On Resurrection Sunday, two disciples of Jesus began to walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a distance of about 12 kilometres. As they walked, they discussed what had happened in the past few days; how their Master – the great prophet they believed would save Israel – had been crucified, his body placed in a tomb; and then how that morning, some of the female disciples had found his body gone and claimed to have seen angels who told them Jesus lived. A man approached the two disciples and asked what they discussed so earnestly and why they were so sad. They explained, to which the man replied that they were slow of heart not to believe all that the prophets had spoken about Christ in ages past, testifying all that He should do, and suffer, and triumph over. The man then went through all of the scriptures from Moses onwards, and taught them with power what they meant. Of course, we know that the man was in fact the Lord Jesus Christ, but the disciples’ eyes were “restrained” so that they didn’t recognise Him.
One kilometre takes me about 20 minutes to walk, if I’m just walking at a medium pace. So the walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus might take about four hours. Imagine, almost four hours of the Saviour explaining the scriptures about Himself to you! What an education that would be. No wonder these men said to each other, when Jesus had left them, that their hearts had burned within them while He talked. By the end, their hearts and minds had been enlightened and uplifted, and they, too, knew their Lord lived. Later that evening (once the two disciples had returned to Jerusalem with their amazing news – another 4-hour walk?), the Saviour appeared to all of them – the eleven apostles, and remaining disciples.
Reading Luke’s account of these events, I think of all of these disciples – apostles and others – who didn’t know what to make of the Lord’s promises and then His death; who knew it was the third day of the prophecy and yet nothing, apparently, had happened yet except His body being gone from the tomb and the women reporting an angelic message that He lived. The rest didn’t yet believe them or know what it really meant.
I imagine the despair they might have felt after their Lord was gone – crucified ignominiously – themselves in danger, perhaps for their lives. Their hopes seemingly dashed; this promise of Jesus that He would be resurrected improbable, unfathomable. Alone, bereft, drifting… how would they continue without their Lord? Had it been it real? Was it over? Were they to go back to their mundane, former lives?
Then, the faint hope of their dreams being fulfilled – the report of the women that Sunday morning; the two disciples reporting their encounter. And then, its confirmation: the Christ was alive! What they could not imagine was possible and had occurred! They could finally accept that Jesus’ marvellous prophecy had been true; it was actually fulfilled; this thing of which they couldn’t conceive; this miracle like no other before or since. Life had no end, not really; their hope of eternal life was proven real; “death had no sting”. Jesus truly was the Christ, the Son of God, their true Saviour, with all power. They could rely on Him; they could hope; they could go forth and live out their lives in struggles and effort, bringing light to the rest of humanity. It didn’t matter any longer what would happen to them in pursuit of this mission – who ridiculed them, persecuted them, imprisoned or even killed them. They would go on; what they did was more important than what would happen to them doing it.They experienced a complete renewal of purpose, their testimonies flaring up into unquenchable fires within.
I liken this to promises I’ve received from heaven in my life – my patriarchal and other blessings, prophetic promises, heavenly inspiration and personal revelation. Some of these things have seemed (or still do seem) sort of fantastical to me – whether because I haven’t considered them before, or because they’re things I would deeply desire to happen but for which I can’t see a way towards; things I want to believe but don’t quite.
The reason I don’t see them is because I’m looking at the seen, not the unseen. Like the disciples, I want these promises to become reality, but I’m relying on my experience – and because these things don’t fit there, I can’t properly see them in my future. In these instances, I’m basing my faith on my own understanding – but faith is about reaching out for things you don’t yet understand, things that aren’t in your experience; trusting that our Heavenly Father sees everything – so much further and wider and clearer than we do – and therefore, that His promises are precisely true. So why not live as though these things will become real? Why not live as though they already have? Because if God sees it, then it will happen, unless I lack faith and make choices that don’t lead me there.
I know that heavenly promises in the past, which didn’t seem to make sense in the circumstances of the time, have been fulfilled. I have great reason to have unending faith in Christ and heaven just through my own experiences – without even the mountains of evidence found in the scriptures that God fulfils His word and does wondrous things. I know it myself.
But sometimes I’m like Peter before his complete conversion – I go out to walk on the water and then forget that God always rescues me and supports me, and I start looking down and sinking. I forget, over and over. I need to remember, like Nephi exhorted his brothers to do:
Yea, and how is it that ye have forgotten that the Lord is able to do all things according to his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him? Wherefore, let us be faithful to him.
~ 1 Nephi 7:12
I, too, can look to the brightness of heavenly promises in distressing or dark times, when all seems lost. When I don’t measure up, or people around me fail, or the things I thought I could depend on disappear. Because there’s something way better up ahead; something that seems fantastical to me right now. I can let those promises be anchors to hold my soul in hope and faith until their truth becomes clear. Like the apostles in Jesus’ time, doing this will make my testimony a burning-bright flame that fires me onwards to goodness, no matter what happens.