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“as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
Good morning, church. Please turn with me to Luke, chapter 24. That’s Luke, chapter 24, and we’re going to start in v.13.
In the church calendar, this second Sunday of Easter is sometimes called “Low Sunday,” to contrast it with our faith’s highest holy day of Easter Sunday, which we celebrated last week.
Easter is a time of celebration for many of us who are Christians, because just when it seemed like sin had won, and all of humanity would one day be swallowed up in death, just then, Jesus defeated death, and we know, when we say Christ is risen, he’ll raise us to life again. He’s restoring the whole world, making all things new, and the story of this world doesn’t end in death and darkness, but in abounding life, peace, and joy everlasting. Amen?
It’s good that we celebrate on Easter, but in Jesus’ time and in our own, not everyone celebrates the resurrection, because the resurrection isn’t real for everyone. Now hear what I’m saying: the resurrection is not an opinion, it is the foundational fact of Christianity, and if Christ isn’t raised our faith is worthless. What I’m saying when I say “the resurrection isn’t real for everyone” is that not everyone has faith to believe in the resurrection. Or maybe, you have faith, but your sin gets in the way of that faith changing your heart, soul, mind, and practice. Sometimes the fact of the resurrection doesn’t find a place in my thought or in my emotion, in my spirit. In that way, sometimes for me, God goes missing.
Sometimes the vitality, the abounding life of Christ is clear to see in my life, and sometimes sin and death still seem to reign. Sometimes the pastor stands up and says, “Christ is risen!” and I’m not sure what to say in response. Sometimes you get to the tomb and the angel has already gone. All you see is a tomb, and all you know for sure is that God isn’t there.
So read with me in Luke, chapter 24, verses 13-35. [Luke 24:13-35] Pray with me: Holy Spirit, please be with us now to make us alive again with your word. Please show us your truth, because your truth will set us free. Amen.
We see in our passage and in the surrounding text several different reactions to the resurrection. Look in verse 6. We see some of the sisters of the Jerusalem church finding the tomb empty, and an angel declares “He is not here; he is risen!” and immediately, it seems, they believe the word of this angel, and what’s more important for us today, they believed in him, they believed in Jesus, that he is God, and that he has begun to turn back even death itself until one day, as one author writes, “everything sad [will] come untrue.” To them, Christ is very much alive.
And then, look in verse 20. We see a second group, “our leaders” it says, meaning religious and societal leaders—today, we call them pastors, intellectuals, celebrities, politicians—who, from the other gospels we know—they don’t believe in the resurrection. These are people in a high place in society. They don’t believe Jesus has risen, because they are used to the world behaving as they said it should, to being able to write the narratives of the world. They like the world they’ve created. They don’t want anything to change, so they have no need of a living savior—they can’t imagine that they would need to be saved from anything. They declared Jesus should die, so to them, Christ is dead.
So, in this post-resurrection world in which we live, for some, Christ is alive, for others, he’s dead, and then, in our passage, in verse 17 we see a third group. We see two disciples of the Jerusalem church, leaving town because, for them, Jesus isn’t alive or dead—he’s missing; he’s just not there. My main question for you today is one I think they’re asking: What do you do when God is missing? What do you do when God is missing?
One thing I didn’t notice the first time I read this text, before I really started studying the passage: I always assumed these two disciples saw the crucifixion, and they left before the resurrection, so when Jesus reveals himself, that’s the first time they heard he was raised. But look at verse 23; Jesus isn’t the one telling them about the resurrection; the two disciples tell Jesus. They were there in v.10-11 when the women who were at the tomb came and told the disciples, “Christ is risen!” Look at the contrast: Peter and John run toward the tomb—they come back believing—and these two disciples…they walk in the opposite direction. Whether or not Jesus is raised, he’s not there, and these two are going home.
