Missing Jesus: Cleopas

A few Sunday’s ago after church, our family went to a restaurant that we enjoy. All weekend I was salivating as I thought about having a piece of strawberry rhubarb pie at this restaurant. After church I hurried my kiddos—a little too quickly out the door. As we drove, I got giddier and giddier. When I could see the restaurant, I could almost taste that pie in my mouth. We pulled into the parking lot, but I got a sinking feeling when I noticed there were no cars. I shuffled my feet to the door and read a handwritten sign that said, “Sorry. Due for unforeseen circumstances the restaurant will be closed today.” Argh! Stupid expectations!

My story may seem trivial. I started with something small because starting big may be overwhelming for some. I could tell you of my expectations and the disappointments that made me wonder whether I am cut out for the ministry or mission field. I could tell you of some unmet expectations I’ve had for my marriage that made me wonder if we’d make it another year or another day. Some of you have had great expectations for a relationship, a spouse, a child, a job interview, a career, a vacation, a retirement, a 401k, a dream house or a situation to turn around only to have it unmet. Have you ever had an unmet expectation?

When we dive into the Gospels we get to see and discover the story of Jesus. Like a Where’s Waldo book we find Jesus, ourselves, and others in the story or we can miss Jesus.

When you think of a character that missed Jesus in the story who do you think of? We have looked at Judas and Caiaphas. Today we will look at Cleopas. If we’re honest, there is a little bit of Cleopas in all of us. Like Cleopas we feel the tension of expecting one thing from Jesus and experiencing another thing. When our expectations are unmet doubts creep in, discouragement, disappointments, disillusionment and frustrations can occur. Expectation is the mother of all frustration—the root of all heartache (Shakespeare).

How many times has life, even God disappointed you? It’s tough when you have unmet expectations in connection to a spouse, a child or a friend, but it’s really tough when it’s God. We don’t like to think about God disappointing us. Maybe you thought God was going to do things one way, but he had different plans. God can act or behave in ways that you might not expect. What happens when the character of God doesn’t come through the way you thought? What happens when God’s provision is later than you thought? What happens when you trust God, yet it seems like God fails you or abandons you? What happens to your view of God when life gets chaotic and God seems silent?

Today we are going to take a walk on the Emmaus Road. A road that began with unmet expectations, but led to a marvelous meeting with Jesus. We will step into the shoes of two men who had an expectation of Jesus, but that expectation wasn’t met like they had thought,

“That very day (the day Jesus resurrected) 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.” (Luke 24:13-14) Italics include my thoughts.

emmaus mapLet’s do a short Bible Study and ask who, what, where and why of the text. Who were these men? We will learn one has a name and the other remains nameless. We aren’t sure if they’re related, worked together or were neighbors. Let’s just call them friends. Where were they going? They’re walking to a village named Emmaus. Archeologists don’t know the exact location of the town or the road. Likely, it was west of Jerusalem—in the opposite direction from where the two men were headed. Why were they leaving Jerusalem? The Passover was over. The big feast in the big city had finished and the roads around Jerusalem would have a steady flow of people leaving to go to their homes and villages.

What are they talking about? News! The text tells us what they talked about,

“While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. (Yes, Jesus teleported!) But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (Seriously, where you been? Haven’t you check you FB or CNN feed?) And he said to them, “What things?” (like he didn’t know?) And they said to him, “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.” (Luke 24:15-20)

The two friends (now plus one) unpacked the events of the past few days. This years Passover was unlike any other that they’d ever been to. It looked like it was going to be the best party ever, but it ended up being a dud. It looked like the stars had aligned and the Prophet’s words were being unveiled before their very eyes, but the hopeful Messiah goes and dies. This didn’t make sense to them. Many like these men sold everything they had to follow Jesus (some for 3-years). It’s as if they bought into a pyramid scheme and thought they got scammed. They saw Jesus die with their own eyes. They saw his body removed from the cross and carried to the tomb. The chaos of the weekend caused them to question God. Their hopes and expectations were drowned in sadness. They were deeply disappointed, if not devastated.

Have you been in their shoes? Have you felt what they felt? Have you thought that Jesus was one person—you placed your faith in him, you had great expectations of him—but something shattered who you thought he was, how he was to act and behave, what he was to do for you? Surely, you have. Let’s be honest. Following Jesus isn’t glamorous. It isn’t easy. It doesn’t make all your problems or pain go away. Following Jesus takes you down a dusty and rocky road—a risky and dangerous road. A road not well traveled. A lonely road. A road filled with temptation and persecution. A road of suffering and sacrifice.

You lose hope when thing don’t happen as you’d expect. When Jesus doesn’t meet your expectations you can easily become sad, angry, despaired, depressed, and hopeless. You can lose hope in the character of Christ when the journey of following Jesus gets a little chaotic. Isn’t it during times of chaos or difficulty that we tend to question God’s character? When everything is going good there isn’t need to question God. We got it good. Our relationship is good. Our trust is good. Our hope is good. Yet when my marriage is sour or my kids are playing the prodigal or I lose my job or I find out from the doctor bad news, it is then that I question the goodness of God. I question his plans. I question his character (e.g. wisdom, sovereignty, omnipresence, etc.).

Does God work through your frustrations? Doubts? Disappointments? Unmet expectations? You bet! It is often in those chaotic times that you see God work best. Is God there with you, even in the chaos? Certainly! Chaos can cloud your vision. You can miss seeing him walk beside you—with you. You may not recognize God as he does his work. Sometimes you may be kept from recognizing him or what he’s doing (Ex: Job, Abraham, Cleopas, etc.).

Let’s give these two men on the Emmaus Road a little grace. 48-hours earlier Jesus was unrecognizable. He was beaten, bruised and bloody. His beard was plucked. He was naked and scarred. Some of their last images of Jesus were traumatic and grotesque. To think that Jesus survived the ordeal, cleaned himself up and ran to catch up with these men walking to Emmaus just to have a conversation with them would have seemed absurd and unthinkable. Yet Jesus in his resurrected body had a little fun. It’s something you can look forward to when you get yours. He could teleport and walk through walls. That’s so cool!

Seriously, we learn six amazing truths about the character of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. First, Jesus pursues people. He pursued the two men. He initiates provoking question not because he did not know the answers, but that he wanted show how he pursues people.

Like Cleopas and his friend, we can be tempted to grumble and argue about the unmet expectations we experience. To this Jesus asked, “What things?” Jesus knows all those things. He wants you to know he knows those things. He understands those things. In fact, Jesus encountered those things first hand. He experienced those things. What things are you facing (or feeling) that Jesus has too? Likely all those things.

Jesus knows what you feel. He knows pain. He knows hurt. He knows anger. He knows sorrow. He knows despair. He knows because he’s been there. What if you took your complaints to God instead of just your friends? Can God handle it? Jesus could handle these two men and their honesty. He can handle yours too. He isn’t put off by it, in fact, Jesus invited the men to speak and share their sadness. Some of you need to know that today!

The men explained,

“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel (the one Moses, David and Isaiah talked about). Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said 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 him they did not see.” (Luke 24:21-24)

They heard about Jesus’ resurrection, but sadly they didn’t see him themselves.

Jesus is in control, even if life feels chaotic. Remember when Jesus taught, “Don’t worry about tomorrow,” or “Come to Me heavy laden, I will give you rest.” Listen to Jesus’ response on the road,

“And he said to them, “O foolish ones (stupid, sightless, shallow—What? That was a little harsh stranger! We bear our hearts to you and you call us foolish? Who are you to say that?), and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! (You don’t see the whole story!) Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)

Jesus models suffering comes before glory. This was important to the story and theology of the Messiah. Cleopas and his friend missed the detail that suffering always precedes glory. It gets harder before it gets better.

