Monday, May 9, 2011

Easter 3 of Series A (Luke 24:13:35)

“Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, mothers have a way of seeing things that their children (or their husbands) are unable to. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times my mother sent me into a room to find something, and I couldn’t find it, but when summoned, she came and immediately tracked it down. Maybe it was superior knowledge of where things were stored, maybe it was superior techniques in finding the lost, or maybe it was just luck, but it seemed that she could see much more clearly than me. And she hardly broke a sweat. I could spend ten minutes searching drawers and cabinets, and she would come in and find it in five seconds. Now, I can’t remember my mother ever saying to us ‘are you blind!?’ but she would’ve had good reason to. Was I blind? Yes and no. I could see, but I just couldn’t see what I was looking for.

In the same way, the disciples on the road to Emmaus could see just fine, they just couldn’t see who they were talking to. “That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing Him.” Our text is dripping with irony, as Jesus plays the part of a confused traveler and these two men proceed to tell Him about the events of Good Friday and Easter morning. Like an exasperated mother, we read this text and say, “Are you blind!?” Yes and no. These two disciples have physical sight, but they are spiritually blind. They cannot see Jesus for who He truly is.

This is the result of the first sin. In the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve sunk their teeth into the fruit they were not supposed to eat, Scripture tells us that “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” Their eyes are opened, and they don’t like what they see. They see shame, condemnation, sin, and death. They see a world corrupted by sin, a world that is dying. And now that their eyes are opened to see sin and death, they are blinded to God. This is a tragic reversal of how it was when God created man. We were formed lovingly from the dust of the ground, God Himself breathed into our nostrils the very breath of life. Humanity had eyes completely opened to God and closed to all evil. We were in perfect relationship with our heavenly Father and Creator. But sin changed all that. We now have eyes closed to God and open to sin and evil. That is all we see around us, we cannot see God on our own. We look at ourselves and we ask, ‘Are you blind?’ Yes and no. Our eyes can see death all around us, we can see the sin that fills us and others, we can see the devil’s temptations, but God we can’t see.

Blindness then leads to misunderstanding. The two disciples on the Emmaus road give Jesus a confirmation lesson, and their teaching is, to say the least, lacking. “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered Him up to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel.” The crucifixion doesn’t fit into their conception of Jesus. It is unexpected, tragic, and surprising. They thought that He was a mighty prophet, but now He is dead. That little conjunction ‘but’ is filled with sorrow and disappointment. He was a mighty prophet, but He was crucified. We thought He was the one who would redeem Israel but He lays in a tomb. They were looking for a victorious Jesus, a Jesus who would back up His mighty miracles and amazing words with a demonstration of power in the holy city itself. God had protected His chosen people Israel before, He had preserved them against many foes, and they expected Jesus to be the greatest redeemer.

Does the cross fit into our conception of Jesus? Do we want a Jesus dying upon a cross, or do we want a victorious Jesus? Would we rather have Good Friday or Palm Sunday? Eyes blinded by sin want a bloodless Jesus, a Jesus that doesn’t have to suffer, a Jesus that redeems in triumphal victory. A redeemer that suffers? That’s almost embarrassing! Maybe that is one of the reasons we have trouble talking about Jesus to our friends and families. I’m told that for missionaries, it is often difficult to speak of the cross to tribal peoples. The message that Jesus of Nazareth was a mighty prophet but He died upon a cross doesn’t seem to appealing to people who worship gods of power. It isn’t much different for us. Eyes blinded to God and open to sin see suffering as evil, in our sin we can only think in terms of power, and a Jesus hanging upon the cross doesn’t look very powerful. Are you blind? Yes and no. You can see a dead Jesus upon the cross, but on your own you cannot see why.

