It was a walk to remember, but they had forgotten Jesus’ promise of His resurrection, and even on the 3rd day since His crucifixion, even with reports that the tomb was empty, they still held no hope, it would be too good to be true...someone must have stolen His body, they thought. This story shows how quick we are to give up hope.
Paul wrote to his friends at Corinth,
1 Corinthians 15:19-20
19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. 20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
But on that first Easter day that living hope was far from being established in the experience of the two people we read of in our text. Let’s put ourselves in
their shoes as they set out on the seven-mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus. It was a:
A HEART-BREAKING EXPERIENCE
Have you ever noticed that some of the saddest words in our language begin with the letter D? For example, discouragement, disappointment, doubt, disillusionment, defeat, despair and death. All of these are summed up in the words of Cleopas and his companion to the stranger who joined them on the Emmaus road. They had left the dispirited and confused band of disciples with the events of Friday fresh in their memories.
The Master they had revered, loved and followed had been horribly put to death - a cruel death of the most degrading kind. Only a week before, on Palm Sunday, the disciples’ hopes had risen to fever pitch when the excited crowds had hailed their Master as the longed-for deliverer from the tyranny of Roman occupation but now he lay dead in a sealed tomb! Their hopes were dashed; the dream was over!
The band of Jesus’ followers was leaderless and was falling apart, with two of them already on their way home. The reports that Christ’s tomb was empty did nothing to alter their thinking; it only confused them. Their entire world had come apart. The two despondent disciples summed up the situation very neatly saying, "we had hoped [trusted] that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel." [their Messiah]
Human hope is a fragile thing, and when it withers it’s difficult to revive. Hopelessness is a disease of the human spirit and it is desperately hard to cure. When you see someone you love and care for overtaken by illness, which goes on, and on, despair sets in. It almost becomes impossible to hope for recovery, to be even afraid to hope because of not being able to cope with another letdown.
The Emmaus Two had erected a wall of hopelessness around them, and they were trapped in their misery. "We had hoped ..." What they were saying is "We don’t expect it now, but once we did. We had it, this thing called hope, but now it’s gone." I wonder if this is something that we can identify with. Has something or someone come between our relationship with God? If so, listen to the Emmaus story because the heart-breaking experience is only its beginning!
As the travelers made their weary way to Emmaus a stranger came alongside them. It was going to turn into one of the most wonderful walks in history! We know, of course, that it was the risen Jesus, but somehow they didn’t recognize him. In fact, Luke tells us they were kept from recognizing him. It wasn’t an accident that they didn’t notice who He is or that they were too preoccupied to look at Him in the eye. No, they weren’t allowed to recognize Jesus for a purpose. I believe it was so that they might be in the same position as we are some 2,000 years later.
Visual appearances of Jesus ceased at his Ascension. They are not granted to us. Like them we don’t know quite what to make of it. Did it all really happen?
The stranger saw they were downtrodden and asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?" And so they poured out their sad story to someone who seemed so willing to listen. How wonderfully kind and compassionate is our Lord. He could well have chewed them out, to say the least, for their lack of faith in him. Hadn’t he told them that unless a seed dies, it abides alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit? (John 12:24). But no, Jesus doesn’t berate them, but rather, as someone put it in moving words, "In his infinite courtesy, Jesus remembered the frailty of over-strained nerves and bewildered minds and came, not too suddenly or overwhelming upon them, but in a way which He alone could do, revealed Himself as the Risen Christ."
The way that Jesus dealt with the situation is a lesson to all that are in a position to help those who have lost hope. They need companionship. They need a listening ear before a stream of good advice. The last thing they need is a brisk "cheering up" talk or being told to "snap out of it". Instead, let’s be there with them. Let’s love them by listening, by accepting what it is that they feel. There’ll be time later to point them to the way of hope, to the One in whom hope is to be found, but first things first. It’s then that the heart-breaking experience changes to a:
A HEART-SEARCHING EXPERIENCE
Their spokesman, Cleopas, expressed surprise at even being asked what was worrying them, "Are you the only one living in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have happened there in these days?"
The two Emmaus bound disciples were mostly correct in their theology as far as it went. They told the stranger that this Jesus "was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people" (19). "He was ..." - notice the use of the past tense, which strongly implies that he wasn’t relevant to the present or otherwise they wouldn’t have been in their present downcast state of mind. Their experience of Jesus was in the past, and they thought they were alone. The Cross had taken him from them, and their minds hadn’t made sense of the changed situation, or adjusted to it. The Cross was just a great negative to them.
We’ve all heard exciting testimonies of what Jesus has done in the past - but what about the present? The past is history. The question must be: is Jesus "a present, bright reality" to those who give their experience, to you and me? Do we always recognize him beside us? Life has many distractions - hard work, routine, tiredness, ill health - which can so grind us down that we become mechanical, never lifting our eyes - or minds - from the dust of the earthly road we travel. We become unaware of the glory and strength of His presence with us. Life loses its meaning and leaves us washed out, but this story gives us hope.
