Jesus Prays for his Disciples

Sunday the 28th of May 2017

John 17: 1-17

A couple of years ago in one of my ALC classes one of my lecturers told us of one time when he and his family came to church one Sunday to find that the pastor was kneeling in front of the altar, praying out loud. This pastor was apparently praying for the members of his congregation and he was doing it as people arrived at church. The impact that this made on the people who came to church that day was quite noticeable, and apparently it led to the pastor having to do many extra pastoral visits that week. He did not do this all the time, but did it occasionally to teach the congregation about the role of prayer in the pastor’s life and to show that these people were indeed prayed for. Often we will say to others: “I am praying for you” or maybe “I will keep you in my prayers” but very rarely do we see people actually praying for us.

In today’s Gospel reading from John 17 that is precisely what Jesus is doing for his disciples. On that Maundy Thursday after he had given them his farewell speech, he simply prayed to his Heavenly Father. Jesus did not go off somewhere to be by himself, as he would later to the garden, but he prayed in the presence of his disciples so that they could actually hear his prayer. This was no private matter, but a moment when the disciples got to listen to Jesus praying for them.

I wonder what it would have been like for these disciples to hear their Lord praying for them; where all they were doing was listening. Just as Jesus was praying for his disciples that night, he also prays for you and me in this, but do we hear and listen? I don’t know about you but often my prayers are very busy; it is like I am asking all the time, begging God to do something for me, or that I want him to do something for someone else and occasionally I might praise him, when I remember, or when he pulls me up. To be honest I have come to realise that I complain to him more in my prayers than I do praise him.

I know that I am not the only one who does this, because I believe that it is a part of our sinful natures to always be focussing on ourselves. It comes naturally to us. Our prayers can so easily be all about ‘me’.

As I read through Jesus’ prayer I began to see that he was praying aloud for a purpose. In his praying he was showing and teaching his disciples and also us. So what does Jesus’ prayer teach us about God? What does he expect of God that he would want his disciples to remember? These are interesting questions and there are many things that Jesus said in this prayer that I could speak about, but today I would like to focus on two parts of this prayer of Jesus. Jesus prayed: “For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

Jesus is praying to his Father with confidence, because of who he is. Jesus is acknowledging the authority that has been given by his Father, so that he may give eternal life. As his child, you and I know God, we have access to him in prayer, and we are assured that he listens to us, because we know Jesus the one whom he has sent. Jesus is putting focus on him and the lesson here that I believe he is teaching is for us to do the same in our prayers. When we pray we pray in his name, but I wonder if at times we need to think about what this means; to think about the fact that we can pray is because of Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. Jesus prays that the Father would be glorified through him. Do we pray that our God will be glorified through us? It is something to think about in our own prayers.

Jesus goes on to pray: “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you.”

Jesus the one who is Lord and the one who has authority, the one who should be demanding that his disciples pray to him, is the one who prays for his disciples.

The world of these disciples was about to change dramatically; they were going to be thrown into a world that was so foreign from the one they had known; things were going to be so different and yet they heard Jesus, their Lord, praying for them. They heard him pray about the things the Father was doing in their lives, that I suspect they had no idea about. When Jesus prayed: “…And glory has come to me through them”, even though it was a statement of fact, I can imagine that they would not have understood. But it is the truth God was at work in those disciples before they even knew it. The same is true for you and me; often it is the case that God is working in us, without our knowing; he is working in us long before we realise, sometimes.

These disciples hear Jesus praying for their protection. He prays: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.”

Imagine what it would have been like to hear Jesus praying for them this way. Over the last few weeks I have been making a point that Jesus was speaking to his disciples, preparing them, so that they remember what he said to them. Now he is doing the same thing by encouraging them, by letting them listen to his prayer to his Father for them. They knew that he was praying for them, that he was interceding for them, not only them, but all believers; they heard that they were not alone, that our God was at work. And again this was something that they were going to remember in the future.

This prayer that Jesus prays that is recorded in his Word is recorded for us here today to listen to. And through this prayer he teaches us. He teaches us that our God works in us, as his children, helping us to glorify him through our Christian lives as we are walking with him. He teaches us that our Lord Jesus is interceding for us, he is praying for our protection, he is keeping us before his Father who is at work in us. He is teaching us that we need to have focus on him.

Prayer is one of the things that are fundamental to our Christian faith, but it is also something that nearly all of us struggle with at times. My own prayer life with God goes through seasons; there are times when I pray with him easily and naturally and then there are times where I find prayer difficult. Again I suspect that I am not the only one who struggles like this. As we as Christians living in this world face challenges that come our way, I believe that we can take comfort here in Jesus prayer. When we struggle to pray to our heavenly Father, Jesus still intercedes for us; when we struggle to see God at work, Jesus tells us through his prayer that our God is at work bringing about his glory in us. The fact that Jesus prayed for his disciples would have given them great comfort. The fact that this prayer is in God’s word to us can give you and me comfort also.

I encourage you all with the fact that our God is at work in us to bring him glory. I encourage you to persist in your prayers, knowing that our Lord Jesus is alongside you, praying and interceding for you also. Finally, I encourage you to remember Jesus’ words of promise that he is always with you.

The Holy Spirit at Work

Sunday the 21st of May 2017

John 14: 15-21

Since I was a young child, I have spent my life worshipping in, and being involved in, the life of the Lutheran Church, whether in NZ or Australia. I was taught well by my teachers and those who, over the years, had significant influence on my Christian journey. And I see myself as being an ordinary, Christian Lutheran.

In 2001 I began to study at Tabor College in Adelaide, which is a non-denominational bible college. Whilst I was there, for the first time, I mixed with other Christians from various traditions. Many of them were from Pentecostal backgrounds and had a very strong emphasis on the role the Holy Spirit plays in our lives. At that time I began to realise that as Lutherans we do not talk about the Holy Spirit much, do we? We don’t really talk about the role he plays in our lives as believers. At the time I was confused and, to be honest, unsure of what to make of what we believe about the Holy Spirit. It was something that I really had to grapple and wrestle with, and I suspect that it is not just me who has to do this at times.

In today’s Gospel reading from John 14, Jesus tells us that he will send us another advocate, that is: Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth, to be with us. As I mentioned last week, Jesus was speaking these words to his disciples, in what is known as his farewell speech; the time where he was preparing them for what was to come. And it is no co-incidence that it was at this time that he tells them about the Holy Spirit, whom he would ask the Father to send. Jesus was promising his presence with them at the same time that he was anticipating his arrest, his crucifixion, his resurrection and his ascension. He strongly encouraged his disciples that his presence would be made known to them, in the times ahead, through the Holy Spirit; Jesus made clear that when these disciples become troubled and afraid the Holy Spirit will come and be present with them always.

I wonder if we can imagine for a moment what it would have been like for those disciples to hear these words from Jesus. They had just been told that Jesus was going away and they could not come with him. These disciples, without knowing what was coming around the corner, had been with Jesus for the majority of his ministry. They had been present with him and taught by him and now he was telling them he was leaving. Add to this the fact that these words are said just after Judas departs into the night and Peter’s denial was foretold.

They might have easily thought to themselves: “What are we going to do? How are we going to manage? How can we keep on going if Jesus is not with us?” It is into this place that Jesus says: “16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth.” And “18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.”

The Holy Spirit will help us and be with us forever. His presence will be with us, along with the presence of Jesus to guide us through this journey in life with him. Knowing the challenges and persecution that these disciples were about to face, we can imagine how powerful these words of assurance and comfort would have been for these disciples.

As you and I here today look at the chaotic and at times unstable world around us; as we look at the challenges that we each individually face in our own lives when it comes to keeping the faith in Jesus amidst our own struggles; as we see the outright attack by those against our Christian values, and we see churches closing down around us, it is easy to find ourselves in a place where our hearts are troubled and we are afraid of what the future holds. And we ask: “What is going to happen to the future generations?” It is easy to get discouraged.

But we have the promise that Jesus spoke of. We have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, the one who gives us comfort, the one who gives us God’s presence, the one who reminds us of Jesus’ words of promise to us, the one who helps us to trust, when at times we can’t on our own. The promise of Jesus in today’s Gospel reading reminds you and me that we are not alone. The words of assurance that were spoken to those disciples are also the words of assurance spoken to you and me: that even today we are never abandoned, because the Holy Spirit is present with us.

Jesus also says these words concerning the Holy Spirit: “The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (v. 17) This is good news for all of us here. You and I are gathered together as believers, who know our God, because the Holy Spirit is living in us. We are brought together by the Holy Spirit who is working in you and me through the Word and Sacrament, to build us up, to strengthen us in faith and to assure us that we do in fact belong to the Lord through what Jesus has done for you and me, by forgiving our sins. But he does more than just these things. The Holy Spirit is the one who empowers us to not only believe, but to keep his commandments. The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts our consciences when we sin. He is the one who points us back to Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the one who empowers us to love one another. He is the one that helps you and me live the Christian life demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit. (Gal 5: 22-24)

All these ways I have been talking about of the Holy Spirit working are very practical. But it is not always recognised by us that he is working in us. This is a very Lutheran way of understanding his role, because it puts the emphasis on scripture and on his working in us. Often this can be misunderstood by others, because they place the emphasis on the outward works of the Holy Spirit. So they look at the gifts he gives us, or the miraculous ways that the Holy Spirit sometimes works through his people. They make these things the standard and do not emphasise the normal everyday ways that the Holy Spirit works in every Christian. The way that he brings about faith in us, the way he assures us of his presence. The Church of Corinth had this very problem. In chapter 12 we read Paul addressing the spiritual gifts among them. The reason he was doing this is because the people had become judgemental of others and had used the more powerful gifts as the standard of faith. Paul says these words in 1 Corinthians 12 v. 3: “No-one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” Any of us who have faith in Jesus have the Holy Spirit within us and this is good news that should give us certainty and confidence in our Christian life.

The fact that Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit and his role for the first time during his farewell speech, is significant. It is significant because of the encouragement that His disciples, which includes you and me, take from his words. Jesus uses a word to describe the Holy Spirit that can have many different meanings. For example, the Holy Spirit is called the advocate, the comforter, the counsellor, the helper, to name a few. That is because the Holy Spirit acts in these various ways in our lives. In the times these disciples were going to face, they again needed to remember these words of encouragement from Jesus, and again, as I said last week, we also need to remember; to remember that we have the gift of the Holy Spirit with us always as we face challenges and trials in our own lives.

I encourage each of you then, to rest assured that our Triune God is always with you bringing you his gifts of grace and faith to help you and guide you through this life. I encourage you to walk confidently with our Lord, because he is truly present with you through the Holy Spirit as he has promised.

 

 

Remembering Jesus’ Words of Promise

Sunday the 14th of May 2017

John 14:1-14

As some of you may know, I was not born into a Christian family. How I came to be in the Lutheran church was due to my next door neighbours asking me if I would like to come to Sunday school with their son, at the time I was five years old. My then Sunday School teacher Nola Waap began to teach me about the Christian faith. I still remember her classes, her taking the time to teach me Luther’s small catechism and her words of encouragement. So much so that when I was in my teenage years and even into my early twenties I used to remember her words of encouragement, her prayers with me and her gentle way of teaching me. I often look at my life and I give thanks to God for the way he worked through her to bring me to a place of faith in Jesus. And I often remember this time, and it has been particularly helpful when I have experienced times of discouragement.

In today’s Gospel reading from John 14 Jesus is preparing his disciples for their life ahead by giving them comfort and encouraging them. John 14 begins what is known as Jesus’ farewell speech. It begins his time of preparing them so that they could face what was ahead of them. And in preparing them he does not give them the answers to everything that the disciples will face. He doesn’t try to explain away what will happen. He does not give them simple answers and suggest that any of this will be easy. He does not try to rationalize what is to come. Rather, he starts with these words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” He encourages them not to be afraid but to trust him. In the years that will follow, these disciples will need to remember these words from Jesus, as they will face many challenges and difficulties.

