Jesus in Our Midst

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Reading from Luke 24:13-21.

That very day two [men] were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.

This encounter took place after Jesus was publically seized, tried and crucified. These men were discussing the events that everyone was talking about. Jesus had stirred up the hopes and dreams of the people in the region, including these two men, but that all ended shockingly and abruptly just a couple of days ago.

Everything changed. Expectations were dashed. They experience of the death of Jesus was overwhelming. It’s all they could talk about. And then, Jesus came and began to walk with them, but they didn’t even recognize him.

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Love Casts Out Fear by the Holy Spirit

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The apostle, John, wrote, “Perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18) This was written by a man who, when the chips were down for Jesus, scattered in fear with the rest of the apostles. As Jesus tried to tell them of the need for him to die and be raised from the dead, something the apostles did not understand, he predicted they would all forsake him.

“You will all fall away because of Me this night…. (Matthew 26:31)

Peter might have pumped his chest with bravado as he protested that others might leave Jesus, but he would never leave. (Matthew 26:32-33) But, Jesus knew better than Peter knew himself. He predicted that Peter, though swearing allegiance at that very moment, would deny him not once, but three separate times. (Matthew 26:34)

So great was the fear that overtook the disciples that they scattered after Jesus was taken by the Roman soldiers. Even Peter, who didn’t scatter, but stayed back to witness the interrogation, beatings, mocking and humiliation to which Jesus was subjected, denied that he knew him… three times.

Fear is a powerful emotion. It can overwhelm us and cause us to stumble from the path that we know is right. How do we overcome fear?

When Jesus was present, the apostles were different men, one of them drawing a sword on the Roman soldiers when they came to take Jesus in the garden. (Matthew 26:51) But, with Jesus absent, suffering at the hands of those same Roman soldiers, the apostles cowered in fear and scattered.

Even after Peter and John went to the tomb, found it empty and “believed” (John 20:8), they were still fearful. When Jesus came to them after he had risen from the dead, he found the disciples behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews”. (John 20:19)

In that encounter, Jesus appeared to them, showed them his hands and his side, and spoke to them. He breathed on them and said to them, “receive the Holy Spirit”. Imagine that life-changing experience! Certainly that would have changed the demeanor of the disciples! Right?

In fact, it didn’t. Eight days later Jesus came to them again, and he found them, once again, inside and behind closed doors. (John 20:26) Nothing had changed.

Even after Jesus ascended to heaven, after spending about forty more days with them, speaking to them and confirming his words with signs (Acts 1:1-3), the apostles returned to the upper room where they had been staying. (Acts 1:12)

The apostles were not empowered by Jesus appearing to them, by him breathing the Holy Spirit upon them or by explaining to them everything that they didn’t understand. Even after all of that, the apostles remaining holed up in the upper room.

The apostles didn’t venture out with boldness until after the Holy Spirit came upon them and filled them. (Acts 2:2-4) Filled with the Holy Spirit, they drew a crowd (Acts 2:6) and stood up and addressed the crowd, and the crowd was “amazed and astonished”. (Acts 2:7) Peter, in fact, boldly addressed the “men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem” (Acts 2:14) demanding that they repent and be baptized. (Acts 2:38)

The same apostles who cowered and scattered when Jesus was taken and remained in hiding fearful of the Jews even after Jesus appeared to them risen from the dead became bold, courageous proclaimers of the Gospel after being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Love is from God (1 John 4:7), and God is love. (1 John 4:8) Those who are filled with the Holy Spirit are filled with love, and perfect love casts out all fear.

If we are fearful, we have yet to be filled with the Holy Spirit or have gotten out of touch with the Spirit of God, who is love.

God, please fill me with your Holy Spirit and drive out the fear lurking in my heart!

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The Choices God Gives Us

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“But to all[1] who did receive[2] Him, to those who believed[3] in His name, He gave the right[4] to become[5] children[6] of God— children born[7] not of blood, nor of the will[8] of the flesh[9], nor of the will of man, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)

Johns packs a lot into these short verses, tucked into the first chapter of his Gospel that is profoundly full of other significant meaning:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. All things were made through him….In him was life, and the life was the light of men…. The true light…. was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him… he gave the right to become children of God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us….”[10]

These are some of the most profound and remarkable verses in all of Scripture. God became flesh, and He lived among the people He chose as His own, but they didn’t even recognize who He was. But those who received – who believed Him – He gave the right to become children of God.

I see two choices here: the choice of receiving Christ and the choice God gives us after receiving Christ – the right to become children of God. My Reformed friends might be tempted to overlook the import of this power-packed passage.  I am little unnerved by it myself, truth be told. I don’t trust my own heart to make the right choices!

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Bitterness Into Sweetness

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And when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter[1]; therefore it was named Marah. So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” Then he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet. (Exodus 15:23-25)

Moses had just led the Israelites out of Egypt and across the Red Sea that God parted for them.  All the women had taken up timbrels[2] and followed Miriam[3] dancing and celebrating, exalting God for rescuing them from the Army of the Pharaoh. From there, Moses began to lead the newly freed nation into the wilderness.

They had wandered only three days, but it was three days without water. They found water at Marah, but it was too bitter to drink. So, the people began to get restless and “grumbled[4]” to Moses. This is only the beginning of the grumbling, a theme that would continue throughout the years wandering in the wilderness. Even after God did miraculous things, like part the Red Sea and rescue them from certain capture and calamity, the people were quick to fall back to the habit of complaining.

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The Narrow Gate

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“Enter by the narrow[1] gate. For the gate[2] is wide and the way is easy[3] that leads to destruction[4], and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow[5] and the way is hard[6] that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

The tendencies of the self work within us and the forces of the world in which we live press upon us to move us along the broad and wide way. This way is easy and feels familiar. It is the milieu into which we are born and operates according to the customary and usual ways of our culture and society. Continue reading