Easter 3 A, 2014
Luke 24:13-35 Earthly Hopes Shattered at Christ’s Rising
Listen here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/cj4vvu77nzfdk25/sermon%20Easter%203%20Hoping%20for%20better%20things.mp3
“But we had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel.” Luke 24:21
There they were, the two unnamed disciples, walking the road to Emmaus, consumed by their grief and obsessed with their sorrows. They couldn’t think or speak of anything else. Their hearts were still so broken, they were yet in such shock at what had happened. Some people speak aloud to help them process events. When bad things happen to them, they have to get it out and talk about it so they can deal with it – and these disciples were certainly talkers that day. Their seven mile trip would have taken them a couple of hours and there was nothing else on the agenda than this one topic of conversation: their Lord had been betrayed, the leaders of Israel had sentenced Him to death, He had been crucified, and now all their hopes were dashed. What’s more, some women of their group were spreading the idea that they had seen a vision of angels and that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Those disciples were so consumed by their grief, so disturbed by the course of events, that they didn’t notice that the mysterious stranger who came up to them to join them in the conversation was none other than the risen Lord Himself. Rather than recognizing Him, shouting for joy, and laughing in happy relief to see Him again, they ask the curious stranger how it is that He doesn’t know what has happened and they give Him the run-down of His own trial and execution – as if Jesus Himself needed to be filled in about all those details.
The experience of those disciples that day is a good warning for us. There are times when we are so wrapped up in our own hopes and expectations, so distraught by our own disappointment when they don’t come true, that we fail to see what amazingly good thing God really is doing. Maybe He’s doing something better than we had imagined, something far more than we had thought to hope for, but we are so focused on the little thing that we wanted, so consumed by our own grief over that, that we fail to see anything else, we fail to perceive our Lord walking with us, leading us down a path to greater glory, and bestowing His even greater blessing.
Mary Ann Evens knew something about disappointment. She was a writer and she wanted to have her books published in Victorian England, an age in which women weren’t published so much and if they did, people only expected lighthearted romances from them. So, rather than let her disappointment be her only reality, she looked for another possibility. Mary Ann Evens took up the pen name of George Elliot. She published several novels, including Middlemarch, one that some critics have acclaimed the greatest novel in the English language. George Elliot once stated, “It’s not the fact of disappointment that matters; it’s the force it stirs.” In this example before us today, we see that the negative force of disappointment can include a kind of spiritual blindness.
The disciples had “hoped that Jesus was the one to redeem Israel.” They felt deeply disappointed. What did they have in mind? Maybe that Jesus would take the throne of David in Jerusalem and set up an earthly kingdom. Maybe that He would also gather the lost tribes of Israel and restore the descendants of Abraham to the land they had once possessed in Palestine. Most likely, too, that Jesus would remove the Romans and grant Israel independence under the gracious rule of God. You would have thought that the disciples would have been weaned by now from such earthly hopes about Jesus work. All of His kingdom parables were pointing in another direction: that God was doing a spiritual work to bring about the forgiveness of sins and to gather a people to Himself by faith, a people who would inherit the Kingdom of God in the world to come. But these earthly ideas were deeply ingrained in the expectations of practically all the Jewish people at the time. Even in Acts chapter 1, just before the Risen Lord ascends to heaven, after the Apostles had received instruction from the Lord about the meaning of his ministry, they ask him: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). You can almost hear the exasperation in the Lord’s voice when He responds: “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8). It’s almost like He’s talking with children, “Now, now, it’s not time for that now” and He’s redirecting them to their true purpose, “Let’s just stop the silly questions and wait for the Holy Spirit and then you can be about witnessing to the world about Me – that’s what you really need to be focusing on.”
Of course, these two disciples on the road to Emmaus weren’t thinking about that yet. They say to the mysterious stranger walking alongside them: “We had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel.” What they got instead, what they could not see, is that they had gotten a Savior who not only redeemed Israel, but He had redeemed the world. Jesus didn’t settle for a little political kingdom in the corner of the Middle East which might last a century or two. His vision was much bigger than that – it was God’s vision. He was after the redemption of all of creation, that through the resurrection there should be a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. It wasn’t just the restoration of Israel that God wanted, but the restoration of humanity, that all lost and fallen sinners could be welcomed back into His grace and embraced as members of His family.
But without this vision for what God was really doing, the disciples didn’t see any of it. They were then just overwhelmed by the grief of their own disappointed little hopes, though, in their view, they were the biggest thing they could dare hope for.
Ask yourself this: what griefs do you bear? Where does sorrow burden your heart and sadness preoccupy your mind? Maybe the situation is not so bad as you expect. Maybe the problem isn’t so much what is happening or what has happened as your own failure to see what far bigger thing God is actually doing. You will have to let go of your little hopes and dreams which so pre-occupy you – those are part of the blinders which keep you from seeing the greater good that’s going on. You will have to consider a God-sized plan for a God-sized purpose which is going on on a much bigger scale.
So very often, God’s plans are indeed such much bigger than our own. We might settle for some years of enjoying good health, but God aims to give us eternal life in perfect bliss – never mind the fact that this lies on the other side of death for us. We might desire earthly peace and harmony in the church, but God aims to make His church to be bright and bold witnesses of His truth – never mind the fact that a church which stands for the truth will often have to fight battles within and without in order to preserve that truth. We might hope for earthly comfort and the provision of all our basic needs and maybe even a good deal extra so we don’t have to worry about who will take care of us in the years to come, but God calls us to lives of holiness, generosity and faith so that we should trust in Him for our daily bread and gladly share our resources for His purposes – never mind that the future appears uncertain. We should simply walk trusting in His ability to care for us.
And so as a Christian, the little hopes that so easily become the focus of our lives may be dashed again and again while God all the while is working greater good which can and should bring our hearts to greater rejoicing. Rather than health, you may be visited by illness that you might walk with deeper faith in Him. Rather than wealth, you may learn to live with far less. Rather than easy-going relationships, you may learn what it means when the Bible says that as iron sharpens iron so one brother sharpens another (Prov. 27:17). Rather than being left alone is quiet isolation, you may be led by the Spirit to be involved in the lives other, to help them bear their burdens, and to be an instrument of drawing others closer to Christ. All the little dreams might we wish for ourselves could lie like shards, broken and shattered, while God’s better plan finds its fulfillment in your life and you are led down the way of true discipleship.
And along that way, if you can dare to find your focus beyond your tears and sorrows, you may see and discover that it is Jesus who is walking with you. He asked His disciples that day: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” (Lk 24:25-26) What might He say to us? “O foolish ones, slow of heart to believe…Is it not necessary that through much affliction you will enter the Kingdom of God? Is it not necessary for you to bear your cross and follow Me? Do you not see that the pattern of your life has, to this day, been directed so that you would walk with Me and so come with Me into My glory?”
Do not be blinded any longer by your tears over your broken dreams and your failures, your disappointments and your sorrows. The risen Lord walks with you. He has plans for all the broken pieces; He has purposes far greater than your own hopes. Trust Him to realize them. For now, even if you do not yet understand how the pains and disappointments of your life can lead to greater glory, take heart in this: the Lord is indeed risen. He took His own death and transformed it into the well-spring of God’s love for the life of the world. He is the master of bringing unimaginable good out of devastating evil. Wait on Him. Walk with Him. Trust in Him. You shall see: it shall be so for you as well.
Easter 3 A, 2014