Jesus was honest with them, he foretold his betrayal by Judas, and Judas has slipped out into the night. He has told his disciples that he will be with them only a little while longer, and that where he is going, they cannot come (13:33). He has also foretold Peter’s imminent denial. So it is no wonder that the disciples are troubled. Their Lord is leaving them, one of their own has turned against them, and the stalwart leader among the disciples is said to be on the cusp of a great failure of loyalty. It is as though the ground is shifting beneath their feet. And yet he told them: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” These words of Jesus were words that these disciples were going to have to remind themselves of many times as they journeyed through life with him.

Jesus impresses upon them the fundamental relationship of trust that they are to have in him and assures them that he is not abandoning them. Rather, he is returning to his Father, which is good news for them. In speaking of his ascension to the Father, Jesus assures his disciples that this is also their destination. There are many dwellings in his Father’s house, and he goes to prepare a place for them, so that they will be with him and dwell with him in his intimate relationship with the Father.

When Jesus says that they know the way to the place where he is going, Thomas takes Jesus quite literally. He wants directions, a road map to this place. He wants something from Jesus that is concrete, something that he can grasp, something that he can rely on. At that point, for Thomas, Jesus’ words were not enough.

I can’t help but think that we are more like Thomas that we like to admit sometimes. That we do have faith in Jesus, we do believe, but when the ground begins to shift beneath our feet, when the certainties that we thought we had about life are taken away, do we hear and trust Jesus’ words to us, or are his words not enough. Do we need something more concrete?

It is interesting how Jesus responds to Thomas; he does by saying: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. This statement by Jesus is a word of promise. It is a word spoken to them in comfort. And it highlights to these disciples and to us that Jesus himself is all that we need. Because of this there is no need to panic, there is no need to try to find a secret map or plan for life. Because it is all found in Him. Jesus is encouraging his disciples to fix their attention on him. And this is so important for us all. Because of our sinful natures we all have the temptations at our feet to run after other things, to be distracted by the trials of life, to focus our attention on things other than Jesus. We all face the dangers of trying to plan out our own lives according to how we want life to go. But Jesus was telling them as he is telling us that He is to be our focus in life.

If we want to know who God is, we need look no further than Jesus. All the words that Jesus has spoken, all the works that he has done, come from God and show us who God is.

God does have a plan for our lives as followers of Jesus. He is at work in our lives bringing about his purposes in us, not only as individuals but more importantly as his church across the world. You see the promises that Jesus gives us here have everything to do with life here and now. It has to do with the hope that we have in him, but it also has to do with how he entrusts us as his children with his mission to the world. He says: “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” (13-14)

If we are honest, many people find what Jesus tells us here hard to understand. How is it that you and I as his disciples are to be doing greater works than Jesus? The very idea that we can even contemplate doing things greater than Jesus is a stumbling block to many. Add to this that fact that Jesus tells us that he will do whatever we ask in his name. I suspect that nearly all of us have lived through pain in this life, where we have lived through times of desperately crying out to God in prayer and yet things have not changed. I suspect that many of us have thought at times how can these promises of Jesus be true?

The more I thought about these words from Jesus the more I pondered whether the problem is in our hearing of his words. How do you and I hear Jesus’ promises here? Do we expect God to do what we want him to do, and think that he will do it if we ask in Jesus’ name? Do we expect these greater works to look like that way Jesus did them, with miraculous power that instantly solves all our problems we face? In John’s Gospel we see that many people indeed did witness Jesus’ signs that he did, but they did not guarantee faith, in fact the overwhelming majority of those who saw Jesus at work had trouble seeing God working through him right before their very eyes.

The key here is to go back to the first verse. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” The very issues that you and I face are the very issues that all Christians face. The willingness to not be troubled but to trust. We do not pray to God based on results, but based upon his promise to us that he will hear us, and how and when he chooses to answer us is often a mystery. We pray to God trusting that he knows best, trusting that Jesus is with us no matter what we face. We do not always see the results of our prayers, or the work that he does in our lives, for that matter, but we step out in faith.

Knowing all of the issues that his disciples would face, Jesus gave them these words of encouragement. Knowing all that you and I are going to face, these same words of encouragement are spoken to you and me. And these words are something that is important for us to remember and to cling to. You and I, as his children who belong to our Heavenly Father through Jesus, are to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus; as he has all things in his hands, no matter what happens, we need not to fear, but to put our trust in him.

I encourage you all to remember Jesus’ words to you, and to walk with him confidently trusting that our God always keeps his promises.

 

The Abundant Life

Sunday the 7th of May 2017

John 10:1-10

In today’s Gospel reading from John chapter 10 we hear these words from Jesus: “10 A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” Jesus says that he comes to give us life in abundance. I wonder what you think of when you think of an abundant life. I suspect that many of us would think of things like: being happy in life; having a close family relationship; having friends to share life with; some may think of having enough money to live a comfortable life; others may think of the freedom to make the choices we want in life?

But I wonder sometimes if the way we think of abundance is shaped more by our culture around us, than by what Jesus means by abundance.

Jesus uses the image of a door/gate and a shepherd to describe himself in today’s reading. These images are important because they tell us something of how life with Jesus works. A gate’s function is a simple one: to keep the sheep together in the sheepfold during the night, to keep them safe from thieves and predators. So we see that one of the purposes of the gate is to guard against all that threatens the well-being of the sheep, protecting them from thieves, bandits, and wolves.

But during the day the gate is opened so that the sheep can go out, following their shepherd, to find pasture. Both the gate and the shepherd work together for the well-being of the sheep, so that the flock thrives. Our Lord Jesus is both the gate and the shepherd at the same time; He is the one who guards and protects you and me as his sheep from danger; he is also the one who provides for our nourishment, for our life of abundance.

One of the issues that the Pharisees of the previous chapter had with Jesus, was that they had put themselves in a position of power. The Pharisees were the ones who saw themselves as the ones who would protect and save people. They saw themselves as the gate-keepers so to speak. The problem was that they did this by controlling the people and burdening them with their laws. They were demanding that the people listen to their voice, not the voice of God. That is why Jesus was so offensive to them.

But the fact is it is through Jesus himself, who is that door/gate and true Shepherd, that a life of abundance is lived. But what does this look like?

One of the important things to realize is that Jesus is speaking into the situation of the previous chapter where Jesus healed the man who was born blind. So one way of understanding Jesus’ words: “I came that they may have life and have it in abundance” (10:10), is to interpret them in the context of the healing of the man blind from birth. This was a man who for all his life had to beg for his next meal; who was constantly exposed to the danger of being out in the elements; this was a man without community because of his blindness; who was left alone to fend for himself. By restoring the man’s sight, Jesus does much more than make him able to see again.

When the man had received his sight and had been thrown out by the religious leaders, cast out once again from community and exposed to the dangers and risks of life, Jesus finds him and protects him (John 9:35). As a result of Jesus’ actions this man is now one of Jesus’ own, and because he is one of his own he has the promise of pasture, the promise of provision. The man is now a sheep of Jesus’ fold, part of Jesus’ community, and Jesus is with him always.

This man now has a life of abundance because for him, salvation is not only about receiving his physical sight but also spiritual sight, recognizing who Jesus is, believing in him, and becoming part of his community. He followed the voice of Jesus before he could see him, and it led to new life. His days of isolation are over; he now knows himself to be a valued member of Jesus’ flock, cared for and protected.

There has been a tendency by some of our brothers and sisters in Christ, to see abundance as being linked to wealth. This is known as the prosperity Gospel. And this teaching is popular among Christian circles because it taps into the world’s standards of what abundance means. It has almost got to a point where in some cases affluence equals abundance. Where believing in God means that He pours out blessing into your life. Faith leads to a life of fortune.

