Opening Prayer: Pour out your Spirit upon us, O God, pour out the Spirit of Jesus on us, that we might see Him and know Him in the Scriptures. Amen.
We can’t see Jesus. Sometimes my son reminds me of this fact. We serve a King that we can’t see. Jesus is absent; He’s not here. And that’s particularly startling in some ways when we come to Easter, when we come to celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. When it comes to declaring to one another and to the world that He is risen, that Jesus is alive, it can seem a little awkward when He’s not here.
And there is an important sense in which this reality will not change until Jesus returns, until the great and final resurrection. That will be wonderful and glorious, and it is exciting to imagine what that will be like, what it will be like to see Jesus, to walk and talk with him. Of course that is part of what we long for when we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting. We long to see Jesus, we long to be with him. We long to walk and talk with Him. But then we’re celebrating Easter. We’re celebrating Jesus alive again from the dead. And He’s not here for the celebration.
But our text in Luke suggests that there are different ways for Jesus to be absent, different ways for Him to be missed. And Luke’s point is that the problem is not just that we cannot see Jesus. The problem is not merely with Jesus being absent. It’s not merely a question of proximity or presence. We sometimes think that if Jesus were here, if Jesus were only closer, then we would see Him. He’s just too far away, we think. But that’s not really true. That’s not true because sometimes he’s right in front of people and they don’t recognize him. Sometimes he walks along with them and talks with them, and their eyes are restrained so that they do not know Him.
The story is of course fascinating, ironic, but also somewhat troubling. Jesus apparently overtakes these two disciples who are leaving Jerusalem. Their hopes have been shattered by the events of the last couple of days. It is the third day since these things have happened (24:21). And now there are strange reports of visions and angels saying that He is alive, but no one has seen Him (24:24). The problem is that no one has seen Jesus alive. Apparently this has all been too much for these two disciples, and they are leaving. No one has seen Jesus; they will not nurse false hopes.
And notice that Jesus does not rebuke them for leaving Jerusalem or for not recognizing Him. He rebukes them for not believing. Their problem is fundamentally a problem of faith. He says that their problem is that they don’t believe all that the prophets have spoken (24:25). And Jesus gives the two disciples a Bible lesson so that they might know what to believe concerning the Christ (24:26). Jesus starts at the beginning and works his way all the way to the end, from Moses, through all of the prophets, and all of the scriptures (24:27), showing how the Messiah was to come, suffer at the hands of wicked men, and then enter into His glory (24:26). The problem with the two disciples is that they have not been reading their Bibles correctly. They have a faulty hermeneutic.
Jesus says that they have been slow to believe what the prophets have spoken, slow to believe what Moses and all of the Scriptures taught concerning the Messiah. They can’t see Jesus right in front of them because they can’t see Jesus in the Scriptures. They can’t believe the reports of the angels and visions because they have not believed the words of the prophets. They have heard the words, they have read and sung the words, but they have not believed them. And of course it’s all the more painful to read this episode knowing that it is Jesus Himself who is explaining all of this to them. He is the one showing them Himself in the Scriptures. But that’s strange; that’s really troubling. Why not just shake their shoulders and look in their faces and tell them? Why does Jesus point away from Himself? Why does Jesus allow them to walk with Him and not see Him? Jesus is there, and yet He is not there for them. Would Jesus do that to us? Would Jesus walk and talk with us and point us away from Himself?
They draw near to where they are staying and convince Jesus to come with them (24:29). It is evening, and they invite him to fellowship with them, to eat and rest with them. And of course it is finally in the breaking of the bread that their eyes are suddenly opened and they recognize Jesus (24:31). But perhaps the most troubling thing about the story is that He immediately vanishes (24:31). Just as they finally see Jesus, He disappears. Just as they see Him, they do not see Him. What is Jesus doing? When He was with them, they did not see Him, and He pointed them to the Scriptures, and then when they finally see Him, He’s gone. When He was there they did not see Him, and when they finally saw Him, He was not there.
The disciples recall the whole conversation, the whole walk, His explanations of the Scriptures, and they know that He was with them. He was speaking to them through the words of Scripture, He was showing them Himself in the prophets, and it was finally in the breaking of the bread that He was made known.
And even there, the disciples draw our attention to the breaking of the bread. In one sense of course, their eyes were opened and they saw Jesus when He gave thanks and broke the bread, but the disciples themselves draw attention to the fact that it was in the breaking of the bread, that they knew Him (24:35). The breaking of the bread was not merely a time marker i.e. that was when it happened. The breaking of the bread is something more like a key to the explanation. The breaking of the bread was how they saw Him, it was the means by which they finally recognized Him.
But why does Jesus point away? Why does Jesus point away from Himself to the Scriptures, and why after He has gone, do the disciples remember the breaking of the bread? Why does the resurrected Jesus only seem to want to show Himself elsewhere?
