The God Who Hides Himself
Isaiah 45:15 speaks of the God who hides Himself. It is not surprising that God in His majesty should hide Himself, but that's not who Isaiah speaks of. He says, "Truly, Thou art a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, Savior!" It's the Savior, our Jesus, who hides Himself sometimes. Our text shows us what happens when He does.
The God who hides Himself surprises us. He surprises us in the very fact that He hides Himself. Our text says that the Emmaus disciples "were kept from recognizing Him." Mark 16 says, "He appeared in a different form." Why would Jesus do this? Well, why does Jesus let Mary Magdalene think He's a gardener? Why does He let her look straight at Him and not see Him? Why don't the disciples on the after Easter fishing trip recognize Jesus standing on the beech? Our God hides Himself till we're ready to see Him. Of course, we always think we're ready to see Him, so even the reason He hides Himself is hidden from us.
Our text takes place Easter evening. Two disciples of Jesus are returning home from Jerusalem, perhaps they're husband and wife. They're sad and dejected. You heard what they said, "We had hoped that He was the One who was going to redeem Israel." But the betrayal by church leaders, the crucifixion by the state changed all that. Their Redeemer, their Savior was hidden by suffering and death. Despite the women finding His grave empty, despite angels saying He was alive, despite some apostles confirming the tomb was empty, they no longer hoped in Jesus for redemption.
Here is where the God who hides Himself surprises us. He is still present in the sad, dark, unbelieving moments. Their Jesus, their Savior, and Redeemer, Whom they have given up on hasn't given up on them. This is true for us too. Though we can't find, see, feel, or even believe Him to be present in our saddest, darkest moments, though suffering and death in our life make our hope in Him a thing of the past, Jesus remains present.
Another surprising thing is that when our Savior hides Himself, He humbles Himself. To Mary He is willing to appear as a lowly gardener. To the fishing disciples He appears as a nosey person needing some food. To the Emmaus disciples He who knows all is willing to appear as if He knows nothing at all. The hidden Savior asks the disciples who are discussing His betrayal, His arrest, His several trials, His crucifixion, His empty tomb, "What are you discussing as you walk?" He asks Mary at the tomb, "Why are you crying?" though He knows why. He asks the fishless disciples "haven't you any fish?" though He knows they don't.
Do you think your Redeemer and Savior is any different with you? When He hides Himself behind a veil of suffering and death, when He appears to be far away from you, He invites you to pray with, "Why are you crying? What is wrong? What's bothering you?" He who knows the answer to all of these questions asks you to answer them. Even though His name is holy, His will is none, His kingdom comes without your prayers, He tells you to pray for these. Even though He knows we need daily bread, rescue from temptation, and deliverance from evil, still He tell us to ask for them.
Such praying, such talking, such rehearsing of what everyone already knows is usually painful, but it's needed, isn't it? After a death, a tragedy, a traumatic experience a person needs to speak of it again and again. He or she has got to get it out of them. As an emetic gets a poison out of the body so prayer gets the poison of hopelessness, despair, and unbelief out of the soul. And it's when our Savior hides Himself that we pray, that we call out for Him. You call for someone you don't see near you, who doesn't seem around. Our God, our Savior and Redeemer, hides Himself so we might call in prayer and bring out what is poisoning our souls.
The God who hides Himself surprises us, but He also instructs us. You can see the Emmaus disciples struggling with what has just happened. They can't piece it all together though they try. They are literally throwing the events back and forth between them as they walk. "Maybe this is what means?" "But what about that?" "Then it might be this?" Suffering and death, tragedy or affliction in your life are subject to an infinite number of interpretations. And your interpretation will be based on your mood, your personality, your sin, your guilt, your fears, your worries.
In the gloaming, in the shadows, in those times when you neither see nor sense your Savior, He's there, and He's still speaking. He doesn't speak definitively in what you or others think, feel, or can believe. And He doesn't speak for you' in what's going on in your life. No, He speaks for you is in His Word. Notice in the text, through prayer, Jesus first lets them get out all that poisons their souls. Then He speaks. He refers to what Moses and the prophets have spoken, i.e. the Old Testament, the full extent of the Scriptures at that time, with specific reference to what they said about Himself, the Christ.
