April 15, 2018

Preached by Rev. George Yando on April 15, 2018.

Acts 3: 12-19
Psalm 4
1 John 3: 1-7
Luke 24: 36b-48

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The Key To Real Understanding

In the Gospel reading from Luke we just shared this morning, and in the reading we heard last week from the Gospel of John, on the day of His resurrection Jesus appeared to His disciples and showed them the marks of from the nails that pierced His hands and feet, and the spear that pierced His side.  Then, while reminding them of what He had said before He died. He opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures, telling them:

“Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

“He opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures.”

I wonder: Why didn’t Jesus do this earlier? Why didn’t Jesus open their minds to understand the scriptures and then explain it to them before he died?  Surely it would have made it easier for them – easier for them to believe in him, easier for them to follow him, easier for them to accept the miracle of his resurrection.

Surely everything could have gone so much better during the days of Jesus’ ministry if his disciples had understood the scriptures at that time.  But they didn’t understand.  Instead, throughout the gospels we see the disciples bumbling and stumbling, and we see Jesus rebuking them and teaching them over and over again what the right way is.

So, why did Jesus wait to open their minds so that they could understand the scriptures and thereby understand Him?

Perhaps the disciples had to experience the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection before they could really understand the reason for it, the plans and purposes of God as revealed in prophecy and recorded in the Bible. Perhaps their hearts and minds could not be opened, they could not possibly understand, until they were first prepared for it by all of what they had heard, seen, and felt as the walked with Jesus and first shared the experiences that were his.

The story is told of an explorer who after some years away, returned to his home country from the Amazon.  The people at home were eager to learn all about the vast and mighty river and the country surrounding it.  But how, he wondered, could he ever describe it to them, how could he ever put into words the feelings that flooded into his heart when he saw the exotic flowers and heard the night sounds of the jungle?  How could he convey to them the smells the filled the air and the sense of danger and excitement that came whenever he and those who had travelled with him encountered strange animals or paddled through treacherous rapids?

So the explorer said, “The only way for you to know what it was really like is to go there and experience for yourself.”  Nevertheless, to help them understand as best he could, he drew a map of the river, pointing out its various features and landmarks, and describing some of the dangers and some of the routes that could be used to avoid those dangers.

The people took the map, framed it, and hung it on the wall of the local museum so that everyone could look at it.  Some folks even made copies of it and studied at great length, so that after a period of time, so of those who made copies of the map for themselves considered themselves to be experts on the river.

Indeed they knew its every turn and bend, its width and depth, and the locations of all the rapids and every waterfall.  They knew the river so well they thought they could have instructed others in what it was like whenever is someone indicated an interest in it, all without ever having ventured there to experience firsthand the insights about which they had only heard.

The point of the story is, of course, that many people today are in the same situation: they know the scriptures, but don’t understand them.

They have an intellectual appreciation of them but no real experience of the Word of God as it connects with their lives.  As a result, they have not yet grasped the wholeness an the fullness of the message; they accepted some parts, while perhaps rejecting or ignoring others, all without ever considering the connections between all the parts.

A lot of us who profess faith in Christ are like the disciples before Easter Sunday:

  • we shrink away from much of what Jesus says,
  • we don’t want to hear about carrying the burdens of others
  • we don’t want to hear about suffering for love,
  • we don’t want to hear about giving up family and home

for the sake of the gospel.

And we certainly don’t want to hear about how good people – people like Jesus –  have to die before they can become fully alive. These truths from scripture don’t seem like good news to us, just as they didn’t seem to be good news to the disciples.  We can’t see how or why it might be important for us.

Rather, for us –  as for the disciples –  good news, welcome news, consists of hearing about the glory to be given the faithful, of hearing how the righteous will be given power, the humble given the earth, and the poor in Spirit the kingdom of heaven.

The reality is, however, that without the one, there cannot be the other:

  • we can’t have the earth unless we carry the burdens of others;
  • we can’t have the Kingdom of heaven without the willingness to put God before our own desires, our own families;
  • we can’t have power without the willingness to suffer, and;
  • we can’t have glory without the willingness to die.

Unless and until we understand that, unless and until our minds are opened to see those links, those connections between what we are now and what will be later, between what we experience now and what we will unfold later, until we see the connection between death and resurrection, the scriptures continue to be something of a mystery.

This is why Jesus did not open the minds of the disciples so that they could understand the scriptures before his resurrection.  Until Jesus rose the disciples did not have the experience they needed in order to be open-mined enough to understand; until Jesus rose the link between death and resurrection existed in their minds only as an unpleasant possibility, not as a reality with dimensions of glory.

Friends: Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is the link between our experience and the message of the scriptures.  He is the key that can open our minds, so that we might understand the scriptures, the wonder and the audacity of God’s plan for our salvation, and indeed so that we might understand our own lives.

On the first Easter Sunday Jesus did not give His disciples some hither-to secret, special knowledge so that they could understand the scriptures.  What He did was open their minds.  He reminded them of what they had experienced with Him, and of what they were even then experiencing with Him, and He pointed to the scriptures which spoke of that experience.  He made the connections for them, when He said, “These are the very things I told you about while I was still with you: everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the writings of the prophets, and the Psalms had to come true.”

“This is what is written: ‘the Messiah must suffer and must rise from death three days later,  and in His name the message about repentance and the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations.’”

Friends, we understand the scriptures and their message when we know both our Lord’s death and His resurrection, when we know these both in our faith about Him, in the experience of faith lived out with Him in our lives.

Once upon a time a grandfather and grandmother went to a gift shop looking for something to give their granddaughter for her birthday.  Suddenly the grandmother spotted a beautiful teacup.

“Look at this lovely cup”, she said to her husband.

He picked it up and said, “You’re right!  This is one of the loveliest teacups I have ever seen.”

At that point something remarkable happened, something that could only happen in a children’s book.  The teacup said to the grandparents, “Thank you for the compliment, but I wasn’t always beautiful.”

Instead of being surprised that the cup could talk, the grandfather and grandmother asked it, “What do you mean when you say you weren’t always beautiful?”

“Well”, said the teacup, “once I was just an ugly, soggy lump of clay.  Then one day some man with dirty wet hands scooped me up and threw me on a wheel. Then he started turning me around and around until I got so dizzy I couldn’t see straight.  ‘Stop! Stop!’, I cried.  “But the man with the wet hands said, ‘Not Yet!’   Then he started to poke me and punch me until I hurt all over. ‘Stop! Stop!’, I cried.

But the man said ‘Not Yet’.

“Finally he did stop.  But then he did something much worse.  He put me into a furnace.  I got hotter and hotter until I couldn’t stand it.  ‘Stop! Stop!’, I cried.

But the man said ‘Not Yet’.

“Finally when I thought I was going to burn up the man took me out of the furnace. Then some short lady began to paint me. The fumes got so bad that they made me feel sick.  “Stop, stop!’, I cried.

‘Not Yet!’ said the lady.

“Finally she did stop.  But then she gave me back to the man again and he put me back into that awful furnace. This time it was hotter than before. ‘Stop! Stop!’, I cried.

But the man said ‘Not Yet’.

“Finally he took me out of the furnace and let me cool.  When I was completely cool a pretty lady put me on this shelf, next to this mirror.

“When I looked at myself in the mirror, I was amazed.  I could not believe what I saw.  I was no longer ugly, soggy, and dirty.  I was beautiful, firm, and clean.  I cried for joy.  It was then I realized that all the pain was worthwhile.  Without it I would still be an ugly, soggy lump of wet clay.  It was then that all the pain took on meaning for me; it had passed, but the beauty it brought has remained.”

That little story is like a parable, summing up the message of all the scripture: Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are we in God’s hand.

This too is the message of scripture:

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:7-9)

And this too:

“You killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. God fulfilled who he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer.  Repent therefore, and turn to God that your sins may be wiped out.” (Act 3:15, 18-19)

And this:

“We are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3)

Jesus waited before he opened the minds of his disciples because he could do no other, the story was not complete until his resurrection occurred.  The disciples could not understand the scriptures until they witnessed the fact that he rose from the dead.

We too, like the first disciples cannot understand the scriptures until our minds have been opened by our experience with Him, and by our faith in His resurrection. Without believing in Jesus and the fact that he both died and rose for us,  we can know a lot aboutHim, but never really understand Him or experienceall that He has in store for us.  We can know the biography of Jesus that is found in the scriptures, we can explore the laws that are written down, we can gain all kinds of knowledge about scripture, but none of it will give us the understanding that God wants us to have.

If we would understand what the scriptures are really all about, then we must not only open them, we must allow Jesus to open our minds, by placing our trust in Him, in the one to whom the scriptures point.  Then, we will truly understand, and we will praise God for it, for the understanding and for the life he has given us. Amen.