Father, thank you for your sustaining grace. Open our eyes to see you, dig out our ears to hear your Word, and give us feet to walk the path you have placed before us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
What was your 2018 like? What are you hoping for in 2019? I’m not talking about new year’s resolutions – do more, be more, accomplish more, or even do less, spend less, or consume less.
For my family this was the year of new things. New baby in June, New house in August, New country, new church, new job, new neighborhood. It has been an exhausting and beautiful year for us and part of the challenge of this year has been keeping our eyes open to see God at work in the joy of newness, the pain of leaving, the discomfort of change, and the excitement of where we are in our life.
Maybe your 2018 was full of significant changes – full of new joys and new dreams and opportunities. Maybe 2018 was a great year. But maybe it was also full of new challenges and new losses. Maybe 2018 was hard. For most of us, the year was likely a mixture of both. What was 2018 like for you? What are you hoping for in 2019?
As Christians we gather at the end of one year and on the cusp of another, not to make resolutions or try and improve ourselves or our standing, but to look for God. Where was God at work in your life in 2018? When you look back on the whole sweep of the year or on just one or two moments, where was God at work? And what are you hoping and praying he has in store for you in 2019?
As we close out this year and wrestle with these questions and hopes, I want to share with you a story of a time when those who followed Jesus were wrestling with the same questions: God, what have you been doing? God, what is in store for us? The story takes place on the road on Easter. Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and taking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us the they had indeed seen a vision of angels who say that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same house they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what has happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Cleopas and the other disciples were on the road – seven long miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. The events of the past few days weighed heavy on them. They couldn’t help but talk about it. The mixture of sadness, disbelief, and dashed hopes in their voices.
While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
Though they did not know it, Jesus travelled with them on the road on those seven long miles to Emmaus. He asks what they are talking about, they express surprise he doesn’t know. The things about Jesus – they call him prophet, they call him mighty in deed and word, they call him condemned and crucified. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. With disbelief they tell that the women say there is a different story, a new ending that is only the beginning. They went to the tomb early that morning and the stone was rolled back and angels appeared. He was alive. Upon hearing some of the men went to check and found the tomb as the women had said.
Jesus chides them for their foolishness and slowness of heart and then opens the scriptures to them. From Genesis to Malachi, he opens it to them and shows them how all of it had been about him that all of it had been bending toward the Messiah suffering and then entering into glory. Their hearts burn as the scriptures come alive to them in ways they could hardly describe. Suddenly seven miles was not so long. Before they knew it Emmaus was on the horizon. The stranger looks to be heading onward, but they invite him in, insisting he stay with them.
He comes in, takes bread, blesses, breaks, and gives and suddenly, at these familiar actions, their eyes are opened and they see it was Jesus all along. While they walked sad on the road, Jesus was walking beside them. While they questioned and wrestled with just how God could have let this happen, Jesus was with them on the road. When seven miles felt like an eternity and when seven miles sped by, Jesus was with them on the road. Scriptures opened, hearts burning, Jesus was with them. They finally knew it when the bread was broken, but he had been with them on the road, even before they knew it was him.
At once they went the seven miles back to Jerusalem, now full of urgency, but not haste. Those seven miles are now filled with joy as they knew Jesus was alive and had been with them.
Seven long miles – I don’t know what road you have been on in 2018. Jesus is there with us, even when we don’t recognize him.
The disciples came with sadness, hopes, disbelief and Jesus was with them.
He was with them even when they did not realize it, but how did they come to know the presence of Christ with them on the road? In the word and at the table.
When the scriptures were opened, their hearts burned because they heard the voice of Jesus showing how all of it points to him. When the bread was broken at the table, he was made known to them.
This is still how we know the presence of Christ on our long journey of faith. This is, in part, why we come each week in worship. We come to praise the one God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – but we also come to have our eyes opened so we can see the risen Jesus. We have been walking seven days, seven miles, but it can be hard to recognize Christ for who he is and what he is doing. So we come together to hear, to eat, to have our eyes opened and our hearts set ablaze by Christ.
What has 2018 been like for you? What road have you been walking? Where have you seen God at work in your life in 2018? What are you thankful for that he has brought you? What do you hope for as we approach the coming year?