• on April 7, 2018

Encountering the Resurrected Christ

The St. Paul’s Pulpit

Encountering the Resurrected Christ

A Sermon

Delivered on Easter Day, April 1, 2018, by

Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph.D. at

 St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Baton Rouge, LA

 

And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon. And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread. (Luke 24:33-35)

As we read the resurrection accounts of our Lord Jesus Christ appearing to his disciples and some of the women who were his followers, it is only natural for Christians of our time to wish that they had had the opportunity to have seen the resurrected Christ.  The Apostle Paul tells us that quite a number of people had the opportunity to see the Lord before his ascension to the Father.  St. Paul tells us that Jesus was seen by Peter and the twelve, then by over 500 of the brethren, and then he was seen by James, the Lord’s brother.  Then, Paul tells us that last of all, he was seen by him, as one born out of due time.   Paul realizes that he is somewhat of an anomaly, because after the Ascension, Paul is the only one to have seen the resurrected Christ, unless you count John on the aisle of Patmos when he received the Revelation, but that could probably be classified as a vision.   After, after the resurrected Christ appeared to the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus, no one has seen him since, despite the claims that you may occasionally see on movies and television, or read in books.  That fact may leave some of us a little disappointed.   Why hasn’t he appeared to anyone else?   Why couldn’t he appear to me?   We wish that we could have an encounter with the resurrected Christ.   But the good news is that each one of us can have an encounter with the resurrected Christ.   This story of the two disciples on the Emmaus road shows us the only way that people in these times can meet the risen Jesus.

In this familiar story, we remember that on that first Easter, two disciples of Jesus, one whose name was Cleopas, were on their way to a village called Emmaus.   As they were walking along, they were talking about the tragic things that had just happened concerning Jesus of Nazareth.   At some point in their journey, Jesus came to them and started walking with them, but they didn’t recognize him.   People have always had theories about why these disciples didn’t recognize him.  Some say it was because they weren’t expecting to see him.  Others said it is because Jesus looked different in his resurrection body.   But we should just go with what Scripture says:  “their eyes were holden.”   God prevented them from recognizing Jesus until the appropriate time.   As they are walking along, Jesus asks them what they have been talking about, and why they are so sad.   One of the two disciples, Cleopas, asks, “Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass therein these days?”  They explained how to the Lord how Jesus of Nazareth, a mighty prophet had been crucified and buried, and they were sad because they thought this Jesus was going to be the one who would deliver Israel.   To make matters worse, some women had reported that they had seen him alive.  The implication is that they do not believe the reports that have been circulating about the resurrection of Jesus.   Then the Lord says to them, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.”   Our Lord is telling them that they should have expected that Jesus would be crucified and rise again from the dead because that was the clear teaching of the Old Testament.   Jesus, still unrecognized by these two, begins at Moses and all the prophets and explains to them all the things in Scripture about himself and how that all of this had been foretold.  Then Jesus acted as though he was going to leave them, but they begged him to stay with them, so he went with them, and they sat down to eat.  Then he took the bread, blessed it, and broke it, and when he broke the bread, they immediately recognized him, and he vanished out of their sight.

There you have it.   This is how we encounter the resurrected Christ—in the word and in the sacrament.  This is the means that God has appointed so that from now until Christ returns, we can meet the resurrected Jesus.

A few weeks ago, I was teaching the Gospel of Luke to my seminary students on Thursday evenings, and I was explaining to them that I believe that the whole gospel of Luke is a catechism to prepare people for the sacraments—baptism and the Lord’s supper.   This story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is the key to understanding the whole book.   When Jesus meets these disciples on the road to Emmaus, what does he do?   He prepares them to meet him.  He prepares them to recognize him.   How does he do that?

First, he reveals himself by teaching them.   Here it is that we see the importance of the preaching and teaching of the word of God.   If you are going to encounter the resurrected Christ, you will not encounter him apart from the preaching and teaching of God’s word.   You will notice that in this passage, these two disciples are so disillusioned.   They thought Jesus was going to deliver Israel, but he’s dead, and that is that end of that.   Jesus calls them fools because they are demonstrating that they have no understanding of the Scriptures.   Jesus begins with Moses, the first books of the Bible, and starts showing them how Jesus is revealed in the Old Testament.   Perhaps he told them of how it was promised in the book of Genesis that he was the seed of the woman that should come.   Maybe he told them that all the sacrifices in the tabernacle and the temple pointed to him.   Then, he went through the prophets and showed them how all of this had been predicted, possibly using Isaiah 53 which says,

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it               were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our                   griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But             he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our             peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we                   have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He                   was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the                 slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.  (Isaiah 53:3-              7)

Based on all the prophecies in the Old Testament which showed so clearly that this was going to happen, how could they have missed it?

For this reason, we need the constant preaching and teaching of the word of God.   God has given to his church pastors and teachers who give their lives to the study of God’s word so that they can help their people to understand what the Scriptures say.  It is true that all of you can read the Scriptures on your own, but God has seen fit that there should be men in the church who give themselves to the study of the word of God so that they can open the Scriptures to people, so that they might continually grow in their understanding of the word of God and be saved from erroneous teaching.

