Revisiting the Children’s Wing

I’ve been a Christian for about 15 years now, and yet it never ceases to astonish me how hardened my heart can get to the “good news” that we have been reconciled to God – repeat, reconciled to God – through the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I mean…that message is “Christianity 101,” right? This is the kind of stuff that the preschool kids are learning over in the Children’s Ministry classrooms! Time for the “more mature Christians” in our midst to move on to far more esoteric matters, one would think.

However, after even just a small amount of reflection, the phrase “good news” hardly seems big enough to contain the story of our reconciliation with God. Unbelievable or amazing news might get somewhat closer to describing Christ’s miraculous – and scandalous – intervention on our behalf. It seems to me that if we really understood what God has done for us in Christ, then we should all be leaping for joy and singing His praises 24/7/365, right? After all, our single biggest problem – that we are condemned sinners in the eyes of a just and holy God – has been solved, once and for all. We need not fear death (1 Corinthians 15:54-57), we have no concerns about facing God’s judgment or wrath (Hebrews 4:16), and our place in eternity has been prepared for us already (John 14:2-3). The preparations to receive us will not happen “some day soon,” but it’s all past tense on this side of the cross. A place for us has already been “prepared.” It’s been done.

And yet I find it is my own disheartening tendency to “misplace” many of the Christian truths I have settled once and for all in my heart and mind. It’s somewhat maddening to consider how often I have to be “taken back to the Children’s Ministry wing” to be reminded yet again of some core biblical truths.

Just yesterday, for example, Dave Cover preached on the topic, “Why Easter Changes Everything,” and I was amazed by how the repetition of a settled conviction of heart gave rise to a rather surprising “Oh, yeah, that’s right!” response in my soul. Of course, I had not really forgotten the truth that Christianity stands or falls on the truth of the resurrection, e.g. “If Jesus did not walk out of the tomb, there is absolutely no need to read your Bible or continue to attend church. It’s all rubbish and you should treat it a such.” (1 Corinthians 15:14-17) I did not “forget” it so much as I found I had “laid it aside” during the day-to-day routine of my life. My internal response to hearing that truth yet again revealed to me just how far aside I had placed this critical truth.

My own slowness of heart makes me exceedingly grateful for the many accounts in Scripture wherein the disciples also are slow to believe, even in the face of the clearly-miraculous and otherwise-unexplainable. It defies explanation, for example, that Judas Iscariot could have witnessed Lazarus being raised from the dead after four days (John 11:38-44) and yet make plans shortly thereafter to betray the Son of God. Had Judas “forgottten” that the Lord had performed this and many other miracles as he was negotiating terms with the Jewish elders for the betrayal of Christ? Seems unlikely, and unexplainable apart from soul-destroying hardness of heart.

Perhaps my favorite of the slow-to-believe disciple stories is the one recorded by Luke in chapter 24 of his eyewitness account. Whenever I read of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I always like to recall that in their three years of ministry together, Jesus had specifically instructed them over and over again that He must suffer and die, in accordance with the prophecies of the Old Testament (Isaiah 53:3-12; Psalm 35:19; Zechariah 12:10; Psalm 22:7-8; Psalm 69:21). These lessons had all taken place before He was handed over to the ruling Jewish elders and Pontius Pilate. Why, one has to wonder, did their hearts not immediately accept the more difficult lessons that Jesus had for them?

You can read the Road to Emmaus account for yourself in Luke 24:13-35. As you do, though, I think it helps to consider a few pertinent questions.

Why is it that in the first several days after His crucifixion, not one of the disciples seemed able to recall Jesus’ own predictions of His death? Could it have been, perhaps, that the truths Jesus spoke to them during His earthly ministry were entirely overshadowed by their own needs and desires (verse 21)? As modern readers, don’t we all view this story with some level of incredulity, e.g. “Had I been one of those guys, I would certainly have recalled all the things Jesus said about His death…or at least some of it!” Surely our own “unclouded” view of Christ would have prevailed over our doubts. Right?

I doubt it. Whenever I have failed to discern what Jesus is doing in my own life, I have always been particularly drawn to these verses depicting what happened on the road to Emmaus. Having experienced the ministry of Jesus, the Christ, firsthand for three years, these guys still didn’t get it. “I had really hoped that Jesus was going to be the guy who was finally going to overthrow the Romans, free us and restore the kingdom of Israel to its previous glory.”

In the post-crucifixion letdown on display in this particular story, though, I all too often see myself. I’ve been walking with Christ, as I said, for well over a decade, and yet when things don’t go as I expected they would – “I had really hoped that Jesus would have been the guy to solve this problem for me…heal this relationship in the timeframe I wanted…prevent me from suffering this loss” – I will often come to my senses only to find my heart commiserating with these disciples as they continue along in their ill-informed, bummed-out journey together.

So as I find myself “revived” by core gospel truths from time to time, the account of the disciples on the road to Emmaus gives me hope, especially as I find myself convicted by a biblical truth that I had not necessarily forgotten, but perhaps carelessly misplaced for a bit. After all, there are few things more central to the truth of Who Jesus is than His resurrection from the dead, and yet I often find that a sermon crafted primarily for unbelievers (Dave’s Easter sermon, for example) finds a more-than-suitable target in my own heart. We all need to hear the gospel preached, over and over, or our hearts inevitably wander.

Thank God that He has provided us with these accounts of frightened, fractious, unbelieving disciples, hopelessly slow to believe and so often dull of spirit. In these accounts I find myself, my own misgivings, and – thankfully – the patient answer of a Father God Who does not tire of “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets” (verse 27) and helping us find ourselves back where we belong, as beloved children in a far greater story.

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