Jesus is still there. He’s the unseen "stranger", walking with us, listening to us and, if we are willing to hear his voice, revealing Himself to us. As the two disciples spoke of the Cross he took hold of their bewilderment and sorrow and gave them a heart-warming experience. How did he do it? He pointed them to God’s self-revelation in the Scriptures.
Jesus must have given the Emmaus travelers the greatest Old Testament exposition in history - to a congregation of two! It was then that the jigsaw of the types, shadows and symbols of the Old Testament revelation began to come together. He would have reminded them that right back at the Fall of Mankind the apparently victorious Satan, in the form of the serpent, was told that the seed, the offspring of the woman "will crush your head, and you will bruise his heel" (Gen 3:15). What a wonderful anticipation of Jesus at Calvary.
And so was foretold the story of the cosmic struggle between death and life, of the pattern of death and resurrection in the Old Testament revelation. It’s clearly visible in the life of Abraham, sacrificing his dear and only son Isaac and getting him back again; of Joseph, preserved to become the benefactor of his brothers who tried to destroy him; of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt after having been saved from the angel of death through the sign of the blood of the Passover lamb.
Jesus would have recalled his own teaching of how the Israelites escaped physical death in the wilderness from a plague of serpents when they looked trustingly to a great bronze serpent which Moses raised on a pole, pointing out that he too would be lifted up on the Cross, "that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life in him" (John 3:15). Jesus would surely have taken the now speechless disciples through the Suffering Servant of Jehovah passages in Isaiah. He would have recounted how the nation of Israel, taken into exile and brought back again to rebuild Jerusalem, was a symbol of the greater redemption through personal salvation through faith in him.
Here was proof that Jesus had fulfilled that which had been prophesied over the centuries; that these Old Testament anticipations of his passion and triumph of life over death, proved that he was indeed the Messiah. The two disciples couldn’t have expected that sharing their problem with the stranger on the Emmaus road brought them towards a solution. But there was more to it than that. Christ wasn’t there beside them simply to help them to find solutions - he was in the problem itself.
Cleopas and his companion accepted the gentle rebuke that Jesus made in v. 25 [read] as He said they were slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Perhaps the key word is "all". It wasn’t that they hadn’t read the OT, but perhaps they’d read the Scriptures selectively, concentrating on those parts that spoke of a triumphant Messiah who would be kind to his enemies and be victorious. The passages that spoke of a suffering servant didn’t fit in with their expectation of the Messiah and they’d tended to skip over them. When they had been given the exposition from the Scriptures they reacted positively, and in fact they wanted even more, which led them to:
A HEART-BURNING EXPERIENCE
Their two-hour journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus must have seemed like five minutes, being so wrapped up in this absorbing conversation with the Lord they hadn’t yet recognized.
v. 28 Luke informs us that as they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if He was going
further. You see, Jesus is a gentleman; he won’t force Himself if He’s not really wanted. He awaited their
invitation to come in.
God gave to the world the greatest and the most perilous gift in the world, the gift of free will; and we can use it to invite Christ into our lives or allow him to pass on and knock on someone else’s door.
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
This door...there’s no outer knob or handle to it. But I believe there is a handle...and it’s on the inside! This is very much the situation in the Emmaus story. It was a test to see if the disciples had more appetite for the things of God. They did.
v. 29 That’s the sort of invitation that Jesus can’t resist!
They needn’t have asked Him in; he was ready to move on. But no, their hearts had been won over. A basic meal was quickly made ready. The bread is on the table and the moment for Jesus’ disclosure has come. How does he do it?
v. 30 It was the action of the breaking of bread. They saw his hands - they were different from when he had broken bread at the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and at the Last Supper. They were the nail-pierced hands of Jesus.
v. 31 Why did Jesus have to disappear? Couldn’t he have stayed longer? He could, but he didn’t because it’s all part of
the education of His last 40 days on Earth - how to manage without His bodily presence from now on; exactly the same as we have had to do for some 2,000 years now. But He is with us still by His
Spirit; He is with us as we fellowship with Him in worship and, in obedience to His command, as we remember Him in the "breaking of bread" communion service.
I can imagine Cleopas and his friend standing in amazement; perhaps embracing in great joy, asking each other in v. 32 "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" Their world had come together again. That heart-burning experience is something that we all need. We need it in a conversion experience when the Spirit of God makes us realize that we need Jesus as our Savior and Lord. We need it as we allow the Holy Spirit to apply the truths of Scripture in our daily walk with Jesus.
Well, where are we in our experience? Are we still heart-breaking because we need to meet the risen Christ? Perhaps we’re still in a heart-searching process - if so, let it continue as it will surely lead to the heart-burning experience we all need. God deeply longs for each one of us to walk with Him in close fellowship so He can fulfill His plans for our lives.
v. 33 The two disciples lost no time in retracing their steps back to Jerusalem to share the Good News. May that be our experience as we leave the Easter Season and continue walking our road.
[courtesy Owen Bourgaize]
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