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All the stories point to Jesus

Back to all sermons Easter 2019

Date: April 21, 2019

Speaker: Eric Stillman

Series: Easter 2019

Scripture: Luke 24:1–24:32

This Easter morning, we will be looking at Luke’s account of Jesus’ resurrection, as found in Luke 24. For those unfamiliar with Luke, he was a doctor and historian who was part of the early church and a traveling companion of Paul. This morning, I’ll be focusing particularly on the account of Jesus walking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, which begins in v. 13 and ends in verse 32. But I want to begin with verse 1, which takes place after Jesus’ body has been in the tomb a couple of days:

 

Luke 24:1-32 - On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.  2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,  3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.  5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?  6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee:  7 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'"  8 Then they remembered his words.  9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.  10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.  11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.  12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.  13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.  14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.  15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them;  16 but they were kept from recognizing him.  17 He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?" They stood still, their faces downcast.  18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?"  19 "What things?" he asked. "About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.  20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him;  21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.  22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning  23 but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive.  24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."  25 He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?"  27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.  28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther.  29 But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them.  30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.  31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.  32 They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"

 

This is God’s Word. In this passage, we see two of Jesus’ disciples walking a seven-mile journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They are downcast, upset and confused about the recent death of their leader, Jesus. But the risen Jesus comes and walks with them. However, the text says that they were kept from recognizing Him. They did not realize that Jesus was walking alongside of them. I want to use this text to talk about three barriers to belief in Jesus, two clues to belief, and the one step to belief.

 

  • The hiddenness barrier

 

15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them;  16 but they were kept from recognizing him. 

 

I don’t know why the disciples couldn’t recognize Jesus. I don’t think it was because his appearance had drastically changed. I think it was because God supernaturally kept them from recognizing who it was. Whatever the reason, I do know that their inability to recognize Jesus is consistent with what the Bible tells us about our ability to know God. There is a hiddenness to God, and there is something supernatural that is needed in order to come into a relationship with God, something that can not be explained by human reason or scientific inquiry. In 2 Corinthians 3 & 4, Paul uses the term veil to describe this:

 

2 Corinthians 3:13-18 - We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away.  14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.  15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.  16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.  17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 

 

2 Corinthians 4:3-4 - And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

 

According to Paul, for those who do not believe, it is as if Satan, the god of this age, has blinded their minds, as if they have a veil over their hearts and minds that will not allow them to understand and see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. This is true for some of you sitting here right now. Some of you listen to me talk, you watch people raising their hands in worship, and you say, “I don’t get it.” Or worse, you scoff inwardly at them, unsure how anyone could be so gullible. The reason, according to the Bible, is not that you are somehow stupid, or that those who believe are stupid. The reason is that there is a veil, metaphorically speaking, that has blinded you from seeing the glory of the gospel, from seeing the beauty of Christ, from truly comprehending the love of God. For some, the veil has been lifted and they see the glory of the gospel. For others, the veil remains.

 

As someone who stands firmly on the believer side, but who used to be on the other side of not knowing Jesus, I can say confidently that there truly is a supernatural element to all of this. I became a believer in Jesus at 18. While I did not feel different immediately when I prayed to Him, I could see some clear differences in the following days. The Bible, which had formerly been boring and meaningless, came alive, and I wanted to read the Bible. Not only so, but it started to make sense for the first time, and to speak into my life. I found myself wanting to read as many books about God as I could and to learn as much as I could about God. I wanted to spend time with other Christians, which was also new. I had a sensitivity to sin that was not there before. And nobody taught me these things – it was as if God had lifted a veil, and I was seeing the world in a whole new light, with new eyes. And when I look at my life today, I can not explain the love I feel for God with my reason. It makes no logical sense to feel that emotionally for a being I have never seen. I can not explain the joy I have in knowing God, other than to say that God has lifted the veil and allowed me to see His glorious gospel.

 

It is just as the blind man who was healed by Jesus said in John 9:25 when asked by the religious leaders about how Jesus healed him: “One thing I do know. I was blind, but now I see.”

 

Do you see God? Have you seen the glory of the gospel, the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for your sins? Or is the veil still there? Listen to how Paul prayed:

 

Ephesians 1:17-19 - I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,  19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

 

God, open the eyes of our hearts to see you. If you resonate with what I am saying, I encourage you to pray and ask Him to remove the veil, to help you to see Him today.

 

  • The expectation barrier

 

17 He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?" They stood still, their faces downcast.  18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?"  19 "What things?" he asked. "About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.  20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him;  21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.

