Worship Sermon Sunday, April 26, 2020
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Luke 24:13-35 ~ Sunday, April 26, 2020
It has been an overwhelming time. So much has happened. Life was humming along. Things were really looking up. But then it all changed. Suddenly. Drastically. Things even turned deadly. And in the aftermath, there has been weariness and confusion.
If this describes how you’ve been feeling recently, you can empathize with Jesus’ followers and how they felt in the first century on the heels of holy week. Luke 24 takes us back to Easter Sunday afternoon. For the disciples, it had been a chaotic and whirlwind week. A triumphal entry…a Passover celebration with Lord’s Supper Institution… an arrest, sham trial, sentencing, execution, burial. Put it all together and it is simply too much, overwhelming for anyone to try and sort out.
But things get even more complicated. By Sunday stories are starting to circulate about Jesus’ tomb. Women go to the tomb and report it’s empty. Angels invite them in to see that his body isn’t there. “He is not dead, but he has risen!” Wonderful news, to be sure. But most everyone was sure it was fake news, news that was simply too good to be true. As Easter Sunday wore on, two of Jesus’ followers are worn out as they’re walking home to the village of Emmaus about 7 miles from Jerusalem. As they walked and talked, a mixture of sadness, grief, and confusion filled their conversation as they tried to make some kind of sense out of the seemingly mismatched pieces of the last several days.
As these two weary disciples lumber down the road to Emmaus, Luke reports: “Jesus himself came up and walked along with them” (Luke 24:15). This is such an amazing statement! It is comforting, compelling assurance that Jesus goes to those he loves, and Jesus goes with those he loves. Jesus makes his love for these disciples clear by taking the time to walk and talk with them. Yet they don’t realize or recognize who it is they are talking to! How come? Well, imagine you are driving home from the cemetery after a burial, who’s the last person you expect to see driving the car next to you? They believed Jesus was dead and gone; so they couldn’t see him right in front of them. Jesus was with them, but they didn’t recognize him (which, incidentally, is a gospel truth we all need to learn over and over).
There is one additional potentially confusing detail that Luke reports: “they were kept from recognizing him” (v. 16). Why would Jesus keep them from recognizing him? Certainly he could see how sad and confused they were. It almost seems a tad cruel, downright cold-hearted to let them languish in their weariness and sadness, doesn’t it? Why didn’t Jesus just reveal himself and remove their sadness and confusion immediately? He had an incredible reason.
But first let me ask … Why do these thoughts, these questions come so quickly to our minds? Take a few moments to reflect on that question!
Why do these thoughts, these questions come so quickly to our minds? Because we know what it feels like to be in the place of those two disciples on the Emmaus road, right? We feel for these disciples because we often feel like them. Their faces are downcast. You know this face, this feeling. Eyes droop—the twinkle and sparkle gone. The mouth bends downward—the forehead deeply wrinkled with the weight of uncertainty. The head hangs down and the shoulders slump. Every word, every action, weighed down by weariness. Their spirits were deflated because they had hoped the Messiah would take back the rule of their country from the occupying Romans, make life easier for them, but that’s not what he did. Maybe you’re wondering why Jesus doesn’t just say the word and eradicate COVID-19, freeing us from the fear of this disease, and let us get back to life as normal? But he’s not doing that either. Yes, we feel bad for those disciples because we often feel bad for ourselves. We understand their weariness because we feel it too.
Reflect for a few moments: What questions do you have about our current situation that you want Jesus to answer? What pain are you feeling right now that you want Jesus to cure?
Yes, we wonder why Jesus didn’t relieve their pain and answer their questions sooner because we wonder why he doesn’t do that for us too!
In this case, Jesus enters the conversation, not with answers but with a question of his own! Jesus quietly walks with them, waiting for a natural opening before asking them who it is they’re talking about. Imagine somebody listening in on a conversation you’re having with others about coronavirus today and interjecting: “What is this COVID-19 thing you’re talking about?” You might wonder if they were born yesterday! Or if they’ve lived in an underground bunker cut off from the rest of the world, right? It would be shocking for someone to ask something like that! In the same way it was shocking for someone at that time and in that place to ask for more info on this Jesus and what had happened to him! Why? Because Jesus is on everyone’s minds, what happened to him has everyone talking!
Of course, Jesus doesn’t need someone to teach him about himself and his own life. So why does he ask? And even more importantly, why does Jesus let Cleopas spend time reviewing and rehashing details of Jesus’ own life back to him? For the same reason Jesus wants us to keep going back and reviewing and refreshing our minds with the milestones and the key moments of Jesus’ life, the details and the descriptions of all that Jesus said and did. Why? How does this help those disciples in their hopelessness? How does this help us in our weariness? Reviewing the certainty of what Jesus has accomplished for them and for us and reminding us of what it means, refreshes and renews our faith to face the uncertainty and the challenges in front of us!
