Jesus draws near when we open ourselves to connecting with one another in the confusing and difficult times of our lives.
Incognito. I want to jump into a passage that we explored at the Lake Merced Campus last week on Easter. I want to look at Luke 24. Luke 24, we’re just going to sit with ‘the peace, the scripture.’ You can follow along in your handouts. If you have your Bible or Bible app, go for that as well. I want to read through fairly quickly the first few verses of Luke 24. It says, “On the first day of the week at early dawn, they went to the tomb.” This is the account of the resurrection from Luke’s gospel. “They went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.” These were the women who had a desire to honor Jesus in His death. Everybody saw Him die. It was awful. The dream was crushed. The disciples didn’t really know what to do. The whole thing had blown up and Jesus’ ending was not just an ending. It was a very bad ending.
There were people who felt, “Even if Jesus wasn’t who we thought He was, we still want to honor Him.” What happened is they decided they were going to go to the tomb. Especially the women here, which are going to be the first people to ever declare the resurrection of Jesus. They will be the first in a long line of people who will declare that Jesus is alive, just like we were doing last week. You’re going to see, they’re also going to be the first to be rejected in that declaration as well. Watch what follows. It says, “When they came to the tomb, there was a stone that had been there was rolled away. They went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, there were two men who stood by them in dazzling apparel. As they were frightened, they bowed their faces to the ground. The men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?'” A fantastic question, by the way. “‘He’s not here. He’s risen. Remember how He told you while He was still in Galilee, that the son of man must be delivered in the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and on the third day He would rise?’ They remembered His words. Returning from the tomb, they told all these things to the 11 and to the rest.”
As I mentioned, this was going to be something that they were going to share. In a lot of ways, I feel like they were expecting everybody to rally behind that and get totally excited. We’re told here, “They went to the 11 and the rest.” Who were those people? The 11, we know. They’re the disciples, the original ones, except for Judas, who’s gone. He really has fallen off the edge, right? Judas kills himself. He throws the money away and takes his own life. It’s an awful moment. Right? But who are the rest? There were a lot of other people who are unnamed in the Bible who had actually attached themselves to Jesus. We know there were at least 120 of them on the day of Pentecost. It was like a small little mini church. Out of that 120, there was a group of 70. Out of that group of 70, you had the 12 disciples themselves. Out of the disciples, there was the closest circle with Jesus, Peter, James, and John. Then you had the one who was the closest to Jesus. Who at least identified most with His heart, would be John. The Bible describes that.
The rest of the people here, we don’t know their names. We know that there were a lot of other disciples who had gathered. They were together. They had come together in their trauma to try to work through it. When the women come back, we’re told that it was a couple of the Mary’s, Mary Magdalene and one of the other Mary’s, and Joanna, they’re in utter excitement. They said, “You’re not going to believe what we’ve seen. We went to the tomb. We didn’t know how we were going to roll away the stone. It was already rolled away. We went in to look for the body of Jesus so we could honor Him. He wasn’t there. We saw these two, we don’t know how to describe it. They looked like angels. They were men, but they looked like angels. They told us that Jesus is no longer dead. He’s alive, just like He said.”
Instead of everybody saying, “Wow, that’s amazing. Let’s go check it out. We believe you,” the exact opposite happens. It’s as if they didn’t believe them. They said, “Whatever you are, most likely emotional right now. You’re clearly out of your mind. We know you loved Him, but don’t make things up, please.” It says in verse 10, “Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles.” Look at that 11th verse. “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” There’s no mincing of words here. They just said, “You loved Him. We get it. We believe that you believe. We all saw Him die. Just get some rest, get some rest.” But you know what it says, though? That Peter and John, in particular, realized something did happen. They didn’t know what it was. They probably thought, “Probably someone stole the body.” In their mind, even though they didn’t believe what the women were saying about seeing these two guys and Jesus being alive and all that. “We know we’re all going to rise again on the great third day, the day of resurrection. We get all that. Jesus told us that. But come on. You saw what happened to Him.”
There’s enough interest on the part of Peter and John, that Peter takes off running. He wants to go and find out what’s happened. If you take Luke’s account, which only tells us about Peter, and then you put John’s account in there, you read what happens. It says that John and Peter both take off running. Peter is only mentioned here in Luke, but in John’s account, he says he also started running. John also mentions that he beat Peter to the tomb, I love that. The picture is that when John gets there, he looks into the tomb, but doesn’t go in. John is a faster runner, but he doesn’t go in. Peter’s nature, when he gets there, probably huffing and puffing, pushes John away and goes in. It’s a very different personality.
We’re told in verse 12, “But Peter rose and ran to the tomb, stooping, and looking in, he saw the linen cloths.” We would call those the wrappings. They wrapped Jesus’s body in these cloths. The women were coming to put the final ointment on the decaying body that was wrapped. We know they had done that in haste, but there were these clothes that were wrapped around the body and head as well. There was usually a gap there. In John’s account, he says that from what he saw he actually believed. It says that at that moment, John actually believed. Peter wasn’t sure. What they saw was not what you would’ve expected. If someone had taken the body and just unwrapped the body of Jesus, they would’ve taken the clothes and just thrown them into a pile. It would’ve been left there in some tangled mess. If you look at the language that it’s translated into, it implies that they fell into folds. That is what was in there when Peter got there. Instead of being unwrapped and unraveled, it was as if what was in it was gone. So it falls in its folds to the ground. He can see that whatever was in there is just gone, but nothing’s been unwrapped.
John believes, it says, instantaneously. Peter, we’re told here, “He marveled.” Notice the phrase there. It says he’s really wondering about this. He goes home trying to process it. Could it be? In his mind, he can’t connect how this could be, but he also couldn’t deny what he was seeing. He’s sort of stuck in this place where it’s almost like his disbelief is being assaulted by something he can’t really explain. The women are saying, “They told us He was alive.” He didn’t see those two people. But he saw evidence that would’ve suggested that something extraordinary had happened.
What happens in Luke’s account, is it flips. All of a sudden, it changes direction and goes into an entirely different scene. Luke’s account is the only one that actually tells us what we’re about to look at. What we’re about to look at is going to form the bulk of where we’re going for the next four weeks. We’re going to talk about this wonderful account, an exchange that occurs between two of Jesus’s disciples. Again, that unnamed group of the rest, one of the names we’re going to find out later. Look at verse 13, “That very day, two of them,” two of that group that were referred to as being attached to Jesus, the followers whose names we wouldn’t have known necessarily. They believed in Jesus, but everything seemed gone, done, over. They were going to a village named Emmaus about seven miles from Jerusalem. Israel’s a very small piece of land. It’s almost the center of the world though. Many of the ancient battles of the world were fought in this area. Looking at Israel itself, you’ll see that in the north, there’s the Sea of Galilee. In the south is the Dead Sea. The river that runs down is the Jordan River and it falls into the Dead Sea, but there’s nowhere for it to go. There’s no outlet. It’s called the Dead Sea, but it’s not far from Jerusalem.
These two were heading from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus. They evidently had started to head out after the whole thing had melted down. We don’t know if they were there when the women came back with their report. We think they were because of what they say, but the truth is they didn’t believe them. So they had taken off for another journey. They don’t even get to hear about Peter and John and their questions. All they hear about is the women had said something about Jesus being alive. No one believed it. You see these two, heading out to Emmaus. Luke’s account says, “They were talking with each other about all these things that had happened.” As friends do, they were walking and talking. Seven miles is a long time to take a walk. It’s a nice walk. The other thing we know is they had a no checking the phone rule in place, right? That meant they couldn’t look at any pictures on Instagram, no check Facebook. They weren’t able to text. They actually had to be present and talk to each other for that whole time.