But preaching and teaching is more than just an intellectual exercise.   The preaching of the word of God is designed to reveal Christ to us in his all his love, compassion, glory, and splendor.  After Jesus vanishes from their sight these two disciples say, “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?”  Real preaching and teaching is designed to make your hearts burn within you, and if I can’t make your hearts burn within you, then there is something wrong with you or something wrong with me, because the teaching of the Scriptures is meant to make your heart burn.   Notice how they describe what Jesus did.   They don’t merely saying, “Didn’t our hearts burn when he taught us the Scriptures.”   They said, “Didn’t our hearts burn when he opened to us the Scriptures?”  Until that time it was like the Scriptures were a closed book to them.   They didn’t understand it.   But Jesus opened the Scriptures to them.   Preaching is designed to open this book for you so that you can see Jesus.

I remember when I was 15 years old, I heard a man preaching on the crucifixion of Jesus.   I had never heard anything so powerful in all my life.   It was like I was there on Calvary, and I could see the crown of thorns, I could hear the sound of the nails being driven into his hands and feet, and I could hear the sound of the thud when the cross was put in its place.   I remember someone saying after the service, “If you didn’t see Jesus on the cross tonight, you won’t ever see him.”  How true that was.   Real preaching makes us see Jesus in a way that we can see him no other way.   Jesus went through what we call the Old Testament and showed them how clearly he was revealed therein.     When someone teaches the word of God, people should see Jesus more and more clearly, and when people see Jesus, their hearts burn with them, they love him more and more, they want to be with him more and more, and they to learn more and more of him.  How you need to pray for me, and how you need to pray for all ministers of the gospel, that when they preach, they would truly open the Scriptures! How you need to pray for yourselves that when the word is preached, you would see Jesus!

A little later in Luke’s account, we are told that Jesus appeared to the rest of disciples, and we read, “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:44-5).  Notice that most important statement:  “Then opened he their understanding.”  Jesus had been teaching them these things all along.  He had been teaching them that he would die on the cross and be raised from the dead in fulfillment of the Scriptures, but they didn’t understand it.  They didn’t understand it until on this occasion, he opened their understanding.  Opening your understanding is one thing that I cannot not do.  Only the Holy Spirit can do that.  I can prepare my sermons and my Bible studies and preach and teach in the best way I know how, but I can’t open your understanding.   That takes a miracle, and only the Lord can do it.   I don’t know why the Holy Spirit is not doing this in our generation.  I don’t know if it’s just not his sovereign will at this time to do it.  I don’t know if we have sinned against the Holy Spirit, grieved the Holy Spirit, or quenched the Holy Spirit, but it is only too obvious just by looking at our churches and the moral condition of our nation that God is not opening the understanding of people today.  If God was truly opening the understanding of people we would see intense love for Christ and holiness of life.   This building would not be able to contain the people who would be flocking here.   Why isn’t that happening?  It’s because God is not opening the understanding, and how we need to plead and beg God that he, by his miraculous power, would once again, open the understanding of people that they might understand the Scriptures

But even as powerful as the teaching of Jesus was, at this point, these two disciples on the road to Emmaus still haven’t recognized him.   Something else is needed.   Jesus sits down with them to eat a meal, and when he breaks the bread, immediately, they recognize him. The teaching of Jesus on the road to Emmaus was to prepare them for the meal, just as all of my preaching and teaching is designed to prepare you for the meal so that you can recognize the resurrected Christ.   It is amazing to realize that these two disciples on the road to Emmaus are the first to disciples of Jesus who recognize by faith that Jesus is the suffering and rising Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament.   This truth becomes known to them by word and sacrament—teaching and the table.  This pattern becomes the pattern for New Testament worship in the early church and continues with us to the present day—teaching followed by eating.

The primary point of the story of the disciples on the Emmaus road is table fellowship—how to have fellowship with the resurrected Christ at his table.  These two disciples go back to Jerusalem and find the eleven disciples and tell them this story, and most importantly, how he was known of them in breaking of bread.      No doubt when the church of the first century first read the Gospel of Luke for the first time, they knew the importance of that phrase—he was known of them in the breaking of bread, because the church had always known that the place where the resurrected Christ makes himself known now is in the breaking of bread, the Sacrament of the Lord’s supper.   The breaking of bread is a technical term to describe the Lord’s Supper.   When our church, St. Paul’s, was first started, we adopted as our verse, Acts 2:42, “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in the prayers.”  There we have the New Testament description of the Church.    Any church that is a true church does those four things.   They continue in the sound doctrine taught by the apostles, they have fellowship and communion with one another, loving one another and sharing one another’s burdens, the breaking of bread (observing the Lord’s supper), and in the prayers.   The King James version says, “and prayer,” but it should be translated “the prayers.”  “The prayers” refers to a set form of prayer which was used by the church, no doubt adapted from temple and synagogue worship.  It is in this context, where people meet the resurrected Christ, because he is made known in the breaking of bread.   In Acts 20:7, we read, “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.”  There we see the New Testament pattern.  We meet on Sunday, the first day of the week, to observe Holy Communion.  The Apostle Paul wrote in I Cor. 10: 16, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”   Notice again the reference to the breaking of bread, and St. Paul says that the breaking of bread is the communion of the body of Christ.   We celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day, because it is only in the breaking of bread where we encounter the resurrected Christ.   The liturgy, that is, the hymns, the collects, the prayers, the Scripture readings, the confession of sin, the absolution, and all the rest is designed to lead up to that moment when the bread is broken.  When that bread is broken, we encounter the living, resurrected Christ.  In that moment, Christ comes to us.   He comes to us bodily.   He comes and gives to us his body.  He gives to us the same body that was crucified, dead, and buried.   He gives to us the same body in which he rose from the dead.   In true Anglican fashion, I will not try to explain how that happens.   This is part of the mystery of faith, but there is no question that it does happen.

