Faithlife Sermons

No. 02. “They Really Believed That ‘He Lives'"

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Steve Bothwell & Clachan - Sunday: April 6, 2008

*Series: 50 days of “Easter” - Why Did They Believe this?  Message: No. 02. “They Really Believed That ‘He Lives’”  Luke 24: 13:35; 1 Peter 1:17-25; Acts 2:33-41

"The Matrix": Unseen Reality

I admire creativity. A few years ago a movie came out that was very creative and, like a select group of others, went on to become a trilogy. This one was the science fiction movie, The Matrix. Now I also realize that the Wachowski brothers deliberately tried to make it more interesting and intriguing by including references to almost every modern day world religion. However, that decision, whether cynical or creative, does not take away from their occasional, very pointed, and very successful jabs at our real life world.  

In the Matrix, the real world has been taken over by computers that keep humans in bondage by creating a false reality in their minds. The computers electronically feed a virtual reality into their brain. The humans think they are free, but they are actually entombed in pods where their bodies are used as an energy source.

A few of the humans have escaped their pods and are battling the machines. But unlike the computer-induced dreamland (called the Matrix), the real world is full of sweat, stress, and combat with the computers at every turn.

In one scene, the leader of escaped humans, Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne), has contacted a person whose mind is still controlled by the Matrix. The man's name is Neo (played by Keanu Reeves).

"Let me tell you why you're here," says Morpheus. "You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain—but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life. That there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I'm talking about?"

"The Matrix?" Neo asks.

"Do you want to know what it is?" asks Morpheus. Neo nods. "The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window, or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth."

"What truth?" asks Neo.                                          

"That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage. Born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch—a prison for your mind. Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself." Morpheus takes out two pills: one blue, one red. "This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember, all I'm offering is the truth, nothing more."

Neo chooses the red pill, and the Matrix starts to breakdown. He sees the world for how it really is. He realizes that the truth is a war between good and evil, and the allures of this world are nothing but an illusion.[1]

Now we have just heard a scripture passage read this morning in which two people are also brought face to face, as it were with a spiritual Alice-Through-the-Looking-Glass-Experience. 

A STRANGE ENCOUNTER OF A SPIRITUAL KIND

Little did our two friends know that they were about to have a strange encounter of the spiritual kind. As far as they knew, despair was all that remained for any of the disciples of the Crucified One. Their hope had turned to ashes. They were crushed under the weight of disappointment. Their Messiah, their friend, their hope had been put to death; even the fact that the women had heard an angel declaring Jesus to be alive, had made no difference. By now they also knew that Peter had been to the tomb, that he had found nothing but discarded burial cloths.[2] Yet it meant nothing. They were still in shock. We probably would have forgiven them if they had just looked at each other, looked at the empty space where the mysterious stranger had seemingly a few minutes before been occupying and said, “Right, OK, we’ve both had a very trying weekend, Jesus being crucified and all that. And I think it’s possible that this meat we just ate was a little bit “off” so how ‘bout we both just go on to bed?”

What is truth? What can we really believe?

One modern day observer of society says: "On Sunday morning in contemporary America, modern disciples come straggling through the church door weighed down by cynicism, stress, and strife.  We are too busy, too suspicious to even recognize the risen Christ."[3]

 

NOT A “RELIGIOUS” MATRIX BUT A FAITH MATRIX

On the other hand, there may be some of you here today who are not even sure that there really is a “Jesus.” You may be much more comfortable out on the streets of our world where everything appears to be concrete and real. Perhaps that is why I find it interesting that the theology of Jesus seemed to take root, not among the “church” people of his day, but among the ordinary people, the people who understood what was really happening out in the streets. It is very obvious from the Bible accounts that his teachings didn’t play very well among the “religious” people. It seems that Jesus was never able to accomplish much with the temple officials. He once made an important declaration and was allowed to read some Scripture. But he met more resistance than hospitality. Perhaps that is why most of Jesus’ miraculous healings and transformations happened out in the streets. Blind Bartemaeus experienced Jesus’ healing touch right on the berm of the Jericho Road. After Jesus’ ascension into heaven the Ethiopian had a life-transforming encounter with Jesus on the Gaza Road. Paul the religious prosecutor would encounter the risen Christ on the Damascus Road.

Don’t you find it just a little curious, that here on the very first Easter day the risen Christ could not be found in a temple or church?  Doesn’t that cause you to go, hmmm? Yet there he was, out walking on the Emmaus Road, out walking with two of his disciples who did not yet recognize him. But their eyes would be opened. [4]

A STRANGELY MOVING STORY

This is such a strangely moving story. Perhaps it moves us because, like those two disciples, we have the information but we don’t know how to process it. It hangs there, in our consciousness, but doesn’t seem to connect with our perceptions and experiences. It’s like a piece of software buried in the computer. The icon is there on the screen, but when we click on it, we get some wild graphics but nothing we can immediately pin down and use.[5] 

As we have already noted, these disciples had all the "facts": Earlier in life, they had seen Jesus' wonderful words and deeds, and now they had heard about the empty tomb. Yet they give up, leave Jerusalem, and cannot even recognize Jesus. Why? Because they hold on to their own erroneous hope, namely that Jesus would "set Israel free" politically. We can empathize with those two disciples. So this Jesus who meant so much to us – in whom we had placed all our hopes – has been killed. Yes, something weird has happened to his body, and some even say he is still alive. But what are we supposed to do with all this? How do we use this information? Or as those folks, fifty days later on at that “first” Pentecost Sunday said, “What should we do?”[6]               Fortunately, with what Jesus had taught them, something finally clicks into place and they are able to overcome all traces of disappointment as they rush back to Jerusalem through the darkness.[7] 

Disappointments Transformed

The year was 1920. The scene was the examining board for selecting missionaries. Standing before the board was a young man named Oswald Smith.

One dream dominated his heart. He wanted to be a missionary. Over and over again, he prayed, "Lord, I want to go as a missionary for you. Open a door of service for me." Now, at last, his prayer would be answered. When the examination was over, the board turned Oswald Smith down. He did not meet their qualifications. He failed the test. Oswald Smith had set his direction, but now life gave him a detour. What would he do? I realize that some of you already know the answer to that question, but before we deal with it, I first want to share with you this story.

The Bigger Picture

In her book Mystery on the Desert, Maria Reiche describes a series of strange lines made by the Nazca in the plains of Peru, some of them covering many square miles. For years people assumed these lines were the remnants of ancient irrigation ditches.

Then in 1939 Dr. Paul Kosok of Long Island University discovered their true meaning could only be seen from high in the air. When viewed from an airplane, these seemingly random lines form enormous drawings of birds, insects, and animals.[8]

In a similar way, we often need to see the bigger picture.

As Oswald Smith prayed, God planted another idea in his heart. If he could not go as a missionary, he would build a church which could send out missionaries. And that is what he did. Oswald Smith pastored The People's Church in Toronto, which sent out more missionaries than any other church at that time.

Oswald Smith widened his vision and brought God into the situation, and God transformed what had at first seemed to be a detour into a main thoroughfare of service.[9]

In a similar way, the disciples had expected Jesus to be the King of Israel and in that they were sorely disappointed. But what they could not see was that he had brought them so much more; he turned out to be the savior of the world and they were to became the ambassadors of the Great King![10]

THE BREAKING OF THE BREAD

Fortunately our story doesn’t end with a couple of stressed out   confused disciples. As you know, they did rush back to town. There they met the other disciples who told them, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened to them, and how they recognized Jesus when he broke the bread.

Bread can be very symbolic. The very smell of bread may evoke memories of home. In the Church we remember that bread is the symbol that Jesus used to point to himself.

In his book, The Tree, The Tomb and the Trumpet, George Bass writes in relation to “Bread”:

It is at the table that we are brought face to face with the person and mission of Jesus Christ. In that meal, we celebrate our death and our life in Christ. But Christ doesn’t allow us, any more than he allowed the disciples, to relax and enjoy the fellowship of his table, simply talking about the Lord and what the resurrection experience means to us as though that’s all there is to the Easter appearances of the Lord.

If we dare to say, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” We are enjoined to listen and respond to what else he has to say: “You are my witness (Luke 24:48).” Just as the disciples witnessed in the first century of the Christian era, it is our business to show the world by what we do and say that the Lord is really alive and that he is, indeed, the Lord of all. That’s a significant part of the continuing story about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Those who hear it and believe that it is true are charged with the responsibility of passing it on to the rest of the world so that all people will have the opportunity to hear and believe.[11]

 

Indeed, if you read further on to the end of this chapter, Jesus proceeds to breathe on his disciples, to give them a little of his Spirit, that they might have some power to serve while they wait for Pentecost to arrive.

CONCLUSIONS

I find it remarkable that so many of these that encountered him after his Resurrection go on to give up their lives for him. Men and women do not die for ghosts or for lies. They die for real love, and a real cause. And these were convinced that they already had begun a real life that would last forever. Are you convinced yet that he is alive?  Have you received his Spirit in order to empower your life as one of his followers?  And as Mr. Bass has asked in his book, “What are you doing with all of that for Jesus? Perhaps we can ask, “How can I live so that others will know that “He Lives?” Let’s reflect on that by singing the first verse of ‘He Lives” as we prepare for The Lord’s Supper.


----

[1] The Matrix (Warner Brothers, 1999), directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski; submitted by Bill White, Paramount, California

[2] Greg McDonell, Out of the Ashes

[3] Susan Andrews

[4] Adapted from Michael Slaughter, Out On The Edge, Abingdon, 1998, p. 44-45

[5] Rumours

[6] Rumours

[7] Reflections

[8] Timothy George, "Big Picture Faith," Christianity Today (10-23-00)

[9] Brian L. Harbour, Rising Above the Crowd

[10] Brett Blair, www.eSermons.com

 [11] Adapted from George Bass, The Tree, The Tomb, and the Trumpet: Sermons for Lent and Easter, CSS Publishing Company

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