Text: Luke 24:13-35
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Apr. 30, 2017
My wife and I had been looking forward to this trip to our capital city for a long time. Although we lived in a small town only miles away, we did not get there often. Mainly we traveled there for religious holidays. We are a very devout couple and see it as our obligation to attend our religious festivals whenever it is possible for me to get away from my work. This year, however, we had a two-fold reason to make the journey. Yes, we were planning to attend our most important holiday as in past year. For us, the Passover, is much like your 4th of July. It marks the day God delivered us from slavery in Egypt and we gained our independence.
Only now, we were not independent. For almost 100 years we had been a nation under foreign occupation. Rome, the leading world power of our time, had controlled our land, imposed heavy taxes and restricted our conduct in every aspect of our life. We resented this, of course, and longed for a time when we could again, have our own laws and be ruled by our own leaders. Those of us, who were schooled in our scriptures, had hope that someday this would happen. Centuries before, our people had been taken captive by another foreign power, prophets arose among us and, speaking on behalf of our God, promised that in time, He would send His Messenger, a Messiah, who would deliver us in much the same manner as when our forefathers were slaves in Egypt.
God was faithful, and 40 years later Persia conquered Babylon and let us return to our homeland. It was a pagan king, however not God’s Messiah who had set us free on that occasion. Many in our land believed that the time had come when God would deliver us again, this time by sending His Messiah.
Two years ago, when we were in our capital city for Passover, we had met a young man from our northern province of Galilee. We learned that he was the son of a carpenter from a town called Nazareth. His strange northern accent struck us odd, much like someone from the eastern Kentucky might sound to you. But his knowledge of the scriptures and the way he explained them made God’s word so relevant to our everyday lives. Although he was only in the city for a week, he made such an impact on us that we became his disciples.
Of course, in our day, we didn’t have your 24/7 news cycle. Even the Jerusalem Post didn’t come into existence until your last century. But we had a way of keeping up with the news. I think you call it the “grapevine.” There were always travelers going and coming to our capital city. And those coming from the North, usually brought the latest word of what this young man and his growing movement were up to. It was exciting news. Reports of healings, miracles, even folks being raised from the dead under his ministry, were constantly being reported. Summaries of his latest teachings were also repeated. Once word reached Jerusalem, it did not take long for our growing network of friends to spread the word to the surrounding villages.
Recent word from Galilee was the second reason that we decided to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem again this year. We heard that Jesus was coming to attend the event and was bringing a large portion of his following with him. For over six months now there had been speculation that he was our long-awaited Messiah. We could not help but wonder, would this year’s Passover be the moment that he would declare his real identity? We wanted to be there to have a first-row seat. We were not about to miss the action.
Well, Jesus arrived in Bethany, another village just outside Jerusalem, in time to observe the Sabbath the week before Passover took place. Word had come to us to meet him there early in the morning of the first day of the week. He had started toward Jerusalem by the time we arrived. He was riding on a donkey. We joined a large group who were following. As we approached the city, the crowd continued to grow. Several cut down palm branches from the trees along the side of the road and waved them as he went by. Others took off their cloaks and laid them down make a carpet in front of him. Everyone cried out: “Hosanna, blessed in the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” Caesar, himself, could not have received a more royal welcome. All of us there were certain that once he entered the city he would proclaim that he was God’s Messiah.
Indeed, he headed straight to the Temple Mount. By this time, of course, thousands of pilgrims, not only from throughout the countryside, but the Jewish diaspora from throughout the Roman Empire, were gathering to celebrate the feast. Our Jewish law demanded that all animals sacrificed be pronounced clean by our priests. Looking at it, you would have thought it was your Farmer’s Market on a Saturday morning. Merchants were everywhere hawking their animals: lambs, pigeons, and turtle doves. And then, of course, there were the tellers from the Bureau of the Exchange Banks. Our Jewish law prevented us from purchasing sacrificial animals with foreign coins. Jewish shekels were required. The exchange rates were exorbitant!
When Jesus saw this madhouse, he lost his cool. Taking some cords, he had tied around his waist, he quickly braided them into a whip. He then strode into the Temple Court shouting, “My Father’s house should be a place of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” With that he took his whip and lashed out at the tables. Coins flew everywhere. Animals broke free. Pandemonium filled the air. We held our breath, fully expecting the Temple Guard or Roman soldiers to arrest him on the spot. But nothing happened. His fury spent, he left quietly and gradually order was restored.
We found him later in another part of the temple grounds, quietly teaching a small crowd that had gathered around him. We kept wondering when he would make him move. When would he declare who he really was? Would he perform some spectacular miracle? How would he defeat the power of Rome? Would it be like Moses – when God sent ten plagues upon Egypt, the final one being the angel of death strike down every oldest Egyptian son? Or would it be like Gideon, and when thousands of angels suddenly joined him in battle? We simply didn’t know. We waited and watched.
The week sped by. Jesus continued his teaching in the temple court, unmolested. Doubts began to set in. Maybe we were wrong. Maybe he was not the Messiah after all. Maybe it was not yet his time. At least the Day of Passover came. The streets became deserted as we all went to our own lodgings to observe the Passover meal in small private groups. It was not until the next day that we learned how horribly wrong things had gone. Soldiers had arrested Jesus during the night and by the next morning he had been and found him guilty of insurrection. We watched, hearts broken, as the nailed him to a cross outside the city gate. All our hopes, our dreams lay shattered on the ground. I cannot begin to tell you how devastated that we were!
We did not return to our home right away. By the time he was buried, the Sabbath had arrived and our law did not permit travel. So, we remained in Jerusalem another day. We did not attend the local Synagogue, however. It was the first time we missed in years. Our hearts were just too heavy. We set out for home late following the week. My wife is not an early riser and truth be told neither one of us slept well.
We were about half way home when we were overtaken by a stranger. We had been discussing what had happened and trying to figure out why we had been so badly mistaken about our beloved leader. We were so absorbed in our conversation and sorrow that we did not hear him approaching until he asked us, right out, bluntly but kindly, what we were talking about. I was so startled by the question that I replied. “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who has not heard things that happened?” “What things,” he asked?
The question was innocent. But it hit me like a ton of bricks between my eyes. The dam that held my troubled emotions in check was broken. The floodgates of my soul were opened and the words of all our hopes and dreams came pouring forth.
He listened attentively as I spoke and never interrupted once until me story was complete. Then he simply shook his head and said, “How foolish you are, how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” I wanted to protest. Had he not heard what I had just said? I had quoted the prophets. I had emphasized what they had written about the Messiah? I recounted how Jesus had fulfilled all that they had written. Yet in the words of our prophet Moses, I stated how He had ended up accursed by God, hanging on a tree. I even told him of the absurd story we had learned just before we left the city that morning that some of the women disciples were so hysterical they thought they saw him alive that morning. Silly women.
But he was undeterred by my protests. Instead, he reinterpreted the scriptures in a way that we had never thought of before. He reminded us that not only the prophets, but Jesus himself had said that he must suffer and die and that after three days rise again. We were so absorbed in what he was saying, the time simply flew by and we were home. Of course, we invited him in to stay the night. My wife prepared a light meal. As we set at table, he quietly became the host. He took the bread and wine we offered, then looked heavenward and gave thanks to his father.
As he did this, it was as if scales fell from our eyes. We recognized that he was not a stranger but the Risen Lord. Jesus was alive. The reports, which we had heard that morning, were true. Can you begin to imagine the impact it made upon us? Then suddenly He vanished from our sight.
From that moment, our understanding was transformed. Messiah? Yes, he was the Messiah. But He was so much more. He had come not simply to restore our nation to independence. Rather, He had come to save all of humankind and restore their relationship to God.
Although he was no longer physically present, His presence remained with us. His words were true. He has continued to lead us, to teach us, to bring to our remembrance everything He had ever said. Each day since has been a fresh encounter. Each day it is as if we are meeting Jesus again as it were for the first time!