The Road of Unknowing (Witness the Resurrection – Part I)

Sermon Title: The Road of Unknowing

Good News Statement: Jesus recognizes us

Preached: Sunday, April 24, 2022 at Dogwood Prairie UMC & Seed Chapel UMC

Pastor Daniel G. Skelton, M.Div.

 

Scripture (NRSV): Luke 24:13-27 Today’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel of Luke chapter twenty-four verses thirteen thru twenty-seven. Listen to these words of uncertainty by Luke…

The Walk to Emmaus

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there; they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

 

This is the Word of God for the People of God; And all God’s people said, “Thanks be to God.”

 

Introduction:

A man walks into a church.  He’s a visitor; it’s his first time coming through the doors of this particular church. It is a beautiful sunny day, and he’s in a good Sunday-morning mood.  He greets everyone he meets with enthusiasm, even though he doesn’t know them.  He sings the hymns at the top of his lungs, in spite of some funny looks he gets from those who are singing in a more dignified way.  During the “greeting time” he hugs people, ignoring their offer of a polite but somewhat distant handshake. He laughs loudly and even shouts an “amen” or two during the sermon.

After the service, a few people come to him and tell him that this is not how they worship at their church.  They suggest that he might be more comfortable worshipping somewhere else. The man leaves the building and dejectedly sits down on the front steps, sadly wondering what he did wrong.  The next thing he knows, someone sits down beside him. It’s Jesus. Jesus puts his arm around the man and says, “Don’t feel bad.  “I’ve been trying to get into that church for years.”

If you’ve never heard of Holy Humor Sunday, you’re in good company. I just happened to stumble upon it this week. Holy Humor Sunday—also known as “Laughter Sunday” or “God’s Joke” Sunday or “The Easter Laugh”—was cooked up’ in the 1400s by the church in Bavaria. It was a day to remember the cosmic joke that God had played on Satan. Satan thought that in Jesus’ death, he had won the battle against goodness and love. But, God had something else up His divine sleeve. Jesus was raised from the dead, death was defeated, and the joke was on Satan!  How God must have laughed!

On the Sunday after Easter, the Bavarian priests would continue to celebrate the joy of the resurrection by deliberately including funny stories and jokes in their sermons in an attempt to make the faithful laugh. After the service, people would gather together to play practical jokes on one another and tell funny stories (kind of like April Fool’s Day).

I mention “Holy Humor Sunday,” because over the next several weeks until Pentecost Sunday, we are going to explore the events that took place after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and some of these events can be pretty comical at times. Together, we will become witnesses of the Resurrection of Christ as we walk with him, have a meal with him, recount his marvelous deeds and miracles, and follow his instructions when he tells us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Together, we will relive the post-Resurrection of Christ because we are witnesses to his promises. Our journey begins on the road to Emmaus.

Luke begins this journey by drawing us back to the tomb with Mary Magdalene. Luke writes in 24:10-12, “Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.” You can just see Peter running to the tomb, sliding across the dirt to slow himself down—like someone sliding across a wood floor with socks on–looking into the tomb, and then turning around and shouting with excitement as he ran home, arms flailing in the air: “He’s not here, he’s not here. Jesus has risen!” A cloud of dust trails behind him! There is excitement at the tomb. Jesus has risen from the dead, the tomb is empty. Joy is filling the air: let all people “shout from the tops of the mountains” (Isaiah 42:11) that our Lord and Savior has raised. Can you see it?

After Peter leaves the scene, Luke directs us towards the other witnesses. Luke writes again, “Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.  While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (Luke 24:13-16). Out of nowhere, Jesus appears to these two men, possibly disciples, who are walking away from Golgotha, and decides to walk with them. But they do not recognize Jesus. Jesus just appears out of nowhere like Philip is transported to Azotus (Acts 8:39-40).

Knowing that our Savior lives, we are filled with joy and excitement: we are like Peter running to tell everyone about this great news. But at the same time, we are like the two men on the road to Emmaus: we are walking with our heads down, not noticing the power of Jesus, and not really paying attention to who is walking with us. Would you recognize Jesus, if he appeared next to you? Would you believe it, if you saw the crucified man walking beside you? Would you know it, if Jesus came to you right now? The road to Emmaus is our chance to recognize Jesus before it is too late. Jesus walks with us even if we don’t expect him too. Jesus recognizes us before we recognize him.

Opening Prayer:

            Let us pray… Dear Resurrected Lord, we are filled with excitement and joy because we know that you live and have risen from the grave. But Lord, with this excitement help us to recognize you, to not keep our eyes from you. I pray that my words fall to the ground as your words settle in the hearts of all those before me. In your Resurrected name we pray, Amen.

Body:

Two disciples of Jesus had started out for home early. There was no reason any longer to stay in Jerusalem. The Lord they loved was dead and laid in a tomb which was sealed by a very large stone and protected by two Roman Guards (Matthew 27). Cleopas and another follower of Jesus were downcast and gloomy—filled with sorrow and despair. Their hopes in Jesus had been crushed. It was dangerous for Jesus’ disciples to be seen in Jerusalem, and it was a long journey home, so they decided not to stick around. Emmaus was about seven miles west of Jerusalem. As these two disciples trudged home with their heads down, they were met by whom they thought was a stranger. This stranger did not seem to be weighed down with sorrow. This man was making pretty good progress if he caught up with these two men. If Emmaus was their home, they might have wondered why a stranger was making haste to go to this little town in the middle of nowhere: a town only a few called home.

Luke lets us know that this supposed stranger was actually Jesus. Luke writes, “While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them…” (Luke 24:15). Either the disciples were so lost in spirit that they did not recognize Him, or more likely, Jesus prevented them from recognizing Him. He takes notice of the forlorn look of these two disciples and asked them why they were so gloomy. Why the long faces? Cleopas could not believe that this “stranger” on this road to nowhere did not know what had happened after all this strange was travelling from the same time they were travelling from, Jerusalem. With all the commotion that had taken place in Jerusalem, they thought, how could anyone not know what had happened to Jesus.

Jesus continued to play the role of a stranger to draw out what He wanted from them. They responded that they had believed that Jesus of Nazareth was going to be the Prophet who would deliver Israel from Roman bondage. The two men tell Jesus, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Instead, Jesus had been crucified and was now dead and buried. They must have stayed in Jerusalem to hear the report from the hysterical women that Jesus was alive. But unlike Peter and John who went to investigate the matter, these two men went home. Their hope was drowned in unbelief.

Jesus, who knows all things, already knew what was in their heart. He drew it out of them in order that He could deal with their unbelief. He did not chide them for not believing the women’s report. After all, the women had also been overtaken with the same grief. Remember according to Mark, the women “went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). Jesus does not even chide them for not believing what He had Himself told them about His death and resurrection. Instead, he chides them for not believing what Scripture said about the death and resurrection of Christ: “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,  that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again” (Luke 24:6-8).

Luke then tells us that Jesus began to show them from all of Scripture the texts that spoke of both His passion and resurrection. We would certainly like to know ourselves the Scriptures He shared with them. “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). We would think that Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, and Genesis 22 would be at the top of that list. But there are many others as well which Jesus could have shared with them over what may have been as long as a three hour hike. In this Jesus demonstrated to them and to us the absolute authority of Scripture, which at that time is what we call the Old Testament today. Jesus preaching the Old Testament proves to them that he is no stranger. If only they took the time to look up to Jesus, would they have known that it was him.

Did you notice how these two men who are traveling to a small town in the middle of nowhere respond to Jesus? Did they say, “Oh, Jesus, there you are!  It’s about time!  We’ve been wondering when you would get here!”  “Jesus, sit down and talk with us!”  “Jesus, are you hungry?  We still have some baskets filled with fish and bread leftover from the feeding on the shore of Galilee, we have leftovers!” When Jesus appears in their midst, right after talking about how he had been appearing to members of their group, they do not reach the obvious conclusion that it’s Jesus.  No.  They think he’s just a stranger.

I’m pretty sure Jesus knew what kind of reaction he’d get and was pretty tickled at the prospect.  I can imagine him just waiting for it.  After all, how many other times have the disciples gotten this wrong? When he walked out to them on the water?  Thought he was a ghost.  When he calmed the storm?  They wondered what kind of man he was, that the wind and seas obeyed him.  Who’s the guy in the garden?  Mary thought he was the gardener.  Can’t you just see him planning his appearance and smiling in anticipation of yet another clueless response from the disciples? Jesus sees the humor in the problems of life because he knows that if we believe then we have hope to face tomorrow. Life is too short not to smile. “A smile cost nothing, but gives much. It takes a moment, but the memory of it lasts forever.” Jesus approached these men smiling, hoping to bring a smile to their face.