But the thing is that abundant life according to Jesus’ standards is the total opposite of how an abundant life is understood by culture around us. This is one of the areas that makes it hard as Christians living in our world at the moment. Abundant life according to Jesus is not that impressive when it comes right down to it and especially if we compare it to our assessments and expectations of what we think abundant life should look like. The abundant life according to Jesus is one where he gives us protection, provision, and his presence. You see that abundant life, according to Jesus, is not about wealth—it is knowing that in your life with him you will be safe; knowing that in your life with him that your basic needs will be met, and that in your life with him believing you are never alone.

These are the things which he gave the blind man, in the healing he received, he also received protection, provision, and presence that now belonged to him, both in his life on earth and forever. He then had the life of abundance that Jesus gave him; this is true for you and me as it is for this man.

One of the things that has stood out to me over the last two years as I have been visiting people throughout this parish is the way that the evil one often attacks our consciences. When we sin our consciences are burdened and it affects the way we live our life. But the good news is that because of what Jesus has done, by his death on that cross, taking your sin upon himself so that you have complete forgiveness, gives us a clear conscience before God, which allows us as Christians to live life abundantly, knowing that we have God’s favour and his protection and his presence with us as we journey through this life, because of Jesus. The abundant life that we have is only through him.

It is almost universally recognized that sheep are unintelligent animals. And the fact is that without a shepherd, they will not necessarily be able to find food or water, and they will easily get lost and not be able to find their way home. But the point that Jesus emphasizes about sheep is that they know the voice of their shepherd.  They recognize the voice of the one who cares for them. They follow their shepherd, but will not follow a stranger whose voice they do not know.

There are many different voices in this world that promise a life of abundance. So the question I ask is: Do we recognize the voice of the good shepherd over all the other voices promising abundance? (However this abundance may look like to us). Do we listen to the voice of our Shepherd over the voices that want to lead us astray and destroy our life?

I put the challenge out to you all, to think about what living the abundant life means to you and to see if it matches up with what Jesus tells us is true? I encourage you to rest assured that Jesus has come to you to give you his protection; to give you his provision for all of your needs and that he gives you his presence in your life, so that you may indeed live life in abundance. And most importantly I encourage you to listen to his voice as he leads you.

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus The One Who Teaches Us.

Sunday the 30th of April 2017

Luke 24: 13-35

During this past week I have been thinking about today’s Gospel reading from Luke chapter 24 where we hear of two disciples on a journey to Emmaus. The distance was on 7 miles, but I get the impression that the ‘journey’ was a long one because of where these disciples were at. It was the Sunday after Jesus’ crucifixion; they had heard from the women that the grave was empty and were confused by all that had happened; and of course these disciples were greatly affected by what had occurred and were in a place of grief, and were discussing this with each other as they were walking.

Hearing that the women had had a vision of angels saying that Jesus had risen from the dead, maybe they were struggling with the tension between knowing what had actually occurred and what the future now meant for them. What would their future look like? Maybe these disciples wanted to believe the women, but just could not bring themselves to believe. Whatever the case one thing was for sure: their hopes had been deflated and they had become disillusioned.

I suspect that for many of us, during different seasons in our own walk with Jesus, that we can identify with them. When speaking to Jesus they said in verse 21: “but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel…” Because of the crucifixion their hopes of who they wanted Jesus to be were dashed. Are there times in our lives, where we feel the same, where our hopes of what Jesus will do in our lives and in others’ lives has not happened? Where we hoped and trusted Jesus to put things right, but everything became a mess? And yet at the same time we live on the other side of Jesus’ resurrection; we know and believe in him. And yet maybe we live life somewhere between losing hope and being disillusioned and faithfully believing Jesus’ promise that he is with us.

As these disciples were walking along it says: “15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.” And he says: 17 “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” After being completely dumbfounded that he did not know they said “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 “What things?” he said.

