Just over 2 weeks ago Helen, James, Alice and I made our long journey down from Ormskirk to Gidea Park. A journey we made with feelings of excitement and anticipation, as we looked forward to joining you all here at St. Michael’s. Our Bible reading this morning also includes a journey – a 7-mile journey on foot from the city of Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus. But it was a journey that began with feelings of disappointment and confusion, rather than excitement and anticipation.
The two travellers on this journey were a man called Cleopas, and another, anonymous individual. They were “downcast” and depressed because their hopes had been dashed. They had followed Jesus of Nazareth during his earthly ministry and seen him perform astonishing miracles and speak with amazing authority. There had been in no doubt in their minds that Jesus was at least a prophet, a powerful man of God.
In fact, verse 21 tells us that Cleopas and his companion had even dared to believe that Jesus might be Israel’s redeemer, or Messiah. They had hoped Jesus was the long-awaited liberator and king who would kick out their Roman occupiers and set his people free. But these hopes had been dashed when Jesus was betrayed to the Jewish authorities and then handed over to the Romans to be crucified. Rather than overcome the Roman authorities, it appeared that Jesus had been overcome by them.
To add to their misery, these two travellers had heard confusing reports about the fate of Jesus’ body. As verse 22 tells us, that very morning women had gone to his tomb only to find it empty. Incredibly, they claimed that they had seen a vision of angels, who had told them that Jesus was alive. But when other disciples had gone to the tomb to check out the women’s story, they had seen no sign of Jesus’s body or any angels. No wonder the two travellers set out on their journey disappointed, disorientated and downcast.
But then Cleopas and his companion encountered the Risen Jesus, and everything changed. Their outlook on life was totally transformed.
In our Bible readings throughout this month, we shall look at four transforming encounters that people had with the Risen Jesus. Encounters that gave their lives new hope, new meaning and new direction. An encounter that we too can experience, if we only know where to look.
Our guide to these encounters will be Luke, the author of the Gospel that bears his name, and also the book of Acts. It’s a shame Luke isn’t around today, because his day job was as a physician, a doctor, and we Westons are looking for a new family GP (all recommendations gratefully recieved!). But as well as being a doctor, Luke was an excellent historian. If we were to turn back a few pages in our Bibles to the beginning of his Gospel, Luke assures us that his writings are carefully researched, well-sourced, eye-witness testimonies to the life of Jesus. We can be sure that the events Luke records really happened.
As we look at what Luke has written for us today, we discover that we can all encounter Christ in the words of Scripture. We are reminded that the Son of God’s voice can be clearly heard through the pages of the Bible. And when we do meet Jesus this way, our lives will never be the same again. If there’s that much at stake, let’s look at Luke’s account more carefully.
- We can encounter Christ in Scripture!
At the outset, Luke tells us that when Cleopas and his companion first met Jesus on the road to Emmaus, they didn’t realise it was him. Isn’t that a bit strange? Wouldn’t you immediately recognise a friend or famous person if they came up and talk to you when you walked home from school, the shops or church? What’s going on?
Thankfully, Luke gives us the answer. In verse 15 he tells us that the travellers were deliberately “kept” from recognising Jesus. In other words, God temporarily removed their ability to recognise Christ. And the reason God did this was to teach them – and us – how Christ is normally to be met in this world. Unlike Cleopas and his companion, we don’t have the opportunity to see Jesus face to face. But one thing we BOTH have, then and now, is the Scriptures. They had the Old Testament, and so do we. God temporarily blinded these two travellers’ minds so that we might all learn that the Bible is sufficient for anyone to truly encounter Christ.
In fact, Jesus even tells these two disciples they had been “foolish” for not knowing their Bibles better. They had been foolish not to realise that Jesus really was their God-given Saviour, destined to die on a cross before rising again in glory. If they had known their Bibles better, Cleopas and his friend need not have been so downcast about the events of recent days, or doubtful about the identity of Jesus. They would have had no doubt that he was the promised Messiah who had to die and rise again for their salvation.
And so Jesus began a ‘mobile Bible study’ with the two travellers. As verse 27 tells us, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” As they walked along the road, Jesus highlighted all those passages in the Old Testament that were written about him.