 

“We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” The two disciples had hopes of what Jesus was going to do. They believed that Jesus, as the Messiah, the anointed one, would defeat the Romans who held power over Israel, and bring back the former glory to the nation of Israel. But instead, the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus, and the Romans killed Jesus. And so, the disciples were disillusioned, because they thought they knew what the Messiah would be like and do, and Jesus did not follow the script.

 

How true is this of so many of us! One big barrier to belief for many of us is that we have our expectations of what God should be like. We know how we would run things if we were God. And when God doesn’t operate according to our plans and expectations, then we become disillusioned, or worse yet, give up our belief.

 

The most common time this happens in our lives is when something bad happens. Someone we love dies. The disease or illness doesn’t go away. The marriage doesn’t turn around. We lose the job, and then our house. Prayers go unanswered. And we don’t understand how a good God could allow those things to happen, and we lose our faith in God. The expectations we place on God, especially when He doesn’t meet those expectations, can be a big barrier to belief. But God sees a bigger picture, the longer view. As He says:

 

Isaiah 55:8-9 - "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.  9 "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 

Certainly anyone who is a parent can relate to this statement. Most children that I have met would love to have candy and ice cream every meal of their lives, and to play electronics every waking second. They don’t understand why they need to practice instruments, do their homework, or clean their rooms. And we have to tell them that our ways are not their ways, that we have a bigger picture, a longer view, in mind.

 

The disciples had expectations. They wanted a Messiah who would overthrow Rome and restore Israel to its former glory. But God had sent a Messiah who would overthrow not just Rome but sin and death, and not just restore Israel, but restore every person in the world who would trust in Jesus to a right relationship with God.

 

Some of you have a barrier between you and faith in God, and it is the barrier of expectations. You think you know how God should act, and it is causing you disillusionment and unbelief. But God’s ways are not your ways. He is up to something bigger than we want Him to do.

 

As Elisabeth Elliot put it:  “God is God. Because he is God, He is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will find rest nowhere but in His holy will that is unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what he is up to.”

 

I encourage you to come to the Bible and read with an open mind. Come to church and listen with an open mind. Come to God with an open mind and open Bible. Lay down your expectations of how God should act, and learn who He really is so that you might trust in Him.

 

  • The supernatural barrier

 

And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.  22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning  23 but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive.  24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see." 

 

Essentially, the disciples are saying that they have been told miraculous stories about what happened to Jesus that are very hard to believe. Something about the body missing, and angels showing up and saying that Jesus is alive again.

 

Certainly one barrier to belief for many people is the supernatural element of our faith. In many cultures around the world, the supernatural realm is taken for granted and accepted as reality, but in our culture that is so scientifically minded, it is not always that way. And as many people look back at the account of the resurrection of Jesus, they can not believe it because, well, people don’t rise from the dead.

 

But here is the thing. Sometimes we are guilty of what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery,” believing that we are superior to people 2000 years ago because they were unscientific and gullible back then. But the reality is that people in Jesus’ day were just as unlikely to believe in the resurrection as we are today. After all, most Jews believed in a future general resurrection of the righteous, all together at the last day; but they did not believe that an individual would rise from the dead in the middle of history. Similarly, the Greeks did not believe in resurrection; for them, the afterlife was liberation of the soul from the body. They believed that the body was corrupt, so who would want to be resurrected and trapped in a body for all eternity? Resurrection was undesirable for the Greeks. So, just in case you thought people might more readily believe in miracles such as the resurrection 2000 years ago, they didn’t.

 

This means that if the disciples had made up the resurrection story, no one would have believed them. In fact, the resurrection of Jesus has so much evidence in its favor – there were still eyewitnesses when Paul was writing his letters (see 1 Corinthians 15:6). The body was never found. There were others around the time who claimed to be Messiahs, and when they died, their fame died with them – not so with Jesus. The disciples were transformed into men who were willing to die rather than say it was a lie. The female eyewitnesses. And yet still, the supernatural element continues to be a real barrier for people to believe. If that is you today, I would ask you to look into the proofs of the resurrection for yourself and see what option makes the most sense of the faith that has spread around the world since the death of Jesus – that the disciples made up the story, or that Jesus really rose from the dead.

 

Those are the three barriers to belief in Luke 24. Now let’s look at two clues to belief that we find in this passage.

 

25 He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?"  27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 

 

  • All the stories point to Him

 

As they walk along the road to Emmaus, Jesus goes back to the beginning and shows the disciples how the stories point to Him. Imagine how the Jesus in disguise would have led them through the Scriptures to show them how it all pointed to Him:

 

Remember Adam, who failed the test of obedience in the garden of Eden and passed down the curse of his disobedience to us? Jesus is the true and better Adam, who passed the test of obedience in the garden of Gethsemane and who passes down the blessing of his obedience to us

Remember after Adam and Eve fell into sin, how God told them that the serpent would bruise the heel of the woman’s descendant but that he would crush the serpent’s head? That descendant is Jesus, who though bruised, will crush the Devil forever.

