We See Jesus When We Believe in Him
On an ordinary morning in January 2007, Joshua Bell positioned himself against a wall beside a trash can. By most measures, he blended right in — a 30 something year old white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. And placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money and began to play.
There in the D.C. Metro station that day, he started with a piece from Bach that is one of the most challenging pieces to play on the violin, followed afterwards by Mozart and Schubert. He was using a rare Stradivarius (I have no doubt that I botched the pronunciation there), a violin so famous it had been stolen twice and is worth 3 million. It was all part of a experiment arranged by The Washington Post — Would the greatest violinist in the world, playing the best music ever written on the most expensive violin, get anybody's attention at rush hour? In a banal setting, at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?"
Well, as it turns out, not really. Over 1,000 people walked by and during that time, Bell garnered about $32 from the 27 people who stopped long enough to give a donation. Only one woman truly recognized him and introduced herself. All for a world renowned musician, who just three days before, sold out Boston Symphony Hall, with seats going for well over $100.
The greatest violinist in the world, seen but not recognized. And for this morning we’re going to look at a story where Jesus himself, the Word made flesh, the long awaited Messiah, the resurrected Lord, was seen but not recognized, at least, not at first.
Together we as a church have been studying the book of Luke for roughly a year and a half now, and if you by chance thought that Easter Sunday and Jesus’s resurrection would mark the end of our study together, well, not so fast! Though the resurrection is in many ways the final chapter of Jesus’ life, Luke tells the Easter story in three parts, and I’m in many ways grateful for that because Easter always feels like a bit of a whirlwind to me, and this allows us to savor the Easter story a little longer. Last week we looked at Part 1 of the Easter story, as the women discover the empty tomb, next week we’ll wrap up with Part 3 of the Easter story, where Jesus is reunited with his disciples, and yet for today, Part 2, we come across a story that only Luke tells, a story that is often known as The Road to Emmaus, as Jesus meets up with and walks alongside two of his followers, and where Jesus was seen, but not recognized.
It’s an Easter story that both happened and keeps on happening. Showing us what it means to truly see, truly believe, and turns that whole idea that “seeing is believing” upside down.
So let’s get to it. There’s so much meat on this bone, but I’ll limit myself to three things. Three principles I want us to see in today’s passage. And by the way, you may want your bibles out for this one. There’s a lot of ground to cover here and it may help you to follow along with all that’s happening here. Three things in today’s passage. Here’s the first:
It’s hard to see the real Jesus when we’re looking for a different one.
Our story begins in verses 13 & 14 with two followers of Jesus, they were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.
Why they’re going to Emmaus, we’re not totally sure. Maybe they believe that with Jesus’s death that their Jesus apprenticeship is officially over and they're heading home. We know that they’re sad, we’re told in verse 17 that “their faces were downcast.” Maybe they needed to walk off their sadness and process their grief together over a long walk. They were talking about all that happened in town this last week, and then ….
In the midst of it all, what do you know, here comes Jesus, the talk of the town himself. And it says, verse 16, “they were kept from recognizing him.” Now, how is that possible? Was Jesus in disguise? Was Jesus incognito? I would think he’d be more recognizable than ever with scars from the nails in his hands and feet, scabs on his forehead from the crown of thorns, and yet it says, “they were kept from recognizing him.”
Here’s what I think was going on here: They couldn’t see Jesus right in front of them because they were looking for a different one.
Jesus asks them about what’s happened in Jerusalem in recent days, trying to understand why the two of them are so heartbroken.
And so they start talking about Jesus in front of Jesus. They say in verse 20, “They, the chief priests and rulers crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”
You see, they were hoping for, looking for a different Jesus. One who would redeem Israel – a Messiah that would liberate them from Roman occupation. Though Israel had physically returned from Babylonian exile, many of them still felt as if they were exiles in their own land, held captive by foreign enemies. But instead, their Jesus had been crucified, the one they had followed had instead suffered and it seemed had experienced God’s curse. “Lift High the Cross” was a song they couldn’t possibly dream of singing. What good could possibly come out of Jesus’s death on the cross?
