Friday, 16 April 2021

Thought for the Day 16/04/21 - Living life two steps behind


Let me be honest ... I'm not a great Royalist.

But even I haven't failed to notice, with a certain sadness, the passing of a very major Royal, who is now due to be buried tomorrow.

Prince Phillip hasn't had the easiest of lives, let's face it.

  • He had a terrible family background.

  • He never lived in his family home after the age of eight.

  • His family were refugees from Greece.

  • His mother lost her mind and was committed to an asylum (as that's what happened in those days).

  • His father dropped her like a hot rock and Phillip grew up in one brutal school followed by another.

  • He needed a stable family setting and he finally found love with the princess who so very soon became Queen and has stayed the Queen longer than any other British monarch in history.

  • And then at her coronation he had to kneel before his wife, do her abeisance and 

  • He's been the longest serving consort in British history ... the MASTER of doing what propriety demanded and walking two steps behind His Queen.

A vigorous man physically, emotionally and mentally, this wouldn't come to him naturally: living two steps behind throughout his marriage to a Queen.

Seventy. Three. Years of it.

Whatever we make of the monarchy we have to say that Prince Philip appears to have paid quite  a personal price for giving honour where he thought honour was due.

After the childhood he had, and the war that he had ... how would you have felt about that?!

And how do you feel about our Verse for the Day?

"Give to everyone what you owe them: 

    if you owe taxes, pay taxes; 

        if revenue, then revenue; 

            if respect, then respect; 

                if honour, then honour."

                                  Romans 13:7

Surely this all raises the question ... how do you feel about bowing to authority, about living your life two steps behind?

It's an important question for all of us who live in any sort of ordered society, and respecting proper authority  lies at the heart of a Christian committment.

Jesus's repeated call to fishermen, priestly renegades and tax collectors, rich and poor people alike was to acknowledge that the Kingdom of God had come in the person of Him - King Jesus - and to turn their lives around to follow along behind Him.

And this following ... it's the language of discipleship in the New Testament ... is NOT in this case an affront to our human dignity, but a matter of giving honour where honour is due.

And it's not just to His authority that we give all due honour as followers of His, but also to those others He puts in positions that also require it because they carry His authority delegated to their function.

So here's how Paul puts it in the verses we've been talking about ...

"This is also why you pay taxes, 

for the authorities are God’s servants, 

who give their full time to governing. 

Give to everyone what you owe them: 

    if you owe taxes, pay taxes; 

        if revenue, then revenue; 

            if respect, then respect; 

                if honour, then honour."

                                  Romans 13:6-7

Firstly, give everyone 'what you owe them' ... their dues.

What sort of thing does Paul MEAN what he talks of their 'dues'?

Helpfully, here's a list that follows in those verses of things that might constitute their dues, and some of them would have been hard for those Roman readers of these verses to swallow:

  • Taxes

This was the Tribute, the annual tax levied by the Roman Empire on houses, lands, and persons.

  • Revenue

This was the toll, the custom an indirect tax on goods, ungraduated taxation that hurt the poor somewhat more than the rich.

  • Respect

The word is φόβος (phobos) which means fear ... reverence for those that you must stand in awe of.

And then, finally, comes honour.

  • Honour 

The Greek word for honour here is the honour which one has by reason of rank and office which is held ... it amounts to both deference and reverence.

Keeping up two steps behind

All this amounts to taking second place and being ready to walk two steps behind ... two steps behind King Jesus but also two steps behind the people that God puts in positions where He wants you to walk two steps behind them FOR HIS SAKE!

Two steps behind Him is one thing.

Two steps behind other humans that He delegates authority to, is clearly another level of challenge altogether.

The Point

To be a Christian, from the first, was to be a follower of Jesus ... and that means putting ourselves behind Him in every way.

But look, how much honour is actually DUE to King Jesus?

Well ... quite!

So that's why we are HONOURED to walk as close as two steps behind this King!

The Takeaway

We live in a world that idolilses the individual and hails self-serving as the highest moral 'good'.

  • Following Christ recognises that it isn't our due to come first in this world.

  • Following Jesus recognise Him, and therefore readily de-prioritises 'me'.

Recognising the honour that is due to King Jesus, readily follows two steps behind.

Thursday, 15 April 2021

Thought for the Day 15/04/21 - Greatness in leadership


One of the things the internet boom has done for us is to raise a REALLY effective hue and cry when leaders get caught out.

