TITLE: Hope in the Past Tense SCRIPTURE: Luke 24:13-35
What a week it had been! The two disciples had gone to Jerusalem for Passover, and there they had seen Jesus. On Sunday, Jesus had come riding into Jerusalem to shouts of "Hosanna!" -- but on Friday he had died to shouts of "Crucify him!". The disciples had thought so highly of Jesus -- had hoped that he was the one. They had rejoiced with the crowd on Sunday, but had watched from afar with heavy hearts on Friday. What a terrible ending to a week that had started so well.
But, then, this morning they had been with the other disciples when the women rushed in saying that that Jesus was alive. The women said that an angel had told them that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Now the two disciples were walking home. The Passover was ended, and they had to get back to work. It was almost too much to imagine that in the morning they would be tending sheep and weeding fields. How could you return to such ordinary work after such a wonderful week -- such a terrible week?
The two of them talked as they walked, but they couldn't make sense of it. How could you make sense of Jesus being crucified? And how could you make sense of a report that he was now alive again?
It was a long walk home -- seven miles -- not so far, really, for people used to walking. But in those seven miles they were going from the great city to their little village -- from kings and princes to farmers and carpenters -- from a grand temple on a mountaintop to a collection of little houses close to their fields.
Walking those seven miles was like going back in time a thousand years -- but these two didn't mind. They were going home. Home had a comfortable feel to it -- not at all like Jerusalem. They had always enjoyed going to Jerusalem. They lived close enough to go every year for Passover. But they didn't enjoy Jerusalem this year. What a terrible week!
And then a stranger joined them on the road. He asked what they were talking about. Cleopas said:
"Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem
who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?"
The stranger asked, "What things?"
And so they told him about Jesus -- how Jesus had been a prophet -- how Jesus had worked great miracles and taught great wisdom. Then they told him how the chief priests had conspired to have Jesus killed. And then they said:
"We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel."
"We had hoped!" Can you imagine any sadder words? "We had hoped!" Hope in the past tense! Hope turned hopeless! Hope spilled out into the sand!
Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever felt the despair of hope in the past tense? Most of us, at some time in life, experience hope gone bad -- hope turned hopeless.
-- I HAD HOPED to get an A in that class.
-- I HAD HOPED that we would win the tournament.
-- I HAD HOPED to get a good job after graduation.
-- I HAD HOPED that the doctor would have better news.
-- I HAD HOPED! Hope in the past tense. Hope turned hopeless.
When Jesus heard, "I had hoped," he rebuked them. He called them slow of heart. Then he began to teach them about himself from the scriptures -- but they didn't recognize him.
Then they came to Emmaus -- the village where the two disciples lived. The disciples stopped, because they were home, but Jesus kept walking. They called him back -- urged him to stay with them, because it was evening -- so Jesus went home with them.
Custom dictated that Jesus keep walking unless they really insisted that he stay -- but they really insisted. People in that time and place believed it important to be hospitable. Not everyone was, but these two were. They were genuinely hospitable. They insisted that Jesus have dinner with them. They insisted that he stay overnight. Where else would he stay? There were many Passover pilgrims, and few inns. So Jesus stayed with them.
Whenever I read this story, I am reminded of Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 18). Abraham looked up one day and saw three men approaching. He knew that they would be weary after a long walk. He knew that they would be hungry and thirsty. He knew that they would need a place to sleep. He knew that God would want him to show hospitality, and so he did. He invited them to his tent, and asked Sarah to fix dinner for them. They treated the travelers like royalty. They really took care of them. They did that because they knew God wanted them to show hospitality. They did it because they were Godly people, and Godly people are kind. Godly people are generous.
Donna and I met such a family when we went to Ireland. They provided us a place to stay for two weeks free of charge. They hooked up a telephone so we could call home any time we wanted. They had a meal prepared and stored in the refrigerator when we arrived. They took us to dinner, prepared other meals for us, brought meals to us to eat at our own place. And so much more.
And God rewarded Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality. The men who looked like ordinary travelers were really messengers from God. They told Abraham and Sarah that they were going to have a baby -- the very thing for which Abraham and Sarah had always hoped. But Abraham and Sarah were old, and their hope was long gone -- hope in the past tense -- hope turned hopeless. In fact, when Sarah heard the visitors say that she would have a baby, she laughed. She laughed, because it was ludicrous to believe that an old woman could have a baby. She was well past her childbearing years -- well past any hope that she could have a baby. But she did have a baby. God blessed Abraham and Sarah with a baby. No longer did they have to say, "I had hoped." Now they could say, "God has blessed!"
I wonder what would have happened had Abraham failed to show hospitality to those strangers. Would they have walked on? Would Abraham and Sarah have died childless? Would God have found someone else to bless? I think so.
I am sure that if the two disciples had failed to show hospitality to Jesus -- if they had failed to insist that he stay with them -- they would have missed a great blessing. They would have eaten dinner that night in silence. They would have gone to bed wondering what to think. When they talked to their neighbors the next day, they would have said, "We had hoped!" Hope in the past tense! Hope turned hopeless!
But that isn't what happened. They were Godly people, and they did the Godly thing. They showed kindness to this stranger. They invited him to have dinner with them -- to stay overnight -- to enjoy the pleasure of their company instead of a lonely night alongside the road.
And God blessed them for it. At dinner, Jesus took bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them -- and their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And then, as suddenly as he had come, he was gone. He vanished from their sight.
But they had seen him. He had confirmed their hopes. They would no longer have to say, "We had hoped," but instead could say, "He is risen!"
I believe that God sends us blessings in disguise -- not every day, but often enough. He wraps those blessings so that they appear to be someone ordinary -- a child who needs help with reading -- a family whose house has burned -- tsunami victims who have lost everything.
Have you ever stopped at a McDonalds for a hamburger, and someone would approach you in the parking lot asking for money? What would you do? I would never give them money, but I offer to buy them food. You might think to yourself, "Maybe this is an angel from God, sent to give me the opportunity to do the right thing! Maybe God is making it possible through this person for me to be a blessing today -- and, perhaps, to receive a blessing as well." If you are with your family, buy them a value meal. If you are alone, ask them to join you. When I get to heaven, I believe that God will reveal to me the blessings that came about through little acts of hospitality such as these..
I am sure that you have heard of Ashley Smith. You might not recognize her name, but you have certainly heard her story. Ashley is the young woman taken hostage by Brian Nichols, the man who killed a judge and three other people in Atlanta. When I read her story, I was impressed with the way that she responded to that frightening situation -- and I was impressed with the way that God had prepared her for it.
Ashley has had a troubled life -- drugs and other problems. Not so long ago, when she hit bottom, Ashley spent two months in a Christian clinic for drug abusers. The counselors not only helped her to get off drugs, but they also helped her to get her heart right with God. When Brian Nichols took her hostage, she had in her possession a copy of "The Purpose Driven Life" -- a book about Christian faith -- and she had read part of it. God had done a good job of getting her ready for her encounter with a killer.
When Nichols took her captive, Ashley talked to him about God. She showed him pictures of her family. She read to him from "The Purpose Driven Life." When Nichols asked what she thought he should do, she was honest with him. She told him that he needed to stop running -- he needed to turn himself in. She told him that, when he went to prison, he could fulfill his "miracle" by "sharing the word of God" with other inmates.
You know the rest of the story. He let her go -- and she called the police -- and Nichols surrendered peacefully. The book of Proverbs says, "A soft answer turns away wrath" (Prov. 15:1), and that was true in this case. Nichols called Ashley "an angel sent by God" -- and I believe that he was right.
I need to be careful here. I do not believe that every violent person can be persuaded by gentleness. I read an account recently of the Green River Killer, who murdered scores of young women near Seattle. The very few victims who escaped with their lives did so by fighting and running.
But I mention the story of Ashley Smith, because it seemed to fit. Faced with a terrible situation, she used it as an opportunity to share her faith. Instead of dismissing Nichols as a lost cause, she told him that he didn't have to die in a blaze of gunfire. She showed him that his life could have purpose, even in prison. God had redeemed her from a difficult past, and God could redeem him too.
I don't know how many lives Ashley saved that day -- possibly her own life -- almost certainly Brian Nichols life -- and perhaps the lives of neighbors -- of innocent bystanders -- of police officers.
I hope that God doesn't decide to bless you by sending you a killer to pacify -- but I am confident that God will send you blessings wrapped as ordinary people in need:
-- Watch for them.
-- Watch for the person sent by God for you to help.
-- Watch for angels disguised as people in need.
-- Watch for the opportunity to become a blessing.
When you do that -- when you bless those who need a blessing -- God will bless you in return. Count on it!
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms (BH #333; CH #560; UMH #133)