Saturday, April 4, 2015

Following Jesus: All Along the Way

(An Easter sermon based on Luke 24:13-36)

It was the Sunday on which Jesus was raised from the dead and two disciples of Jesus—one was named Cleopas and the other remains anonymous—were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a journey of some seven miles. Some of the women who followed Jesus had already encountered the risen Christ outside the empty tomb that morning and had told the eleven remaining disciples and “all the rest” about it. Evidently Cleopas and his friend were among “all the rest” because they knew all about the report. But they didn’t know what to make of it so they went ahead and left town. They were just walking down the road, burdened with sadness and disappointment as they talked about the awful crucifixion of their beloved rabbi.

Suddenly they were joined by a stranger who seemed oddly unaware of what had happened on the previous Friday. When he asked what they were talking about, they told him about the prophet Jesus of Nazareth and how they had hoped he might be the Messiah but that, sadly, he had been executed. They even shared what the women had told them about Jesus being alive and said that some of the disciples had seen the empty tomb but had not seen the risen Jesus.

The risen Jesus fussed at them a bit for their failure to understand what had been going on but he pivoted quickly from fussing at them for not understanding to helping them to understand; “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (v. 27). As they got to Emmaus Jesus kept walking but they insisted that he stay with them. During supper, when “he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them,” they recognized him—and then he was gone. They high-tailed it all the way back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples who, before Cleopas and his friend could file their report, told them that Jesus had appeared to Simon Peter (funny that they didn’t mention the previous report of the women, isn’t it?).

So here we are, 2000 years after that first Easter Sunday. We are on our journey to wherever it is we’re going; hopefully it is a journey on which we are serving God and following Jesus. And the resurrected Jesus is walking with us all along the way.

But are our eyes open to his presence? Are we aware that he is right there—right here—with us? Well, he is and we need to cultivate and nurture our awareness of his presence. Notice that when Cleopas and his friend asked Jesus to come in and stay with them, he did. We need always to be asking Jesus to come in and to stay with us.

How do we do that? We do it primarily through prayer. Prayer is our ongoing communion and communication with God. That communion and communication is to be unceasing so that we are always aware that Jesus is with us and that we are with Jesus. O. Hallesby in his classic book on prayer insists that the primary biblical image of prayer is that of Jesus standing at the door of our heart and knocking; all we have to do, Hallesby says, is let him in. So there he stands; don’t keep him waiting. Let him in! Spend special times in prayer but also be growing into having all of your time be a time of prayer. That way you will always be aware that the risen Christ is with you.

Another way that we experience the presence of the risen Christ is through communion—both communion with a small c and Communion with a capital C. Jesus made himself known to Cleopas and his companion as they were sitting around the table having a meal. Jesus makes himself known to us when we share in Christian fellowship; when we are living in real Christian love—the kind that compels us to think more of others than we do of ourselves and to give ourselves away for the sake of others—then the presence of the risen Christ is obvious to us.

Christ also makes himself known to us when we share in Communion with a capital C, when we share in the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist. That is because the bread and the cup remind us that the risen Christ really is present in and among us. When we share in Communion we “remember the Lord’s death until he comes”—and he will come because he is still alive!

The resurrected Christ also is known to us in and through Scripture. Even more importantly, though, the resurrected Christ is our key to and our guide in our reading and understanding of Scripture. When we read our Bibles in the community of saints with our hearts opened up in prayer to Jesus, the risen Christ through the Holy Spirit teaches us how to read. We should read every word of Scripture in light of the life, the teachings, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If we read the Bible in any way that does not communicate the grace, love, and power of God that are seen in the crucified and resurrected Christ, we are not reading it as well as we could and should.

Jesus is alive! Jesus is with us! God wants us to be fully aware of the presence of Jesus in our lives as we pray, as we fellowship, as we partake of the Lord’s Supper, and as we study our Bibles.

Understand this, too: the presence of the risen Christ in our lives makes us get up and go. Notice that Cleopas and his friend used the lateness of the day to convince Jesus to stay with them. But as soon as they realized that Jesus had been with them, they immediately got up and took off for Jerusalem, lateness be hanged! They had to go! They had to move! They had to tell! When you realize that the resurrected Christ is with you, you get going. His presence changes the way you live. His presence changes everything.

Every Sunday morning at the First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald we repeat a brief three-line confession of faith. It goes like this: “Christ the Lord was crucified! Christ the Lord is risen! Christ the Lord will come again!” Notice the tense of the verbs in the first two lines: “Christ the Lord was crucified!” but “Christ the Lord is risen!” We don’t say “Christ the Lord was risen!”; we say “Christ the Lord is risen!” Christ the Lord is still risen! We don’t sing “He lived!”; we sing “He lives!” We don’t sing “Because he lived”; we sing “Because he lives.”

So as we live our lives, as we travel our road, as we head on down the line, let’s remember and never forget: Christ the Lord is risen! He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with us and talks with us along life’s narrow way. He lives! He lives!”

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