Encountering Jesus - Thinking clearly - Realising the truth.
The passage from Luke's Gospel chapter 24 about the two distraught disciples on the road to Emmaus and the happenings in the upper room keeps playing on my mind, and I find myself returning to it on a daily basis.
Jesus is The Comforter when we are grieving.
All of us, when we reach a certain age, will have experienced the loss of a loved one, maybe several. It’s an inevitable part of the lives we live here on earth, which, as I have said many times, is just a transitional place before we move on to the eternal place.
Our problem is that we cannot see the eternal place and we can get very little sense of it here on earth, and so it seems that when a loved one dies they are gone, and we are left behind. We grieve for them and we doubt the promises of God.
Grief weighs us down. It stops us thinking clearly. Death seems so final, and so we doubt.
The truth is much simpler.
They, those who have died, are already there. They are already in the eternal place. They can already see The Glory Of God.
For them, they closed their eyes in this existence and they opened them in the next.
For us, we are still on the journey and we have some way to go.
One thing is certain, and we must keep reminding ourselves of this, and that is that death is not final. How do we know this? Because Jesus proved it.
In our scripture there are at least 13 eyewitnesses to the risen Lord Jesus, and probably many more. Bare in mind that it's only the afternoon and evening of the third day after The Crucifixion.
There would have been other travellers on The Road To Emmaus. They would have seen the stranger walking the road but they would not have known or recognised Him.
Then there were the two disciples including Cleopas.
Later in the locked upper room there would have been the remaining nine disciples, plus the two Mary’s, and Cleopas, and his companion, and maybe more. What about the house owner? What about his family?
Two weeks ago we discovered that it is possible to encounter Jesus in our lives at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected places.
Last week we went a little further and discovered that it is also possible to encounter The Gospel of Jesus Christ at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected places. In fact Cleopas actually preached Christ for the first time on the road to Emmaus, although he had no idea that he was doing it.
This week I want to tease out of this Road To Emmaus Story, two more points of interest.
The first point to note today is that Cleopas, his unnamed companion, and the other disciples, have lost their leader.
The one who had directed their everyday lives for, at least, the previous three years.
The one in whom they had placed their hope for the redemption of Israel, from the Roman oppressors, and the corrupted state in which they lived.
Up to about a week before some of them may have believed that they had probably aligned themselves with the new king of Israel. If not the man to replace King Herod Antipas then The Messiah to replace Chief Priest Chiaphas, and, as His loyal followers who had got in on the ground floor at the very beginning of the campaign, they would have expected to be rewarded for their devotion with high positions in the new regime when He, Jesus, came into His kingdom.
Except, of course, that The Kingdom of Jesus Christ on this earth is not Israel, nor is it in any temple in Israel, nor is it in any physical land. Because The Kingdom Of Jesus Christ exists in the hearts and the minds of believers in all lands.
But Cleopas and his companion don’t see or understand this yet. Just like they didn’t see that the stranger that they encountered on the road to Emmaus was in fact the risen Jesus, who they thought was dead.
Later that same day the disciples are in lockdown for fear of the temple guard and the Roman authorities and whilst they are there Jesus comes to them.
He just appears amongst them. The door is locked and they are in an upper room, and he just appears.
It's a fact that many of us have encounters with The Living Lord Jesus. Some have seen Him in person, others in dreams and visions, and others have heard His voice. But the vast majority of people who encounter Him encounter His Holy Spirit.
Since the first Pentecost The Holy Spirit has been in the world continually without interruption, and He is available to all believers.
The promise is that when we accept Jesus, and are baptised, then we will receive Him in our lives. He will live in us and work through us. John 14:16
For the first disciples though, they only received The Holy Spirit at specific times in Jesus’ Mission to Earth. Luke 10:9
Cleopas, his companion, and all the others in that upper room are all grieving, and grief weighs them down. It prevents them thinking clearly.
Jesus’ death on the cross seemed so final and so they have doubts. And they can only have doubts if their grief allows them to actually remember His teachings and what He told them. And I don’t think it did.
Grief affects the way we think and creates in us an inability to make decisions. We need Jesus to open our eyes and ears spiritually so that we can see what comes next and have hope.
Jesus is the solution to grief.
He is not just some gentle balm that is smeared over a wound and gives temporary relief.
In fact He is the opposite because He not only heals our grief but He also shows us, by His resurrection, that grieving for the dying and the dead is a pointless exercise. Mind you, we still can’t help ourselves. Thats our human nature.
But if we were to lose someone and they were to appear to us in an upper room and tell us that death is not final then we would both see and understand that. Our grief would be wiped away in a second and we would have hope.
And that's exactly why Jesus did what He did.
A whole bunch of grieving weeping disciples and followers are of no use to Jesus.
He has just spent the last three years teaching them His Gospel of love and planting the mustard seed of faith in their hearts.
Now, as His mission to mankind draws to a close, now is the time for their faith to be nurtured and to mature so that one day the mustard seed of faith will become a great tree.
But first, green shoots.
They, and us, must go out and proclaim The Risen Lord Jesus Christ.
Currently we too are locked down behind closed doors. We cannot go out for fear of the virus.
I think that if we use this ‘locked down time’ to focus more of our attention on Him, rather than grieving for what is lost, we too might encounter Him.
Perhaps He will appear in some upper room, maybe we will see a vision or dream about Him, perhaps we will hear His voice when we read our scripture or when we pray. Perhaps we will just get a sense of His presence with us behind the locked door.
And when we do, we must testify to the fact. If Cleopas and the others had not testified to the fact that Christ is Risen we would never know about it, and the mustard seed of faith would have withered and died.
The second point that we should consider today is the fact that all this is a lot to take in, especially when a person is grieving.
I could preach all day to someone who is grieving and they might hear what I say but they won’t be able to process what I say. I can sit and hold their hand. I can pray with them. I can read them encouraging passages of scripture, but they will not be able to take it in. The grief will overpower them.
Something else is needed. Someone else is needed.
The question is, what changed grief into joy for the disciples and followers locked in the upper room, or for Cleopas and his company on the road to Emmaus?
The answer is that Jesus did.
In our scripture today we see that He opened their minds.
He literally lifted the veil of darkness that had clouded their every thought and their every action for three days, and they saw the light.
The Son literally rose in front of them, and that's son, S O N, not sun, S U N.
He removed all doubts from their minds and in that one second their faith went from being a seed, shrivelled and dying, to becoming a green shoot, vibrant and healthy, and the church, built on The Risen Christ, was born.
In Jesus name, amen.