Sometimes the post-resurrection elusiveness of Jesus has been a cause of theological slipperiness. Maybe the point of the resurrection really is more about an idea than a fact, some have wondered. Maybe Jesus seemed to be raised from the dead, but who’s to say if it was really a bodily resurrection? If the resurrection was so true, so real, why did He leave so quickly afterwards? Seems kind of convenient to have the Ascension so fast after the resurrection. And when Jesus was actually around, He wasn’t really Himself. He’d show up randomly, walk through doors, and then vanish without a word. If the resurrection was so real, so true, so glorious, if Jesus really did burst out of a tomb with His body all alive, all vigorous, why was He so elusive? Why when disciples were troubled and sad, did He point them away from Himself? Why didn’t He just speak up? Why didn’t He stay around for a few more years just so it all got documented really well? Was Jesus shy about the resurrection? And many critics of the Christian faith have suggested this very thing. And other, confused and troubled Christians have been sometimes been willing to waffle on the resurrection for these very reasons.
Why does the resurrected Jesus point away from Himself? Why does the Resurrection look somewhat fleeting, somewhat hidden, somewhat shy?
Perhaps part of the answer has to do with what is coming, what is next in the story of redemption. When the Scriptures declared that the Messiah would suffer and enter into His glory, part of that glory is the beginning of a new ministry that points away from Jesus. The cross was His moment in the spotlight, but the resurrection was the beginning of a transition from His moment in the spotlight to the ministry of the Spirit. And so Jesus points away from Himself. He points to the words of the prophets, the work of the Holy Spirit. He points to the breaking of the bread, the Eucharist, and the work of the Spirit. He doesn’t introduce Himself, He doesn’t stay around very long, He doesn’t look every disciple in the eyes and reintroduce Himself. No, He points away from Himself. He points them to the Spirit.
Later in the chapter Jesus does appear to all of the disciples, and again eats with them and fellowships with them. But once again He immediately points them to the Scriptures (24:44-48) and then tells them that they will be the witnesses of these things but to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father, the power from on high, the gift of the Spirit (24:49). After the resurrection Jesus points away from Himself, He points to the Scriptures, He points to the Spirit. John the Baptist had pointed away from himself and said that there was One coming who was mightier than him, and it was Jesus who was then baptized and the Spirit came upon Him. But now Jesus is doing the pointing, and He’s pointing at the Scriptures and pointing at His disciples and telling them that they are about to be endued with power from on high.
And of course Jesus did pour out His Spirit at Pentecost, and that Spirit has become the main character in the story of redemption. The Holy Spirit has become the center of God’s work in this world, and this work takes place in the Church, in you. And of course John’s gospel dwells on the fact that this Spirit is the presence of Jesus with us. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Resurrected Jesus. But Jesus still points away from Himself. He points to the Scriptures, He points to the breaking of the bread, He points at you, His beloved people as His presence.
And in that sense it is highly fitting that we should be celebrating the resurrection some two thousand years later, that we should be declaring that Jesus has been raised from the dead, and He not be here. It’s resurrection style to point out where the Spirit is at work. It shouldn’t be surprising that we can’t see Jesus at this moment right in front of us. He’s pointing away from Himself, pointing at the Scriptures point at the bread broken, the wine poured out.
As we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, Jesus wants us to look where He’s pointing, Jesus wants us to see the work of the Spirit. Resurrection Life is fairly obsessed with the work of the Spirit. Resurrection Life knows the work of the Spirit because it has experienced it first hand and can’t stop pointing out where it’s working now. Look over there, the Spirit is making that person new. Look over that, the Spirit is feeding the hungry. Look over there, that’s the Spirit empowering the Scriptures and showing us Jesus. Look there, in the breaking of the bread, there’s the Spirit of Jesus giving Himself away again.
When Jesus jumped up from the grave, He immediately began pointing at the work of the Spirit, the Scriptures, the Eucharist, His people. Look, He says, I’m right here. And He calls us to believe. Don’t be slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Don’t be slow to see Jesus in the Scriptures, slow to believe in the Christ proclaimed there. Don’t be slow to see Jesus in the least of these His brethren. Don’t be slow to see Jesus in the woman next to you, the child in your lap. Because the warning is that if you can’t see Jesus there, you’ll not notice when He’s standing right in front of you. You wouldn’t notice if He was walking and talking with you. Because part of the declaration of Easter is that He is. He is standing right in front of you. He’s sitting right in front of you. Part of the triumph of Easter is that the Risen and Ascended Christ has poured out His Spirit in us, in His body, in the Church. When Paul says that we are the Body of Christ, He is not just trying to come up creative sermon illustrations. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit; we are the presence of the Resurrected Jesus as we gather around His Word and around His Table. We are the witnesses of His sufferings and death and resurrection. We are the proof of the resurrection. Jesus points at us. He points at us in our weakness, in our trials, in our suffering, in our hardships, in our pain. Jesus went to Jerusalem for the joy that was set before Him, and then in glory He pours out the Spirit upon us and says, now you do it. Now you go to Jerusalem in joy, now you take up your cross and follow me.
And so in one sense we cannot Jesus, but in another sense, Jesus keeps pointing at His Word, pointing at the breaking of the breading, pointing at us, and He says there I am, I’m right there. I’m here with you. I am with you always.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Gracious Father, we give you great praise and thanks that you have raised Jesus from the dead. We thank you for the glory of the resurrection which is the glory of the Spirit, your powerful working to bring life from the dead, to turn sorrow into dancing, your determination to recreate this world, and undo every evil, and put everything right. Give us grace that we might walk in the Spirit, that our lives would be walking proofs of the resurrection, that as Christ points at us, we might more and more evidence the life of the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, in whose name we pray, who died but now lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, unto ages of ages. Amen!