The text of the sermon preached this morning at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York is below. I’ve made changes to the text so that it is closer to the audio than it was when first written. The strikethrough–as always–is text that is not said aloud but it is there for the purpose of organizing thoughts. The sermon audio is available from this link. Next Sunday’s message will be on the next and also last pericope of the Gospel of Luke (i.e. Luke 24:36ff).
Many of those who grew up in the faith know the stories of the Gospels. They know that Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people. They know that He healed the sick and cast out demons. Most at least have a vague memory of the story where He fed the five thousand men plus women and children by multiplying five loaves of bread and two fish. They know that the chief priests and rulers of Israel delivered Jesus up to be crucified. And they know that on the third day the women went to the tomb, found no body in it, and reported having a vision of angels who said He was alive. It is not uncommon to know these things, to have heard these stories growing up in Sunday School or in church on Sunday morning, and yet to be slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. The good news is Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day. The Lord is risen! Risen indeed. I like the enthusiasm but it is normal for us to have our doubts about Jesus and we can easily become disillusioned because Jesus does not always appear to do what we expect Him to do. And then we hear this episode about two disciples who were headed down that same road of doubt and disillusionment after having heard and seen many, if not all, of these things firsthand. Listen to their story:
- Luke tells us the story about these two on the road of doubt and disillusionment because he wants you to know that Jesus travels with all of us when we go down that road of doubt and disillusionment [and listens as we share our doubts and dashed expectations openly with Him].
- It is important to know that Jesus does not just abandon us to our doubts and disillusionment but that He goes with us down that road just as He went down that road with the two disciples to Emmaus. The two disciples were talking with each other about everything that has just happened and when Jesus asks them about it they just stood still and looked sad. They were downcast in spirit – they were depressed. God kept them from being able to recognize that it was Jesus there with them but He was there with them as they were going down that road of doubt and sadness. Some of you may have traveled this road yourselves but did not realize that Jesus was with you on the journey, but He was there all along. It is meant to be ironic that the disciple named Cleopas asked Jesus, the only one who really knew what had happened in the last few days—the only one who knew it because He had experienced it, if He was the only visitor to Jerusalem who did not know what had happened there lately. But there is that same irony for us as we go on those journeys of doubting Jesus because of suffering, death, persecution, hardships of various kinds, or for any reason and yet the risen Jesus is with us on that road.
- And He listens as we openly share our doubts and all of our dashed expectations with Him. I think that often in American churches people feel like they cannot openly express their doubts and disillusionment with Jesus. But Jesus listens to us as we share our doubts. It is common to go through a season of doubting as we transition from the beliefs we had because we inherited them from our parents to believing for ourselves. And when that happens during our childhood or teenage years or even later sometimes, it is not uncommon for people to think that other Christians are the last people to whom we should share our doubts or for us to think that we shouldn’t take our doubts and disillusionment to Jesus in prayer. But all of us have doubts or get disillusioned about Jesus from time to time and we should not hide it but take those doubts to Jesus. In fact, Jesus will ask us questions to get us talking about our doubts just as He did with the two disciples going to Emmaus. Jesus even asked those two disciples not one but two questions to get them talking about Him. He did not just ask one and then say, ‘Oh well, they do not get it.’ He wanted them to express aloud what they knew about Him. But Jesus is there with us on that road of doubt and disillusionment and listens as we share our doubts and dashed expectations openly with Him. (The reason we are kept from recognizing that Jesus is speaking to us is that we often do not realize that our brothers and sisters in Christ can be the voice of Jesus. The way this works is that we share those doubts we have with one another and then we go together to the word of God to hear Jesus. Indeed,…)
- Then Jesus gently rebukes us and tells us that the prophetic pattern of suffering and then glory was necessary for Him to follow.
- The Gospel according to Cleopas and the other disciple was missing a very important detail. They got a lot of it right. They said that Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet-man mighty in deed and word before God and all the people. They had almost certainly seen Him heal the sick and cast out demons. They probably knew the story of Jesus multiplying the loaves and fish too. They could have even been there. They knew how their chief priests and rulers had delivered up Jesus to be condemned to death and crucified Him. They even knew that the women went to the tomb early in the morning and came back saying they had seen a vision of angels saying Jesus was alive. In fact, they knew that some of the disciples went to check it out and found the tomb empty but did not see Jesus. That was also ironic because these two disciples were walking and talking with Jesus but did not see that it is Jesus. It is also intriguing because Luke had only told us about Peter going to check it out, so these two disciples knew even more about the story than Luke had told us in the previous scene. But what they were missing in their gospel is that they did not see the risen Lord with eyes of faith. And this story is only good news for them if they believe the Lord is risen. We too may get a lot of the story right but it is only good news if we believe in the risen Lord – if we see Him with eyes of faith, the eyes of believing hearts.
- So Jesus gently rebukes them and us like the angels did the women at the tomb. You may remember how the angels had told the women to remember that Jesus told them that it was necessary for the Son of Man to be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise. Jesus tells the two disciples that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into His glory and He taught them this from the Hebrew Scriptures (“beginning with Moses and all the prophets” – thus all of the Old Testament). The women believed when they remembered Jesus’ words but these two disciples took a little while longer. Their hearts were burning within them while Jesus opened the Scriptures to them. But they needed something more. And sometimes we need something more if we are going to grow in faith. We can be wrestling with our doubts and unable to see with faith that we are in fact discussing these things with Jesus Himself. We can hear the rebuke of Jesus and be taught by Him the whole Gospel from all the Scriptures (Old and New Testaments) but not yet have our eyes opened or if they are open maybe they are not yet wide open. (But even though these two disciples could not yet see the risen Jesus with eyes of faith they urged Him to stay with them. And it is in that context that Jesus made Himself known to them.)
- [And then Jesus makes Himself known to us in the breaking of the bread.]
- 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. This table is the Lord’s Table. He invites all those who trust in Him to share the feast that He has prepared. This is a feast for all of His disciples, even those who grew up in the church and know the stories of the Gospels but do not yet fully see. You may have your doubts, you may be disillusioned, but in the breaking of bread – in table fellowship with Jesus – He can open your eyes to see. The Larger Catechism asks, “May one who doubts of his being in Christ…come to the Lord’s Supper?” and the answer it gives is yes. It says yes “because promises are made, and this sacrament is appointed, for the relief even of weak and doubting Christians.” But the answer also says, “he is to bewail his unbelief, and labor to have his doubts resolved; and so doing, he may and ought to come to the Lord’s Supper, that he may be further strengthened” (Q&A 172). Or in keeping with our passage, the point is that we should work to resolve our doubts, take them to Jesus and talk with Him about them, but even when you don’t see or recognize Him—urge Him to stay with you! (like Cleopas and the other disciple did) and come to Jesus in the feast so that God might open the eyes of our hearts to see Jesus. Jesus makes Himself known to us in the breaking of the bread. Indeed, the Lord’s Supper is an ordinary part of the Sunday worship service. Some churches do not celebrate it every week—this one does it on the first Sunday of the month—but it is an ordinary part of the worship service because Jesus makes Himself known to us in the breaking of the bread. I’m preaching this passage purposefully on a Sunday that we are not celebrating communion because even though we are not feeding on the elements today it is a normal part of worship and because the timing of our eyes being opened isn’t always perfectly aligned with the timing of receiving the bread and cup. It was for Cleopas and the other disciple, but it isn’t always for everyone. Remembering the bread and cup that you received last Sunday you may today open your eyes and see or perhaps even the words you hear today may strike you the next time we celebrate communion and your eyes will be opened wider. (But the story in Luke does not end there. Finally their eyes were opened to see and recognize Jesus and He vanished from their sight. And what did they do?)
- They went back to Jerusalem to tell the others. They found the eleven who said, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” My translation said the Lord has risen, but I like “is risen” not because of any argument from Greek grammar but because He is still risen. So now they hear the testimony of others to the risen Jesus and they added their own testimony about how Jesus had made Himself known to them in the breaking of bread. If you are slow of heart to believe all that the word of God says, be open about your struggle of faith with others, but also be quick to testify to those times of growth in faith that you experience. Encourage one another and come to the Supper to be further strengthened. The third day has come. This does not mean we are beyond hope for the coming kingdom, as the disciples going to Emmaus thought, the third day is the day of resurrection. And risen from the dead, Jesus was given all authority in heaven and on earth for they didn’t just say, “Jesus is risen” – that isn’t quite the whole gospel—it was not just that a man—a prophet—is risen—they said, “The Lord is risen.” He is risen indeed. Amen.