We don’t know much about these two disciples, but we do know some things: in v.13 we know they were disciples of Jesus, part of the church; they were leaving the city and, v.29, were able to offer Jesus a place to stay when they got to Emmeus, which suggests they lived in Emmeus, not in Jerusalem; so they left their home to follow Jesus. Some subtle clues seem to say that this may have been a young couple, man and wife: in v.29 we see they live together, we only get one name in v.18, and the unnamed disciple speaks only to her husband, no kids around.
You start to get a picture. This young couple left their parents, decided to live a life following Jesus. They left home believing God would do something great in their lives; it gave them a sense of purpose. They were just young enough to really believe that everything in their lives could change, and they believed Jesus would be the one to do it. So much excitement! God was moving in their lives in powerful ways, until…one day, he wasn’t. Just a few days before, they are heralding Christ into the city, and the kingdom of God had come to Jerusalem, and then one day…they wake up to reports that he was arrested, killed. One day, the world looked like nothing had really changed, and their excitement became embarrassment. They felt like they had been taken in, taken advantage of. They resolved not to get swept up or be taken in again.
Have you ever been there? Have you ever been in the midst of a bright new future, and your life is actually, finally changed, and then all of the sudden, something happens, and you wake up to a world of the same, like you dreamed the movement of God in your life, and now you’ve woken up? I’ve had this conversation in ministry over and over again. A friend had some addictions in the past, and he had done the work, trusted in the Lord, and gotten clean for years, and one day, one day undoes years of work, and what do you do? Where was the Lord’s help that day? Another friend studied for years to be a church planter, and raised the funding, was doing the work, seeing people’s lives change when they come to know the Lord, and then division, and losing some key people, and marriage issues, and the church closes. You’ve been praising God for all the good he’s done over the past few years, so what do you do when the bad comes? If he gets credit for the blessing, is it wrong to give him the blame for the brokenness?
In my own life, I prayed almost every day for three years for a friend to be healed of a chronic, terminal illness, knowing that the Lord is able to heal people, so I prayed in faith—but the Lord didn’t heal my friend, not in this life. What do you do when you hear people say all day long, “Christ is risen!” and it’s not that you think he’s dead, but—where is he?
You know the response, you know what you’re supposed to say—“Christ is risen indeed!” But if Jesus is alive, why does he seem so distant? If death is defeated, why do my people keep dying? And if all power has been given to Christ, then why do the powerful still oppress the poor and the powerless? “Christ is risen indeed!” It’s a short phrase, but sometimes my tongue has trouble forming the words.
What do you do when God is missing? Do you start walking home? Go back to where you were before you trusted in God and try again with that life? What do you do when God is missing?
Let’s find some answers together. My first point this morning is this: when God is missing, find him among your brothers and sisters in Christ. When God is missing, find him among your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Read with me again in v.24. Luke writes, “Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
Verse 24 sums up the problem for these two disciples: we know he’s not in the tomb, but we haven’t seen him. This is a sentiment I’ve heard over and over again in ministry. People say it in different ways, like: “I respect Jesus as a teacher, but I have a hard time believing the miracle stories,” or, “I believe in God, I’m just not convinced by Christianity.”
And we see that in our passage, the women who first discovered the empty tomb come back to the disciples and tell them, “He is risen!” And yet, for these two, they still have no reason to believe, and they leave.
Jesus has an interesting response in v.25. Never one to mince words, Jesus. If you’re not familiar with the Bible, this may have thrown you off, and I wouldn’t really recommend doing this: “Fools!” he says, and then he illuminates the whole of Scripture to them, their hearts burning within them—I wish I could have heard that sermon. He rebukes them in love—I’m assuming love; it doesn’t really come through in the text, but it’s Jesus, so—and he draws them back to truth.
Friends, we live in a place and time where people are afraid to speak hard truths to each other and disagree, especially about religion, and with good reason—people are easily offended, and Christians have a bad track record of speaking truth in love—but if God is missing in your life, find a brother or sister in Christ, a fellow Christian, who loves you enough to call you a fool.
Also, consider, is there someone in your life who needs to be called a fool? Or are you just going to sit by and watch someone you’re supposed to love drive his faith aground, get out, go home?
It’s common to think that if someone loves you, they won’t try to change you, and there is some truth to that—God loves you exactly as you are, broken and damaged. The thing is, he won’t leave you broken, exactly because he loves you. If you come to love a person with a wound, you don’t keep reopening the wound, because you love them as they are, wound and all. You help in the healing, because a wound doesn’t define a person—neither does any sin, or lifestyle, or doubt. “Fools!” he says, because they were walking home and leaving behind the beauty of life in the resurrected Christ.
So if God is missing in your life, find him among your brothers and sisters in Christ. I know what it feels like, when you feel unacceptable for whatever reason, or when you’re just mad at God—been there—or when you feel like you’ve done something unforgivable, and God has abandoned you. The last thing you want to do is go to church—it’s because sometimes church people are the worst. It’s true. One of the foundational principles of our faith is that everyone is sinful, and the church is no exception. So you don’t always find love and forgiveness right away in church. Hear me: I’m sorry we’ve hurt you. Please, don’t let us push you away from the deep love of Christ. Keep coming back. Christ is really present among his church, so if he is missing, and you are looking for him, find him here.
There is a deep theological truth here, and what I said just now was not an accident: I think the real presence of Christ is in his church—not in a building, or a sacrament, or some far-off heaven, but here, now, among his people. Find him here. So many times in our life, when we don’t feel the love of God, it’s because we are not consistently present with the people of God—it’s through his people God most often pours out his love.
This means, keep joining us for church. For small group. Reach out to me in a message or in the comments if you need prayer or if you want to talk. And when all of this craziness subsides, actually come gather with us again. And then—not if, but—when we offend you, come back. When you feel like an imposter because you don’t believe in God, it’s ok. You’re able to share those struggles here, and you’ll find that many of us have gone through similar things. You’re not alone. We want you here. Come back. When you feel like a hypocrite because you’ve entirely lost your faith, come back. Sing the songs, listen to the sermon. Do the awkward handshake smile thing and the whole deal. Tell people what you’re dealing with, and find that God’s not missing, he is alive and among his people.
Maybe you do get called a fool, or a sinner, or people find out the real sin in your life, or that you’re depressed or gay, a mess or addicted—all of these things people think will render them unwanted—and it’s terrifying to come to church, and it hurts—really hurts—to be called a fool, but maybe at the same time, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you. Maybe it turns you around on your road, and you realize your true home is the very place you’re walking away from.
So when God is missing, find him among his people. That’s my first point. My second point is this: when God is missing, find him in the Scriptures. When God is missing, find him in the Scriptures.
Look again at v.27, where Luke writes, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
I’m reminded of a brilliant friend of mine; she went to Harvard Divinity School, and I know, for her, God had gone missing in her life long ago, and she was searching tirelessly for him. She was a voracious reader, especially of religious books, and we had a conversation one day in which she asked me why I thought the Bible was in any way different from other texts. Why, when I preach or teach, do I only teach the Bible?
I really appreciate her for asking that question, and it has been a question to which I’ve returned over and over again in my life to reconsider. I’ve come to many different answers, but they all center around this truth: we meet the Word of God, Jesus Christ, in the Bible through the work of the Spirit.
That’s why Jesus points to Scripture when, for these two disciples, God was missing. I say the same to you this morning: if God has gone missing in your life, find Him in the Scriptures. It’s easy to treat the Bible like we treat exercise, where we know we are supposed to do it, and it would be good for us. That’s the wrong analogy, though. The Scriptures are healthy for you like water is healthy for you—if you never drink from that stream, your faith will die. The Bible is the word of God, given for the people of God, to sustain them, and in these pages, through the work of the Spirit, you encounter the Word of God, Jesus Christ. If God is missing in your life, find him there.
I know that I’m frustrating some of you right now, because I’m telling you to find God in the Scriptures, and for you the Bible is like the empty tomb. You keep hearing people say, “He is risen!” But you went to the tomb, over and over again—you did the work, you read a book, or you started a Bible reading plan, and instead of Christ, over and over again, you just keep finding a grave. You’re looking around like, “Is this the right book? Do I need a different version or something—ESV, lmnop—because I’m not having the same experience as y’all are.”
Or worse, I’m saying “when God is missing, find him in Scripture,” and you’re beginning to despair, because you’ve been reading the word for years, maybe you’ve even studied at a seminary or you teach the Bible, and it’s been a long time since anything has sparked faith in you. If this is the stream meant to sustain you, then why do you still feel so faint?
Listen. Did you notice in our passage that the whole time this couple was struggling, feeling like God was missing in their lives, Jesus is speaking to them. He’s the one teaching them through the Scriptures. So it is with us. All the times in my life I’ve looked for a savior and found an empty tomb, all the times when God was missing, and my Bible reading felt dry and worthless, Jesus was speaking through Scripture.
We abandon these disciplines, like reading the word for ourselves, because we don’t immediately recognize he’s there; but whether you recognize it or not, God is speaking to you through the Bible, as Isaiah writes, beautifully:
“as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
His word does not return void. Instead, it remakes you, it burns within you, even if your eyes are downcast and you don’t see that he’s walking alongside you.
In other words, don’t assume because you don’t recognize him that God isn’t there. Trust, have faith. When God is missing, find him in the Scriptures. Find him in the Scriptures. That’s my second point. So when God is missing, find him among your brothers and sisters in Christ, and find him in the Scriptures. The third point is this: when God is missing, find him in the breaking of bread. When God is missing, find him in the breaking of bread.
We see in our passage, when Jesus accepts this young couple’s invitation to eat with them, he blesses the bread, breaks it, gives it to them, they realize it’s Jesus, and then he just vanishes. This is the biblical equivalent of a mic drop. Have you ever wondered why God gave resurrected bodies the ability to vanish? Was it just for this moment, to mess with these people? I wonder.
When God is missing, find him in the breaking of bread. Ritual. Christian ritual and practice, these things we do over and over again in Christian churches to worship Jesus, things like communion, prayer, sermons, hymns, confession, assurance of pardon, baptism, even funerals. Ritual. It’s not by accident that Luke uses the same language here that he uses at the institution of the Lord’s supper and in the miracle stories where Jesus feeds thousands of people. He’s intentionally drawing a parallel between those passages and this one. This is an action Jesus did over and again, breaking the bread, giving it out. It was his routine, and it’s become our ritual. The two disciples who were there saw Jesus in this ritual, their eyes were opened, and God was no longer missing for them.
The same could be true of you, today. Give your life to Christ this morning, or begin to seek him again. Do you see him? Allow him to open your eyes.
Find him in the breaking of bread. Most of us don’t think very often about how our shared rituals and repeated practices give shape to our lives and to our communities, but they do.
The earliest Christians met in houses or even, as persecution increased, in underground graves called catacombs to eat a meal together, centering upon the breaking of bread and drinking of wine; they would celebrate, every week, the resurrection of Christ, read scripture, hear teaching, and sing spiritual songs. It was a ritual, a habitual practice of worship, reminding them of, and conforming them to, the life of Christ. These practices have given shape to our worshipping communities ever since.
Why do we think God will be pleased with our songs, or our sermons? Why does the eating of crackers and juice give us a sense of being a member of an ancient church? But we keep doing them, and I would say, we don’t shape these practices so much as they shape us, and they shape our church. Out of those fellowship meals comes the shape of the church for the next two millennia, the shape even of our worship service today, with all of the strangeness of church online.
When you practice these things with regularity, reading scripture for yourself, joining us for church, each week, small group, communion, prayer, and rest, you begin to realize that these practices are beginning to shape you, too, not just your church community. They shape your schedule, your friends, your thought, your disposition—your family, your very self. The remarkable thing is, as you become more like Jesus, as his practices shape you, you don’t become less like yourself. Rather, you begin to know yourself, to be more truly human than you were before, and you realize that sin was turning you into someone else, distorting the original shape of your soul.
And you, what is the shape of your soul?
If God is missing from your life, and you want to see him, come to church, make it a ritual. Actually sing the songs, drink the cup and eat the bread. Pray the prayers. Go to small group. Pray to the Lord that he might open your eyes to see him in these things.
You may take offense at this—many people my age do. They want to be spiritual, but they want to do it on their own, they don’t want to allow tradition or established religion, or a worshipping community to dictate their beliefs or practices.
But saying you want to be spiritual without tradition and without community is like saying you want to bake bread without flour or water—I’m sure it’s possible, but the more likely result is that you will starve yourself and those you are meant to care for.
Oftentimes when I give this advice, people will tell me, “I don’t want to just do things when I find no meaning in them. That’s fake, it’s insincere.” I’m reminded of my son, who’s four. Whenever he is mad at me, which is usually when I’m also mad at him, I try always to tell him in those moments that I love him, and he usually scoffs at me, obviously not feeling any love for me at the moment, but I get him to say it back to me; “I love you, too,” not because I want him to continue to say it insincerely, but because I want to remind him, regardless of his feelings, of an unchanging fact of my love for him, founded in his being my son. I want to remind him of the nature of our relationship.
In the same way, God invites us into a local church, to prayer, to the communion table when we have no desire to be there, when we don’t see him—not because he is hoping we will continue in our insincerity, but because he wants us to be reminded of the unchanging fact of his love for us, founded in our being his children.
One of my favorite Louisianan authors, André Dubús, explains, “ritual allows those who cannot will themselves out of the secular to perform the spiritual, as dancing allows the tongue-tied man a ceremony of love.” Ritual is not an enforced necessity, it is a generous invitation from our savior to take and eat, to have part in his death and resurrection. He is inviting us, through gathering, spiritual songs, the reading of scripture, the rituals of prayer and communion—to his table. He is inviting us to break bread, as he does with the two disciples in our passage. He’s asking us to open our eyes, and see him.
Make sure to hear this: coming to church doesn’t make you holy—neither does communion or prayer. There is nothing magical in any of it. They are invitations; a husband asking his wife to dance. They open your eyes to the one who is making you holy. So, when God is missing, come find him in the breaking of bread.
My last point is this: when God is missing, he’s beside you. When God is missing, he’s beside you. The great irony of this text is that as this couple is expressing doubts about the resurrection of Christ, they are talking to Christ, himself, and it’s easy to look at them and laugh, but you know we do this. We do, you and I.
Holding Bibles in our hands, the word of God given to us, we say that God has not spoken to us. Speaking to close friends and family members who have given us testimonies of faith, we say we have no reason to believe. Feeling the Holy Spirit move us to repent and believe in Christ, we say, “I won’t be taken in again; I won’t get carried away.” Open your eyes! God isn’t missing—he’s right in front of you.
In the fellowship of believers, in the words of Scripture, in the breaking of bread, find him, and when you do, you’ll realize that he has been there through your whole journey. He hasn’t abandoned you, when you thought he was missing, he was right beside you, teaching you, calling you back to faith.
Don’t be ashamed to realize that you have doubted or lost faith. The greatest heroes of our faith have doubted, have lost faith. And don’t wait until you are good to come. The greatest heroes of our faith are the first to call themselves wretched. This is the the gospel in a phrase: wretched, and beloved, both at the same time. The first step of our faith is realizing that everyone has sinned, and we need the grace and forgiveness of Jesus to begin to heal.
We read in our passage, once the two disciples see Jesus, they go to Jerusalem that hour. They’ve just been on a long journey on foot, they are tired, and the passage says specifically, “the day is far spent.” But they don’t wait. Which causes me to ask the question, what are you waiting for? When will you allow your life to begin? Message me, call to talk or pray, email me. If God is missing in your life, let’s find him together. Look up! The kingdom of God is here. Pray with me.