Greed, corruption, sexual impropriety ... these things get brought into the open and publicised around the world now with unbelievable rapidity.

Surprisingly enough, politicians seem to get away with peccadilloes because we don't expect anything better from them, but let a Christian leader, charity worker or a teacher .... people of whom we expect better ... get caught out and that person's downfall is the stuff of internet headlines. 


And for ages!

Public scandals as controlling, abusive and exploitative leaders in the church are found out  have characterised this year ... and really, that is nothing to complain about.

These things need to be brought to the light, and churches need to learn to build a culture that addresses the roots of this problem in the wayward human heart.

And during His earthly life and ministry, Jesus Himself was often forthright and very helpful on this matter.

The problem we seem to have is that we haven't been listening to what He has to say about it, when He addresses the very root of the problem.

Jesus addresses attitudes behind leadership

Lousy attitudes to leadership lead to license and exploitation, and Jesus has got NO time for that.

His interactions with His own disciples to correct their attitudes to their role, and the way He deals with religious leaders outside His followers are quite, quite clear on this.

Looking glass leaders (the Lord says) live for appearances

Take, for example, His warning to His followers about the Pharisees:

"‘Everything they do is done for people to see: 

  • they make their phylacteries wide
    and the tassels on their garments long;

  • they love the place of honour at banquets
    and the most important seats in the synagogues;

  • they love to be greeted with respect in the market-places
    and to be called “Rabbi” by others."

                                                                            Matthew 23:5-7

There are 'things' then that Jesus points to and underlying attitudes accompanying them that He then warns of:

  • Fancy dress
  • Posh dinners
  • Popular acclaim

    And Jesus TACKLES those not by tackling the things in themselves ... clothes, dinners and outward titles of acclaim ... but by addressing the deep and underlying lousy attitude that characterises a bad attitude to what Christian leadership should be all about.

"The greatest among you will be your servant.

For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, 

and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

                                                      Matthew 23:11

When He talks about how we bear responsibility as believers, Jesus starts with our accountability to God.

Accountability NOT for what we look like on the outside, so much as for what is actually going on in our hearts.

Self-serving leadership is going to be laid bare

Do you notice, Jesus grounds all He has to say here is eschatology ... the End that God will bring everybody to ... the accounting for our deeds done in the body on the basis of what underlies these deeds in our hidden hearts.

In fact, Jesus goes straight on to call down Seven Woes on the leadership attitudes of the Pharisees and by extension on everyone else who has embodied these attitudes as they've exercised religious leadership across the ages.

The temptation to self-serving leadership is both subtle and pernicious, and the Lord is forthright in warning His disciples, and in condemnation of all self-aggrandising motivations in leadership.

The Point

Jesus didn't use His power and authority to serve Himself.

His followers surely shouldn't do so either.

Jesus waited to be raised up and glorified by God, and didn't seek to pump Himself up.

His followers need to culture the same attitude both individually and in the fellowship of His church.

The Takeaway

What do you do in God's service to be noticed? To get something 'back' ... something to tickle the lower nature out of sight?

Or how do you feel when you do something sacrificial of your own tastes or aspirations ... losing out on those things you could otherwise have easily done but for the good deed you just did ... and nobody, NOBODY notices?!

As James puts it well in James 4:10

"Humble yourselves before the Lord, 

and he will lift you up."

When we try to puff ourselves up, it isn't going to work out to plan!

But when God does the raising up of a person, the job doesn't fall to the ground.

How VERY encouraging is that?

Appearances ultimately count for very little, but motives matter to the God Christians serve.

What does NOT being noticed for what we have done DO to the inner thoughts of our hearts?

Asking ourselves that question's a great to find out whether the Lord's at work changing us at the level of our hearts, and therefore whether  (building on the foundation of acceptance only by grace that He's laid in our hearts) we'll end up actually being 'exalted' by God.

"The greatest among you will be your servant.

For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, 

and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

                                                      Matthew 23:11-12

What SERVICE can our hearts give to God and to His people today?

It really is a very important question ... because that is the way that ultimate greatness lies.

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Thought for the Day 14/04/21 - Leadership?


Our individualistic, self-oriented culture is anxiously crying out for leadership.

Everyone wants to do what is right in his own eyes, but our innate insecurity wants the burden of responsibility to be lifted, and doesn't fancy living life totally without guidance and leadership.

Well, there are plenty who want the prestige of being seen as leaders, of course. 

