Have you ever experienced real hopelessness? Not just that things weren’t going your way, but a hopelessness that sees no way out, no end in sight, no possibility that things can ever be right again. It’s a terrible feeling. I’ve known many who have lived their lives in hopeless desperation. I’ve walked with several through the storms that have all but swallowed them up. I have come to realize that there is only one cure for hopelessness, it is ultimately found in the resurrection of Jesus. The dawn breaks only as we look into the empty tomb and with his disciples cry out, “He is risen!”
It doesn’t happen often, but it happens. A child is kidnapped and disappears. The family, in terror and shock, pleads for the return of their son or their daughter. Days go by and hundreds join in the search. Their picture is on the news every day, with anguished pleas for any lead. The days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months. The search is called off, the case goes cold. Something new grabs the attention of the media, and they are forgotten. Forgotten by everyone… but their family, who continues to hope beyond hope that their loved one will someday be found alive.
Most of the time, they are not, but every now and then…
· Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her bedroom in her family'sSalt Lake Cityhome on June 5, 2002 at the age of 14. She was found nine months later on March 12, 2003, where she had been held prisoner inSandy, Utah, 18 miles from her home.
· Jaycee Dugardwas kidnapped on June 10, 1991. Jaycee was 11 years old at the time and was abductedfrom a street while she was walking from her home to a school bus stop. Searches began immediately after the kidnapping, but the trail quickly went cold. She remained missing for more than 18 years. Amazingly, she was found and reunited with her familyon August 26, 2009.
· Between 2002 and 2004,Ariel Castrokidnapped three young girls and held them prisoner in an abandoned house in Cleveland, Ohio.Michelle Knight,Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesuswere held captive for more than a decade until their escape and rescue on May 6, 2013.
Imagine the emotional roller coaster the families of those girls had been on. The initial horror and grief of learning their daughters had been kidnapped – the agonizing pain of not knowing if their children were alive or dead – the terrible realization that they would probably never see them again – and then the incredible joy when they learned the news of their rescue.
If we can imagine what these families have been through, perhaps we can also imagine the three days of emotion the disciples went through beginning early on a Friday morning.
It began with the late night arrest in the garden – as Roman soldiers and Jewish priests made a midnight raid on Gethsemane. The disciples scatter and watch in horror and grief as Jesus is arrested. Jesus is then paraded before a series of officials – first Annas, then Caiaphas, then to Pilate, on to Herod, back to Pilate. Then Pilate, yielding to the pressure of the Jews and the cries of the crowd, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” turns him over to the soldiers and Jesus is mocked, beaten, humiliated and lead through the streets of Jerusalem carrying the cross upon which he is to be crucified. And on that hill called Golgotha, Jesus is crucified and for six hours endures the humiliation of his enemies as he prays to the Father for their forgiveness. And then he gasps, “Into your hands I commit my spirit… It is finished.”
And the disciples know it is over. Despite all of their hopes and dreams. Despite their belief that he was the Son of God. Despite his talk of being raised on the third day – he was dead. They had seen it with their own eyes. The Roman soldiers had confirmed it by thrusting a spear into his side. Joseph and Nicodemus had taken the body down and laid it in a tomb and Roman soldiers sealed it and guarded it. It was over and nothing could change that.
Now, on the third day, the women had gone that morning to prepare Jesus’ body for burial and found the tomb open and the body gone. They came back with reports of angels and gardeners and what if and could it be, but what are we to make of all that?
It’s Sunday afternoon… and two of the disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem –
"They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. One 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?”
“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. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but 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. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”
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. As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But 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.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread." (Luke 24:14-36).
I’ve always loved this story, because as Luke tells it, we know more than Cleopas and his friend do. We know it’s Jesus, while they walk blindly along not realizing the surprise that is coming. But we know – and we listen, anticipating that moment when suddenly their eyes are opened and his identity is revealed.
There’s something about the story that just never grows old. Because it’s a story of faith reborn and joy rekindled that rings true for us. We live our lives with hope that has grown weary with the weight of worldly concerns. Our faith has lost its energy and vitality because for us the Savior is merely a figure long dead and entombed in history.
