The Message Of Easter (2)

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The message of Easter – the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection – has huge ramifications for the whole world, for the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ proves that: Jesus is Lord and God, there is forgiveness and eternal life for those who trust in him, in Christ there is rescue from the judgment we deserve and hell, Jesus has defeated sin, death and the devil, the day Jesus rose from the dead was the day death died, Jesus is the only way to God and heaven, he is alive and holds the keys of death and hell, he is coming again to judge the world with justice, this world is not all there is, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, creation’s groaning is not in vain and believers will be raised with new resurrected bodies. But, therefore, ramifications not just for the whole world but also for you and me. So on this Easter Day I want to look at the risen Jesus’ encounter with two people on the Emmaus Road and how he changes hearts and minds. Governments and armies are not very good at winning hearts and minds. But Jesus does. He changes slow, cold, unbelieving hearts and minds into burning believing ones. And he can change yours. So do turn with me to Luke 24:13-35. And I want to look at this account under three headings: first CONFUSION, secondly EXPLANATION and thirdly REVELATION.

But first let me remind you of two verses from Romans 10 – verses 9&17:

“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

Faith in Jesus Christ, in his death in our place on the cross and in his resurrection comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ. That was the case on the Emmaus Road and it’s still the case today. The risen Christ spoke to me on my 'Emmaus Road' exactly thirty years ago this Easter. I was reading Romans 5 when suddenly my heart was burning within me. I knew God was speaking to me, that Jesus loved me and died for me and that he is alive. I recognised the risen Christ and I knew I had to receive him as my Saviour and Lord. Rather more famously on May 24 1738, John Wesley found his 'Emmaus Road' in London. “In the evening", he wrote, "I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where someone was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change that God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

If you’re not a believer I pray that today will be your 'Emmaus Road' when the risen living Christ speaks to you through your doubts and questions, when the Scriptures are explained, when Christ reveals himself and when your heart is strangely warmed. Perhaps you are a believer but you’re struggling and lack assurance. Maybe the Bible seems dry and your faith doesn't seem to be as real as it once was. The fire has gone. The thorns and thistles of this life are getting you down and you’re failing to see that for us too there is suffering before the glory. Often ‘we are so foolish and slow of heart’ as Jesus tells the two travellers in verse 25. Yet Jesus meets us where we are. He graciously walks with us, opens the Scriptures to us and then our hearts and our eyes to recognize and trust him.

So first, CONFUSION (v13-24)

There is much confusion today about the Christian faith. Only this time last year the supermarket chain Somerfield were selling Easter eggs in celebration of Christ’s birth! And here Cleopas and the other unnamed follower of Jesus on the road to Emmaus were confused and downcast (v17) about the events of the first Easter. They’d been in Jerusalem when Jesus, the man they thought was going to rescue Israel from the Romans (v21), was crucified. Their hopes had been shattered. They didn't realize that an even greater victory had been won. Not only were they disheartened but they were also bewildered as there were reports from some of their women that Jesus was alive (v22-23). They probably felt a little bit like many American Democrats did after President Kennedy was shot dead in Dallas in 1963 or as many African Americans did when Martin Luther-King was murdered in 1968. Their saviour was gone. But unlike the murders of Kennedy and King the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ had been prophesied and publicly scripted hundreds of years before his birth and taught by Jesus himself.

Yet Cleopas and his friend still hadn’t grasped who Jesus is, what Jesus had really come to do, why he had to die, what the redemption of Israel really meant (v21) and that on the third day he would be raised. Their hearts were discouraged, but also slow (v25). Yes they'd heard the reports of the women that the tomb was empty and that Jesus was alive, but they didn't believe them, ‘because their words seemed like nonsense’ (v11). Their companions had then found the tomb empty but did not see Jesus (v24). Like Doubting Thomas they wanted to see Jesus in person. Well as this account unfolds you feel like yelling at them, ‘Take a closer look!’ So often the evidence is right there staring us in the face, but we are so foolish & slow to see and believe.

