“Jesus’ Presence in a New Way” (Luke 24;13-35)
The Third Sunday of Easter (April 26, 2020)
It is so great to see you all here once again in the flesh. I don’t mind telling you that this past month and half has put a real stress on my worship life. Even though I knew I was recording the service to be posted on YouTube so that you and others could view it, for me it was not church! The communio sanctorum, the communion of saints, might be as we confess invisible and seen only by God, but we also know and confess that it becomes tangible where God’s saints (believers) are gathered together around His Word and Holy Sacraments. And that was not happening. Even though many of you expressed your appreciation for being able to watch the service and sermon these past many weeks in the comfort of your home, I’m sure you, too, felt something was missing. You might have even wondered, “Is God really coming to be with us through this new way; this virtual reality?”
Being Church is not just listening to a sermon once in a while or reading a passage out of the Bible before bedtime, or even saying some prayers or singing some hymns. The Church is by God’s own definition The Body of Christ. Yes, the church can practice social distancing and the members of the church can even be spatially apart for miles. For the members of Christ’s body are connected not by the internet, or social media, or even by fleshly touch. But the members, you and I, are connected to one another by virtue of the fact that each member is connected to Christ Jesus by faith.
At the core of the Church, this Body of Christ, is the assembly of God’s Holy people around, in and through Him. Just as Jesus Christ Himself is both Spirit and flesh, so The Church is both spiritual and physical; composed of both the Spirit of God and of the flesh of man. Every member of the Body of Christ is born of both the flesh and the Spirit (John 3:5,6). And in the same way that a flesh and blood body must be fed to live, so the Body of Christ must be nourished or it will not live and thrive.
Likewise, just as the True God manifests Himself only in the flesh of Jesus so He only comes to dwell among His people and feed them His life-giving food through the means that Jesus has instituted to bring us His presence.
Here’s what I can’t figure out. Many think it is no big deal these past few weeks that Christian congregations could not assemble. They insist: “If Jesus is such a big deal to you, you can listen to a sermon on internet.. you can watch a “Jesus’ movie,” you can read about Him on your own in the pages of The Holy Bible. What’s the difference? What are you missing?”
What are we missing? For starters, we ought never confuse doing spiritual things or enjoying a spiritual experience with being Church. That’s what the world does. It imagines that anything that moves your spirit, a sunset, a sonnet, an inspiring movie, a good book, is no different than people going to church. In fact, some would be so bold as to say that the former is more spiritual than the latter! But here is the thing, Biblically speaking, there is no such thing as a true spiritual experience apart from God’s Spirit. And as Jesus Himself has said, the Spirit of God has come into the world to “… testify of Me” (Jn. 15:26) and again He says of the Spirit, “He is the Spirit of Truth… He will guide you into all the truth…He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you” (Jn. 16:12-14). Apart from the person of Jesus, both flesh and spirit, no one experiences or communes with the true God.
At the same time Jesus never promised to meet us in our own “quiet time,” or when we reach out to Him with our imaginations or our emotions. He has said, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” And He has established very concrete ways to do this very thing in the assembly of His people. The Living Jesus meets us in our assembly via His Holy Word and Sacraments.
In our Gospel text today, we see the Resurrected Jesus preparing His disciples for His coming to them in a new way, which is same way He brings His presence and His gifts into our midst still. Now this was vitally necessary because His disciples had become accustom to Jesus’ physical presence being with them. Their interaction with Him was not merely by faith. It was sensory as well. They could see and touch Him. However, once Jesus would ascend to heaven and return to the right hand of the Father, they would need to hear, touch and see Him in a new way; a way He established.
The events of our text begin at a similar place we have all found ourselves these past many weeks; in bewilderment, uneasiness, and under a cloud of confusion and fear. We encounter two followers of Jesus walking and talking as they made their way to the village of Emmaus, some 7 miles from Jerusalem. In the dark days after Jesus crucifixion, their hopes and desires of seeing God had been buried with Jesus. There future was now uncertain. How were they going to be saved from their enemies? Where was God?
Ironically, on that first Easter evening, as these two men were walking, unbeknown to them, the Risen Jesus Himself actually came up and started to walk and speak with them. Yet, as Luke reports, they did not recognize Him. Jesus had conquered sin and death for them, and yet, they were still living in fear, doubt, and despair!