But then we listen to this story and find renewed hope and joy. Let the resurrected Lord bring a surprise to your day.
It began with a routine trip. Jesus was dead – life goes on – there is business to take care of and bills to pay. And so the trip takes them on the road to Emmaus. They walk and they begin to discuss the events of that week and in disbelief they wonder what went wrong. How could it have gone from the crowds shouting “Hosanna to the king!” on Sunday, to the mob shouting “Crucify him!” on Friday? Suddenly another traveler joins the conversation, “What are you talking about?” “What do you mean, what are we talking about? Where are you from? Haven’t you heard the news?” And they begin to tell him what had happened with Jesus. And the most telling statement is in vs. 21 – “But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” They had hoped. Their expectations had been raised and their lives had been filled with purpose. They had left everything to follow him – and now this. “We had hoped, but now he is gone.”
Have you ever had your hopes raised? Put all your eggs in one basket? Put your faith in somebody – and then they let you down? That’s how they felt – “We had hoped.”
But then this mysterious traveler begins to fill them in on this Jesus whom they thought had let them down. And where did he start and what did he say? Some new revelation? Some piece of the puzzle of which they were unaware? No! Read vs. 27 – “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”
He told them what they already knew. They knew the Scriptures, they had grown up on the prophecies. But they had been so caught up in the events of the week and the grief of the moment that they couldn’t see. And when it’s all over and they look back, what did they say? “They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’” (vs. 32).
In our search for spiritual renewal, something that will fire up our faith once again, we go searching for something new. We think we’ll find some new technique, some great revelation – but the truth is, if we are going to have our faith restored and our hope renewed it will be by going back to the word – letting God open our eyes once again to what he is doing, seeing Jesus through those ancient eyes of faith – letting the risen Lord reveal himself in a brand new way. It’s not going to be because you’ve discovered something brand new, but because you’ve been reminded of something very old.
And then in a very characteristic fashion, Jesus ate a meal with them. There they are resting from the day’s journey, refreshing themselves with a meal together, and then something very familiar happens. Jesus (whom they still have not recognized), leans over takes a loaf of bread and blesses it and breaks it and gives it to them. And in that very familiar action – no doubt they had experienced it many times before – “suddenly their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”
It is in the familiar that Jesus reveals himself – it is in the breaking of the bread that these disciples are shaken out of their grief and hopelessness.
Don’t you think that’s what this meal is about? Our faith is dulled, our eyes are weary from a week of dealing with the world – and Jesus, the host of the supper takes the bread and blesses it and breaks it and passes it among us – and in that very familiar action we are reminded – “That’s right! Jesus was crucified for my sins, and Jesus is risen from the dead. There is more to this life than living and dying!” And in this moment our hope is renewed and our faith is rekindled. And like Paul tells us, “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.”
The Bread and the Cup – it’s God’s weekly faith inoculation of hope. As we take the bread and the cup this morning, may our eyes be opened and our hearts burn within us as we are reminded once again, he has risen!
There was an important final statement there in vss. 33-34, “They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, ‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’”
With our eyes open and our hearts burning, it’s time to go back and proclaim the good news, “It is true! He has risen.” We live and work among people who live on the edge of hopelessness. The world is going crazy, their world is falling apart, their families are disintegrating, their lives are out of control – hopelessness hovers, waiting to engulf them. They need the message of the empty tomb.
When we look at the empty tomb, it’s a reminder that we don’t have all the answers, we don’t always know what God is up to. And just about the time we have given up and counted God out… “we had hoped, but…” God steps onto center stage and reminds us that he is working behind the scenes in ways that we cannot see and could never have imagined – and then we find ourselves looking Jesus in the face, with eyes opened and hearts burning within us.
If the resurrection is true, it means that God is not finished, life is not futile, death is not final.
If the resurrection is true, it means that we can live lives free from the stranglehold of sin – it means we can live lives freed from the fear of death – we can look forward to the day when we too will be raised from the grave to live with Jesus forever. That’s the good news – go out and share it.
Posted on Sun, April 20, 2014
by John Roberts