David Jeremiah - A Resurrection of Hope
Jerusalem reverberated with the aftershock. Jesus of Nazareth had just been crucified. It was national headline material and everybody knew about this execution. Everybody had an opinion about the late homeless prophet from Galilee. His death relieved a lot of people's pressure. His presence in the temple city had disrupted and traumatized their lives. They were glad he was dead: no more trouble. Now they could go back to a normal life. Perhaps for once, they could have a normal yearly Passover without the presence of this revolutionary. But for many others, the death of Jesus meant mourning and despair. Grief flooded their hearts, but not the grief exhibited over somebody that you love who has died, but more the grief associated with the death of a national hero.
You see, they had believed in him. They had believed that he was the Messiah. They had believed and hoped and trusted that he was the coming deliverer who would free them from Roman domination. But the object of their hopes had been lifted up on a cross and forced to hang there until dead by the hand of the very Roman Empire he was supposed to conquer. And then he'd been placed in a tomb and, as far as the mourners knew, he was still there. There was no bringing him back. Their hope was gone. He was dead. And they were so devastated, they were just in shock. But then, on the third day, stories began to circulate. Some said his body was not where it had been laid. Others were saying that he had risen from the dead. People reported seeing him. In fact, ten reports altogether and five in one day alone.
Early on the first Easter Sunday, he appeared to Mary Magdalene and then later to the women who were returning to the tomb. And soon after that he showed himself to ten of his disciples in the Upper Room and then to Peter all by himself. But the fifth appearance was perhaps the most astonishing of all. And it's the one I want to tell you about today. On that first Easter afternoon, as the sky darkened toward dusk, Jesus appeared to two men who were traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a two-hour journey of a bit over 7 miles. These two men were disciples of Jesus among the greater group of disciples, not his 12, but perhaps the 70 disciples who were followers of Jesus. They had heard the witness of the women that Jesus had come back from the grave, but they were holding on to their doubt, and they were very sad.
Why were they going to Emmaus? Well, we do not know for sure, but I can imagine they took the trip just to get away from it all. I mean, to escape Jerusalem's hopelessness, to clear their minds, maybe to go back where they lived and find a new direction for their lives. That's the human angle. But evidently, God had a different purpose in mind for, on their way, they would be intercepted by a mysterious stranger and because of this encounter with this man, they would never ever be the same again.
Interestingly enough, the most detailed report of Jesus's post-resurrection appearances doesn't involve Mary or Peter or any of the other known disciples. The two men who Jesus met on the road to Emmaus are people we have never met before. We know nothing about them. In fact, one of them we don't even have a name for. One was called Cleopas whose name appears in the text here. The other one's never named. Two men, unknown, on the road to Emmaus, and Jesus has the most profound conversation with them about the resurrection than he has with anybody else in all of the history of the Bible.
And I thought to myself, "Isn't that like our Lord? I mean, when he was born, he appeared first of all to the shepherds, the lowliest of people on the earth at that particular time. Now here he is, risen from the grave, and he's about to appear to two unknown men, journeying alone on the road between two cities". You see, the Lord Jesus Christ comes to the meekest and the weakest of us. He's not into all of the stuff that the culture of today seems to so wonderfully love. He's not into fame, he's not into people who are important. He's into people, all people, and especially those who are seeking after the truth.
The story here in Luke chapter 24 may be the most dramatic story in the Bible. In fact, it's put together like it was a play, like it was a three-act play. The first act involves two people talking together on the road. We'll call Act one, "Discouragement". And then we know further along in the play, another person joins into the dramatic presentation, so now there are three people. We'll call Act two, "The Dialog". And the final act takes place in the home of one of these men and we'll call that, "Discovery". So, Act one, "Discouragement". Luke 24:13 says: "Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was 7 miles from Jerusalem. And they talked together of all these things which had happened".
