Sunday, May 08, 2011

Blinded to Blessings

Acts 2:14a, 36-41 Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 1 Peter 1:17-23 Luke 24:13-35

Previously I had challenged us all to consider the unimpeachable truth of the Gospel - that YHWH sent His Son to call us to repentance and to everlasting life - in spite of the inevitable doubts we endure from time to time. In our lives we have had considerable reason to have doubts and misgivings - everyone, without exception! - and because of the nature of these doubts and the unfortunate experiences they sprang from, we have been unable to recognize the equally considerable blessings we have actually enjoyed. There are two reasons for our spiritual blindness: 1) we are too wrapped up in the moment, our own misery, and what we think we need; and 2) we don't recognize the difference between a genuine blessing and just plain dumb luck.

The psalmist expressed equal doubts in the midst of his "distress and anguish", when he felt surrounded and overwhelmed by the "snares of death" and the "pangs of Sheol", but he was able to draw from within himself the abiding faith that comes from a certain knowledge of the past as a promise for the future. The psalmist was obviously rescued from his despair so much so that in his gratitude for his deliverance, he was willing to be held accountable for his "vows"; those certain promises he made to the Lord in his distress; "vows" that, according to the Law of Moses, must be repaid immediately (Deuteronomy 23:21-23).

This is not unlike the vows made, as they say, by "former atheists in foxholes". Even made under extreme stress, these vows are taken seriously by the Lord. And because the psalmist was obviously delivered from whatever may have been his source of anguish, he was gushing with an eager willingness to be held accountable for the vows he had made. He did not walk away from his distress feeling as though "lady luck had finally smiled on him". He was expressing the certain knowledge that he had been delivered! He could obviously tell the difference.

I have often wondered if the way we think is determined by our moods, or if our moods are determined by the way we think; it's a chicken vs. egg thing. What I mean to say is that when our mood is somber or sad, we think in those directions. When we are happy, we think happy thoughts. If we feel blessed, we think blessings, and when we feel cursed we confirm that despair by our thoughts. And if what I suggest is true, it would help in explaining why these two disciples in Luke's account did not realize they had been walking and talking with the Resurrected Christ!

It was the Day of the Resurrection that found these two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus and by what is written by Luke, they were a little overwhelmed and perhaps even still somewhat shocked and disappointed about all that had taken place these past few days, just as they told the Lord: "we had hoped He was the one to redeem Israel" (vs 21). Previously "hoped". No longer "hoping". In spite of this, they were also dealing with "rumors" of the missing Body and visions of angels. That's a lot to deal with; and if it is true that the disciples felt it necessary to hide because of their association with Jesus, we may reasonably assume that all who were disciples might have felt equally compelled to hide.

So, wrapped up in their misery, perhaps fear, certainly confusion, they were walking and talking with Jesus. Of course Luke suggests the disciples were perhaps divinely blinded so as to be unable to recognize Jesus, but I think this is assuming quite a bit. I think perhaps all that Jesus had taught them while He was with them had simply escaped them. Think about all the lessons Jesus taught about His own divine calling, and remember Peter's very human and protective response to Jesus - right before Jesus called him "Satan".

What Jesus was talking about was beyond human comprehension. What happened on the Day of Resurrection is beyond our human capacity to comprehend. When we try to conceive of such, we get very glorious yet vague images in our minds about the tomb and what Jesus must have looked like. The disciples who were on the road to Emmaus presumably knew the human Jesus and what He had looked like, but it is suggested that the glorified appearance of Christ is beyond a human's ability to understand.

So what are we being told about these whose hearts should have been "burning" but who were nonetheless incapable of recognizing the Divine Blessing that was right before their very eyes? I think maybe a key is in their moment of recognition in verses 31-32: "When [Jesus] was at the table with them, He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him ..."

They - nor we - "need" to see the person of the Lord, though we would like to be able to "see" something more tangible a little more often. It sure would make faith a little less challenging especially when we are being encompassed by the "snares of death" or the "pangs of Sheol". To physically "see" Him, however, is not what we truly need. It is only our human desire, and this desire is not unlike the "signs" the Jews had constantly demanded of Him before they would be willing to believe. There is no faith in such a demand; only a sense of entitlement. In such demands we insist we are "owed" something which in itself denies the very nature of what is truly a "blessing".

It is about our "needs" against our "desires". If we are broke and cannot pay the phone bill, we think we need cash. To be sure, cash comes in pretty handy, but our truest need cannot be met with cash. When we are hungry we think in terms of what sort of food will excite us and be worth the trouble or expense, but it never occurs to us that just plain bread will give us the nourishment our bodies need. It may not be aesthetically pleasing to our senses, but it will sustain us.

When we don't get our human senses excited or tickled, we think we are being cheated. When we don't get what we want, we think life is unfair or someone is at fault. We rarely consider the incredible gift that life is in just being able to see and feel and taste, and we would never consider what an enormous blessing of doing without can actually be. The disciples and their human senses only thought they "needed" to see Jesus with their own eyes before they were willing to believe - like Thomas - but the "bread" Jesus offered to them is what opened their eyes. Being given what they truly needed - rather than what they wanted - is what opened their eyes to the Truth of the Resurrection and the promise and hope of Eternal Life.

We all have desires and dreams and wishes and personal wants but because these desires are so strong within us, we often fail to realize we have within us at any given time all we ever really "need". The blessing that is the Resurrection - the sure hope that we will never taste death though we will all pass from this life - is all we really need. It is that certain hope which sustains us and feeds us and nourishes us when we are encompassed by the "snares of death" and the "pangs of Sheol". The Lord has given us every real and enduring thing we could ever need. The blessing will be to have our eyes finally opened to this reality.

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