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Despair and the Resurrection

March 31, 2024 Speaker: Jim Davis Series: Easter

Passage: Luke 24:13–35

Happy Easter. It’s funny that as much as I have studied this passage and as well known as it is, I have never preached a sermon on it. So this has been a fun week of soaking in this passage and letting God use it to call me closer to him and I certainly hope that is the case for you as well. What’s fascinating to me about this passage is how many emotions are present here. In our kitchen we have an emotions wheel on our wall. I guess that’s just part of being married to a counselor. The emotion wheel helps us identify what emotions we are feeling at a given time and what might be underneath those emotions. On one side you have the comfortable emotions like feeling valued, hopeful, and curious and on the other side you have the uncomfortable emotions like feeling powerless, ashamed, and excluded. Well, I went through that wheel and I would argue that every emotion on this wheel is present in our short passage. That’s not an easy or typical thing to find all these emotions in just twelve verses, but Luke has made it happen. 


The uncomfortable emotion most present in the passage is despair. There are two disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. We know for sure one of these disciples is Cleopas and the other is assumed to be his wife, Mary. It has been three days since Jesus’ crucifixion and this couple, along with the other disciples, has given up. Just a week after the high of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, they are returning to their normal lives in despair. Some of the disciples, including Peter, are denying they were ever a part of Jesus’ following fearful of being arrested themselves. But then something supernatural happens and changes everything. In this passage, we are going to see the despair of Jesus’ death and then go all the way over to the other side of the emotions wheel and see the awe of his resurrection. 


  1. The Despair of Jesus’ Death


So, why were they in such despair? Three reasons. First, they were in despair because they had been so sure. Let me flesh this out. These two disciples are walking this seven mile path from Jerusalem to Emmaus and up walks this person. Now, we know this person is the resurrected Jesus, but they can’t see that. We don’t know exactly why they can’t see. We don’t know if Jesus looked different, if his voice was different, or if they were just cognitively or spiritually prevented by God from seeing this. But, Jesus asks them what they are talking about and I imagine this couple feeling both nervous to tell him because of fear of being arrested and just not wanting to talk about it because of the shame and embarrassment they probably felt now that Jesus had died.  


And I love Cleopas’ response. Are you the only visitor who has not heard what happened? They had been so sure because not only had they seen Jesus’ teaching and his miracles, so had so many other people. Right there we get the scope of Jesus’ impact on that city during that Passover week. Cleopas could not imagine that there was a single person in Jerusalem, natives or visitors, who had not heard what had happened. This is important. There is this view out there that Christianity developed like some game of telephone and by the time the Bible had formed it was way different than the events that had taken place. 


Most every morning during the week there is what we call a party line going on with my wife’s family. If I call my wife between 9am and 10am, there is a really good chance I’ll be merged into a call with my mother in law, sister in law, and Angela’s aunt. Now, I like them all so I’m not bothered. Well, a few months ago, I get merged into the party line and Angela’s aunt was talking about the latest news in New Albany, Mississippi and she literally said, “Well, I heard from the lady doing my hair, who heard from Kathy, who heard from Elizabeth, who heard from Jane, who heard from Tiera’s cousin, who heard from Tiera…” Now, I’m laughing out loud at this point because whatever she says has close to zero reliability for me. And that’s how people think the Bible came to be. 


But here you have these disciples who can’t believe that there is one person in Jerusalem who didn’t already know all the events that led up to Jesus’ death. And on top of that, what we are reading was written about 30 years after the events took place. To some that might sound like a long time, but think about this. My son, Turner, and I just watched Master’s of the Air. A great series about the 100th Bomber Group flying the B-17 Flying Fortresses in World War II. Well, that happened over 80 years ago. Can we trust Master’s of the Air? Of course we can because we are still hearing from the eyewitnesses. And according to Cleopas, there is no shortage of eyewitnesses. So many people today ask if these events really happened. Enemies of the gospel today can question this account, but none of the enemies of the gospel in Luke’s day could possibly take the same approach because there were too many witnesses. Witnesses to both the events of Holy Week that led them to think Jesus would assume the throne in Jerusalem and to Jesus’ death which had dashed all their hope. 


They can’t believe that this man joining them on the road to Emmaus hasn’t heard about Jesus and they begin to tell him about their despair. And then we see the next reason they were in despair. They believed death had had the final word. Jesus asks them in verse 19, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was aa prophet bmighty in deed and word beforeGod and all the people, 20 and chow our chief priests and drulers delivered himup to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he wasethe one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now fthe third day since these things happened. - Luke 24:19-21 


They thought Jesus would redeem Israel, but he had died. And, let’s be honest, it’s been three days. Why should they hold out any more hope? But, the problem is that they expected a different kind of redemption than Jesus came to offer. They expected the Romans to be overthrown and Jesus to sit on an earthly throne. Because they were looking for a worldly, nationalistic redemption it seemed like death had had the final word. When they say ‘they had hoped,’ their hope was in the past tense. It was now gone. It was shattered. And if death really does have the final word, should not all of us despair? Paul says that if the resurrection did not happen, we above all should be pitied. This is why the resurrection is so central to our faith. 


Years ago, a close friend who was my Sunday School teacher and in my community group decided he was walking away from the faith and his family. It all seemed to happen very fast. And a few of us walked with him and heard his issues and some of his main issues were with the ethics of the faith. He didn’t like what the Bible says about sexuality among other things. To which we said, “Ok, we can talk about sexual ethics, but can we just go back to the resurrection for a moment. Shouldn’t we focus on the big parts of the faith and let them inform the smaller parts instead of looking at the smaller parts and let them determine the bigger parts?” 


And the bigger parts absolutely inform the smaller parts. Without the resurrection, if death really has the final word, there is no basis for ethics, there is no basis for human rights, and there really is no basis for any human moral ambition. And it’s not just Christians who make that argument. There are plenty of atheists who say that quiet part out loud. None of it matters if death has the final word. So the logical end to death having the final word is absolutely despair. 


Then, we see the final reason they were in despair. Jesus was alive and they couldn’t see him. And this isn’t the only time this happens in the gospels. In John 21, Jesus appeared to seven disciples who were in a fishing boat and they also could not recognize him. Jesus was right there and they could not see him for who he was. This is like a physical metaphor for what was going on spiritually. They still didn’t see Jesus for who he was and why he came. That’s what the disciples couldn’t see. Jesus points this out when he says, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!26 kWas it not necessary that lthe Christ should suffer these things and enter into mhis glory?” - Luke 24:25,26


It’s easy for us if we know our Bibles to see clearly that the Messiah had to suffer. We see this in Genesis three when God says that the Messiah would come to crush the serpent’s head, but that his heel would be bruised in the process. We see this probably most clearly in Isaiah 53 that prophesies the suffering servant. But the way the Jews in that day read the Old Testament was to apply the glory of the messianic promises to the Messiah, but the sufferings to Israel. They missed the glory that comes through suffering. They missed the kind of redemption Jesus is offering. A redemption that is so much bigger than just overthrowing the Romans. 


This is such a powerful picture of the spiritual blindness humanity experiences. I say this often, but this isn’t some niche kind of theology. All of orthodox Christianity has always taught that we are born sinful which means we are born resisting the love of God in our lives and we are so affected by sin that we can’t even see Jesus as our answer…as the way God is offering his love to humanity. He is as close to us as Jesus is to the disciples, but we just can’t see it. 


There are so many good arguments for the reliability of the Bible and, specifically, the resurrection, but all the good information in the world isn’t going to help if we are spiritually blind. Information wasn’t the problem for these two disciples. They actually tell us that they had already been told that Jesus was alive. The women who had gone to the tomb first told them the tomb was empty and that the angels had told them Jesus was alive. Information isn’t what they or we lack. Information abounds. Spiritual sight is what we lack. This is why their hope is in the past tense. [slow down] Their lack of spiritual sight caused them to hope in the wrong ways. Their hope was in Jesus, but their hope was that he would change their circumstances not that he would change them. Instead of putting their hope in God, they had made hope their god and the result was despair. 