Now, often, discouragement is made up of three things: doubt and disappointment and despair. Doubt began the journey for these two men. They had heard the testimony of Mary Magdalene and the other women, yet they did not believe that Jesus was alive. And, of course, because of that, disappointment followed their doubt. Verse 21 describes their disappointment. It says: "We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And beside all this, it is now the third day since all these things happened". All of their dreams for the future had been crucified with Jesus. They had probably heard Jesus say, "I am the way, the truth, and the life".
They believed he was the Messiah, the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies, and yet now this one in whom they had invested all of their hopes had been taken to a cross and crucified, and for all that they knew he was still dead, despite the rumors, despite the stories. Their discouragement didn't stop with doubt and disappointment. It spiraled down into despair. All hope had been abandoned. Three days had passed since the Crucifixion and there had been no credible news on which to pin any new hope. So as they walked back toward Emmaus, they were overwhelmed with sadness and they were without hope.
Act one: "Discouragement". Act two: "Dialog". Verse 15: "So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus drew near and went with them. But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know him". Pay attention, the plot is thickening. All of a sudden, in what appears to be the moment of their greatest despair, this mysterious man appears and the text says he drew near, which is a New Testament expression that gives you the impression that he was walking behind them, perhaps at a distance, but at this particular moment, he sped up so that he was now walking with them, alongside of them. This New Testament expression conveys that idea.
Cleopas and his friend had been discussing how their hopes had been dashed by Jesus's Crucifixion and, at that very moment, the topic of their discussion joins them on the road and enters into their conversation. But they did not know who he was. And verse 17 says: "And he said to them, 'What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?' Then one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Jesus, 'Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem, and you have not known the things which happened there in these days'"? Are you getting the irony of this? "And he said to them, 'What things?' And they said to him, 'The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how the chief priests and rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we were hoping that it was he who was going to redeem Israel'".
When Jesus approaches Cleopas and his friend, he asks them what has made them so sad? And Cleopas responds to Jesus's questions with one of the most ironic responses in all of the Scripture. Cleopas accuses Jesus of being a clueless outsider who missed what had just taken place in Jerusalem. And the scene just drips with irony. We get to see what human blindness looks like from God's perspective. And then these men proceed to tell Jesus what they believe about Jesus, still unaware that they're talking to Jesus. They confess that they believed he was a prophet. That's good. They talked about his mighty works and his words. Even better. They described his suffering, his crucifixion, and their hope that he was their redeemer, but they had not yet processed the one thing they needed to believe, and that is that he was risen from the dead.
In fact, it says: "Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. When they did not find his body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see".
I feel obligated, right now, to stop and tell you something. It is possible to be a Christian and not understand the Resurrection. It is not possible to be a Christian and deny the Resurrection. Because without the Resurrection, there is no Christianity. If all we have is the death and burial of Jesus, we have nothing more than the martyrdom of another good man. If you can go any place and find the bones of Jesus and his remains, there is no such thing as Christianity. What sets Christianity apart from every other belief system in the whole world is this: our leader, our Savior, overcame death, came out of the tomb of his own power and was resurrected and is alive today. If that is not true, according to Paul we are still in our sins and we don't have any faith at all.
The Resurrection isn't just a nice story that we celebrate at Eastertime. The Resurrection is the core value of the Christian faith. "If he is not risen, we are of all men most miserable," says Paul. You don't have to understand the Resurrection, but you cannot deny it. Notice, these two disciples believed everything except the essential thing. They believed Jesus was a good man, a prophet, a redeemer, a miracle worker, yet he said he was gonna rise from the dead and they did not know that he had done that very thing. They were discouraged and they were sad. It's interesting that up to this point, Jesus is just walking alongside of them. And then he asks them two questions.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus asked so many questions? I mean, if somebody asked him a question and Jesus answers the question by asking them another question. You know what? I've been practicing. That's pretty good. Somebody asks you a question, you know the answer to it, ask them a question. Put them on the response. Why did Jesus ask them these two questions? He was trying to draw them out and help them understand where they were in all of this. "Why are you sad? What things are you talking about"? Jesus knew the answer to all of that, but he asked them anyway. By the way, Jesus didn't just dump everything on people. He will get to the gospel in a moment but, first, he asks them penetrating questions to get them involved in thinking through the process. Jesus was a question-asker and, obviously, he knew the answers as well.
