I have this app on my smartphone called "ToDoist." It keeps track of tasks that I am going to do each day of the week. Each time I finish a task, I swipe it off as complete.
This past week I didn’t get much done Monday-Wednesday. I was at a Pastor’s Conference in New Jersey. It turns out that 18 hours listening to corny jokes from 5 other pastors is not conducive to getting a lot of work done. So my Todoist list had stock piled. But, as I looked at it again and again Wednesday evening, I was confident that I had a good plan for getting all of my tasks done the next day.
Then, Thursday happened. An unexpected meeting here. A longer phone call there. A few conversations that lasted a little longer than I thought...and suddenly, my Thursday Todoist "to do list" looked the exact same as the Friday list...only with few more tasks than before.
I had such a good plan to get everything done, but it failed.
Ever happen to you? Ever plan to do something only to watch your plans fail?
Did you know that God plans too? In fact, while Jesus was on earth he told his disciples about God's plan. John 3:16 gives it to us in a nutshell: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life."
But then, Jesus died. Life happened. Death happened. The question is: Had God's plan failed? Can God’s plans fail?
I. When God's Plan Appears to Fail.
This appears to have been the basic premise of the disciple's conversation on the Road to Emmaus. Scripture tells us "They were talking with each other about everything that had happened." And later "That their faces were downcast." Their Messiah had died. God's plan had failed. They would never see him again.
Then, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them.
But what's interesting is that Scripture says: They were kept from recognizing him. It isn't like Mary Magdalene whose grief and tears prevented her from recognizing her Savior. They were kept from recognizing him by God. By Jesus.
Why did Jesus do that? Presumably for two reasons:
1) He wanted to give them an opportunity to voice their faith. Think about Adam and Eve in the Garden. God asks, "Where are you?" Not because he didn't know, but because he wanted to give them a chance to fess up to their sins. At the feeding of the 5,000 Jesus had asked Philip, "How will we feed these people?" Not because he didn't know that he was about to perform a miracle, but because he wanted to Philip to voice his confidence in that miracle.
Jesus is doing the same thing with the Emmaus disciples. He wants them to have a chance to voice their faith in God's plan.
But just like all those other times, the Emmaus disciples don't voice faith. They only voice their disappointment with God and his plan.
They explain that they were talking about: “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
Isn't it interesting? They mention the third day, a part of God's plan to raise Jesus from the dead. They mention the women seeing an empty tomb. They mention that a few disciples had confirmed this. But they still did not believe God's plan had worked. Look at verse 21. It's most telling, "We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel."
As in: "They didn't believe it anymore. The plan didn't work. They were still under Roman rule. Their lives still felt the same. In fact, they were probably crummier. They had wasted time and effort believing this Jesus was a part of God's plan, and now that plan wasn't working."
Ever felt disappointed with God? Ever felt like God's plan has failed you? Maybe it sounds like this:
"I was supposed to have a career! I was supposed to climb up the corporate ladder. Instead, I'm stuck in my first job at a pay rate much lower than I expected and I don't have any hope of climbing out of it. God, your plan, must have failed!"
"God, I thought, you "knew the plans you have me, plans to prosper and not to harm me..." Then, why can't I find the right guy? Why am I still single? Why are all the people I date 'Sleazeballs?" God! Your plan is not prospering, but harming me!
"My marriage isn't happy all the time. There is tough stuff we go through. God. That can't be your plan. Which must mean that your plan has failed!"
"My relative is super sick. They are suffering. God is love. He doesn't like suffering. Which can only mean that he can't stop the suffering and his plan is failing!"
Now. Stop and think with me. Is God that bad at planning? Is the ruler of all eternity that poor at future planning? Of course not.
Listen to this carefully. God’s plan’s don’t fail, we simply fail to see God’s plans.
II. We Simply Fail to See God's Plan
This is exactly the problem that the Emmaus disciples had. They expected God's plan to be that Jesus would rid them of Roman rule, they themselves would become officials in his kingdom, and life on earth would become 'awesome.'
When Jesus died and this didn't happen, they felt terrible.
