Dispersed Disciples (Luke 24:44-53)

Luke 24v44-53 seed spreader

When we moved into the manse after accepting the call to the congregation we serve, almost half of the backyard was dirt and nothing was growing in it. After some discussions about what we were going to do with the area, we decided to sow grass in it so our children could run around and play in the space.

I had never sown a lawn before, but I knew that I couldn’t just dump all the seed in a pile in the corner of the yard and expect the grass to spread across the dirt patch. Instead, I needed to spread the lawn seed over the whole area. To do that, I bought a seed spreader. This device has a small bucket which holds the seed and drops it into a spinner that spreads it around when its handle is turned. The purpose of this seed spreader is to disperse the seed evenly over the area so the grass can cover the whole patch of earth.

When Jesus ascended into heaven (Luke 24:44-53) he told his disciples that they were going to be his witnesses to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. The way they were going to witness to him was by spreading the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection wherever they went. They were going to act like seed spreaders, bringing the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins to people who needed the life Jesus was offering them. They weren’t going to just spread this good news over a patch in their back yard. Instead, they were going to spread it to all the people of the world in the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit. This led to the second thing Jesus told them: to remain in Jerusalem until they received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

As we read the sequel to Luke’s gospel, the Book of Acts, we start to see how the disciples were able to spread the good news of Jesus beyond their own backyard. There were some individual evangelists such as Paul who played a significant part in spreading the gospel. Another way the gospel was spread was by the people from ‘every nation’ (Acts 2:5 NLT) who heard Peter’s Pentecost message and came to faith. When they returned to their homes from Jerusalem, they took the good news of Jesus with them and spread it in their hometowns as they shared it with others. A third way the disciples spread the gospel was when the early followers of Jesus were dispersed because of the persecution that happened after Steven was killed. In Acts 8:1 we read,

A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. (NLT)

In his creative power, God even used the persecution of his people to spread the good news of Jesus beyond Jerusalem so others could hear the gospel and find life through faith in him.

As we live with the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 virus, I can imagine that there might be some people who might focus on Jesus’ instructions in this reading to wait. Most of us are probably waiting for life to return to something like normal when the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. We can also be waiting for church to return to what we were used to, for the doors of our church buildings to reopen, services to resume, and programs to begin again, pretty much like they were before the restrictions started.
I can understand why people are waiting for these things, but I also wonder if, in hearing Jesus tell his disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit, we are missing something important in the words Jesus spoke to his disciples.

Jesus told them to wait because they were going to receive the power of the Holy Spirit which they would need to spread the gospel to all nations. When we celebrate Pentecost next week, we can remember that we have already received the Holy Spirit. The words of Jesus at his ascension that we can be hearing, then, is not so much to wait, but to witness.

We saw in Acts 8:1 that God can even use a crisis like persecution to spread the good news of Jesus to people who need to hear it. Ever since the COVID-19 restrictions were put in place, I have been wondering if God is giving us an opportunity to spread the gospel of Jesus to a hurting, fearful and broken world. With our doors closed, our programs stopped and the regular activity of the church put on hold for a period of time that could go on for months, suddenly many of us have much more time on our hands. Can we be using this time to have deeper conversations with family, friends, loved ones and others in person, online or by other means? Is God presenting us with opportunities to care for each other in Christ-like love and give witness to our faith in the life-giving power of the death and resurrection of Jesus?

Jesus never intended the gospel to be confined to buildings or religious observances held within four walls. Instead, as we listen to the words Jesus spoke to his disciples at his ascension, he commissions us to spread his good news wherever life takes us. As Jesus’ twenty-first century disciples, Jesus wants us to be his witnesses outside of our church buildings and empowers us to give a witness to his life-giving grace and love in our lives and in our relationships through the Holy Spirit. If we are just waiting for the doors of our buildings to re-open and services to resume, then we might miss what is really important in Jesus’ words. He calls and empowers us to be his witnesses by spreading the gospel beyond our backyard like seed spreaders, starting with our families, friends, and other people that we know. The gospel of Jesus is good news for all people! Our ascended King Jesus commissions us to spread his good news wherever we go in the world, to whomever we meet along the way.

Of course, gathering together as the family of God is important for our new life in Christ. We read that in Acts 2:42-47 and discussed it a couple of weeks ago. Is it possible that God wants to use this time to remind us that the place where we live out our faith is not just in our buildings, programs or other activities, but in our lives, relationships and communities outside of the church buildings? It is vitally important that we are not just waiting for the doors of our buildings to reopen or services to resume, but that we are witnesses to the love and life of Jesus everywhere we go.

Let’s use this time and the opportunities it presents us to spread the good news of Jesus wherever the Holy Spirit leads us, so the new life Jesus gives us through the gospel can cover the world.

More to think about & discuss:

  • Have you ever used a seed spreader? Why is it helpful or important? What might happen if you didn’t use one?
  • What is your reaction to Jesus’ disciples being like seed spreaders? Does the analogy work for you? How might you be like a seed spreader for Jesus in your life?
  • As we live with the COVID-19 restrictions, are you waiting for the doors of our buildings to reopen, programs to begin again or services to resume? Or are you looking for opportunities God might present to spread his grace, love and goodness into the lives of others? Maybe a bit of both? Explain why you answered that way…
  • Have you ever pictured yourself as a witness for Jesus? What is your reaction to thinking of yourself as a witness for Jesus?
  • Witnesses usually tell others about something they have experienced themselves. How have you witnessed the goodness, grace or love of Jesus in your life? Who is someone with whom you might be able to share your story?
  • What opportunities might God be giving you this week to be Jesus’ witness by trusting him and showing Christ-like love to someone else…?

You can find a video version of this message here.

God bless!

On the Road with Jesus (Luke 24:13-35)

Luke 24v13-35 Road to Emmaus 01

With the COVID-19 restrictions in place I’m seeing a lot of people out for walks. It’s good to see because getting outside and engaging in some exercise helps both our physical and mental health. There is also a social aspect to walking with someone which is very important for us. When other ways of socially connecting have been cut off, walking with someone can have a lot of benefits for us.

Sometimes I wonder what people talk about while they walk. They might be catching up on what’s been happening in their lives, talking about who has been doing what, or maybe discussing the weather. I wonder whether their conversations ever go deeper to the more meaningful things such as their struggles or hopes, their joys or disappointments, maybe even to questions of faith.

I can understand why two of Jesus’ disciples, as they were walking the 11 or 12 kilometres from Jerusalem to Emmaus, were discussing the events of Jesus’ suffering, death and the rumours of his resurrection (Luke 24:13-35). It was the day of Jesus’ resurrection and they had a lot to process. Their conversation began with the events that had happened, but when Jesus turned up, even though they didn’t recognise him, he took the conversation to a whole different level. We read in verse 27 that,

Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (NLT)

Jesus didn’t just talk with them about what had happened. Jesus talked with them about the meaning behind his suffering, death and resurrection from the grave. Luke tells us that Jesus explained the meaning of Scriptures to them and how they pointed to him. The word Luke uses is the word from which we get our English word hermeneutic which is about interpreting or finding the meaning of something. In ‘opening’ the Scriptures to the disciples (v32 NIV) Jesus was interpreting the words of the Bible for them and giving these new meaning for the disciples’ lives.

As we journey through the impact that COVID-19 is having on our world, this story is significant for us in a few ways. Firstly, like these two disciples, we are moving into an uncertain future. They didn’t know what the future had for them after their teacher’s crucifixion and rumoured resurrection. The road to Emmaus can be understood as a metaphor for travelling into an uncertain future. In the same way, we don’t know how long the COVID-19 restrictions will be in place or what life will be like when the start to be relaxed. We are on our own road, travelling into an uncertain future.

Like the disciples, we do not travel alone. Our risen Lord Jesus walks with us into this uncertain future. We may not always recognise his presence, just like the two disciples in the story, but not recognising him doesn’t mean he’s not there. We might be feeling isolated and missing the contact with other people but Jesus continues to walk with us in a spiritual way as well as a more tangible way. As we live out our identity as the body of Christ in our relationships with each other, and as we remain connected as the Church, we embody Jesus’ presence with each other as we travel through this time together. As we walk together through these restrictions, Jesus walks with us, whether or not we recognise his presence.

As we travel with Jesus, we can be listening to him open up the words of Scripture for us. We can read the Bible as a book which communicates information to us about events of the past, kind of like the way the two disciples were talking about the events of Easter at the start of this story. However, there is much more to the Bible than that. This story is telling us that Jesus wants to open Scripture up for us and lead us into a deeper understanding of its meaning for us and our lives. Jesus did this for the disciples in the story as he opened their eyes to see how the writings of Moses and the prophets pointed to himself. Jesus wants to do the same thing for us. He wants to open our eyes so we can see that the Bible is more than stories about the past. All of Scripture points us to Jesus and the meaning behind his suffering, death and resurrection so we can live in the reality of this good news.

Like the disciples, when Jesus opens Scripture to show us how it points to him, he changes our lives. At the start of their walk to Emmaus, I imagine the disciples would have been sad about the death of their teacher, afraid of the people who had killed him, uncertain about what they were going to do next and confused about what it all meant for them. After their walk with Jesus, though, their lives had turned around. They were full of faith, hope and love as they went back to tell the other disciples about what had happened. Jesus wants to make the same changes in our lives. He wants to fill us with faith, hope, love and the other fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23) as he opens the words of Scripture for us and speaks his good news to us. Jesus does all this by his Holy Spirit who breathes resurrection life into us through the words of the Bible and his gospel.

When we last met together in worship about 5 weeks ago, I was reflecting on the story of Saul anointing David (1 Samuel 16:1-13) and I suggested that this time under the COVID-19 restrictions might be giving us an opportunity to peel back the external layers of the way we think of ‘church’ and re-discover what is at the heart of being Church. This story of the disciple’s walk with Jesus on the road to Emmaus gives us a picture of the heart of being church: walking with Jesus, listening to him open up Scripture for us and living in the reality of the gospel. It doesn’t mean that we have to do a Bible study every time we go for a walk. What it might mean, though, is changing how we read the Bible. It’s not just information or stories from the past. Instead, the Bible points us to Jesus who was born, suffered, died and is risen again to give us life! At the heart of being Church is walking with Jesus, listening to him talk to us through Scripture, hearing the good news he has for us, and living in the faith, hope and love that they give.

This week, I encourage you to go for a walk with someone. As you walk, talk about what’s going on in your lives, but also include Jesus in your walk as you discuss the deeper things of life and share the good news of Jesus with each other.

More to think about & discuss:

  • If you go for a walk with another person, what might you usually talk about?
  • If you were walking with Jesus, what might you like to talk with him about? What do you think he might want to talk about with you?
  • When you read the Bible, do you tend to read it more as information or do you listen for what God might be saying to us through those words? Why do you read it that way?
  • How might it change the way you read your Bible if you looked for what it said to you about Jesus and his good news for you?
  • How can you find time this week, either on your own or with a few other people, to read your Bible and look for the good news that God is saying to you through it?
  • Who is someone with whom you can go for a walk this week to talk about the deeper things of life?