Then he said to them in verse 25: "'O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and enter into his glory?' And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, he expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself". Jesus is preaching Jesus to these two seekers and he's using the Old Testament to do it. How many times have you heard people say, "If you wanna know the gospel, you've got to go to the New Testament. The gospel is not in the Old Testament".
The gospel is everywhere in the Old Testament, starting in Genesis 3:15 and through all the prophets and the Psalms. The gospel is everywhere, but I've always wondered, "I wonder what passage Jesus preached that day". And I'm gonna make a stab at it. I think he preached Isaiah 53: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; but the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all," Isaiah 53:6. Whatever it is he preached, we find out later it had an incredible impact on these two men. As the threesome are walking down the road and Jesus has finished preaching himself from the Old Testament, the Bible says they come to the turnoff where the two men are getting ready to go to Emmaus.
There apparently was a turnoff from the main road where they go to their home. And as they got ready to turn to go to their home, the Bible says Jesus acted as if he were gonna go straight ahead. And the two disciples, Cleopas and his friend, insisted that Jesus go home with them to Emmaus and stay with them for the night. Once again, the plot thickens. End of Act two, "Dialog" finished. The Final Act: "Discovery". Bible says as they get to the home which was probably the home of Cleopas, they sat down for an evening and they're about to make the greatest discovery anyone can ever make. The Bible says in verse 30: "Now it came to pass, as he sat at the table with them, that he took bread, and blessed it and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they knew him; and he vanished from their sight".
Jesus opened up the Scriptures to them and he opened up their eyes so they could see. But, ladies and gentlemen, it wasn't the opening of the Scriptures so much or even opening of their eyes that caused them to recognize Jesus. Watch what's going on in this third Act. They discovered it was Jesus when he broke bread for the evening meal. Remember, the two men had been on a long journey. It had been a long day. They were emotionally spent. They came in, they sat down at the table, and Jesus took over. This is really astonishing. It wasn't his home and yet he decided to be the host instead of the guest. He breaks custom by distributing the food and he asked the blessing on it. And he presides over it, the meal, even though he was the guest. And he took the bread and he began to prepare it and he broke off a couple of pieces and he handled it to the men. And Cleopas and the other man looked down and they took the bread out of Jesus's hand and what did they see? They saw a nail print right in the palm of his hand. A nail print.
Can you imagine their reaction? All of a sudden, the light went on. This one about whom we have talked about is the one we have been talking to. This one who has traveled with us is the very Jesus who we thought was still in the tomb. And I can imagine Cleopas turning to his friend and saying, "Look, it's him. It's the one about whom we've been talking. He's here in our home. He himself, he's at our table". And just as quickly as he joined them, the Bible says, he vanished. He was gone. "And they said one to another, 'Did not our heart burn within us while he talked with us on the road, and while he opened the Scriptures to us?'" That was the day when Jesus was majoring on opening. He opened their eyes, he opened the Scripture, and now he's gonna open their mouths.
Watch what happens. Just think about the incredible change which takes place within these men. Consider their feelings at the beginning of our story. Their heads are down, their shoulders bent over, they're walking along slowly, sadly, talking about how bad things really are. Imagine seeing the resurrected Christ and just a few hours later, here's what happened. Verse 33: "So they rose up that very hour and they went back to Jerusalem," same day, "and they found the 11 and those who were with them gathered together, and they said, 'The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!' And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread".
How truly astonishing this is. What a change has happened in the lives of these two men. These men had endured a long and emotional day. They had taken part in a Bible study beyond anything you could ever imagine and then Jesus had vanished and then they were so energized that they got up and they went 7 miles all the way back to where they started. And you take that pretty simply but when was the last time you walked 7 miles? You should go out today and walk 7 miles and it'll help you appreciate this story. This is now 14 miles they've walked in this one day. But the second seven was a lot different than the first.
