Sermon Preached at Grace Community Church (EPC)
Sun City Grand, Surprise, AZ
Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018
by the Reverend Cooper McWhirter
“The Road Frequently Traveled”
Regardless of how many times you’ve heard the Easter story, it should be as fresh and as new just as it was on that first Easter morn! The reason is simple. Easter is a time of spiritual renewal for all who believe. It’s the blessed assurance of our own resurrection based solely upon what Christ Jesus accomplished for us! For without this hope, Paul anguishes: “…we are of all men most to be pitied” [1 Corinthians 15:19].
As I scoured through my sermon archives, I came across an Easter message from March 2002 entitled, “The Road Less Traveled,” undoubtedly a title borrowed from the best-selling book by the late renowned psychiatrist, M. Scott Peck. But, as I reflected on this Scripture passage, it seemed apropos to title this sermon, “The Road Frequently Traveled”; a road all too familiar to us.
Perhaps, today, you find yourself at a crossroads along life’s journey. You have lost your way. Life seems pointless. If this describes your dilemma, then perhaps this passage will prove to be of help in regaining a fresh perspective. It might just encourage and empower you to look for road signs along the way; just as did for these two sojourners so very long ago.
Notice what was sorely lacking as these two made their way towards the sleepy town of Emmaus. A scene where two companions had hastily left the great-walled city of Jerusalem to an otherwise obscure village; one which history has long since forgotten. In fact, all we know about Emmaus was its proximity, a scant seven miles, from where the Jewish Passover was observed. Easy walking distance; yet, so far from the turbulent events of that past week.
We know little or nothing about these travelers other than one was named Cleopas. But this much we do know. They were obviously part of Jesus’ ‘inner circle’ for they knew what had happened earlier on that Sunday morning [verses 22-24]. Something quite mysterious had occurred because Jesus’ tomb was empty; just as their hopes were also empty.
Some Bible scholars believe Cleopas was the same person mentioned in John 19:25 although that person’s name was spelled differently (Clopas). But, if this was one of the same, then his wife, Mary, was one of the women who stood alongside Jesus’ mother on that fateful Friday when they crucified the Lord atop Mount Calvary. A foreboding place shaped as a human skull.
Here were these two sojourners, husband and wife, trudging along homeward bound not realizing the full extent of what momentous event had taken place. But, as they soon discovered something else quite wondrous was about to take place. A chance encounter, or so it seemed; an encounter with a stranger that would dramatically change their lives.
For a while this morning, let’s take a walk beside these two. Who knows. Perhaps we, too, will discover something new about our own walk of faith. Along “The Road Frequently Traveled” where faith evolves by taking one step forward, and two steps backwards.
I say this because one’s walk of faith does not occur on a thoroughfare where speed is the norm. Rather, it behooves us to tread slowly and deliberately. Not timidly, but with resolute confidence. To help us along the way, there are road signs for us to observe. Mindful of the fact there will be winding curves and obstacles along our path which could impede our progress.
As these two companions were conversing, suddenly a stranger appeared. This stranger seemed curious as to why they were so forlorn. Notice the closing words in verse 17 where it says: “And they stood still, looking sad.”
Yes, even a perfect stranger surmised that these two were suffering from a case of the ‘dreaded “D’s’ (repeat). This stranger asked inquisitively, “…What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?”
And what do you suppose are the dreaded D’s? THE FIRST ROAD SIGN WAS ONE OF: DISCOURAGEMENT (repeat).
You’ve heard me say, “[that] the only defeated Christian is a discouraged one.” Which incidentally is one of Satan’s favorite ploys. Oh, how he enjoys undermining our faith! He bombards us with negative thoughts to weaken our resolve. He attempts to impair our judgment which negatively impacts our behavior.
In verse 18, Cleopas responds to the stranger’s inquiry with a terse comment: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “What things?” the stranger asked. A query which compels Cleopas and his wife to share their innermost thoughts.
They began sharing their hopes and aspirations, where in verse 19, they spoke of Jesus as: “…a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.” Their statement of belief, so far as it went, was true! But their limited view as to Jesus’ power and authority inhibited them from seeing the full magnitude of their Lord’s divinity! Indeed, we’re told: “their eyes were kept from recognizing Him.”
