On the Road to Emmaus (Luke 10-24)

Have you ever had that experience where you’re looking for something, but you can’t see it even though it’s right in front of you?  Sueanne will tell you that this happens to me frequently.  I can look in the closet for a specific piece of clothing and insist that it’s not there only to discover later on that it was right there in front of my face.  I can look in the kitchen cabinets for a food item and would swear that the item I’m looking for is not there only to discover later on that it was right there in front of my face all along.

            Now I consider this to be a rather special talent, but Sueanne says that it’s not really special at all, because I share that talent with every other man on the face of this earth.  And I would argue with her, but I find it very difficult to make my case.

            Now, not being able to see a piece of clothing or an item of food may not be such a big deal in the big scheme of things.  But, have you ever had this happen with the big things in life?  Where you’re looking for something really important, but you just can’t see it? 

            This morning, we’re going to look at a story in the gospel of Luke about two individuals who couldn’t see something important, or more specifically, they couldn’t see someone important who was right in front of their eyes.

            Before we get to that story, though, let’s take a look at this overview of the second half of the gospel of Luke.  

            Watch VIDEO (Luke, part 2)

            As Luke closes out his gospel, he tells us about two disciples who were walking down the road.  We pick up in Luke chapter 24, verse 13.  “That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:13)

            Let me remind you of what “that very day” was.

            It was the same day that the women disciples found the tomb empty, and heard the Good News from the angels: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.”  (Luke 24:5-6).

            It was the same day that those women went and shared that Good News with the men disciples.  But the men thought they were just talking crazy, and wouldn’t believe them.

            It was also the same day that Peter decided maybe the women weren’t so crazy.  After all, Jesus had told them — more than once! — that he would be killed, but rise again on the third day.  So, Peter went to investigate things for himself, and found the tomb empty, just as the women had said.  But instead of joining the women in proclaiming the Good News that Jesus had risen, Peter just “went home marveling at what had happened.” (Luke 24:12).  

            After all, nobody had actually seen Jesus.  An empty tomb by itself wasn’t absolute proof that Jesus had been raised.  It’s possible that maybe his body had been moved somewhere else.

            A lot had happened that day.  And it was still the first day of the week.  It was still Resurrection Sunday.  But nobody really understood what that meant — yet.

            And so, Luke shows us these two disciples of Christ, walking along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  For the past week or so, they’ve been in Jerusalem for the Passover.  And it’s possible — even likely — that they had seen Jesus crucified with their own eyes.  But now they’re headed home to the small village of Emmaus.

            One of the disciples is later identified as Cleopas.  The other disciple is never named, although there has been much speculation.  John 19 refers to a woman disciple, “Mary the wife of Clopas”, who stood with Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalene at the cross.  Clopas and Cleopas were different forms of the same name.  Is it possible that those two disciples on the road to Emmaus were Cleopas and his wife, Mary?   I’m sure Sueanne would argue that they both must have been men because neither one of them could see what was right in front of their eyes, but it’s at least possible.

            But Luke doesn’t spend any time giving us any details about those two disciples.  Instead, he lets us know that they were “talking with each other about all these things that had happened.” (Luke 24:14).

            They were in the middle of a conversation about what had just happened in Jerusalem a couple of days before – specifically, the trials and crucifixion of Jesus.  They were unable to put it all together and come up with an explanation that made sense. 

            Was Jesus a failure or a success?  How could the one who was the Messiah have suffered the way that he did – how he could have been crucified like he was?  Was Jesus really just a common criminal?  But if he was, then how could he have taught with such authority?  How could he have done the miracles he did?  It just didn’t make any sense.  And now, what was going to happen to the nation of Israel?  Were they supposed to start looking for another Messiah?

            I want you to see that these two disciples began their journey in pain.  They were hurting deeply.  And isn’t that true of each of us on our journey?  Whether it’s physical or emotional pain, or the pain of some trial that we’re going through, or the pain of loneliness or confusion about what’s going on.  We’ve all been there.  Some of you are there right now.  Your journey is full of pain.  Shattered dreams.  Confusion.  Make sure you stay with me because there’s some good news later in this story.

            In the midst of their conversation, these two disciples are approached by a stranger.  Now, Luke tells us who this stranger was, but he also makes it clear that the two disciples didn’t recognize him.  In verse 15: “While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” (Luke 24:15-16)

            This idea that Jesus’ disciples are blind to what is clearly shown to them has come up over and over throughout Luke’s gospel.  Before they left for Jerusalem, Jesus told his disciples when they got there, he would be rejected, tortured, and killed by the authorities; but would rise again on the third day. And Luke tells us, “they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it.” (Luke 9:45).

            And then, when they were almost to Jerusalem, Jesus told them again that he would be handed over to the Gentiles, mocked, tortured, and killed.  But on the third day, he would be raised to life.  And again, Luke tells us, “they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”(Luke 18:34).

