MESSAGE FOR RESURRECTION SUNDAY, 2009

 

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"Resurrection Joy!"

MESSAGE FOR RESURRECTION SUNDAY, 2009, Luke 24

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          Our text for this morning immediately follows the account of the resurrection we heard earlier from the 24th chapter of Luke’s gospel.  Beginning with verse 13, Luke introduces us to two individuals who had followed Jesus and were devoted to him, but who were not part of the 12 disciples.  Luke records, “13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened.  15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad.  18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”  19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up 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 happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning,  23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even 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 him they did not see.” 
          “25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”  27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.  28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther,  29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them.  30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.  31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.  32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”
          This is such a fascinating story in part because it’s riddled with dramatic tension.  Think about it.  Here are these two people (at least one of them was a man, Cleopas—the other we know nothing about) are walking on the road to Emmaus and according to Luke, they are having a lively discussion about the events of the past few days.  Then, appearing more or less out of nowhere, Jesus makes his first post resurrection appearance in Luke’s gospel. The angels at the tomb had told the women of Jesus’ resurrection, but this is the first we see of the resurrected Christ in Luke.  But the tension of this disclosure remains because he doesn’t immediately make himself known.  We don’t know how long he kept his identity from these two, but it could have been a few of hours depending on how detailed his explanation of the Old Testament was. 
          That tension is heightened because we know that these men are clearly sad about what has happened.  It says in verse 17 they were “looking sad.” Jesus allows these clearly distraught and perplexed people to remain in that condition for awhile.  He listens to them pour out their hearts about the earth-shattering disappointments they and many others had recently experienced.  He hears them relate this strange report of an empty tomb and angelic proclamation, which clearly had not erased their gloom.  And during all this, he’s playing dumb when he is the One at the epicenter of all this.  After he rebukes them for their unbelief and takes them on what must have been an unforgettable walk through the Old Testament, he ratchets up the tension one more notch when he feigns a need to journey farther and separate from them.  He consents to join them only after they strongly urge him to stay with them.  Then, as the story climaxes and he finally reveals himself to them and they recognize him, he immediately vanishes. They had no chance to celebrate with him or worship him--he supernaturally disappears.
         Some might accuse Luke of being unnecessarily dramatic in how he tells this story.  When we come to stories in the Scripture like this with some curiosity about them, we should ask, why?  First, out of all the people Jesus could have chosen to disclose himself to, why does he appear to these two thoroughly nondescript people?  They were alone and out in the middle of nowhere.  They were not in the top tier of disciples—they were not part of the 12. One of them is never even explicitly named in Scripture and this is the one and only appearance Cleopas ever makes on the stage of divine revelation.  Their inclusion in the story would have made much more sense if they had brought this final, definitive resurrection evidence back to the 12 apostles.  That’s not their role.  When they rush back to Jerusalem to tell them they’d seen the risen Christ, they end up being scooped.  Simon had already seen Jesus alive from the grave. 
          Why?  Why this story—why these people?  Why the drama?  I don’t pretend to know all the answers, but this morning, I’d like to give three reasons for this story from the text.  The first reason is because:  It glorifies the risen Christ by placing on display his sovereign authority over these events.  Many of the tensions are resolved when you see it from this perspective.  It’s clear that Luke wants us to see that when the risen Christ makes his first resurrection appearance, he has made a dramatic break from his role as the silent Lamb, seemingly victimized by his circumstances.  This is no victim--this is the risen King who is absolute Master of every circumstance. We see this in his supernatural appearance and disappearance. Jesus is no longer even held by the natural laws that he voluntarily submitted to before and during his passion.  He is not bound by space or walls--he does whatever he pleases without bowing to the physical laws of the universe. 
          The fact that Jesus has authority even over the precise moment when these two recognize him is a powerful display of his authority when you think about it. This is a miracle in and of itself.  Think about it—these two men would have been quite ready to recognize Jesus at this point.  They WANTED to see him.  They had been crushed by the events of the past three days and they had heard this strange but hopeful report from the women about angels and an empty tomb.  They weren’t totally buying it because the one decisive piece of empirical evidence had yet to surface—the risen Christ himself had not appeared.  They had to be looking for him in some sense.  Notice, Luke helps us to see into their sense of growing anticipation by including this tidbit in verse 21 where they say, “Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.”  That observation is not simply the product of counting the days since the crucifixion.  They had remembered at least some sort of prophecy about Jesus rising on the third day. Couple that with this strange empty tomb report and their own deep need to see Jesus and that was enough right there to easily see and recognize Jesus. But there’s another reason why they absolutely would have recognized Jesus had he not in his sovereign authority prevented this.
