(Written to go along with a sermon on Philippians 3:17-21)
Have you ever had the experience of not recognizing someone you know very well because you saw him in a place you didn’t expect to see him, or she had her hair styled differently or was dressed differently than normal? It can be embarrassing when you act toward someone as if he were a stranger only to discover that he’s a friend.
It can be even more embarrassing to mistake a stranger for someone you know. Our family once had a good laugh at my father. One Sunday he came into the church service a little late. He was concentrating on the speaker as he walked to a pew and sat down. Still looking at the preacher, he put his arm around the lady next to him and was startled by her reaction. From the back he had mistaken her for my mother. It took a while for him to live that one down!
Luke records perhaps one of the oddest cases of mistaken identity. In chapter 24, starting in verse 13 he writes, “Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.” (Luke 24:13-16 NIV)
I’ve often wondered what it was which kept these men from recognizing Jesus. No doubt, part of it was that they were not expecting Jesus to appear. They knew He’d been crucified. They knew He had died. They knew He’d been buried. You simply don’t expect a dead man to start walking down the road with you.
No doubt part of their confusion was that they didn’t know what to think. They’d heard the reports of the empty tomb but still hadn’t processed what that meant.
However, I think the main reason they didn’t recognize Jesus is that He was different. His post-resurrection body didn’t look the same. He had been transformed.
Why is that significant? Why is it important that Jesus was transformed? It’s important because just as Jesus was transformed, we who follow Him are also in the process of being transformed. We are becoming someone different than who we once were. In speaking about the difference between those under the Law of Moses and Christians, Paul writes, “Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:15-18 NIV)
I think that all of us who have been Christians for a while recognize the truth of what Paul wrote. We aren’t the same as we used to be. The Spirit is in the process of transforming us to become like Christ.
The transformation that we’re going through is the first stage of another transformation we’re looking forward to. In 1st Corinthians 15, starting in verse 50, Paul writes, “I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”” (1 Corinthians 15:50-54 NIV)
Jesus gave us bread and wine to remember Him. Specifically, they represent His body and blood which He sacrificed on our behalf. However, the death of Christ is not some static event which took place in the distant past. No, the death, burial and resurrection are what make our spiritual transformation possible. Because Christ was transformed, we have a living hope that our bodies will one day be transformed as well.
Today, as we remember the cross, let’s give thanks not only for Jesus but, also, for our transformation.