Publication: One-to-One, Spring 2015
GOD’S PURPOSE AND HOPE COME TO US THROUGH PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM AND ONE ANOTHER
I like to be comfortable, don’t you? And familiar people, places, and things make me comfortable. The unfamiliar can make me uncomfortable. But I’ve learned this: if I get too familiar, I can lose my appreciation for people, places, and things. There is an old saying: “familiarity breeds contempt.”
Sometimes we can get familiar with a biblical passage and fail to see its deeper truth. Or, we can become overly familiar with a person and fail to appreciate their gifts or contribution to our lives. We can start to focus more on their human frailties more than their worth and usefulness to God.
There is another old saying: “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country.” That saying is as old as Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and even Jesus. It was true of most of the prophets recorded in the Scriptures. In 1970, I was privileged to begin working with Bible teachers Don Basham, Bob Mumford, and Derek prince as a team in a committed relationship. Later, Ern Baxter was added to this team, and he also became one of my life’s greatest blessings.
In 1971, Don, Bob, Derek, and I were scheduled to do a 6-week seminar in Northern Virginia near Washington, D.C. There was a planning meeting which i was unable to attend, in which Derek suggested that I be assigned the topic, “Discipleship, Fellowship and Worship.” At first I was reluctant because amazingly, I had not ministered on those topics. Nevertheless, I accepted. The preparation for that teaching affected the rest of my life! I’ll be forever grateful.
In this article, I want to focus primarily on fellowship as the place where Jesus reveals Himself. There is no greater gift to us than the presence of Jesus in which we become acutely aware that He is speaking to us. That is a life-changing and perspective-altering experience. To illustrate that, I will describe what happened to two of His disciples as they walked away from Jerusalem going down to their house in Emmaus, seven miles away—after the resurrection which they had not believed. (You can read this story in Luke 24:13-35.)
Shared disappointments are often the basis for fellowship. I cannot fully imagine the disappointment, pain, and despondency of the two men walking away from the worst experience they had ever had. The trial of Jesus, the innocent Lamb of God, the beatings, mocking, and finally the Crucifixion had destroyed their hope and the cause to which they had dedicated their lives. Walking down the rugged hill, they tried to reason it all, but could think of nothing but loss. The phrase, “We had hoped” summed it all up. Hopelessness is “hell on earth.”
JOINED BY JESUS
It was at this point that Jesus joined them, but they were unaware of His majesty, blinded by their own grief and doubt. They had heard the report of the women who found the empty tomb, but the testimony failed to stir their hope again or their faith. Sometimes the words of others are not enough.
We should know that our Lord is aware of our conversations (see Malachi 3:16-18). He knew their sorrows. Two had now become three and the third person was the Chief Shepherd, but they continued to look down at the dry, hard rocks as they descended the steep hillside.
Then Jesus spoke: “What things are you talking about?” He questioned. Then they recounted what had happened just three days earlier. Their thoughts were summed up by saying, “We had hoped that He would be the Messiah to redeem Israel.” Now, there seemed to be no Messiah, no redemption, and no hope. God’s ways are not ours and when the two collide and outcomes are not what we hoped, we can be despondent. The darkness that had settled on Calvary was still settled upon their minds. The resurrection had already occurred, but not in their thoughts. It was still Friday for them.
THE AUTHOR EXPLAINS THE BOOK
The answer to their unbelief was in the Scripture, so Jesus began with Moses and the prophets to explain the Word that He, Himself had inspired. I do not know the specific texts to which He referred; it was probably many texts as they walked the seven miles. Perhaps He referred to Deuteronomy 18:15, Psalm 18, Psalm 22, Isaiah 9:6-7, Isaiah 50, or Isaiah 53. From Scripture, He explained why it was all necessary. Later they would reflect that their “hearts burned within”, as He spoke.
“Ought not the Christ (Messiah) to have suffered these things and enter His glory?” He asked, gently rebuking their doubts as He opened the Scriptures. To the natural mind, suffering is unreasonable, but to Jesus, it was His portal into glory (see John 12:23-32). That truth continues to haunt us in our disappointments and often obscures our vision of Jesus. But it is the truth that we as real disciples experience, both in His Cross and ours. There is no path around the Cross, either His or ours. A gospel without a Cross is no gospel. There can be no resurrection without a death (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-19; 2:1-2).
ABIDE WITH US
They finally came to a house, entered and sat, resting from the long walk down the steep hillside. Jesus had indicated that He would walk further but they said, “it is getting late; abide with us.” Their interest was still intense and wanted to hear more. “Please don’t leave,” they were saying. So it is with His presence, we do not want it to leave. “Abide With Me” is a poem written by Henry Francis Lyte in 1847, shortly before his death. It was set to music by William Henry Monk and can be heard today on Youtube being sung a cappella by the Mennonite Choir. It is a powerful rendition. i offer only the first and last verses, but all are moving and profound, inspired by the request of those Emmaus disciples:
Abide with me, fast falls the evening tide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy Cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
So it was and so it is when in His presence, there is light in the gloom, time slows and His voice transfixes us and transforms our view of life’s events, suffering, and even death.
“And it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed it and broke it and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight” (see Luke 24:30-31).
They knew Him in fellowship and eating together. Before, their eyes were restrained; in fellowship with Him, their eyes were opened. Now they had a testimony of their own as they basked in the afterglow. They recalled His Words and how they were affected. Jesus had opened their eyes to see Him in it all! They did not want to leave that place that had been sanctified by the visit from the risen Christ.
It is a bad sign when people hurry from a church meeting. When such is the case, the Lord’s presence has not been evident. His Word was not made alive and they are left with nothing to tell. When we encounter Christ there is an afterglow like embers yet red with heat. The words spoken linger in our minds and hearts like the echo of a powerful voice. Our perspective is transformed as we behold His glory.
BACK TO JERUSALEM
They sat and thought in amazement, but not too long; they had a message. In that same hour they climbed the hill that they had so recently descended now energized by the visitation of Jesus. They climbed past their previous doubts and depression to find the other disciples who themselves were wrestling with doubts and fears. Charging through the door they exclaimed, “The Lord is risen indeed!” They recounted the things that had happened along the road and the revealing of Jesus as He had broken bread with them.
And while they were telling their story, Jesus Himself stood in their midst and said, “Peace to you. Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts?” Then He invited them to see His wounds and touch Him. Soon He was eating with them again.
The real presence of god removes doubt and fear. Eating the blessed and broken bread with Him and one another opens our eyes; He reveals Himself in fellowship that he is the prince of peace!
I love this passage of Scripture. These events that occurred one day and into the evening tell us what happens when Jesus is evidently present. The walk away from Jerusalem is too much like so many discouraged disciples for whom life has ceased to make sense. Hope has been dashed and the unrecognized Jesus is walking beside them. As He begins to open the Scriptures, perspective is changed. It was all necessary.
For many disciples, it is all about getting the world into the house. But i pray that we can get His disciples out on the road to deal with the doubt and hopelessness of shattered dreams. The greatest meetings are when Jesus meets us on the road. They are when we gather two or three and know Him in the breaking of bread together. It is when we finally see His perspective that drives ours away.
It is a legitimate invitation to say, “Come and see” or “Come and hear”, if it is Jesus that we are inviting them to see and hear, and not merely the pastor, worship team, or facilities. When we truly meet with Jesus, He will explain His Word, reveal Himself, and change how and what we think. When we meet with Jesus, there will be an afterglow as we reflect upon Him and His Word. And, there will be a burning desire to tell others that “He is risen indeed!” The gospel of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection cannot be kept a secret or confined by any force.
There are many among us still walking away. They have not recognized the Lord Who is speaking, or have seen that those events that discouraged them were necessary for a fresh revelation of Jesus. Perhaps we can fellowship with them, break bread, and Jesus will show up and make Himself known. Don’t stay in the house too long; go look for others who have not yet realized for themselves that … He is alive!
Scripture Reference: Luke 24:13-35; Malachi 3:16-18; Deuteronomy 18:15; Psalm 18; 22; Isaiah 9:6-7; 50; 53; John 12:23-32; 1 Corinthians 1:18-19; 2:1-2; Luke 24:30-31