Before we move on, I just want to ask how we might be on a type of road to Emmaus? Are we, like these disciples, not asking too much of Jesus, but too little. Are we asking him to just redeem our circumstances instead of asking him to redeem us? Are we asking too little of him rather than too much? If we ask little, we get little and the result will be despair because we won’t see the awe the resurrection is intended to provide. 


  1. The Awe of the Resurrection


Here is what unlocked the awe of the resurrection for these disciples. They saw Jesus. 1) They saw him for who he is and 2) they actually saw him. Let me explain. First, they saw him for who he is. Before they even knew this was Jesus, Jesus began to explain from the beginning of the Old Testament to the end all the ways the Scriptures pointed to him. I remember the first time I read this, I was like, “Well, Luke, that would have been really helpful to record. I’d love to know all the places Jesus points out where the Old Testament points to him!” But, what I didn’t realize at that time is that it was recorded. That’s what the rest of the New Testament does! 


The answer to our blindness isn’t just knowing the Bible, but knowing the One the Bible points toward. Knowing the Bible wasn’t a problem for the Pharisees and Sadducees that we have looked at over the last two weeks. Their problem was that they couldn’t see who the Bible is pointing toward. But once we see this, you can’t unsee it. There is an old TGC sermon where Tim Keller likens this concept to the movie the Sixth Sense. When the movie came out, it was the most shocking ending that any of us have ever seen. Bruce Willis was dead the whole time! And if you haven’t seen it, you just waited too long. Spoilers are frowned upon for the first decade, but after that it’s on you. Once you knew Bruce Willis was dead, you saw the entire movie differently. You realized why his wife wasn’t talking to him. Which is hilarious that this was more logical to us that him being dead considering the movie opened up with him being shot. But I’ll leave that to Nate Bargatze. 


Anyway, the same thing is happening with seeing Jesus in the Old Testament. Once we see it, we can’t unsee it. The sacrifices in the OT point toward Jesus dying for us. The scapegoat points toward Jesus taking the sin of all of us himself. The prophets point toward Jesus uniquely speaking to us for God. The kings point toward Jesus the true and perfect King. The priests point toward Jesus being uniquely qualified to be an intermediary between us and God. The Mosaic Law points to Jesus being the only one who can fulfill it and the only one who can actually take God’s wrath in our place and give us his righteousness. The Temple points toward Jesus dwelling in us. The promise to Abraham that his offspring would bless the nations points to Jesus, the offspring who actually does it. Jesus is the key to understanding the entirety of Scripture. If we don’t see Jesus, we miss the whole point of Scripture. 


This is what Jesus was explaining. And it still strikes me as interesting that these disciples thought they were meeting someone who had not heard of Jesus and now this stranger is explaining Jesus to them in ways they had never grasped. They arrive at Emmaus and it’s getting dark and this once threatening stranger is now extremely intriguing to them and they invite him to stay the night. And at dinner, Jesus took the bread and blessed it and at that moment they recognized him and he disappeared. This is the second thing that unlocked their awe. They actually saw Jesus. 


Luke says, “And their eyes were opened and they recognized.” Now, it’s fascinating to look at the first time we see this phrase in the Bible. Do you know where it is? Genesis 3. When Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree, we read that “their eyes were opened and they knew.” There is no way, in my mind, Luke is not making this connection. I’m drawing here from a paper Dane Ortlund did on this connection. 

  •  In both passages, you have two people offered food and the one offering is supernatural. 
  • In both cases, the guest becomes the host.
  • In both cases the food is accepted. 
  • In both cases the human pair does not recognize the one offering the food for who they really are. 
  • In both cases eating the food results in a profound new perception of spiritual reality. 
  • In both cases the couple now understand something God had already told them.
  • In both cases the couple is then physically separated from God in the immediate wake of taking the food. 
  • In both cases God comes and is present with his people in the wake of the eye-opening that initially frightens them. 
  • And in both cases the human pair immediately relocates. 


