Friday, September 30, 2011

Hearts on Fire For Jesus

This is the sermon I gave at our church (Unadilla Center United Methodist) on Mother's Day. It was my first chance to preach in front of a congregation.

It is based on Luke 24:13-35, the text of which follows:

Luke 24:13-35
New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)
On the Road to Emmaus

 13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
 17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

   They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 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?”

   19 “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. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 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. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”

 25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ[b] have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

 28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. 29 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.

 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 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?”

 33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Hearts on Fire for Jesus

When things are taken out of context, it can be jarring. It leaves a story feeling unbalanced, or unfinished. That’s how today’s reading seemed to me when I first read it. Starting with the first four words “Now that same day...” Obviously, it must have been an important day, but what day was it? So, I had to look back in my Bible to the preceding subheadings. Starting from the one before this reading and going backwards, they are “Jesus Has Risen,” “The Burial of Jesus,” and “The Death of Jesus.” Ah! Now I get it! “That same day” refers to the Sunday when Christ had arisen from the dead. Wow! Now the passage becomes more intense than when I originally read it. It has so much more weight and meaning. This is no ordinary, run-of-the-mill day. This is the day that our Lord and Savior arose from the DEAD!

Now THAT is a day to remember! Just think of all that came before this day. How Christ rode triumphantly into Jerusalem amidst loud “hosanas!” and much adoration. How that was quickly followed by those who opposed him gaining the upper hand and having him arrested. And instead of releasing him because he had committed no crimes, they instead let a murderer go free. After giving Jesus no trial, they commenced to torture him and ridicule him and beat him beyond mercy. He was then forced to carry his own cross where he would later be continually taunted as he died on that cross for all to see. 

Many people saw Jesus as weak at this moment. After all, wasn’t he “King of the Jews” and the “Son of God?” Hadn’t he shown great power through many miracles? Hadn’t he helped others who seemed beyond help? Why then could he not save himself? 

I see this as Jesus’ greatest show of strength, however. How easy it would have been for him to destroy all his tormentors. Just a word, or a glance, or even a thought could have ended all of his torture and his shame. He could have struck them all down one by one. But, in his strength, he chose not to. Instead, he chose to follow God’s will and to be sacrificed so that all who believe in him, confess their sins, and follow him may have eternal life. Now that is strength. How many of us, given the powers that Christ had, would have been able to restrain ourselves from annihilating our enemies? How many of us could have stayed our hand and not raised it against those who had beaten us, humiliated us, taunted us to the very end of our lives? I don’t think I could have. And that is probably why we are not given such powers! Christ was the perfect son of God. We are all children of God, but we are not perfect as He alone was.

So, it is the third day after Jesus’ death and he has arisen from the grave. He has already appeared to Mary Magdalene; angels have appeared to the women who had come with Jesus to the cross and told them Jesus had arisen from the dead. The women had already run and told the disciples who were hidden behind locked doors in fear that they, too, would be taken and crucified. Peter and the apostle whom Christ loved ran to the tomb and discovered that he was gone as they said. 

All these things had taken place, just as Jesus had told his disciples they would. And yet, these two men walking along together, deep in a discussion about all that had happened were not joyful. You would think that after Jesus had told all his disciples of all that would happen to him, and all those things had come to pass that they would believe that he had come back from the dead. But they did not. When the disciples were told by the women that Jesus was raised on this third day, Luke 24:11 tells us: “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” Even after everything else Jesus had told them had already taken place, they could not bring themselves to believe this last prophecy.

When the two men were asked by Jesus, whom they “were kept from recognizing,” what they were discussing as they walked along, they did not respond with joy and exclamations of triumph. No. “They stood still, their faces downcast.” How could they be downcast when their Savior has arisen?  They are not only downcast, but they are incredulous that this stranger walking with them does not know what has transpired during this time of great upheaval. They practically ask him if he has been living under a rock or something not to know what has taken place. 

Jesus asks them “What things?” knowing full well what things they spoke of. Perhaps he wanted to hear their “take” on things. Perhaps he wanted to see how much they believed. These passages do not give us the answer to his motivation, but I think maybe it was to present him with another opportunity to teach them through Scriptures. Jesus was the Great Teacher. So the two men began telling Jesus all that had ensued. And here, we can find out why they are so downcast. When asked “What things?” they replied “About Jesus of Nazareth... He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all 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 that was going to redeem Israel.” Notice the word “hoped” – it is in the past tense. They were downcast because they had lost their hope for redemption. They thought because Jesus was dead that their hope of salvation had died with him. After all, he had been arrested, beaten, and crucified just like a common criminal. Where was his power then? And how can a dead man be a Savior of anyone? They had lost hope. 

They have not only lost hope, they were also confused. They told the rest of the story of how the women did not find Jesus’ body in the tomb, and the angels had said Jesus was alive, and some apostles went to the grave and did not see Jesus. But they apparently did not believe this last part, otherwise they would have been anything BUT downcast! They would have been filled with joy and anticipation at the thought of seeing him again. So, the stranger then rebuked them for their unbelief: “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” In other words, you have heard all Jesus told you about his being betrayed, crucified and buried and you saw all that happen, so why do you choose not to believe the final piece of the story – that of his resurrection?

Jesus proceeded to remind the two men of all the teachings in the Scriptures about his life, as they continued on their walk. He wanted them to understand two things especially:  one – that Jesus would have to suffer death, and two – he would then enter into his glory.

Once they reached their destination, “Jesus acted as if he were going farther.” He did this because it was not polite to invite oneself to stay at someone else’s home. But seeing him getting ready to continue on, the two men “urged him strongly” to stay with them. Doesn’t hearing that phrase “urged him strongly” make you think that they had become entranced with all that this stranger had to say to them, all he was teaching them? I think so, or else they would not have wanted to prolong their visit with him.

Jesus accepted their invitation to stay. In those days, before a meal, a host would take bread, offer a blessing, break it, and distribute it to all who were feasting together. Here Jesus went from being the guest to becoming the host because he “took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.” Doubtless, these two men had traveled with Jesus in the past and were used to him seeing him begin the meal by breaking bread and giving a blessing. This, too, of course brings to mind the Last Supper where Jesus broke the bread and gave it to his disciples saying “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 

This act of breaking bread opens their eyes and they recognize him, and he then disappears from their sight.

Now the joy sets in! They are no longer downcast. They know their Savior lives! They begin to excitedly talk about all that has happened, and ask one another “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked to us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Their hearts were on fire for Jesus once again! Hallelujah!

How often are we walking along our road of life a little downcast or confused? Do we recognize Jesus when he walks along with us, or are we too deep into our own despair or too distracted to even know he is there? Are we in so much pain and confusion or so set on solving our own problems, that we cannot discern when Jesus is with us?  What will it take for us to recognize him? How often are our hearts on fire for Jesus? 

Here is my challenge for us this week: as we walk along our road of life, let’s take the time to seek out and to find Jesus. Let’s ask him to walk beside us, to teach us, and to restore our faith and hope in him. Let’s find a way to set OUR hearts on fire for Jesus this week!

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