(Preach, The Seed, Easter Sunday 2023-04-09)
To many people, the thing which sits right at the heart of our faith, the thing that it stands or falls on, is utter nonsense.
Paul says, “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).
Every year, I tackle the evidence for and reasons why believing in the resurrection is reasonable. This year I want to take a different tack, rather than looking at the evidence for the resurrection itself, I intend to look at something else, and in the process, kick off our next series.
Today, on Easter Sunday, we are going to look at a meal Jesus had with two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus did a lot of ministry over a meal and around a table. Our next series will take a look at some meals Jesus ate and the ministry he undertook at them.
For today, we’ll tackle what we can learn from the meal two disciples shared with Jesus as they travelled to Emmaus. You can find the account in Luke 24v13-33
The Text: Read Luke 24:13-33 (📖)
V 25, 26 “did you not understand?”
It is remarkable if you start to look at this subject of understanding, how many times Jesus says to the Disciples “don’t you understand?” In fact, on occasion He says, “are you so dull?” which sounds very offensive to our ears.
A cursory look through the gospels shows dozens of references to not understanding. Some of them are parallel verses in the synoptics, and there are too many to read them all out, but here are some of what I feel are the more significant ones for this morning …
The Disciples’ understanding
The Disciples. In Matthew 15:16; Jesus reprimands the disciples about their lack of understanding. He uses the phrase I’ve just mentioned“are you so dull?”. This same phrase appears in Mark 7:18. Here are some other references in the Gospels to the disciples not understanding …
- Mark 8:21; Jesus is talking to the disciples about the yeast of the pharisees, and He gets frustrated with them and Mark records that “He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”
- Mark 4:33,34 – after the parable of the mustard seed we are told the people didn’t understand Jesus’ parables and that He explained their meaning to the Disciples afterwards.
- John 12:16; The disciples do not understand the significance of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
- John 13:7 While He’s washing their feet at the last supper, Jesus tells the disciples (esp. Peter) that though they don’t realise what he is doing at this time, there will come a time when they do understand.
- Mark 9:30-32; John 16:18; Luke 9:45 and Luke 18:34 are just 4 examples of occasions where the disciples didn’t understand when Jesus said he was going to die. John also records that even when faced with the empty tomb, “Peter and the other disciple (probably John himself) still did not understand that Jesus had to rise from the dead” (John 20:9).
- Luke 2:50; Jesus’ parents didn’t understand when he said he had to be in his father’s house (you’d have thought if anyone would understand him, it would be his parents!).
- Matthew 16:9; lack of understanding is connected to lack of faith … “Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand?”.
- Matthew 13 & Mark 4: (the Parable of the sower) the seed that falls on rocky soil is identified as those who don’t understand in Matthew 13:19 (& note in the // passage in Mark 4:13 we read that the disciples themselves didn’t understand the parable).
- Isaiah’s prophecy is quoted by Jesus when he explains to the disciples why he speaks in parables (Matthew 13:11-13), AND by Paul at the end of Acts. The prophecy is here: (Isaiah 6:9,10) (READ).
- Jesus says to the pharisees that they are in error precisely because they do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God (Matthew 22:29). In fact, in Matthew 13:11ff – Jesus seems to be saying that one of the principal things that differentiates His disciples from others is in understanding.
- Nicodemus comes in the middle of the night to Jesus and Jesus gets frustrated and says “You are Israel’s teacher, and do you not understand these things?” (John 3:10).
- When Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus says to Peter “this has not been revealed to you by men, but by the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 16:17), and he also says that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth (John 16:13). In John 14:26 we read that the Holy Spirit will “remind us of everything Jesus said”.
I could go on, but you get the point. Understanding is important. Paul writes about understanding the love of God in Ephesians 3:18: I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp (understand) how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Peter actually writes that Paul’s writings are difficult to understand “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16). He goes on to say that a lack of understanding makes us vulnerable to being carried away in error.