And in this case of this couple in Luke 24, they immediately start walking back the seven miles to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples that Jesus is alive. They are overcome with the awe of the reality that Jesus has in fact resurrected and that they have seen him with their own eyes. Luke is proclaiming the reversal of the curse that opened humanity’s eyes to sin, the curse that binds us in our sin, and the curse that will condemn us for our sin if our eyes are not opened to the awe of the resurrection of Jesus. 


And let me be clear, no one is moral enough, righteous enough, religious enough, wise enough, or spiritual enough to open their own spiritual eyes. This is done by the Holy Spirit just as supernaturally as we see it happening in this text. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4 that, in the same way God said, “Let there be light” and light shined in the universe, so God now says, “Let there be light” and our eyes are opened to the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 


And when that happens, apart from anything we are possibly able to do, the result is awe. Awe that our faith is not by our works, but by God’s. Awe that this love is put on us when none of us deserve it. And awe that makes us want to drop everything and go tell others about it. This is why the old hymn Amazing Grace says, “I once was blind, but now I see.” When our eyes are opened to the resurrection of Jesus, we can see that he has gone to the other side of death and come back and is proclaiming that death is not the end for us, but a doorway to God for all eternity. A doorway that can only be opened by him. 


And so many people say, “Only Jesus can do this? That sounds close minded.” Well, yes it would if it weren’t true. Why does no one say this about the person who invents new medicine. Why does no one say this about the person who holds the keys to a new job or entrance into a school? We don’t protest when we recognize that the gatekeeper is uniquely qualified to be there. If they are uniquely qualified, we are happy to go to them for what we want and they only can offer. And no one but Jesus is qualified to take on the wrath of God we deserve in our place and then to give us his righteousness that we would be redeemed in the way Jesus intends to redeem us. 


To use Paul’s words, the resurrection insures that death no longer has its sting. Death for us is now gain! We have all kinds of problems, but none come close to the problem of our sure death. It’s crazy to watch my kids grow up so fast. I feel like I have real adults living with us. I remember all the things I worried about for them when they were little. Things that are just outside of my control. If I could go back and talk with 30 year old Jim Davis, I would tell him, “Listen, everything is going to work out fine. I’ve been to your future and God is going to give you everything you need. You might want to have your arteries checked, but in all the most important areas, you’re fine! God has taken care of you.”


I say that, but here I am now worried about a whole new set of things as my kids start driving, dating, using smartphones, and applying for colleges that we don’t know how to pay for. It would be nice for 85 year old Jim to come back and tell me the same thing. “Jim, I’ve seen about all there is to your life and God is going to take care of you and give you everything you need. It’s going to be fine. Don’t worry.” 


Well, in the resurrection, Jesus is literally coming back and saying, “It’s ok. I’ve been to the other side and come back and because I have, you’re going to be fine. No need to worry about what happens after death. Just follow me. Your financial woes will go away. Your health concerns will be healed forever. Your relational strife will be perfectly repaired. You won’t be sad anymore, you won’t be scared anymore, and you won’t be anxious anymore. You won’t even sin or be sinned against anymore.” You will only experience what we call the comfortable emotions on the wheel, but more intensely than you could possibly imagine. There is nothing in this world that could have given the disciples this kind of encouragement and awe and there is nothing in this world that can give it to us either. 


Do you know the one piece of Christianity’s rise that really no one can really explain? Why all these dejected and despairing disciples put their hope, their faith in Jesus such a short time after seeing him die. And not just lip service to Jesus, but a belief that so many of them would die for. This is what doesn’t match up with anything we know about the sociology of changing cultures. The rise of Jesus worshipers really can’t be explained except for the awe of the reality of the resurrection. 

So, is that true for us? Is the resurrection the lens through which we see our reality? Is the resurrection awe inspiring for us. For some of you, you’ve experienced this awe and it has waned in the busyness and trials of this life, but today it can come back. For others of you, you’ve never experienced this awe. But, today could be the day you do. In either case, the answer isn’t the amount of faith we can muster up, but the object of our faith, the risen Jesus Christ. 

Let’s pray.

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