            Perhaps most remarkably, they hear Jesus give this ground breaking, heart warming exposition of the Old Testament on the necessity of the crucifixion of the Messiah and how all of Scripture pointed to Jesus.  Even with that, Luke makes it clear that these two never connect the dots between the great Teacher, Jesus and this great Teacher.  Who else could teach this?  The apostles?  When they heard the report of the resurrected Christ from the women, their “faith-drenched” response in verse 11 was, “…these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”  Those distraught men were clearly in no position to teach on the necessity of the crucifixion of Jesus.  The point is--Luke clearly reveals two men who were absolutely set up to make an instantaneous, positive identification of Jesus Christ if he showed up.  But Jesus, in his sovereign majesty trumps all of that and they discover his identity at precisely the moment he sovereignly chooses and not one second before.  Finally, when Jesus has done all he needs to do here—without warning or permission, he vanishes without a trace.  The point again is to communicate—this is the risen Christ.  He is finished with his redemptive work in submitting himself to human authority to the point of death on a cross—now, Luke places his brazenly sovereign authority on display.
          A second reason I think this story was included is because:  It powerfully displays the authority of the Scriptures.  If you’re here today and think, as many people do today-- something like, “I deeply admire Jesus, but you can have all this business about the Bible—this ancient book having absolute authority over my life.”  If that’s the way you feel, I hope you will especially attend to this truth Luke presents.  Luke presents Jesus giving what could scarcely be a more powerful testimony to the absolute authority of Scripture over all things, including his own life and mission.  After these two share their hearts about what has happened and why they feel so sad and perplexed, Jesus rebukes them harshly.  O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe the report of these women who told you of the resurrection.  No, that’s not what it says.  O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe a report by sinless angels.”  That’s not why Jesus rebukes these two.  He says, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all the prophets have spoken!”  Then, he explains why the Messiah had to suffer and die, but he doesn’t speak off the cuff.  No, he teaches them from the Bible—the Old Testament.  “He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
          It’s interesting to compare this story with Luke’s account of the angels’ testimony to the women at the empty tomb.  The angels rebuke these women for even being at the tomb.  Earlier in the chapter in verse five, they ask these women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.  Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”  When the angels confront these women, they ground their rebuke in the fact that Jesus had told them of his resurrection on the third day.  But when these two men, who also knew about the third day, are rebuked by Jesus, he cites an authority Luke clearly pictures as being equal to Jesus’ own.  He doesn’t say, “Remember what Jesus told you... about the third day resurrection.  Instead, he cites the authority of the prophets who predicted these events in what we call the Old Testament.  When you compare the two accounts, Luke has a point to make.  That is: you are just as guilty of unbelief if you fail to believe the prophets as you are if you fail to believe Jesus.  Luke places them on the same level of authority.
             We see this same deference to the authority of Scripture when Jesus later appears before the twelve.  Notice where Jesus grounds his authority when he explains to his apostles what has happened.  Verse 44 says, “Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  He says in effect, “I told you that my life and ministry must be circumscribed by the prophecies in the Bible including my death and resurrection.”  Do you hear what he does there?  He bases his authority in himself quoting the Old Testament.  So, if we take Luke’s accounts as a whole, first we see the angels quoting Jesus as the authority on the resurrection.  Then, Jesus cites and teaches the Bible as his authority to the two on the road to Emmaus. Finally, to his apostles--Jesus quotes himself quoting the Bible as authoritative. 
          Do you see the point?  Luke’s burden is to show us that Jesus places the teachings of Scripture on the same level of authority as his own.  The template of his entire life and ministry was the prophecies of Scripture.  Finally, when Jesus teaches his own 12 disciples about his death and resurrection, notice how he does that in verse 45, “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.  He takes away the veil that had kept them from understanding and believing the witness of the Scripture concerning himself.  Do you see now how inconsistent it is to on the one hand say, “I admire Jesus, but the Bible—that’s some ancient, irrelevant book that has no authority over me!”  Anyone who believes that doesn’t know much about the Jesus of the Bible because Jesus quoted the Bible like a fundamentalist preacher and cited it as an eternal authority, not only on his life, but on all things.  A second reason for this text is that it powerfully displays the authority of Scripture.
           A third reason for inclusion of this story in Luke’s gospel is: It glorifies the risen Christ by exhibiting the central place he occupies within God’s redemptive plan.  One of the most important verses in all of Scripture for understanding the big picture message of the Bible is verse 27.  Jesus is proving to these two people on the road to Emmaus that the painful events of the past few days were necessary.  Then Luke explains, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”  Jesus does what must have been a phenomenal survey of the Old Testament and teaches these two that all of it—the contents of the entire Old Testament orbit around him—it all pointed to him.  What’s more, he showed them that the absolute climax—the defining moment of all Biblical history had occurred in the past three days in his own death and resurrection.  To claim to be at the very center of Biblical revelation is some claim to make, but he makes it on more than one occasion.  In John chapter five, Jesus is in dialogue with the crooked religious leaders of his day, the Pharisees and he says to them, “39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,”  He points out the enormous irony of what these teachers are doing as he says in effect—“you are turning your back on me as the source of eternal life in favor of the Scriptures, but the Scriptures are all about me.”