You get the impression that these two followers were downcast because God did not do what they wanted him to do. They saw something of the glory of the kingdom of God but they failed to understand the suffering. Are we the same sometimes - wanting God to do what we want and feeling despondent when he doesn't? And failing to understand that there is suffering before glory in the Christian life? Instead we should learn to understand and trust God’s promises; and to accept and trust his purposes.

But Christ does meet us in our need. Look at v14&15.As the two followers of Jesus were walking, talking and discussing, trying to make sense of what had happened, the risen Christ met them where they were and walked along with them. But note v16. “They were kept from recognizing him.” By special divine intervention they were prevented from recognizing him as the risen Lord. But why? Well precisely because their hearts were slow. Jesus wanted to reveal himself gradually and so convict their hearts and open their eyes for good. If they'd recognized Jesus straight away maybe they’d have run off without being taught, thinking they'd seen a ghost. In their state of mind and heart Jesus' timing was perfect. He had to first minister to their hearts and minds before they could recognise him. And we cannot see the risen Christ unless he wills to disclose himself to us. Jesus meets us where we are and reveals himself to us in his perfect time.

Certainly Jesus' questions to the two walkers give nothing away about himself in v17&19. "What are you discussing? What things have happened in Jerusalem?" The two can't believe he doesn't know and begin to tell him. If only they'd realised who they were speaking to! So what did they believe about Jesus and about what had happened in Jerusalem? Well look at verses 19-24, at the so called ‘gospel’ according to Cleopas.

To them Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people and they’d hoped he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. In other words they'd hoped that Jesus was a Messiah who had come to set the Jewish nation free from bondage to Rome and so usher in the kingdom of God. But he was crucified by their chief priests and rulers. And despite rumours of him being alive they believe he’s still dead, so they’re reluctant to call him Messiah. They were confused about Jesus' purpose and bewildered about his end. His death puzzled them. Perhaps Jesus' death is puzzling to you. The gospel of Cleopas is still believed by many today. Perhaps you just respect Jesus as a man of God, a great teacher and example, someone who just came to make life a little better here on earth rather than worship him as Saviour and Lord, as the one who died to pay for our sin and who was raised to seal the victory over sin and death. Well Jesus is the only Saviour of the World. That’s the message of Luke’s Gospel. He alone can rescue us from hell. On the cross he, God incarnate, took the punishment we deserved for our sin, so that we can be forgiven and was raised from the dead so that we can have life with God forever. And Jesus now begins to explain this, so

Secondly, EXPLANATION (v 25-27)

So far the risen Jesus has drawn alongside these two people and listened. How important it is to get alongside and listen. How important it is to listen in evangelism. But now, still unrecognizable to them, he cuts through their confusion and gets to the heart of their problem and need by opening the Scriptures to them. And Jesus doesn’t mince his words. Look at vv. 25-27:

“He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

We’re not to be mealy mouthed when explaining the Word of God. Yes, like Jesus we are to listen to people as they ask questions and be willing to go ‘seven miles’ with them to help them, which might be the seven weeks of a Christianity Explored course. But in the end our responsibility is to point people to the risen Christ and allow him to speak and the Scriptures to speak.

Here Jesus opened the Scriptures to explain about himself, his suffering, death and resurrection from Moses and all the Prophets or what we call the Old Testament. The evidence is all there. The prophets had spoken clearly enough. The Christ had to suffer and die. It was necessary. But that is not the end of it - he must also enter into his glory. He had to rise from the dead. God is not defeated on the cross. He triumphs through the sufferings of his Son. And Jesus showed them how all the OT points to himself, to the cross and to the resurrection. The words of the risen Jesus and the Scriptures spoke to their confused minds and cold, slow hearts. Without them they could have discussed the events in Jerusalem between themselves for days without working it out. They might have been able to warm their tongues but not their hearts. But the risen Jesus' words cut to the heart of their questions, revealing his own living self as the key to both their hearts and their questions. And in v32 they tell us so,

"Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?"

