Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
As these two disciples walked down the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus things seemed pretty bleak. This was not a pleasant evening walk, this wasn’t a nice stroll with friends; this was a defeated, depressed, discouraged, retreat from the holy city of Jerusalem back to their homes and families. They had followed Jesus with much joy and optimism expecting to see the world change before their very eyes and now they were left with nothing. Or so they thought.
Little did these disciples know that Jesus Himself would show up and walk with them. In fact, even when Jesus did approach them and join them there on the road the still did not know that it was Him. Their eyes were kept from seeing Him or recognizing Him, Luke tells us. It was not time for them to recognise Jesus, not yet.
Though they did not recognise Him, Jesus joins right in on the conversation that they are having as they walk this dismal road. “What are you talking about?” Jesus says to them. Shocked by the question and with deep sadness showing on their faces they reply, “Are you the only person who was visiting Jerusalem this weekend who didn’t hear about what happened?” They can’t believe that anyone in town could possibly be unaware of everything that happened. Of course, Jesus knows what happened but He wants to hear them explain it to Him. He wants to hear how they understand everything that has happened.
They say to Jesus, “[The things] 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.”
Right here, in these two little sentences we hit the heart of their sadness. “Our chief priest, our rulers, delivered Jesus to be crucified,” they say. “It was our chief priests, our leaders, who orchestrated this whole thing,” they say, “our political and religious leaders had Him crucified, but we had hoped He was the one to redeem Israel. Our leaders, our rulers, our culture rejected Jesus, but we believed in Him.” For these men who had believed in Jesus they now see that the rest of their world, the rest of their culture did not believe in Him the way that they did.
This is a sentiment that we can relate to, I think. We too live in a world that does not think the same things about Jesus that we think. Our leaders and our cultural icons have not orchestrated the death of Jesus, but they don’t believe what we do about Jesus. Not anymore. Our culture doesn’t much care for Jesus to be honest. This can leave us as Christians feeling alienated from the world around us, from our culture, from our community, and maybe even from our own families.
Our epistle reading today talks about this too. Peter calls our lives in this world “exile.” He says, “If you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile…” Peter is saying here that our lives in this world are lives in exile, lives lived in a world that is not our home, that is not friendly to what we believe, and doesn’t really understand what we believe about Jesus. This is our life. We live in exile. We are foreigners and strangers living in this world.
For the disciples on the road that day this was a depressing, discouraging reality especially since the Jesus that they had believed in was now dead. They watched Him die on a cross and could not believe, despite what others had said about His tomb being empty, that Jesus could be risen from the dead. As they walked and as they talked to Jesus without recognizing Him their faces were downcast and sad. There seemed to be no hope anymore. But then Jesus started speaking.
You’d think that Jesus would try to comfort these poor men as they walked and talked because they were so discouraged and disheartened by everything that had happened. But that is not really what Jesus does at all. Instead, Jesus said to them, “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?”
You fools, Jesus says, don’t you understand that this is how it had to be? Don’t you understand that this was the plan of God all along? Don’t you understand that this is exactly what the prophets in the Old Testament said would happen? How slow of heart to believe can you be?
These disciples were so busy wallowing in self-pity and feeling sorry for themselves that they failed to see the very thing that had happened right before their own eyes. They had hoped that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel, they said, and that is exactly what Jesus had done in His death on the cross. He had redeemed Israel! Better yet, He had redeemed the entire world! Yes, the world had rejected Jesus, their own people had rejected Jesus, they had carried out their wicked and evil plans to have Him put to death, but in all of that, in the rejection, hatred, and even in His death, He had won the victory and redeemed the whole world from the power of sin and death.
We too, as individual Christians and as a church, can often feel discouraged and depressed by the way we see things going in the world around us. The world around us rejects Jesus and refuses to believe that He has redeemed us from sin or that He has risen from the dead. We are exiles in a world that does not believe what we believe. We could very easily become discouraged by that, we could give up hope because of that, we could wallow in self-pity and feel bad for ourselves because of that, but we would be missing the whole point; we would be missing the reality of what Jesus has done in this world for us.
Jesus did not come into this world to be the successful triumphant king that the crowds wanted on Palm Sunday. He did not come to redeem people from God with a great show of worldly power and might. He did not come to win a popularity contest and entice everyone into believing in Him. He came to die on a cross and save us from our sins. In the same way, Jesus does not promise that our lives in this world are going to be a successful victory march. He does not promise that His church in this world will always be loved by everyone. He does not promise to make us, His people, fit in with the world. He makes us exiles in this world, strangers in a foreign land, waiting for a kingdom yet to be revealed. That is our reality.
So, Peter tells us today, “conduct yourselves with fear (in the fear of God, trusting and loving Him above all things) during your time of exile.” Peter’s words here encourage us to see beyond the dismal scene around us that would discourage and dishearten us and to look on the reality of what God has done. We have been bought out of this world by the precious blood of Jesus. That is why we are exiles in this world. That is why the world looks down on us. We don’t belong here. Jesus has bought us out of this world with His blood and this is not our home. We have faith and hope in something beyond this world, the eternal glory that comes from Jesus.
In the meantime, as we live in this world as exiles here is what we are to do: “love one another earnestly from a pure heart,” Peter says. Love one another because Christ has loved you. Love one another because Christ has bought you with His precious blood. Love one another because You have been born again in the water of baptism and that is what we have been born again to do. Live your life as an exile, a stranger, a foreigner, doing something that is really foreign and strange in this world: loving one another.
And, Peter says, when the world gets discouraging remember this, “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of the grass. The grass withers, the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” The Word Peter talks about here is the good news, Jesus is risen from the dead. That word remains forever. This world will die. That good news never will.
Those disciples were confronted with that good news on the road that day. Finally, at the end of the day when they sat down to eat with Jesus and He broke bread (shared Holy Communion!) with them, they recognised who He is. What did they do then? They ran back to Jerusalem to tell the others. They were still exiles, they were still among the few who believed in Jesus and they still lived in a world that did not care for Jesus much, but they had this good news and they shared it. So do we. Jesus is risen from the dead. We are foreigners, exiles, and strangers in this world, but we are foreigners, exiles, and strangers with good news to share. Our Lord is risen from the dead and we will rise with Him. In Jesus name, Amen.