Every person on the planet has, at least, one thing in common:
- We are ALL born with a deep longing to know and to be known. And I would argue that this longing is primarily directed at God – a longing to know and be known by God.
- Catholic theologian Augustine said, “God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.”
This morning I would like for us to consider, from the Emmaus Road passage, what it means – or maybe what it takes — for us to have a personal encounter, personal experience, or personal relationship, with Jesus Christ.
The first thing we can take note of is the word “them” in verse 13. Who are “them”? The first 12 verses tell us they were disciples of Jesus. Keep that in the back of your mind as we move forward…
In v.15 we find the resurrected Jesus approaching two disciples who are conversing as they walk on the road; v.16 tells us, “they were kept from recognizing Him.” And in v.17 Jesus asks them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” And notice the end of v.17: “They stood still, their faces downcast.” Why were they “downcast”?
Because in their minds the dream had died. They were on their way home from a long weekend of utter despair. Their hero and Rabi had been brutally murdered and one of their best friends had committed suicide…
I have been reflecting this last week on some of the Messianic prophesies in Isaiah’s writing…53:3-11:
3He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. 6All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. 7He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth…Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. 10But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief…And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. 11As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear [our] iniquities.”
So, what we have on the road this Sunday morning are two downcast, dismayed, and devastated disciples, who could not recognize Jesus – they were spiritually blind.
I would like to spend the next few minutes asking and considering to two questions:
- What causes spiritual blindness? How are you (and I) prevented from recognizing and encountering Jesus? (Notice that even disciples can suffer from spiritual blindness.)
- How do we encounter, experience, and have a personal relationship with Jesus?
What does the text teach us about the causes of spiritual blindness?
A. We tend to think that our greatest need is a change of circumstances instead of a change of heart.
Notice verses 19b-21a: [Cleopas] “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” [resurrection?]
The Jewish people were looking for a Geopolitical King to physically liberate them, instead they got a Servant King, intent on liberating the soul. The Jewish people viewed their stress as related solely to their circumstances. Our tendency is to do the same thing. When we do this we think that all we really need is a change of circumstances – instead of a change of heart.
No doubt the disciples had moments of insight and revelation (e.g., Peter in Mat 16), but, in the end, to find true liberation, we must come to the end of ourselves and see our need for a Savior. (We’ll come back to this point…)
B. A second posture that can result in spiritual blindness is a failure to recognize Jesus in the ordinary.
Jesus was extraordinarily ordinary. Again, in Isaiah’s Messianic writings we read, “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (53:2).
Jesus became an ordinary person to show ordinary people like us God’s extraordinary love.
Right now, today, God is probably working in your life and using people &/or trouble – circumstances, in an attempt to reveal Himself to you – and to draw you to Himself…
Remember, even disciples of Jesus can suffer from spiritual blindness. Question: Where is your woundedness or self-focus (self pity?) preventing you from seeing the active presence of Jesus in your life?
Certainly God can move in spectacular ways, but unless we are willing to see Him in the routine and ordinary, you may miss Him.
2. This brings us to our second question: How do we encounter, experience, and have a personal relationship with Jesus?
A. We encounter Jesus when we humble ourselves and see our need for full redemption.
In v.26 we find a summary, or summation, of the gospel: “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”
This summary statement is a direct response to Cleopas’ statement in v.21: “but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. In v.26 Jesus is saying that He had to die for full redemption to take place. What is FULL redemption?
The word “redeem” originally meant to liberate from slavery. And again Cleopas’ thought all they needed was a change of circumstances (“If only Jesus could liberate us from Roman oppression!”) Cleopas did not see his need for a change of heart. He thought he needed a General, he didn’t fully realize he needed a Savior.
Many of us begin looking for God – or start going to church, when our circumstances are difficult. (Some of you today are facing some very difficult circumstances even today.) Jesus wants to go deeper than our circumstances and heal the wounds of our heart.
Here’s the bottom-line big idea for today: If your default mode of thinking is that you’re basically a good person then you have not understood the gospel.
This is where the dogma of contemporary culture is in direct opposition to the gospel. Our culture desperately wants to believe that we are all basically good people (with a few exceptions) – because we think God grades on a curve and there’s bound to be someone more wicked than me.)
Jer 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
Here’s the BAD NEWS: The tiniest, most miniscule sin will separate you from God forever. God does not distinguish between venial and mortal sins – and there is no purgatory. We’re either in or out. To miss the mark by even a little bit is still to have missed the mark.
The GOOD NEWS, the great news, is that Jesus the Christ lived a perfect, sinless life, was brutally murdered for your sins, and then was resurrected on the third day. As we surrender our heart and life to Him, His righteousness is imputed (or credited, or assigned) to us. [fix you]
Jesus lived the life we should have lived – and He died the death we should have died. And through the promised power of the Holy Spirit we can be changed and we can grow from the inside out.
B. This brings us to the second point regarding how we can have a personal encounter, or relationship, with Jesus: We encounter Jesus in the Scriptures (24:27-32). Particularly vs. 27 & 32…
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 28As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” [We encounter Jesus as we consider the Scriptures.]
Here’s what we can learn from vs. 27 & 32: The whole Bible is about Jesus.
There are two different ways to read the Bible:
- Moralistically — The same way we might read Aesop’s Fables…looking for the “moral of the story,” or a “principle” for living…Morals and principles are not wrong or bad, but look at v. 27… He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.
- These verses provide us with what’s called a hermeneutic, or “interpretive key” to reading and studying the Bible. We call this a Christ-centered, or gospel-centered approach to reading the Bible…
If you think the Bible is about you, you will tend to view it as a rulebook – what you must do to please Jesus.
If we see that the whole Bible is about Jesus – from Genesis to Revelation, we can look for Jesus and the gospel in every text – and we focus more on what Jesus has done than what we should do.
C. We encounter Jesus when we come together to talk, fellowship (sharing honest and authentic pieces of ourselves), and in remembering what Christ has done through the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist means “thank you”). We see this at the beginning of the Emmaus Road narrative as well as at the end.
24:13-15 – 13And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them.
24:30-31 When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.
- Are you a disciple? (Remember, being a disciple doesn’t always guarantee recognizing Jesus.)
- Are your expectations regarding the Christian life tied up in the “fireworks” of the faith? Or, are you willing to look for Jesus in the ordinary?
- Has your heart been broken over your personal sin and rebellion toward God? The Bible tells us this is not a one-time event, but a lifestyle (Mat 5:4).
- In addition to reading the Bible, do you also let the Bible read you?
- Church services are great. AND, do you also meet regularly with a small group of Jesus followers (and maybe some Jesus seekers) to authentically interact with others and learn how to both grow in your faith as well as live on mission with Jesus?
In the other gospel accounts Mary Magdalene is identified as the first person Jesus appeared to in the defining moment of the Christian faith (Jn 20: 1-10). Luke tells us that Jesus cast seven demons out of Mary (Luke 8:2) – and she is also thought to be the woman who poured the alabaster vial of perfume on the feet of Jesus as she wept over her sin. Luke tells us that this woman loved much because she was forgiven much (Luke 7:47).
I’d like to conclude my portion of today’s service by reading to you a bit of a poem by pastor, theologian, and author John Piper. Piper views Mary Magdalene as a demonized sorcerer and sex slave who advised King Herod. It is thought that when John the Baptist is incarcerated, Mary Magdalene had a vision of God’s light beginning to dawn – and this made Herod so furious that he had her whipped and thrown out onto the street – where she met Jesus, who cast out her demons and set her free …
The seven demons overthrown,
Now Mary crumples on the stone.
And Jesus reaches out his hand
And touches her, “Come, Mary, stand.”
Instead she crawls and clasps his feet,
And weeps with heaving sobs and sweet,
As if a thousand years of chains
Were cut away and deepest stains
Were clean, and all her mind
Were given back to her, inclined
Another way. “Now cease to hold
My feet,” he says, “for it is told
Of old that I must drink my cup.”
Then gently Jesus lifts her up
And says, “For this I must be free —
Like you. Now come and follow me.”