On Losing and Regaining Faith

Today's Easter message at my church, Ada Bible, was one of the best I've heard our lead teaching pastor, Jeff Manion, preach since I started attending there five years ago.

You can watch it here. Or, if you'd like the short version, read on.

"The Road to Emmaus," by Robert Zund (1877)

The Disciples on the Road to Emmaus 

Instead of a sermon on the discovery of the empty tomb, or a look at the resurrection through the eyes of one of the Twelve, Pastor Jeff's message zoomed out a bit and took a look at a conversation between two of the disciples in Jesus' outer circle, as they walked from Jerusalem to a small village called Emmaus on the Sunday of the resurrection. On that seven-mile hike, the pair were discussing Jesus' execution and their disappointment with the way things had apparently turned out.

[By saying these disciples were in the "outer circle," I mean they were more like groupies than bandmates. In other words, they weren't part of the chosen Twelve.]

These two groupies, Cleopas and another unnamed person, had believed Jesus was the one who would redeem Israel. But when Christ was crucified that Friday, it seemed to them that all of that had fallen apart. They were rudderless. Losing their faith.

But then, Jesus joined them on the road, alive, in the flesh. They were prevented from recognizing him, so he took the opportunity for a teachable moment. Luke chapter 24:17-27 has the story:

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. ...
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

After this, they invited him to dinner in the village. As he gave thanks for the meal, the two disciples finally recognized him. Just like that, he vanished. They were so excited, they trekked all the way back to Jerusalem in the dark to tell the other disciples he had risen from the dead.

What's amazing to me about this story is that Jesus cared so much about these two that he took the time to personally explain everything they were so slow to see — all that the Scriptures had foretold but that they had either misinterpreted or forgotten. And, in so doing, he helped them regain their moorings.

Lost and Found 

Pastor Jeff told a few more stories about losing and regaining faith. 

The one that resonated with me most was of British writer and thinker A.N. Wilson, who, while researching a biography of C.S. Lewis, found himself losing his faith in God. 

A.N. Wilson

For 20 years, Wilson identified as an atheist and hobnobbed with famed secular humanists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. 

Then, Wilson began to doubt his unbelief. It wasn't as if Jesus appeared to him to set the record straight, as He did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. It was a collection of small realities, such as the existence of language and music, that drew him back. Here's an excerpt from an article he wrote for the New Statesman in April 2009, called "Why I Believe Again":

The existence of language is one of the many phenomena — of which love and music are the two strongest — which suggest that human beings are very much more than collections of meat. They convince me that we are spiritual beings, and that the religion of the incarnation, asserting that God made humanity in His image, and continually restores humanity in His image, is simply true. As a working blueprint for life, as a template against which to measure experience, it fits.

I can't think of a better truth to reflect upon this Easter evening.

That, and the unparalleled beauty of Bach, some of the most stunning and spiritual music you'll ever hear:

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Partly Dave said...

That was a great sermon, Rachel. I have read and taught A. N. Wilson for years and followed his story. It was great to hear him mentioned in the sermon today.

Rachel E. Watson said...

Yeah! I'd never heard of him, but now I definitely want to read more of his stuff. I loved that New Statesman article.