But as Douglas Adams' observed, those keenest to be in power are those probably least well-suited to it.

He probably wasn't all that far wrong!

And yet the way to get Christians to a conference is to make it sound as if it's going to be a conference on leadership.

We're missing something here, and it could be serious, so let's pose the question:

How would you prefer to be recognised: 

                    as a leader or as a follower?

For many of us living in the West, the term follower carries associations of weakness of character ... like when a person is lacking in backbone and just 'follows along with the crowd'.

We think of being a follower as lacking creativity and ambition and drive.

But by contrast a leader calls up ideas of an absolute truck load of virtues ... they're efficient, creative, productive, charismatic ... people follow them because they're outstanding people.

Western-style businesses want to sign up leaders, not followers ... and so it seems do churches as they suck up the attitudes and ideals of the world all around them.

But as much as our culture pushes us to aspire to be leaders, the Bible says virtually nothing about being a leader and an awful lot about being a follower.

Being faithful means being a follower of Jesus

Of COURSE we're to be followers of Jesus.

His call throughout His ministry was to follow Him: 

"As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen

‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’

At once they left their nets 

and followed him.

When he had gone a little farther, 

he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, 

preparing their nets.

Without delay he called them, 

    and they left their father Zebedee 

        in the boat 

        with the hired men 

                and followed him."

                                   Mark 1:17-20

We don't like the cost of that but we can't openly argue with it and maintain any remote appearance of faith, because Jesus said:

" Whoever does not 

    take up their cross and 

    follow me 

        is not worthy of me."

                    Matthew 10:38

But there's more to this following theme in the Scriptures, because Jesus wasn't just building a fan club. 


Jesus was building a team.

Being faithful means being a follower of other believers

Believers are also to be followers of those who follow Jesus faithfully ... check it out in 1 Corinthians 11:1

where Paul writes: " Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ."

These people are what Dr. John Kotter refers to as the 'guiding team' - they are your second tier who lead the outsiders to the Leader, and guide existing believers in the Way.

But that doesn't exhaust the range of faithful following.

Being faithful means following God's un-faithful leaders as well!

Sometimes it can be hard to grasp the teaching of Romans 13 that the powers that be in the land are leaders that have been ordained by God.

But we learn in Romans that it's precisely because of that fact that God wants us to be followers of those whose own station in life demands our obedience ... even when they're not Christians.

And Paul wrote this to Christians living under the Emperor Nero and you can back up Romans 13:1-2 on that with 1 Peter 2 :13.

This is uniformly the teaching of Scripture.

It can of course be ever so hard to do this at times, but it's very PLAINLY what Scripture says!

The Point

The problem that we have and bring with us to church, you see, is that ...

  • Leadership is a Western CULTURAL 'virtue', but

  • Submission and following God and His 'Guiding Team' are very clear Biblical ones.

The Takeaway

God has got no place for followers who live life 'free-style'.

The  manifesto of His Kingdom always starts with 'follow me', and leads on to following those who (by following) we come closer to God.

What lies at the heart of your aspirations?

Do you in your heart of hearts wish to be followed, or to be primarily a follower of the Lord ... and His people?

I've got a feeling we'll say some more about this sometime this week ...

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Thought for the Day 13/04/21 - Doctor-denialism


My Mamgu didn't like to call the doctor.

I've got strong childhood memories of my Mam trying to persuade her when something or other 'needed looking at'.

But my Mamgu and my Hen-Mamgu (who was with us to the grand old age of 94) had grown up before the National Health Service, and the cost of what they called 'troubling the Doctor' had been a constant concern in their mining valleys home.

In all these homes there was a pot on the mantle piece above the fire (strange place to keep it) that held money put aside to pay the doctor when it was really needed.

And that habit of not 'troubling the Doctor' was clearly deep, because it was one they allows found quite hard to get rid of.

I've seen the same thing in other parts of the world where health care is a cost that very plainly, the folks living in those places can't always bear.

After a health crisis was resolved for me in hospital a while ago ... and saved my life ... I did a bit of research to find out what my treatment would have cost if I had needed it in a range of U.S. states. 

It was sobering to realise they'd have let me die for lack of funds for what here is a standard medical procedure.

For those of us who've always had the NHS this seems very unusual, and it can lead us to treat our health service in ways we really shouldn't, if we're not careful.

The Universal Leveller of poor personal health

Now this is an issue that affects every single one of us, because we all need to see the doctor  from time to time.

But aren't there are always annoying people who deny their need?! The mistake Jesus was dealing with was to deny this fact. 

Certainly farmers I know are amongst the worst for never going to the doctor ... and medics I know stress that if a farmer turns up in Accident and Emergency they know they need to sit up and pay attention ... because if a farmer just walked in, it's probably a lot more serious than it looks! 

And they also need to seize the chance to check 'em out for anything else they can while they've got him with them! (I say 'him' because farming women are tough but they tend to be a lot more sensible about their health).

But this universal issue of poor health all goes to make the point on  what the Lord says in the Verse for the Day today ... and it's really surprising:

"Jesus answered them, 

‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, 

but those who are ill. 

I have not come to call the righteous, 

but sinners to repentance.’"

                                    Luke 5:31-32

Jesus seems to be saying there are people who claim they never need to see the doctor and people never need to repent of any bad stuff they have done ... but actually He's saying that just as the first of those ideas isn't true, the second one most certainly isn't either.

The internet age and the birth of the New Pharisaism

Now the internet age has definitely given rise to a new self-righteousness. The internet age has been accompanied by the rise of a New Pharisaism.

The sins of others are put under the spotlight more intensely and published to our social media timelines every day.

And alongside that, the vilification of public people - and others too - for views they hold that are different from ours and the 'calling out' of them for their views as 'evil' ... is the central plank of the current 'woke' agenda. 

Sadly law makers seem susceptible to responding to this sort of pressure and painting right as wrong in what looks like craven acquiescence.

It's getting a bit ridiculous now, in fact. 

I read only yesterday of a campaign to legalise paedoplilia, arguing its case on the basis of children's human rights! (Check this link HERE). 

And, would you believe it? The proponents of this move were attacking and villifying the 'evil' of opposing their plan!

But let's not digress - Jesus is saying we ALL need the soul doctor.

The universal leveller: needing the Soul Doctor

When Jesus spoke out on the issue of calling not the healthy but the sick ... the soul sick ... to repentance, He was highlighting His role as the Saviour. 

He's the One Who came to save the people (meaning all His people) from their sins ... as the famous 'Christmas verse' in Matthew 1:21 made clear: 

"She will give birth to a son," the angel told Joseph 

"and you are to give him the name Jesus" {meaning 'God saves'}, 

"because he will save his people from their sins.’"

Do you see? 

The very Name Jesus was given from before His physical birth to indicate that He was the One to save His people from their sins.

So that was His purpose ... to save

 The mistake Jesus was dealing with was to deny this fact and alleging you're not a sinner means that He has nothing to do with you.

The Point

The thing is - and this is the point He makes in our verse today, everyone DOES need the Doctor, and He is the One that has come.

We need to change our stance, repent and get to His surgery.

As Paul spells it out later:

"all have sinned and 

fall short of the glory of God, 

and all are justified freely by his grace 

through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."

                                                       Romans 3:23-24

The Takeaway

Believer or not, we need to live with this ... especially in this age of the New Pharisaism ... the Lord's message to the old Pharisaism of His own day still applies.

All of us stand in need of the Doctor because each one of us gets spiritually ill, and that spiritual illness comes from no other cause than from falling for the decitfulness of sin .... the deceitfulness that tells us things like this:

  • this isn't bad 
  • everyone's doing it 
  • this is your right 
  • you SHOULD seize your freedom, and that 
  • I (but not everyone else) can rebel against God's will and sin without consequence.

It's the same old tripe the Enemy of Souls peddled to the first human sinners who bought it hook, line and sinker and lost Eden.

It is a Christ-avoiding  blunder

 to claim that we almost alone amongst humanity are different from 'the rest' or at least to live our lives as if this tripe were true.

This is the mistake Jesus was dealing with when He spoke about not coming for those who (say they) don't need the doctor. 

Christians of all people should know better than to try to project that image of themselves, because Jesus says that we don't need Him if we live like THAT is true.

So let's be sure today we live with SOME integrity? 

The integrity that acknowledges our need of the Great Physician, and as if we need to acknowledge and give Him access to treat our ailment every day?

If we can talk some more to help you think this through and work it out, then please feel free to use the contact form below.

Monday, 12 April 2021

Thought for the Day 12/04/21 - 'Do we KNOW Him (meaning: should we TRUST Him)?'


There was a great story in the news today about a grandmother and her grand-daughter, Rita Nurskanova, in a field a few miles south of Moscow on this day sixty years ago.

The grandmother was making holes in the earth and the five year-old grand-daughter was dropping seed potatoes into the holes.

Sixty years on Ms. Nurskanova remembers seeing something "orange and beautiful. It was coming towards us".

She tells how her grandmother was frightened and grabbed her hand and they wanted to run back to the house but then they heard a voice speaking to them in Russian: "Ladies Stop! I am one of us!"

It was Yuri Gagarin, the first man to have blasted into space, and he had just parachuted to earth from his space capsule.

By his own account: "When they saw me in my space suit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear. 

I told them, don't be afraid, I am a Soviet like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!"

When asked what she remembered most about him, Rita Nurskanova says: "His smile ... and he had such a kind voice".

A smile and a kind voice

What banished the fears of this welcoming party?

A smile and a kind voice.

Now, Yuri Gagarin had not had an easy life. He was raised in a Russian village that lay in the path of a number of invasions of Russia and his family suffered a gresat deal during the Nazi invasion when their town was occcupied from 1941 onwards.

After working as a foundryman he joined the Russian airforce and ended up as the first man in space on April 12th. 1961.

Apparently, the frightened family in the field that day questioned him as to whether he had come from Mars, but he reassured them that he was a Soviet just like them.

He was scary, looking scary and saying scary things ... but they trusted him even though what he was saying seemed so outlandish to them ... because of his smile and his kind voice.

I couldn't help wondering if that should REALLY have been QUITE so reassuring?!

Well, Gagarin was awarded the highest honours Russia could confer and was acclaimed as the number one guy on the Soviet space programme.

All of a sudden, he was a national treasure.

Not long after Gogarin was the stand-by for another Soyuz astronaut who was killed in a subsequent space flight that went badly wrong, and realising they didn't want to lose him, the authorities forbade him from ever going to space again. He was too prestigious a asset to the regime. 

He was sent to fly aeroplanes again and was killed a very short time after that in a training aircraft crash.


His life lost.

Because in fact they couldn't save him.

Sadly, this was the same Gagarin that reportedly returned to Earth with a simple, Soviet-style message: “I looked and looked and looked, but I didn’t see God.”

I looked but I didn't see God

This can hardly be a surprise to us, not simply because Heaven is not 'up there' but outside time and space, but also because when people were confronted with a real, live bodily Jesus down here ... God in the flesh right in front of them ... such an awful lot of people couldn't see Him then either!

And when He looks and sounds scary ... and you don't recognise Who He really is ... it's only natural to want to run the other way - just like the two potato-planters on that day.

Scary stuff sends peple running

So the first part of our verse for the day today might set people Who don't recognise quite Who Jesus is running themselves ...

"Then he said to them all: 

‘Whoever wants to be my disciple 

must deny themselves and 

take up their cross daily and 

follow me."

                                       Luke 9:23

Let's be honest, that's not a GREAT pitch for any evangelist ... if you preach THAT you won't have many people rushing to the front!

But Jesus doesn't stop there ... you need to notice the smile and hear the kind voice:

"For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it."

The Point

The people this airforce officer served, putting his life so obviously on the line for them, tried to protect Gagarin's life, and the plan they put in place quickly cost him his life.

Mankind CANNOT control the outcome of a life.

But God promises eternal life to those who put their temporary, this-earthly life on the line for Him.

It's worth it when you grasp His identity, you see?

Gagarin put his life on the line for his human commanders and they singularly failed to look after it ... not because they didn't want to but because they COULD not.

Christ calls us to put the way we live our lives on the line for Him ... and it's SAFE to do that when we recognise Who He is.

  • He is the Lord of resurrection Life, and the conqueror of death.
  • He is the One Who came from somewhere else, but He is really no alien.
  • He became just like us ... tried and tested in every way just as we are yet victoriously living without sin. 
  • He bore our death-causing sin to the grave, then rose to signal that its penalty was fully paid for us.

And because He did that, we can safely commit our lives to His trust.

The Takeaway

It sometimes doesn't feel very safe to commit our lives in faith to do what He teaches us to do.

But because of Who Jesus IS we can trust Him with that ... in fact it is the ONLY safe way to live your (eternal) life.

Putting your life on the line for powerful politicians may not be safe.

Putting your life on the line for the conqueror of death looks like a thoroughly different proposition.

And we do that in the choices that we make, as we follow Him a day at a time.

Choose carefully - choose well.

Saturday, 3 April 2021

Thought for Easter Sunday - two disciples on the horns of a dilemma: Luke 24:13-35


Luke 24:13-35 ... a Bible exposition for Easter Day.


The disciples of Jesus were in a turmoil … perhaps even moreso than the residents of Jerusalem and the Passover pilgrims who had been packing the place for the last few days.

Where had all this turmoil come from?

Firstly, the Romans had crucified a Galilean preacher (big news in itself) and they had done that not with the grudging collusion of the High Priests and the Jerusalem hierarchy, but at the INSISTENCE of the religious leaders of Israel.

For this there was ABSOLUTELY no precedent.

However well-known these high rankingJewish families were for protecting their own political and financial interests with Rome, they were still no friends of their Roman overlords or the regime that was imposed upon them. And here they were not just conniving with but PUSHING the Roman authorities to kill one of their own, the wandering preacher Jesus of Nazareth.

And then secondly the Roman legionaries guarding His tomb found themselves unable to account for the body.

Looking back on things now we can see that the Lord had predicted His own death and resurrection, and everything had happened JUST as He’d said it would … but it was all so unthinkable back then that even the Lord's closest followers couldn’t grasp what had happened when they saw it.

We’ll come back to this issue … but notice from the start that spiritual truth has to be revealed to be spiritually discerned.

Let’s just review briefly what takes place in this narrative, then we’ll draw conclusions as to what’s going on and what the implications are for us from this passage.

1)   Setting, vv. 13-16

“13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.

This ‘two of them’ are part of ‘the eleven and all the rest’ of v. 9.

They are disciples, as they know about the empty tomb and do not know what to make of it all.

But that same day the women discovered the empty tomb and reported back to the eleven and all the rest, they decided to walk to Emmaus, which we’re told in Greek was “sixty stades” away from Jerusalem.

A stade (στάδιονstadion) was a unit of distance of about 607 feet (185 meters), so the journey is about 11 kilometers or around seven miles.

It was going to be, probably under those conditions and in sandals, I’d have thought, something like a two-hour walk.

And of course this journey on foot gave these men adequate time to discuss their confusion.

 14 "They were talking with each other about everything that had happened."

Yes, of COURSE they were … but it was a certain SORT of discussion.

 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other,

The word translated ‘talked’ is general conversation.

But the word ‘discussed’ is more vigorous altogether:

In the New Testament this word is used to mean to discuss, to dispute and to question.

They’re not agreed on what to make of everything that's happened and as they walk they’re having what we might reasonably conclude is a bit of a ding-dong.

“Jesus himself came up and walked along with them

 16 but they were kept from recognising him.”

Now this is remarkable, the Jesus they’d followed, seen, heard and known in the flesh as He walked and talked in Galilee that day they were for some reason do not even able to recognise.

The Lord has got something ‘going on’ here!

These disciples were actually KEPT from recognising Him

And of course, the Lord's going to be teaching a lesson when He puts in place an unusual thing like that ...

It all starts off with Jesus interrogating them about what had been going on as He caught up with and started to accompany them.

2)   Interrogation, vv. 17-24

17 He asked them, ‘What are you discussing together as you walk along?’

They stood still, their faces downcast. 

18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, ‘Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’

19 ‘What things?’ he asked.”

These two are stuck on the horns of a dilemma

There are two parts to the disciples’ answer, and those two parts highlight the horns of their dilemma.

Firstly, no-one's HEARD of a crucified Messiah

They had high hopes of Jesus for being the Messiah but now He’s dead and beyond the bounds of life, to their thinking:

‘About Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied.

 ‘He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.

There’s the high hopes bit.

But their hopes, they thought, had now been badly dashed.

“ 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him;

 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.

And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.”

OK. Right there you have the source of this first problem.

Who’d ever HEARD of a crucified Messiah … death was failure for first century Messiahs, and His fate (they thought) was sealed – He was finished – because the third day from death they believed there was no hope left for a person any more.

As Martha famously said in John 11:39 of her dead brother Lazarus, by the third day it’s all over, well … actually … Martha’s comment was that it was now the third day and, Lord ‘he stinketh’!

The first horn of the dilemma is that they’d been convinced Jesus was the real deal, but no-one could accept a crucified Messiah.

But now here comes the second part of their dilemma ...

Secondly, they were quite adamant that dead men absolutely don't rise

 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. 

They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 

24 "Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.’"

If Messiahs don’t get crucified, then these disciples were equally certain that dead men quite simply don’t rise.

As a matter of interest, I had a little interaction on Twitter yesterday with Prof. Alice Roberts who says of herself that she is:

Professor of Public Engagement in Science at Uni of Birmingham; biological anthropologist, author, broadcaster; President of Humanists UK.”

(If you are not familiar with the term, 'humanist' is what respectable atheists chose to call themselves, you see?)

Professor Roberts posted: Just a little reminder today. Dead people - don’t come back to life.”

Four thousand six hundred people 'liked' that post.

I’m afraid that I rose to the bait with: “Even professors struggle to prove a negative conclusively ...”

But Professor Roberts very plainly exemplifies the position that expresses the second dilemma that those disciples were struggling with that day ... I do think she manages it perfectly.

These disciples on the Road to Emmaus are struggling because the tomb is empty, but just as Messiahs don’t get crucified they’re pretty sure too that dead people DON’T come back to life.

Jesus addresses both horns of these disciples’ dilemma, and He does it by way of correcting their expectations using Scripture.

3)   Correction

25 "He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!

 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’"

That is going to come as a shock to them, because what the religious establishment of the day taught them as being the teaching of prophecy was NOT that the Messiah would die … the establishment saw that as a ‘fail’!

‘Cursed was anyone who is hanged on a tree’, said Deuteronomy 21:23 but Galatians 3:13:  unpacks and spells this out:"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’

Until they understood this point, the thought of a cursed Messiah was a contradiction in terms which these disciples’ brains instinctively threw out.

Jesus is going to correct them, and He’s going to do that by teaching them the Bible

“ 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

The reference to "Moses and all the prophets" is a way to say the promise of Messiah runs throughout OT scripture from first to last.

All of the Bible is all about Jesus in some way or another, and the Lord took these two disciples from the start to the finish of the books in the Hebrew arrangement of the books of the Old Testament (which goes from the Law to the Prophets) and showed them what the Bible ACTUALLY said about Jesus.

You usually measure sermons in minutes … this one is measured in MILES!

Seven or so of them, until they arrived that evening in the vicinity of Emmaus as Jesus taught them the Bible end to end.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going further.

He acted as though he wanted to go further.

This is written in a way that gives the impression Jesus knew they would ask him to stay.

This is a hospitality culture. There were no motels in that society, you invited home someone you saw preparing to spend the night in the town square because it was a shame to leave someone out overnight and giving hospitality was something they took on board.

Incidentally – and here’s a bit of a red-herring – during lockdown believers have been lamenting that the lockdown put a stop to face-to-face worship, but I’ve heard precisely NO believers lamenting the banning of and prevention of the Christian responsibility to show hospitality.

Hospitality is something we're told to do in Scripture just as much as to gather for worship

(It's just a thought - but it's something to play with!)

 29 But they urged him strongly, 

‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’

So he went in to stay with them.”

The scene is set for the denouement of the narrative, and its’ big point …

4)   Recognition

“30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.

 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight.”

I need to point out the pronoun ‘Him’ that gets used there is emphatic

THey recognised HIM ... did you notice?

It wasn’t the bread that they recognised, it was HIM, the crucified, raised and LIVING Lord Jesus.

And it wasn’t the breaking of the bread that jogged their memories of that night in the Upper Room, and that THIS is what led them to recognise Jesus.

It was that when He did that breaking of bread then by another agency altogether their eyes were opened for them and they recognised Jesus THEN.

Just to be clear, they didn’t recognise Jesus when they recognised the action that Jesus was performing with the bread, but when God opened their eyes to see Jesus.

And it was THEN, after recognising Jesus, that they remembered the heart experience they’d had of meeting with Him out walking and talking that day… check the next verse:

 32 They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’”

They’d had the explanation of the Scriptures.

They’d had their eyes opened to recognise Jesus.

And SUBSEQUENTLY to that they remembered the heart-experience they’d had walking along with Jesus.

But the definitive point – the one they needed to get to - was reached when their eyes were opened for them and they personally saw and recognised Jesus as the Risen sacrifice for sin and their Saviour.

And that opening of their eyes was life-transforming.

It leads to the fifth phase of this narrative.

5)   Proclamation

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem.

If you check with v. 29 you’ll see the evidence of the thrill and the urgency of their new-found faith.

It was almost night when the disciples had reached the little village they were going to, and since then the dinner had been prepared, the travellers had washed and refreshed themselves and a hospitable evening meal had got under way.

Spot their THRILL here … they are utterly overtaken by the joy of recognising and meeting with the Lord Jesus and you can tell becaues of what they do next.

It is now dark.

It’s a good way back to Jerusalem.

But they are THRILLED with the Good News about Jesus, and they are GOING to carry that Good News back to Jerusalem … across country roads, with no street lights (or police force) through the darkness.

“There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, ‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’”

The dejected group that returned to in Jerusalem who'd been there since Golgotha on Good Friday looks like a totally different group of people by the evening of Easter Sunday … and their heads are up now as they wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit Who’d be coming at Pentecost.

And from that point on these previously rather crushed ex-disciples of Jesus were transformed into the revived and revitalised band of believers that was going to turn the whole world upside down.

35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognised by them when he broke the bread.”

The adequate testimony to Christ’s resurrection to life was now fully established under Jewish law and Jewish culture. 

There was now legally admissible testimony to the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus.



The resurrection of Jesus is now established

The first point of analysis to emerge from this event is that the fact of the resurrection of Jesus is now positively established.

I’m suggesting that what happens here is that the witness evidence to the resurrection has been LEGALLY established.

This is a report of a sighting of the Lord not just raised and out of the tomb but walking, talking, eating and pursuing a completely rounded and established pattern of existence.

And this event establishes the reality of His resurrection by the testimony of ‘two or three’ witnesses which the contemporary Jerwish view of the world required.

The Lord had appeared to the women at the tomb and it appears He’d also appeared to Simon Peter … but not all Jewish legal authorities accepted in those days the testimony of women.

It seems significant (in an era when women were not uniformly respected) that the Lord first appeared to the women at the tomb early that first day of the week.

But now with this encounter on the Road to Emmaus, there could be no more discussion of the sort that discounted the testimony of women. With the addition of these two travelling disciples, the matter was properly established by sufficient eye-witness testimony.

Then the second point of analysis to emerge here and possibly the main one is that in spite of all that they knew of the Scriptures and the recent events they witnessed at Jerusalem, they still didn’t ‘get it’ about Jesus until He revealed it to them.

There's a need of God's help for humans to 'get it' about Jesus

The testimony of Scripture is established in eye-witness history … Christ is Risen, He is risen indeed.

And so we do seek to persuade all humanity to turn from their own ways and follow this Saviour.

Yet whatever obstacles we encounter in going about the process of persuading people to become Christians, that’s the relatively unopposed and straightforward bit.

The battle for people’s souls is a spiritual one waged on our knees before God … and that’s often the hardest bit of all.

The persuasion of the truth, even the showing a life Christ’s changed so that folks can see the potential for faith, doesn’t do this.

Not alone, it doesn’t.

Oh, the Lord uses that to achieve His good purposes, but salvation is entirely ‘of the Lord’.

How Paul explains that goes something like this:

Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 

But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.“

                                                                   2 Corinthians 3:15-16

As Jesus says to His disciples in John 6:

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.

The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life. 

64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’ 

For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe

and who would betray him.

 65 He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me

unless the Father has enabled them.’”

                                                                                  John 6:63-65

Now, of course, the Lord sets the example and gives the instruction to His followers to go and offer the Gospel freely to everyone without distinction and to welcome into fellowship all those who respond to that by turning from sin and trusting in Him.

But He also makes equally clear that everyone must be ‘born from above’ to have life, and He makes THAT known to a very learned Pharisee in John 3 ... a man with PLENTY of 'knowledge'!

You can read more about this issue by clicking the external link HERE.


What this means for us is that recognition of the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection may be assisted by Gospel preaching and by rational apologetics, but switching the light on so people really recognize Jesus for Who and what He is hangs on the revelation of Him, personally, to individuals … people who might know it all but who don’t know Him yet.

Yes, Jesus taught these disciples from the Scriptures how His death and resurrection was the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy.

Jesus sets the example clearly to us that we approach mankind’s hearts through their ears and minds.

But He was only finally recognized by these disciples who were travelling that day after they both understood mentally Who He truly was, and when He had also opened their eyes as He broke bread.

And if we seek the salvation of the souls of men and women by the real, historic sacrifice of the now-risen Christ (which is really the fact that’s been crucially established here) we will be pleading with them to follow Jesus, but it’s our pleading with Jesus to draw them in by opening their eyes that is going to be actually be decisive.

The implications of that fact for what we give our energies to are going to be completely enormous.

Happy Easter!

Thought for the Day 16/04/21 - Living life two steps behind

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