During a dark night of the soul hang on! Joy will come in the morning. If you suffer it will pass. Sadness will pass. Despair will pass. Disappointment will pass. Doubt will pass. Frustration will pass. Glory will come. I promise. Jesus promises!

Jesus teaches still. This is the greatest unrecorded sermon in the Bible. What I’d give to get my hands on that Podcast! Jesus unpacked centuries of prophecies from the beginning to the present. He gave these men a tour behind the scenes of the Story of stories. He gave the director’s cut commentary with bonus features. That must have been the best Sunday School lesson ever! The truth is you have this lesson. It’s in the Bible. You can hold it. You can hear it. You can read it. You can know it. You can be taught it by the Spirit of Jesus!

Do you realize that even after this Bible Study of Bible studies that Cleopas and his friend still didn’t recognize Jesus? Yes, it can happen. You can read the Bible from cover to cover, have the explained by the best teacher, preacher or commentator and still miss Jesus!

“So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When [Jesus] was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them (Reminiscing the Upper Room). And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. (Yes, Jesus just teleported again!) They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven [disciples] and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how [Jesus] was known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:28-35)

Cleopas and his friend boogied back towards Jerusalem (7 miles)—in the right direction. They told Jesus’ disciples what had happened to them. Not many would walk that journey at night. It was too dangerous. But they had breaking news! Jesus was alive—he appeared to them! They didn’t have to prove it as Jesus would appear among them again (24:36). Cleopas and his friend were eyewitnesses to the powerful testimony of Jesus’ resurrection. They became founding members of the fellowship of burning hearts.

You gain hope when you see Jesus has been with you all along. You may be so caught up in your disappointment or unmet expectations that you fail to recognize God is with you. Like Cleopas and his friend does your heart burn within you. Jesus knows if it’s ice or fire. Jesus sets the Fahrenheit of your heart, even in the midst of chaos and difficulty. May he give you eyes to see his goodness, his grace, his love, his presence, his tender hand leading you along the road. May he ignite a fire in your heart. You too got a story to tell!

The death and resurrection of Jesus are the most powerful events in history to hinge your faith upon (1 Corinthians 15:14-17). When you are tempted to doubt, despair, or drown in unmet expectations, come back to the cross and empty tomb. What will you do with Easter now that Easter Sunday is over? What will you do with Jesus? What will you allow Jesus to do within you as he walks alongside you? Will you see how God redeems chaos as a part of his story? See how he is with you through it?

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Worship in Suffering

Do you find it difficult to worship God when life is difficult? If yes, then you are not alone. When reading the Psalms we observe that at least one-third are songs of lament. They teach us an honest and raw worship of God when things are falling apart or when we experience suffering.

Peter’s letter is no different nor does he skirt around the subject of suffering, rather he has straight talk for those who are suffering. What we learn from Peter and the Psalms are how to worship God in suffering.

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” – 1 Peter 4:12-19, ESV

God has a plan for suffering so don’t be surprised by it.

There are two scenarios of suffering we shouldn’t be surprised by: when we suffer because we sin or we suffer because we follow Jesus (vs.12, 17-19). Both types of suffering are meant to draw us near to God for either repentance or reliance. It is far better to suffer for following Jesus than for doing wrong. And suffering, especially for the gospels sake allows us to share in the suffering of Jesus and that worships God.

Peter knows what it is like to suffer for wrong and feel the shame of it. When Jesus was imprisoned he denied Jesus three times. Jesus restored Peter afterwards and from then on Peter joyful suffered for the sake of Christ.

God is most glorified when we rejoice while suffering.

Rejoicing seems like the opposite response while suffering. More often people become bitter against God or to complain against God. However, when we complain or become angry we miss out on God’s primary means of draws us to himself.

Our deepest worship of God occurs is when we rejoice in him in spite of pain, trust him in the trial, surrender in the suffering and love him when he seems distant or unclear. No matter how difficult the situation may appear God is still good and he is good to us. Suffering has it’s good purpose and therein is a reason to rejoice because God is trustworthy (vs.13-16, 19).

Peter says that when your life is difficult and people are making fun of you for being a Christian it is more important than ever to trust God. This includes trusting that he exists, loves you, will help you, is ultimately in control of your life, and in eternity will sort everything out and make it right. When suffering we can worship in three ways: through honest lament, a resilient hope in Jesus, and a stubborn trust in God.

 

Questions for Reflections:

  • How are suffering and worship interrelated?
  • When you can expect suffering how does it prepare you to suffer well? How did Peter fail in suffering when Jesus was imprisoned? How does shame play into suffering?
  • Why does Peter tell his readers not to be surprised by suffering? What is the difference between suffering for good and suffering because of sin? How are the consequence of sin and following Jesus different?
  • How can you rejoice in suffering? Why is rejoicing in God harder when life is tougher? What reasons do you have to rejoice in God in suffering? How has suffering drawn you to God?
  • How do you see God a trustworthy and faithful? What does it look like to entrust your soul to God?

life together

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians.” A life with Christ is not meant to be lived alone, rather together with a community of Christ followers. This requires intentionality and vulnerability. Togetherness encourages focusing our eyes on what matters most—Jesus. Bonhoeffer continues, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this”

Here four actions to focus our minds and encourage togetherness.

Set your hope on future grace

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:13, ESV

The mind is a battle ground. While there are many pressures from outside, it is in the mind that one is most often tempted to fear, lose hope, or skirt holiness. Alone we are prone to distraction and disillusionment from the grace that is ours in Jesus Christ. If your hope is in anything, but Jesus you will be disappointed. It is a gift of God’s grace that we are together in this fight of faith and that we will be together around the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).

Pursue holiness

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”” – 1 Peter 1:14-16, ESV

Above any other attribute of God, his holiness is mentioned the most in the Bible. God is holy, meaning he is “set apart” and there is none like him. If God is holy he wants his children to be holy too. God is not a militant nor a mongrel demanding perfection, but he is a loving father who wants his children to pursue holiness everyday. Encourage one another to be holy in an unholy world.

Have a healthy fear of God

“And 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,” – 1 Peter 1:17, ESV

Peter tells us that God is a Father and we should have a healthy fear of him because he judges his children fairly. While we aren’t perfect kids, he is a perfect daddy. Sometimes we are tempted to view God through the lens of what our earthly father was or is like. While this can be helpful, not everyone had a father who was loving, caring, or taught them right and wrong. God is a good Father.

Look to Christ our example

“knowing that 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. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” – 1 Peter 1:18-21, ESV

Christ came to earth. He lived a holy life and obeyed his Father in everything. He even obeyed God by going to the cross becoming the sacrificial lamb for our sins. Through Jesus we can have faith and hope because in Jesus we see what God looks like with skin on. Jesus also helps us to see what holiness looks like as a human. Follow in his steps.

Life together is primarily about keeping our minds on Jesus Christ until Jesus Christ comes again and makes us completely like him. Walking in grace, holiness, and a fear of God is impossible alone, but together it is a lot more encouraging and doable.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What does holiness mean? What does it look like to be holy? What is the opposite of holiness?
  • How does the illustration and reality that God is Father and you are his children encourage you? Why do God and parents ask their children to do good things not evil things?
  • What does it mean to obey? Are there any rules or standards from the Bible or your home that you don’t think are fair or right? Why? What rules or standards are difficult for you to obey? Why?
  • How is God a Judge? Why is it good that God judges?
  • How does the world make fun of Christians for being holy or different? How does knowing that at the end of our life God will reward us for holy life?
  • What is the meaning of the word redeem? How did Jesus redeem mankind?
  • How do thinking on these verses help guard your mind from temptation?