          Many people, even many followers of Christ, fail to understand that the Bible is NOT simply a disconnected collection of religious writings.  It is absolutely unified in its message.  The miraculous thing about the Bible is that it was written by over 40 authors of very diverse socio-economic backgrounds and religious training in three languages over 1500 years.  It is made up of diverse literary forms including history, poetry, biography, drama, sermons, letters, etc.  Yet, this incredibly diverse book written by very different, multiple authors over more than 15 centuries has one, absolutely unified, perfectly consistent message from cover to cover.  And that is--to reveal God’s unified plan of redemption and that plan, to quote the apostle Paul is, “to unite all things in him [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth…to the praise of his glory.”[Eph 1:10, 12]  And the central work necessary to accomplish that was finished by Jesus in his death and resurrection.  Everything in the Bible before that-- points forward to it in some way and everything in the Bible after it, looks back to it in some way.  The death and resurrection of Jesus is the epicenter of divine revelation.
           The Bible is loaded with promises and all the promises in the Bible are fulfilled –they “find their yes” in Christ [2 Cor 1:20].  Jesus is the seed of the woman who, way back in the Garden of Eden, God promised would come and one day crush the head of the serpent, while only bruising his heel.  That head crushing, that mortal wound of the serpent occurred as Jesus bruised his heel on the cross.  Jesus is the promised Seed or Offspring who would come through Abraham and the Jews.  He is the Israel of God—God’s ultimate Son who makes a way for other sons to be adopted.  Jesus Christ is the Great Prophet to whom Moses and all the subsequent prophets pointed--he is the ultimate Word of God.  Jesus is the Great High Priest to whom Aaron and all the subsequent High Priests pointed.  All the Old Testament system of worship drenched with the blood of all those animal sacrifices foreshadows the blood of Jesus on the cross.  He is THE Lamb of God.  Jesus is the Great Warrior King in whom David and all other Old Testament kings find their fulfillment.  Jesus is the temple of God who tabernacled among us.  Jesus is the Mediator of the definitive Covenant relationship between God and Man to which Moses was only a shadow.  Jesus is the ultimate expression of the glory of God.  In his life, death and resurrection he is the consummate expression of God’s holiness, love, grace, mercy and power.  Jesus in his incarnation is the ultimate and highest expression of humanity. Jesus is the inheritance of God--the Treasure of all treasures. 
          We could spend a very long time reviewing the redemptive themes of the Bible that all come together and are united in Jesus Christ. All the redemptive themes in the Bible are brought together in Jesus Christ.  Those who have placed their trust in Christ will spend all eternity discovering his manifold glories.  But if you are here today and you have never placed your trust in Christ—you do not have a personal, intimate, life-transforming relationship with God, then let me just gently remind you of one more role Jesus plays.  That is—he is the Judge of the Universe.  The Father has given all judgment into his hand.  One day, everyone will stand before him and, just as he predicted his resurrection, he also predicted this about many who would stand before him as Judge.  21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?'  23 And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”
           We were created to live for him, not for ourselves.  This is at the root of what sin is—our desire to live for ourselves instead of God and the Bible teaches that we come into this world fallen in our sin.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  The Bible says our sin makes us enemies of God.  Through our apathy and indifference to him, we are rebelling against him and the purpose for which he created us.  The Bible says, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned away.”  Jesus, because he is a good Judge, must punish sin.  He can do nothing else.  Paul writes, “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power. (2 Thess. 1:8-9) 
             Jesus is the Judge of sinners, but he also loves sinners.  He loves people so much that he went to the cross where he died to take the penalty we deserved for our sin.  The Bible says, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”  Christ purchased his people out of sinful humanity with his own blood.  We know God accepted Jesus’ death on the cross as payment for our sins because he raised him from the dead.  That means the work of salvation has been done for us by God and that’s one of the major reasons why the resurrection we celebrate today is so important.  Christ is risen—God accepted his death as payment for our sins.
           We couldn’t ever be good enough for God—good enough to be acceptable to a Judge like Jesus by being a nice person or even mentally believing the right things—his standard is perfection.  The apostle John tells us that apart from faith in Christ, the wrath of God remains on us, so unless we place our trust in him we stand condemned before the Judge.  There is nothing we can do to earn eternal life.  Our part is simply to place our trust in Christ and his saving work for us.  Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on Him.”  As we place our trust in Christ and what he did for us on the cross, we experience his cleansing, his forgiveness and he gives us his own perfect standing before God as a gift.  At the same time Jesus cleanses us, he gives us a new heart—a heart with new passion to live for him and not ourselves.  If you haven’t done so, place your trust in Christ so that you can know for all eternity the joy of being in this relationship with the risen King of Glory—to know and experience his perfect love forever.  By faith today, repent of your sin and accept the loving reign of King Jesus over your life.  May God give all of us the grace to do that.  AMEN

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