Only Jesus can provide those answers, and now it is His turn to teach. “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” The disciples saw the death of Jesus as an intrusion on the story of Jesus, as a tragedy that ruined all of His previous work. Jesus was a mighty prophet but He was crucified. Jesus changes their perspective. His death wasn’t a tragedy, it wasn’t unexpected, it wasn’t a roadblock on His march toward victory. No, instead His death was necessary. This is a divine necessity- it was necessary from God’s perspective that Jesus should suffer and die. Eyes blinded to God and opened to sin can only see suffering as evil; Jesus opens our eyes to see that His suffering was a tremendous good, the greatest good that the world has ever known. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” According to God’s Holy Scriptures, the suffering and death of Jesus was necessary. Why?

It is ironic that the two disciples would say, “But we had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel.” There’s that word again: ‘Jesus died, but we hoped He would redeem us.’ The irony is that ‘but’ doesn’t belong in that sentence. Jesus died because it was necessary for Him to redeem Israel. The disciples have the right term, they just misunderstand it. To redeem someone or something means to pay the price to set them free. The disciples on the Emmaus road knew that Jesus had come to redeem, they just misunderstood what He would redeem them from and what the price would be. Jesus came to redeem us from sin, and the price He would pay was His very own blood. Saint Peter gives us this proper perspective on redemption in our Epistle lesson: “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” Jesus redeemed you and me from the bondage of our sin, and it was His suffering and death that would pay the required price. It was necessary for Jesus to suffer because it was necessary for your good, for your salvation. It was necessary because God loves you.

Jesus spends the rest of their journey teaching them from the Scriptures about the necessity of His suffering and death to redeem you and me. He opens up the Scriptures so that they see Jesus on every page, and their eyes are opened to understand all that He has done for them. But they still cannot see Jesus for who He is, not until He reclines with them at the table that evening. “When He was at table with them, He took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him. And He vanished from their sight.” Only at the table, as Jesus breaks the bread, is He finally revealed to them for who He truly is. He is the same Jesus who was crucified, the same Jesus who lay in the tomb, but the tomb could not hold Him. He is risen, triumphant over death forever. The bonds have been broken, the victory has been won. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! These disciples have been taught, but only at the table do they truly see Jesus as their risen Lord. It is the same with us: in the Lord’s Supper we see Jesus, He reveals Himself to us as God in the flesh who has redeemed us with His death and resurrection. Teaching and the Lord’s Supper belong together. We cannot have one without the other. Teaching leads to the Supper, and the Supper cannot be understood apart from instruction. In both Word and Sacrament, Jesus is revealed to eyes blinded by sin. He works faith, He strengthens and feeds us, He forgives our sins. The risen Jesus is seen clearly in the gifts He offers, and in His rich grace He offers them to you.

Jesus came to open blinded eyes, eyes blinded to God and open only to sin. He came to shed His blood that this tragedy may be reversed. Jesus wants us to look upon our God with opened eyes for eternity, and He wants our eyes to be shut to sin and evil forever. As Isaiah writes, in the new heavens and the new earth “He will wipe away tears from all faces.” Jesus opens your eyes to see Him in the washing of Holy Baptism, in the faith worked through His Holy Word, and as with the disciples in Emmaus, in the breaking of the bread. Jesus opens your eyes to see Him as your Savior and Lord, the one who took upon Himself the necessity of shedding His blood and dying to redeem you from your sin. Were you blind? Yes and no. You were blinded to God and had eyes wide open to sin and death. Thanks be to the God who opens the eyes of the blind, who reveals Himself as our Savior in His great gifts! He has opened your eyes to see Him as your Redeemer, to understand His death and resurrection rightly. He has opened the eyes of faith to look to your Savior now and for eternity. Will you be blind? Yes and no. You will be blinded to sin, for it will be destroyed, washed away forever by the blood of the Lamb, but you will look to God with perfect eyes for eternity. The resurrection is the proof, the seal, the guarantee of this. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! In the Name of the God who opens the eyes of the blind, the one who redeemed us with His very blood, our resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

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