Remember Abel, slain by his brother Cain even though he was innocent, and how his blood cried out for condemnation? Jesus is the true and better Abel, who was also slain even though he was innocent, and whose blood cries out for our acquittal.

Remember Abraham, who answered the call of God and left the comfortable and familiar to go to a new place to create a new people of God? Jesus is the true and better Abraham, who left the comfort of heaven to come to earth and create a new people of God.

Remember God’s covenant with Abraham, where he cut the pieces of the animals and passed between them, declaring that I will not fail you, and even if you fail, I will take the penalty for your sin? Jesus is God taking that penalty for our failures.

Remember Isaac, Abraham’s son, offered up by his father on the mount but saved by God? Jesus is the true and better Isaac, offered up by his father on the mountain and sacrificed for us all.

Remember Jacob, asleep in the middle of nowhere, dreaming of a stairway to heaven? Jesus is that stairway to heaven. Jesus is heaven come to earth and is the way that we get to heaven.

Remember Jacob, wrestling with God and taking the blow of justice? Jesus is the true and better Jacob, who took the Father’s fatal blow of justice that we deserved so that we might receive grace

Remember Joseph, ascended to the right hand of the king of Egypt, forgiving those who betrayed him and using his power to save them and the people of God? Jesus is the true and better Joseph, ascended to the right hand of God the King, forgiving those who betrayed him and using His power to save Him.

 

We’re only in Genesis!

 

What about Moses, standing in the gap between the people and the Lord, mediating a new covenant? Jesus is the true and better Moses, standing in the gap between the people and the Lord and mediating a new covenant.

What about the Rock of Moses, struck with the rod of God’s justice to give the people water in the desert? Jesus is the true and better Rock, struck with the rod of God’s justice to give the people living water

What about the Passover Lamb, innocent and slain so that the angel of death would pass over the people of God? Jesus is the true Lamb of God, innocent and slain so that the angel of death would pass over us.

What about the manna, bread from heaven given by God so that His people might live? Jesus is the true bread from heaven, come down to give us His body so that we might have eternal life.

What about the tabernacle, the temple, God dwelling in the midst of His people? Christ is the true temple, Emmanuel, God dwelling with us.

What about Job, the innocent sufferer who intercedes for and saves his foolish friends? Jesus is the true and better job, the truly innocent sufferer who intercedes for and saves us.

What about David, whose victory over Goliath becomes his people’s victory, even though they never lifted a stone? Jesus is the true and better David, whose victory over Satan and death becomes our victory, even though we did nothing to deserve it.

What about God’s prophecy that one of David’s descendants would sit on the throne forever? Jesus is that descendant, reigning over an eternal kingdom.

What about Psalm 22, the Psalmist crying out “My God my God, why have you forsaken me” as evil men encircle him and pierce his hands and feet and cast lots for his clothing? Jesus is that man, crying out from the cross as He takes on our sins and as His Father turns His back.

What about Esther, who risked the palace in order to save her people? Jesus is the true and better Esther, who gave up His heavenly palace and didn’t just risk his life but gave it to save his people

What about Jonah, thrown out into the storm, three days in the belly of the great fish before being brought back up, so that the other sailors might be saved? Jesus is the true and greater Jonah, thrown out into the storm of God’s justice, three days in the grave before rising again, so that we might be saved

What about Daniel, seeing a vision of a Son of Man who will be given authority by the eternal Father to rule over the nations? Jesus is that Son of Man.

What about the son who will be born, prophesied by Isaiah, who will carry on his shoulders the governments of this world, whose name will be called wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace? What about the one of whom Isaiah writes that the virgin will conceive and be with child, and they will call him Emmanuel, which means God with us? What about the prophesy in Micah that a child will be born in Bethlehem who will be ruler over Israel, but whose origins will be from ancient times? What about the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 who will die for the sins of the nation?

 

The Bible is not a collection of stories, or worse, a collection of inspirational sayings. It is one grand story, for those who have ears to hear, telling the story of the love of God as displayed in the person of Jesus, come to suffer and die and rise again to save those who are lost and to bring them back to God. It’s like Sixth Sense or Usual Suspects, one of those movies where the ending changes the way you saw everything that came before. As the disciples heard the risen Jesus talk about how all that came before pointed to Him, Luke writes that their hearts burned within them. All the stories point to him and find their culmination in Him! That is the wonder of the Bible.

