I Corinthians 15:1-7
Did you hear the story about a little boy who came home from school to find his pet German Shepard, Rex, with the neighbor’s dead pet rabbit in his mouth? Now, this German Shepard already had a bad rep in the neighborhood. So the ingenious young man, not wanting anything bad to happen to his dog, buried the rabbit in a nearby field. Then he went to the local Pet Store and purchased a similar looking rabbit and carefully placed it back in the neighbor’s rabbit cage. Later that evening as his family was eating dinner, there was a knock on the door. Guess what; it was the neighbor holding the alive and well rabbit exclaiming, “It’s a miracle! This rabbit died three days ago and we buried it the backyard!”
I have a better resurrection saga to tell than that: Luke 24:13-35.
First of all, this story reminds us of the hopelessness of life with Christ.
Verse 21 says, “We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.”
Perhaps the saddest words in the Bible, “We had hoped.”
The crucifixion had completely dashed the hopes of these disciples. They had followed Christ because they honestly believed that He was who He claimed to be; the Son of God. Just a few days before, they had heard Him say to two broken-hearted sisters, “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me will not really die,” and to prove it they saw Him raise His friend Lazarus. But when they saw Him die, their hope for a Messiah died with Him.
Someone said, “Perhaps the saddest death of all is the death of hope.”
In a powerful article that appeared last August in Psychology Today, titled Dying of Despair, psychiatrist Aaron Kheriaty observes the startling rise in deaths from suicide and drug overdoses over the last ten years. He points to a number of long-term studies that have analyzed the difference between high-risk patients who survive and those who die by suicide. Here’s his conclusion of this research:
Over a ten-year span, it turns out that the one factor most strongly predictive of suicide is not how sick the person is, nor how many symptoms he exhibits, nor how much physical pain he is suffering, nor whether he is rich or poor. The most dangerous factor is a person’s sense of hopelessness. The man without hope is the likeliest candidate for suicide… We cannot live without hope.” 1
Later in the article, the author attributes the waning of hope in America to the decline in the practice of religion.
Our world is filled with so many who have no hope for a preferred future. They are represented by the average Joes who say something like, “I get up in the morning, stop for a donut on the way to work, and for a couple of beers after, then go home for dinner, play with the kids, watch a little TV, go to bed and start the whole thing over again the next day. Is this all there is?”
Perhaps the saddest death of all is the death of hope.
These two on the road to Emmaus had high hopes, but now the flame of hope was all but extinguished.
But the story is not over.
Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27).
This mysterious stranger begins to rekindle their hope by reminding them of their Old Testament theology.
I’m sure Jesus reminded them of what they and we already know; that the human race has a fundamental flaw that the Bible calls sin. When we open our eyes, sin is evident everywhere we look; for sin is, in a nutshell, human beings doing what they wish to do rather than what God wants us to do. Sin acts as a barrier between human beings and a sinless God. For us to get it right with God, sin must be forgiven.
And so Jesus surely reminded them of the sacrificial system introduced by Moses. If you desired to be forgiven, God provided a way by offering an animal that was sacrificed in your place. The problem was, each time you sinned you had to go through the same process, such that there was never a real sense of peace and complete forgiveness, but rather an ever increasing sense of failure and guilt.
Then with growing excitement, Jesus surely told these two about how the prophets began to tell about a glorious day when God would provide a once for all sacrifice for sin. And He may well have quoted from Isaiah 53:
He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
the sins of us all.
He was oppressed and treated harshly,
yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
he did not open his mouth.
he was led away.
No one cared that he died without descendants,
that his life was cut short in midstream.
But he was struck down
for the rebellion of my people.
He had done no wrong
and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
he was put in a rich man’s grave.
But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him
and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
for he will bear all their sins. (3-11)
His theology lesson reaches a crescendo as reminds them of the Old Testament prophecies that predicted His resurrection! Perhaps He referred to Psalm 16:10, quoted by Peter in his first sermon when he was speaking of the resurrection:
For you will not abandon my soul to the place of the dead, nor let your Holy One see corruption.
As this mysterious stranger preaches the scriptures to them, a glimmer of hope re-ignites.
Later they remark, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as He talked with us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). You better believe their hearts burned within! Think of it; they were the first ones to hear the telling of what we know as the gospel of Christ. As Paul summarized it in Romans 6:23: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”
Then, this story reminds that Jesus doesn’t force Himself on anyone.
By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. (28-29)
According to Luke, it was the intention of Jesus to continue on His journey. Where? We don’t know where; ‘where’ is not the point. The point is Jesus was not going to force Himself upon these two; He would await their invitation.
When it comes to us receiving the free gift of eternal life that God offers, we can choose to either invite Christ to enter our lives or allow Him to pass by.
But we are so busy and we think we’ll always have time for making peace with God later.
After a funeral service was over, a pastor and three of the deceased man’s relatives were standing near the coffin when suddenly they all heard a strange beeping sound, apparently coming from the coffin. Everyone stopped talking and listened closely and it dawned on them that the beeping was the alarm on the dead man’s watch. The relatives laughed nervously and discussed what it might mean. One thing it definitely meant is the man missed his appointment.
When that man had set that alarm, I am sure he had no doubt he would be able to keep his appointment, but he did not.
None of us knows the time or the circumstances that will take place, but we do know that someday we too will be pronounced ‘dead.’ And for most of us, death will find us with full calendars and busy agendas and schedules crowded with coming events. But when it’s time to go, we will go, jam-packed calendars notwithstanding. So my counsel is to plan ahead for the one appointment we will all definitely keep: the appointment with our Maker.
Hearing the theology lesson was not enough, those disciples had to act on it. It was only when they invited Jesus to hang with them that they realized resurrection realities. And when they did, things were never the same. The same is true for us.
For this story reminds us that when we invite the Lord to sojourn with us, life takes on an exciting new dynamic.
And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, 34 who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter. (33-34)
These two disciples had an encounter with the Risen Lord that changed them forever. Plans suddenly changed: “Within the hour, they were on their way back to Jerusalem.” Why? Because they had seen the Risen Lord and couldn’t wait to share their experience with others!
People who accept what Christ offers are never the same again. And so they continue to gather with like-minded folks into gatherings like this to celebrate the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection and to rub shoulders with people whose lives are being impacted by it. And we wait with baited breath to see the next person to be captured by God’s grace!
Malcolm Muggeridge was a follower of Karl Marx before he discovered Christ. During the cold war, he traveled to Russia to write a story about the benefits of communism and the healthy decline of religion in that atheistic regime. After conducting a series of interviews with officials in the Kremlin, he attended a Russian Orthodox Church Service on Easter hoping to find insincerity for him to exploit in his story. The church was packed and at the close of the service when the Priest announced, “Christ is Risen!” the people shouted back, “Christ is Risen indeed!” As Muggeridge looked into the faces of those who had gathered, something stirred in his cold dark heart and he instinctively realized that they were right and Stalin was wrong. He said it was the reality of their enthusiasm that tipped the scales of his soul to Christ.
The Risen Christ can pull off in our lives what He did in the lives of the two on the Road to Emmaus; bringing us hope and renewed enthusiasm for this life as we look forward with certainty to life even after our death! The Risen Lord has the power to dispel the darkness that sometimes lurks in our hearts with the light of His love and grace if we’ll allow Him.
I’m not saying that if you give your life to Christ you will become a religious nut. All I’m saying is that those who come to Christ will begin to experience a new-found sense of peace and joy that results from knowing that Christ has your back from now until eternity!
Professional golfer Paul Azinger was diagnosed with cancer at age 33. He had just won a PGA championship and had ten tournament victories to his credit. He wrote,
A genuine feeling of fear came over me. I could die from cancer. Then another reality hit me even harder. I’m going to die eventually anyway, whether from cancer or something else. It’s just a question of when. Everything I had accomplished in golf became meaningless to me. All I wanted to do was live.
Then he remembered something that Larry Moody, who teaches a Bible study on the tour, had said to him. “Zinger, we’re not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. We’re in the land of the dying trying to get to the land of the living.” Paul Azinger recovered from chemotherapy and returned to the PGA tour. He’s done pretty well. But that bout with cancer deepened his perspective. He wrote,
I’ve made a lot of money since I’ve been on the tour, and I’ve won a lot of tournaments, but that happiness is always temporary. The only way you will ever have true contentment is in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I’m not saying that nothing ever bothers me and I don’t have problems, but I feel like I’ve found the answer to the six-foot hole.
Are you living in the land of the living going to the land of the dying, or are you living in the land of the dying trying to get to the land of the living?
You see, Jesus offers us a fresh start, a new beginning; another chance to pick up the pieces and really start living. He wants to take our boredom and transform it into excitement; our discouragement into hope, our insecurities into confidence and our doubt into faith!
The way I see it, there is no hope beyond the grave without Christ! The Apostle John is pretty clear about this in his first letter to the church:
Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life” (I John 5:12).
But he also writes at the conclusion of his gospel,
The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in Him you will have life by the power of His name. (John 20:30-31)
What happened to two disciples on the road to Emmaus continues to happen today. As hope was resurrected in their lives, so hope is resurrected in any who invite the Christ to accompany them on their journey. I pray that all of us would leave this place with our hearts burning within us, for the truth is, God wants to replace our Is this all there is? mentality with a burning passion for this life as well as an eternal hope for the next!
Two men were dying across town from one another. One worked hard and had done pretty well for himself. His Victorian house was lavishly furnished with many antiques and paintings. A stylish automobile graced the drive and a boat was docked at a nearby lake. The other man never had much, but he loved the Lord with all his heart. The first, as he died, said, “Alas, I’m leaving home . . . I’m leaving home.” As the second man lay dying, he repeated over and over, “I’m going home . . . I’m going home.”
What’s your perspective? Are you leaving or going? Is this all there is for you or is this just a temporary stop on the way to a better place? Do you want to be found leaving; checking out? Or do you wish to be found going home?
Speaking of being found, I can still recall many years back when my kids were all under the age of 10, that when I would come home from work they would want to play hide and seek. When they heard my truck pull in the garage, they would run and hide. Now Jennifer and Brian were old enough that they would actually hide in different places and make it as tough as they could for me to find them. But little Sarah was another story. She always hid in the same place. She was still small enough to crawl under her bed and that’s where she was. And the funny thing about it was she would leave her little legs sticking out. At first, I thought she was kind of dumb. Then I realized that I was the dumb one. She always left her little legs sticking out because she always wanted her daddy to find her.
Do you wish to be found this morning by the One who is the Resurrection and the Life? Then open your heart and receive what He offers.
When Charles Lindbergh, the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic, discovered he had terminal cancer, he and his wife decided to spend his final days on this earth at his home in Hawaii. And he wrote the words to his own committal to be read by his pastor.
We commit the body of Charles A. Lindbergh to its final resting place but His spirit we commit to Almighty God knowing that death is but a new adventure in life.
1 Kheriaty, Aaron. Dying of Despair. First Things (August 2017)