Even though the women testified that angels had told them that he had risen and that their disciple friends reaffirmed that the tomb was empty, no one had seen Jesus yet, and because of that, they could not wrap their minds around the possibility of a crucified Jesus. As one commentator sums it up, “Recognizing Jesus as the resurrected Christ requires recognizing that Jesus had to die according to God’s plan.”
And so here before these two is the crucified and risen Lord and yet they were kept from recognizing him, I believe, because they were looking for a different Jesus altogether.
And the same is true for us, it’s hard to see the real Jesus when we’re looking for a different one. You all, what or rather who do you hope it is that you find when looking for Jesus?
Sometimes we try to elevate one attribute of God above another to fit our hopes and preconceptions. For example, sometimes we elevate God’s love while minimizing his holiness.
Many people in our world today appreciate Jesus as a good teacher, as someone to learn from, rather than Lord of all, someone who we are called to live in submission to.
Sometimes we dismiss Jesus altogether if he chooses not to answer our prayers or in the way we would hope.
Personally, I’m often inclined to see Jesus as a Divine Consultant of sorts, someone who I can reach out to in times of need and go to in search of advice and feedback, all while going into the conversation knowing that I hold veto power and ultimately get the final say.
And yet, when we are looking for a different Jesus, one made in our own image, we’re almost sure to miss the real one right in front of us.
And so, if you’re wondering where is Jesus in the midst of what you’re going through, you may want to consider if you’re looking for an imaginary Jesus of your own making.
That’s point one. It’s hard to see the real Jesus when we’re looking for a different one. Here’s point two:
We see Jesus when we see Scripture rightly.
I think this is really fascinating. We hear that these two Jesus followers have misunderstood who Jesus is and why he has come. And yet, Jesus’s move here isn't to say, “C’mon guys, it’s me! Enough with this already. Look at my hands, look at my feet, see my wounds, see my scars.” No, instead he points them to scripture. Saying to them in verses 25 & 26,
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah 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.
In other words, in what had to have been the greatest bible study of all time, Jesus opened the scriptures to them to show them how the Old Testament scriptures ultimately pointed to himself and how his death was God’s grand salvation plan all along. Where exactly he went in this tour de force of scriptural teaching is hard to say, nevertheless the point is this; Jesus went through the Old Testament scriptures, maybe Isaiah 53, maybe all the way back to Genesis 3 to show that suffering was part of the plan all along, and how scripture itself, when rightly interpreted and understood, shows us that because of the resurrection, the cross and Jesus’s death were not an awful failure, but a great success. Not a defeat, but a victory, a victory that compels us to sing, “Lift High the Cross.”
In the midst of it all, it points us towards this greater point, and that is, we see Jesus when we see Scripture rightly. We see the Son of God when we dwell in the Word of God. We see the Living Word when we immerse ourselves in his written Word.
The implications here are enormous. One on hand, it’s a reminder that we see Jesus’s long shadow throughout all of scripture, yes, including the often overlooked and often highly intimidating Old Testament scriptures. Possibly my very favorite class in all of seminary was my first one – Old Testament Survey – taught by an Australian woman with a killer accent and an unbelievable knowledge of the scriptures and she helped me and our class see how the bible, 66 books, written by many different authors, written in different genres, is one unified story that leads to Jesus. The folks at the Bible Project do a great job of highlighting this theme and I’m always eager to point you to them as a resource. I guess part of the point here is this, when reading scripture, ask and wonder how it either anticipates the work of Christ or is written in response to. Before you read scripture, maybe pray, “Jesus, help me to see you more clearly as I read your word.” Maybe ask, “How does this scripture highlight my need for Jesus or how does it highlight how to live in light of what Jesus has done for me?”
In order to see and recognize Jesus, Jesus himself points us to scripture.
In light of this, consider the limitations of seeing Jesus out in creation or in nature itself. It’s a mantra we hear often here in the beautiful state of Montana, “I find God in the mountains.” Yes, that’s true to some extent, and yet, note the limitations here.
For example, a beautiful sunset can tell me that our God is a God who creates beautiful things. Or when I see a rushing river or waterfall, that God is incredibly powerful. Or when I go to the zoo and see a giraffe with a ridiculously long neck, that God is creative and has an interesting sense of humor.
