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28th October 2001

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Scripture Reference

LUKE 24 :13-35

I was at the University of Wollongong with Dr Jim Pendlebury. After lunch with the Vice Chancellor and several professors we walked by an art exhibition on the University walk walls. There was a large painting of the ruins of the World Trade Centre in New York. The jagged steel stuck up into the sky. All about were hundreds of thousands of tons of rubble, and underneath the remains of thousands of people. At the side of the painting were the words, "IS THERE ANY HOPE?"

This week the Russian submarine Kursk was brought back to dry dock. On Saturday, August 12, the giant Russian nuclear submarine Kursk, carrying a crew of 118, sank in the icy waters of the Barents Sea after what Russian officials described as a "catastrophe that developed at lightning speed." More than a week later divers opened the rear hatch of the sub but found no survivors. The one question asked by those submariners of each other and of their Commander as their oxygen ran out, was "Is there any hope?"

In a sense, these images are symbols of many lives trapped in violence, domestic crisis, drug addiction, guilt, spiritual barrenness, meaningless existence. From ten thousand throats comes the cry, "Is there any hope?" The one thing that differentiated the early Christians from the pessimism of the Roman Empire, already in decline, was the fact that these believers were filled with unconquerable hope! That hope gave them courage in every situation. That hope started from a series of unexpected encounters of which I have chosen just one.

Jesus had been crucified, dead and buried - there was no doubt about that! Even His enemies agreed Jesus was well and truly dead, the body safely guarded by Roman soldiers. Yet to despairing and downhearted men and women came a total change of attitude. Doubt changed to faith. Despair turned to hope. The one factor that made the difference was the Risen Christ. He encouraged and changed the early Christians into heroes that sent them into their world with enthusiasm that so changed things that "their enemies with tears of rage in their eyes cried: "These people have turned the world upside down."'J.B.Philips The Resurrection released Jesus from the prison of death, and let loose in the world a new power in human experience to change people. The presence and power of Jesus Christ became a new experience that has changed history through changing the lives of ordinary people. He brought people hope.

Within a few weeks the impact of those early Christians was informing the world that a new factor had come into human experience. Dr W. Kirkland says: "The resurrection of Jesus drove cringing men to go shouting a message to audiences as derisive as ourselves, a message that was punished by whipping, crosses, and red-jowled beasts, yet persisting indomitable on and on down the echoing centuries until the pagan world was conquered by a handful of Jewish fishermen, and a great church raised its pinnacles to heaven to enshrine that message flung to the wind on the first Pentecost: "A dead man has become alive!" This was the foundational belief that changed everything about them.

The disciples spent the day after the Crucifixion in fear and despair. It was a day of rest, but who could rest? Their Lord was dead. Their cause had been lost. All their courage, faith and hope lay shattered round the base of a hill shaped like a skull. Their minds tortured; their souls scarred; their hearts breaking. The darkness about the cross turned to fear. The hours of Saturday dragged on. Nothing could relieve their gloom. They were the saddest and most downhearted of people. The next day at dawn, the women went to finish embalming the body. But they found the stone moved, the tomb empty, the guards scattered and the Lord risen! The presence and the power of the Risen Lord came to Mary, and she ran and told the disciples. Peter and John ran to see for themselves. Then the other disciples gathered in the Upper Room discovered His presence.

Not all met the Risen Lord that day. Two had set off for Emmaus before the fact of His resurrection had become known to them. Now they trudged in despair and disappointment toward their home in the west, when they were joined by a Third. They were surprised. He was a stranger and did not know the news. Jesus, whom they had hoped to be the Messiah had been crucified. It was now the third day since this happened. The passive form "they were kept from recognizing him" v16 is the work of God. This device introduces the pattern of non-recognition and recognition, central to this narrative. v17-18 The verb describing their discussion means "throwing arguments back and forth". They were baffled, attempting to understand the meaning of this most momentous weekend in history.

Then the Stranger seized the conversation and explained how it was necessary for the Christ to suffer all of these things to redeem mankind. v25-27 Jesus, who in transfiguration was superior to Moses and Elijah 9:28-36 now invokes Moses and the Prophets to explain how necessary it was for Him to know suffering before glory. v27 The verb meaning "it is necessary" is one of Luke's key words. cf. 2:49; 4:43; 13:16, 33; 15:32; 18:1; 19:5; 21: 9; 22:7, 37; 24:7, 44. The glory of the Christ v26 is a substitute expression for "was raised from the dead". Paul quoted the Old Testament to prove the necessity of both the suffering and the resurrection of the Messiah. Acts 17:2-3

Then just as the sun was setting, they came to their home, and the two invited the Stranger in. As they started to eat, the Stranger became the host. He took the bread, and broke it, and gave thanks. Was it the familiar way He handled the bread? Or did the sleeves of His gown fall back to reveal nail-prints in His hands? We do not know - but suddenly they realised it was the Lord! He was with them. Then He was gone. Their hearts were overflowing with joy, and they said: v32 "Did not our hearts burn within us as He opened to us the scriptures?" They ran all the way back to tell the disciples that they had seen the Lord. But they could not get a word in! The disciples were bursting to tell them that they had seen the Lord, and that He had appeared right there in the Upper Room. Suddenly, they began to realise that at the same time, in two different places, He was there with them. Then, later Thomas came into the Upper Room, and the Lord appeared to Thomas and to the rest of them.

Jesus told Thomas to place his hand into His side and into His wounds. Then, when they went back to Galilee, full of this news, He appeared to them there. Then to over 500 people all at once. Then to James, and years later to Paul. They understood: His resurrection enables Him to be with all people of faith and devotion. "Lo, I will be with you always, even unto the end of the world."

When Jesus came into their lives, He brought with Him unconquerable hope. Here is how you can recapture that hope in your life:

    It was while "they were talking with each other about all the things that had happened" that Jesus drew near. He had promised to be there whenever two or three gathered together in His name. Already He was proving that promise. Christians affirm their faith when they discuss it together, and that affirmation brings hope.
    They were also prepared to talk with a Stranger about "the things that happened to Jesus of Nazareth". They shared the story of the Cross and what they knew about the Resurrection, that "He is alive". Even though they had not seen Jesus personally, even the retelling of the events of the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus was enough. We need ordinary men and women to share what they know about the faith, even if that sharing includes their own deficiencies and doubts. They "hoped" that Jesus would bring deliverance. The verb is "hoped" not "trusted". That is a big difference!
    It is the difference between trusting Jesus as our Saviour and hoping He will be our Saviour. The past tense of "hoped" is, under the present circumstances, a pathetic reminder of their inability to recognize Jesus or to believe the report of the empty tomb. Real hope comes only when we first trust.
    v25-27 They studied "what was said about Himself in all the scriptures." Hope comes when believers search the scriptures. We need more people to meet together for Bible study. Only around the scriptures do we find our hearts burning within us. John Wesley found in the study of the scriptures that his heart was "strangely warmed". So do we when we study the scriptures.
    v28-31 Those two offered the hospitality of their home: "Stay with us; for the day is almost over and it is getting dark." As the afternoon drew on and mealtime approached, the stranger would need food and lodging. Jesus had "acted as if" He were going to continue His journey. Such a gesture would, like the invitation itself, be appropriate in the custom of those days. This polite response drew a very strong response from Cleopas and his companion, who "urged Him strongly" to stay. v29 While they were entertaining a Stranger they found they were entertaining the Lord Himself. How many of us have been blessed by our guests? The Bible talks about us entertaining angels unawares when we offer our hospitality to strangers. That hospitality is a mark of Islam following the example of Abraham and Sarah, and should be the mark of Christians everywhere.
    Your strong sense of hope in God grows when people in this city church are willing to take people out after services for a cup of coffee, or to meet in our restaurant for a meal beforehand, or in each others' homes.
    v32-35 The reunion with the Eleven brought assurance to all, as the two disciples fulfilled their role as witnesses. They spoke of recognizing Jesus when He broke bread with them. They "found the eleven disciples and explained to them what had happened on the road, and how they had recognised the Lord when He broke the bread." So we need to share our testimony of faith. In sharing theirs, they discovered the faith experiences of the rest, and while they were sharing the Lord Himself came among them. There is the example we need to follow. Our certain hope grows by our witness to it.
    Underneath everything in their witness was the personal knowledge that Jesus was the Risen Lord. While they doubted, did not know for certain, did not listen to the witness of the women, they were downhearted and despairing. Is there any hope? But when they experienced the Risen Christ personally they became liberated witnesses and powerful Christians. We need personal knowledge of the Risen Lord. So many people are living lives that are despairing and hopeless. "Is there any hope?" There is in the risen, living Saviour!

If you have never found the certainty in life that holds you secure no matter how the foundations are shaken, accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. He becomes that rock on which we stand secure!

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.11

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes


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