Tuesday 11 September 2012

Evangelising Jesus (Luke 24:13-35)

Did you hear about the time when two guys tried to tell Jesus the gospel? True story.

Luke Chapter 24 tells us how two travellers were on their way back home from a Christian conference at New Word Alive when they bump into a stranger and start telling him all about the cross. Only thing is, the stranger turns out to be Jesus!

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
Luke 24:13-16

“What are you talking about?” Jesus asks them. They were obviously engrossed in their topic of discussion, but the instant Jesus tried to get in on the conversation, the two travellers immediately stopped. “And they stood still and looked sad.” (verse 17) Jesus' question had struck a nerve.

Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
Luke 24:18

Everyone knew! That’s what Cleopas meant. Everyone ought to have known! He was shocked at this stranger’s ignorance. Or perhaps, more to the point, Cleopas was deeply affected by the events that had just transpired - “the things that have happened... these days”. And yet, Jesus presses them to tell him what it was that he ought to have known. “What things?” he asked.

And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.
Luke 24:19-21

Notice how the travellers didn’t merely convey information, “This happened, then that, followed by that incident...” like a newsreader on the BBC. These travellers were more concerned with explaining the meaning behind each event; how they were personally affected. “Didn’t you hear about this man, Jesus, the country boy from Nazareth? He was a prophet you know. When he spoke it was like God was speaking to us. Ask anyone, they will tell you. Many of us even saw the miracles that he did!” Cleopas and his friend (which to be fair, could either be another guy, of even his wife, the text doesn’t quite tell us) obviously had the highest regard for Jesus. Their’s was not a dispassionate retelling of events. They were giving their personal take on who Jesus was, what they had hoped Jesus would do and even - and this is quite remarkable - even, who was ultimately responsible for Jesus’ death - “Our chief priests and rulers gave him up.” Not those high-ranking officials over there, who are always messing up, “It’s all their fault.” No, they were “our” leaders. “We had hoped he would redeem Israel.”

But that’s just half the story.

Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.
Luke 24:21-24

I wonder if you noticed when this encounter took place? “It is now the third day.” Look back to the beginning of Luke account, “That very day...” This is the real reason for the disappointment of the travellers: No one had seen Jesus. The tomb was empty, the body was gone, some of them even went all the way to check it out for themselves, and yes, it was “just as the women had said.” But what they really wanted to see was Jesus with their own eyes. “But him they did not see.”

What would have done at this point if you were Jesus? Most of us would have gone, “Tadaaa! Here I am! Surprise, surprise... Peekaboo!” But no, what does Jesus say to Cleopas and his friend?

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Luke 24:25-26

Jesus essentially tells them the same thing they said to him, “How could you not know? How could you be so foolish?” Why did he say that? Because according to Jesus, the whole Old Testament bible had been pointing forward to the cross - “all that the prophets have spoken” about this.

And what he does next was have a bible study. “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets,” meaning he did a survey of the whole Old Testament bible, “he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning him.”

Think about this for a moment. What was it again that Cleopas and his buddy really, really wanted? To see Jesus! What could Jesus have done which would have instantly cheered them up? Obviously, Jesus could have revealed himself there and then. Yet, do you remember why it was they couldn’t recognise Jesus in the first place? Verse 16, “Their eyes were kept from recognising him,” meaning Jesus didn’t want them to see him. At least, not yet.

Jesus knew that with Cleopas and his friend - and Jesus knows that with you and I - what we need to see in order to really see; what we need to understand in order to truly understand, is the meaning of the cross. “Was it not necessary,” Jesus says, meaning, this is the most important thing you need to know about me, “that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory.” The travellers were referring to the cross as a bad thing, a tragic thing, a shameful thing. Jesus calls it his glory.

And notice how Jesus helps them along: he opens up the bible. Now this does not mean that Jesus pulled out his hardcover ESV Study Bible, complete with maps and introduction by DA Carson. Cleopas didn’t fire up his iPhone to do a quick search on “Moses and the prophets.” The scriptures they had were in large individual scrolls, kept in the synagogue, kinda like the huge KJV bible you still see in some old churches, chained to the lectern in front of the hall for use only on Sundays.

You see, these guys knew their bibles by heart. All their lives they had been going to Sunday School, memorising bible stories and verses about the Abraham, Joseph, Moses and the Exodus, Daniel and Lion’s Den, Isaiah’s songs of prophecies, Ezekiel’s visions during the exile. What Jesus did was connect all those verses and all those stories to himself as the Christ, as the Messiah, as the crucified King. In other words, Jesus was opening their eyes to see him clearly through the lens of Scripture.

Such that when Cleopas and his friend do finally have their eyes opened, their immediate reaction was, “Didn’t our hearts burn... while he opened to us the Scriptures.” What were they saying? They had seen him in the bible with their hearts before they saw him in person with their eyes.

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
Luke 24:28-32

Why is it that Christians keep coming back to the bible - on Sundays in their church gatherings, in the middle of a busy week for a study group? They even sign up for weird courses like BibleCentral! Why is that? It’s not simply to learn something new or novel.

You see, something happens when we read and reread the bible in the light of the cross; something other than just information flowing into our brains. God is using his word to change our hearts and minds. Just because you’ve read Luke’s gospel ten times over and know it by heart, doesn’t not mean you shouldn’t read it again. Cleopas and his friend knew the Old Testament by heart. They even knew the events of the cross recorded in the gospels, first-hand. But something happened when the bible was opened to them. They said, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us?” God uses our reading of the bible, each time, to mould us, to change us and to renew us into the image of his Son. He uses the preaching of the bible to open eyes that were previously blind to Jesus. 

I constantly remind myself of this whenever I am preparing to preach to others - Have I preached to myself? Have I allowed God's word to sink into my own heart - is it burning inside of me? I do this especially with the all-too-familiar passages - the ones I've read and reread a thousand times - the ones, I'm tempted to say to myself, "I know this already. I don't need to be reminded of this anymore." When that happens I ask God to open his afresh word to me. To help me see Jesus and his glory in his Word.

The scary thing about this passage is that it is teaches us how possible it is to know the gospel, to preach the gospel to others, to speak it clearly, passionately and accurately to strangers - and yet to never really understand the gospel ourselves. Or as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 9:27, "Lest after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified."

Just after this encounter, the two travellers ran back to Jerusalem to tell the apostles about Jesus. Look at how the account ends.

And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Luke 24:33-35

I have been wondering what was it that Jesus did in the “breaking of bread” that caused them to recognise him. Some scholars tells us there is an echo of the feeding of five thousand, in the description of Jesus saying a blessing before breaking the bread and distributing it to his friends (verse 30). Others point to the last supper when Jesus explained the significance of the bread as his body (though here there is no wine). Still others suggest that Cleopas and his buddy noticed the nail marks in his hands when Jesus rolled up his sleeves to break the bread.

I wonder if we are looking for a detail that is too incidental in the account. Too visual. The only reason why Jesus remained with them for the meal at all was at the insistence of Cleopas and his friend. “They urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us’... So he went in to stay with them.” And the reason why they recognised Jesus, and knew he was who he was, was because these two travellers had now become followers. They had become Christians.

In the same way that their eyes were first opened to Scripture to see Jesus, so now Cleopas and his friend were able to know Jesus’ presence spiritually with them, before they could recognise his physical presence that had been with them all this while.

Friends, what Jesus did for the two travellers on the road to Emmaus, God continues to do among us today, through the preaching of God’s Word and the gathering of the church around God’s word - the gospel. God opens our eyes to see the glory of Christ through preaching of the gospel. And Jesus makes his presence powerfully known among us as we faithfully gather to hear his Word spoken to us, as his church and as the body of Christ.

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:3-6

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