But listen to Jesus' assessment: 25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
If you wanted to build a house, an architect makes a blueprint for the contractor and everyone he works with to follow. If they want to know where the support beams are supposed to be, they look at the blueprint. If the electrician is wondering how many outlets to run in the living room, they look at the blueprint. If the homeowner has a complaint about the window sill being placed too low on the wall, they look at the blueprint to see if it's valid.
A second reason that Jesus didn't show himself to these disciples right away is that he wanted to teach them where to look for God's plan. He wanted to show them the Almighty's Divine blueprint. It showed them, at that time, the Old Testament Scriptures which contained a detailed explanation of God's plan.
Through the prophets God gave his people details about the coming Savior so that they wouldn’t miss his coming. Malachi said where Jesus would be born. Zechariah foretold how Jesus would be betrayed for 30 silver pieces. Psalm 22 detailed how he would be crucified, how they would cast lots for his clothes.
Various scriptures talk about God's son had to die. Which in reality as it happened, must have seemed awful. But it needed to happen. It was God's plan. Isaiah 53 explains it beautifully. Memorize this passage. Commit it to memory. He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
This is God’s greatest plan. He desires to save you from hell. He wants you in heaven. So, no wonder, he doesn’t always take care to make sure that you have the roomiest house, the fanciest car, and the big scholarship to school. When push comes to shove, God wants you in heaven! That’s his goal. It’s his plan. It’s his desire!
When the disciples realized that Jesus’ death was a part of this plan, do you know what the result was? Verse 32 reports that the disciples confessed: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
What had changed? The Romans were still rotten. The taxes were oppressive. The Jewish leaders were corrupt. What changed was that the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures had opened their minds. They understood God's plan. They understood that it had worked. They understood that God's plan was way better than anything they had imagined. It didn't just involved a perfect marriage, a good job, and the latest electronic always in your possession.
It involved eternity. It involved forgiveness. It involved escape from eternal hell. It involved the promise of heaven.
III. God's Plan is Alive and Well
Now the disciples understood something. They understood that God's plan was alive and well. But they didn't grasp exactly how alive and well God's plan was until later that night: 30 When Jesus was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.
Brothers and sisters, recognize that God's plan for you is alive and well. He lives! Because he lives, so does God's plan for you. It doesn't matter what happens in our lives. It doesn't matter how sin gets the best of us. It doesn't matter what evil can do to us! The LORD lives! Our divine planner lives AND he is still in control. And I'll tell you what...that takes trust! It takes trust cause you aren't in control.
Ever been to a financial planner? That's hard to do. You know lots about your money. You know lots about what you want to do with it. Nobody likes to be told how to plan their future.
But...I recommend you see one. Planning finances is their job. They understand economy. They understand stocks, investments, and bond value. They're professionals at planning money. It's what they do. Trust them.
God's a professional at what he does too. He's a professional at planning for your eternal well being. It involved sending his Son to die and giving him power to rise again. He knew what he was doing then and he knows what he is doing no.
I know it's hard to give up control of your life and to totally trust God. It’s your life! But consider this: He's smarter than you. He's more powerful than you. He's been around longer than you. He loves more than you. He loves you more than you.
Trust Him. His plans don’t fail. His plans are good. His plans are alive and well. Amen.
Is God dead?
It certainly looks like it, doesn’t it?
Immorality is increasing at an incredible rate. New science studies “prove” that it was a Big Bang and not God. “And the article had 10,000 likes on Facebook so the conclusions must be true!” Random acts of nature – mudslides, disappearing planes, capsized boats. “If God were here, he wouldn’t let that happen.”
Then, there are our personal struggles – barely able to pay rent, job on the chopping block, strained marriages, struggles in school, life threatening illnesses. They all tempt us to one sad conclusion --
God is dead.
That’s a pretty scary conclusion isn’t it? It’s the exact same scary situation that a few women followers of Jesus found themselves in early the first Easter morning.
Their leader. Their God. Was certainly dead. And there’s plenty of reason to believe this to be truth nearly 2000 years later. Just look at the witnesses:
1) The crowd at the crucifixion. They had seen Jesus’ body go through a brutal beating. Punches, slaps, and kicks on Thursday evening. A barbaric scourging at the hands of professional Roman torturers Friday morning. A crown of thorns to rest his head, then, stakes through the hands and the feet all by lunchtime! Then, they watched for three hours until his body wore out, unable to push up at the bottom of the cross, Jesus took his last breath. Then knew he was dead.
