What must the early disciples have been holding in their hearts and minds in those days after Jesus’ ascended? His final words to them were drenched with weighty anticipation: “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). They knew it would be some gift of His Spirit coming on them with power for witness (Acts 1:8), but when or how it would happen or what exactly would happen were undefined. And so, they waited in worship and prayer until the festival of Pentecost arrived. The celebration of Pentecost in the Jewish calendar focused on thanking God for the firstfruits of the harvest, and later for the giving of the Law through Moses on Mount Sinai. But now there was something new happening, as the fires of Sinai touched earth, and the ingathering of God’s kingdom came. “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:1-4). The early gathering of ordinary people was transformed by God’s indwelling presence. Contemporary artist Makoto Fujimura developed a series of liturgical paintings for a local congregation in Princeton, NJ, through paired diptychs: Advent/Pentecost, Epiphany/Easter, Lent/Good Friday and two Ordinary Time paintings. Fujimura’s unique Nihonga-influenced style brings together rich colors and radiant gold within this painting. Amidst ordinary worship, this congregation, and all who view it, are reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
What would it have been like to gather with Jesus after His resurrection and watch Him ascend to glory? We’re told by Luke that forty days after His resurrection, during which He appeared many times to the disciples, Jesus ascended into the Father’s presence. “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51). As the awestruck disciples watched this, suddenly two angelic figures appear with a message: “Men of Galilee…why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10-11). What wondrous mystery and awesome power is revealed as Jesus ascends. It is no wonder, then, that the next thing the disciples did was gather with other believers in Jerusalem for an extended period of time to pray and worship.
John Singleton Copley, a painter in the American colonies, was inspired to paint this biblical event after spending six months in Rome, where he was astonished by the skill and artistry of the Renaissance painter Raphael. Specifically, Copley studied Raphael’s rendering of Christ’s transfiguration, which served as an inspiration for Copley’s painting of Christ’s ascension. Copley saw the important connection between the transfiguration, where Christ’s heavenly glory is briefly revealed, and the ascension, where Christ returns to the full glory of the Father’s presence. The disciples are overwhelmed with awe at Jesus’ glorious, post-resurrection presence now withdrawing corporeally in this ascension into eternal glory at the Father’s right hand. Here, the glory of Jesus’ earthly and heavenly identity is revealed and it leaves both the disciples and us amazed. We, too, can stand in awe, alone or with others, lifting our prayer and worship to Jesus “who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34).
The resurrection of Jesus is shockingly miraculous but also astoundingly earthy. Nowhere is that more clear than in the story recorded in Luke 24 of Jesus’ walking and lingering with two disciples on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection. This apparently chance encounter involves various ordinary aspects of life: walking, travel, eating, conversation. Not until the end of the story is the miraculous revealed—Jesus is risen and in their midst!—after which Jesus vanishes. After the fact, these two disciples reflect on what was happening within them throughout their encounter with Jesus: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). The ordinary is set ablaze by resurrection presence and power. Jesus is here with us, right down to the ordinary action of eating, drinking, and sharing of conversation. There are echoes of this mysterious mixture of the extraordinary and the ordinary in other post-resurrection appearances: Mary mistakes Jesus for a gardener (John 20:15), Thomas longs to see and touch Jesus (John 20:25), and Jesus makes breakfast for His disciples after they fish (John 21:7-9). Each episode is a beautiful conflation of Jesus in His resurrection glory and Jesus in His resurrected flesh and bone.
Rembrandt painted the supper at Emmaus twice in his life, once in 1629 and once in 1648. The earlier version of the painting is striking and larger than life, with Jesus profiled in shadow, illuminated with brilliance, while one disciple knocks over his chair in an effort to fall down at Jesus’ feet. The later version of the painting, which we see above, is less dramatic and more ordinary, but perhaps more poignant. Jesus is fully visible, with light shining on His face and hands, drawing attention to His words and actions. Jesus prepares to break the bread, and the first hints of recognition appear upon the disciples’ faces. In the ordinary moment of a table meal, the extraordinary work of God has been revealed. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, our ordinary moments and lives are transformed by faith in Christ. Our walking, eating, conversing, and all mundane things are now something different. Even here and now, His presence and power are with us. Such truth may just set our hearts burning, too.
