Sermon for the third Sunday of Easter by Revd Tudor Vaughan Roberts
Acts 2:14a 36-41, Luke 24:13-35. The Road to Emmaus Sunday 26th April 2020
Many people in recent days have walked a road that really, they wished they had not travelled down. Doctors and nurses and Care Home staff coping with rates of death not experienced since Spanish Flu or the Cholera epidemics in the 19th Century. Our preacher last week said, “fear is many people’s constant companion”. On the road to Emmaus our two disciples are travelling on (as we will discover in in Luke 24) then they too seem to have real fear after all they are “running away”, but good news dawns on them as they walk.
The Bible is full of journeys. Abraham walking from Ur to Canaan. Jacob fleeing Esau .Moses and the people of Israel walking across the wilderness through the Red sea and beyond, back to the promised land. David wandering around the desert in a bid to escape the clutches of King Saul. Ruth and Naomi travelling from Moab to Bethlehem .Nehemiah walking around the walls of Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph walking from Nazareth to Bethlehem and subsequently with the infant Jesus escaping to Egypt. Jesus walking the long journey from the Temple precincts and headquarters of the Roman Army toward Golgotha and the Cross and death. And now in Luke 24 Luke alone amongst the four Gospel writers records the journey that two of the disciples made from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Cleopas and a companion.
These two disciples walking to Emmaus had heard the news of the empty tomb from the women but had not believed it. They see no reason to stay in Jerusalem so are heading probably back home to Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.(the exact location of Emmaus is not known today but there is evidence for its existence at the time of Jesus).These two are doing what you and I do, they are chatting and debating, talking things through, about the events that had just happened in Jerusalem. The risen Lord Jesus now joins them, but their eyes are kept from recognising him or recognising his true identity. Literally the Greek says that their eyes were “kept” or “bound” from recognising Jesus as Jesus. The word for kept in NT Greek is “Kratein” meaning to grasp firmly, or forcibly, in a word their eyes were overpowered not by the Sun but by a supernatural force, an act of God for a moment “blinding” them to the true identity of Jesus.
Why was this? Well, they re-enter the debate that they had been having, but this time Jesus is there, and he will join in. So St Luke wonderfully gets the two to recount their version of events and Jesus gives them a reason why this was so with corrections from Scripture Cleopas and friend get the scripture lesson of a lifetime and what we hear is reflected in the various sermons of Acts showing Peter would have spoken to Cleopas and companion about what the Lord taught in this “travelling Bible school”.
The two disciples recognise Jesus was a prophet using the same words that Stephen would use about Moses “a man mighty in word and deeds” (Acts 7.22) but of course this is not Jesus’s full identity at all. They then go on to tell Jesus they knew that Jesus of Nazareth had been crucified, and yet they had hoped he would be the redeemer of all Israel and so in verse 21 of chapter 24 of St Luke they demonstrate that they lack a proper understanding of Jesus’s mission. They fail to recognise that the death of Jesus brought about redemption, a ransoming of captives enslaved to sin by bringing forgiveness, and finally they really did not believe the testimony of the women who had been to the empty tomb, In effect, they failed to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead.
So, Jesus rebukes them, I hate being rebuked, but sometimes it can help:
Proverbs 3:11 says
“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke,”
Regarding faith he upbraids them for being slow of heart to believe scripture.
If they had believed what the prophets had written, they would in truth have believed the women’s testimony.
- Christ has to suffer before entering glory, this was part of his plan.
- And so, from Moses through the Psalms and Prophets Jesus expands and does a most brilliant study of scripture. Wouldn’t you and I want to be a “fly on the wall” hearing what Jesus taught?
We need this lesson too. The Cross is not an easy message to absorb or accept. It was not easy in the First century, it is not easy now. God gave up his beloved Son on the Cross into the hands of sinners but what looked like abandonment, (Psalm 22:1) was in fact part of Gods plan, one to which the Son submitted saying at the end of his time on the Cross “Into your Hands Father I commit my spirit”, and to the repentant thief, “today you will be with me in paradise”. Thomas H McCall, Associate Professor of Biblical and systematic Theology at Trinity Divinity School Deerfield Illinois in his book “Forsaken” “The Trinity and the Cross and why it matters” writes:
“But what about the view so popular in contemporary theology and preaching that “the Father rejected the Son”? Nothing is scripture says this. Did the Father “completely abandon the Son” causing Jesus to lose his trust in his Father”? No, the only text of scripture that we can understand to address this question directly is Psalm 22,vs 24 which says the Father did not hide his face from his Son. To the Contrary “he listened to his cry for help” The Trinity was not broken on that day”
This is really important to understand because the death of Jesus on the Cross was in the eyes of Jews (and not a few Christians at first) a disaster, it was of course a PR disaster for the early Church how could they preach about a Saviour who had died such a shameful death?. Well the only answer is this, go right through scripture from Genesis to Malachi and that is what Jesus does in this “on the road Bible School”. The Cross was not a surprise for the Trinity. Listen to what Peter says in the reading Andrew Bourne reads for us today.
