God-breathed 18: Him They Did Not See

In his book, Isaac’s Storm, author Erik Larson writes about Isaac Kline, who served as the chief meteorologist in Galveston, Texas, from 1889 to 1901. Also serving in the Galveston Weather Bureau under Isaac was his younger brother, Joseph. Isaac was a highly intelligent man, and he was also one who followed established rules and procedures. Back then, the science of weather forecasting was in its infancy. There were no weather satellites like we have today. All the fledgling weather scientists could do back then was look at the sky, measure the wind, temperature and barometric pressure and make their predictions based on those observations. 

Not only did weather forecasters have less data than we do today, they also believed that storms operate according to certain unbreakable laws. One of those unbreakable laws they believed in was that hurricanes always turn north after passing over or near Florida. It was based on his belief in such a law that Isaac stated his opinion in a local newspaper article in 1891 that the thought of any hurricane striking Galveston was “a crazy idea.” Kline’s article helped prevent the construction of a proposed sea wall to protect Galveston from hurricane damage. 

Isaac Kline was wrong. In early September 1900, as a hurricane headed towards Galveston, in spite of warnings from his younger brother, Joseph, Isaac steadfastly refused to issue a hurricane warning. He only relented at noon on September 8, mere hours before the hurricane struck Galveston, which was located on an island. The warning came too late to give people an opportunity to leave before the storm hit. (Galveston Disaster) The hurricane struck Galveston with full force and between 6,000 and 12,000 people were killed during the storm, including Isaac’s wife, Cora, who was pregnant with their fourth child. Isaac survived along with his youngest daughter and Joseph saved the lives of Isaac’s two older daughters. After the storm passed, Isaac and Joseph parted company and though both stayed in the American meteorology service, they never spoke to each other again. 

According to the ruling beliefs in Isaac’s mind, it was impossible for a hurricane to strike Galveston. That ruling belief made it impossible for him to see the signs around him and understand that a hurricane was coming. His brother Joseph saw the same signs and accurately interpreted them. Because of the blindness of Isaac, thousands of lives were lost.  

I share this story with you, not to condemn Isaac Kline, but to illustrate what happens in all our lives. We all have ruling thoughts in our minds, and we all use those ruling thoughts to interpret what we see going on around us and inside of us. How do we know if the ruling beliefs in our minds are correct? And this is not a thought experiment with no relevance in the real world. The ruling thoughts in our minds are extremely important because we use them to interpret what is going on around us and then we act based on our interpretations, and our actions affect the people around us. Isaac’s actions, or inactions, impacted all the residents of Galveston. Today in Sudan, there are two generals who have opposing ruling thoughts about who should be in control and that is causing suffering for thousands of people in Sudan. When our ruling thoughts are wrong, our interpretations are wrong and then our actions will be wrong, and wrong actions cause suffering, not only for ourselves, but also for the people around us. It is important for us to examine the ruling thoughts in our mind and evaluate whether they are correct or not. To help us as we think about our ruling thoughts and how to make sure that they are correct, we are going to take a deeper look at Luke 24:13-35. 

A Stranger Joins Two Grieving Travellers

As we do that, we see that two followers of Jesus are walking, on a Sunday, from Jerusalem to their home in Emmaus, a small village a few miles away. Luke tells us that one of them is Cleopas, who may have been one of the eyewitnesses that Luke interviewed as he put together an orderly account of the life of Jesus. The other Jesus follower is not identified, but it might have been Cleopas’ wife.  

As they walk, these two are both filled with a mixture of sadness and confusion. Suddenly a stranger joins them along the way and asks them what they are talking about. Cleopas answers, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (Luke 24:18)   

“What things?” the stranger asked in reply. They then proceeded to tell the stranger all the distressing things that had happened in the past few days, how Jesus of Nazareth, someone they considered to be a great prophet of God, someone who was mighty in word and deed, someone who they and many others had hoped would be the one to rescue God’s people from the terrible situation they were now in, where they were harassed and oppressed from every side, and restore them to shalom peace and abundant life in a close, intimate relationship with God. But then, on the previous Friday, their own chief priests and rulers arrested him, condemned, and crucified him. On top of all that grief and loss came news that very morning that some women from among the followers of Jesus went to his tomb and his body was not there. They saw a vision of angels who said that Jesus was alive. Others went and checked Jesus’ tomb and they didn’t see his body either.  

The stranger chastised them. “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26) Then the stranger began to go through what we call the Old Testament and explain what the Scriptures said about the Messiah. 

As the trio came to Emmaus, the stranger began to continue along the road, but Cleopas and his fellow traveller invited the stranger to stay with them. It was getting dark, and the day was ending. As was the custom, they prepared a meal for their guest. But as they sat down to eat, something unusual happened. Usually, the head of the household, likely Cleopas in this case, would have asked for God’s blessing on the food before they ate. But the stranger assumed the role of leadership at the table. He was the One who took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. And it was in that moment, when the stranger was leading, blessing, and serving that they recognized him. It was the risen Jesus of Nazareth, the same Jesus who led, blessed, and served when more than 5,000 people were fed near the shores of the Sea of Galilee, the same Jesus who led, blessed, and served when he instituted Holy Communion in the Upper Room, that Jesus was at their kitchen table leading, blessing and serving them. In that instant, it all made sense. Jesus was more than a prophet, he really was the Messiah, the Christ, sent by God to save his people, and as Jesus hung on the cross, he was leading, blessing, and serving the world by paying the full cost of forgiveness for all sins of all people throughout all time. Everyone who trusts in Jesus will have that forgiveness, along with shalom peace from God and a rich, full, abundant life with him that will last forever.  

And in the moment when the two disciples realized who Jesus was, he disappeared from their sight. 

Overjoyed at seeing Jesus with their own eyes, the two disciples ran back to Jerusalem in the darkness to tell the other disciples that the rumors about Jesus’ resurrection were true. Along the way, they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32) When they got to Jerusalem, they found that the disciples there were also filled with joy because the risen Jesus had also appeared to Peter. Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. (Luke 24:35) 

Eating a Meal in Your Home is a Special Tie

There is something special about a eating a meal in your own home. It is a time to relax and set aside the cares and worries of the day. It is also a time when we adopt a posture of receiving. We receive the nourishment of the food which has been prepared, nourishment which our bodies need. And, if we live with a family member or a close friend, we also receive their presence, their words and their love, and our soul is nourished by those things. One of the key things that helps Susan and I in our relationship is to eat at least one meal together each day. There is something special that happens at mealtimes at home.  

So perhaps it is no surprise that Jesus should share in the specialness of mealtime with those two weary and grieving travelers from Emmaus. But note that it was only Jesus was leading, blessing, and serving them in a context where they were used to receiving that they recognized who he really is. Before that, their ruling beliefs did not allow for a resurrection in the middle of time. They believed in a resurrection at the end of time, but not in what was their here and now. And because their ruling beliefs did not allow for a resurrection in the middle of time, the best that they could do is see Jesus as a great prophet and interpret his death as a great loss. The hope they had for redemption was lost, and their lives were clouded by grief as a result.  

With their recognition of Jesus, their ruling beliefs had been changed. A resurrection from the dead in the middle of time was possible and Jesus had done it. That change in their ruling beliefs meant that now they were able to see Jesus for who he really was, the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. He had fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecies and promises made about him. As Isaiah the prophet wrote,  

Surely he took up our pain 
    and bore our suffering, 
yet we considered him punished by God, 
    stricken by him, and afflicted. 
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, 
    he was crushed for our iniquities; 
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, 
    and by his wounds we are healed. 
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, 
    each of us has turned to our own way; 
and the Lord has laid on him 
    the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6) 

You see, the key to this whole question of ruling beliefs is not so much what our ruling beliefs are. The key is recognizing and holding tightly by faith to what God’s ruling beliefs are. And what is the number one ruling belief of God? Love. Not only is love a characteristic of God, the Bible also tells us that …God is love. (1 John 4:8) In that divine community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the three persons of the Trinity love each other with perfect, infinite, self-giving love. It is a community of love. And God invites us to become part of that community through God the Son, Jesus Christ. Next week, we will reflect on Jesus’ visit with Nicodemus which is recorded for us in chapter three of John’s Gospel, and there we find described for us God’s motive and method for making that happen. Let us say it together. 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. (John 3:16)

The main meaning of those two words “eternal life” is not that we will have everlasting life, though that is true. But let’s remember that people in hell will also have everlasting life. The main meaning of the words “eternal life” refers to the quality of life that Jesus is offering to us. It is life in the divine community of love with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is life with God, it is life in the family of God, it is life in the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. All those terms mean the same thing as “eternal life.” 

It is because of love that God the Father daily and richly provides for all your needs. It because of love that Jesus went to the cross to suffer and die and rise again for you. It is because of love that the Holy Spirit lives in your heart and daily leads you to grow and mature in faith, hope and love. It is because God’s ruling belief is love that we trust him to transform our main ruling beliefs to be that Jesus has risen from the dead, is alive and with us right now.  

Receiving from Jesus

So what can we draw from this and apply to our lives? First, of all, this is an opportunity for us to examine our personal ruling beliefs and ask ourselves, “Is my main ruling belief that Jesus has risen from the dead and that he is alive and with me right now?” For too often, dear friends, I think that we, at least I know that this happens in my own life, use the circumstances of our life in this world to interpret the resurrection of Jesus instead of using the resurrection of Jesus to interpret the circumstances of our life in this world.  

From time to time, I will visit with someone, and they will say something like, “Have you seen what is going on in the news? It is terrible!” And I can tell as I am in conversation with them that this is shaking them to their core. Now I am not saying that we shouldn’t be upset by the things we see on the news. But what I am saying is when it shakes us to our very core, that is something inside of us that is not the way that it should be. That is indicating that we have a ruling belief inside of us that this world is all that there is, and when things are not right in the world, then we have no hope. Now contrast that with having at the center of your being the core belief that Jesus has died and rose again. Then we can look around and see that, yes, the world is in terrible shape and so am I. But Jesus has risen from the dead, and that means that all things will be made right at the end of time. 

With the resurrection of Jesus as our chief ruling belief we see our problems as opportunities that God is using to draw us closer him and transform us to be more like God the Son, Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (1 Cor. 4:16-18) 

Second, we can ask ourselves, “When are those special times when I can receive from Jesus and be nourished by him?” It could be at mealtimes, or during your commute to work. It could be early in the morning or late at night. It could be in your bedroom, at your kitchen table, or in a park. Wherever and whenever it is, it is good for us to have those special times and places to receive from Jesus so he can correct our flawed ruling beliefs and replace them with true ones. 

Third, we can ask ourselves, “How can I be intentional about allowing Jesus to lead, bless and serve me?” This is really a question for us to pray about because we are all unique and Jesus will know the best approach for each one of us. But it will involve being open to love and be loved by Jesus, and letting his love direct us to lead, bless and serve others so that they may know him too. 

Alive in Christ

In 1973, Uganda was still suffering under the terror of Idi Amin’s reign. During that time, Christians were beaten, tortured, and killed for believing in Jesus. In spite of the danger, a young pastor named Kefa Sempangi openly preached the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection to a crowd of 7,000 people in his town’s football stadium. After the service, five members of Idi Amin’s secret police followed Pastor Sempangi back to his church and came into his office with him. They closed the door behind them and then pointed their rifles at his face. The captain said, “We are going to kill you for disobeying Amin’s orders. If you have something to say, say it before you die.” Sempangi began shaking as he thought of his beautiful wife and daughter. But then the living Lord gave him the courage to say, “Do what you must. The Word of God says that in Christ I am already dead, and that my real life is hidden with Him in God. It is not my life that is in danger, but yours. I am alive in the risen Lord but you are still dead in your sins. May He spare you from eternal destruction.” 

The captain looked at Sempangi for a long time. Then he lowered his rifle and asked, “Will you pray for us?” Sempangi did, and those five men became followers of Jesus Christ. Not only that, they also became his protectors instead of his enemies.

Joy and Courage

Dear friend, the ruling beliefs in our hearts are revealed by two things: what causes us to be afraid and what brings us joy. With the risen Jesus Christ living in our hearts, there is no reason for any of us to be afraid about anything. With the risen Jesus Christ living in our hearts, we have a source of unending joy within us, not because our circumstances are good, but because Jesus is good, and he is with us. Therefore, the challenge that I am setting before you today is from Joshua 1:9, and please understand these words as God speaking to you, not me:  

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) 

(This message was presented at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on May 7, 2023. For more info about WGLC, please go to wglc.org.)

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