The Word of God you need in the twilight, in the dark night of suffering and pain is not a general word about the power of God, the might of God, or the majesty of God. You need the Christ of God; you need to hear of the Word made flesh. You don't need Guideposts which assure you everything works out without mentioning Christ. You don't need to hear that your life is to be driven by God's purpose, or that God wants you healthy, happy, and successful. Such words from God might leave your heart burning even as the words of Jesus did the Emmaus disciples, but they won't lead you to knowing God in the Breaking of Bread or back to the Church where you can get Communion as the Emmaus disciples were led. No, words not centered on Christ lead you back to yourself and what you can do.
The God who hides Himself instructs us, and that by leaving us. All translations get this wrong. Jesus doesn't act as if He is going further. He would have gone further had not they urged Him to stay. Jesus is not a rancher but a Shepherd, not a salesman but a Savior. He leads not drives, He saves not sells. If the Word that speaks about Him is not enough for you, He goes. He tells you only a wicked and unfaithful person asks for signs. If you say, "I want Jesus to stay if He'll just do this," Jesus goes. If you require the God who hides Himself to do miracles so you can find Him, then rest assured He will remain as hidden from you as He was from King Herod.
But the God who hides Himself not only surprises and instructs us, He does reveal Himself. The mystery is that the Savior who hides Himself under suffering and death reveals Himself there. The Emmaus disciples think His suffering and death were proof that He couldn't redeem them when it was proof that He was their Redeemer. The Christ had to suffer these things to enter His glory of being your Savior. The betrayal, torture, crucifying, and dying weren't the plan gone bad; they were the plan, and Jesus had told them so beforehand. But they hadn't listened. Are you?
To redeem sinners, Jesus had to take our place. We can't fulfill God's laws; Jesus could and did it in our place. God is satisfied. But what about all those times we fall short of God's laws? What about the doubts, the despair, the unbelief that percolate in our hearts? What about the greed, lust, and discontent always ebbing and flowing in our minds? These make us the property of sin, death and the Devil. The person who sins is a slave to sin says Paul in Romans. Death is the pay even one sin earns. And based on God's promise that people who sin must die the Devil has a right to your soul.
To redeem mankind from sin, death, and the Devil, not only would all God's laws have to be kept but our sins paid for and our death died. If our sins are paid for and our death died on what basis could the Devil make his claim? If each drop of Jesus' blood, sweat and tears covered one of your sins till all were covered, show me one sin of yours Jesus didn't pay for. If Jesus died your death already, how can the Devil claim you must die too? You can't die the death of the sinner or go to hell as a sinner should, because Jesus has been there and done that in your place. God's Word reveals in Jesus' suffering and death your God and Savior. It also reveals that when suffering and death come to you they can't be to get payment for your sins or to show you God forsakes you because of them. No, Jesus suffered and died forsaken as payment for your sins, so you can enter His glory.
The Savior God who hides Himself in, with, and under suffering and death, reveals Himself not just in Word but in Sacraments. The Words Jesus spoke of Him redeeming them by suffering made their hearts burn, but what opened their eyes was Jesus doing the sacramental actions of taking bread, giving thanks, breaking it, and giving it to them. You will not find you're Savior hiding in your visions, dreams, moods, feelings, or opinions. He hides Himself in Waters that don't move but are living; in Words spoken by a man but from God in heaven; in Bread that His Body given for you; in Wine that is His Blood shed for you.
Don't look for the resurrection of your dead hopes or dead body in your heart or body, but in His resurrected One. Don't look for the life of the world to come in the shadows, suffering, and sadness of this life. Look for it in the One who declared, "I am the resurrection and the life." This One reveals that He abides with us in darkness, pain, and grief. Even though we stray, He does not. We return to our Bibles; He is there. We return to the Font; He is there. We return to the altar; He is there. We return to the Church as the Emmaus disciples did, and lo and behold, we find what they did, Jesus is here ahead of us.
Truly our Savior God hides Himself, but not only do we know where He is hiding, but He hides in plain sight! Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Easter III (20080406); Luke 24: 13-35