            Now, on those occasions, I think it was their own opinions, expectations and fears that kept the disciples from seeing and understanding.  But this time, it appears that it was God who kept these two disciples from recognizing Jesus until the time was right.

            When Jesus joined up with the two disciples, he asked them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?”(Luke 24:17)  That question stopped them in their tracks.  Luke says, “They stood still, looking sad.” (Luke 24:17)

            “Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’  And he said to them, ‘What things?’” (Luke 24:18-19)

            Watching Jesus play dumb here makes me chuckle a bit.  Jesus has been at the very heart of everything that’s happened in Jerusalem, and now he’s asking these two men what’s going on!  Cleopas and his companion look at Jesus like he’s from another planet.  “Have you not heard what just happened?  Everybody in town is talking about it.” 

            It would be like walking up to someone in New York City on September 12, 2001, and asking somebody, “So, what’s going on?  What’s everybody so upset about?”  It’s obvious.  It’s what everybody is talking about.  How in the world could someone not know what’s been going on? 

            And so, they tell Jesus the story of Jesus.  They tell him how Jesus was rejected by the authorities, who handed him over to be crucified.  And how their hopes that he would restore Israel died with Jesus on that cross.  But now some of the women disciples found Jesus’ tomb empty, and the angels told them he was alive.  And some of the men have gone and confirmed that the tomb was, indeed, empty.  But nobody has actually seen Jesus yet.

            They’re telling all this to Jesus.  They’re talking about how nobody has seen Jesus yet, but they’re looking right at him, and they don’t know it.  

            The part that I want you to pay careful attention to is verse 21.  They said to Jesus, “But we were hoping that it was he who was going to redeem Israel”.  You can feel the pain in that statement.  Many of Jesus’ disciples had left their former lives in order to follow him – they left their families, they left their jobs.  But the cross brought them crashing down with a thud.  Their entire lives had been based on the fact that Jesus was the Messiah.  And now he was dead.  And their hope is gone.  The cross had dashed their hopes so completely that even the rumors of an empty tomb weren’t enough to restore their faith.

            They said, “We were hoping.”  Can you feel their pain?  Maybe you can relate to them.  I want to make some application of this passage into your own life because there will likely come a time in your life when hope will run dry and you will have to face disappointment just as surely as those two disciples faced that day.  And it will be just as devastating.  There will be times when we set our hearts on something that just doesn’t come about.  No matter how important it may be to us or how hard we pray, it just doesn’t happen.  And we find ourselves crying with Cleopas, “but I was hoping…”

            I was hoping that he or she would be the one that I would spend the rest of my life with.  How could they just leave me?  How could they find somebody else?

            I was hoping that the work at my company would continue.  But now the layoffs have started.  What am I going to do now?

            I was hoping that I could avoid being deployed, and have more time with my spouse and kids, but the orders are in.

            I was hoping that the test would come back negative.  But now I’ve got to face surgery and treatments…How am I going to get through all of this?

            I was hoping that my son or daughter had finally gotten their life straight, that they would finally be off of drugs.  But now…what am I going to do?

            You see, life doesn’t always turn out the way that we hope it will.  So often we have to face disappointment, heartache and dashed hopes.  That’s what those two disciples were feeling as they walked along the road to Emmaus.  And at some point in our lives, we all feel it.  In fact, it’s possible that some of you are feel­ing it right now.

            But, getting back to Luke’s story, I want you to catch the irony here. These two disciples are telling the resurrected Jesus, who has just finished redeeming all of humanity, that they “had hoped he would have been the redeemer.”  And I don’t see how Jesus could possibly keep from smiling.

            We pick up in verse 25.  “He said to them ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’” (Luke 24:25-26).

            Jesus calls these two disciples “foolish”.  And I think that’s the reaction we’re all afraid of.   That’s why we’re sometimes afraid to share our pain with God.  We say to ourselves, “I was hoping…” and we repeat it over and over without ever turning to God.  Because we’re afraid he might be harsh – he might point out that we’re just being foolish. 

            But I don’t think Jesus was being harsh at all.  I think this was the Jewish equivalent of saying to someone, “Don’t be silly.”  And then, he helped them to understand.  “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27).

            And we find that Jesus wasn’t the only thing that those two disciples weren’t able to see clearly.  They also had never seen the Old Testament clearly.  And that was the problem with most of the Jews of that day:  they saw the Messiah as a conquering king, but they didn’t see him as a suffering servant.  And so, as they read the Old Testament, they saw the glory but they didn’t see the suffering, they saw the crown but not the cross.

            And so, Jesus taught them from the scriptures.  Wouldn’t you have loved to have been there for that Bible study?  I don’t know what passages Jesus covered.  Maybe he started at Genesis 3:15, the very first hint of a Redeemer.  No doubt he would have talked about the promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and he may have lingered a bit at Genesis 22, where Abraham placed his only beloved son on the altar. 