VS 36 of Acts 2 St Luke says quoting St Peters sermon.
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified”. And then it is the crowd says
Vs 37- 41 summarised; Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the Apostles. “Brothers what shall we do”? And Peter said to them “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your Sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…. Save yourselves from this crooked degeneration” so those who received the word were baptised and there were added to that day about three thousand souls.
Now of course that Easter day on the road to Emmaus it was not surprising that those two travellers on the road to Emmaus didn’t get the message of the Cross I don’t know if you and I would have got it either, let’s be honest. But we, reading these words, listening to the service today, we have no excuse, we have the whole Bible, we have the 4 gospels and we have Acts and we have the Epistles. That is why I keep going on about Alpha today this hour, this day is the day of salvation If you know Jesus then tell a neighbour, tell a friend, tell someone in your family. Invite them please and come too yourself (virtually and in safety!) to Alpha online.
Meanwhile back to the road to Emmaus.
After the couple from the Emmaus road have gone back to Jerusalem and told the 11 the good news about the resurrection the Penny (or shekel) had STILL not dropped and so later in Luke 24:44 Jesus will teach his disciples again about all that is said in God’s word which points to Jesus and all that happened at Calvary and why it wasn’t that God had failed, it was a Victory, God didn’t fail, The Son did not fail The Spirit did not fail. We are living in unprecedented times I took a Covid 19 Funeral for a lovely family on Thursday who said the service helped them, praise God. But it struck me too that that we are seeing death come on this Nation as never before in our lifetime. Thank God the response of the Church is compassion through food banks, through networking, through acts of kindness multiplied, praying for the NHS etc, but we must still preach the Gospel and call people gently, caringly, sensitively, and boldly to know and turn to Jesus today, for tommorow may be too late.(as is always the case)
On Tuesday, one of my many tooth fillings fell out (too many flapjacks) The Dentist surgery told me “I was too late all dental operations have stopped “you will have to get a DIY dental repair kit from Boots”. To Boots I went, to two stores in fact, but they had all gone. I was too late, dental DIY repair kits were rarer than a toilet roll at the start of Covid 19!.But then I found a kit at a small Chemist in Old Town. Oh, the Joy, and I returned home to tell my family the Good news I had found a kit .It took three tries but now I have a temporarily repaired tooth, yeah! Brothers and sisters have you read the Bible? have you read the Gospels? do you know what Jesus did on the Cross? did you know he completely and utterly defeated death? and rose again on the Third day. Do you know the good news? (see John 3:16 Colossians 1 and 2, Ephesians 1 and 2,Romans 5 and 6, and 1 Corinthians 15. and the last chapters of each of the four Gospels.)
In Luke 24:45 St Luke tells us that “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scripture” .Now that is post Emmaus, he has to do it again to the eleven.
Back to that dusty road to Emmaus:
So, it is in our narrative that evening comes, and these three people come to a home and sit at table for the evening meal. Jesus takes bread and breaks the bread and gives it to them. Was this a reflection of the Last supper? Maybe, but the wording seems more akin to the feeding of the 5,000 and there the disciples and those gathered saw that Jesus was the bread of life, the one that comes to bring life life in all its fullness. As the two travellers to Emmaus reflect suddenly Jesus disappears from their sight and they said to each other “Were not our hearts burning within us when he opened up and explained the scriptures” the word here for “burning” is not used anywhere else in the New Testament, and burning is a hint of fire, and fire is a hint of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit comes as John Wesley realised our “hearts are strangely warmed” and that is what happened to those privileged two travellers, has it happened to you? if not ask God in his mercy for it to happen to you today.
And it says they recognised Jesus, that their eyes are opened. This exact expression “Their eyes were opened” occurs only in one other place in the Bible and that is in Genesis 3:7 in the account of the Fall of Man when Adam and Eve recognise they have sinned, they are naked, they are bare before a Holy God, and they feel desperate. Now as it were, Sin’s damage in Eden is reversed, as St Leo the Great said “The eyes of these two were opened far more happily when the glorification of their own nature was revealed to them than the eyes of their first parents of our own race on what was the confession of their own transgression was inflicted upon them”
So Jesus is now the new Adam, Free as he always has been of Sin, Now free of death’s hold on him (Revelation 1:17-20), and through Scripture and through the breaking of bread the two travellers have news that they cannot keep to themselves they have seen with their own eyes the crucified and resurrected Lord as people are saying about a Post Covid 19 Britain “Nothing can ever be the same again” but with the Message of the Gospel we have news that is for now and for all eternity “Christ is Risen, he is Risen indeed alleluia!” Tudor V Roberts.
Let us pray: Thank you, God, that on that road to Emmaus you appeared to the two disciples, and having listened to them, explained the way, the truth, and the life. Forgive us when like them we are slow to believe. In this time the world is going through, come to us with your mercy, your life, your correction, and the Good news of the Gospel that brings life, healing, and hope. Thank you that you come to us as the Word is broken open and explained, and as bread and wine are shared. Come to your Church today and encourage us, refresh us, and replenish us with your Holy Spirit in Jesus’s precious name Amen