Artwork: Daniel Bonnell, The Road to Emmaus.
This sermon was preached at our service on Sunday 3 May. You can download an audio recording of this service at the bottom of this page.
Friends, I’d like to begin with a question for all of us: How do you come to believe that something is true? How do you get to the point of certainty about it?
You come to believe through a process that always involves two factors: thinking and feeling; the rational and the experiential; the intellectual and the personal; the mind and the heart.
I’ll give you a rather ordinary example of what I mean – and I’m sure you can relate to it:
When I was in the market for a new vehicle, I obviously wanted to choose a good one, a reliable one, so I did my research by looking at Consumer Reports, crash test safety ratings, reviews and so on. That’s the rational or the intellectual part.
But then I went to the dealerships to test drive these various models to see what it actually felt like to drive each car - how did it handle, how comfortable was it, what did the audio system sound like, et cetera. That’s the experiential or the personal part.
Both the mind and the heart need to be convinced.
This rather mundane example is but a faint illustration of something much more important and our subject for the day - and that is this: How do you know that the Christian faith is true?
This question centers on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which we continue to examine and celebrate throughout this 40-day season of Easter.
Our story today from the Gospel of Luke, which we just heard, demonstrates to us that the resurrection of Jesus really is true; and it does so using those two aspects of how we come to know.
The resurrection is an historical fact – it really happened; and it changes everything for us personally. Again these two parts, the mind and the heart, must come together for us if we’re going to believe and come to even greater certainty over time as we live out the Christian life.
So friends, whether you’re a seeker or a skeptic or you’ve been a Christian for many years, this story will be of benefit to you.
So let’s take a look at how Luke convinces our minds and speaks to our hearts.
First, the rational or intellectual aspect - where does Luke demonstrate to our minds that the resurrection of Jesus is an historical fact? He gives us a few pieces of evidence.
In this story, the risen Lord Jesus Christ appears and walks with two people on the road from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus. We’re told that one of them was named Cleopas; he’s not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible except here. This story was recorded within the first generation after these events took place, so the fact that Cleopas is named is Luke’s way of saying, ‘This is what happened, and if you don’t believe me, check with Cleopas himself. He’s still alive. Go talk to him and he’ll tell you, he’ll personally give you his own eyewitness testimony.’
Another piece of evidence we’re given is that Cleopas says (and the other Gospel accounts confirm) that the first eyewitnesses to the resurrection were women. Back in those days the witness of women was not admissible as testimony in a court of law. So if Luke were making up this story, he would never have made women the first eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. It would have undermined the credibility of his account. But the facts forced him to include this detail. Again we see that this is eyewitness testimony, not a legend or a made-up story.
(By the way, the fact that Jesus treated women with the utmost respect and willed to have women as the first eyewitnesses of His resurrection shows how radically He uplifted the status of women).
Another piece of evidence we see indicating that this account is historically reliable has to do with how clueless Cleopas and his companion are. In v.25, Jesus says to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe.’ Cleopas and the other disciples, the leaders of the early church, were alive when Luke’s Gospel was first published and circulated to get people to believe in the Christian faith. Why would Luke portray the disciples in this negative way unless they let him write it and were the source of it? Why in the world would you try to promote an organization, the Church, by showing that its leaders were clueless – and even worse than that, cowardly in how they betrayed and abandoned Jesus on the day of His death?
Why would Luke include this? It’s in there because it’s true. And furthermore, it’s just as true that after the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples were totally transformed. In matter of 50 days, they went from being clueless, cowardly and despondent to insightful, bold and joyous in their proclamation of Christ’s resurrection. What could have created that kind of change in their lives? They saw the risen Lord and were empowered by His Spirit.
So to summarize this point: Cleopas, the women, and the initial clueless nature of the disciples are all pieces of evidence Luke gives us to prove to our minds that the resurrection of Jesus really happened.
But Luke also shows us how this truth changes our hearts and lives. If Jesus is risen from the dead, then He can walk with you in your life. In v.15, Luke tells us that Jesus Himself came up and walked along with Cleopas and his companion.
In the Bible, walking with God is a deeply significant because it sums up the ideal relationship between God and human beings - a continuous, dynamic, and interactive friendship along a common journey.
To walk with God means at least three things:
In our first reading, from the Book of Nehemiah, God’s people have finally completed the long, slow process of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem, its walls and the temple. It took decades of painstaking and determined work. They overcame discouragement, repeated interruption and opposition (obstacles perhaps not unlike the ones we are now facing in this present pandemic). And finally, in the passage we heard, God’s people celebrate their achievement by crediting God’s presence with them throughout their history; and they recommit themselves to walk with the LORD with a renewed determination.
Again, the idea of walking with the Lord means slow, gradual, determined progress, even when you stumble, meet an obstacle, or seem to be going uphill.
You might be saying, ‘Well, all of that certainly sounds nice, but I actually do not sense Jesus walking with me in my life.’ Friends, if that describes you, then you’re in good company because neither did Cleopas and his companion at first! Initially, their eyes were kept from recognizing Jesus, we’re told.
But notice how they progress from not recognizing Jesus at all, to a kind of semi-conscious state when they invite Him to stay with them, to a full recognition of Jesus at the breaking of the bread in their home in Emmaus.
Friends, where are you along the road to Emmaus this morning? Do you sense that Jesus might be speaking to you? Are you intrigued? Do you want to invite Him into your home, into your life? Wherever you are, we’re all on the same continuum of slow, gradual progression.
Friends, if the risen Lord Jesus Christ is in your life, walking with you, remember that He loves to do it through ordinary means. Don’t expect the spectacular when He normally operates in ordinary ways.
Here again our reading from Nehemiah is instructive. Nehemiah was one of the leaders of God’s people after their return from exile to the Promised Land. He oversaw the project of rebuilding the ruined city of Jerusalem. This great endeavor did not involve spectacular miracles of the kind his ancestors experienced in the Exodus: the signs and wonders performed by Moses, the Red Sea crossing, the pillar of cloud and fire. No, it was all very ordinary. God was faithfully present with Nehemiah and the people behind-the-scenes, over the long haul, inspiring determination and endurance.
Friends, in the very same ordinary way, God walks with you – and all of us together as a church. It’s possible because God became an ordinary human being in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. He shared our ordinary, everyday burdens. He suffered, died, rose again, ascended into heaven and sent us His Spirit so that He could walk with you. He did all of that just so He could come along side you, to be your travelling companion along your life’s journey. So let us walk with Him.
Sources consulted and quoted: