The Beatles’ album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” begins with these lyrics:
“It was twenty years ago today
Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play
They’ve been going in and out of style
But they’re guaranteed to raise a smile
So may I introduce to you
The act you’ve known for all these years
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
Well, almost to the day it has been twenty years since Carol and I started teaching this class in 1997. It was not long before there was almost a complete turnover in the people attending. Early on one of the original members said to me, “Well, you’ve about cleared us all out” and I think it was at that point that I realized I had very little knowledge about who was leaving as well as the new people coming in. So, I did an experiment in 1997 and then ten years later did it again. It’s now ten years after that and I’d like to do it again this morning. I call it “the three roads” and it is a lesson on three completely different roads to Christ: the Emmaus Road, the Gaza Road and the Road to Damascus. Only one of those, the last, has become almost a standard for Christian conversion and yet all three are just as valid, I believe. Christ comes to us in different ways – just as the Widow’s Mite is not the only standard for giving but too often is held up as such. I say “Christ comes to us” because that is what happens in each of these stories. Christ takes the initiative and makes the first move.
1. The first is the Emmaus Road. We know the story. Two disappointed followers of Jesus are on their way back home after the crucifixion and they are joined by a stranger. During the three hour walk the stranger opens up Scripture to them in a way they have never experienced before. Yet, they still do not know who he is or where he is going. Finally, they invite him to stop for the night with them and it is during dinner that suddenly it is revealed to them who he is. “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem.”
The second is the Gaza Road. “Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.”
The third is the Damascus Road. “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.”
2. The encounters with Jesus could not be more different but so much the same in the final result.
Jesus initiates all three but not alike at all.
On the Emmaus road he is “cloaked” and hidden from them.
On the Gaza road Philip is instructed by Jesus to approach the man.
On the Damascus road there is a blinding light and a voice from heaven.
3. There are three different personalities:
The Ethiopian official is genuinely inquisitive but incomplete in his knowledge about what he is reading.
The followers going home are discouraged and disillusioned disciples of a teacher who has died.
The persecutor is a fanatic bent on the death of the disciples and the destruction of the church.
4. There are three distinct questions:
For the Ethiopian eunuch it is, “How can I understand?” The question of reason.
For the disappointed followers it is, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us?” The question of renewal.
For the fanatic it is, “Who are you, Lord?” The question of a personal reversal.
5. There are three experiences:
For the eunuch there is no change in direction. It was an encounter with understanding.
For the followers they are turned completely around and headed back to Jerusalem again.
For the fanatic it is a new road entirely. Everything has changed.
6. There are three results:
The eunuch continues on his journey but is rejoicing.
The followers turn around and are reconnected with the others.
The fanatic is stopped completely and recreated.
What has been your road?
Each of you has had a different experience with Christ in your life. While the illustration of the three roads is not universal or complete, it is a way of explaining the differences in our encounters with Christ.
For some, it has been a journey where Jesus walked with you unrecognized until a moment in time when he was revealed. Maybe you had been walking in the wrong direction in life but instead of abandoning you he walked with you in the wrong direction until you returned to where you were supposed to be. There was no recrimination or judgment. Just a recognition of Christ in your life.
For some, it was only necessary to understand. There was no revolt or rebellion. There were only questions along the way and God provided someone as a guide or influence. You did not have to turn around or make drastic changes. It made all the sense in the world to you. You just discovered a reason to rejoice.
For some, it was being knocked off your horse. It was hitting a wall or being blinded and stopped in your tracks. You might have been angry and destructive. It was a question and then an answer that changed everything in your life.
If you are comfortable in doing so, I would like you all to tell your stories this morning. How did Christ come to you? Which road describes your encounter best?