On the same day as his Resurrection, Jesus, who is called a stranger, appears before his very own followers with a smile. And they don’t recognize him. Again, I ask you, could you recognize Jesus if he appeared before you right now? Last week, I asked the question “What if God was one of us?” What if Jesus was one of us? The Scripture tells us over and over again, that Jesus will be with us always. He will be with us as we walk through the garden, as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, as we seek to have our heart filled with love, as we find our way to the altar to pray, as we become baptized by the Holy Spirit, and as we find ourselves strolling along a road that leads to nowhere. Jesus is with us always. But what if Jesus appeared to sit on the bench in the park? Would you recognize him? What if Jesus appeared in the frozen food aisle at Wal-Mart? Would you keep your head down? And what if Jesus appeared in the pew next to you? Would you sit in a different pew next Sunday?

We know that Jesus is in our life. But when he appears, we find ourselves being afraid: our heads our down and we simply keep walking on a path to nowhere. Jesus appeared to these two men as the Resurrected Lord, but they simply saw him as a stranger. On the road to Emmaus, our faith is tested, we see Jesus as a stranger because we have yet to believe in the power of is word. It is important for us to realize from this passage how important the Scripture is as a foundation to our faith. Our faith cannot just be built upon experience alone. One can only go so far with “You ask me how I know He lives: He lives within my heart.” We remember that Jesus challenged these disciples here as well as in His appearances later within the Scriptures. But as he challenges them, he reminds them that he will take care of them.

Matthew 6:34 states, “So do not worry about tomorrow….” On the road to Emmaus we become witnesses to the notion that we must not worry about the future but instead focus on the present. Jesus was present with these two disciples as he is present in our own life. Philippians 4:4-6 reads, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything….” On the road to Emmaus, we are witnesses to the joy of his presence. We must find the courage to rejoice that Jesus has resurrected; and we must lift up our heads from the pit of despair and look up at Jesus has he chooses to walk with us and say to him, “Lord, Jesus, there is something about your name and presence that brings me assurance that I can face tomorrow.” Finally, Jeremiah writes, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). On the road to Emmaus, we are witnesses to his hope. We are witnesses to his plan for our lives. We are witnesses to the mighty works he has done and is doing. We are witnesses to how powerful his word can be in our life. Whether we recognize him or not, Jesus is in our life. Jesus is in your life. He is walking with you down your own road to Emmaus.

Conclusion:

Do you remember how the joke I told earlier ends? It ends with these words: “The man leaves the building and dejectedly sits down on the front steps, sadly wondering what he did wrong.  The next thing he knows, someone sits down beside him. It’s Jesus.” The road to Emmaus is our reminder that Jesus has still work to do before he ascends; that we have Scripture yet to learn. But most important, the road to Emmaus is our reminder that Jesus will not only sit with us but he walk with us even when our faith is low. Even though we may not recognize him, he recognizes us. He recognizes you.

He recognizes us in our defeat. He recognizes us when our heads are down. He recognizes us when we don’t recognize him. He recognizes us when we shout for joy. He recognizes us when raise an alleluia and an amen. He recognizes us when we don’t recognize him. He recognizes us when we approach the altar. He recognizes us when we feel alone. He recognizes us in our moments of greatness. He recognizes us when we don’t recognize him. What if Jesus was one of us? What if Jesus appeared right next to you, right here, right now? Would you recognize him?

The road to Emmaus is our opportunity to witness the presence of Jesus Christ in our life. And as witnesses to his word, it is our job to let others know that Jesus is no stranger but a friend who will bring hope to all, who will sit next them, and who will talk to them. We begin our journey to the ascension of Christ by realizing that Jesus recognizes us even when we might not recognize him. Where will you recognize Jesus this week?

Closing Prayer:

            Let us Pray…Risen Savior, we know that you are in our life, that you are walking with us on our own road to Emmaus, but we need your help to build our faith so that we recognize you when you recognize us. All Honor and Glory is yours now and forever, Resurrected Savior, Amen.

 

Benediction:

Where will you recognize Jesus this week? Will you recognize him before he recognizes you? Remember, you are witnesses to his word: share it, proclaim it, and live it. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, go, transforming lives as you live well and wisely in God’s world. Amen. Amen. Amen.


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