2) But so did the soldiers. They were professionals at torture AND killing. If they didn’t get it right, they might die! So they were extra careful. Even though they were positive Jesus was dead, one soldier took a spear and stuck it into his side -- aiming for the heart. Now they knew he was dead.
3) The two men who had prepared Jesus’ body for burial knew he was dead, too. So they began traditional preparations for the dead. They covered Jesus’ hands, his feet, and his wrists with linens. They never saw his chest move. They felt no pulse. They didn't see his eyelids flicker. They knew he was dead.
4) His enemies even knew it! As the body was prepared, they came to Pilate and asked that armed guards watch over the tomb. Jesus had promised that he would rise again, but since they knew him to be dead, they were nervous that the disciples would steal his body. They asked for the guards to prevent a hoax.
5) The man in charge of the crucifixion allowed it. Because he knew Jesus was dead too. Likely, he had ordered plenty of crucifixions. No one came through them! Jesus was no different. His guards said he was dead. He was dead. They could have a guard if it made them feel better.
6) The grave workers then took their places. They helped ensure the body made its way into the tomb. They pushed a boulder in front of it. They sealed it with wax. They probably worked in shifts. One group Friday night. Another Saturday morning, Another Saturday evening. A final set early Sunday morning. None of these soldiers heard movement in the tomb. Because Jesus was dead.
7) Which is why the women early that Easter morning were so certain. They carried spices towards his tomb – not to repair him to health, but because that's how you honored the dead.
And Jesus was dead.
Even modern medicine agrees. Some people have this idea that Jesus went into a coma. "Maybe, he didn't really die. Maybe, the blood thirsty beatings, the extreme blood loss and the slow death on a cross didn't kill him. Just put him a coma." Modern medicine scoffs at such an idea. Dr. Robert Stein, one of the world's foremost pathologists wrote, "Jesus couldn't possibly have faked his death, because you can't fake the inability to breathe for all that long. Besides the spear thrust into his heart would have settled the issue once and for all...And EVEN if in some kind of miracle, he had only been in a coma, what would he have done? When he awoke in the tomb, he would have been so pathetically weak that he would have simply lay there unable to move the giant boulder that sealed him in!"
This is key then to understanding the Easter story. Jesus was certainly dead.
II. Certainly Alive.
As the women came to the tomb any fear they had from their leader having been killed must have intensified. There was an earthquake. The stone had been rolled away!!! The soldiers were passed out with shock! They appeared into the tomb.
IT WAS EMPTY! What had happened!?!
Then, they met their first witness.
His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. An angel. “He’s not here; he has risen…come and see the place where he lay! Then, go quickly and tell his disciples.”
So they hurried away from the tomb! Excited, but nervous. Who would believe them? Is an angel to be trusted?
Then, they saw someone they knew could be trusted. The women saw Jesus! “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet. At that time, I'm sure they saw the wounds on both his feet -- right where the nails had been. As he clasped their shoulders to comfort them, they saw the holes in his hands. This was no imposter. This wasn't some groggy, just out of a coma Jesus...and since they all saw Him...it wasn't a hallucination.
Who was not dead, but alive!
But those women weren’t the only witnesses.
Jesus showed himself to Mary Magdalene. A woman who could have no doubts it was him. She would never forget the face of the man who would heal her and changed her life.
Jesus showed himself to two disciples walking to Emmaus. His knowledge of scripture was unmistakable. It was him!
He showed himself to the Eleven. Well, actually, ten of them first. Thomas was missing. But when Thomas complaind that he wouldn’t believe in the resurrection until he saw it, Jesus reappeared. He showed him his hands. His feet. He ate food in front of him. He allowed Thomas to stick his hand in his side! And even doubting Thomas was convinced – this isn’t Peter trying to play a trick on me. This is "My Lord and God!"
In fact, there is no shortage of witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. over 500 people in many different places, in different times and different places. Different people. All of them were convinced it was him!
Even one of Jesus' greatest enemies – Saul -- who was convinced that Jesus was dead and that this was all a lie...so much so that he imprisoned, beat, and killed anyone who confessed to following Jesus...Saul saw Jesus. He believed he was alive. He became a follower. He went on four missionary journeys, started over 20 churches, and wrote 13 books in the Bible! Why did he make such a change? Why did it happen over night?
Because he saw that Jesus was alive!
But Paul isn't even the greatest witness. The greatest witness lie in that empty tomb.
I like Chocolate Easter bunnies. But, at our house, you aren’t supposed to eat them until Easter Sunday. So, if Julianna finds a little bit of chocolate on the corner of my mouth and accuses me of eating the bunny, all I have to do is produce the chocolate bunny—whole, in package, and untouched.
If Jesus was still dead, all the Pharisees would have to do would be to produce the dead body.
"But the disciples probably stole it!" Right! An accountant and a few fisherman overpowered the first century equivalent of heavily, armored Navy seals, and threw open the sealed rock all before the soldiers knew what hit ‘em.
There’s another problem. Why would the disciples have perpetuated the lie even to their own deaths?
What happens on crime dramas when the perpetrator is confronted with absolute evidence that he is guilty? He stops lying. He gives the truth – no matter what it convict him of.
The disciples NEVER did this. Why? Because it was the truth! They had seen Jesus die and they had seen him alive! He was their God and God was not dead!
Brothers and sisters, no explanation fits the empty tomb except for the fact that he only thing that does fit and explain the empty tomb is a historical. Very real. Resurrection.
III. What it means for Us
What interesting is that there isn’t an Empire Strikes Back to the Easter Story. The Pharisees never find Jesus and try to kill him all over again.
The truth is this: God couldn't be killed then and listen to this God can't be killed now!
Now what we normally don’t try to do is kill God with a nuclear bomb or biological warfare. No, we use reason! "I don't think God could exist and it's not reasonable that Jesus could rise from the dead, so this is nothing more than a fairy tale." We use science. "I read an article that said science still can't find scientific proof for a God that created the universe. We use emotions, "I hate that God tells us that the way I want to live my life is a sin! Therefore, he must not exist."
But God didn’t stay dead at the hands of one of the most violent deaths in the history of the world. No amount of unbelief, no amount of scientific evidence, no amount of immorality, no amount of bad circumstances, no amount of hatred can kill God!
In fact, if you still insist that Jesus is not God and definitely not alive or even real, - especially in the face of today’s testimony - I’m very nervous for you. It’s not God's who's dead…it's you.
And it happens so easily. Guilt over past sins smothers any hope in a God who forgives. Pride stamps out any obedience to a divine authority. Reason. Sinful, human reason loves to attack and destroy faith. And fear of what it might mean that God is real and Easter is true...kills your desire to find out.
But even if we are spiritually dead, there’s still hope. Because God’s not dead! In fact, he can’t be held down by death. That’s mortal stuff.
Why then did God die in the first place?
Scripture says, "He was put to death for our sins"-- the very Jesus who proved his authority to say things with his unmistakable death and resurrection – He taught all human beings are morally corrupt individuals who have done wrong against God and, as a result, die – and, when they die apart from God – die eternally!
Scripture says, "He was raised to life for our justification!" In other words, his death was the punishment for your sins. God’s wrath has been wiped away! Now, through faith in Jesus, you are forgiven and God declares you innocent of wrongdoing. In fact, he no longer threatens hell, but promises the eternal life of heaven.
3) This leads to the final truth: With faith in the God-Who’s-Not-Dead, you’re not dead! A more eloquent way of saying it this: With faith the God who Lives, you will Live! On high. With the Lord. In heaven.
This is huge!
I wish you could have met my Grandpa Dave. He was a wonderful man. I used to sit on his lap and eat Easter candy with him. I’d also try to keep the Easter candy away from the tattooed panther he had on his bicep. It didn’t like bunnies – he told me.
I haven’t celebrated an Easter with Grandpa Dave in years.
But I will. Because God lives. Through faith in him, you will too.
Dear friends. May this same ever living God be your hope this Easter and always. Amen.