But, not only did they express disappointment: THE SECOND ROAD SIGN THEY ENCOUNTERED WAS ONE OF: DISALLUSIONMENT (repeat).
No wonder they were downcast! Verse 21 sums it up where they said: “…we had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel.” Notice their wording: “We had hoped…” Those dreaded words imply “what might have been!” As if to say, “We once had thought it was possible, but not now…not ever!”
Perhaps, you, too, are harboring similar feelings this morning. You keep saying to yourself, “Lord, I had hoped You would cure my illness.” “O, Lord, could You restore my marriage, or help with my finances?” “O, Lord, is it possible to remove my guilt and shame?”
Are you beginning to see the problem here? The problem lies with you. It lies with me; not with God! Such grave doubts must be left at the foot of the cross; to be discarded like that empty tomb. Such uncertainties prevent us from finding a cure for what ails us.
You see, it’s not a matter of “if” but “when.” Cleopas and his wife were among the privileged few who undoubtedly witnessed Jesus’ wondrous works. They surely had heard Him preach. For just as it says: “the multitudes were amazed at His teaching…as One who had authority, and not as the scribes” [Matthew 7:28b, 29]. Perhaps on occasion they marveled when Jesus’ performed miraculous healings. Yet, they were still plagued with nagging doubts. Put simply, their disillusionment was not because of Jesus, the Nazarene. Rather, it was symptomatic of their own disbelief in Him!
- S. Lewis put it this way: “We err not by desiring too much, but by desiring too little.” Our feeble faith can prevent us from being showered with blessings from on high!
Now up to this point, Jesus had little to say while they walked along this road so frequently traveled. And when He did speak, it came in the form of questions to probe their minds and hearts.
They spoke of the women who had gone to the tomb before dawn only to find it empty. The women exclaimed: “…and some of those who were with us” (referring to Peter and John) who later accompanied them to the tomb where they, too, found it exactly as the women had said.
Our immediate response would be to ask: “Didn’t the empty tomb arouse your curiosity? And why are you on this road so frequently traveled? What pressing matters could have dissuaded you from finding out the truth?” It seems apparent that they simply, “threw in the old proverbial towel.”
What aroused my curiosity is that Jesus continued to walk with them until they reached their destination. From my perspective this speaks volumes about our Lord. You see, He stayed with them to the end of this road so frequently traveled. Put another way, Jesus will never meet halfway! He promises to stay with you, ‘through thick and thin!’
Upon reaching what we presume was their residence, Luke tells us: “So as they drew near to the village…He appeared to be going further, but they constrained Him, saying ‘Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.’”
At this point they came upon: THE THIRD ROAD SIGN APPEARED; ONE OF…DISAPPOINTMENT (Repeat).
Wake up, Cleopas! Open your eyes. Something quite surreal happened on that first Easter! Instead you opted out. You decided to leave. You left in a hurry…unfulfilled. You abandoned your companions in the Upper Room. You started feeling sorry for yourself. But such posturing simply doesn’t wash!
It was at this juncture when the Lord scolded them by explaining to them why the Christ had to suffer so. His death was to atone, once and for all time, both their sins and ours; just as it was foretold in Scripture by the Law and the Prophets.
Still, it didn’t dawn on them until they sat down to eat whereupon the stranger blessed the food and handed it to them. Suddenly, their eyes were opened! For the first time in their lives, they truly saw that the Man sitting beside them was none other than the risen Lord! Not unlike Saul of Tarsus whose own eyes were opened to the risen Lord on yet another road, at another time, in another place.
They glanced at His nail-scared hands and in “the twinkling of an eye” Jesus disappeared! Whatever reason they had for returning home, it no longer seemed important. Despite the dangers of traveling at night, they hastily returned to Jerusalem where, in the Upper Room, they told the others about their strange encounter with whom they thought was a stranger.
So, what can we take away from this morning’s Easter message? It’s not just about the road frequently traveled. No, what should concern us is what will be our ultimate destination.
For these two, it was no longer Emmaus. No, the only place that mattered to them was wherever the Lord resides. And this is where our destination should be as well! But while we reside in ‘the living years,’ let’s observe the road signs along the way; along the road so frequently traveled.
Let us pray …