April 1st is traditionally referred to as “April Fool’s Day.” It’s beloved of practical jokers everywhere. The idea is that before midday you are allowed to play tricks on people, try and catch them out, fool with them.
One of my favourite April Fools was the day that a newspaper published an article announcing that Ian Rush was about to leave Liverpool to join their nearest and greatest rivals, Everton. That’s almost as bad as someone going from Bradford to Leeds or West Brom to Villa. Or the time that a friend phoned and managed to convince his girlfriend that he was one of her professors and that he was calling to let Students know that the University’s main building had been declared unsafe and closed down meaning no exams.
It relies on catching people out. It relies on people not seeing things they should see. Similarly, you may be familiar with the old magic eye pictures. Stare at them long enough and you are emant to see the shape of a cat or a fish or a man playing golf. It doesn’t matter how long I stair at them them, I can never see anything.
So, here we are on Easter Sunday and it’s April Fools Day as well. Maybe you are here and you are saying “I’m not going to be made a fool of”
Maybe you are here and you are saying “I just can’t see it.” Yes, you get that people want to be together, you get that songs can be uplifting, that prayer can have a soothing effect, that ancient texts like the Bible are interesting, that a moral code to live by is useful.
But all this stuff about a God who made us and loved us enough to send Jesus just seems foolish. Even more ridiculous still, a man dying and coming back to life again. It’s … well it’s unbelievable isn’t it.
Well here we are in Luke 24 as we continue to look at some encounters with Jesus. I’ve often asked the question “What stops you from seeing who Jesus is? What stops you from believing?” Here are some people who are looking and not seeing, some people who are searching and not finding. They would like us be vary wary of being taken for fools but in all of that, they end up missing the point. They end up with a blind-spot. The good news is that Jesus steps in to open their eyes.
This morning I’m going to ask you to do the same thing, to allow Jesus to open your eyes to the truth of who he is and what he has done for you. Now, that might sound “foolish” a weird way of talking even and to be clear, I’m not going to ask you to leave your brains at the door and get into some mumbo jumbo but rather here in the Bible to discover incredible, life changing truth.
- Eyes Closed
It’s Sunday and two of Jesus’ followers are on their way to a little village called Emmaus. It’s described as a 7-mile trip, this probably refers to the ‘round journey’ so 3.5 miles away in one direction.
They are walking and talking about he terrible events of the last few days. A man approaches, it’s Jesus but they don’t recognise him. They are prevented from seeing who he is. Why? Well it may be spiritual, either that God chooses to keep them from seeing at first or Satan blinds them. Actually, it may be very natural. They have seen Jesus die and they are simply not expecting to see him alive and be talking to him. That’s an important point we need to come back to in a minute.
Jesus asks them what they are talking about. They are incredulous. How can this man be around and not know what has been going on? Has he been on a different planet? This would be like someone turning to you this morning and saying “What’s all this stuff about Russians?” or “Who’s this Jeremy Corbyn chap?” or “So ..One Direction – are they still together then?” The joke is that this man has been around, been looking and not seen the stark staring obvious. But the joke is on them. Look carefully:
Cleopas begins to tell Jesus about the events.
They knew that Jesus was a powerful prophet. They had hoped he was the redeemer, the Messiah but he had been handed over to judgement and death. This happened three days ago.
They had been looking. In-fact they had been listening to “a prophet” but they had not heard him. He had promised them that he must die and three days later, rise.
They’ve looked but not seen. They’ve missed the obvious!
Women went to the tomb. They looked but did not find Jesus. Notice that they report that they have seen angels telling them that Jesus was risen.
They’ve looked but not seen. They’ve missed the obvious!
Then other disciples went to the tomb. They found it as the women reported. So the women were to be trusted. However, they did not find Jesus’s body either.
They’ve looked but not seen. They’ve missed the obvious!
Now, this may feel like it’s leading to me being a bit obvious. I’m saying that the two disciples are missing the obvious. So, what about you and me this morning. Are we missing the obvious? Am I insulting you and calling you a fool? That’s not what you come to church at Easter for is it?
However, if I can say this gently. In my experience, we are all quite good at missing the obvious. We can stare at crossword puzzles for hours and miss the obvious clue. We can talk around problems and miss the simple solution. Furthermore, I think we may miss the obvious here because we’ve been sold a dummy on the Resurrection.
What do I mean? Well you and I know that dead people don’t come back to life don’t we. There are doctors and nurses in our congregation who have treated people at end of life. Some of you have sat next to the bedside of a relative as they passed away. Most of us have stood by gravesides and watched coffins lowered. We know that death is pretty much the end of things. People don’t come back. You hear the occasional near death story and you treat it with some scepticism and assume there’s a neurological explanation.
However, we then assume, because we’ve been told, that the disciples were primitive and stupid people who didn’t think that. They thought that dead people came back all the time. It was quite normal for them to assume that Jesus might come back. And that’s the lie. You see, proper historical research shows that this is not the case.
NT Wright in his book, the Resurrection of the Son of God has shown that in Jesus’ time, no-one expected anyone to come back from the dead. It didn’t happen. They lived close to death. They saw people grow old, get sick and die. They buried them. They knew that you didn’t come back. What is more, the philosophy and theology of the day went against it too.
– The Greeks believed in an afterlife, but you did not come back physically. Your spirit escaped from your body and went to another shadowy world.
– Quite a few Jews didn’t believe in resurrection at all -those where the Sadducees
– Generally speaking the Jews believed that there would be a general resurrection of everyone at the end of time, all together but not one man now in the middle of history
I think that’s why they fail to see what is staring them in the face. It’s why the leaders can plot to kill Jesus after he raises Lazarus. They don’t believe he has been raised. It’s why they pay the soldiers to tell a story about grave robbers instead of going to the empty tomb themselves. Their problem isn’t how to cover up the resurrection but how to cover up that the body has gone in broad daylight, after dawn.
So, just like you and me, they would not have believed that people could, should or would come back. So the big question we have to answer is “What caused them to change their mind and believe that Jesus had risen?”
- Eyes Opened
What changes things here? Well Jesus challenges and rebukes them. He says “You are slow to believe…” They’ve missed all the obvious clues.
Then he starts to show them how the whole of their Scriptures have in fact been pointing to this day. He goes back to the very beginning. He will have shown them lots of prophecies predicting him and what he would do.
However, he would also have shown them that the whole Bible points to the fact that our great need is met in and only in his death and resurrection.
Genesis 1-3 shows us how God made us in his image. It also shows how sin brings death. It is God’s just judgement. Scripture shows that we are spiritually dead. We are not able to live good lives. We are not able to sort the mess in our own lives out. We are not able to sort the mess in the world out.
That’s the problem with much religion. That’s why you are rightly sceptical of it and don’t wan tto be taken for a fool. You and I know that all those people out there telling us that if we just try harder, if we are more religious, if we pay for their special self-help course or allow them to go through a ritual with us that those things make no difference. We go home and the pain, emptiness, guilt and shame are still there. We are still dead.
We don’t like to admit that, though do we? That’s why the Gospel is so convincingly true. It’s not the sort of thing someone would make up. The Gospel humbles us. It doesn’t let us get any glory and excuse.
So, Scripture shows us that Jesus is the one who must come. He is the promised saviour. He was the one who would take our place, be punished, beaten, mocked, cursed, shamed, nailed to a cross to die. He bore our guilt and shame so that we could be free and forgiven.
But if we needed a saviour to die for us then what good is a saviour who stays dead. The evidence that God had dealt with sin, that the victory was won that death was defeated is seen not just in his death but in his glorious resurrection. That is our only hope.
They arrive at the village. They invite Jesus to stay and eat with them. There he takes bread and breaks it, just as he had done a few days earlier. It is then that everything clicks into place. It’s then that their eyes are opened. They seen him, they know him, they realise that he is risen.
We move from the comedy of irony to a greater, deeper comedy. You see, true comedy is not about jokes. The Ancient Greeks used to write plays. They wrote two types of play, comedies and tragedies. Shakespeare followed the same pattern. In a tragedy, the central character sets out on an adventure but it ends in shame and disaster, often with everyone dead. In a comedy, the main character sets out on their adventure, they may experience lots of trouble along the way but at the end, they experience, joy, happiness and victory. Their situation at the end is greater and better than at the start.
The Gospel follows that pattern. It is the story of how God takes us and lifts us out of the mess of sin, he brings us from death to life. He reconciles his enemies to himself. He does all that through Jesus and his death and resurrection.
We started our “on the way” series with a blind man whose eyes were opened by Jesus. Here again are two men whose eyes are opened. What about you and me?
Here we met two men who were missing the obvious that was staring them in the face. What was stopping them? What stops you and me from seeing who Jesus is and believing the good news. Let’s be honest with ourselves now?
For some of us, there’s that genuine intellectual blocker. We want to be convinced. We’ve heard a lot of claims about Christianity that encourage us to be sceptical. I’ve picked up on one this morning but you may have more. Please take time to come and talk with us. We would be happy to point you to further reading as well. Come along to the Sunday evening talks and discussion and ask your questions.
Some of you have had bad experiences of religion and are nervous of getting into that again. We understand that. Please don’t feel pressured by us this morning but do take time to look again at Jesus, someone so utterly different from the religious con-merchants of our world.
Some of us if we are honest must admit that the thing that stops us is we know that trusting Jesus is costly, it means a loss of pride, you will have to admit you have been wrong. It may mean a loss of status and respectability. It means giving everything to him.
Those of you who were here last week will remember me quoting a man called Jim Elliot who gave his life literally as a Christian missionary. He said
“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”