This is good news because as a Pastor, I regularly meet people who really struggle to understand the gospel. If you struggle at times to understand the gospel, then you are in good company!
Lots of problems in the church can be attributed to differences in understanding – that different churches have a different understanding of an issue and they divide over it.
So, if understanding is so important, how do we approach this issue?
From the Isaiah passage that Jesus quotes about being ever seeing but never understanding, we can see that understanding is not just something that happens in the mind – it is a heart thing: Isaiah 6:10: Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
We also know that the Holy Spirit brings understanding to us, we’ve already noted that Peter’s confession of Christ is something that was revealed to Him by the Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 is a key passage here:
We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:
“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him—
these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for,
“Who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ.
In other words, when we think about understanding, we get so tied up in academia that we think understanding is something which is only an academic exercise. But the Bible is clear that understanding is something that can be given us by the Holy Spirit, and that we understand not only in our minds, but also in our hearts and spirits. So much so that Paul can write:
’I pray that out of his glorious riches, he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God’. (Ephesians 3:16-19)
A few brief words about understanding other things. I have been concentrating on understanding as it relates to Scripture and the things of God, but there are at least two other areas where correct understanding is important.
Understanding Each other
“That’s not what I meant!” Ever felt misunderstood? So many arguments and problems in churches are created because people haven’t taken the time to understand each other. We jump to conclusions about what people mean – we assume they mean what we would mean. We all tend to look at life through our own lens of experience, and interpret other people’s actions and words by our own intentions.
The world – It’s been said that the church no longer scratches where people itch because we’e lost our ability to assess where people are itching. We are very good at answering questions no one is asking. In other words, we have become people who don’t understand the culture around us. In 1 Chronicles 12:32 we read about men of Issachar who understood the times and knew what must be done. Do we perceive the difference between an Acts 2 (Jewish, God-aware) and an Acts 17 (pagan, pantheistic, God-Denying / many Gods) culture? What is our culture like today? What about Islamic Culture? Are there sub-cultures?
We need to be a people who …
Understand the Gospel: On the one hand, we don’t just understand the Gospel with intellectual assent, but we understand it with our hearts and with our Spirits – that is a complete and saving understanding of Jesus and who He is and what he has done for us. That kind of understanding gives us power and boldness, mere intellectual understanding does not.
Understand the times we live in: On the other, we want to be people who understand ourselves and the type of society we live in so that we can effectively communicate the love of God to people in a relevant and effective way.
We really don’t want to be a church that is “dull” (in the Biblical sense). i.e. That we don’t understand the purposes of God, that we don’t understand his word, and that we don’t understand our place in the world. If we don’t fully understand either the Gospel we carry or the culture we carry it to, we “mis-wield” it — and this is one of the reasons I believe that Christianity is today seen as generally boring and irrelevant
v27 “he explained … the Scriptures”
Jesus is revealed in the Old Testament
We don’t have a state of affairs where human history gets to the intertestamental period and God thinks “this is a bit of a mess I’ll have to come up with a plan – I know I’ll send my son!”. God’s plan of salvation through messiah is interwoven throughout the whole of the OT, it is pregnant with Jesus … We just have to have eyes to see it
The first mention of the gospel in the Scriptures is generally recognised as Genesis 3:15 This is known as “proto evangelium”
In fact, if we think about it, until the fall, there is no need to mention the gospel and after Jesus establishes a new heaven and a new earth in Revelation 21, the whole of Scripture is about God’s plan to redeem the world. We can see the gospel again and again throughout scripture, OT and NT alike,
For the gospel writers, one of the main reasons for believing in Jesus was the way his life fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah.
Jesus says that the “prophets” spoke about these things, and the disciple’s confusion is diagnosed as being a direct result of their not believing all the prophets had said.
