I think all of us here this morning would agree that life is full of ups and downs. WVU making it to the final four was a great high for most of us in this room. While Kentucky’s defeat in the elite eight was crushing for the small minority of us who knows the right team to root for. Just consider it preseason trash talk! Next year, baby. Next year.
The birth of several babies in the life of the church in the last six months has brought great joy to everyone as I see people taking their turns to hold the darlings. The loss of church members, however, like Bethany Duke, Alleyne Gaylor and now Bill Perry, create moments of great emotional sadness that sort of blanket our lives with waves that often push us down or even pull us back for a time.
Can you imagine the swing of emotions the women and the disciples felt during the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection? Even though Jesus plainly told them what to expect, it’s as if there had been no preparation at all. The disciples had to be at the height of adulation when they rolled into Jerusalem with Jesus on Palm Sunday. To see the people lining the streets to welcome Jesus, the One they had been living and walking with, must have felt like they had really arrived or were on the verge of something great.
How could things have gone south so quickly? How did they deal with the fear and anxiety that must have overtaken them during Jesus’ trial? The thoughts of “How could this have happened” must have left them speechless. The confusion about what was going on had to have their stomach in knots.
Then, to watch as Jesus is crucified or to flee in fear only to hear the gruesome details second hand-all must have made them hopeless, discouraged, and feeling sucker punched. What had they just given three years of their lives for? What would they do now? How could they go on? The loss they must have felt is hard to imagine.
Then, to find out after the tears, the gut wrenching “dark soul of the night” grief that overtaken them that Jesus is now alive! What a swing of emotion! How do the mind and physical body deal with the intensity of all of that joy after all of that grief?
I tried to think of a situation in our lives that could put me in the mind of the disciples and my mind went to the night we lost Thom’s dad. He died on a Monday morning, just after midnight. Sunday had been Easter and Thom’s dad kept asking, “Is it still Sunday?” He didn’t want to die on Easter and leave that as a memory for his family each year. He pushed himself to stay with us until just after midnight. We had been there with him when he passed. Even though we expected it, we weren’t prepared. You’re never prepared to lose a loved one because you can’t prepare for painful emotions. You just deal with them the best you can, with God’s help. There is nothing predictable about grief except that it’s awful and painful.
We found out exactly one week later that we were expecting Hannah, our first child. What joy and excitement. Everyone was thrilled. We had something to look forward to, and the arrival of Hannah brought great comfort to us.
However, the night before I was to be induced to have Hannah, Thom’s 36-year-old sister, Tracie, unexpectedly died. Once again, an emotional swing. Anticipation over the arrival of our daughter turned to great sadness and overwhelming grief again. How do you mix great sorrow and great joy? How do you deal with the unexpected stress and difficulties of life? How do you recover from intense sadness and allow yourself to experience the amazing celebration of the Resurrection?
In the wake of the WV mining accident this week, how can families who are dealing with this great and horrific and unexpected loss, negotiate all of the unanswered questions and overwhelming feelings they are dealing with? How do you handle the ups and downs of life, sometimes all at the same time? How do you deal with the disappointment which results when God doesn’t answer your prayers the way you want Him to? The key is looking and listening for Jesus in the midst of all of your circumstances.
In John 20 Mary Magdalene is outside of Jesus’ tomb and she is crying. Even though the tomb is empty, the notion that an empty tomb could indicate a risen Lord never crosses her mind. After all, death is a pretty final event. In Mary’s mind it had put an end to a relationship, her relationship with Jesus. Two angels, dressed in white, were seated on the spot where Jesus’ body had been and started talking to her. Even their presence didn’t signal that anything unusual was up. That’s how strong grief and crisis can be. They can even blind our eyes to a miracle around us.
They asked why she was crying. She told them her grief had been added to because she was sure Jesus’ body had been stolen. We pick up the story in verse 14 that says, “14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
When we are dealing with unexpected difficulties and a multitude of emotions, we need to LISTEN FOR GOD’S VOICE.
With her eyes swollen from crying and in shock from having found Jesus’ tomb empty, Mary turns and sees a man standing off to the side. She thinks He is a gardener. Then He calls to her by name and the scales that blinded her from recognizing Jesus fell away. She knew then it was Jesus! She did not recognize Him when she looked at Him or in the short conversation prior to His speaking her name. It was His voice calling her name that brought the recognition.
Jesus earlier taught His disciples that He knows His sheep and His sheep know Him; He calls His sheep by name and they know His voice. (John 10:3 and 14) Mary needed to learn that although Jesus would soon not be with her physically, He would be with her. She would be able to recognize Him when He called her name. She would know Him by his voice.
When you are grieving and surrounded by pain and confusion try to find a quiet place, a garden place, spiritually speaking, to listen for God’s voice. There are many voices screaming for our attention today. They can easily distract us. The loudest ones tend to get our attention. They must not distract us.
My husband wanted to spend a quiet, romantic evening with me this past weekend, so he took me to a Skillet concert. J Seriously. Any group that is named after a pot or pan isn’t going to provide a romantic serenade. Not only were we going to see Skillet (and Toby Mac) but we were going to have the “best seats in the house,” the most expensive seats money can buy. This was going to be great. Turns out the best seats in the house were in the mosh pit in front and they weren’t seats at all. We were in the dancing, head banging, jumping area where the sparks from the pyrotechnics fly out over your head and the flames shooting up from the stage provide enough heat to melt off your make up. I think some of the sweat off the guitar players hands even was enjoyed by several right in front of the stage. It was too much for me. I had to get back, away from the noise, away from the heat, away from the sparks and away from the sweat in order to try to hear what Skillet was saying in his songs. Dave and Mary Nichols, on the other hand, man, you guys should have been born in the 60’s. They were rockin’ out with Skillet and the 15-25 year olds. J For me, I needed some distance from the chaos in order to make sense of the message that was trying to be delivered. Maybe it’s the same for you when you’re going through emotional turmoil. Sometimes God’s voice is drowned out by the volume of our emotional chaos and we need to step back in order to hear what God is trying to say.
Elijah described God’s voice as a still, small voice in I Kings 19:12. We’re going to have to get quiet in order to hear it at times. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.”
At some point, we have to decide we won’t let our pain speak louder than God’s voice. We have to quiet and still ourselves long enough to ask God what He has to say about what we’re going through.
At some point, you have to decide who or what you’re going to give your ears to. If you give in to voices that say, “Your life is over” because of a tragedy or “You’ll never be happy again” or “You can’t go on” you’ll stay cloaked in your grief and pain forever. But if you will get still enough to listen for Jesus’ voice, you’ll hear a resurrection message, a message of hope, a message filled with meaning and purpose that will give you courage to keep going and growing in the knowledge and power of your Savior.
Even though Jesus appeared to her, Mary Magdalene’s situation wasn’t going to be resolved as she would have liked. Jesus was risen, yes. But he wasn’t going to continue to walk with her and the disciples in a physical way through life as He had done. He even told her not to hold on to Him in John 20:17. It was no longer going to be a physical, face to face relationship. But, when He called her by name, she recognized Him. Something about the way He spoke her name and her ability to hear Him speak, gave her the ability to then HEAR what He needed her to know.
Look at John 20:17, “”Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”
Do you see that Jesus gave her a PURPOSE IN HER PAIN?
She wasn’t going to get what she wanted. She wasn’t going to get to have things the way they had been. She wasn’t going to get to go back to same old same old, but there was something new for her to do and experience on the other side of her pain that would give her life ongoing meaning and purpose.
Sometimes when we are hurting and grieving and so full of pain, all we long for is the past. We want to go back to the way things were-to what it was like before the death, before the crisis, before the tragedy. That’s understandable. It is human nature to want to hold on to what we know and love.
But Jesus is demonstrating in John 20 that if we will listen for His voice, He will speak to us in a way that helps us understand that although we can’t go back, we can go forward into newness, with purpose and even with joy. The resurrection makes all things new. Even in our pain we can experience transformation and hope!
I believe Mary received a release in those moments that allowed her to move on and accept the change that was taking place in her life, even though it wasn’t what she wanted. She was able to see a greater purpose in Jesus ascending to the Father, allowing the Holy Spirit to come and dwell in every person’s heart that outweighed Jesus being able to walk with and be hands on with a few.
Mary Magdalene went to the tomb with death on her mind and grief in her heart, but she left the tomb that day with life on her mind and good news on her lips as she went to tell the disciples that not only was the tomb empty, but that Christ was risen all because she heard Jesus speak to her.
When you are dealing with a multitude of difficulties, listen for God’s voice and LEAN ON GOD’S WORD IN FAITH.
Two people were walking on the road to the village of Emmaus after Jesus’ crucifixion. They were discouraged disciples who had no reason to be discouraged. They had heard the reports of the women that the tomb was empty and that Jesus was alive, but they did not believe them. They had hoped that Jesus would redeem Israel (Luke 24:21), but their hopes had been shattered. We get the impression that these men were discouraged and disappointed because God did not do what they wanted Him to do. They saw the glory of the kingdom, but they failed to understand the suffering that was necessary.
Jesus suddenly appeared and began walking with them, but Scripture says at first they were kept from recognizing Him. Not like those superman movies. Do you ever wonder why Lois Lane doesn’t notice a resemblance between Clark Kent and Superman? He puts on his glasses and he is Clark Kent; he takes them off and he is Superman, and Lois doesn’t seem to notice! She doesn’t seem to be the most observant reporter on the beat.
But our passage tells us why these two disciples do not recognize Jesus. Luke 24:16 says that God prevented them from recognizing him. Why? To communicate to us other ways that we can recognize and meet the risen Lord! That is why this passage is so important. We do not have the privilege of physically seeing the Lord Jesus right now. Then how do we meet Him? How do we recognize the risen Lord?
Jesus asked them what they had been talking about. Jesus knew perfectly well they had been talking about Him. They had probably been debating if Jesus had been a success or failure, asking each other why He had to die, and were perhaps wondering what the future was going to look like now.
One of the two of the men, Cleopas, the longer he talked, the more he indicated that he and his friend had great unbelief. What more evidence could they want? Witnesses (including Apostles) had seen the tomb empty. Angels had announced that Jesus was alive. Witnesses had seen Him alive and heard Him speak. The proof was there, but they had failed to believe it could be true.
“Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17, NKJV). That explains why Jesus opened the Word to these two men as the three of them walked to Emmaus. In Luke 24:25, Jesus reminded them what the prophets had said. He started with Moses and went on from there to explain all of the Scripture that discussed His coming. In verse 32, after Jesus had left from their presence, they commented on how their hearts had been burning from within when they heard the Scriptures. God’s Word had begun a transforming work in their hearts and it all came together for the when Jesus broke bread with them and gave thanks for it. Suddenly their eyes were opened and they recognized who Jesus was.
They could have discussed the subject for days and never arrived at a satisfactory answer. What they needed was a fresh understanding of the Word of God, and Jesus gave that understanding to them. When these two on the road needed to see Jesus in their circumstances, Jesus pointed them to the Scriptures.
Gaining perspective for our circumstances, having spiritual eyes to see God in the physical world of bread and wine and work and car trouble and health problems-it all starts with a revelation from God’s Word. Take God’s Word out of the equation and you’ll see bread and wine, car trouble, and health problems. Start with faith in God’s Word and you’ll see Jesus, and that, my friends, changes everything. It changed everything for the two people who were on the road to Emmaus. They turned around and went back to Jerusalem and Luke 24:35 says they told the disciples everything that had happened to them. They wanted to be back where faith was alive, where rejoicing was taking place. They now wanted to join their faith to the faith of the others who were celebrating the resurrection.
What an impact, what a change an encounter with Jesus through the Word of God makes.
