Sunday, March 25, 2007

God, Angel Visits

Every Sunday before worship service begins I pop in an hour early to benefit from Pastor Wes Braaten's wonderful "Life of Christ" Bible study. This morning we were studying Luke Chapter 24:13-32 about the two disciples (unknown to us to this point in the Bible) on the way to Emmaus after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. This is the part in the New Testament where the resurrected Jesus joins them on the road but is not recognized by the two men until later when he breaks bread at their home a few hours later.

Jesus joined them on the road to Emmaus and asked them why they were so downcast. They were flabbergasted that this "stranger" on the road with them did not know that Jesus, the man so many had considered the Messiah, had been crucified three days earlier. But then they explained to him that a bunch of confusing information had come to them just that morning: that women known to them as Jesus' disciples had seen Jesus alive at his tomb and when they ran and told the male disciples, most had scoffed but two of them had visited the tomb and had found it empty just as the women said -- but with Jesus nowhere to be found...

Jesus, more than a little exasperated, thought they were even more thick-headed than he had earlier wanted to believe regarding his disciples (which was plenty thick-headed enough). He asked them, "Why can't you simply believe all that the prophets said? Don't you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory?" Then he started at the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) and pointed out to his still-clueless disciples exactly where in each book and in subsequent books of the Old Testament this sequence of events (arrest, torture, crucifixion, resurrection) in the life of the Messiah and God's people had been foretold.

The two disciples -- one of whom is Cleopas, as we learn during this exposition -- are captivated by their knowledgable companion and the two or more hour trip to Emmaus from Jerusalem goes by quickly as they walk.

When they reach Emmaus, Jesus acts as if he is about to walk on, leaving them at their abode, but they don't want to part company with him and invite him in. It is when he breaks bread with them at dinnertime that they suddenly realize who he is, and then he vanishes into thin air.

Students of the Bible often ask, "Why didn't these men recognize Jesus, if they were his disciples?" No one really knows the answer to this, but speculation abounds. Perhaps it was because his beard had been torn from his face (which is documented) during his torture three days previously. Remember, in the Garden Mary didn't recognize him either until he spoke her name.

Pastor Braaten said it's also possible that Jesus "disguised" himself in some way (either spiritually or in actuality) to find out what his disciples were thinking and doing now with what had happened to him and with what they should have known about it. He had TOLD them what was to come; it hadn't been a secret...

But then Pastor Braaten said to us, pretty much convicting us on the spot: "How many times has Jesus walked with you and you didn't realize it until later -- if at all?"

Pastor Braaten thinks the Holy Spirit made sure these passages made it into the Bible to tell us exactly that -- Jesus is with us all the time and we, in our ignorance, fail to recognize Him.

Then he asked the class of about 35 people if anyone had any kind of experience in their lives when Jesus or an angel or the Holy Spirit had visited them. Several of the students raised their hands and he asked them to tell their stories. Then he told one of his own.

Dee Spooner recounted a time when she was about 40 miles outside of Seattle with her two young children when her blood suger went so low that her optic nerve failed to fire and she was blind. She told her young daughter she couldn't see, and in her panic to get somewhere for help, she got onto the freeway and drove all the way to Seattle -- blind as a bat -- without harming anyone or dinging a fender or driving off the road.

When they got there, she asked her daughter where they were and she reported, "Seattle." Dee said, "No, we're supposed to be in Tacoma. We can't be in Seattle." Then her vision cleared just a little bit and she recognized the King Dome, so she knew her daughter was right.

She didn't know where the access ramp to I-5 was, and suddenly spotted a fellow standing beside her car. She asked him for directions to the southbound on-ramp toward Tacoma and he told her, but her blood sugar level was so low that she couldn't make heads or tails out of his instructions, so he began to run alongside the car, directing her left, then right.. and suddenly she found herself in a McDonald's parking lot, where she was able to get something to eat and drink that elevated her blood sugar levels enough for her to recover. The fellow who had gotten her that far vanished.

Now, I know Dee Spooner. She is not given to telling tall tales. When she finished, Pastor Braaten said, "I don't know how you got through all that in one piece." She said, "I didn't, on my own. There's no way I could have. God and his angel got us through it."

Pastor Braaten then told of a time when he and his wife were traveling in Nebraska on a cold, icy ten degree day when they spotted a middle-aged man in shirtsleeves walking alongside the highway in the direction they were heading. Fearing for his exposure in such severe weather, they stopped and offered him a ride. He seemed perfectly sane when they got to know him better. He said he was headed to Denver.

They took him to their place, gave him a dinner and a warm bed for the night. In the morning after breakfast, Pastor Braaten gave the man a small satchel, warmer clothes and an overcoat, then took him to the bus station and paid for a ticket to get him to Denver. They never saw him again, but Pastor Braaten now wonders if they entertained an angel unaware, as described in the Bible.

Then he recounted the story of two British missionaries in Africa in the mid 40's who became lost in the middle of nowhere -- got turned around somehow on their journey to a village and got lost -- and out of "nowhere" stepped an African who spoke perfect, unbroken King's English, asking them if they needed some help! Flabbergasted, they told him they were quite thoroughly lost. He set them off heading in the right direction again and then vanished as quickly as he had appeared. Pastor Braaten laughed and said, "What are the odds that an African bushman would know the King's English? He must have been an angel. The missionaries are convinced he was."

I have read and heard of angel encounters for a lot of years, but when people sitting in the room with you can tell stories like that -- and you know them and know of their reliability and their earnestness in explaining what they experienced -- it's hard to discount them!

Pastor Braaten told us (via Hattie Hammond, a first generation Pentecostal) of a Presbyterian minister back in the 40's who came to one of the Pentocostal meetings hoping to be imbued with the Holy Spirit. As Hattie Hammond got behind him and placed her hands on his shoulders and began to pray for the result he wanted, he slipped out from under her hands and went prostrate on the floor, face down, and for the next couple of hours began to pray in different languages he did not know for the continents of Africa (in an African language), Asia (in an Oriental language), and Europe (in several European languages). When he was finally released from the power of the Holy Spirit, he stood up and told them he was transported in the spirit and had hovered above those countries as he interceeded for them in prayer.

When Pastor Braaten heard this remarkable account he asked Hammond, "What did the experience do to him?" (meaning "How did it affect him afterward?") and she asked Braaten, "How would it affect you?"

Then Pastor Braaten said, "That was a very telling question. How would it affect each of us if it had happened to us? Some of us would get big heads and feel powerful and full of ourselves. Others would turn the experience into something powerful for the Kingdom of God. Perhaps the reason more of us don't have these kinds of experiences is that God can't trust us with this kind of power. He knows our hearts. Some of us cannot be trusted with his power. We would abuse it or misuse it."

That made all kinds of sense to me.

God wouldn't give a handgun or a razor blade to an infant or toddler. Which of us can He trust with His immense power?

Those of us He can, He does!

Not me!


Alison said...

"Not me"? Oh come on - His power is immense but it isn't like one big crate. I'm sure He gives a little here and there in ways that are special to everyone, giving just the right amount.

I'm certain you have your ration. It's abundantly clear to me at least!

Kristine M Smith said...

God trusts me with words, which are powerful. I consider it a major blessing.

Thanks for the lovely compliment, but I would not be safe with any more power than he has given me. Later I may be worthy of more, but don't hold your breath!