A sermon by Howard Batson, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Tx.
April 20, 2014
Where did things go wrong? Jesus didn’t turn out to be any better than the previous prophets who had promised to be the Messiah. He was just another would-be, could-be, should-be Savior who, hanging on a cross, couldn’t even save Himself, much less a nation.
Two travelers left Jerusalem “that very day” (v. 13) – meaning the third day, the day of the resurrection – though they were neither aware nor believing in the living Lord. They left on the third day because it was the first time they could travel, the first day following the Sabbath. They wanted out of Jerusalem.
The community of disciples was collapsing from within. The bitter disappointment, the grief, the confusion – they had left everything to follow Jesus, and now He was nothing but a defeated wanna-be. And nobody wants to be the disciple of a dead man.
They were headed home to Emmaus, a seven mile journey from Jerusalem.
Sometimes when the horrible happens, you need companionship and conversation with a friend. They rehashed the events from the exciting entry into Jerusalem, to the crucifixion on Calvary. Somewhere in between, the shouts of “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” turned to the terrible “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Though they couldn’t be sure exactly when things went wrong.
Oddly enough (v. 16), while they were conversing, walking away from the crucifixion of the Christ, they were actually in the presence of the risen Lord. Jesus approaches these disappointed, doubtful disciples to journey along as their traveling companion. They, however, were blind to their divine appointment with destiny.
I want us to notice four words from the walk to Emmaus.
I. Sad (v. 17)
“And they stood still, looking sad.”
It was a look of doom and gloom, despair and defeat. The word for “sad” or “gloom” is the word used in Matthew 6:16 for the Pharisees when they are going without food – the long face of fasting.
As they journey with Jesus, the Lord inquires, “What are these words you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” (v. 17).
Only one of the travelers is given a name, Cleopas. Cleopas wouldn’t have said this to Jesus if he had known to whom he was speaking: “Are you the only guy who doesn’t get it? Have you not heard about the crucifixion of rabbi Jesus, the Galilean? Did you bury your head in the sand? You’ve been in Jerusalem and you’ve not heard about these things?” (v. 18)
Jesus asked the question, “What things? What are you talking about?” (v. 19)
“The things about Jesus the Nazarene,” (v. 19), “the one who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people.”
Mighty in miracles – they remembered that the blind were seeing, the lame were leaping, and the dead were living again.
Mighty in message – “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”
But this Jesus fizzled out – just as was the fate of all the prophets who had ventured near Jerusalem to redeem Israel.
II. Hoping (v. 21)
“But we were hoping.” They had interpreted Jesus as the new Moses and freedom from Rome as the new Exodus. Perhaps the Passover itself, just celebrated in Jerusalem, had fueled the future hopes of a new deliverance. Their hopes, however, were crucified, crushed alongside the prophet from Nazareth. Like previous would-be redeemers, Jesus proved to be nothing more than a disappointment. “We were hoping,” they pined.
“He was delivered up to death. He was crucified” (v. 20).
The disciples on the road give their own testimony with a twist of irony as they say, “the third day” (v. 21). Luke weaves these words into his narrative, reminding the reader that Jesus Himself had said that “on the third day, He would rise from the dead” (9:22; 8:33; cf. 13:32). But, apparently, “the third day” doesn’t ring any bell for those with bedimmed eyes.
Aren’t these the words of everyone disappointed in Jesus? When He doesn’t turn out to be who we thought He would be? When He doesn’t do all the deeds we deem necessary for Him? When death visits our family, when the biopsy comes back positive, when the pregnancy test comes back negative, and the job search is hopeless? Where is Jesus when we need Him?
“But we were hoping,” they said.
John Vannorsdall captures the crushed hopes and dreams, not only of those on the road to Emmaus but in our own hearts as well, when we think about our disappointment with Jesus.
There was a time when we thought that the world could be a better place. We were capable of visions, you see. We could imagine a world of green lawns rather than a street full of junk, a world where neighbors greeted one another rather than pass silent with hidden faces, a world in which the aged were wise and cherished, where bullies were defeated, where games were for fun rather than profit, and dancing was the purest pleasure. We had a vision of a world of clean, white snow, smelling of Spring, carpeted with Autumn’s color. There was a time when we thought the world could be a better place.
There was a time when we thought that we could be better persons. We could imagine our families proud of us rather than ashamed. Imagine a crucial time when we would dare to tell the truth and everyone would be amazed and say, “Thank God the truth’s been told at last.” We could imagine a time when we would be the champion for some kid beaten on the street, or be the lawyer fighting for the innocent and oppressed. We would be the scientist discovering a way to feed the hungry, an engineer making heavy work light. There was a time when we thought we could be better persons.
There was a time when we believed that God had a plan for his people. His plan was to bless marriage with joy and children, to free us of our sins and guilt, fill our lives with peace, to remake the world without war, a world in which the woods were cool on a summer’s day and the animals played with one another. There was a time when we believed that God had a plan for his people.
“We had hoped,” said the two on the road to Emmaus, “that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (John Vannorsdall, The Witness of Preaching, p. 125-126)
I know that you join me. I’ll admit to being one of the disciples on the road to Emmaus if you’ll admit to being the other. We’re traveling away from a crucified Christ, defeated in His death. Our faces are crestfallen. And we utter a sigh of hope that vanishes like a vapor on a cold morning.
“But we were hoping….”
III. Slow (v. 25)
In verses 22-24, Cleopas and his friend declare that the women found the tomb empty, and that angels had said that He was alive. But these weary travelers weren’t buying it. Look at the end of verse 24: “…but they did not see Him.”
Jesus rebukes their faithlessness. “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” (v. 25).
Their inability to believe is not intellectual failure, but a moral failure. They are not slow of mind; they are slow of heart.
Some of you here this morning are just like these doubtful disciples on the road to Emmaus. You are slow to believe. You’re reluctant to receive the acclamation of angels: “Jesus is alive!”
IV. Necessary (v. 26)
The dull disciples, the slow of heart, read scripture with the understanding that the Messiah would save Israel from suffering. Instead, Jesus redeemed Israel through suffering – more specifically, through the suffering of a Messiah.
The suffering of Jesus, the devastating disappointment that dashed their hopes, was actually God working out God’s purposes. In fact, starting back with Moses, the Torah, and going through the prophets, Jesus explained how the Christ must suffer. All that happened to Jesus, the prophets had predicted (Acts 17:3; 1 Peter 1:11).
Throughout His ministry, when Jesus referred to His suffering (9:22, 44; 17:24-25; 18:31-33; 22:22; 24:27), the disciples were dull. “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem. And all the things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished, for He will be delivered to the Gentiles, and He will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon. And after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him. And the third day, He will rise again” (Luke 18:31-33). Jesus had told them everything. But Luke records in 18:34, “And they understood none of these things.”
God shapes all great men through suffering, including His Son.
This Holy Week, we buried one of our dear brothers, Carter Kelly. Carter and Sue have worked in missions and ministry for decades. Carter grew up in this church. His parents joined in 1929, during the construction of this glorious sanctuary. Sue was destined to become his partner in life and his partner in missions.
Carter and Sue met when Sue was visiting her great uncle and aunt here in Amarillo following her graduation from high school. Now, Sue was gorgeous, and the meddling, matchmaking neighbor across the street from Sue’s aunt and uncle called Carter’s mother and said, “There is a girl visiting across the street and all she does is sit in the yard and read all day. I think it would be nice if Carter took her out.” So all that Carter knew about Sue was “she sits out in the yard and reads all day.” And all that Sue heard about Carter was “he’s such a nice boy, he sings in the choir.”
Not a lot of info to go on to begin a great romance. But start somewhere you must.
Carter really didn’t want to meet Sue. Out of nothing other than obligation, he very reluctantly agreed to take Sue out. He waited until the last day that she was going to be in town. Carter set up a double date with his friend, George, and his girl so that Carter wouldn’t have to be alone with this girl who sits in the yard and reads all day. The other girl backed out, however, so he and George went together to meet Sue – safety in numbers. And this was the plan: “We’ll take her to get a coke, then we’ll quickly bring her back. Then we guys will go to the movie.”
Well, he and George arrive. Carter took one look at Sue and decided “Good-bye George!” I don’t think George even got the coke. Poor George.
After the date, Carter brought Sue home that night and said, “I love you.” Sue was taken aback by this young man – once reluctant and now gung-ho – and she replied, “I’m only going to say those words to one person, so I can’t say that back to you.” And he said, “Okay, but I’m only going to say them to one person, too.”
Sue must have been at least slightly impressed because she decided to stay an extra week with her aunt. Carter then wrote her every day. After about a year into the relationship, Carter finally heard those words he had waited so long to hear. “I love you, too, Carter.”
But Carter Kelly’s life included pain and suffering. Tragedy would strike the first time when he was eleven years old and his sister, who was a senior in high school, was involved in a car accident. A drunk driver hit a car carrying a teacher and three students from Amarillo High School. All four died, including his sister, Carolyn.
Like C. S. Lewis in his suffering, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus in their disappointment, Carter became bitter. He adored his sister, and the loss was too large. You may be here this morning with the same cynical spirit. You may be here with the same bitterness and brokenness. But God molds all great men through suffering, including His own Son. Carter began to read the works of C. S. Lewis, and he found a kindred spirit, a common heart, and his faith began to bloom again.
But more difficult days were to come. Carter and Sue’s second son, Matthew, was born in 1968. He lived only two months, dying from SIDS. A wound left in Carter’s heart, of course, forever.
Carter had an MBA from the University of Texas. He’d worked for everyone from IBM to the First National Bank. But he left behind the buy outs of the business world and dedicated himself to missions. He and Sue were called to Kazakhstan.
One of the earliest reports Carter and Sue sent back to the United States in 1992 read, “We’ve got some good news and some bad news. Some of the good news is that we have a telephone, a flush toilet, a TV, and a washing machine. The bad news is that we can receive calls, but we can’t make them. The toilet won’t flush. And the TV and washing machine don’t work at all.” Or, “Food has not been a big problem. We purchased what looked and tasted like a rubber chicken, with head and feet intact, carried it home in one of our assortment of shopping bags, cooked it, and gnawed on the bones.”
Then, a few years later, in 1995, “We had 23 for Bible study. The week before, we had 22. Our small living room has reached its capacity.”
Carter, however, had a near-death experience when he came down with hepatitis on the mission field. The doctor on the mission field told him he needed to leave the country immediately or he’d be quarantined and left to die. By the grace of God, he made it to Geneva and then to Amarillo to BSA. And even then – that’s when I met him – none of us were sure he was going to live.
Deathly ill again in 2009, he was told that he had two or three years to live. Diagnosed with leukemia, Carter wrote these words, “The Lord has given me a wonderful threescore and ten plus. And I trust Him to do what is best for me, just as He has always done. My prayer is that he will be glorified by my leukemia experience even more than He was by my hepatitis.”
A few months later he would write, “Death and life after death are more real to me than ever before.”
Could a man possibly be more committed? Traveling to Brazil, Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore, Mexico, Ecuador, Uruguay, Kenya, South Africa, Romania, France, Azerbaijan, China, Hungary – and I know I missed a few – to tell men and women about the story of the resurrected Jesus? And yet Carter suffered for twenty years through the hepatitis and leukemia before God called him home. Just a few weeks before his death, he went with our church on the Mexico Border Mission Trip. He felt too sick to go into Mexico, but he stayed back at the hotel and prayed. “Besides,” he said, “God may have some divine appointments for me.”
During his last battle with leukemia, before he even went to the doctor, he was busy doing taxes for our Burmese brethren. He had International friends he had to enroll in health care. He was too weak to even go downstairs to meet them, so Sue would bring them upstairs. He could hardly stand up, but he wanted to make sure they were taken care of before he went to the hospital. In fact, I don’t think we’ll ever know how much Carter Kelly suffered.
But if we suffer with Christ, we are also glorified with Him. If we die with Him, we also rise with Him. His tomb is empty.
Notice how this story ends. The disciples approach their village. Jesus acts as if He needs to go on further (v. 28).
“Stay with us, won’t you? It’s getting dark. Just stay.” They had enjoyed His company along the road – the one who told them about Moses and the prophets and the Messiah. He reclines at the table with them, He takes the bread and he breaks it. And (v. 31), “their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight.”
And in verse 32, the hearts that were once slow, declared, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?”
They make the seven mile journey back to Jerusalem that very hour. The journey of despair away from Jerusalem ends in a journey of joy back to Jerusalem. And before they could even speak about their experience of seeing the risen Lord, the disciples go ahead and declare, “Simon has seen Jesus.” They were not the only ones to see the living Lord that day.
“We were hoping” turns into “We are hoping.” Death turns into life.
I say to those of you here today who have buried your sons, your daughters, your mothers, your fathers, your brothers, your sisters, your husband and your wives, your friends and your family, suffering does not stop the kingdom of God. It is through the suffering, the resurrection and the glorification of Jesus that God accomplishes his work.
He is alive! And we are hoping.