I don’t think that many of us really believe this.   What if I were to announce that next Sunday, Jesus himself was going to be here.   How excited you would be that Jesus, the resurrected Christ, the Lord of glory was going to be here!  I don’t think you would want to miss it.   But the truth of the Gospel is that he is here.  He is here, in his resurrected body, every time we celebrate Holy Communion.   He makes himself known to us in the breaking of bread.

Years ago, when I was in seminary, I was sitting in the cafeteria with some of my fellow students, and we were talking about the Lord’s Supper.   One of the students, who was preparing to be a pastor, said, “You know, I don’t think I have ever gotten out of the Lord’s Supper what I’m supposed to get out of it.”  Most people don’t.  If the Lord’s Supper is just a symbol, just a memorial, then no, you won’t get out of it what you should.   If it is just a mindless ritual that you go through out of custom, then no, you won’t get out of it what you should.   But if Holy Communion is a meeting with the resurrected Christ, then these are most amazing and astounding moments of life.

The reason I preached this sermon this morning is that I don’t want you to look upon the resurrection as simply a historical tale about something that happened a long time ago.   I wanted you to see that having an encounter with Jesus is not something that could happen only back then.  I wanted you to see that the resurrected Christ, that same Jesus who was resurrected on that morning so long ago, is available to us now.  The resurrected Christ is here.   If you have faith, he will make himself known to you in the breaking of bread.

I preached a sermon a few weeks ago that raised many questions.   I spoke of how all our evangelistic strategies over the past 200 years have not worked.   Someone asked me afterward, “Then what would you put in the place of these evangelistic strategies?”   Today, I have given you my answer—the word and sacrament.   This is my evangelistic strategy, and this is my strategy for the growth of individual Christians to maturity—word and sacrament.  Beginning today, I will show you in the coming months and years what a church looks like that truly believes that we meet the resurrected Christ in the word and sacrament.  We are going to go deeper and deeper into the study of God’s word, and we are going to go deeper and deeper into the meaning of the liturgy and the sacraments.  It will be in this way that people will really come to a knowledge of Christ and have fellowship with him in such a way that it will be genuinely life transforming.    I have no other plan and no other strategy.   What else do we need?   What this church offers is an encounter with the resurrected Christ in the word and sacrament.  I will be hitting this theme constantly in the coming years.    I think our church is rather unique from this perspective.   There are some churches that emphasize the sacraments, and rightfully so, but there is no deep, detailed, fiery preaching and teaching of God’s word.   There are some churches that emphasize the word, but they give very little emphasis to the sacraments.   It is the goal of our church to keep these things in perfect balance.   It may mean a little longer service, because in some liturgical churches, since the liturgy is so long, preaching is crowded out.   We can’t allow that to happen.   We must have the great liturgy culminating in the sacrament, but part of the great liturgy is the preaching of the word.   One of the reasons that some people visit our church and don’t like it is because we have this equal emphasis on word and sacrament.  There are some people who visit us who love our liturgy, but they hate my preaching.   There are some who love my preaching, but they hate our liturgy and our emphasis on the sacraments.   But we will continue on this path, for this is how the resurrected Christ makes himself known to us—by the preaching of the word and the breaking of bread.  We come here each Lord’s day, because it is here each Sunday that the resurrected Christ teaches and eats with his people.  The resurrected Christ is bodily present in His church through Word and Sacrament.

There will be many sermons today preached on the resurrection.  Many sermons will be preached on all the proofs that Jesus has been raised from the dead.  Some sermons will emphasize a little more mystical bent teaching how we know that Jesus lives because he lives in our hearts.   But here, we say that Christ is risen, and we know that he is risen because he is here.  He is present bodily with us in Word and Sacrament.   May the Lord open the Scriptures to us now, that we might understand.  May the resurrected Christ make himself known to us in the breaking of bread.   Let us come now and have fellowship with the resurrected Christ at his table.  Christ is risen!   And he is here!   Amen.

 

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