But, all that said, creation itself can tell us very little about the most important things in life. An elk or a trout by themselves can’t tell us anything about forgiveness or where to find it. A sunset by itself can’t tell us anything about the nature of grace or just how amazing it is. A snow capped mountain can’t point us to the cross and the empty tomb. Only scripture can do those things.
Friends, where do you go when you want to see Jesus? Where do you look when you want to dwell with Jesus?
These two followers can’t see Jesus and so Jesus opens up the scriptures and helps them see scripture rightly in order that they might see Jesus standing right in front of them.
That’s the second, here’s the third and final point:
Jesus becomes real when we welcome Him in and fellowship with Him.
There’s still (at least) one final piece of the puzzle here that we’ve got to consider and that is, did you notice when the two followers finally recognize Jesus for who he really is? It wasn’t when Jesus was opening the scriptures to them, or walking alongside them during those seven miles to Emmaus. Rather, it’s when they welcomed Him in and fellowshipped with Him. Where notice this crucial moment in verse 28:
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther.
Alright, it’s the moment of truth, I suppose. How will they respond to this surprise Jesus encounter? Will they say goodbye and go their separate ways? Will they welcome him and fellowship with Him? When it says “Jesus continued on as if he were going farther” in one sense this was basic cultural custom, it was impolite to invite yourself over, in the same way we feel kind of squeamish about it today. And yet, it creates this moment of truth. Will they welcome him into their lives or not?
We’re told later in verse 32 that their hearts were burning while Jesus talked to them and opened scripture to them. They are sensing that something’s going on here, something’s worth following up on here, some kind of divine nudge at play here, and so they welcome Jesus in.
As it says in verse 29, But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he [Jesus] went in to stay with them.
And it’s here where the veil was lifted and the two finally realized it was Jesus all along, where it says:
30 When he [Jesus] 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.
Now, what exactly happened here? What was it that allowed them to see Jesus? I’m still wrestling with this one and will be curious to hear your thoughts afterwards:
Some say that as Jesus broke bread with the two that they were experiencing a déjà vu kind of moment back to Thursday night as the language here is eerily reminiscent of when Jesus introduced the Lord’s Supper. The challenge though is these two weren’t there that night – that meal was only with the original twelve disciples. Though maybe word got out and they were told about the meal and significance afterwards. Maybe we're to see that we see Jesus when we share communion.
Some say that it’s simply a byproduct of sharing a meal together and fellowshipping together. Yes, the language is reminiscent of the Last Supper, but it’s also reminiscent of the feeding of the 5,000, which they might have been present for. Maybe we're to see that we see Jesus when we share a meal together in community, which kind of reminds me of when Jesus said, “When two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them.”
Maybe it’s because the two welcomed Jesus into their life, throughout all of Luke, Jesus has constantly been inviting, constantly welcoming the stranger into his midst, and here right at the very end, we get a role reversal of sorts, a little final exam if you will, “Will we, welcome the stranger and invite them in too?” And when we do, we just might experience the very presence of Christ.
All in all, I’m inclined to do what I did on most every exam in my life, when in doubt, just choose E. All of the above. That always feels like the safest answer.
Take communion. Share a meal with one another. Invite the stranger in your midst. Invite Jesus to dwell with you, after all, he’s been patiently, gently walking alongside us all this time, trying to help us see who he really is.
And let’s finish ever so briefly with this …
It says that as soon as they recognized him, Jesus disappeared from their sight. Which is crazy, right? Just in case there wasn’t enough happening here, we get this “now you see me, now you don’t” moment.
And yet as strange as it may seem, it brings the story full circle to our experience with Jesus today. Where we know he is real, and yet not physically with us.
And yet, he’s been walking with us all this time. We see him in the Scriptures. We experience his presence around the table – whether in communion or fellowship or when we gather together with others. And yet, he is no longer physically with us. Our job is to go and tell, just like the two here did, “We have seen the risen Christ!”
The world will tell us that we’ll believe when we see it. Well, not so fast. Because with Jesus, we’ll see him when we believe in him.