TRA 7th April, 2002
Invite A Stranger In
We are all aware of stranger danger. There are inherent dangers in travelling by public transport, walking the city streets, inviting people into your home without proper identification. We teach our children not to speak to strangers. We identify safe houses in streets to where children can flee. We encourage people living on their own to have safety chains on doors and secure locks. These are fearful times. Stranger danger!
The sad thing about that, is that we can miss out on some of the most rewarding encounters we could possibly have. Encounters with strangers often entail a serendipity as any traveller will tell you. I once went and spoke to a stranger in the street who seemed lost and asked if I could help him with directions. He was a Rotarian from England looking for where my Rotary lunch was being held. I told him I would be pleased to take him as my guest. We sat together as we ate. I told him I was going next week to England. He asked: "Where to?" I told him I was visiting a number of places including Sheffield as we wanted to buy a silver cutlery service. He told me he was from Sheffield, and was the secretary of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce. He knew the General Manager of every cutlery firm in the city. Any of them would be pleased to sell me a set at factory price. He arranged a meeting, and as a result, we were able to afford of setting for twelve rather than six. A chance meeting with a stranger has blessed our every dinner party since.
Those who attend our home Bible study group, or our home prayer meeting, or any other meeting in our home, know we have a lovely lounge suite.
My wife and I were in a Grace Bros. Department Store looking at lounge suites, despairing at their prices. A stranger walked up, introduced himself as a viewer in Melbourne whose whole life had been changed and strengthened since listening to a talk I gave on our weekly TV program. What I had said provided a framework that he had followed in changing his whole personal and business life. He thanked me profusely and asked what we were buying. I thought that was being a bit intrusive on our privacy. But I answered that we had been looking at these expensive lounge suites, but they were financially out of our league. He replied that he was the managing director of the firm that made them in Melbourne. He had just had a meeting with senior executives of the department store. If we wanted that suite, he would send one up from Melbourne at the wholesale price! A chance meeting with a stranger has blessed hundreds of people who have sat in our lounge room.
Once I met a stranger in an auction held in a furniture store that was closing in Melbourne. We were both bidding for some furniture but he outbid me on just about anything I wanted. Later I spoke to him. I saw he was wearing a Gideon's badge. I told him I was a Christian. He was an Asian millionaire setting up his son and family in Melbourne close to my church. His family started to attend my church. The next week, Beverley and I were going to Singapore to attend a Conference. I discovered this stranger was also going to be at the Conference as a volunteer usher. He provided us with hospitality in his Penthouse suite! A change meeting with a stranger led to a wonderful friendship. Chance meetings with a stranger can be wonderful.
What if, by chance, you turned a corner and came face to face with God? G.K. Chesterton pictured a knight riding off, seeking after God, much like Don Quixote:
"So with the wan waste grasses on my spear,
I ride forever seeking after God.
My hair grows whiter than my thistle plume
And all my limbs are loose; but in my eyes
The star of unconquerable praise!
For in my soul one hope forever sings,
That at the next white corner of the road
My eyes may look on Him!"
Many in Palestine had surprise encounters with Jesus. There was a desperate woman who for 12 years had suffered from continuous haemorrhaging. She touched Jesus and was healed, A blind beggar sat by a roadside. Once Jesus passed by. Hearing His name called, Jesus stopped. Jesus made him able to see. Once a paraplegic was let down from the roof before Jesus by four friends. Jesus enabled him to walk again. Once a sassy woman came to the well at Sychar at mid-day. Jesus asked her for a drink. She gave him water, but found forgiveness, acceptance and a new life. Once an invalid waited by the Pool of Bethesda for thirty eight years hoping to be healed. Jesus spoke to him and he was healed. Once a tax-collector climbed up a tree to get a view of the famous Jesus of Nazareth. To his surprise the stranger stopped and invited him to join His band. Once a public servant assessing taxes heard a call to follow. Looking up, Matthew saw Jesus and followed Him. Once by a mentally disturbed man who lived in a cemetery had a chance meeting with Jesus. As a result he found soundness of mind and serenity. Chance encounters every one of them.
