and on the third day rise. He'd said it over and over again. Despite him saying to them, this is what is going to happen, when it happened exactly as he'd described they said all hope is lost. They said they thought he was the king of the world, that he was God, “we thought he was going to save us.” It's all unfolding exactly according to plan; not a hidden plan, Not a mysterious well kept and well guarded secret. He has told them this is what's going to happen and when it happened they said “all hope is lost. We had hoped and we were expecting that Jesus was going to redeem Israel.” The only way that you have that response, the only way that you say that is if in multiple conversations prior to when Jesus has said “this is what's going to happen and this is what needs to take place” you hear him but you do not listen to him.
You are capable of hearing his words yet you are not capable of interpreting them or fitting them into your view of the world. Instead you discount or you just dismiss or you flat out just don't listen. But the problem is always with us hearing and it is never with Jesus explaining. In the midst of all of this a plan is unfolding perfectly. There he is, Jesus in the flesh, talking to them. “We had hoped he would save Israel.” Now, what is their idea? What is their meaning? To borrow a phrase from Sartre, what is their greatest truth? What value do they assign to life? What are they looking for from the scriptures? What are they looking for from the Messiah? Well we know clearly from acts chapter 1 that Jesus is about to ascend into heaven. He's having one pat last Pow Wow with his disciples and the question is asked “Jesus will you now restore the kingdom to Israel?” Of course Christ response is that “it's not for you to know.” Things that have been established according to the Father's will, these will happen on His time according to His direction. The fact that they posed the question shows you what it is that they are looking for. They're looking for a geopolitical nation to rise from the ashes. They are looking for the Messiah to be a conquering King who is going to expel the Roman soldiers and who is going to kick out Pontius Pilate and all of the Roman authorities for Israel to be raised up as a world superpower under the leadership of the Messiah. That's their meaning. Jesus said “we are going to Jerusalem, they're going to crucify me and after three days I'm going to rise” and they are thinking “yeah that's just the weird things that he says sometimes, but really he's our General. Jesus is going to boot out the Romans and he's going to restore Israel to glory and international pre-eminence and we are going to usher in a utopian dynasty. It's going to be great.” So even though he had been clear, they didn't listen. Now here they are on the road to Emmaus talking to the son of God and not even aware that they just told Jesus “Hey, don't be needy.” The irony of the moment should not be lost on us. It's easy for us to look at Cleopas and his companion and say “goodness you guys! You told the son of God he's an idiot.” They were making the statement “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Now, look at verse 22 “Moreover, some women of our company amazed as. They were at the tomb early in the morning and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive.” Hello! There is eyewitness testimony people! People have gone to the tomb, he's not there and there are angels that have said that he's alive and that he is arisen just as he said that he would.
Jesus is fulfilling his plan and if you can't take Jesus’ word for it, he has sent angels to speak to these women who go to the tomb looking to further prepare and dress his body as a result of this burial. It's there that they encounter these angels that said “no, Jesus is doing what he said.” So Cleopas’ travelling companions have the testimony of the women and if you look back, although they have the account from when the woman went and told the disciples what they'd seen, the response in verse 11is “But these words seemed to them and idled tail and they did not believe them.”
There's a theme that is running through this that is strangely similar to the French existentialist John-Paul Sartre. All of us are prone to forcing our own meaning on the word of God. Now what does Christ do when he encounters these individuals? Despite repeated testimony from himself and an angelic vision to boot, what is his response? Verse 25 “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” What is the chief indictment? Does Jesus say “hey guys! It’s me Jesus! Hello, I told to this.” He could have and he will reveal himself to them in a moment, but the problem isn't from Christ's perspective that they didn't listen to him or that they didn't listen to the angels, the problem is they didn't listen to the Scriptures. He is going to rectify that situation. Verse 27 “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” That is the Lord's solution to their unbelief. Where did he start? What passage of Scripture did he talk about? We don't know that. It says he started with Moses for the first five books of the Bible. If you've been going to the Old Testament tenant talk with Dr. Marlow, you've been made aware of this over and over again. Aside from the JEDP theory we know Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. So when he said he started with Moses, did he start with the law or did he go all the way back to Genesis chapter 3? The protoevangelium gospel in which God promises “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”That's the very first indication that there will be an ultimate salvation. If you fast-forward it and you started at Exodus chapter 12 with Moses leading the nation of Israel out of captivity in Egypt where Moses gives directions on a Passover lamb that has to be brought into the home for four days and then slaughtered, conveying this idea that deliverance is possible, but it does not come without a cost. Maybe he went to David. Maybe he talked about the promise made to David when he said to David “you shall not lack for a descendent to always sit on the throne.” Maybe he referenced any number of profits such as Isaiah by his stripes or any of the Minor Prophets the Lord's talked about over and over again. On average it takes about five hours to walk to Emmaus. We don't know at exactly what point in time Jesus caught up to them, but he had five hours to drill in lesson and in the course of five hours he probably just hit on the high points. Nonetheless, over and over again he is hammering home this idea that the Scriptures have clearly laid it out from the moment that pen was put to paper and that God spoke through a human author and committed words to paper and put forth his holy Scriptures. The problem for us is that we don't listen to what God says. It starts here. The get to Emmaus in the evening time and they've just had a crash course in Christianity 101 from the second person of the Trinity, unbeknownst to them. It's late, it's time for the evening meal, and it’s time to call it a day, wash your feet and get a room to stay for the night. This strange traveller on the road makes like he's going to keep going. And they say “Don't go. Stay with us. It's late so let's get a bite to eat.” and Jesus says okay. He knows that they're going to ask him to stay, but he still pretends to go. Having had a five hour conversation about the Scriptures and talking about what the meaning of the crucifixion is Jesus wants to know if they've grown weary of talking to him about Him. He doesn't need to keep overwhelming them with information. He doesn't need to keep pouring a fire hydrant out on them of all this good stuff that is there in the Bible, so as soon as they ask he says okay I will. I'll stay with you. Verse 32 they're going to say “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scripture?” As Jesus is unfolding the Scriptures, something is happening inside of them spiritually. Something transformative and life altering. They sit down to dinner and scripture makes the statement in verse 30 “When he was at table with them, he took bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.” I cannot tell you how many different scholars I've read commenting on this verse over the past several weeks that said it was his mannerism. This is the same Jesus who took bread, who blessed it, who broke it and that on the night that he was to be betrayed and as he's offering forth the Lord's Supper for the first time, they recognized his mannerisms. No.