You see, the Old Testament in particular, and the Bible as a whole, isn’t primarily a law book, a moral code, or a guide to religious ritual. It is more like a biography, a God-given biography that tells us who Jesus is, what he’s like and why we need him.
I’ve recently read Alister McGrath’s biography of CS Lewis, the Oxbridge academic and author who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia – including “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”. Of course Lewis’ biography was only written at the end of his life, after he had died. But the Old Testament portrait of Jesus was written before he was born. As a God-inspired biography, the Old Testament contains dozens of predictions and promises about Jesus’ life and mission, all written hundreds of years before his birth in Bethlehem.
Taken together, these Old Testament promises paint a portrait of a man who would be a prophet even greater than Moses, a king more magnificent than David, a son of man who would also be the Son of God. Crucially, the Old Testament also predicts that Jesus would be a “Suffering Servant”. A servant who would be “pierced for our transgressions” on a Cross and die to take away our guilt before God. Yet this Saviour would not remain in the grave and decay, but rise again to new life.
If they had remembered these Old Testament promises and believed them, Cleopas and his companion would never have been downcast. They would have had confidence in Jesus’ identity and ready to celebrate his resurrection.
Just like those two pedestrians on the Emmaus Road, we too need to know the Bible better. Because the better we know our Bible, the better we will understand who Jesus is, the more clearly we will hear his voice, and the more grateful we will be for his death and resurrection.
Arguably the single most important part of any vicar’s job, including mine here at St. Michael’s, is to help people open the Scriptures and meet with Christ. So whether I’m preaching from the pulpit on Sunday, or helping a midweek Bible Study group, or reading the Bible one-to-one with someone, I want to help us all know and love the Lord Jesus more deeply. Like Cleopas and his companion, I pray our own hearts will burn with love and loyalty to our Lord Jesus as we encounter him in Scripture.
- Encountering Christ leads to emotional transformation and evangelism!
Some of you may know that I am a Crystal Palace football fan. Being a Palace fan is an emotional rollercoaster. Every season it seems we are fighting for survival in a relegation dogfight, or competing for promotion to the Premier League. If you follow football, you will know that this season has been a good one for us, and so I’m feeling pretty good!
But the pleasure of following Palace this season is nothing compared to the effect of meeting the Risen Christ. Because in our passage this morning, the two travellers rejoice when they come to recognise Christ. Their eyes were opened at the end of their journey, at the end of the day, when they sat down for dinner with their new friend. As he broke bread with them the veil was lifted from their eyes and they were allowed to realise Jesus was alive!
Jesus is not a dead Messiah, a failed prophet or a figure of history, but a risen, living Lord. His bones don’t lie in the ground like King Richard III’s did in a Leicester car park, all ready to be discovered and dug up. Jesus tomb was empty and his body has been raised back to life.
The doubt and despair that overshadowed the two travellers at the start of their journey was replaced by confidence, joy and new hope for the future. If you are a Christian here today, I hope you can testify to the same experience. Of course Christian faith doesn’t promise constant happiness or a permanent adrenaline rush. But knowing the Risen Jesus does give us a deep and lasting joy, true contentment, and certain hope for eternity. Nothing else in life can give that, not even shopping, socialising or sport.
As I finish, did you notice one immediate effect that encountering Christ had on the two travellers? Look at verses 33 and 35 if you can. They both “got up at once and returned at once to Jerusalem. They found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together. Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognised by them when he broke the bread”.
Do you see that these two eye-witnesses could not keep their encounter with Christ to themselves? They had to tell others what they had seen and heard. Good news deserves to be shared, even at our own personal risk. These two men risked their safety by travelling back to Jerusalem alone at night, but that didn’t stop them telling their friends.
I hope their example inspires us to be braver about telling our own friends and family about Christ. I hope it challenges us as a church to be more open about our faith, even when it puts our popularity or personal comfort at risk.
Jesus is the Risen Lord of all, just as the Old Testament said he would be. That’s news simply too important to keep to ourselves, so let’s share it!