Among all of these and many more, none were more amazed with a chance meeting four strangers had with Jesus during the last day of His life. Simon of Cyrene was a black man from North Africa. He was a believing Jew and was coming to Jerusalem for the Passover. As he came in from the country through the city gate, he met a procession moving out, led by a man, horribly beaten, who was staggering under the weight of a cross on which He was to be crucified. A Roman centurion, touched him on the shoulder with his spear and ordered him to pick up the cross and carry it. Even in that most unlikely chance meeting, something happened. Simon's life was changed by the One who was crucified. He became a believer, a leader in the new church, and his wife and two sons became well known among the Christians in Jerusalem, Antioch and Rome.
There were two young men who were crucified for their crimes of rebellion and insurrection against the Government at the same time as Jesus. Jesus had a word of compassion and hope for them. One criminal found faith, forgiveness and eternal life. Luke 23: 32-43. The Roman Army Officer who was in charge of the execution party instructed to crucify Jesus upon the Cross, saw Him die in agony asking for forgiveness for those who brought him to that death. He saw the thorns, the nails, the spear-stab in the side. Then he exclaimed Jesus must be a son of God. Luke 23: 44-47.
Further, consider what happened to two people who doubted the resurrection of Jesus but who were faced with a surprise encounter. Luke 24: 13-36. The two had left for Emmaus before they heard news of the resurrection.
Now they trudged in despair and disappointment toward their home in the west, when they were joined by a Third. They were surprised this stranger 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 had happened. Then He took over the conversation and explained how it was necessary for the Christ to suffer all of these things to redeem mankind. Then just as the sun was setting, they came to their home, and the two invited the Stranger into their home. 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: "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. 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. He told Thomas to place his hand into His side and into His wounds. He had overheard earlier discussions! Then, when they went back to Galilee, He appeared to them there. Then to over 500 people all at once. Then to James. Years later to Paul. They understood: His resurrection enables Him to be with all believers.
He had promised: "I will be with you always, even unto the end of the world." And it was so. Christians ever since have been aware of the presence of the Risen Christ. He is with us wherever we are. This is the greatest knowledge a person can ever have - to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. All of life is transformed by the Easter encounter. Whenever Jesus ministered there were certain principles that when applied by us today, enable an effective ministry in our cities to our generation. Note these principles from the story:
1. DISCUSS YOUR FAITH TOGETHER. v13-14.
While "they were talking with each other about all the things that had happened" Jesus drew near to them. He promised to be there whenever two or three gathered in His name. Already He was proving that promise. You can meet Him when you meet with His believers.
2. SPEAK WITH OTHERS ABOUT YOUR FAITH. v15-24.
They talked 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". They had not met Jesus personally, but even the retelling of the events of the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus was enough. You may encounter Him when you speak of Him.
3. STUDY THE SCRIPTURES. v25-27.
They studied "what was said about Him in all the scriptures." You may encounter Him when you search the scriptures. Meet together for Bible study. Around the scriptures you can find your hearts burning within. John Wesley found his heart "strangely warmed" in Bible study. So can you when you open the Scriptures.
4. PROVIDE HOSPITALITY FOR OTHERS. v28-31.
Those two offered the hospitality of their home: "Stay with us; for the day is almost over and it is getting dark." While they entertained a Stranger they found they were entertaining the Lord Himself. The Bible talks about us entertaining 'angels unawares' when we offer hospitality to strangers. After this service, a cup of coffee could be the start of you encountering Jesus.
5. SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH BELIEVERS. v32-35.
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." We need to share our testimony of faith. In sharing theirs, they discovered the Lord Himself came among them.
As we approach Good Friday, we have an opportunity to have a surprise encounter. You must come with faith, seeking forgiveness, recognising that on the Cross was the Son of God who died for the sins of the world. Easter still has surprise encounters! Nothing is more important for the Church than to have credible witnesses. People whose lives have been changed by the fact of the Risen Christ, and whose future is assured because of their friendship with the Risen Lord. This Easter, why not open your heart to His presence and your home to His friendship? Accepting Christ as Lord and Saviour, can transform your life. Through your example you can transform you family, your community and your world. If you are not a Christian, invite the stranger in! That may be the greatest encounter of your life! This Easter is the very best time for discovering the difference a chance encounter with the Risen Christ can make to you and all around you!
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