17 April, 2024

History and Hope

by | 1 March, 2024 | 0 comments

By Shawn McMullen 

This is the first of three consecutive issues of Christian Standard focusing on the Restoration Movement. In this edition we look at our past and ask what we can learn from it. You’ll read here about churches that have long and rich histories within our movement. You’ll learn about the origins and recent growth of our movement in the United Kingdom. We cover some less-than-stellar aspects of our movement’s history as well. We reflect on the separations that took place among Restoration Movement churches in the 20th century and the factors that led to them. Our aim is to help us understand our past so that we can appreciate the present and plan wisely for our future. 

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This issue carries us into the Easter season as well. As we think about our movement’s history and hope, let’s also think about the history and hope surrounding the Resurrection, the history and hope of every follower of Christ. There is an account in the Gospels that helps us appreciate the way history and hope are intertwined in the believer’s life. It’s a story about two disciples returning home from Jerusalem following Jesus’ crucifixion. It’s found in Luke 24. 

The pair had been in Jerusalem to observe Passover. What they hadn’t expected was to be in the city while their teacher was betrayed, falsely accused, and executed. We don’t know if they were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ crucifixion, but certainly they were aware of it. They knew he was dead and that his lifeless body had been taken from the cross and placed into a tomb just as the Sabbath was beginning. So, like the rest of Jesus’ disciples, the grieving duo was left to spend a sullen Saturday in Jerusalem before making the journey home. 

This is where Luke picks up the story.  

It’s Easter Sunday. Jesus had conquered death and risen from the grave, but the two travelers were unaware of it. Sure, there had been rumors of an empty tomb, but who could prove it? The tone of their conversation must have mirrored their disappointment as they made their way back to Emmaus. 

Suddenly, and seemingly from nowhere, a stranger approached and began to walk with them. Not waiting for a formal introduction, the intruder asked what they were talking about. Luke tells us, “They stood still, their faces downcast” (v. 17). When you’re having a somber conversation with a friend, the last thing you want is a party crasher. 

The traveler named Cleopas asked, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (v. 18). It’s hard to miss the sarcasm. Their world had just fallen apart and to add insult to injury, they were being forced to relive the pain and drama for the sake of an unwelcomed guest. 

The two spoke about Jesus of Nazareth, a powerful prophet they hoped would be Israel’s savior. They called out the religious leaders who gave him up to the Roman rulers who put him to death. They talked about the morning’s confusion at the tomb and among the disciples, ending with, “but they did not see Jesus” (v. 24). 

It’s interesting, isn’t it? Their world was engulfed in sadness and despair, in doubt and discouragement. And all the while, the one in whom they had placed their hope had just dealt their greatest enemy a blow from which he would never recover. Jesus had proved to be everything they had ever hoped for, and more. They just hadn’t heard the news. 

Their review and analysis of the day’s events gave the stranger the perfect opportunity to interject. “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (v. 25). The newcomer’s firm but loving rebuke paved the way to a clear and compelling explanation of the purpose of prophecy and its fulfillment in Christ. 

As the travelers reached their destination, they invited their guest to remain with them for the night. The stranger accepted. But in an interesting twist, at the table during their evening meal, the guest assumed the role of host. “He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and began to give it to them” (v. 30). 

Their initial surprise must have paled in comparison to what followed. “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight” (v. 31). Luke doesn’t tell us what happened here, but I wonder, as Jesus held the bread and broke it, did they notice for the first time the nail scars in his hands? 

Can you imagine the healing that took place in the hearts of these two disciples when they realized the man they had been traveling with was Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the resurrected Lord? Everything came together for them. “They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’” (v. 32). 

Their encounter with Jesus transformed the two travelers from browbeaten disciples into hope-filled, joyful followers of the risen Christ. We know this because of what happened next. They had just completed the long, seven-mile trek from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They were undoubtedly tired, and evening shadows were giving way to the dark of night. But once they understood what was happening, “they got up and returned at once to Jerusalem” (v. 33) to spread the good news that Jesus was alive. 

History gave way to hope. 

People who don’t understand what happened at the cross and the garden tomb do not know this kind of hope. But for those who do, it changes everything. 

May we who have this hope do everything in our power to help others find it too. 

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