Where our emotions are unpredictable and undependable, God’s Word perfect. Psalm 19:7 says-“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” Countless times many of you have met me at the back door and you have shared that God spoke directly to your situation and circumstance during the presentation of the Word of God in the service and as a result, your life was changed. Where our emotions can be crushing, God’s Word has transforming power.
In honor of the Masters’ golf tournament, let me illustrate the benefit of God’s Word with a golf analogy. Putters are used on the green to help the ball roll along the ground into the cup. A wedge is used when you are close to the green. It is used to hit balls a hundred feet are less. Irons are used when you are farther from the hole to hit the ball up into the air off of the fairway towards the hole. Your driver or woods are used for first shot or for really long shots. Each one of them has been designed for a specific purpose with the intent to get you closer to the goal which is the hole.
God has designed His Word with the specific purpose of changing your life in order to get you closer to the goal which is to look like Jesus. Isaiah 55:11says, “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
If you are ever going to find purpose when you are disappointed, discouraged or in despair it won’t come from rehearsing your woes over and over. It won’t come from trying to find more time to think about what is going on in your life. It will come from turning to God’s Word because God has designed for it to have transforming power.
When we’re overwhelmed by life’s difficulties, our judgment is often clouded and we can’t see the truth. God’s Word, however, is truth and will always show us the way. “Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Psalm 119:105
LOOK FOR JESUS, EXPECTING HIM TO BE WHEREVER YOU ARE.
Jesus had already appeared to the disciples a couple of times, and in John 21, we see that even though Peter had been witness to Jesus’ resurrection, instead of allowing that reality to propel him forward into His mission for Christ, to spread the good news of this gospel, he tried to take two steps back. He went back to what he had known before Jesus has intervened in his life. He went out to fish.
Sometimes a change in relationship or status is so overwhelming that we revert to what we know in an attempt to find some stability, some security. Perhaps this was Peter’s motivation. He had denied knowing Christ and was dealing with the guilt and shame of deserting Christ in His time of deepest need. Feeling like a failure, it was almost like he didn’t take hold of the glorious power and hope of the resurrection for himself and retreated to the sea. Perhaps he had thought with the resurrection and Jesus soon ascending to the Father, life as he knew it with its miracles and adventures was over. Back to the daily grind. Back to ordinary life. Back to the sea.
Or maybe perhaps not knowing what he should do next, Peter just wanted to keep himself busy, so he picked up his fishing rod. You know the feeling. You’re so overwhelmed emotionally that you just want to get busy doing something, anything, to keep your mind occupied on something other than your confusion and grief.
So, Peter said, “I’m going fishing.” Six other disciples joined him. They fished all night and caught nothing. Do you remember the same thing had happened to them once before in Luke 5? Jesus showed up in John 21:4, but once again they didn’t recognize him. Scholars think it was too early in the morning and perhaps they were too distant from Jesus to recognize him. However, Jesus then asked them a question, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” to which they replied, “No.” He then told them to throw their nets on the right side of the boat and if they did, they would catch some.”
I have to believe that people who walked with Jesus for three years and heard him speak multiple times every day, if they couldn’t recognize Jesus from afar or through some kind of early morning fog, they would still recognize His voice. Add to that the fact that Jesus was entering their lives in the same way He had done once before, after they had fished all night. I believe, here again, Jesus intentionally shrouded Himself or kept them from recognizing Him in order to reveal something about the way He wanted to be with His people.
He often comes to you in the dailyness of your life. Look for Him. Don’t let your pain keep you from recognizing Him. When you are trying to retreat and go back to the same old same old, He is there. When you are trying to busy yourself to keep your mind off of things, He is there. The disciples didn’t expect Him to be on the seashore. If they had, they would have wondered if the shadowy figure was Jesus and the sound of His voice would have confirmed it was so.
So how do we deal with the ups and downs of things like crucifixion and resurrection and other life events? We need to get quiet enough to hear the voice of Jesus. We need to lean on His Word in faith, and we need to look for Him on the shoreline because wherever we are, there He is. As God is present with us in the dailyness of our lives, He transforms our pain into purpose that enables us to move on in faith.