Life can be pretty tough at times and we all know what it is to have our hopes dashed and our dreams shattered. The loss of a job, the breakup of a marriage or the onset of an illness are but a few of the things that can wreck our lives.
The gospel writer Luke tells us the story of two such people. They had become devoted followers of Jesus believing Him to be their long-awaited Messiah, the king who would finally liberate God's people from pagan tyranny.
But things seem to have gone wrong, very badly wrong in fact, because far from overthrowing the forces of Rome, Jesus had been brutally executed, thereby proving that both He and they had been deluded. And as a result they found themselves wending their way towards the village of Emmaus some seven miles away from the city where their hopes had vanished like the morning mist.
But it turned out to be a journey that changed their lives because as they chatted, a stranger joined them and explained to them that far from being unexpected, the death of Jesus had been long foretold. Then, to their utter amazement they realised that 'the stranger' was Jesus Himself. Far from being dead He was very much alive. Not surprisingly then, it was an encounter that gave them renewed hope for the future.
I have been reflecting on that story over the past few days because it reminds me of the countless people I have met who have had their hopes restored because they have had an encounter with the risen Christ. I won't mention their names, but they have some vivid stories to tell.
There was the Bosnian refugee, for example, who had seen members of her family murdered and was also told that the baby she was carrying would be born dead. But she met some Christians who introduced her to Jesus and as a result she prayed fervently for the baby in her womb. Much to everyone's amazement the little girl was born alive and her ecstatic mum named her 'Nada' which means hope.
Then there was the former alcoholic and habitual criminal whose life was in such a mess that he finally cried out to God for help. And He did just that through a vicar who encouraged him to read the New Testament. In fact it proved to be such a life-changing experience he returned to prison as a probation officer!
And I could continue. I could tell you of couples whose marriages were collapsing but trusted what I had to say about Jesus and turned to Him for help. I've been thinking about those this week. And then there was the young mum-to-be who was wracked with guilt because the baby in her womb was a growing reminder of an abortion she'd had several years before. She had an amazing experience of God's love too and she ended up wallowing in the joy of divine forgiveness.
These are but a few of the countless people I have met who have had their hopes restored and their zest for life renewed. But I can't finish without referring to the many others I have known who have been encouraged and inspired by the fact that the Christian hope transcends death itself. For like caterpillars we may have to enter our own chrysalis, but we have the assurance that the day is coming when we will fly like butterflies!
Rob James is a Baptist minister, writer and church and media consultant to the Evangelical Alliance Wales. He is the author of Little Thoughts About a Big God.