Other scholars have said that it was the way he prayed. There was an intimacy in his prayer as he was speaking to the Father and that the prayer was so beautiful that they realized in that moment that it was Jesus speaking to God. That's when they knew it was Jesus. No.
Now don't misunderstand me; I think that as they saw him breaking the bread and as they heard him offering forth to prayer, they undoubtedly would have sensed some emotion and experienced déjà vu, but if you look back with me to the very beginning of the passage in verse 15 “While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.” Verse 16 “But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” “Eyes” is the subject of the sentence and “kept” is in the passive. That means that their eyes were restrained from seeing. Their eyes, though they are created to see and though their natural function is for perception, were blinded by God the Father on high. It doesn't matter how intimate the prayer, it doesn't matter how familiar the expression of him breaking bread, it doesn't matter his mannerisms, it doesn't matter even the gate of his walk, the guy was with him all day and they didn't recognize it as Jesus. So it wasn't as though he was walking along and talking to them and they recognized his voice, but just couldn’t place it. They're not having this weird moment where they realize “Oh goodness! That's who you are! You’re Jesus!” This is the guy you've been talking about, this is the one that they are grieving over, this is the one they'd hoped would be the saviour of Israel and they didn't just not notice it was Jesus? It wasn't just the intimacy of his prayer or the breaking of bread; God the Father in heaven did not open their eyes. They were supernaturally kept from seeing him. It didn't matter how familiar his expressions were or how quaint his mannerisms, they could not see him with their eyes until they first believed in him with their hearts.
Hear me first Baptist Church you cannot see without believing. The scripture says very clearly that the righteous shall live by faith. When these guys are grieving Jesus’ death and they are saying “all our hopes are crushed and all of our expectations for our nation have been dashed in his death,” Jesus very easily could have comforted them and said “Ta-da! Take a second look fellas.” The most important things in that moment for these disciples of Jesus was not that they would see him with their eyes, but that they would believe with their heart. That is also the most important thing for you and me. Today we are removed from these events by 2000 years, but the historicity of the resurrection is undeniable. Dawkins, a famous atheists, wrote a book a few years back called “The God Delusion.” If you've ever tried to read Jean-Paul Sartre or Dawkins or any of these guys you find it's extremely tiresome. What do I mean by that? They're very smart and they are very well spoken, but they're very selective. They only want to look at what they want to look at and when they take you along with them for their journey down the rabbit hole, they make sure to be the tour guide that show you the sights and sounds that they want you to see. In Dawkins book he talks about the fact that God is a delusion and to prove it he wants to lift us all up in the clouds and he wants us to look at the cosmos, the universe and the movement and the stars and the planets and he wants to get into the high-minded scientific theories, he wants to talk about the Big Bang and he wants to talk about all of these things that which if you read him carefully and if you're able to consult other scientists, your also a little bit suspicious that he is taking a slanted view towards some of these elements and these data points that he's referring to. The question becomes why do we have to spend all our time up in the stars looking at the universe and the expansion of multiple galaxies with trillions upon trillions of celestial bodies? Why can't we just stop and talk about the fact that there is a guy who died and arose from the grave and we don't know where his body is to this day? Because he really did rise from the grave. It's a great question. The most fundamental question that any of us should ask is a question in which no atheist can really ignore. Dawkins in his book tries to answer the question and do you know what Dawkins says in his book? “Regarding the person of Jesus it is extremely unlikely that he rose from the dead.” End of sentence moving on. Over 500 witnesses observed him coming back from the dead, two of which are these fellas here on the road to Emmaus. The disciples were so struck by the fact that he had arisen from the dead that these guys, who the morning of his crucifixion ran like 11 scared little children in 11 separate hiding places, having confronted the truth of Jesus stood up and not 50 days later went before the same religious leaders who executed Jesus. These leaders told them stop preaching about Jesus. These disciples were accused of trying to bring His blood on the religious leader’s heads. Newsflash! You murdered the guy, but anyway. The disciples replied “Whether or not it is right to obey you men or God, you decide, but we cannot help but preach what we have seen and heard. The apostle John in “1 John” said “I declare to you that which I have seen and heard and touched. Jesus lives.”