This past weekend at Eastbrook we took a pause on our preaching series, “Who Do You Say I Am?”, in order to begin our annual MissionsFest. We had the privilege of hearing from Dr. Ed Stetzer for this kick-off weekend of MissionsFest. Ed Stetzer is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books.
What is hope?
We all have hopes of different sorts. In the past we may have talked about the hope of a new job, a life partner, or an amazing gift for our birthday. In times like this, hope becomes more focused, when consider the basics of our health, our livelihood, and, in some cases, survival.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines hope as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” Hope is an expectation. It is a desire. It is a longing and yearning that something would become a reality. By definition, hope has two basic parts:
- The longing that exists within us
- The object, or goal, toward which our longing is directed
Some of us, when we talk about hope, put the emphasis mostly on the first part of that: we emphasize the longing that exists within us. We have hope – a sort of vague, fuzzy longing – that things would be better, but the object – or goal – of our hope is sometimes undefined or unclear.
When we come to Christianity, the Bible, and Jesus, the essence of hope is something more focused and clear. In Jesus’ walk along the Emmaus road with the disciples who did not recognize them, this topic of hope surfaces multiple times. Look at the words spoken by those men walking the road with Jesus:
The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. (Luke 24:20-21)
Christian hope is a desire – a longing – that is firmly fixed on Jesus as the object of our hope. Christian hope is, essentially, the longing that what Jesus promised – and what we see in Scripture – about life with God and His kingdom is ultimately true. Christian hope has a fixed object – Jesus’ life and teaching – and builds upon that.
Consider with me how the Apostle Paul writes about hope in Romans 5:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
Let me highlight just a few basic things that Paul is saying here in Romans about hope:
- Hope begins from our ‘justification of faith’ (vs 1): this is the justification before God – being put right in standing before God – that comes to us by Jesus going to the Cross and returning to life in victory over sin, death, and evil in the Resurrection. Hope is based on that historical event.
- Hope stands in the state of grace (vs 2): God sees us through Jesus Christ and not through our sins and wrongs. Grace means that we receive something from God we do not deserve: mercy in place of judgment; kindness instead of wrath; hope instead of despair.
- Hope lives with perseverance (vss 3-4): Hope believes that God is at work in the midst of our sufferings and trials, doing something in us. Hope believes that God is making us people of character through our difficulties until we see Him face to face.
- Hope looks toward ultimate glory of God (vss 1 & 5): Hope anticipates both God’s glory fully revealed at the end of human history and God’s glory revealed to us individually at the end of our physical lives because of our faith in Jesus Christ. Christian hope says there will come a day when God will make all things right and new at the end of human history in the new heaven and new earth. Hope is the longing for this reality ever before us
Some might say that Christianity is just wishful thinking. Frederick Buechner offers this unique reframing of that accusation:
Christianity is mainly wishful thinking…
Dreams are wishful thinking. Children playing at being grown-ups is wishful thinking. Interplanetary travel is wishful thinking.
Sometimes wishing is the wings the truth comes true on.
Sometimes the truth is what sets us wishing for it. 
We may respond to those who accuse Christian hope of being “wishful thinking” that perhaps the wishful thinking could be called faith. And perhaps faith is a way to access a reality that is there. And perhaps the reason we dream about such a thing being true is that the truth has birthed such a dream within us in the first place.
Christian hope is, essentially, the longing that what Jesus promised – and what we see in Scripture – about life and eternity is ultimately true. Christian hope flows out of Jesus’ resurrection from death after the Cross. It reshapes the way we view our failings, our sufferings, and the end of our lives. It also reshapes the way we view our world.
Jesus’ resurrection allow us to live with hope that there is meaning in our lives and meaning beyond our lives. When we live with hope, we have meaning both for now and for our future. With the Apostle Paul, we can say,
and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)
 Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers , 1973), 96.