 

All the stories point to Him. It’s the same way in our world. All the stories point to Jesus and find their fulfillment in Him. I’ve shared in past Easter sermons from an essay called “On Fairy Stories” by JRR Tolkien, where he argues that Easter is the story to which all other stories point, the true, historical fairy-story that makes sense of all the other stories. As Tolkien said about the Easter story: “There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits.”

 

The movies that most people want to see are not the ones full of gritty reality, depicting a world where things don’t always work out in the end, where the bad guys win and love fails. The stories people want to see tend to have one or more of these common elements: they show a world where good triumphs decisively over evil, where victory is snatched out of the jaws of defeat, where an act of sacrificial heroism saves the day, where death is not the end, where love is eternal, and where there is a happy ever after. All the stories point to this one, the true, wonderful, world-transforming love story of the one who came to rescue us from the greatest enemy, to die a sacrificial death in our place, and to rise again to forever destroy all that is evil.

 

The first clue to belief is to see how all the stories point to this story. All roads lead to the gospel and find their fulfillment in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection means that good will triumph over evil. Victory has been snatched out of the jaws of defeat. An act of sacrificial heroism has saved the day. Death is not the end. Love is eternal. And there is a happy ever after.

 

The first clue to belief is to see how all the stories point to this story. And the second clue to belief is related: it is to see how our hearts are longing for Him:

 

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther.  29 But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them.  30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.  31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.  32 They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"

 

  • Our hearts are longing for Him

 

As they heard Jesus talk, their hearts were burning within them. How did you feel as I showed you how all the stories point to Easter and find their fulfillment here? What went through your mind and heart as I claimed that we love the stories that we love because they point us to the true story of the resurrection. Do you truly believe that good will triumph over evil, that victory has been snatched out of the jaws of defeat, that an act of sacrificial heroism has saved the day, that death is not the end, that love is eternal, and that there is a happy ever after?

 

Could it really be true? Despite all the evil and discouragement that comes from living in this world, could that all be true? I believe that we long for all of this to be true because our hearts recognize that this is what we were created for.

 

Ecclesiastes 3:11 - He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

 

Think about it. When you come to a funeral, when a loved one dies, do you find yourself at peace with that being the end? Or does something inside you rage against it? Do you know deep down that death is wrong, that it was never meant to be this way? Do you long for life beyond the grave, for reunion, for death to not have the final word? That longing in your heart is not an accident. It is there because he has set eternity in your hearts. You are longing for God, for Jesus, for the glory of the gospel, for life as God intended it to be.

 

As Jesus put it in John 11:25-26 - "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" 

 

And as the writer of Hebrews puts it in Hebrews 2:14-15 - Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-- that is, the devil--  15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

 

The longing is there, and it is for life as God intended it. Jesus declares that the grave is not the end, that love does last forever for those who are in Him, and he proves this to be true by rising from the dead.

 

But that is not the only longing in there. There is also the longing for justice, that good would decisively triumph over evil once and for all, that there would be no more suffering. Every time we are faced with the injustice of this world, we can either become callous or we can recognize the longing inside of us that things would be made right. And because of the resurrection, that longing will also be fulfilled:

 

Revelation 21:1-5 - Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."  5 He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."

 

What else do we long for? We long to live a life that matters, to know that there is a purpose to this difficult life that we live, that it’s not just a miserable, meaningless existence. We long for our lives to have meaning because we were meant to live a meaningful life. We were meant to know God and glorify and enjoy Him forever. We were meant to be a part of his mission to bring this world back to Him and to the way it was meant to be. This is why, in Paul’s great chapter on the resurrection, he writes:

 

1 Corinthians 15:58 - Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

 

Because of the resurrection, everything matters. As Jesus put it:

 

Matthew 10:42 - And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward."

 

There are many other longings in our heart. And the wonder of Easter is that all of those longings – for love, for justice, for meaning, for everything else – will be met in God forever.

 

Let’s end with one step to belief:

 

Jesus was walking with them and they did not even know it. He was there all along, hiding in plain sight. All the stories point to Him. The burning in your hearts, the longings you feel, are because you were made for relationship with God. Easter is the greatest news because it is true. There is meaning in the world. There will be justice. Death is not the end. And love will be eternal.  

 

If you do not know Jesus, believe in Him today. As Paul writes:

 

Romans 10:9-10 - If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

 

Life to the fullest is found in Jesus. Come to Him with an open heart today, and pray for Him to lift the veil so that you might see the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you do not know Jesus but would like to, you can pray something like this from your heart to His:

 

Jesus, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God. I believe that in you is found eternal life, life to the full. I believe that apart from faith in you, I will die in my sins, separated from God for all eternity. But I believe that you love me so much that you died on the cross in my place, taking the penalty for my sin, and that you rose from the grave, conquering death. I turn from my sinful, self-centered way of life and I believe in you as my Savior and Lord. Amen.