Why do we need to do this on an ongoing basis? We say we trust in God. We say our hope is in Him, but is it really? Or perhaps is our hope placed in other things, things that supplant God, or are treated with similar importance alongside God? For example, when facing a difficultly in our lives, do we have maybe 50% of our trust in God, 10% in having all the information we think we need, 10% in our own ability to manage the situation, 25% in having whatever resources may be needed, and 5% on good fortune? Perhaps the breakdown for everyone is a bit different and differs in each of us from one situation to the next. The bottom line, though, is that when our trust isn’t fully focused on God, to that same degree we are attempting to bear the burdens of life in our own strength. And the worst kind of weariness isn’t what happens after a long day of manual labor. It’s what we feel when we try to carry our worries, our fears, and our anxieties by ourselves!
In this light COVID-19 is a spiritual opportunity. The time of slow down gives the opportunity to dig deep. Reflect deeply right now. Right now, how weary are you of COVID-19? The more you think about it and talk about the problems that COVID-19 is causing and start down the road of how many more it could bring, if you’re like me, I feel worn out and worn down. But instead of throwing in the towel, look beneath that weariness and see spiritual opportunity. Scripture is clear that the one who trusts fully in God has love, peace and grace. So where I’m running low or running on empty in those things within myself there is opportunity to examine the cause of my weariness. There is opportunity to look deeply into myself to detect what or whom I’m actually trusting in that is leaving me weighed down and worn out!
Reflect for a few moments: In what ways are you feeling worn down and worn out by COVID-19? What is this revealing about misplaced trust? Identify where you may be relying on something or someone other than God.
This is why the most important event of this walk on the road to Emmaus for these disciples happens as Jesus leads them back in to the Scriptures. While he may not have immediately given them exactly what they might have wanted, he provided them with all they needed. He gave them opportunity to refresh their minds in the Scripture and then provide a fuller understanding of just what those Scriptures mean for them.
And Jesus is still doing that same sort of thing for us today! Jesus is with each one of us today. He’s walking with us as he talks to us through his Word. We may not understand all that is going on in our lives, but through his Word he leads us, not necessarily to what we want to know, but always to what we need to know. While we may not have everything we want or think we need, as we dig into his Word, he opens our hearts to see more clearly and more fully the promises of God. In doing that, he provides us with what we truly need.
That’s a pretty big claim. What exactly does that look like? If you’re struggling with chronic pain or a sickness that just won’t go away, pray for relief! Pray that healing comes quickly. Jesus may grant it. But remember also what he has specifically promised. It’s the same thing he promised the Apostle Paul when he pleaded with the Lord to take away the thorn in his flesh, God answered: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9) Pray for this too! Pray for God’s grace to help you see especially in your weaknesses God working for you and in you.
If the impact of COVID-19 has affected your livelihood and you are wondering how you’re going to support yourself, or how you’re going to be able to take care of your family, actively ask for help and diligently look for opportunities to work. But do so not out of fear like it’s you against the world, but pursue the possibilities with trust that God is with you and God will provide for you as Jesus himself promises: “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and [God’s]righteousness, and all these things [food, clothing, shelter] will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
If the worry of these times has led you down a rabbit hole of fear and panic or the weight of this situation has led you to drink too much and sleep too little, to overeat or overstress, to vent your frustrations in destructive ways or shut others out who are trying to help but you don’t want to own up and work through what you’ve done, repent! Turn away from your sin and return to God, trusting in his full and free forgiveness in Christ! And if there is fallout from your sins, remember: God’s forgiveness doesn’t necessarily prevent earthly consequences. Instead in those earthly consequences, see the faithfulness of your Heavenly Father who is caring for you as his dear child the way the book of Hebrews promises: “Do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. (Hebrews 12:5-6) Discipline is not a sign that God has abandoned you. It’s evidence of his deep and committed love for you, for your growth, for helping you become all that he has called you to be!
Where COVID-19 poses threat to health, even life itself, pay attention to the recommendations of public health professionals. Wash your hands! Don’t touch your face! Practice social distancing. Pray for a vaccine. But don’t live in a prison of fear. Live with faith in Christ who has overcome death! Glorify God by the way you live through this crisis! Bring glory to God by the way you face problems here by setting your sights and hopes on perfect life with God in glory hereafter, as the book of 2 Corinthians proclaims: “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
The bible is a big book and so these are only a sampling! Even so, reflect for a few moments: How is Jesus helping you through these or other biblical promises to see your struggles in a different light? How will that help you respond to these struggles in a better way?
After their encounter with Jesus, after digging deeper into God’s Word, just listen to the Emmaus disciples reflect on what this did for them: “Were not our hearts burning within us as he … and opened the Scriptures to us?” (v. 32). Jesus desires to do the same for you, in your heart, today and each day!
So here’s what I’m asking you to do: each day, identify where you find yourself feeling down and drained, and then take it to the Lord. Look into his Word, the bible, and listen to what he says to you there. Remember: Jesus goes to those he loves, and Jesus goes with those he loves. And Jesus most certainly loves you. After all he gave his life for you and then he rose again from the dead for you! And he did it all in order to keep this promise that he has made to you: to never leave you nor forsake you. He is with you, especially now. See him and hear him in the place where promises to be found, his Holy Word! Do that and you will continually be refreshed and renewed in the victory over weariness that Christ, through Easter, has won for you! Amen.