I laughed about it. I have this friend who I’m talking to and all of a sudden, all I’m seeing is this, right? I said, “Hey, I’m talking to you right now.” My wife says I do it too. I guess I’m guilty in a different way, texting. “Oh, hold on a second. Let me go ahead. I’ll get back to you guys in a moment here. I just need to finish this up. Hey, something more important I’m supposed to be doing right now. So I’ll get back to you. Okay? All right, here we go.” Do you see what I’m saying? Being present. I’m telling you they were present with each other because they didn’t have anything to distract them. They were talking about something. We don’t know the specifics, but we know what they were talking about because it says they were discussing and interacting around all the things that had happened in Jerusalem, over Passover.
Try to use our imagination, which is a gift that God gives us, to try to place ourselves in our mind’s eye with them. I imagine them walking down the road to Emmaus from Jerusalem. They’ve left the city. They’re now on that open trail. There are people that come and go. There are different taverns along the way, places where people might stay. But for the most part, it’s a pretty barren place. They’re walking down the road. They’re talking though. They have the advantage of space. They have time, and they’re not interrupted. They’re friends and they start discussing stuff. That’s what the Bible tells us. What they start talking about, really, is what has literally traumatized their lives.
“Can you believe what happened?” “I can’t. It was so bad.” “I know.” It was just seven days ago when Jesus came into Jerusalem and everybody called Him Messiah, Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. The whole city was excited. Then to watch what had happened to Him was utterly devastating. It’s hard to explain. It’s almost like they were saying to one another, “You believed and I believed. We believed Him to be the Messiah. We believed Him to be the son of God. We believed that He was the promised one of Israel. He was going to be the one who was going to lift us up. The one who was fulfilling all the promises. It was Him, His word. You saw what He did. You saw the things He did. You saw with your own eyes. You heard His words. They were words like nobody else had ever spoken. Did you feel it too? When He spoke, there were times where it was almost like you would say to yourself, ‘If God were speaking, He would speak like this.'”
Then to watch what happened to Him. To have loved and believed in Him. To have put everything in your life behind Him and then to watch it unravel the way that it did. It was so bad. It wasn’t just an unraveling. They took Jesus and literally beat Him to a pulp. The Romans got Him. They worked Him over.” Of course, they could say, “Do you remember when they pushed Him through the streets like that?” He was strong. He couldn’t even carry His own cross. They had to pull that guy from the crowd, bring him over and say, “Help Him carry it.” He was a bloody mess. His face was puffed. His back was shredded. It was so bad. They put Him on the cross, hammered Him there, and stuck Him up there on criminal hill, Golgotha, with two thieves next to Him. His enemies came and they spit on Him. They taunted Him. He was basically naked.
I’m listening to these guys talk. I don’t understand. Part of them say, “Didn’t you believe that He was who we said He was?” “Yes. I did believe. I believed the same thing you believed. I still believe He was a great man. He was a prophet, sent from God. But He wasn’t who He said He was. That’s pretty clear.” As they’re having that conversation, let’s look at what it says happened in verse 15, “While they were talking and discussing together,” the older version says, “conversing and reasoning together, Jesus Himself drew near and went with them.” Do you understand? Jesus is incognito. He’s in disguise, but it’s not a costume. He’s intentionally unrecognizable. The version says, “Their eyes were restrained.” They couldn’t recognize Him. The next thing you know, there’s this person. He’s kind of trailing them. They’re saying, “Hey, what’s up? Who are you?” They just keep their conversation going, whoever He is. They’re having that discussion and reasoning together. They didn’t know that Jesus was among them.
I look at this and I think, “Okay, there’s a lot of stuff for us to glean.” I just want to present where my heart is. I think it will help some of us. But one of the things that caught my attention was the value of friendship. Here we see the value of friendship when it comes to working through difficult issues that weigh on us and perplex us. I think we have to remember what a precious gift friendship is. When we have quality people in our lives, especially if those friendships are built around a common love for Jesus, it’s like a treasure, a huge value. It’s one of the reasons why I’m such a believer in small groups because it’s out of small groups often that friendships are formed that deeply resonate in our hearts.
Friendships are places that allow us to ponder and reflect on things, converse, and exchange ideas. When they’re working quite well, we can pray for one another. The Bible always reminds us that two is better than one, three, even better than two in some cases. Ecclesiastes 4, many of us know this passage, says, “Two people are better off than one. They can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone,” they’re in real trouble, right? “Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm, but how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, overcome, but two can actually stand back to back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easy to break.” It gets stronger.
Here we see two friends. Do you know what they really are right here? Friends. That’s the value of others in our lives. One of the great principles of scripture is don’t do it alone. Invest in a community, pursue relationships. I look at these two friends, you know what they basically are? Their disillusioned believers. They’ve had a trauma, a big one. Their worlds, their dreams have been essentially undermined. Their aspirations, the way they thought things were going to go. They’re trying to work through their questions. They’re trying to work through their disappointment. They’re trying to work through what was incomprehensible for them. One of the things we know is that Jesus always sent His followers out two by two, never alone. He wouldn’t let them go alone. He always said, “You go with someone else.” Here they are on the backside of what was clearly a painful disaster, exercising the same principle. “We’ll make this journey together. We’ll talk about it along the way.” Again, they converse and reason.
I have two other verses that mean a lot to me around this idea of needing other people in my life to give strength and encouragement in Christ. I think the best way the Christian life is lived is with others. It’s best lived, as Jesus taught us, when we have people who we’re close to. He modeled that. He had a small group, and He had friends within that small group. He had a larger community. That’s the model. That’s the model of the Christian life at its best. There are two verses though that really have meant a lot to me over the years. I’ve had a number of years following Jesus. I haven’t always gotten it right. Maybe I haven’t been as devastated as these two were, but I’ve felt pain and I’ve felt questions. I’ve had things that have challenged my faith along the way. The two verses, one from the older Testament, one from the new, mean a lot to me, and I’m going to submit them to you.
One of them is found in Proverbs 18:1. It says, “A man who isolates himself, seeks his own judgment. His own desire rages against all judgment.” The person who pulls away from the community when things are going wrong, or life isn’t making sense. That is such a normal tendency on our part. When we’re hit with trauma or things that don’t make sense. Or we feel perhaps forsaken by God, or begin to question like they were clearly questioning. “What is this? We thought Jesus was who He said He was. He clearly wasn’t. What’s God up to? Why would He allow that to happen? I don’t understand it.” They’re reasoning together. “The person who isolates themselves seeks their own judgment” Do you know what happens when we isolate? We are not taking into account our vulnerability and ability to see things wrong. We all have blind spots. The value of the other is that that could help us to move through things well.
One of the things that we’re taught in James 5 is, “Therefore, confess your fault, your sins, one to another, and pray for each other, that you can be healed.” The backside of that is, “The prayer of a righteous person avails much.” It actually does a tremendous amount of good. It has great power as it starts to work. There are some things in our lives that cannot be dislodged. For whatever reason, God won’t do it without another person. Some healing can only come through others, but then that’s going to require vulnerability. In other words, to confess. If I’m going to confess and then have healing, I need to pray for healing in my life.
We might have a struggle in our life. We may have an issue that is a consistent issue for us. It really is something that we’re not proud of. We may even be ashamed of it. We may feel like we struggle and have episodes from time to time. We need to be able to talk about that, or at least get prayers for that in a safe way. That comes because we trust people, but it’s hard to confess to people we don’t trust. Relational trust is a product of having time together and living life together. If I live life together with you, I can build relational trust. Out of that relational trust, I can have the freedom to confess when things are not going well or when I’m failing. Yes, even when I’m sinning and need God to show up in my life. I need help. I need healing inside of me in those places. I need to have someone else pray with me. “Confess one to another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” There are some healings and breakthroughs that can’t come any other way than that way. The Lord is going to mediate His Grace through the other. I can only tell you that in my own life, I’ve found that to be the case. What a blessing to invest in people who love me, love God, and who can help strengthen me. Do you know what? Hopefully, I can do the same thing. The point is we need each other. This is the way it works. I see this happening right there, the value of relational trust again.
There are going to be times when we are talking and discussing the things of God, about faith, or about life, that all of a sudden, Jesus is going to draw near to us. I love that. Into our questions, He comes. Into our struggles, He comes. Into our shame, He comes. Into our suffering, He comes. Into our despair, He comes. I have experienced it hundreds of times, the fellowship that brings Him near. Like Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I will be among them, in the midst of them.” It’s almost as if He’s saying, “When you come together in my name, I will show up.”
There are moments, where the Lord is present with us in our conversation. It’s like, we’re talking about Him. We’re talking about our lives. All of a sudden, Jesus is with us. Now I know He’s with us, but He shows up in a unique way. The Lord shows up, and He’s just there. I knew it not, I knew it not, but He’s there. A lot of times we’re together with someone and in the middle of that sharing life with each other, praying for one another, blessing one another, we begin to feel the presence of the Lord at work in our lives. That’s why it’s so important. The one who isolates themselves seeks their own judgment. It won’t work as an island. Sequestered or disconnected from community, even just attending. I know it’s important, just hearing. That’s good, but it doesn’t substitute for relational connection because some of this healing only comes in the relationships. A lot of times I can’t share if I don’t trust you. If I can’t have those conversations, then there are a lot of places where Jesus wants to go that He’s not going to be able to go in my life because I’m not taking the time to actually explore that with someone else or a group of people together. There’s so much life in that.
When it comes to the idea of exchanging with one another, it might be something like sitting, talking, praying for someone, praying together, or having coffee together. It’s possible. It might be just taking a walk with someone or going on a commute with them to work. We’re just talking about the Lord in our lives, right? It’s possible that it might just be having a conversation on the phone or using texting to be able to communicate encouragement to one another. I agree with all of that. I’m a big believer in trying to do modest public displays of love for Jesus. I know that’s not everybody’s cup of tea, which is why I say, “Drink coffee because coffee is better.” I’m just saying. I’m not talking about ostentatious displays and being obnoxious or anything. I actually think it’s important for those of us who love Jesus to periodically be unashamed and pray for one another in a public environment.
I say that because I know there are times, you just never know, beyond the value of it, which there is. Sometimes I’ve noticed that there are people who are watching. I watch. I notice. I noticed just a couple of days ago as I was watching a couple. They were going into a restaurant. All of a sudden I saw them reach over and begin to pray over their meal. It stirred me. Actually, sometimes I’ll say something, sometimes I won’t, but I just noted it. A lot of times in our small group, I say, “Let’s just pray for each other here.” We’re not going to be loud, but people see us praying for one another. A lot of times there are people who are running away from God, who have once known Him. There are people who all of a sudden something catches. They’re looking, watching, and feeling like they’re being called home in some way. “This is my home.” It’s a reminder, “Don’t run from me.” We don’t know.
The value of also just sharing and praying for one another. That was my main point. To be able to encourage one another, especially when we’re in mutual dismay over a situation like this one. Okay, what was happening here is they were just trying to process things out. That’s how we would say it. They were just trying to work things through. They were trying to process things out in their dismay about what had happened. They didn’t know it, Jesus showed up. He starts talking and interacting with them.
I thought a lot of times that’s the value of having connectedness and community. I’m not trying to sell something. I believe in small groups. We have this thing in the church, the women’s ministry. For example, they do this purely organically. I get that technology can be dangerous. I do. I’m not naive. We have a harder time talking. We have a harder time concentrating, not to mention all the landmines that are out there. It’s designed to get us addicted. There’s no question because there’s money to be made. That’s just the truth. The thing is, it’s taken an extreme toll on all of us. I’m not apart from that. I mean, I’m part of the culture. It has to be monitored. It has to be watched. We have to be very careful. A lot of us have gotten ourselves into very innocent addictions. We have a hard time just talking and having a genuine conversation with that. I was kind of joking, but I’m not totally joking about not being able to have long periods of time not connected to our technology.