I don't think they walked slow with their heads down. I think they walked in an animated way. They were rehearsing what had happened that day. Their steps were quickened and their journey back was a lot shorter than the journey down to Emmaus. Because you see, once you've met the risen Savior, everything about life changes. If you don't know that he's alive, that he has overcome death, and that he is really the Savior of the world, you carry around on your shoulders the burden of your own sin. Sometimes, that can get really heavy. But once you meet him, once you know that everything that you need, he has, everything that you've always wanted, he's ready to supply.
Once you know that he can take your guilt and remove it and he can replace your sin with his own righteousness because of what he did at the cross, and that you don't have to doubt that it is really him because he's overcome the grave and he is living today, by the way, an event which is more clearly documented both in Christian and secular history than almost any other event you might want to investigate, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, broke through death on that day and lives today as testimony to the fact that he is, indeed, the Savior of the world and that his life is for your life, and his death for your life.
The greatest encouragement that you will ever know in your whole life is the encouragement of knowing the risen Christ. And when I read this story, and I've read it many times over the years and I've preached on it some, too, I think about three things and these are the things I wanna leave with you this morning. Number one, it's a good reminder to me that Jesus always comes to us in our situation wherever we are. He didn't meet these people at the temple. They weren't in the synagogue. This wasn't a feast day. He didn't make an appointment and go to their house. He caught up with them in the routine of their life. He met them in the moments of their despair and grief and there, in that moment, Jesus showed himself to be who he was. And how wonderfully present that is, even in our culture today.
I've been doing this for 40 years plus, and I've been watching what happens to people when Jesus Christ gets a hold of their life. More than that, I've been watching carefully how he gets their attention. Oftentimes, it's through a divorce or through the loss of a loved one or through some business issue or some sickness. But he comes to them in their midst of their crisis and shows them who he is and what he can do. How often he has done that. Not only does Jesus Christ come to us in our situation but notice also he comes to us through revelation. Even though Jesus was present with these men himself, could have easily presented himself without any revelation, the Scripture says he preached Jesus to them from the Old Testament.
And I'm here to tell you, men and women, that you cannot know God nor can you ever get to heaven nor can you be a Christian without the revelation of this book. Without the Bible, nobody becomes a Christian. You say, "Well, I know somebody who somebody told them about Jesus and they didn't even have a Bible in their hands". Well, that may be true but whatever they told them, came from the Bible, if it's gonna take 'em to heaven. 'Cause this is the only God-ordained book there ever was or ever will be. This is the only Word from God you will ever get in written form and in this book you find the way to heaven. In this book you find out who Jesus is and what he has done, and why it is sufficient for all of your sin to be forgiven.
You have to have the Bible. You can't get to heaven without the Word of God and the Spirit of God. Those are the two ingredients which are absolutely necessary. You say, "Well, I've lived a good life". Good luck with that one. No, you have to have Jesus and you have to have Jesus from the Bible. And then the last thing. Not only does he come to us in our situation and come to us through the revelation, but he comes to us by invitation. Only by invitation. Jesus was on his way down the road and about to go right past where these men lived, and he would have, had they not invited him into their home.
You see, the Lord Jesus doesn't bully us. He doesn't push his way into our lives. Even though he is the risen Son of God with the power of God resident in himself, he does not use that power to make us do something we don't choose to do. But he opens up his arms like this and welcomes us to come if we will but invite him in. And just as those two men invited Jesus into their home that day for dinner, the Lord Jesus asks us to invite him into our lives, to live within us and to be our Savior and to walk with us and to forgive us of our sin and give us new life and new hope.
And how do I know that's true, and how do I know it's real, and how do I know that it's relevant? Because he came out of the grave victorious over death as he said he would. No one's ever done that. No one ever will do that. He was the Son of God and he was proven the Son of God by his Resurrection from the dead. And it's that Son of God who stands before all of us today with his arms wide open and saying, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest".