When you feel let down - Luke 24:13-35
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
One of the films that is making huge amounts of money in our cinemas at the moment is the second instalment of Bridget Jones' Diary. In case you've not come across Bridget Jones before, Bridget is a thirtysomething woman looking for the ideal man, the ideal job and the ideal body but sadly finding none. And when she does find one of those things, then usually it is fairly short lived. The most recent instalment finds Bridget still searching for that elusive happiness she craves, and, it seems, constantly being let down. And the real theme of the film is seen in something that Bridget says in her diary: "The question, she asks, is what happens after you walk off into the sunset?" And often the answer is that you get let down.
Now perhaps one of the reasons why the films and the books they are based on have been so successful is because they are scratching where many younger people are itching. Just a month or two ago, one major newspaper did a week long investigation into the opinions and feelings of young people in their twenties and thirties, what the newspaper called the "i-generation". And the results were fascinating. Because one of the themes that came through the report was that this is a generation who feel badly let down by the world around them. They feel let down by their politicians. A majority of young people feel let down by Tony Blair and wanted him out, but weren't sure who to replace him with. 28% said they were unsure who to vote for or even whether they would vote in the next election. They feel let down by their families and the traditional institution of marriage. With a third of young people coming from broken homes, 40 % of those questioned believed marriage to be irrelevant. And 43% of those who were parents said they could not foresee living together forever with their spouse. But perhaps most serious of all, they feel let down by the church. One 24 year old said this: "I don't like church. I find it boring. If I feel the need to go to church, I will go in my own time and sit there quietly. I don't think God would want to put people through the pain of services." Over 50% of young people polled said they'd never go into to a church. And yet 63% still say they believe in the possibility of an afterlife, with twice as many believing in the value of horoscopes than the Bible. Why? Because they feel let down.
And it's that feeling of being let down that we meet in our passage for this morning in Luke 24. It's a story about two people who feel desperately let down. Now these two were followers of Jesus, and we meet them as they trudge along the road to Emmaus after a shocking weekend. On the Friday, their friend and master, Jesus, the one on whom they had pinned all their hopes, had been murdered. And now they and their friends were wanted criminals, because they were associates of this crucified criminal Jesus. And all their hopes had been dashed. Not by the government, not by their families, but by Jesus himself. Or at least that was how it seemed.
And so often that's how it feels isn't it? Life often feels like a long saga of simply being let down. So who can we trust? Where can we find an anchor that will truly not fail us? Where can we pin our hopes so that they will not be dashed? Well in this passage, Luke makes it very clear. There is only one who is totally trustworthy and that is God himself. And time and again we need to return to these wonderful truths to refresh our weary souls. If you're a visitor here this morning, then you join us near the end of a sermon series called "timeless truths for changing times". In our world that is often baffling and painful, we need to be reminded of these truths in the Bible which give us hope and strength. And this morning the truth we see is that there is One who will never let us down or never fail us, even though his ways are often difficult to fathom. Because what these two travellers discovered on that Sunday afternoon, was that they had been totally wrong in their estimations of Jesus. For he was someone far greater than they could possibly imagine, and he is able to do for us something far better than we could have ever dreamed. So let's turn to this passage, and find two things to take great comfort and delight in, in a world that often let's us down:
1) God's Promises are Trustworthy (Vv 13-27)
2) God's Power is Life Changing (Vv 28-35)
1) God's Promises are Trustworthy (Vv 13-27)
And the first thing we see is that God's promises are trustworthy. But sadly for these two travellers, it seemed that God's promises were anything but. We meet them in verse 14 on their way to Emmaus deep in conversation, talking about the events of that weekend. It had been a very traumatic time for the disciples, and no doubt there was much to talk about. But at that moment, Jesus appears and walks with them. Now for reasons that will become clear later, the two travellers don't immediately recognise Jesus. In fact Luke says it is a spiritual issue. He says that "they were kept from recognizing him." But all the same Jesus engages them on conversation. Now just as an aside, it's a lovely moment in the gospels to see the Lord Jesus Christ walking with these two travellers at their lowest time. It's also a very authentic touch. If I were making it up, I'd have the two disciples instantly recognising Jesus and immediately understanding everything. But that's not what happens. No, Jesus walks with them in their grief and trouble and will gradually reveal the truth to them. As we have often seen in these sermons in the mornings, Jesus does not crush a bruised reed or snuff out a smouldering wick. But he will correct their misunderstanding. And that was precisely their problem.
a) Misunderstanding the promises- They were, first, misunderstanding the promises. Because the fact is they had totally failed to see the significance of the weekend's events. Jesus had died on a cross, but to them it was a total and utter disaster. So in verse 17 Jesus asks them what is wrong. And if their faces don't give the game away, then their actions do. They are downcast, and stand still, saying to Jesus: "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?" "Where have you been man, Cleopas was saying. Are you the only person in Jerusalem who hasn't heard what's happened?" Clearly the death of Jesus was headline news! But what is so sad, is that these disciples had totally failed to see the significance of their Lord's death.
Listen to how Cleopas explains the events to Jesus and see if you can hear some of his frustration and deep disappointment about being let down by Jesus. Verse 20: "About Jesus of Nazareth! He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel." We had all our hopes pinned on him, they say. He was everything to us. A great prophet and very powerful! And then he goes and gets himself killed! He goes on: "And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive." You see, stranger, says Cleopas, it gets worse. Some of our more excitable women say that they've seen a load of angels saying Jesus is alive. They really got our hopes up, you know. Verse 24: "Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see." "But when we checked out the evidence, it was all rubbish. Him, Jesus, they did not see. That's the final insult. You get all excited, but then nothing." You can feel the bitter disappointment in Cleopas' words, can't you?
And I wonder if that isn't often how some of us feel towards God some of the time. We feel he has let us down! We thought he'd do something for us and in fact it didn't happen. Why have you brought me into this situation, God? Why did you let that happen to me, God? Why did you allow my friend to suffer like that, God? We think that God has promised certain things to us, and when it doesn't happen, we get very disappointed and frustrated with God. But in fact we have misunderstood his promises. Instead what we really need is for our thinking to be changed. Which is what Jesus does for these travellers.
b) Remembering the Promises- He helps them, secondly, to remember the promises. See what he does in verse 25. He actually rebukes them! "He said to them, 'How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?' And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." You see, the disciples' problem was that they had not understood the promises of God about Jesus in the Old Testament. For them "Jesus crucified" was a total non starter. It would be like saying "Nathan the England football captain" or "Humber bridge out of debt". They were words which were unthinkable. They thought Jesus the Christ meant Jesus the war hero, Jesus the conqueror, Jesus the great victor over the Romans! The last thing they thought of was a humiliating death on a cross. But their problem was they had totally misunderstood the promises of God. Because in fact God was promising through Jesus something far far better than political freedom. And Jesus says "you need to change your thinking". You need to remember the promises of God properly. Because the whole OT was pointing to Jesus. Right from the start, from Genesis to Malachi, it's all about me, says Jesus. It's looking forward to my coming. I'm the fulfilment. And even more staggering, he says, the OT says I must die on the cross. "Did not the Christ, Jesus, have to suffer these things." It's written in black and white, he says. I guess he was thinking of verses like those from Isaiah 53: "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." It's a wonderful summary of what Jesus came to do for you and me on the cross. He came to die in our place, bearing our sin, our iniquity as Isaiah puts it, so that we might be friends with God again, so that we might be forgiven. That, says Jesus to these disciples, is what happened last Friday. I died for you. Everything that God promised to do through Jesus the Christ, he has done. He is totally trustworthy!
You see the point is God is totally trustworthy. What he said he would do he has done through Jesus. All those hundreds of OT promises about the rescuer to come, all those years of uncertainty and searching. They have been fulfilled in Jesus. God's plan has been proved true. And if God has kept his promises to us to rescue us, then how much more will he keep his promises to us now if we have trusted him. So what does God promise? Well he doesn't promise an easy life, a life without difficulty, or suffering. He doesn't promise total healing, total victory over sin, a life of total ease, at least not in this life. But he does promise he will never leave us. He does promise he will forgive us. He does promise he will teach us and help us to grow in difficult times. He does promise to bring us safely into his kingdom when he wraps up human history.
By way of illustration, I came across an amazing story this week of a group of divers who were swimming in the waters off the coast of New Zealand. All of a sudden a pod of dolphins encircled them and started swimming vigorously around them. They dived in and out of the water and herded the four divers in a tight circle together. When one of the divers tried to get out of the circle, two of the dolphins pushed him back into the circle. And then it became obvious what the dolphins were trying to do. About 2 metres away, a huge great white shark was cruising towards them. The dolphins were protecting the divers from attack, and they stayed in a tight formation around the divers for 40 minutes until they were sure the shark had gone.
Well if dolphins know how to protect human beings from a shark, then how much more does our loving heavenly Father know how to bring us safely to heaven. He is not someone who will let us down. He will never leave us or forsake us. And it may be for some of us we need to be reminded this morning that God is totally trustworthy. Maybe we have been let down recently, perhaps by someone very close, or perhaps in the past. We need to be reminded that God is totally reliable. He is a God who keeps his promises. So will you trust him? Will you find out what God promises in his Word and cling on to those promises instead of holding God to account for something he has not promised? For then we are misunderstanding the promises like these first disciples. No, what God has promises, he will do. No doubt whatsoever. And if you thinking of trusting God for the very first time, perhaps even this morning, then be assured. If you entrust your life to God, he will not disappoint you. For God's promises are trustworthy. And that is a timeless truth to cling on to in changing times.
2) God's Power is Life Changing (Vv 28-35)
God's promises are trustworthy, but then secondly, God's power is life changing. And that's what we find in verses 28-35. Because we discover that having met Jesus on the road to Emmaus, these two disciples are never the same again. Their lives are transformed.
a) A New Understanding- First they receive a new understanding. Let's read from verse 28: "As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But 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. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, 'Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?'" Now what we are reading about here is a new understanding given to these disciples by God. Their eyes are opened. You see, previously they were blind to the truth. They could not recognise who Jesus was, not just physically, but also, you remember, spiritually. They had misunderstood God's promises about Jesus. But now their eyes are opened and they can see. And Luke includes this story at this point in his gospel for a very important reason.
So often I meet people who say "if only I'd be around when Jesus walked the earth, I'd have believed. If only I had witnessed the calming of the storm or the feeding of the 5000, then I'd have believed." But there were many who were witnesses of these things, even of the resurrection, who still didn't believe. I mean if you're not going to believe with Jesus standing in front of you, when are you going to believe! And the reason is that to understand who Jesus is and to respond to him is a spiritual miracle that God works in our hearts. And that is Luke's point. In all three of these stories in Luke 24, the same point is being made. In each case with the women at the tomb, with the travellers to Emmaus, and the disciples at the end of the chapter, God's word is explained to them and their eyes are opened. It's just that Luke puts it in different ways in each case. In verse 8, the women remember Jesus' words, and then run back and tell the others. On the road to Emmaus, the disciples' hearts are burning within them as they hear God's word explained by Jesus, and their eyes are opened. And in verse 45, Jesus opens the disciples' minds so they can understand his explanation of God's word about himself. In each case, the same process is happening. God's word about Jesus is being explained, and lives are being changed by God's Spirit. Eyes are being opened. Minds are being opened. Hearts are being warmed.
And today that same process is happening. How do we meet Jesus today? Well Luke's point is that we don't need to meet Jesus physically. In fact we can't. And even if we did, it is no guarantee of a changed life. Rather, it's through his word in the Bible, which is exactly how Jesus explained himself to the disciples in Luke 24. And as we read God's word about Jesus, so we meet Jesus himself, and God is able to transform our hearts and minds so we can see. Our eyes are opened. Our minds opened. Our hearts are warmed. We do see that Jesus is the Lord and Saviour. We do see that he is the King before whom one day every knee will bow. We do see that in him there is forgiveness and new life. And that is something that millions since have found for themselves. We have met Jesus Christ personally through his Word as his Spirit changes our lives.
Think of someone like John Wesley. John Wesley, at the age of 25, was in many people's eyes a deeply religious man. Whilst he was at university in Oxford he joined a group of people who called themselves the Holy Club. They would study the Bible together, they would pray, they even read the Bible in NT Greek! Wesley himself set aside an hour a day for studying the Bible, he fasted twice a week and visited the sick, the poor and the prisoners. And to cap it all, Wesley accepted an invitation to go to America to spread the Christian faith among the American Indians in Georgia, a very dangerous task in those days. But there was one fatal flaw. Wesley himself was not a Christian. For all that spiritual fervour and froth, there was no substance. The mission was a disaster- there was failure, illness and rivalries in the team, and Wesley came back bitterly unhappy. And when he returned, he wrote: "I went to America to convert the Indians; but, oh! Who will convert me?" But on the way back Wesley spent some time with some Christians and they made a great impression on his mind. And he was determined to pursue his spiritual search to the end. Then one evening, having arrived back in London, Wesley went to a meeting of Christians where one of Paul's letters was being read. Wesley takes up the story: "About a quarter before nine, while [the preacher] was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved meJohn Wesley had had his eyes opened, his minded opened, his heart warmed, as he met the Lord Jesus Christ through his Word by his Spirit. And his life was transformed.
And still today God is in the business of changing lives. And that again is a timeless truth which wee need to be reminded of in a changing world. God is able to work miracles in people's lives, and there are many here today who can testify to having met the Lord Jesus Christ through his word. We have had our eyes opened. And the gospel is making extraordinary advances around the world as God is changing lives. It's just that here in the West that our nation has turned away from God. But don't let that deceive you. God is in the business of changing lives. Here at St. John's there would be a number who could say that they have met Jesus Christ just this past year. And let's praise God for that! And that is why we need to continue to pray that God would do that same work in people's lives. As Christmas approaches, it's an excellent time to invite friends to carol services and the like. But in the end, whether they believe the gospel or not is a spiritual miracle that only God can bring about. So let us commit ourselves to pray that God would change lives this Christmas. And if you've been praying for years, like many of us, for friends and family to come to Christ, then don't despair. God is able to do it, for his power is life changing. He is able to give a new understanding to people like you and me.
b) A New Family- But notice too as we finish that these two disciples on the road to Emmaus receive not only a new understanding but also a new family. Having had their eyes opened, they immediately go all the way back to Jerusalem to see the other disciples. Verse 33: "They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven [that's the eleven disciple minus Judas who was dead by this stage] and those with them, assembled together and saying, 'It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.' Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread." Now it's not like today where you just jump in the car and head back into town. They had to walk several miles back to Jerusalem, in the dark when there would undoubtedly have been robbers and bandits on the road. But they had met the risen Lord Jesus! They had had their lives transformed. And they wanted to share that experiences with their friends back home. And it's very striking, isn't it, that their first thought is to go straight back to the rest of the disciples.
And whilst it's not one of Luke's main points, yet it's worth us remembering that when we come to know Jesus Christ for ourselves, then we receive a whole new family to get to know and share our experiences with. And it's a family that has been transformed by God to know Jesus personally. And as Luke explains in his second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, it's a family that cares deeply for one another, which witnesses together to Jesus, which suffers together for the sake of the gospel. And that is simply all church is. A family held together by the wonderful miracle of changed lives, and a people committed to telling the world about this Jesus! And if we make that our aim at St. John's then what a testimony it would be to an entire generation in their 20's and 30's that simply feel the church is irrelevant and has let them down. For truly God's power is life changing.
So in a world where so often we are let down, it is vital to hold on to these truths which we have found in Luke 24, timeless truths in changing world. So remember today that God's promises are trustworthy- he will never let us down or break his promises. And remember too that God's power is life changing. He is at work in the work in the world giving us a new understanding and a new family. So let's pray he would continue that life changing work this Christmas time.
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