Crystal Ball Not Needed

Crystal Ball Not Needed

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This is the second in a 2-part post-Easter sermon series entitled,
“What Difference Does the Resurrection Make?”
This message focuses on the hope for our future the risen Christ offers us.

Scripture Text: Luke 24:13-25

How interested would you be in knowing right now if you have a genetic predisposition to a particular disease? If that’s something you’d be interested in, then I have good news for you. The FDA just recently approved the first home genetic tests for 10 health risks, including Parkinson’s Disease and late-onset Alzheimer’s.

When I heard this on NPR last week, my immediate thought was that this would be great. But then the question was raised, What good would it do to know you have the genetic predisposition for a condition for which there is no known cure or way to keep it from coming on? As far as I know, we haven’t yet discovered a cure for Alzheimer’s, nor do we really know how to keep it from coming on. There are theories about how to do this, but they’re only theories.

Speaking for myself, if I discovered that Alzheimer’s is in my genes, it would probably only serve to create major anxiety for me. So I’m not sure I want to know this possibility ahead of time. On the other hand, I can see the benefit of being able to plan for certain living or care-giving arrangements ahead of time; that would be beneficial. Even so, I’m not sure I’d want to know this possibility so far in advance.

Or how about paying a visit to a clairvoyant to have them “read” your future? Besides the fact that Scripture altogether prohibits this practice, it’s ultimately hogwash! No one besides God almighty knows what the future holds for any of us, and he’s certainly not revealing these details to some spirit medium, let alone another human being. But the fact is, the practice of being a clairvoyant is a booming business. Why? Because people want to know what their future holds in store.

I admit, there are situations when it’s helpful to know ahead of time what’s coming so that you can prepare for it. Knowing that a hurricane is heading your way is helpful. Knowing ahead of time that your water’s going to be shut off for a few hours is helpful. Knowing ahead of time that an community emergency drill is going to take place is helpful.

It wasn’t very long ago that Methodist clergy found out they were being appointed to a different church only when the appointments were read aloud at annual conference. Every year they’d head to conference not knowing if they would be coming back to that church. And every year there were many who returned home only to inform their families and congregations that they’d be moving in two weeks. Talk about a system that created chaos and anxiety. I’m happy to say that we dropped that practice many years ago, and most clergy who are being appointed elsewhere have many months to prepare for that change.

But other than these types of fore-warnings or fore-knowledge, what do we really know of the future? And what do we ultimately need to know of the future?

One thing is for sure, the Bible, doesn’t give us much information about our futures, except in the really, really big picture. As in the end of the human story as we know it big picture. And even then, all we get are very wide brush strokes that only give us a general idea about what’s to come. I know there are different schools of thought within Christendom about what the Last Days will look like. Many books have been written and sermons preached which lay out in great detail how things will unfold in the Last Days. Let me go on record to say that even though these persons may be able to point to certain Bible verses here and there to support their beliefs, I disagree wholeheartedly.

 

Here’s what I believe God tells us about the Last Days.

  1. There will come a day when Christ returns. (This idea is thoroughly supported by Scripture.)
  2. We have absolutely no way to know when this will happen. (Remember, Jesus said it will come as a total surprise; no one will see it coming.)
  3. When it does happen,
    • all sin and evil will be vanquished forever;
    • this earth will be fully redeemed and returned to its original state of sinlessness;
    • and all who professed faith in Jesus Christ, whether alive at that time or already dead, will be raised to life and given their resurrection bodies (this is what the Apostle’s Creed means when it says, “I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”)
    • all the promises of God will be fulfilled, and his people will live for eternity in his holy presence, full of joy unimaginable.

That’s pretty much all we can say we know for sure about what the future holds in store.

Or, to put it another way:  in the end God wins! That’s it. That’s ultimately what we know for sure…in the end God wins. Evil will be conquered. God wins. In fact, we can even speak of it in the present tense because it’s as good as done. It’s a sure thing. Regardless of what it looks like today, and regardless of what some people say otherwise, the truth is God wins. Death is vanquished. Life and love win.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always believed that this is the core message of the resurrection. As a child I wasn’t able to comprehend the deeper nuances of the meaning of Easter. But what I could understand—and figured out on my own—is that Jesus’ resurrection meant that death no longer has hold on us, and that we will ultimately live forever. It was good news, even to a young boy. And even at a young age, I understood that death wasn’t something that I had to fear. I may fear dying a certain way because I don’t want to suffer, but even then I knew that I would never truly die. And you know what, this gave me a great sense of hope for my future. Even if I had no idea all that lay ahead for me, one thing was for sure: I would be eventually be with Jesus. That gave me hope.

I can point to a particular event that really brought this truth home to me. I was doing a funeral for Wayne Brown, the Lay Leader of my church in Millington. I’d only been there a month or so when I received a call that he’d had a massive heart attack, and was dead before his body hit the floor. It was a shock to say the least. His funeral began on a high note as we sang the great hymn of faith, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” To this day I can hardly sing this hymn without crying. Listen to verses 3 and 4.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours, through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
the body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still;

his kingdom is forever.

And when the hymn was finished and I moved forward to give some sort of greeting, it hit me like a ton of bricks. In that very moment we were singing about it, but Wayne was living it! We were singing that we will not tremble at the thought of death. But at that same moment Wayne experiencing that ultimate triumph over death. We were living by faith, while in that very moment Wayne was living by sight, for he was in the presence of Jesus Christ. The truth of it all nearly overtook me as I was really for the first time understood the fact that at that very moment Wayne was more alive than any of us standing there. And my hope for my future suddenly increased all the more.

Last week we encountered the disciples, gathered behind lock doors in fear for their lives and disillusioned by the death of the one they believed would usher in the Kingdom of God as they understood it to be. But then, to their astonishment and surprise, the risen Christ stood among them and breathed on them, giving them his spirit, his Ruach, and filled them with peace. Their fear was soon replaced with bold faith, and eventually they began the process of building the Church, which is still going to this day.

In today’s reading we meet a couple of other of followers of Jesus who are walking from Jerusalem to a town called Emmaus a few days after the crucifixion. While they were talking about all the events of the previous days, they happen upon a stranger who happened to  be Jesus, the risen Jesus…the Jesus who’d just spent some time with his disciples in their locked room. But for reasons we’re not told, they didn’t recognize him. When he asked them what they were discussing, they were a bit perplexed at his seeming ignorance about all that had happened. They asked, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who’s in the dark about everything that just took place there?” “What things?” Jesus inquires. “The things about Jesus.” Pay attention to this particular statement of theirs: “We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.”

Can you hear their hopelessness? We HAD hoped. But not anymore.

Then Jesus explains everything, starting with Moses, and tells them how it all led up to Jesus, and how the crucifixion was the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption. And when they sat down to eat, Jesus blessed the food and their eyes were “opened,” and they realized who he was. But, again, for reasons that remain unexplained, he disappeared as quickly as he’d appeared to them. And in an instant, their lives and perspectives were changed. Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and explained the scriptures to us? Immediately they returned to Jerusalem and found the other disciples, and joined in their proclaiming that Jesus was alive.

Hope was alive! In this life we’ll never know who those two men were. And we’ll never know for sure what role they played in the building of the 1st century church. But I think it’s safe to bet that they were a part of it in some way or another. I’m pretty sure they spend the rest of their earthly lives telling anyone who would listen about their experience of meeting the risen Lord face to face on the road to Emmaus. It changed their lives, and gave them hope for all that laid ahead.

Raise your hand if you know all the details of your future in this earthly life… I certainly don’t. I don’t know what blessings lie, I don’t know what struggles lie ahead, and I don’t know what changes lie ahead for me. But this one thing I do know: I’ve met Jesus Christ (though not face-to-face in person), and I know that no matter what lies ahead, I will not go through it alone, because God will walk through it with me. And when I finally reach the end of my life on earth, I know that my final breath in this life will be my first breath in the eternal presence of Jesus Christ. Just knowing this is enough to give me hope for my future. Hope IS alive! All because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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