Their inability of recognizing Jesus is especially significant in light of who these men were. Luke identifies one of them as Cleopas. Early Christian tradition held that Cleopas was Joseph’s brother, making him Jesus’ uncle. This same tradition from the earliest centuries also held that the unnamed disciple was Cleopas’ son, Simeon; the same Simeon who would later become the second bishop of the church in Jerusalem.
Had Jesus’ physical appearance changed that much after His resurrection that His own uncle and cousin could not recognize Him? I’m confident this wasn’t the case at all. Luke tells us that they were kept from recognizing him. Mark further notes in his Gospel that Jesus appeared to them in another form (16:12). Now, why would Jesus keep Cleopas and his son from recognizing Him? Surely, He would have wanted to dispel their fears and relieve their remorse with the physical proof that He was alive!
The answer lies in the fact that Jesus was preparing them to find, see, and know Him in a new way. No longer would it be with their eyes or their senses but solely in His Word and holy meal. Jesus did not, and still does not, want to be recognized by sight, but rather by the heart. In other words, Jesus wants to be known in the intimacy of faith and not simply by the knowledge of the head. That is why He reveals Himself to us only in His Holy Word and Sacraments. Through these means of grace, He brings us to a true understanding of His person and what He has come to give us. Through them He gives us the eyes of faith to see Him.
No doubt, Jesus didn’t find it necessary to disguise Himself too much because from the conversation that Jesus had with Cleopas and his son on the road, it is clear that neither of these two men were ready nor equipped to see Jesus. When Jesus asked them to tell Him what sort of things they had been talking about on their way, they relayed to Him that they had been speaking back and forth about all the recent events that had happened to Jesus: how he had been rejected by the chief priests and turned over to be crucified and how now people were reporting that His body was missing from His grave. They also expressed their great disappointment in Jesus. They had hoped that He was the One, the One long prophesied who would, in their words, “redeem Israel.”
In other words, they had hoped that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, who they mistakenly thought would deliver them out of the clutches of the oppressive rule of Rome. He was in their estimation simply a prophet of God, not God in Human flesh. Clearly, they still did not grasp the significance of Jesus’ death nor what His resurrection would mean for them. They were looking for God and their salvation on their own terms in all the wrong places.
On whose terms do we want to see and know God, His or ours? From the beginning, we human beings have sought with all our might to shape God into our image, instead of being conformed into His image. Adam and Eve just had to eat of the fruit of that tree because they were not content in their relationship with God as He had revealed Himself to them. They wanted to be like God knowing good and evil and actually make themselves God. So they ate and so they died!
Today, if you were to ask the average person if they wanted a relationship with God, I’m sure most without any hesitation would say they certainly did. But when it comes to who God is and how they might expect to know and encounter Him, well, they want to determine that for themselves.
We can in all honesty expect this. We fallen human beings find it imbedded in our sinful flesh to always want God on our own terms not His. That is why many don’t want the God of the Bible, who has revealed Himself as a Just God, who must punish sin. Instead, they imagine God to be a kindly old grandfather, who winks at sin, who lets us set our own rules about how we ought to live, who is placated by our good deeds, or a god who lets us live and believe anyway we want to and still go to heaven.
Similarly, it is part and parcel of who we are as a sinful being to want a God who doesn’t tell us where He will meet us but who lets us find him in our own way;...in the imagination of our own hearts… on a mountain top...in our dreams ... in an inspiring movie… in the singing of a praise band. We definitely don’t want a God who insists that there is only one way of salvation through the cross of His Son, but instead we want a god, who lets us find our own path to Him.
But to have God on our own terms is not to have God at all. To behold a Christ who is not the Christ revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures is to have the anti-Christ! The apostle John warns: “...many false prophets have gone out into the world...every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the Antichrist...” The real Jesus is not the one that we can see with our eyes or seems reasonable to our minds. The real Jesus is God’s Word of revelation made Flesh, the One Who gives His own body and blood into sacrifice death for us.
Jesus did not allow Cleopas and his son to recognize Him by sight because He wanted them to truly know Him according to the Scriptures. After He scolded them for their slowness of heart to believe all of God’s prophets that He had sent to them, Luke says, “He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.” In the Scriptures, the Holy Bible, God in Human flesh, is made known. Those Scriptures make it clear that Messiah’s death and was no accident or tragedy but that it was all necessary for the eternal redemption of all us sinners. Those same Scriptures also reveal that once that atonement for sin was fulfilled even death itself would be defeated. The Messiah’s resurrection was not a mere hope but a given. Those same scriptures brought them to truly recognize Jesus by faith as more than a prophet ... more than a rescuing general on a white horse, but their own Savior from Hell!
