Have you ever been really down in the dumps? Have you had your plans, your expectations and things went the complete wrong way? Have you ever been deeply disappointed? I think that it is okay to feel that way. This is one of the differences between Christianity and Buddhism. Buddhism sees the problem of life as being suffering. What is the best way of avoiding suffering? Stop desiring, stop dreaming, stop making yourself vulnerable. Buddhism, in its purest form does not even have a place for a close knit family. The Buddha himself abandoned his wife and children. When you put yourself in that place of desiring that loving family or dreaming of accomplishing something in the world, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Christianity, on the other hand, dares us to dream. Christianity challenges us to enter into relationships, to take on projects, to do something big. Yes, at the risk of failing and being disappointed. Christianity does not teach us how to avoid disappointment, it teaches us how to respond to disappointment. If you are going through a time of failed dreams, it is good to reflect on the Scriptures. The Bible is filled with such stories as it reminds us that our plans rarely work out the way we expect. Let us take a look at an example with the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
We skip pretty quick from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. Jesus dies on the cross and the next thing you know he is walking around, hanging out with the disciples, celebrating the resurrection. We need to slow down a bit and appreciate what was really happening. Jesus died on the cross. Jesus died a horrible painful death. Most of the disciples did not witness it. They were afraid, they were hiding. But they knew what was happening. There was talk. There were messages going back and forth. And they knew what a crucifixion looked like. They knew how people died. How could this have happened to Jesus? Jesus was the teacher, the miracle worker, the most amazing man they had ever met. When they had entered into Jerusalem, the disciples likely got caught up in the excitement of the crowd’s reaction. Maybe Jesus was going to kick out the Romans, despite those strange comments about going to die in Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the Temple and overthrew tables and chased out money changers. Now that was exciting! This trip to Jerusalem might be pretty good after all. But soon things fell apart. One of their own betrayed Jesus. Arrested. Tried. Condemned. Crucified. It was devastating. This might surprise you as Jesus predicted his resurrection a number of times. All the disciples had to do was find a safe place to hide for a couple of days and then go out and greet the risen Jesus. Only one problem. The disciples seemed to totally miss this important point. How? The disciples do not seemed to have been picked for their intelligence but there may be more going on. When a Jew heard the word ‘resurrection’, they automatically thought of the general resurrection when all of God’s people would be raised. They had no concept of one person being raised and then much later the rest of the people joining him. Perhaps they thought that by resurrection, Jesus was giving another of those confusing parables. Resurrection was a symbol for something deeper. Perhaps the grief of knowing the terrible death that Jesus suffered was so intense that it overwhelmed any sense of hope they had. All we know is that they had hoped that Jesus was going to do something big and those hopes were violently dashed. Can you identify with this? Did you ever have plans and hopes and dreams? Did life come out of nowhere and change everything? Have you felt the sting of that deep disappointment? Did it batter you down until you felt completely without hope? If so, you are in good company as just about all of the founders of the Christian church felt the same way.
As two of the disciples were walking along, heads bowed, grieving broken dreams, Jesus came along side them. I would have snuck up behind them and yelled “surprise!” but Jesus had other plans. Jesus began talking to them, asking them innocent questions. These disciples had no idea who was talking to them. Jesus had such an important plan that their eyes were closed to seeing the identity of their companion. You see the problem with these disciples was much greater than ignorance about Jesus rising from the dead. They had already heard claims that Jesus had risen but their despair was too great for them to feel hope again. Instead of Jesus revealing his identity, Jesus revealed the Scriptures to the disciples. It is not that they had never heard anything from the Scriptures before. What Jesus did was take them through the Scriptures in terms of God’s big plan, the ways God worked through people, the place of suffering, and how all of it pointed toward the work of the Christ. This was no boring Bible study, the disciples described it as their hearts burning within them. Jesus‘ words had the ring of truth, they were bringing order from chaos, they were pulling hope out of despair. And still they did not know that it was Jesus! I am not suggesting that we have an undercover Jesus walking among us. But that does not mean that Jesus isn’t teaching us. Sometimes Jesus teaches us the same way he taught the disciples, through the Scriptures. But we need to be willing to be taught. If we want, the Bible can be just an ancient book, a collection of respected traditions, just a part of our heritage. Or we can let the Bible be the Word of God with the authority to change our beliefs and actions. Do we recognize what Jesus is doing through this book? Jesus teaches us in other ways. He teaches us through the words of others, both Christians and non-Christians. He teaches us through our circumstances, both good and bad. Do we recognize that it is Jesus teaching us even if we don’t see a bearded man in a robe with a halo. Or are our eyes as blinded as the disciples?
The disciples having had their eyes opened to the truth of the Scriptures, the disciples now have their eyes opened to the identity of the teacher. They had convinced Jesus to join them for a meal. As Jesus breaks the bread, they see Jesus for who he is. Some have suggested that the nail wounds in his hands were visible in the breaking of bread. Others have wondered if they had recognized how Jesus performed the same action during the last supper. Perhaps Jesus simply removed the blinders from their eyes. What matters is that they recognized Jesus for who he was. Try to imagine how that felt. To go from the despair of the crucifixion to the understanding of God’s plan through the Scriptures to the witnessing of the risen Jesus himself. Not only was Jesus alive, Jesus was alive as the fulfilling of God’s plans that had been taking place for thousands of years. The hearts that had been burning with understanding must now have been bursting with joy. To see reality with resurrection eyes is the best way to achieve true and lasting joy. This is what we are seeking. Things are happening in our life. Things we don’t understand. Things we might not even like. Our goal is not just for a change of circumstances to see things through resurrection eyes. Just as the crucifixion was the necessary step to reach the resurrection, perhaps our difficulties are the means by which we will encounter something greater. What we learn from Jesus is that it is God’s habit of overcoming death with life. If we could only see the things happening in our life with resurrection eyes, we would have a reason for great joy. Joy is found not by looking at the surface features but looking deeper, seeing God’s redeeming work. Take a look at the events in your life. Look at the relationships, look at the opportunities, look at the problems you are facing. Then look deeper, deeper still. Where is God at work? What is God’s resurrection power doing? How is God’s redeeming your circumstances? God shines light in the darkest times, he breathes life where there is only death. He is doing it already. We only need our eyes opened to see it.
How bad do things look in your life? Things may not be exactly as they seem. The disciples saw some pretty grim circumstances. But Jesus came to them, taught them with the Scriptures and revealed his resurrection. Nothing had changed during their journey on the road to Emmaus except their understanding. We experience the same reality. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is just as real to us as it was to them. The tomb is still empty. Life is still greater than death. Our challenge is to move from seeing our circumstances with crucifixion eyes to seeing them with resurrection eyes. Allow Jesus to teach you, to teach your through the Scriptures and through experiences. Allow Jesus to reveal his resurrection power. Then see, see with open eyes the risen Christ working in our life and bringing great joy.