The Fourth Sunday After Easter May 22, 2011


The Misdiagnosis

Luke 24:13-18,25-29

Scripture Readings

Acts 2:14a, 36-47
1 Peter 1:17-21


728 [TLH alt. 188], 552(1-6), 552(7-8), 208(1, 8, 10)

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen(Jude 1:24-25).

Dear fellow Christians:

Misdiagnosis is one of those words we wish didn’t exist. There is, for example, no word that I am aware of in any language for a man suddenly turning into a camel, or a turnip, or a station wagon. There is no word because such things don’t happen. The word misdiagnosis exists because it does happen—often. My guess is that everyone reading this has been misdiagnosed at one time or another, perhaps often. You don’t have to be around the world of medicine for very long to understand why they refer to it as “practicing medicine.” As complex and as wonderful as modern medicine has become, it is still a very inexact science.

Human beings make mistakes, and when dealing with something as complex as the human mind and the human body mistakes are inevitable. With greater capabilities comes greater potential for error. In the old days an infection in the foot could be fatal. Someone then figured out that cutting off an infected foot or leg could save the patient’s life. Yet even then an appalling number of mistakes were made, including the amputation of the wrong leg. Somewhere along the line doctors began writing “This leg” with magic markers on the offending appendage. That still allowed for mistakes, so doctors began writing “Not this leg” on the one to be spared. Again, if mistakes can be made on something that simple, we can only imagine the possibility for error as the complexity increases. Obviously, some mistakes, some examples of misdiagnosis, carry more devastating consequences. As in all things, mistakes in the spiritual realm will forever pale anything that can go wrong in the physical. There simply is no comparison between temporal and eternal.

With this thought in mind we join two men on a lonely, fearful walk. They were utterly dejected and afraid for in their minds they had been abandoned. Their minds and their eyes told them that they had been forsaken by their Teacher, their Savior, their Lord. In their case, if their misconception and misdiagnosis could not be corrected, the results would be utterly catastrophic. What is more, we learn that you and I are often the ones who make the incorrect diagnosis of others. We read then our text not only as their story but as our own. That text is found in the 24th chapter of Luke’s Gospel account:

Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him. And He said to them, “What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?” Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?” … Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther. But they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in to stay with them.

This is God’s Word. With complete confidence in that fact and with absolute confidence in the power of these words to work its miracles in each of us, so we pray, “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth.” Amen.

Would you have any objection if the world labeled you no longer as “Christian” but as something like “Christfool”? It is an interesting question when you take a moment to think it through. Obviously, this is exactly what the world thinks of us, but it certainly is neither flattering nor complimentary.

The unbelieving world sees each of us as just that, as simple idiots. What comes to their minds when they hear “Christian” is a fool who has been drawn into some mindless, semi-fanatic, woefully outdated cult that is completely detached from any true sense of reality. You and I supposedly demonstrate that foolishness by actually believing such things as miracles, a virgin giving birth to the Son of God, and the resurrection of the dead. We believe we are God’s special children and heirs of heaven. They believe we are simple, deluded imbeciles.

So who is right and who is wrong? You and I have no doubts, but that in itself does not make it so. God makes it so. Judgment Day will prove it. Unlike those who deny the Christian faith, I know that I have no fear of facing my God as His fool—as a miserable sinner who took Him at His Word and based my only hope for salvation on the foolishness of the forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ.

When you come face-to-face with a rank unbeliever and visit with him on this subject you really come to understand just how diametrically opposed human wisdom is to the Gospel in particular, and to faith in general. In spiritual, unseen matters of faith, man’s eyes deceive him more often than they help.

This was at least part of the problem that plagued those two men on the road to Emmaus. Their own personal world, their own reality, had been shaped by what they saw, by what they had experienced. Our text gives us the impression that they were absolutely fascinated by the man who walked with them those seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, but their eyes, their minds, overrode their understanding. Even though they didn’t recognize the risen Jesus at first, they were clearly captivated by their conversation with Him. Later they described their feelings: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened the Scriptures to us?(Luke 24:32).

Yet, they didn’t know it was Jesus at first, did they? In fact, what they had seen with their eyes caused them to make that catastrophic misdiagnosis recorded in our text. The first reaction of Cleopas, one of the two, was more or less to disparage Jesus as an ignorant: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?[v.18] In other words, in the humble opinion of Cleopas, he himself was privy to the truth, but the Son of God and Savior of the world was steeped in ignorance. His diagnosis of the situation: “I am knowledgeable. You are uninformed.” I have little doubt that the two then set about trying to disabuse Jesus of His ignorance as they walked along the road. Thankfully, just the opposite took place.

Such is actually the normal reaction of man to his God, isn’t it? At least until his God reveals His higher truth to man’s sin-addled mind. We acknowledge that our God’s wisdom is far beyond our own, but then we naturally dismiss God’s wisdom when it conflicts with our own. God is wise and powerful, but not if He tells me about sick people being healed by Peter’s shadow, or of human beings actually walking on water, or of prophets being fed by ravens during a drought. We are all ears when God wants to reveal a higher consciousness, but not when that higher consciousness stands in such sharp contrast to the basic workings and wisdom of life as we know it. Only the Holy Spirit can change that.

So it was that Jesus talked as the three walked, and Cleopas and his companion quickly learned that Jesus was not the one who lacked understanding. Jesus wasn’t ignorant, they were the ignorant ones right up until the best part of this account when Jesus removed their ignorance by the power of His words. The same words, by the way, that you and I have to share still today.

Understand just how silly those words of Jesus would have sounded to those two men had the words not been mixed with faith. After all, with their own eyes they had seen—seen—the death and burial of their Lord. They had witnessed His utter helplessness, His obvious defeat, and His ignoble death. They had witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion, and as far they knew He was still dead along with all of their hopes and dreams. And then here comes this man, this stranger, who was so out-of-it that he apparently didn’t even know what had just happened in Jerusalem, and He dares to call them ignorant? “O foolish ones,” He said to them, “and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” This “ignorant” man nonetheless went on to tell them things like: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?[vv.25-26]

Cleopas and his friend had obviously believed only some of what the Prophets had spoken. They evidently believed the parts about the Messiah being mighty and powerful, but they took it upon themselves to define just how He would demonstrate that power. They knew and readily accepted the parts that agreed with their sense of what should be—the parts that spoke of the Christ coming in glory and ruling Israel and defending her from all her enemies—but that is all they saw. Their eyes and minds were filled with their own images of glory and power. They rather conveniently overlooked the many passages in which God revealed His higher wisdom and truth. Thus they dismissed the Scriptures that foretold His suffering, shame and humiliation. Genesis 3:15, for example, had told them that not only would the serpent’s head be crushed, but the Messiah’s heel would also be bruised. Isaiah spoke of a Messiah “smitten and afflicted,” one who was “pierced for our transgressions…and crushed for our iniquities(cf. Isaiah 53). It was by His wounds that we were to be healed. It was all there for them to see and believe, and yet they had remained largely ignorant of that part of God’s Word. To them it was undoubtedly just a small part—no big deal—and the result was a terrible misdiagnosis of reality.

But was it a “small thing” in God’s eyes? As far as those two disciples on the road to Emmaus were concerned, it could have cost them their faith in their Savior—not so small. It took a special visit from that Savior “explaining to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself[v.27] to turn them around to know the truth.

How many “small omissions” or compromises would it take before our faith is destroyed? No one here wants to find out. Jesus Himself told us that just a little bit of yeast permeates the whole batch of dough, meaning that, given a chance, even a small error eventually takes over the whole—family, congregation, church body, etc. —not the other way around.

You and I do not want to make this same mistake. So also now in what might well be the last days of earth’s existence, we cling in faith to the foolish ignorance of the outdated Christian faith. The saving truths to which we cling have been given to us by our God. He has spelled it all out for us in His Word. Point by point, teaching by teaching, we are bound to God’s Holy Word.

Those disciples did get it right in the end. They identified a different way, a far better way, and that far better way was simply to urge their Savior to abide with them, for the day is almost over. [cf. v.29] The key for them is the same for you and me today—never turn away from our one valid and reliable source for temporal help and eternal salvation imagining that we know better. We absolutely cannot afford to get this wrong, ever. Our only course of action is therefore to draw Him ever closer, to know and cling to Him as the starting point and essence of true wisdom trusting that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom(Proverbs 9:10). The solution is to trust this Lord Jesus to be the center of our lives—the core of who we are and what we are all about and the lone source of forgiveness and life. It is to know that Jesus didn’t misdiagnose us, mankind naturally misdiagnosed Him. Jesus knew that we are, by nature, not only thoroughly sinful but spiritually ignorant—unable to recognize Jesus on our own for who and what He was and is. He also correctly diagnosed us as completely unable to save ourselves or find our way to Heaven. One of the great gifts He has now given us is the ability to recognize Him as so much more than the world believes Him to be—the very source of the goodness that saves us.

When that is our confidence, our reality, we have this tremendous comfort from our text: As our Lord Jesus once “went in to stay with them[v.29] on the road to Emmaus, so also our Lord Jesus will most certainly abide with us as we wait for His second coming. As He once gave such great hope and comfort to those troubled disciples on the road to Emmaus, so He will also most certainly hold out to each one of us the same hope and the same comfort.

To the world, such divine truth will always carry the appearance of ignorance. Yet you and I have now been given to know the mysteries of the Gospel and to rejoice in the forgiveness of our sins.

With hearts now freed from our former ignorance and guilt, this then is our one great desire: “Abide with us, Lord Jesus, for all eternity. You have paid the full debt for our sins. Come quickly and rescue us from this vale of tears and carry us to the heavenly mansions prepared for us.” Amen.

—Pastor Michael J. Roehl

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