Pastor Sherry’s Message for April 26, 2020
Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35
Some years back, I heard of a gruff, burly, no-nonsense, German, Lutheran retreat leader who organized and ran 3-day retreats. He was (in)famous for two things: (1) He would gather all the people who had arrived to begin his retreat and proceed to rummage through their luggage, confiscating all cell phones, I-pods, Kindles, laptops, and blackberries, as well as any cigarettes, wine, or alcohol. (2) Next, he would divide folks into pairs and send them out into the woods to experience an “E-Mouse” walk–this was the way he pronounced “Emmaus.” His hope was that those attending the retreat would begin their experience by having an encounter with Jesus, just as did the two described in today’s Gospel lesson (Luke 24:13-35).
Now clearly we can and do stumble upon Jesus in nature. Psalm 19:1 tells us, The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the works of His hands. How many of us have marveled at God’s majesty and creativity as we have gazed at a beautiful, starry night sky! Paul reiterates this truth in Romans 1:20, where he asserts that God has revealed Himself to all persons through His creation: For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men[and women] are without excuse. In other words, Paul is saying no one can legitimately deny God’s existence as His works all about us in nature demonstrate that He is real. Truly, we can encounter Christ in His creation.
The authors of our Scripture passages today, however, emphasize other ways in which we can and do encounter our Lord. Peter, in the continuation of his sermon in Acts 2:36-41, underscores the importance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. In this speech, Peter insists that we all bear responsibility for Jesus’ execution: Therefore let all Israel [and by analogy, all the rest of us] be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. He is making the point that Jesus died for their sins and for ours. These words of his were so moving at that time that 3,000 persons in Jerusalem felt sufficiently convicted of their sins to repent, to submit to being baptized, and–under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—to walk away from their Jewish faith to become Christ-followers. We encounter Jesus when we realize both our need for a savior and His willingness to die to redeem us from our sins.
Peter very consistently stresses this same point in his epistle, 1 Peter 1:18-19àFor you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. The whole idea behind the sacrificial system of the Old Testament was that there must be an atonement or payment for sin. Our holy God established the principle that the one who sins is responsible for his or her actions and pays with his or her life (see Leviticus 17:11; Deuteronomy 12:23; and Ezekiel 18). We may not like it or agree with it, but this is a foundational principle that God Himself instituted. However, in His love and mercy, He had also provided a method by which those who believed in Him could avoid the death penalty for their sin: They could sacrifice a perfect, unblemished male lamb, goat, or bull in their place. The fact that atoning for sin required some sacrifice (time and money to raise the animal, as well as losing any revenue the animal may have provided) was meant to impress upon sinners the cost to them (and to the animal) of their sin. The life-blood of the animal covered, or made restitution for, the sins of the person who offered it. But because they (and we) sinned so often, daily—even numerous times in one day—this system was frustrating, expensive, and did not ultimately solve the human sin problem.
Peter asserts that, essentially, there is nothing that we can do on our own that would redeem us from our sins. Instead, we are redeemed by Jesus’ “precious blood.” Isn’t it interesting that a hardened, practical fisherman would use such an expression? That fact alone tells us how much he valued Jesus and His willingness to take upon Himself our sin-penalty. He then refers to Jesus as a “sacrificial lamb.” He is referencing the Old Testament sacrificial system as well as building on John the Baptist’s prophetic assertion that Jesus was and is (John 1:29)à…the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world. The writer to the Hebrews dedicates an entire chapter (10) to explaining how Jesus eliminated the Old Testament sacrificial system by becoming the once and for all, perfect sacrifice for our sins. The shedding of His blood was sufficient to make up for all or our sins, past, present, and even future. How profound! How incredibly generous and loving! It puts me in mind of that old hymn:
What can take away my sins?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Oh precious is the flow …
That makes me white as snow.
No other fount I know…
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Additionally, Peter wants us to comprehend—and remember he was an eye-witness—that Jesus was sinless and therefore “perfect.” He then goes on to say (verses 22-23, from Peterson’s The Message) Now that you’ve cleaned up your lives by following the Truth [Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life], love one another as if your lives depended on it. Your new life is not like your old life. Your old birth came from mortal sperm; your new birth comes from God’s living Word. Just think: a life conceived by God Himself! Peter keeps reminding us of Christ’s resurrection power. He wants us to know that we encounter Jesus when we recall that He paid the price for our sins. He wants us to know encounter Jesus when we realize that He put His life on the line for us. As a result, we owe Him our love and our gratitude. As a result, we want to live life differently; we want to be more loving toward God and more loving toward others.
The psalm appointed for today, Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19, can be viewed as a kind of love song to God. It invites us to praise God for delivering us from the finality of death. It also encourages us to realize that God considers as having great value. I often tell people who worry that they are of no consequence to God, that even if they had been the only person alive, Jesus Christ would still have gone to the Cross to redeem them. That’s how important we are to our God! This is why we want to offer to Him not a blood sacrifice, thank goodness, but a “sacrifice” of praise. The writer to the Hebrews says in chapter 13:15àThrough Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess His name. Like offering compliments to relatives or friends, it takes some time and our intentional effort to praise God. He is worthy of our praise! We encounter Christ as we lift up praises to God.
Finally, our Gospel lesson recounts the experiences of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (not E-mouse). They are disheartened because their hopes that Jesus was the longed for Messiah had been dashed by His death on the Cross. Apparently all of Jerusalem had been abuzz, talking of Jesus’ arrest, trials, crucifixion, death, and reported resurrection. Some women claimed they had seen Him but as yet no others had. In other words, they are walking the 7 miles home from Jerusalem, on Resurrection Day, without having believed that Jesus had overcome the grave. So, Jesus, in His mercy, appears to them. He listens to their despair, then chastises them (v.25): How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! He then “takes them to school.” Without revealing His identity, He explains how all the Old Testament prophesies are fulfilled by the Christ. What a Bible study that must have been! Here is the in-the-flesh Word of God revealing Himself through God’s written word. Wouldn’t you have loved to have been there listening to this vibrant and powerful teaching? Wow! Later, they get just Who He is when He prays and has a meal with them. Notice that He does not show them the nail holes on His hands and feet. From our perspective, this side of the Cross, we can say instead that He made Himself known to them in Word and in Sacrament.
These same two kinds of encounters with Christ are available to us today. We encounter Jesus when we read, study, and meditate on Scripture. We encounter Jesus when we join with Him in table fellowship, by partaking in the bread and wine or grape juice of Communion.
Since Easter, I have been writing to you about how we live out being “an Easter people.” We can do this by focusing on (1) Jesus’ perfect, sacrificial, atoning death for our sins; (2) His glorious and powerful Resurrection; (3) His demonstration of God’s amazing love for us; (4) Our logical and heartfelt response of praise and gratitude to Him; and (5) Recognizing Jesus in Word and Sacrament. We can take “E-mouse walks” in the woods to encounter Christ, but we can also do so in our heads, and in our hearts, and in our spirits. This week, let’s resolve anew to study Scripture daily and—as we do so—let’s ask the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus to us in new, robust, life-changing ways.
©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams