April 10, 2016
This is a story of dramatic revelation. And I have to apologize here. The “20 verse rule of thumb” is hard to follow in this story! That’s the “rule of thumb” my preaching professor, Dr. Macleod, told us in Seminary. He said, “As a general rule, don’t read more than 20 verses in any scripture lesson on a Sunday Morning. Well, we had to “bend” that “rule” a bit with this story, because it’s all part of the one big drama!
I know I’ve talked about the “20 verse rule of thumb” before. Well, here’s another thing I’ve said before. God has a great flair for the dramatic! You’ve heard me say that, too, haven’t you? God has a great flair for the dramatic! Just think of the Exodus story! Could God have just arranged for those people to leave Egypt? Could he have just changed the Pharaoh’s heart so he would simply release them? Of course he could have! But instead there were miracles and plagues and burning hail from the sky, and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened! But finally he relented. He released them. He pursued them. Then it all ended with that great victory at the Red Sea!
Again, could God have just “arranged” for them to leave? Of course! According to the story, he apparently had the power to change the heart of the Pharaoh! But he didn’t. Instead, he wanted to give the people a dramatic story, one that would inspire their hearts, one that would give them their very identity as his people! And it did! God brought them out of Egypt “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm!” as the scripture says. And that story has been inspiring the Jewish people for many thousands of years. They’ll be celebrating it again in just a few weeks! (Passover is April 23rd, I believe.)
Well, this story for today is just such a story. The Road to Emmaus is more than just a story of Jesus teaching the disciples what Easter meant. It’s more than that, isn’t it? This is a dramatic story! It’s a story of miraculous revelation! And it’s a story of Jesus reaching the hearts of these disciples!
The other night at our Bible study, we were talking about this passage. And as we began, one of the men (Scott McElrath) read it out loud for us. But, he accidentally stopped at the wrong place! He left out the verse 32! And I said, “Aaah! You stopped one verse too soon!” “That next verse is the one it all leads up to!!” That’s where the men said, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road?” Leaving that verse out made me feel like I might have felt if we had a power failure in the last 5 seconds of the Villanova game later that night!
“Didn’t our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road?” God didn’t just want to “teach” these men! He wanted to “touch” these men!! He didn’t want just to inform their minds! He wanted to inspire their hearts! This story has drama like the Exodus story. This story was establishing them in their identity in much the same way. And here we are, still celebrating it, along with the story of Easter, thousands of years later!
This is an important part of the entire story of Easter. And remember that this story is still a story of Easter. It happened “later that same day.” There were a number of “appearances” that day. As we said the other night, Jesus was a busy man! John tells of the appearance we read about last week, where Thomas was absent. He tells of the appearance to Mary “in the garden.” Matthew and Mark give us other stories.
But this one is my favorite. Here we have these two men, one named Cleopas, the other we don’t know. They’re on this road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They had been in Jerusalem for Passover. Many people went there every year! And while they are walking home, Jesus joins them. But he’s “incognito!” They don’t recognize him.
Some have tried to say this was “not supernatural,” that these men were simply so “grief stricken” they didn’t recognize him. I say, “Oh please!” I mean, really? I guess he wore long sleeves that hid his injured hands. And I suppose he had a hood, or maybe his hair, pulled down far enough to cover the scars from the thorns. We know Jesus’ resurrected body bore those marks, because he showed them to Thomas! But more than that, there was high drama and there were a number of “supernatural things” that happened throughout this story! Why would someone try to say that this was not? That would be inconsistent with the rest of the story! There was no doubt that this story was carefully written by God! Because he wanted to touch the hearts of these men!
At any rate, the grief was certainly evident in these men. When Jesus asked them about the conversation they were having, Luke tell us, they stopped walking. And they “stood there looking sad.” And they give him a bit of a “coarse” answer. “Are you the only person in Jerusalem who doesn’t know?” “What, have you been living under a rock?” (Well, sort of…)
After they tell him what happened, Jesus gives them a “course answer” back. “Yo!” he said! Actually, it’s entirely possible that he said “Yo.” Because “Yo” spelled backward is “Oy!” He said, “Oy!” “Don’t you get it?” “Are you thick?” “O foolish men, and slow of heart to understand.” Did he need to answer them like that to “get their attention?” I don’t know. But he sure did! And he went on to “’splain” everything to them from their scriptures.
As I said at the meeting last Monday, I wish we had some of that explanation – from the mouth of Jesus himself. It’s always good to hear the Prophets saying it, and the New Testament writers explaining it! But I would like to have heard Jesus’ own take on it!
The other thing I would have liked here is to see how these men reacted to each point, as his explanation went along, as they slowly realized this stranger was right about the Messiah. His explanation obviously had great impact on them. Their hearts “burned within them,” as they said later. And again, I believe that’s what was really at stake here!
Jesus feigns going further down the road, and they compel him to stay. He reveals himself – again dramatically and supernaturally. And to cap it all off, at the end, he vanishes. They are so blown away, they got right up, and went back to Jerusalem at that very moment. There they sought out the disciples and told them what happened.
God touched their hearts in this story. And he still touches us through this story, all these years later. I believe that was also part of his plan! I hope you think of this story today in the days ahead. And I hope you are inspired by this story. I hope you feel God touching your heart as you think about this. I hope you feel like the Jewish people have felt about the Exodus story. They believed – and they still believe – that they are part of it!
Friends, God still wants to touch our hearts that way. Yes, of course he wants to teach us. He wants to lead us. He wants to know us. He wants us to grow. He wants us to do all that. But above all, he wants to reach our hearts! That’s even more important! And that’s what I want you to think about. Not just “How has God blessed you?” Not just “What has God taught you?” But “How has God touched your heart?”
When we go to share our faith with others, we can’t just tell people the “doctrine” of Jesus. They can read that in a book! We have to tell them the story of our faith. And even that falls short, because in a real sense, “You had to be there!” But if we tell them the story of our hearts, then there’s a chance God will touch their hearts through us.
So, it is my prayer, this Easter Season and beyond, that God will touch the hearts of all of you. It is my hope that you will be intentional about being open to his touch. And that your hearts will burn within you when we know all that he has done for you.
Eternal God, we thank you for calling us to be your people. We thank you for the ways you have touched our hearts in the past, ways that have brought us to this place. Help us to know the touch of your Spirit. Keep the fire “burning within us.” Fill us with the Joy of your kingdom. For this we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.