A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., on June 5, 2011.
Today, we are going to examine the last resurrection appearance recorded in the gospel of Luke. It concludes with the ascension of Jesus, which ended his earthly ministry and ushered in the beginning of the church’s mission to be the presence of Christ in a hurting and broken world.
There is a movement in this wonderful story I do not want you to miss. The way Luke tells it, Easter is a journey from fear to faith to joy.
Where are you along this journey? Where would you like to be? Ponder these questions as we explore the riches of Luke’s final resurrection appearance by our Lord.
It appears the disciples were in the Upper Room listening to two followers of Jesus describe their encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. You recall they were on their way home from celebrating Passover in Jerusalem and, in all likelihood, witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus. They heard the news about the empty tomb from the women who visited the burial site, but they had not seen Jesus and were struggling to believe he was alive.
They were joined on their journey by a stranger who asked them questions about the weekend’s events. It wasn’t until they invited this stranger into their home for the evening that they recognized the risen Lord, which compelled them to run back to Jerusalem to share their story with the other disciples.
You will notice there are many similarities between today’s text and the disciples’ experience with Jesus on the road to Emmaus: the failure to recognize or believe in the resurrected Jesus, the interpretation of scripture by Jesus and his ability to “open” the eyes and minds of his hosts before his departure from them. Let’s look at the details of this resurrection appearance, which culminates, as I said earlier, with the ascension of Jesus and his return to the Father.
By the way, Luke is the only writer to chronicle the departure of Jesus and he does so in two places. The first comes at the end of his gospel, which is a more condensed version. The other occurs in the first chapter of Acts, where he gives more details. Piecing the two together, we discover that the ascension took place on the Mount of Olives, close to Bethany. It took place forty days after Easter and ten days before Pentecost. This morning, our attention is drawn to the first account, the one in the gospel bearing Luke’s name. Let’s begin by examining what happened in the Upper Room where the disciples are gathered listening to the two from Emmaus.
Jesus enters their presence with the customary Semitic greeting, “Peace be with you.” They responded with fear and confusion, a reaction common to all the resurrection appearances. Understanding their apprehension, Jesus offered two proofs of his resurrection: he invited them to touch him and he asked for something to eat. You must remember that Luke was a doctor. The physical side of life had always been important to him and this was certainly true after the resurrection.
After removing their doubts about who he was, Jesus then fed their spirits by interpreting portions of the ancient texts which referred to his crucifixion and resurrection. “He opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures,” Luke wrote. What he had done for the two on the road to Emmaus, he now did for the disciples in the Upper Room.
“He opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures.” This demands some attention before we move on.
What do you think Jesus would like for you to understand today? What would he like for you to know about his Father, life, faith, relationships, how to arrange your priorities and how to handle problems, challenges and disappointments?
Where are your blind spots and whose help do you need to remove those barriers and grow in your faith? The message of the scripture is not self-evident. All of us must have help to understand the faith we profess and the world in which we live. Who helps you?
I believe scripture was meant to be interpreted and lived out in community. It is in dialogue with others, where we speak and listen, that eternal truths are revealed. When we walk in others’ shoes and see life from their perspective, our understanding grows. When we enter into others’ struggles, we encounter God and get a clearer picture of who He is and what is important to Him. Then, when we sit alone to study and pray, God uses these experiences and conversations to open our minds so we can better understand the mysteries of life and faith. I have certainly found this to be true and hope you have, too.
Are you studying scripture with others? Are you seeing things you have never seen before and had some “aha” moments? When your eyes and mind are opened, what is your response? How are you different? What is your new understanding of scripture and life calling you to do and be?
Perhaps there is another question that needs to be explored this morning as well. How do we know if what we are hearing is from God? It is one thing to have Jesus in your midst explaining things to you; it is quite another to discover truth by faith. So, how do you know if what you are hearing is from God?
I know a message is from God if it leads me to be: a better person- a better neighbor, mate, parent, worker and citizen; more empathetic and compassionate; more inclusive, building bridges of good will and understanding rather than walls of suspicion and hatred; more inquisitive and less dogmatic; more tolerant and less judgmental, by seeing my own flaws and blind spots; more humble and less arrogant; a better listener and encourager; more concerned about building a better future than living in memories of the past; more generous and less possessive; more adventuresome and less fearful.
This is how I know when I am hearing from God. His words lead me down roads I’d rather not go at times, but know I need to in order to be the presence of Christ in a broken world. Furthermore, when I travel down these roads, I, like the disciples of old, become an eye-witness to God’s activity in the world, seeing where God is at work in my life and those around me. Like those early disciples, I find my voice and place in this world.
Has this been your experience? Can you look back on your life and see the hand of God at work in and around you? Can you sense His presence and power in your life now, using you to make the world a better place? I hope so and encourage you to keep listening for the voice speaking to your spirit, leading you day by day.
Luke concludes his book and our text with an account of the ascension of Jesus from the Mount of Olives, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. He instructed the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until the Spirit descended upon them and they had been “clothed with power from on high.” After blessing and entrusting them to God’s care, Jesus was taken up to heaven and they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. Just as Jesus’ birth brought singing and joy into the world, so did his departure after a life of faithful service to God.
Why did the disciples have joy in their hearts? You would be inclined to think just the opposite.
After witnessing his horrible death, they were elated to know he was alive, which opened their eyes to the fact that love is stronger than hate and good will overcome evil, two lessons he taught them repeatedly. They also had a better understanding of what they were to be and do. Through the power of the Spirit, they were to be the presence of Christ, reaching out to everyone they met along their journey.
Joy always accompanies a clear sense of identity, purpose and direction. Do you have this kind of joy? You can if you will let Christ open your eyes so you can see the difference you can make in this world.
Where are you in this story, along this journey of fear and faith and joy? Are you frightened and confused? Are you being held hostage by doubts? Are you growing in your faith and understanding of life? Are you experiencing the joy that accompanies a close relationship with God and faithful service to Him?
Where would you like to be? Whose help do you need to get there?I offer this loving to church to you. All of us are on this journey of faith and would love to have you join us on this pilgrimage.