Jesus goes on to explain THROUGH all the scriptures about these things. (note that for them the Scriptures” means what we know as the Old Testament)
Following is a list of some (18) OT prophecies:
- Micah 5:2; Messiah would be born in Bethlehem; Matthew 2:1-6, Luke 2:1-20.
- Isaiah 7:14; Messiah would be born to a virgin; Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 1:26-38.
- Deuteronomy 18:15,18,19; Messiah was to be a prophet like Moses; John 7:40.
- Zechariah 9:9; Messiah would enter Jerusalem in triumph; Matt 21:1-9 John 12:12-16.
- Isaiah 53:1,3, Psalm 118:22; Messiah would be rejected by his own people; Matthew 26:3,4, John 12:37-43, Acts 4:1-12.
- Psalm 41:9; Messiah was to be betrayed by one of his own followers; Matthew 26:14-16, 47-50, Luke 22:19-23.
- Isaiah 53:8; Messiah was to be tried and condemned; Matt 27:1,2, Luke2:1-25.
- Isaiah 53:7; Messiah would be silent before his accusers; Matthew 27:12-14, Mark 15:3,4, Luke 23:8-10.
- Isaiah 50:6; Messiah was to be struck and spat on by his enemies; Matthew 26:67 27:30, Mark 14:65.
- Psalm 22:7,8; Messiah would be mocked and insulted; Matthew 27:39-44,Luke 23:11.35.
- Psalm 22:14, 16, 17; Messiah would die by crucifixion; Matthew 27:31. Mark 15:20,25.
- Isaiah 53:12; Messiah was to suffer with criminals and pray for his enemies; Matthew 27:38, Mark 15:27,28, Luke 23:32-34.
- Psalm 69:21; Messiah would be given vinegar; Matt 27:34 John 19:28-30.
- Psalm 22:18; Others were to cast lots for Messiah’s garments; Matthew 27:35, John 19:23,24.
- Exodus 12:46; Messiahs bones were not to be broken; John 19:31-36.
- Isaiah 53:5, 6, 8, 10-12; Messiah was to die as a sacrifice for sin; John 1:29 11:49-52, Acts 1:43 13:38,39.
- Psalm 16:10; Messiah would be raised from the dead; Matthew 28:1-10, Acts 2:22-32.
- Psalm 110:1; Messiah is now at God’s right hand; Mark 16:19,Luke 24:50,51.
Our relationship with the scriptures…
We have people nowadays who insist that because we are Christians and not Jews, we are under the NEW covenant, and the bulk of our Scripture studying and understand MUST come from the New Testament.
This is not consistent though with passages such as these which make it clear that we can understand and know God’s plan of salvation from the pages of the Old Testament, that and that the Messiah can be found there.
Let’s as a church not discard the whole counsel of Scripture. There is much we can learn about God, Jesus, salvation in the pages of the Old Testament.
V15, 16 – They were kept from seeing him
Romans 1:18-32 describes what happens when we don’t recognise God! In a nutshell, we reject Him and we become our own Gods. John writes that the world “knew him not” (John 1:10). Paul says this in Ephesians 4:17-19: ‘so I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed’.
But that is the non Christian. The two disciples didn’t recognise Jesus, and they were believers. They WANTED to believe. Sometimes, even for believers, even for you and me, we don’t Recognise Jesus’ Presence. It happened to Jacob when he wrestled with God all night. When he woke, he exclaimed, “Surely God was in this place – and I knew it not!” (Genesis 28:16).
For the disciples, they weren’t aware of who Jesus was. He was with them, he was walking with them, talking with them, and they didn’t know it was him! We read that they were full of
- Sorrow (faces downcast – v17).
- Disappointment (but we had hoped – v21).
- Confusion / bewilderment (vv22-24).