You see it’s the word which brings life. First it is Jesus who speaks. It is the word of his risen power, for he has been designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead (Rom 1:4). And in the power of the Spirit he’s still alive. That’s why today we can still turn to his words and our own dead hearts come to life; still today we can tell others with delight what Jesus says, and they come to life in their turn. Secondly the Scripture speaks - both the Old Testament that Jesus was expounding and in which on his own authority we find everywhere things concerning himself and the New Testament. So we turn eagerly to the Scripture, for it is a living testimony to the living Christ. Christ is revealed through the Scriptures - Christ the incarnate Word is known through the written Word of God. Now knowing Christ is a richer reality than mere acquaintance with Bible teaching about him. But the Christ we know in personal experience is the Christ we find in the Bible. There is no other Christ. Are our hearts burning within us or are they cold and slow? Then let us open the whole of the Scriptures for he is on every page of both the OT and NT and let the living Christ and the living Scriptures speak in the power of the Spirit. That was the experience of David Suchet, the actor who plays Poirot on TV. One lonely night in a New York hotel he picked up a Gideons Bible and began to read it in the bath. God’s Word convicted him of his sin and his need of Jesus Christ and he trusted him.

So thirdly and finally REVELATION v28-35

By opening and explaining the Scriptures about himself the risen Jesus had warmed his followers' hearts (v32) and now their eyes could be opened too. They were being convicted of the truth. Jesus was gradually revealing himself to them and warming them into new life. Their hearts were burning and they wanted more. They still couldn't recognize Jesus but (v29) they urged him to stay with them in Emmaus. They invited him in. Notice Jesus doesn't force his way into our lives. But after Jesus had been invited in, he the guest became the host as he broke bread and gave it to them. And something in this action struck a chord with Cleopas and his companion. Perhaps it reminded them of the feeding of the 5000 or maybe they saw the nail marks in Jesus' hands. Then (v31) their eyes were opened and they recognized him. Jesus revealed himself during the breaking of the bread (v35). God opened their eyes to recognize Jesus as the risen Lord.

They were so excited. Their hearts continued to burn. Indeed they were on fire. Their eyes were not just open but bulging. And they couldn’t keep this news to themselves so (v33) they at once ran the 7 miles back to Jerusalem with the news, news that was confirmed by the Eleven (v34) - IT IS TRUE THE LORD HAS RISEN! The risen Jesus was not an apparition or a ghost or a hallucination. He’d appeared to Simon. He’d appeared to them. He’d walked, talked and broken bread with them and been recognized by them. He’d opened the Scriptures to them and their hearts had burned. He opened the Bible to me and my heart burned. He was and is alive.

And Luke wants us to know the certainty of this. Jesus’ body was not hidden by the disciples as why would they have been willing to die for what they knew to be a lie? And if the authorities had taken the body of Jesus from the tomb why didn’t they produce it to prove the Christians wrong? No it is true - the Lord has risen! Do you know it? Is your heart burning within you and burning to tell others? If so recognise him tonight as your risen Lord and Saviour, trust him and start spreading the news! And what news! The Lord Jesus is risen! Death has been defeated. Heaven is not a pipe dream but a reality. But the only way there is through faith in Christ. You see there are no good people in heaven, only forgiven people. So as Romans 10:9 puts it:

“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Because Christ was raised from the dead in him we have a sure and certain hope. At the moment banks and the economy are looking anything but sure and certain. The Bible warns us not to put our hope in wealth which is so uncertain but in God, who gives us the victory through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. And that victory is secure. As is the long term peace that comes with it. Go on to v36:

“While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”

The risen Jesus is with us tonight by his Spirit and he says to those who follow him: “Peace be with you.” Yes as he says in John 16:33:

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

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