Sunday, April 3, 2016

Do you doubt that God is present?

THE LORD IS PRESENT


 They said to each other, “Wasn't it like a fire burning in us when he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?”  Luke 24:32

THE two disciples were ready to go home.  They were walking on a Sunday afternoon in spring across the pleasant hill country of central Judea, one of the scenic routes in the Holy Land.   They had been in Jerusalem for Passover, and now were on their way to a medium-sized town called Emmaus.  Neither of them saw the spring flowers or the scenery.  They were depressed.  They had experienced a dreadful disappointment.  While they were in Jerusalem, they thought they were going to witness the first act of the great apocalyptic struggle, but the turn things took affected them badly.  Jesus had died.  A week before on Palm Sunday, their hopes had never been higher.  This evening they appeared to be altogether vanity.  A Traveler overtook them.  They didn't look at Him; they were irritable because of their depression, but the Traveler wanted to talk about the Bible, so they listened to what He had to say.  He was amazed at their ignorance of Scripture.

These two were not stupid, far from it, but they were ignorant of the central message of Moses and the Prophets, the testimony God gave throughout Israel's history, that mankind would be redeemed by a sacrifice.  All of the animal sacrifices were types of this great Sacrifice.  Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins, and everything depends on that remission.  They had been taught misleading things instead.  Even though they called Jesus their Lord, they had never really understood His role.  Now they were offended because the religious leaders had rejected Jesus and He had been put to death.  We know little of these two.  One was named Cleopas, the other remains unnamed to this day.  Only Luke mentions them.  He says nothing of what they did for a living.

What Scriptures should they have known?  Beginning with the Psalms as we do on Good Friday, Psalm 2, laments that the rulers take counsel together against the Messiah.  In Psalm 22 we have the despairing cry of the Son of God cast away from God, as well as details of the crucifixion - nailing His hands and feet, thirst, even the fact that the soldiers played dice for His clothes.  Consider the prophet Zechariah, who tells us how much the payoff would be for betraying Him, the spear wound, the scattering of the sheep when the Shepherd was struck, and the beautiful description of the Fountain that was opened.  Then there is Isaiah 53.  We call Isaiah The Evangelist of the Old Testament because of this chapter that describes the Suffering Servant who makes many to be counted righteous by His death, by whose stripes we are healed spiritually, who would later be buried in a rich man's tomb.  There was the sign of Jonah of course, for Jesus Himself referred to it.  Hear those prophecies with faith, and see how Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled them all. 

What do you suppose the Traveler has to say to us today?  Let us call Him by His right name, the Lord Jesus.  Would He call us foolish and slow of heart to believe the prophets?  As if neglect of the Bible were not bad enough, He also rebukes slowness of heart, not standing up confidently for what we believe.  Is your faith today what it was the day you were confirmed?  Do you remember what you said then?  You believe in the Trinity?  You believe the Bible is God's inspired Word?  You believe the doctrine of our Church as it is written in Luther's Catechism?  Your faith was strong that day, at least it looked as though it was.  I guess there are always a few people who say those things with crossed fingers, but how is your faith now?  Can it survive a disappointment?  Since you confess that the Holy Spirit is God, do you call on Him for wisdom and counsel to enlighten your heart and mind?  Have you become lukewarm like the the Laodiceans?  Is there any heat to your faith, the heat of zeal for God's house?  Have you availed yourself of Bible Class to give the Spirit an opportunity to lead you to higher ground?

There is an old saying that man's extremity is God's opportunity.  Those two disciples represent extremity.  They knew they had to go on living, but life would be weary and burdensome.  Perhaps they would buy a farm, or invest in a shop. Whatever they did, next time there was talk about a Messiah they would be far more skeptical.  Still, that was also God's opportunity.  Jesus appeared with that same characteristic promptness He showed at Nain when they were carrying out the widow's son, or at Sychar as the Samaritan woman was bringing her bucket to the well, or walking on the sea as the boat was about to sink.  Their boat of faith was about to sink.  Jesus came just in time.  He was risen, alive, and in the flesh, so when we are grieving, or in great peril, that is also God's opportunity.  Call upon me in the day of trouble ...,  that's what He tells us.  Death has not had the last word.  God has.

In the core of every city are people who have next to nothing.  They have built their hopes on quicksand and lived to see them come crashing down.  Some of them are very bitter, but others are happy.  The sun of gladness warms their hearts.  The external problems do not take away their joy.  These are the people that Jesus has sought out and visited, perhaps beginning with an indirect encounter, some Good Samaritan who helped at a critical time, a food basket at Christmas, a greeter who  made them welcome in God's house, or perhaps lyrics such as we sing in our church.  They were all on the road to their respective Emmauses when Jesus met them.  We can see Him, too, meeting us through His Word and Sacraments.  Are we, like Thomas, always the skeptic?  Do we relish nursing our grief like the two in our story?  They watched as Jesus took bread, broke it giving the Hebrew blessing, and gave it to them.  At once the mystery was over.  So this morning the Church invites you to the Supper of Christ, to behold the full revelation of God's forgiving love.  Jesus is risen.  He has accomplished His mission, redeemed us from sin and death.  His Sacraments assure us of forgiveness, of comfort in the day of trouble, and a foretaste of the Messianic Banquet.

One day it will be the evening of our lives as each of us approaches the shadowy vale.  Jesus will abide with us then as He does now, opening to us the Scriptures, letting our hearts burn with blessings, reassuring us that His cross is now our Tree of Life, His tomb is our gate of heaven.  He is ready to escort us through that valley.  At last, as we emerge from it, all disguises are dropped.  We will have the full vision, the full revelation, the ultimate joy in the presence of all God's saints.  Our happiness will be unmixed under the light that shines from the Lamb.   What more could we ask?  He has done all things well.  He abides with us here, that we may abide with Him hereafter.  AMEN.

`  Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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