Publication: Pastoral Letter, August 2009
Dear Friend in Christ:
To follow Jesus, we must see beyond what seems so obvious to our natural eyes. The natural order is passing away and time flies, but eternity stands unchanged by the drifting clouds of circumstance. To successfully run our sometimes challenging race, we must see beyond what we see with our natural eyes.
When my wife, Carolyn, passed away last year after her three year ordeal with cancer, my daughter and son-in-law gave me a book entitled, Ninety Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper.Don is a Baptist Pastor who was killed in savage auto accident, hit by an eighteen wheeler on a narrow bridge. His car and body were mangled and he was pronounced dead at the scene. Ninety minutes later, a fellow pastor insisted on climbing into the wreckage to pray for him and sing to him “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”. Miraculously, Don came back to life.
Don was dead for ninety minutes, but he went to the gates of Heaven to see friends who had preceded him. His account is vivid, beyond any other account that I have read; he saw eternal reality.
But the book is about something more; it is about what happened when he came back to a wrecked body, months in the hospital, thirty-four surgeries, excruciating pain, and the questions about why the Lord sent him back to all of that. Don’s is a very honest account of dealing with two realities, spiritual and natural. His vision of heaven – eternal realities – sustained him until he found purpose in his suffering. Seeing beyond death enabled him to find life, even in a painful body, and to touch thousands of people’s lives as only he could.
Last week we buried our friend Beverly Neese, the missionary wife of Larry Neese, and a wholehearted, joyful partner in the Kenya Ministry Training Institute. She and Carolyn had been close friends, walking the same path with the same disease. In both cases, every avenue for healing was pursued. In the end, they joined those who had preceded them in the presence of God. On the way, they both discovered a remarkably amazing peace.
As Larry told me, some people’s faith dies with death. That is, if physical healing does not come, they have little to offer for suffering and death. They see death as failure. The purpose of this letter is to remind us that mortality and human suffering are not the ultimate or final realities; knowing this truth can sustain those who believe through any circumstance.
THE ROAD TO EMMAUS
The challenge for all of us who become so caught up in the affairs of this life is to have a spiritual breakthrough that enables us to see beyond the apparent. Both the Bible and history are filled with examples of people who had a visual breakthrough, became anchored in eternal reality, and entered great possibilities (see Hebrews 11:35-40). One such account is found in Luke 24:13-35.
Jesus had been tortured and crucified. It was now the third day, and He had risen from the dead. Some had not heard, but some had heard and not believed. They had seen Him crucified from a distance and fled. Resurrection, though promised, was beyond reason. These people are described in verse 11 … even though they heard reports that Jesus had risen, the “words seemed like idle tales and they didn’t believe.”
Verse 13 picks up the journey of two such disciples as they walked away from Jerusalem toward Emmaus, about seven miles west. Emmaus was a small village that contained hot springs and warm wells. Palms grew there. Though only seven miles away, it was a downhill walk from Jerusalem which was elevated at 2500 feet above sea level. In every way, it was a downhill walk of despondence.
The Emmaus road is a road of escape, when hopes are dashed or seeming reality is too much to bear. These two disciples conversed as they walked, sadly reasoning in their unbelief, rehearsing that terrible day of Crucifixion, and remembering the glowing days of Jesus’ great works. But now, the glow seemed gone.
JOINED BY JESUS
While these two disappointed disciples commiserated in unbelief, Jesus Himself drew near and walked with them. Now, in His resurrected body, He made Himself unrecognizable to them and joined the conversation. Were they blinded by unbelief? Yes. Were they blinded by their failure to understand the purpose of the Cross? Yes. These issues will blind people.
It is a rather scary thought that Jesus can join our conversation, and we not recognize Him.
“You look so sad; what are you talking about?” He asked. Sure He knew, but He wanted them to say it. He often does that (see Genesis 32:27).
“Are you a stranger in Jerusalem that you haven’t heard the things that happened in these days?” they asked.
“What things?” Again, He wanted their version.
“The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a mighty prophet in deed and word before God and all the people.” They continued to tell Jesus about His own Crucifixion.
“We were hoping that it was He who would redeem Israel. Besides, it is the third day since all of this happened. And yes, certain women did go to the tomb and did not find Him. And yes, certain disciples went also and did not find Him either,” they said in their doubt.
These men had followed Jesus; they were disciples. They had witnessed His mighty acts and heard His profound messages. They heard Him prophesy His own Resurrection. They had heard His testimonies; they were walking with Him at that very moment. Yet, they were walking away from the greatest three days in history. Why? We need to understand how we can become blind to Christ Himself and His ultimate purpose. Here was their mentality:
- They had a very narrow view of God’s purpose – it was beyond Israel.
- They could not understand the role of suffering in the purpose of God.
- They were hoping instead of believing.
- They had an “experience-based faith” versus a word-based faith.
- They allowed “reason” to blind their eyes.
I believe that Jesus chose these two and this road to speak not only to them but to all who would walk their own downhill journey. “Emmaus Road walkers” use terms like “we thought”, “we hoped”, “we heard”, “we saw”, and “but”. They couldn’t see anything but the rocky road because their heads were down.
The writer of Hebrews describes this condition: “O foolish ones and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things to enter Glory?”(see Hebrews 5:5-11).
THEN JESUS SPOKE
Jesus took these disappointed disciples back to the Scriptures that pertained to Him. He re-established their faith, not upon what they had seen – the obvious circumstances – but upon the Word of God.
To have the Eternal Word explain the Word must have been an amazing experience. He “opened” the Scriptures to them. Later, they said their “hearts burned within them” as He taught.
Jesus took those two beyond “the letter” into the Spirit of Revelation. He took them beyond circumstances into eternal reality.
Finally, they reached Emmaus, but Jesus acted as though He was going further. “Stay with us,” they said. “It’s getting late.” So Jesus stayed. It was their choice; Jesus would not force-feed them (nor should we).
Jesus sat down at the table with these two who had doubted Him, who yet did not recognize Him. But He was patient and gracious. Jesus then took the bread, blessed it, and gave it to them. Suddenly, they saw Him and knew Him! And suddenly, He was gone.
What opened their eyes? Was it that He took the bread? Was it the way He blessed it? Was it how He broke it? Was it just the Presence? Probably it was all of that – the mystery of communion with Christ. In any case, they were left with new eyes that could see beyond the physical and apparent.
Do you believe that when we gather in forgiveness and unity and fellowship in His presence that our eyes are opened to see beyond what we have seen. Do you believe that we can see His larger purpose in our lives – past the tests, trials, and, yes, even suffering?
These men were so profoundly moved that they got up, though it was probably dark, and made the long climb back to Jerusalem to find the other disciples and declared, “He is risen indeed!” They had gone from blindness to opened eyes, from sorrow to joy, from the temporal to the eternal, from hopelessness to true faith!
There are many people on the Emmaus road having lost hope in the face of circumstance. The drifting clouds of doubt have blinded their eyes to the One who even then walks with them. Like our Lord, we should join them and open the prophetic word of God to them,break bread, bless, and give it to them. By God’s grace, their eyes could open also to see the One who walks and talks with them. Perhaps they could turn around.
Once our eyes are opened, we have the opportunity to speak and declare the Gospel of Christ’s Kingdom, just as these disciples did. The mission we have at CSM is to continually sow this Good News among the nations, among the weary and heavy-laden, the broken-hearted, the oppressed, the disappointed, the disillusioned … to speak in the power of God and in the spirit of revelation that shatters darkness, breaks chains, and raises up disciples who will go and do the same.
When you stand with us at CSM in your prayer and in your giving, you are sowing into a proven ministry that reaches more than 70 nations worldwide directly_and many more through our website. Do you believe this message is important in days like these? Your support is vital to us in our continuing mission. Would you prayerfully consider a special gift to CSM this month, and supporting us monthly throughout this year?
I want to encourage you to visit us online at www.csmpublishing.org for regularly updated news and resources, and also stop into our interactive Discussion Forum, where you can dialogue with us and with friends from around the world. Also, we are making available my recent series on “Real Revival,” which I shared this year about how to prepare our hearts and lives for the move of the Holy Spirit. Please see the enclosed card for more information.
May the Lord continue to strengthen and encourage you this month. As so many of our friends are praying for us, I want you to know that we are also praying for you. We deeply appreciate you being a key part of this mission.
Yours in Christ,
Charles V. Simpson
Mark your calendar now for our annual CSM Conference, April 14-16, 2010, in Gatlinburg, TN!
Scripture Reference: Hebrews, Luke, Genesis