Easter Joy!

April 21, 2019

Have you known anyone who came back to life after being dead for three days? Have you known anyone who came back to life after being dead one day? We do not expect people to come back to life after dying.

And yet this is the claim upon which Christianity rises or falls. We believe Jesus rose from the dead three days after he suffered a brutal death on the cross. While Jesus was alive he said clearly that he would be crucified and would rise from the dead three days later.

It is interesting to me that the only ones who seemed to give Jesus the benefit of the doubt were the Pharisees who wanted Pilate to post a guard at the tomb. Jesus’ disciples were not expecting a resurrection. But when Jesus rose from the dead life changed for his followers. And as we look at Lk.24:13-35 I want to say that because Jesus is alive believers are filled with the joy of his living presence.


In v.13-24 we read about two men who were walking from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus. It was a 7 mile trip. One of them was named Cleopas. We don’t know much about them except that they were committed followers of Jesus and knew the 12 disciples as well as many of the women who followed Jesus. They were in Jerusalem for Passover and were there until the Sunday after Jesus’ crucifixion. On that Sunday they heard the report of the women who had found the tomb empty and had seen some angels who said Jesus was alive. Cleopas and his friend were perplexed about that report and they were very sad and disappointed. Their hearts were deeply burdened.

As they walked and discussed all the events that transpired that weekend, unbeknownst to them, Jesus came along and began walking with them, however they did not recognize that it was Jesus. Look at v.17-21. “And he said to them, ‘What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?’ And they stood still, looking sad. 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?’ And he said to them, ‘What things?’ 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. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.”

Consider what these men said about Jesus. Clearly they understood enough of the Old Testament to conclude that Jesus was a prophet of God. They had seen Jesus perform miraculous deeds and give powerful teachings. As far as they could tell, God’s hand was on Jesus. They even thought Jesus might be the long awaited Messiah, God’s anointed King, who would redeem Israel from Roman oppression. At one point in Jn.7 when Jesus was teaching in the temple during the Jewish Feast of Booths, the chief priests wanted to arrest Jesus. In Jn.7:31, we read, “Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, "When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?" Jesus seemed to be the real deal. Cleopas and his friend had put their hope in Jesus.

But when the Jewish leaders conspired to hand Jesus over to the Romans to be crucified, and when Jesus died on the cross, the hopes and dreams of many died with him. In his book, “Surprised by Hope,” New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright says, “Crucifixion of a would-be Messiah meant that he wasn’t the Messiah, not that he was. When Jesus was crucified, every single disciple knew what it meant: We backed the wrong horse. The game is over…As far as they were concerned hope had crumbled into ashes. They knew they were lucky to escape with their own lives.”

Even though Jesus had told his followers on numerous occasions that he would be crucified and rise on the third day, it just didn’t register. They did not envision a Messiah who would die and rise again. Their frame of reference was political/nationalistic. They assumed that when Jesus referred to the kingdom of God, he was talking about the kingdom of Israel. So yes, they were deeply disappointed and sad. Clearly Jesus was not the real deal at all.

Well, that was then. This is now. It would not surprise me to find that some of us are here with burdened hearts. Things are not going well in your life, your marriage, your family, or your job. Maybe at some point you reached out to Jesus, thinking he would help you, but as far as you can tell, no real help came from Jesus. Maybe the betrayal of priests and pastors in Catholic and Protestant churches has left you wondering if it’s all just smoke and mirrors. Maybe you are here with a lot of doubts about God and Jesus. Whatever religion you had is hanging on by shreds. Or maybe you are tired of carrying guilt from things you have done. You have a burdened heart. You are burdened by it all and certainly do not have the joy of his faithful presence. Well fortunately there is more to this story!


Look at those verses. “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. 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?”

I suppose Jesus could have said, “Hey guys, It’s me, Jesus! Don’t you recognize me?” In fact we are told that they were kept from recognizing Jesus. Instead of immediately revealing himself, Jesus began to interpret the Old Testament Scriptures in light of himself. He took the time to show how he is the fulfillment of Israel’s story from beginning to end. Jesus did not come into the world in order to reestablish the political kingdom of Israel. Jesus came to restore fallen creation by defeating the deadly power of sin, death, and the devil. And so, from the Old Testament he showed that the Messiah had to die, taking our sin, and the death that results from sin, upon himself in order that men and women, and all creation could be restored to eternal new creation life with God in the kingdom of God. Col.1:19-20 says, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” On the cross, God the Father was not pitted against God the Son. God the Father was one in purpose with God the Son. Through the Trinity sin is overwhelmed and destroyed by the death and resurrection life of God. The late Japanese theologian, Kazoh Kitamori writes, “God himself was broken, was wounded, and suffered, because he embraced those who should not be embraced.” On the cross, God is bearing his own wrath against sin in the person of Jesus. In 1Cor.15:17 Paul writes, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” In his book, “Atonement: A Guide for the Perplexed,” Adam Johnson writes, “…the atonement is not primarily about overcoming sin–it is first and foremost about giving us life, and life abundantly…the atonement is not about death–it is about resurrection.” The new creation began with the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament story and prophecies. These two men had never understood it that way before.

They urged Jesus to spend the night with them. And there they were, sitting around the table having fellowship together. They still did not know it was Jesus. Perhaps they invited Jesus to bless the bread, or maybe Jesus just took the initiative. He took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. At that moment their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus and Jesus vanished from their sight.

I do not believe this was a reenactment of the Lord’s Supper. However it does remind us of the feeding of the 5,000 and I believe it speaks to the importance of gathering together in table fellowship in the name and presence of our living Jesus. He is the Bread of life. It was Jesus who said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."

Do you have a burdened heart? Is your faith faltering? Jesus is alive and he is present. As Jesus interpreted the Scriptures their hearts were burning. Men and women, we encounter Jesus the living Word through his written word. Faith comes by hearing the word of God. We encounter Jesus as we come together in the church, gathering in worship, gathering at the Lord’s Table, or sharing a meal together. The Bible and the church provide the context for receiving the joy of his faithful presence. Jesus has risen from the dead and is alive and you can actually know him by calling upon him in faith, placing your confidence in him for life and eternity through the forgiveness of sins. Their hearts were burning within them and now they were bursting with joy.


It says, “And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. 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.”

On this first Resurrection Sunday, with great joy Cleopas and his friend made their way back to Jerusalem to find the disciples of Jesus. Before they could tell their story, the others told them that the Lord had indeed, risen and had appeared to Peter. Then Cleopas and his friend shared their story of how Jesus opened up their minds to understand the scripture and revealed himself in the breaking of the bread. They were filled with joy from being in the presence of Jesus our risen Lord.

But wait, how does the resurrection of Jesus change our burdened hearts today? Well, the fact that Jesus is alive doesn’t change our circumstances. But the resurrection of Jesus does offer living hope. In v.47 Jesus tells the disciples that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations. Because Jesus is alive we can enter into the assurance that our sins are forgiven and we can receive his resurrection life. Entering into this kind of relationship with Jesus is the beginning of seeing our burdened hearts become hearts bursting with the joy of his living presence. In a life giving relationship with Jesus, Jesus comes to live in us. His life, his wisdom, his love begins to shape the way we face our circumstances.

Have you embraced Jesus as your Savior, Lord, and King? Because Jesus is alive believers are filled with the joy of his living presence. Amen