Later, when these two disciples were reflecting on Jesus’ teaching of them, they said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?” Jesus manifested Himself to them through His Word.
It always amazes me how people can use the Bible, even quote passages from it verbatim, yet still not seem to know God and His Son Jesus Christ. Apart from the Holy Scriptures, no one, including you and me, can know or recognize God. And, yet, apart from Jesus Christ, no one will comprehend the scriptures. Jesus didn’t just quote a few passages to Cleopas and his son, but helped them to see the whole Bible Christologically; that is, to see that all of God’s revelation through His prophets and apostles centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The Bible is not simply a rule book on how to live. It is not a source book by which we can take passages out of context to provide proof to support our own theology. All the Scriptures of the Bible are God’s revelation to bring us to salvation and back to Him in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul encouraged the young pastor Timothy to always continue in those sacred writings (Holy Scriptures) that he had learned from childhood which he says “are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ.” As Luther once characterized the Bible, “The Holy Scriptures are the cradle that hold the Christ.”
Do you truly want to see God? God does not promise to meet you on some high spot in the Pine Hills, nor on the Yellowstone River in your boat, nor in the musings of your imagination. But He directs you to meet Him in He Who is the Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ. And you are brought to recognize, hear and know Him in God’s revealed Word, as contained in the Holy Scriptures, The Holy Bible. When and where that Word is preached, taught, and read in all its truth and purity, you, the hearer, will hear Jesus’ voice and be made to see God and your salvation. Jesus said to those He sent out to preach in His name, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you re jects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16).
But it is more than His voice that Jesus wants you to hear and experience. Yes, He would and did bodily ascend into heaven, but He still wants those who are His to encounter Him, receive Him, touch His wounds and receive from those wounds the gifts of forgiveness and salvation those wounds earned for you. Accordingly, Jesus made it so His disciples would also recognize that in the new way of the Breaking of Bread He would be with them and bring His living, saving, and real bodily presence to them. Luke tells us that when Jesus sat at table with Cleopas and his companion, “He took bread, gave thanks, and broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.” “The true knowledge of the presence of the risen Christ in their midst (came) to the Emmaus disciples through the breaking of the bread” (Just, p. 990).
Luke didn’t just say that Jesus ate with these men, but described His actions at the table quite intentionally and completely. His taking of the bread... giving thanks... breaking of the bread... and giving to them were deliberate actions on Jesus’ part. He had done this before in their presence; on the night of His betrayal. He, as their Savior, was now alive again to do it again in their presence. In His very action Jesus was making His living presence known among them as the giver of the living Bread, who comes down out of heaven to give life to the world (Jn 6:33)... as the Bread broken for sinners (I Cor. 11;24) in His suffering and death to redeem them from death and hell.
One Commentator has rightly noted: “The meal of broken bread at Emmaus reverses the first meal, the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Through the meal distributed by the risen Christ, eyes are now opened to see Jesus the Seed of the woman promised in Genesis 3:15. The disciples will be sent to proclaim this message throughout creation. The table at which they now sit is the messianic table because, as they recognize, the Messiah is present with them at their table” (A. Just, p. 987).
The fact that Jesus disappeared right away after giving the bread is clear evidence that Jesus wanted the two disciples and us to know Him by faith in the breaking of Bread. His breaking of bread at Emmaus was all part of preparing His disciples for His physical departure from the world and to assure them that they would see His risen and living presence in the ongoing Feast of the Lord’s Supper.
Want to see Your living Savior? Want the assurance of God’s living presence with you, especially during the evenings of your fears, worries, and doubts? Want the forgiveness of your sins, salvation from every evil and eternal life with your Good and gracious God? Look no further than where He promised to meet you: in the assembly of God’s holy people where the Word of Jesus is rightly preached and proclaimed to you and where His table is rightly and by His institution set before you. In and through these Means of Grace, You will hear His comforting, forgiving, and saving voice and He will be present to serve you His very body broken for you... His very blood shed for you to bring you forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Through these Means of Grace you will be made to enjoy the real spiritual experience of the Lamb’s High Feast!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.