Any one of those things will keep us from recognising God or the hand of God in our lives. You might be in a place where you can’t feel God, look in a mirror and ask the question, is there worthing in me or in my circumstances which are preventing me from seeing the hand of God in my life? It might be something like sorrow, or pain, or it might be something else, but whatever you are going through, don’t for a moment believe that Jesus is not right there with you simply because you can’t ‘feel’ him. His presence in your life, his never leaving nor forsaking you, is not contingent on your emotions. He made the promise, He is with you. Whether you feel him or not!
This is an encouragement for us,
The key to joy and contentment in life is to look for and to notice God in every aspect of our lives.
I remember someone saying to me that he wouldn’t believe in God unless He could prove it was God working in some situation, so what he did was refuse to listen to people who looked for and saw the hand of God everywhere – his reasoning was if you look for God in everything you’ll find it in everything, so God had to almost jump out from behind a rock and shout TADA!! What he didn’t realise is that the opposite is also true – that if you ignore the hand of God in everything, you won’t see him in anything.
What we need to do, especially when things are hard, is to try to look at things with “spiritual eyes” and recognise God’s hand moving even when it appears like he is not moving at all
Sometimes we won’t know or understand how God has moved and worked in our lives until glory – sometimes we can look back and, like the disciples, see his hand on our lives. We might even be able to say, “looking back—it was obvious that God was with me”
One of the great things about church is that other people’s perspective on things may reveal God in our situation when we ourselves are so close that we can’t see Him or His hand in it!
We should rinse to the challenge to allow others to speak into the situations we find ourselves in, and to give them permission to “see” God moving in a way we don’t recognise.
In this story, we read that Jesus DID reveal himself to the disciples … They recognised Jesus when he broke bread with them. It is suggested by most people that this is NOT communion, because these men are not from the 12, so that at this stage would have no idea the significance of this event (not being present in the upper room on the night He was betrayed). However, on another occasion he took bread, broke it and gave thanks – John 6 (feeding of the 5,000), it could have reminded them of that occasion?
This is brilliant for us today, because regardless of whether this particular occasion was a communion meal, I want to suggest that this makes the breaking of bread even more significant — Jesus is revealed in the breaking of bread even to those who were not present in the upper room (and that includes us)!!
We can be sure that people can find Jesus in the sacrament of communion! That is why we celebrate it. Too many churches see communion as an “add-on” to their meetings. Previous churches I’ve been in have not seen any real importance in it. They have preferred to concentrate on sung worship, speaking in tongues or display of other spiritual gifts. However, Jesus is present in the communion, and He can be revealed to us in the act of breaking bread together!
So, where are we this morning? I want us to respond to what God says to us – every week. I know we’re so small that responding is quite a big ask, coming out to the front for prayer, or even standing up is something that will leave us feeling vulnerable and wide open. But I believe that it is right for us as a church to start getting into the habit of responding to what God might be saying to us, I want to build a culture here where there is no huge barrier we must break down or overcome in order to respond to God, where standing up or even coming to the front because you feel God speaking to you is not a huge deal, because it is a normal thing for us to do.
When we respond to God, it might be that something I have said has hit you in some way, and that you need to respond to Jesus. There are so many ways that the Holy Spirit applies things into our lives that I can’t possibly list them all every time I preach, and I don’t want to restrict God at all, so I generally don’t try even to suggest ways we might respond, and if I do, I recognise that your response might be about something completely different.
God might have challenged you in any area, even one unconnected with my message, and you want to do business with Him and reset yourself. It might be that somehow God has comforted you and you just want to respond in grateful praise. It might be that you have realised that you need a fresh touch from God – some form of equipping perhaps and the correct response is “yes please Lord”
Challenge us all to do two things …
- If you are feeling a prompting to respond in some way, have the courage to respond and not be constrained by how you perceive others are viewing you. Remember their opinion of you might be “I really wish I had that kind of courage – I need to respond, but I am not brave enough”
- Do not judge how someone is responding to God. None of knows what response someone else is making to God in their own heart. Pray for one another, that we can all respond to God without fear of judgment from one another.