Jesus is the Greater Hope

Before 1849 California was declared a waste land and said to have the least resources of any place on the North American continent. That was until the gold rush. Thousands of people left family and home in the hope of striking it rich. Some did, but most didn’t. The gold rush left many more impoverished and hopeless than before. For many California was indeed a waste.

Everyone is in search of hope. Yet we live in a world of pain, disappointment, doubt, and hardship. God may even seem distant and uninvolved. Hope in this world seems fleeting and lost. Where is lasting hope to be found?

Everyone places hope in people. We put our hope in parents, spouses, children, friends, teachers and leaders. We are in constant search for vibrant life-giving teaching that will wow our socks off and stir our affections. While that teaching can be found, its content must never compromise the truth (5:11-12a).

“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.” – Hebrews 5:11-6:8

In this, the third warning in the book of Hebrews, we warned to beware of false and flashy teaching that sweeps in and takes the place of true teaching. Our ears often are drawn to the newest self-help fad or smooth-talker. The author of Hebrews calls dull ears to listen and become wowed again by the basic teaching of God, discern what is true, then move on from those teachings to other doctrines (6:1-8).

When one starts primary school he will learn the ABC’s so that he might read words, sentences, books— in fact, anything in literature. The challenge is to renew a passion for basics of faith, which are the building blocks to a deeper hunger to know the wonders of God and be wowed again by him (vs.12b-14).

The greatest and lasting hope in this world is indeed found in a person—The Word who became flesh (John 1:14). Hope is found in Jesus. His teachings are richer than gold for the soul. Dig into his words and the deeper you go the more hope you will find.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What are the basics of faith?
  • How are the basics important to understanding the more complex issues of faith?
  • Where does our culture turn for help to grow wiser, stronger, and more mature?
  • What is the danger of becoming too familiar with the basic principles of God?
  • What is the opposite of dull hearing? How can you cultivate vibrant hearing? What illustrations in the passage help you understand the difference?
  • What wows you about God? What do you want to know more about him?
  • How can you stir others towards a greater hope in Jesus?

i HOPE so

Hope. It is one of those words that has lost its meaning. True? Hope used to mean a strong or urgent anticipation of the future. For example “I hope Christ will come soon to really take me home”. However, through time words have either increased or decreased in meaning. Hope is one that has decreased. “Jimmy, do you think you’re going to heaven when you die?” And the answer, “I hopeso”.
 
I hope so? More like I don’t know-so or I don’t care-so. I mean, who cares about Heaven…I am concerned about the NOW, today. And do I really know if I am going to heaven? Who knows? Yikes, do you realize what I just said?
 
Your definition of ‘hope’ is seen in and through your life. Hope. Believes the best is yet to come. It is confident in the reality of the future. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
 
C.S. Lewis said, “the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.” (Mere Christianity, 134) Sure we have heard it said that someone could be too Heavenly minded to be any earthly good. Is this really true? I beg you to think not. We cannot hope enough for the afterworld because it will affect how we live in this world. “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”
 
We have been trained to think in this world. Heaven is one of those places that doesn’t seem appealing. I desire to marry, have a family to raise, career to boost, vacation to take…there is no time or thought of Heaven yet. Sure I will be reunited with friends and family, but who wants to strum a harp and sit on clouds all day. Sounds silly, eh? That really isn’t what Heaven is about. Is it?
 
Answer these questions and Heaven becomes more appealing. Do I deserve to go there? (Rom.5:2; 2 Cor.1:10) How do I get there? Do I get to take anything with me? (Eph.1:18; Lam.3:1-19) Will He be there? Will I see Him? (Titus 2:13) Will I ever get off of my face worshipping Him? (Rev.19:1-10) This world is not my home; I’m just passing through.
 
Father, give me a taste of what is to come, so that I might crave it more.
 
Heaven. Hope. I HOPE so.