“When the Prophets Hit Their Mark” April 23, 2023
“When the Prophets Hit Their Mark”
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
I have in my hands a copy of a newspaper from Jerusalem dated some 1,990 years ago, give or take. Now, for the skeptics in the crowd, you need to know that I went through a lot and worked hard to get my hands on this ancient news print. What’s hard to believe is how good of shape it is in, but that’s not important. What’s important are the headlines. It’s a rough translation, but they read something like: “Jesus, son of Joseph falls victim to angry mob.” Well I’d have to say that’s about right, but because this paper is controlled by the Roman government, it’s no surprise that all of the blame for the arrest, conviction, and subsequent crucifixion is laid squarely on the Jewish people. The article stresses the fact that Pilate and the Roman authorities we’re concerned only with keeping the peace. The Israelites anger would not be satisfied however, until the Nazarene was handed over to them The rest of the article reports quite a few of the gory details, of course, the Romans do love their gore. All in all, the column was disappointing. It lacked depth and imagination.
Because this was a weekly publication, however. there was a short, late breaking news article all the way back on page 6 that you might find interesting. It seems that some women made their way to the tomb the following morning, and later made the audacious claim that it was empty. “An investigation has been launched to verify this testimony. Authorities have stated that theft or foul play has not been ruled out at this point.”
So all right already. By the looks on your faces, I can tell that you are not buying into this Jerusalem newspaper story; especially since the printing press doesn’t get invented for another 1400 years or so.
My point is that The people of Jerusalem didn’t need a newspaper or radio or television to know what was going on. The crucifixion of Jesus the Nazarene Was all that anyone talked about In those days. It’s no wonder that, as we read in verse 18. “When Jesus asked them what they were talking about, the one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?” In other words, Cleopas is saying, “What? Do you live under a rock or something?” It was, after all, the news that was on everyone’s mind; the story that was on everyone’s lips: Jesus of Nazareth was dead; hung from a cross like a common criminal. Some said he was a prophet; some even thought he might be the Messiah. But now that he was gone, I imagine these two men walking the road to Emmaus simply figured that they may never know. I know that I’m speculating a bit here, but when Christ first appeared to these two men on the road to Emmaus, It looked like they had given up. They carried this awful news of the past three days on their shoulders And it was weighing them down. “We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel.” They said. “ these things happened three days ago”
Just think about it: here were two men who had just witnessed one of the most horrendous events of all time. Standing before them was a man who claimed he knew nothing about it. So, of course, They are going to tell the story,
and of course they are going to add that some women in their group had went to the tomb and found it empty. What’s more, a few of the men in their group went to check it out and found that the women had been right: Jesus was not there.
Up to this point, the story of Jesus encounter with two men on the road to Emmaus is fairly predictable. Two guys had found a willing ear to hear this great story; so naturally, they commenced to tell it.
But instead of scratching his chin and saying things like,” Really now, you don’t say;” Instead of listening politely, Jesus Surprised us all by saying to them, ““You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. 26 Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” at this point, Luke tells us 27 “Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.” I can about imagine that was a long afternoon, But you get the idea here. These disciples walking down the road were guilty Of an oversight that we Continue to this day. It all boils down to this: We read from the prophets because it is wonderful poetry and they are beautiful insights into the times. But we rarely take them seriously. So the question is, what happens when the prophets hit their mark and we refuse to recognize it? It can be right there in plain sight but we don’t see it. Surely these men on the road to Emmaus were familiar with the prophecies That Jesus reminded them of,
saying “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about.” Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”
I don’t know, but does it seem that Jesus was being a little harsh with these two fellows? They were acting and reacting like anyone else would in that situation. So why was Jesus being so rough on them? The answer, I believe, becomes one of perspective. Everything that had happened in the past few days and months had been prophesied in scripture. Knowing those prophecies entrusting in those prophecies would have made all the difference. Rather than mourn his loss, they should have been celebrating his ascension into glory.
In a funny sort of way, I’ve had somewhat of an Emmaus road experience. At the age of 13 or so I discovered a Readers Digest boxed set of classical music that covered 500 plus years. In that boxed set was a recording of Handel’s “Messiah.” Now I had heard bits and pieces of this wonderful work, but I had never sat down and studied it. Before long, I was thoroughly entranced and was probably driving everyone else in the house crazy,
but I didn’t care. It was a masterpiece and I was hearing it for the first time.
One thing that I noticed while listening to the story of the Messiah the son of God, what’s that the lyrics were very clever. Mr. Handel had written words that captured the essence of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Here is a sampling: – “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is the righteous Saviour, and he shall speak peace unto the heathen.” One of the choruses captured my imagination with the words: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9, v.6) my 13 year old self was knocked out by the majesty of this music and of these words.
Imagine my surprise when I found out some years later that the entirety of the Messiah comes directly from scripture; most notably the prophet Isaiah.
The wonderful lyrics to this piece, as it turns out. Were arranged by George Handel’s close friend – a man named Charles Jennens but for me to hear these words of prophecy in that particular setting – – well, it made a lasting impression on me. When the prophets hit their mark it can be downright invigorating.
So what does all this business with Isaiah and zechariah and zachariah and Zephaniah have to do with us here in the 21st century? Would a study of the prophets prove to be nothing more than some sort of academic distraction Or might it open our eyes To see things differently. The headlines of the day might be painted in a softer shade and the losses and tribulations that we endure in this life lose their enormity In the shadow of the majesty of our God.
Last Sunday was the beginning of the 50 day period Between Easter and Pentecost known as Easter tide. Throughout this time we will cover a lot of ground but our main focus will be upon the visits that Christ made after the resurrection, And today’s gospel message from Luke is a prime example. Jesus reminds the two travelers that the words of the prophets have weight; they have credibility, And if we listen closely, they may help us untangle some of the craziness that seems to be the order of the day.
With that being said, I would like to spend more time getting to know and to understand these unusual people we call the prophets. This may be simply part of our regular worship service , or if things roll right perhaps we could meet during the week sometime. Summer is on its way and I look forward to the good things That are coming to our congregation. And if that sounds like a prophecy, who am I to say otherwise?
Amen and Shalom