As Christians we live in a time between knowing that Jesus has indeed risen from the dead and the time when he will come back again. But as we journey through this life there are times when we want Jesus to show up, so to speak. We have times in our lives where we need to know that he is present with us as we face the difficult and hard places that we find ourselves in at times. We like to have assurance that he is indeed with us. In my preaching over the last twelve months I have emphasised Jesus’ promise that he is indeed with us many times. It is an easy thing to say isn’t it that Jesus shows up in our times of trial or our disappointments; that Jesus is present in our grief; that Jesus meets us where we are. And it is true he is with us. But the question I ask today is: what exactly does Jesus do when he shows up?

Jesus did not just come alongside these disciples and only walk with them, but he asked them the question: “What things?” Jesus gives them an invitation to tell what they experienced.  And the question he asked led them to describe the things that occurred and in doing so they were able to give voice to their dismay, their grief and even their doubts.

Jesus did more than just turn up. And Jesus does more than just show up for us here today. Jesus does show up, but he shows up and give us the opportunity to speak the truth of our pain; to help us make sense of it all, or at least some of it; to help us get to a place where we can see beyond just what’s happened; to help us move from “we had hoped” to “the Lord is risen indeed.” And what this means for us in our lives.

On Easter Sunday I took the opportunity to participate in the ecumenical Easter dawn service at Burnie which is held down on the beach. It was great to go and be a part of this and I really did enjoy welcoming in the Easter morning this way. Afterwards I was speaking to another pastor that I get on really well with and he spoke of how Easter is such an exciting time of the year, that it was an exciting time to be alive. I agreed with him. A week or so later I was sitting down thinking to myself that I know that our risen Lord is with us, but it so easy to lose hope when life is difficult.

I thought about how Jesus appeared to these two disciples. He did not just show up and say, “Hey, I’m here. There, there, everything will be alright.” The disciples were not just having a bad day. The one in whom they had placed their trust, their hope for a kingdom of justice, their assurance for freedom from oppression, just got executed by the system from which they hoped Jesus would set them free. The one who they believed would fulfil the promises of Scripture was dead.

Jesus came to those disciples on the road to Emmaus, but he did not just show up for the ride—he listened to them, but more importantly he taught them what it meant from the scriptures that Jesus had won the victory over death and sin. It is the same for you and me—Jesus comes to us and he walks with us, but he does more than that—he teaches us who he truly is through the scriptures. He teaches us and helps us to learn what it means to walk with him along the journey that we are on.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was the most powerful moment in history, as it changed everything. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, death has been defeated for us; we can live a life now with confidence that our sins are forgiven; and we do have the promise of the life to come, life in eternity with him. These are the promises that you and I are to believe and cling to with all our faith, and yet even in the midst of our daily lives we confront the sins of our hearts, the sins of other people, the reality of the sinful world we live in. It is here that we need to realise that Jesus is not only present with us, but that he is actively at work in and through the situations that we are facing, even when we cannot recognise him at work.

It struck me that that moment when the disciples recognized who Jesus was, occurred when he broke the bread. It occurred at the time when the disciples had invited Jesus in for fellowship with them that they then knew. The thing is that Jesus with was with them even though they did not know it, as he is often with you and me when we are not aware of him being present, but as we invite him to fellowship with us, he reveals himself.

These two disciples’ journey to Emmaus shows us that as we face lives as Christians, full of disappointment, discouragement and loss of hope, our risen Lord will come to save us, by walking the road with us, but also by asking us the ‘what things’ type questions in our own lives. And when he asks these questions it means that he is leading us somewhere, that he is present, but also he is teaching us through his Word so that we come through these times closer to him. And as this happens he brings us to a place where we have true fellowship with him, where we begin to recognise and start to live out the life-changing presence of our resurrected Lord in our lives.

As we continue to reflect on the events of Easter, I encourage you to look for the ways that our risen Lord Jesus is coming to you, in the midst of your life, bringing with him his presence and his teaching to help you on your life journey with him.