That’s not even mentioning, for some of us, it creates all kinds of other problems. People are curating their lives online and only showing us the good parts. That’s not real life. That’s fake. We compare ourselves to that fake world that only showcases the highlights for the most part. Then we feel less than. Now that’s just one small piece. We’re not even talking about the addictive stuff that’s out there. Having said that, I am not anti-technology. I believe it can be used for good. I was saying, in a small group, there have been a couple of times we’ve been able to send out rapid texts. “Let’s pray for one another,” boom, boom, boom, boom. Or I feel like I’m supposed to pray for someone, send that prayer out, inform, right away.
We have a women’s group in the church called High Five. They just started organically. My wife actually started with a few others. These are women-only, who made a decision to get up at 5:00 AM in the morning. They connect with each other, hold each other accountable to do their devotions before their day starts. That group has grown. They’ve got all kinds of pods now all over. If you feel led to, I think you could jump in if you wanted to. I’ll tell you this right now, a lot of them were not early risers, like the one who started it. But we are a team. I’ve watched that and I think, “Wow.” So there are a lot of positives, but it’s about the idea of building community.
The last thing I’ll say and we’ll leave it here is I also believe Jesus draws near while they’re discussing. I really think that He desires to personally engage us in the conversation of our life. I need to say that because I’ve been talking about community. I’ve been talking about engaging other people. I’ve been talking about building friendships. I’ve been talking about how there is some healing that can only come with others. The only way God’s grace and healing will flow is through others. That requires vulnerability. How can I be vulnerable if I don’t trust you? How can I trust you? I have to build a relationship with you. What does that mean? I’ve got to put in the time so you can see how it is.
Having said that, I want to say that the Lord also wants to engage us in a very unique way, on our own, in terms of the conversation of our life. As I got there, I started thinking, “Lord, there are things in my life that I need to talk to You about. I’m so thankful that you care about me.” There are some struggles, the majority of them, I will share with people. But there might be a few things just between me and Jesus. I’m going to ask, “Lord, am I supposed to share this, or is it something that I just need to work out with You?”
For everything, there’s a time. One of the things I’ve come to understand as the years have gone by is that He deeply cares. If you think about it, Jesus Himself is God engaging the human race in conversation. “The word became flesh and dwelt among us,” John 1 says, “He pitched His tent among us.” Jesus is God, in a sense, having a conversation with humanity. But Jesus wants to have conversations with us uniquely in our own lives and our own hearts. I would say, no matter what happens, don’t ever forget what you have. Jesus said on the night He was betrayed, “I am your Lord. I am your master,” that is true. He also said, “I’m your friend.” For Jesus to say that “Well, you’re so great. You’re the Lord.” You think, “I’m also your friend. I’m your friend. You can trust me. I can trust you.” There’s no other friend I have that I can go to the way I can go to Him, only Jesus. Don’t ever forget what we have, the pearl of great price. Having found the pearl, sell all that I have to obtain it. There is no greater gift.
I would like to pray. Lord, I thank you for the privilege and opportunity to be here together and to be able to share this Word. I ask that there would come greater layers of community that would ultimately produce the relationships that would bring forth the kind of trust and friendships that would allow for deep healing to take place. Knowing that some healing can only happen when it comes through the other that you’ve placed into our lives. The prayer of healing makes a difference. For others of us, Lord, you’re calling us to a place of greater intimacy with you. Wherever that is, Lord, I ask that you help us to see you. Remind us that you’re there, even when we don’t know it. You’re with us. “Lo, I am with you always, even to the ends of the world.” I am the friend that will not abandon you.
Thank you for that, Lord. I thank you for the utter loyalty of your friendship in our lives. You’re not only my Lord, you’re my best friend ever. You’ll walk with me past this life into the next, just like you did. I ask that you continue to work in our lives through the people. Give us wonderful people to be our friends. We thank you for them. We thank you for the people who are our friends, and we thank you, Lord. Help us to be quality friends as well. To really love in your name. To heal in your name. To be there in your name. To listen and pray in your name together. In Jesus’ name, I pray this, Lord. Amen.