It is, of all the facts of ancient to mid-late history, the most established. Regarding all of the eyewitness testimonies, regarding all of the different manuscripts both biblical and extra biblical, regarding all of the data, it is overwhelmingly comprehensive. We know that Jesus rose from the dead better than we know that Homer wrote the Iliad or the Odyssey. We know that. We know that Jesus rose from the dead better than we know many of the other facts of history, but none of that really matters church. What matters is what God says in his word when we meet him first here in the things that he speaks to us.
On their way to Emmaus our sovereign Lord could have used any number of different ways to address the situation, but the most important thing and His highest priority was that they needed to be humbled of constantly trying to force their own meaning on their own circumstances. They need to be broken of that. They needed to meet God in his word and to believe everything that God has said.
Look at what Jesus says to them in verse 25 “Foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” That three letter word “all”, three letters in the Greek and three letters in the English. If we pick and choose one text over the other, if we only want to read this particular book of the Bible and ignore all the rest we will be faced with numerous problems trying to understand the circumstances of our lives while trying to fill those gaps with our own meaning. If we do not hear all that God says to us in his word, sooner or later we will come up against absurdity or as Solomon says, we will face vanity.
Praise God that the philosopher of Christianity, the great teacher of our faith, unlike Sartre, his life had purpose and value and meaning. He faced death while seeing beyond the grave the beauty and the goal that surpassed and transcended this life. For those of us who do not come to Christ looking for that meaning, despite whatever else might approach, this life it is still vanity and it is still absurdity. So my prayer for you is that you would come to Christ, that you'd surrender to him in faith, you would know that the crucifixion was the ransom of your redemption and that the resurrection was the proof of your inheritance of glory.
In 1963 John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He's a president that many say was cut down to early, cut down in the prime of this life. He was beloved by many and, in terms of the approval ratings that they do, one of the most approved and popular of all presidents that his ever held the office. He was brutally and crudely assassinated in Texas. When they laid him to rest in Arlington National Cemetery the decision was made to do something in order to carry on his name and his legacy. It was agreed that something had to be done that will remind us that what he started we can never forget. The idea of anointing his tomb with an internal flame was born. Even though it was prohibited against Arlington National Cemetery rules and regulations that no soldier and no officer of the American military service to have special decorations conferred upon his grave because they are all equal in giving the ultimate sacrifice for serving their country, an exception was made for Kennedy. The feeling was that we must do this. It was be an eternal and enduring flame that would never go out. It was to burn from now until the end of time. Fun trivia question, anybody here know how many times that the eternal and enduring flame has gone out? At least four times that we know of. The Army Corps of Engineers tested it against all manner of adversities. They subjected it to high winds, they tried pouring water on it, they shook it in case of earthquake, they did all manner of testing to try and foolproof this internal flame. On one occasion it ran out of propane - kinda hard to foolproof against that. On another occasion a group of Catholic school girls on a high school field trip went to the grave and wanted to anoint it with holy water. They all poured out their holy water at the same time and managed to douse it. There have been other occasions and I won't get into all of them now those are a few that we are aware of because they've been willing to acknowledge publicly that those happened. Most recently some construction work was necessary in 2013 and they had to do a little bit of a renovation as there was some soil erosion and the tombstone was starting to crack. They had to turn off the eternal enduring flame in order to fix it. They did. And do you know who was appointed the task of restarting it? The Deputy Secretary of the Army. President Kennedy, the man who was cut down in the prime of his life, who was taken from us and who started a work that we are all called upon to perpetrate forever; now, 50 years later when a little bit of work needs to be done to his tombstone, he doesn't even rate a Secretary of the Army or Secretary of Defence. He doesn't even rate a vice president. He gets a Deputy Secretary. The proceedings were only recorded in the back page of a Washington Times newspaper. So much for carrying on the legacy of a dead president.
There is no tomb for Jesus and there is no need for us to make sure that the torch stays let because Christ himself reigns from on high and he is himself the eternal and enduring flame.
If you're here today and your finding meaning for your life in anything else then you are making a grave mistake. Find your hope in Jesus and nothing else. Let's pray.
Father we thank you for sending your son. We thank you Lord for rising from the dead, conquering death, defeating the powers of darkness and freeing us forever from sin, slavery and all the forces of evil. Lord, help us to trust in you. Thank you for this victory and on this Easter morning towards that day in which we know you are coming again in power and glory for the final victory and with the apostle John we say the words “come quickly, come quickly.” In Jesus name we pray, Amen.