            Surely, Jesus would have talked about the Passover, the Levitical sacrifices, the Day of Atonement, the serpent in the wilderness, the suffering Servant in Isaiah 53, and the prophetic messages of Psalm 22 and 69.

            And, perhaps for the very first time, God’s plan of salvation was laid out before these two disciples and explained to them in a way they could understand.

            In verse 28, “They drew near to the village to which they were going.  [Jesus] acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.’  So he went in to stay with them.” (Luke 24:28-29).

            I love that phrase where “they urged him strongly” to stay with them.  You see, these two disciples wanted more.  They had experienced something as they walked and talked with Jesus, and now they wanted more of it.

            And I think the same thing happens today.  When Jesus comes and walks with us, we eventually get to a point where we need to choose – are we going to let Jesus go his own way, or will we invite him to stay with us?  Will we invite him not just to walk with us in our pain, but to come right into our home – to come right into the midst of our lives?

            In verse 30, “When [Jesus] was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.” (Luke 24:30)

            Some of Jesus’ most significant ministry happened at a meal, around a table.  And this is not the first time that Luke has used the words, “he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.”

            For example, in Luke 9, we read a story about how Jesus fed 5,000 people.  Luke tells us, “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.” (Luke 9:16).  Jesus took the food.  He blessed the food.  He broke the food.  And he gave them the food.

            Then there was the Last Supper — the final Passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples.  Luke tells us, “he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19).  Again, Jesus took the bread.  He blessed it.  He broke it.  And he gave it to them.

            And now, here with these two disciples, Jesus does the same thing.  He took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them.  And, at this point, we’re told,

            “Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.  They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?’” (Luke 24:31-32).

            I’m sure those scriptures that Jesus quoted were verses that they had read many times before, but now they took on a brand new meaning.

            One of my favorite movies of all time is “The Sixth Sense”.  I don’t normally like to watch a movie a second time, but this is one movie you have to watch a second time, because of what you discover at the end of the movie, which is shocking.  Now if you haven’t yet seen the movie, this is a spoiler alert (but you’ve had 22 years to watch this movie, so if you haven’t seen it yet, I don’t feel bad spoiling it for you). 

            In the movie, Bruce Willis plays a child psychologist who is trying to help a young boy who sees dead people and it turns out at the end of the movie that Bruce Willis is one of the people who is dead.  Now, what’s interesting is that if you go back through the movie a second time, it’s so obvious that he’s dead.  His wife never looks at him or interacts with him.  No one really talks to him except for the young boy.  You begin to interpret things that happen in the movie, like the use of the color red, in a whole new way once you know the ending. 

            The story of Jesus is like that, except that it’s the exact opposite.  When you get to the end of his story, you think that Jesus is dead, but the shocking ending is that Jesus is alive again.  And once you understand how the story ends, as you go back through the Scriptures again, you can’t help but read them in a whole new light.  It’s all about Jesus.  It’s all pointing to our need for him.  It’s all about this coming Savior who is going to be rejected and pay the ultimate sacrifice on the cross.  But then he will be raised from the dead.

            And once they understood the story from this new perspective, the despair of the two disciples was replaced with a renewed hope.  Because they met the resurrected Christ.  And that changed everything.

            Because it means Jesus really did have a showdown with evil on the cross, and he won the victory for all of us in his resurrection.  Satan, the world and its fallen powers, other people—they can hurt us. They can harass us. They can even kill us. But you know what they can’t do? They can’t win the ultimate victory.  People who believe in the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ live with hope because we know that sorrow and shame and suffering and death don’t get the final word.

            The disappointments and the heartaches of life will still bring us pain.  This world has always been a world that crucifies, but our God has always been a resurrecting God.  Because God has neverbeen a God to let death have the final word.  The fact that Jesus Christ, our Lord, has been raised from the dead changes everything for us.

            And so, the resurrection is not a theological position for us to celebrate once a year.  Neither is the resurrection something merely to be thought about once a week as we gather on Sundays to remember what happened that Lord’s Day long ago.  Rath­er, the resurrection is at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian.  We serve a risen Savior.  And that is the power of the cross.  Jesus died for us, but death could not keep him in the grave.  The power that brought him up from the grave will do the same for us one day.

            As Paul wrote in Romans 8, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11).

            The crucifixion offers forgiveness, but it is the resurrection that offers hope.  The empty tomb tells me that no matter what may happen in my life, no matter how hopeless things may appear, the day is coming when I will stand victorious with Jesus Christ. 

            The power that Jesus showed over death is the same power that God offers to us through his Holy Spirit.  His resurrection frees us from our fear of death.  We have hope of a life beyond this one, and that knowledge brings hope to this life.

            “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:12)

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