Video - Third Sunday of Easter
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Luke 24:28-32, Acts 2:36-39, 1 Peter 1:23-25
April 26, 2020

The Manifold Means of Grace

Dear friends in Christ,

God’s word presents to us the manifold means of grace today. All three readings are involved in this.

What does means of grace mean? It is a phrase we can use and do use in the Lutheran church to summarize a phenomenon we see in the Scriptures; that God works faith in us and gives the Holy Spirit through the spoken and written word of the Gospel, Holy Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.

When we use the word “means,” we talk about “the way by which” or “how” God works faith and gives the Holy Spirit. We are also speaking of these means as specific and tangible things. They are spoken and written word about a specific message that can be understood if one understands the language. Holy Baptism involves water. The Lord’s Supper is known to us in the “breaking of bread” and wine. Christian faith is given and sustained through these things by and in the Holy Spirit.

In the Gospel reading, it is the day Christ rose from the dead. The reading tells us about two men. The name of one of them is Cleopas. They were a couple of men of the wider circle of Jesus’s followers. They were on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Emmaus was a small village about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were going home from the Passover festivities and things that had happened in Jerusalem involving Jesus.

As they were walking along, they were talking about the things that had happened. They were trying to absorb the events. They were huge events because they and many other people thought of Jesus as a prophet powerful in word and deed before God and all the people (Luke 24:19). The people of Israel hadn’t witnessed this sort of thing for many hundreds of years, if actually ever. They thought that Jesus was going to “redeem” Israel (Luke 24:19).

Consequently, they would have thought that the chief priests and rulers of the people would have accepted Jesus with open arms. But they did not accept Him. Rather, they handed Jesus over to be crucified by the Romans. Their rulers had lost their way, for whatever reason. It is interesting that the chief priest said before they arrested Jesus that it would be better for one man to die for the nation, rather than the whole people perish (John 11:50). Apparently, they thought that the great following Jesus had would cause the Romans to crush them with sword and spear. So it seems the chief priest was motivated by the security and safety of the people in putting Jesus to death.

What the chief priests and rulers of the people did to Jesus must have burned itself into the consciousness of our two men, and many other people in Jerusalem. Jesus, prophet, powerful in word and deed, now handed over to crucifixion? Unbelievable. Incredible. This was not supposed to happen. How could it? How could they?

Yet there it is in living reality. Jesus hanging there. They really did that.

I think the two men on the road that day were probably just trying to sort it all out if they could. That was what their conversation was like. You can imagine the range of emotion. You can imagine how they were wracking their brains to try to understand. Yet, understanding was not coming to them. How could they understand when the action of rulers, though quite real, was so wrong?

All of what happened was even more deeply perplexing because they thought Jesus was going to be the long-promised and awaited-for redeemer of Israel. It is not hard to imagine how deep the hope was, especially since they were living in the promised land under the occupation and oppression of the pagan Romans. Yet, whatever they thought the redemption was supposed to be, they felt about it as deeply and keenly as we Americans feel about our freedom and constitutional rights.

The trouble is just what kind of redeemer they understood Jesus to be. Just what kind of redemption was He supposed to bring? Maybe because they only thought of Jesus as a prophet, they did not grasp the redemption God was accomplishing to address the greatest need we humans have. A prophet seems to go well with a redemption that involves an earthly kingdom, if that is what they were thinking. The death of the prophet does not quite fit that narrative. The death of God’s Son fits God’s narrative of redemption from God’s judgement, sin, and death and promise of new life.

As they are having their conversation, Jesus catches up with them and joins the conversation. He asks them about the events they are talking about. They are dumbfounded that any pilgrim in Jerusalem would not have heard about what happened to Jesus of Nazareth. So they tell Jesus all about it.

Jesus tells them that they are fools and slow of heart to believe the Old Testament prophets. And then He began to explain to them all the things about Himself that are written in the Scriptures in Moses and all the prophets (Luke 24:27). In other words, He preaches the Good news of the Savior to them from the Scriptures. He is speaking to them the word of God.

Later, after Jesus has been made known to them in the breaking of bread, they reflected back to the time on the road: “Did not our hearts burn within us as He opened to us the Scriptures” (Luke 24:32)? Did not our hearts burn when Jesus spoke to us the things about Himself as Redeemer, Savior, our Messiah? Did not our hearts burn within us when Jesus caused us to see God’s plan and purpose, and our reconciliation with God?

The living Jesus showed them from the Scriptures that it was necessary that the Christ suffer the things He did and then enter into His glory (Luke 24:26). It was necessary; necessary for our redemption. But Jesus and God have in mind an entirely different kind of redemption.

The two men and all Israel could have been redeemed from the oppression of the Romans with a demonstration of physical force by Jesus. Jesus told Peter in the garden that He had at least 12 legions of angels at His disposal to crush His enemies (Matthew 26:53).

But if Jesus had done that; if that was the kind of redemption that was really needed, then the two men and all people would have still been in their sins. They would have still been trapped in how the flesh and the world view God and human existence. God would have then been used as a political power and the guarantee of wealth. They would still have been fundamentally defined by the fortunes and glory of this world and all that comes along with trying to attain it and keep it. But trying to attain and keep the glories of this world cannot help but land us in sin, one way or another. And one of the most difficult things about our existence now in pursuit of and maintaining the glory of this world, is that people and rulers can think we are doing the most profound good with the right hand and be producing wreck and ruin with the left hand. The chief priest was a great example of this. He thought they were getting rid of Jesus as a blasphemer under the Law and someone who endangered the safety and security of the people. What they ended up doing was crucifying the Lord of glory.

We humans and the earth need a redemption that goes way beyond the ways and means of this present world order. It is as the Apostle Paul says, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but only a new creation” (Galatians 6:15). The Apostle Peter tells us that we are sojourners like foreigners in a foreign land (1 Peter 1:17 “exiles” ESV). This world, the way it is, is not our ultimate final destiny. So the redemption we need comes only by Jesus being Son of God, more than a prophet; and it comes in the death of the Son of God and His resurrection.

So, Jesus preached the Gospel to them on the road and their hearts burned. The word was setting their hearts on fire with faith and joy. It was changing them deep in their souls. When Jesus asked them what they were discussing, they stopped suddenly on the road, with a deeply sad and distressed look on their faces and in their eyes because of what happened in Jerusalem. Later they recognized Jesus in the breaking of bread. Then they reflected on how the Gospel had been setting their souls on fire.

Now they can’t help it. They get up from table after Jesus vanishes from their sight. They return with great haste to find the Apostles and those still with them in Jerusalem. Remember the sun was going down and it was getting dark. Nevertheless, they had to make that journey as the day was coming to a close, though it was dangerous for them to do so. Their whole perspective changed. Jesus is alive. They see Jesus and redemption entirely differently. They see their lives differently.

But look at what the word does, the word of the Gospel that we have in Scripture, in preaching, in teaching; the word of Good news in Jesus that we can comfort and encourage each other with. This is the good news of Jesus, Immanuel, Redeemer, Crucified One to obtain forgiveness; Risen-One to be alive in His Word, alive in our hearts, the inspirer of faith and hope in God; the inspiration of our courage and our love; and our everlasting promise.

The Apostle Peter tells us that this word of Jesus, this Gospel of our Salvation abides and remains forever. This Gospel in which Jesus and the Holy Spirit live causes us to be born again to a living hope (1 Peter 1:23). Jesus is the word of the living God who lives to us in and through the word of the Gospel that is proclaimed to us (1 Peter 1:25). And so God the Holy Spirit works through the spoken and written word of the Gospel to inspire faith and hope in our hearts and to bring the living Jesus to us.

Where is Baptism in our Scripture readings? It is in the reading from Acts 1. The Holy Spirit inspired Peter to preach on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit caused Peter to proclaim that Jesus, whom the rulers and people of Jerusalem crucified, has been made Lord and Christ by God by God raising Jesus from the dead.

This preaching caused them to be “cut to the heart” (Acts 1:37). They said to the Apostles: What must we do? (Acts 1:37). They were asking what they must do to be saved from God’s wrath since they had put to death the promised Messiah.

Good news. God provides a turning away from sin and forgives in His Messiah, crucified and risen. The Apostles tell them, “Arise and be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ and you will have the forgiveness of sins and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:38). This promise was for them and their children and for all who were afar off. The promise is for you and me and our children (Acts 1:39).

Are you afraid of the wrath of God today? Are all the things happening relating to the COVID-19 virus stirring up our deepest fear? This fear pertains to God and our sins, whether we realize it or not. Sin is the power of our fear of death. Jesus gives us the assurance that God forgives us and is graciously disposed toward us. He gives baptism in which God delivers to you the forgiveness of sins and promise of the strength of faith and hope in God that the Holy Spirit brings. And the water was applied to you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. All of God’s redemption in Christ is for you.

Finally, we come to Holy Communion. The two on the road to Emmaus did not recognize Jesus at first. When they had arrived at the home of one of them, they were reclining at table with Jesus, having supper. Then Jesus took bread, blessed it, and broke it. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him. Then He vanished from their physical sight. He wants to be recognized and known by us in the breaking of bread. The breaking of bread is the physical means of His invisible presence.

Ultimately, we know this breaking of bread as Jesus’s holy meal that He instituted on the night on which He was betrayed. And in this meal, in bread and wine, He feeds us with Himself, as both host and feast. He feeds not for physical nourishment but with the redemption He won for us with His body and blood. This body is the one put to death and carrying our sins on the cross. It is the body risen now and living. It is Jesus’s body, crucified and risen.

He lives in His meal to assure us of forgiveness. He lives in His meal to Himself be the power of self-giving love for our neighbor. Is there fear of God’s wrath? Is there looking for the assurance of forgiveness of sins? Are you looking for some concrete way to be sure of the promise that the living Jesus lives for you and in you with the strength of faith and hope in God? He provides to us His meal, the “breaking of bread.” He gives you Himself. He gives you the means by which He won your redemption: His body put to death and risen and His blood shed for forgiveness. Take, eat, this is my body; take drink this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for the forgiveness of sins. Find the assurance of the redemption He won for you and which satisfies your deepest need.

Rejoice today dear Christian in the manifold means of grace by which the risen and living Jesus brings to you the salvation He won for you and the everlasting presence of God through Himself and the Spirit. Rejoice in Gospel written and spoken, in Baptism, and Christ’s holy meal. And in these holy things, find the assurance of the salvation God has prepared for you, and through which the Spirit strengthens your faith in Christ. Amen.

Now the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


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