The story of the journey and encounter on the road to Emmaus is one of those stories in scripture which you just know must be true because of the way it’s written. If you had wanted to create a story to prove that Jesus had risen from the dead, surely, you wouldn’t come up with this one. I’d have wanted to include a story about Jesus appearing in a blaze of light, with a fanfare from heaven, accompanied by legions of triumphant angels, before a very large crowd of credible witnesses. Yes, Jesus did appear in front of large crowds, but in this account, we get a stranger walking with two disciples at the end of the day explaining scripture and awaiting an invitation to spend time with them. It’s just got to be true.
Yet they didn’t recognise him. Why was that? I’ve often puzzled over that. Why didn’t they know who it was? One thing for sure is, that if they had, they wouldn’t have listened to a word he had to say. They would have been too excited to take any notice!
It got me thinking. What stops us; what stops me, I wonder, from seeing Jesus, hearing Jesus or recognising Jesus today? Why might we struggle with this?
Have you ever had a moment in your life where you have failed to remember a name or a face? It usually happens when we have not spent time with someone for a while. After 33 years of working in classrooms you would think I would have developed a memory for names, but the truth is, if I’m not seeing them or using their name regularly, I can swiftly forget it. If we’re not spending time with people regularly, the memory of their face, voice, character or name can swiftly start to fade.
The same can be true in our relationship with the Lord. We need to be spending time with Him regularly to develop and strengthen our relationship with Him. How do you get to know a person’s voice or character; by spending time with them, listening to them regularly and recognising them when you hear or see them again. If we want to recognise Jesus’ voice we need to spend time with Him and be listening to Him. He just loves it when we want to spend time with Him. Jesus never forces himself on anyone. Look again at this account: Luke tells us that ‘he acted as if he were going further’ … he waits for an invitation and once it is given, he enters their lives in a new and vibrant way.
The events described by Luke from the second chapter of the book of Acts speak of 3000 people hearing the good news of Jesus and trusting in His name that day. Do I believe this can happen again? Certainly. Does this involve me? Yes. Does this involve you? Yes. But to help others we first need a clear understanding for ourselves of who Jesus is, why he came and what he has done for us. This can be achieved by listening to him, spending time with him, reading scripture, spending time in public worship, engaging in discussion and learning, but also in private prayer and devotion. Do I spend enough time doing this? No. Do I want to spend more time doing this? Certainly. It is only by doing so that we will grow and we will help others to discover the joy and the truth of Jesus. It is an utterly compelling message and we need to keep it so. Not camouflage it or hide it – Our spirits are hard wired to respond to God’s word, but first, we need to give ourselves, and others, an opportunity to hear it.
Why not join me in a challenge in the coming weeks? To create some specific time to sit with Jesus. Ask the Holy Spirit to come and speak with you, help you, assist you in that time. It doesn’t have to be hours but God loves it when we put Him first and desire to spend time with Him. ‘Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him’
The Easter holidays have started for many and that will probably mean some travelling to see family and friends or preparing to receive family and friends and enjoying some time together. I wonder … how do you prepare to receive visitors?
My mother would always have the house clean and the brasses shining .. she still tries to do so even now she’s 88. Jerusalem was getting ready to celebrate the Passover and the streets were heaving with people. They came from all over the known world, they still do, to remember and to celebrate and so every available space and room in the city would be taken and those in the outlying villages.
One census taken at the time recorded over 256,000 lambs sacrificed, and as the practice was for a lamb to represent up to 10 people that would put over 2 million people in Jerusalem. Quite a squeeze!
Into these overcrowded streets arrives Jesus. The story of him raising Lazarus from the dead has gone before him and he now has a large crowd walking with him from Bethany and another that comes out to greet him from Jerusalem. Two masses of people converge together like the tributaries of a mighty river. The noise must have been deafening; certainly, too loud to speak over and so Jesus ‘speaks’ through symbolism. The crowd welcome him as a conqueror yet Jesus rides through the city gates on the back of a Donkey. Any self-respecting ‘conqueror’ would ride in mounted on a large horse, but the conquering that Jesus has in mind is very different and is designed to last for eternity, not the short lived military gesture that may change things for a temporary period only, and so he arrives on a Donkey, a symbol of peace but a clear and deliberate claim that he is fulfilling an ancient prophecy that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem in just such a way.
And so, the crowd welcomed Jesus into their city. How might we welcome him into our homes I wonder? How welcome is Jesus beyond the front door? Do we keep him just for Sunday’s or is he spoken of regularly and with affection every day? Do we want to welcome him into our daily routine? Do we welcome Jesus when we gather to eat, when we have a big decision to make, when we’re celebrating good news or facing trouble?
Billions of Christians alive today can testify to the life changing power there is in welcoming Jesus into their lives. He makes a difference. Yet, within the week, the fickleness of human nature will be displayed despite Love’s last appeal to mankind.
We would do well to remember how easily we can sometimes be moved by the pressure of others to reject him, stay silent and keep the ‘door’ of welcome, well and truly closed.
There is a story told of a very eminent University Professor who was called to give evidence as an ‘expert witness’ in a very legally significant case at the High Court. Normally very modest and retiring in regard to his knowledge, he was asked in court why he was qualified to speak on the subject. He replied: ‘I am the world’s single and greatest source of information in this area.’
Outside of the court a friend expressed surprise at his candid and un-characteristic comment, to which he responded: ‘What else could I say? I was under oath!’
The truth has always fascinated mankind; the quest for truth in a dispute or perhaps in a scientific discovery. I’ve always marvelled at the fact that a truth remains a truth whether we understand it, accept it or haven’t even discovered it yet … it still remains the truth. The world is not flat … it’s round, we’re all travelling at approx. 1000 mph right now, 150 people a year are killed by coconuts and a baby’s eyes are the same size now as they will be all their life – the truth remains the same even if we don’t understand it, accept it or know about it yet. So …. What about the ultimate question? Is there a truth to life? Does it exist? If it does, surely, we owe it to ourselves to investigate? Is it there but we just haven’t discovered it yet?
Jesus got into trouble because he said there was a truth, and that he was it!
Billions of people alive on the planet right now can testify to the life changing, life empowering truth of knowing Jesus in their lives. The Bible tells us that God is not hiding and he’s there to be discovered. Paul in our reading, reminds the church in Rome of the truth that God’s Holy Spirit is available to live in every one of us and should we ask him to enter our lives he does and when he does, we become the people we’re truly meant to be. Jesus said that he was life and he had come to bring us life.
I love the line in the Gospel reading where Jesus fills Lazarus with physical life and then tells his friends to ‘let him go’ ; that he should be unfettered to live life with freedom and that we, like him, should not be restricted by the things in life that bind us and limit us like guilt and shame and unforgiveness and separation from God.
In many ways, we are like a hand puppet. On the outside, we can look fine; bright, happy, all the bits there, successful even, but when the reality is investigated, there is nothing substantial on the inside; there is no life.
Jesus said that he had come to fill us with life and when we discover him and ask him into our lives it changes everything. That’s the promise of God on offer; it just requires a decision to be made and when we make it, then just like the puppet and Lazarus we can be filled with new life and be set free to live our lives in the fullness that God intended for us.
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale