Home

There and Back Again: Two Disciples’ Journey to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)

May 7, 2014

editorial-april-20131

I believe that this passage of Scripture reveals the essence of the gospel.  God has inspired Luke to write this passage as an historical narrative of the actual events that occurred and also as an instructive narrative for our Christian lives.

Luke begins this passage by placing it in the context of the day of Jesus’ resurrection.  That “very” or “same” day, the day itself, that was known as the “Lord’s day” to the early church.  This was no ordinary day.  Luke has already shared the events at the empty tomb that will be summarized by these two disciples leaving Jerusalem.

This passage is often described as “The Road to Emmaus.”  Luke tells us that two of the disciples were traveling the seven-mile road from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  Why would two of Jesus’ disciples be leaving Jerusalem and the rest of the disciples on the very day Jesus has risen to life?  The answer is simple—they believed Jesus was still dead.

It seems reasonable to think that they were headed home.  We know one of these disciples is named Clopas.  The other could be another man or his wife.  Luke’s Clopas might be the same man called “Cleopas” by John in John 19:25 where he names “Mary the wife of Cleopas” as one of the women who watched at the cross with Jesus’ mother Mary.  Luke describes the two walking along the road discussing “with each other all these things that have happened.”  I believe they were perplexed, confused, bewildered, disillusioned and distraught.  They will confess to the unrecognized Jesus that their hopes have been dashed by his death.  They admit to being discombobulated by the “idle tales” of the women’s reports of angels and the resurrection.  These two are beside themselves.  In this state of disorientation, they seem to be seeking refuge by going home and returning to a place of comfort in this world.

This is reflective of our lives.  Imagine when you are anxious, worried, fearful, confused and don’t know what to do or where to go—when God has not met your expectations.  Whether you are bored or stressed, disappointed or nervous, don’t you want to find comfort?  When your hopes are apparently dashed, the vision of faith is cracked, and you seek security where you have been before.  You may turn away from God’s call into the sin that “clings so closely.” (Hebrews 12:1) This might be an addiction, an unhealthy relationship, a sinful habit like gossip or accusations, rebellion against God, or binging on something appealing.  You may fall into depression and despair while isolating yourself from others who care about you.  You may ignore God and walk or drift away.

At times like these, you may find yourself in a state similar to the tragic figure Cunegonde from Voltaire’s satirical story Candide. Things that she has seen and experienced in the world have frightened and disillusioned her, and when presented with the idea of faith and hope for better things, she protests, “I’ve had such horrible misfortunes in my world that my heart is nearly closed to hope.”

These two disciples’ hearts, like ours can become, have become closed to hope in the face of the crucifixion of Jesus on whom their hopes had been set.  They do not know the rest of the story.

What happens to these two disciples on the Road to Emmaus can happen to us on our figurative Roads to Emmaus.  What the Lord reveals in this narrative is the pattern of the Christian life for all time in this world.  What occurs here can occur for us today.

It begins with the risen Lord Jesus coming alongside his children in their distress, lament and disorientation.  Jesus draws near to the two disciples and walks along with them.  Likewise, even in our darkest or most stressful moments, Jesus comes beside us to walk with us.  Jesus intervenes in the situation by asking a simple question that is essentially, “What are you talking about?” or “What is your problem?” or “What are you two so worked up about it?”

Look at the response to Jesus’ question.  I love this.  The two disciples actually stop walking, “they stood still looking sad.”  With a question, Jesus literally arrests the movement of their lives.  In his play, The Rock, T. S. Eliot has a wise character warn, “Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.  Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.” Remember, Jesus has come as a stranger.  His identity is hidden from these two disciples, and he knows how to ask questions.

Their look reveals their gloom.  They are put off with his question, because they are consumed with the tragic events that have occurred, and yet this stranger seems light hearted and carefree.  They wonder how this can be that he is not also morose about these things that have happened.  Jesus again confronts their angst with a question, “What things?”

Their response to Jesus mirrors a confession for themselves and the people of Israel.  They confess to what they believe were their misplaced hopes that Jesus was the Messiah.  They confess the wickedness of the Jewish and Roman leaders in putting Jesus to death.  They confess the outlandishness of the women’s tale of the angels and resurrection.  They don’t mention it, but we know from the later text and from Paul’s account in 1 Corinthians 15:5 that Peter has also seen the risen Lord by this time.  They also don’t believe him but apparently don’t want to besmirch him by including his “idle tale” with the women’s.

So there it is.  The problem with their world at the present.  I once read somewhere that the way to confront and undermine atheism is to ask questions.  Jesus’ questions have confronted these disciples’ unbelief.  They may believe still in God, but they are not demonstrating that they believe in his living presence and sovereignty in their lives.  So Jesus gently rebukes them for their unbelief, “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?”

The Psalmist writes that “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 14:1)  Jesus knows this Psalm, and he is indicating that they are acting like God is not real and alive.  He points to their unbelief of the promises and truth of the Scriptures of God.  If we are honest with ourselves, our negative states of being flow from our unbelief in the promises and truths revealed in Scripture.  How foolish we are and slow of heart to believe in the victory and salvation of God in our lives at any given moment.

Some contemporary Christians have called this dis-ease among Christians “practical atheism.”  That is what these two disciples are practicing, and it is what we too often practice ourselves.  “I know God is alive, but I have to work this out on my own.”  These two disciples are walking along trying to figure out all of these things on their own–the world, their lives, the past, present and future… “God might be around,” they seem to think, “but right now he is distant and untrustworthy.”

What does Jesus do next? He doesn’t punish them or condemn them or belittle them.  He “instructs them in the Scriptures.”  The Lord turns us to the words of life in the Bible.  Contemporary Christians have got to get over the lies of our culture that would convince us the Bible is quaint or fiction.  We have to get over our pride thinking we have evolved beyond the simple Christians of the past who “idolized” Scripture as authoritative.  We also have to reject our silly notion that we “know” the Bible, and it can’t help us now.  And we definitely need to discipline ourselves to stop thinking we have better things to do with our time than read Scripture.

Luke gives us a firm message…when Jesus preaches, he uses Scripture.  When Jesus wants you to know something for your life, he uses Scripture.  When Jesus wants to confront your error and instruct you and counsel you in the way to go forward, he uses Scripture.  Shame on us for our thinking that we are above and beyond the need to become equally obsessed with Scripture.

The effect of Jesus preaching Jesus from the Scriptures is the burning of the disciples’ hearts.  Their hearts are set aflame with the fruit of the Spirit in the presence of Jesus and the word.  Has this happened to you? Has it happened this week? This is not just a historical account; I believe this is descriptive of a disciple of Jesus interacting with Scripture in the presence and sovereignty of the Holy Spirit.  Open the Scriptures and invite the Lord to engage you.  Paul writes, “Faith comes through hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)  Our hearts burning with faith and filling with the fruit of the Spirit may not be constant, but I believe it can be a normative effect of our Christian devotion.

The disciples and Jesus unrecognized reach Emmaus, and the two urge Jesus to stay with them.  Jesus comes in to stay with them and sits with them at the table for a meal.  Jesus, fulfilling the fatherly role, “took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.”  During these fertile actions of blessing, breaking and offering the bread, the disciples’ “eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”  They will soon describe to the other disciples how “he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

Luke uses the term “breaking of the bread” three times in Acts to describe what I think the early church had by this time come to recognize as the Eucharistic meal of Holy Communion. (Acts 2:42-45; 20:7 & 27:35-36).  This is a poignant phrase with particular sacramental meaning for Luke’s original audience. As often as we gather as Christ’s body and sacramentally bless, break and share the bread that is his body, he is also present to be revealed in the breaking of the bread.

Luke overtly emphasizes the relevance and priority of Scripture and Holy Communion in the life of the church.  Transformation comes for these two disciples and Christians today through the interaction with Scripture and the Eucharist in the presence of the Spirit of Christ.  Our hearts are transformed, our eyes are opened and our lives are changed.

Look at how Cleopas and his friend or wife respond to the revelation of Jesus.  They immediately rose and retraced their steps along the seven-mile trek to Jerusalem—despite nightfall.  They turned around; in other words, they repented!  They repented of their wrong headedness and unbelief. They found the eleven apostles and those with them and declared boldly the gospel of Jesus Christ, “The Lord has risen indeed!”  They share what has happened and how Jesus was revealed.

Their despair has turned to hope; their unbelief has been replaced by faith and assurance; their disorientation has been exchanged by truth and vision.  Fear has been cast out by bold confidence. They have truly become ambassadors of Jesus Christ and his kingdom.  This demonstrates the goal of the Christian life: to experience the risen Lord Jesus and to proclaim his gospel.

No matter how negative our state of being is today, we can experience transformation.  Invite the Lord to walk along with you.  Invite him to speak through the Scriptures.  Participate in the Lord’s Supper of Holy Communion with the body of Christ, the church, and let Jesus be revealed to you.  Ask the Holy Spirit to set your life on the right path and give you such an experience with him that you cannot help but tell others what has happened on your road.

I believe that you will see outcomes, as the two disciples did, “As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’”  We are not alone in our endeavors to proclaim the gospel and serve Jesus.  He is present.  When we take steps of faith in sharing about the risen Jesus, we will find Jesus shows up and expresses his love in the fruit and gifts of his Spirit. He is present to open hearts, minds and eyes to see.  How exciting to be his ambassador.

Image

 

Advertisements

One Response to “There and Back Again: Two Disciples’ Journey to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)”

  1. Jeanie Says:

    Thank you, Craig, for the encouragement, the reminder that Jesus is always present alongside us and is, by His Spirit, within us, and that we don’t face our difficulties alone. Your preaching and prayers and writing encourage my faith.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: