Summary: The journey to Emmaus is a mystery. Along the way we meet a stranger and He explains the Scriptures to us. Then He breaks bread and the mystery is revealed.
The journey to Emmaus is a mystery. Along the way we meet a stranger – who we should have recognized but don’t – and He explains the Scriptures to us. Then He breaks bread and the mystery is revealed.
Although it may be said that its main subject is proving the resurrection by the appearance of Jesus, this narrative seems not to say anything about proving the event.
R. W. L. Moberly suggests that “the story is best understood as an exposition of the interpretive issue of discernment, focusing specifically on the question, ‘How does one discern the risen Christ?’”
Alfred McBride says that the Emmaus narrative concerns “the evolution of the awareness of the two disciples, from despair over Christ’s death to faith in his resurrection”. Used to perceive Christian spiritual growth, this narrative is considered as a model for a Christians’ own journey to a deeper faith and as an instrument to help others do the same journey.
As James L. Resseguie says, “the impediments to spiritual formation – disappointment, foolishness, mirthless trudging, and slowness of heart – are abandoned on this journey, and the disciples’ eyes are opened to God’s working ways in this world.”
II. The Players.
We know two of the three players. Jesus is identified as the “stranger” and the man, Cleopas – who is thought to be a follower of Jesus during His earthly ministry and among the few who saw the Lord on the day of His resurrection. Though he was not one of the Twelve, but some have surmised that he was one of the seventy (Luke 10). Scripture does not give us any details about Cleopas but there are several suppositions as to who he really was. The most interesting is the one by the earlier chronicler, Hegesippus, who wrote in AD 180, that he had years before interviewed the grandsons of Jude the Apostle and learned that Cleopas was the brother of Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary. The most important thing here about him is that he and an unknown disciple saw the risen Lord on their way to Emmaus.
Many names have been proposed for the disciple who accompanied Cleopas –Simon/Symeon, Nathanael, Luke the Evangelist, Philip the Deacon; James, brother of Jesus; and Mary – the wife or possibly daughter of Cleopas.
Despite all this conjecture, I find this interesting – John Gillman, in a Festschrift or volume of articles to Jan Lambrecht, writes that “Luke’s failure to identify Cleopas’ companion by either name or gender may well be a strategy of inviting the reader to identify implicitly with that person, and thus to make the journey as Cleophas’ companion.”
Regardless, let’s get into the mystery on the road to Emmaus.
III. The Road to Emmaus: Luke 24:13-16.
Luke 24:13 says, “Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem.” That road once led west out of Jerusalem through a landscape of trees and fields to a warm spring and a town called Emmaus. The ruins are by Route 1, 40 minutes west of Jerusalem at the Latrun exit inside Canada Park, a national park maintained by a Canadian Jewish fund with beautiful trees and fields. Along the ancient road Jesus met two disciples and their eyes about to be awakened to the resurrection. Do we recognize Jesus on our travels? They did not at first.
IV. Jesus the Stranger: Luke 24:15b-16.
On the road to Emmaus we read in Like 24:15b-16 “Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him.” Two disciples thought Jesus was a stranger. They didn’t recognize him because they were too deep into their sad and depression condition at losing their Lord.
They were well-known to Jesus. As close as they may have been, they did not recognize Him. Is He a stranger to us who faithfully attend church? Sometimes, those who are closest to the Church also do not recognize Jesus. We are distracted by events and material things that take our minds off Him. Yet, in the midst of all the paths life takes us, Jesus is there gently walking alongside of us.
V. The Mystery of Jesus: Luke 24:25-27.
After the two disciples had explained teir sadness and confusion, Jesus responded by going to Scripture and applying it to his ministry.
Imagine your pastor preaching, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart” as Jesus did in Luke 24:25. Joining two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus “expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” (verse 27)
Some Christians have always wondered just what Scriptures were spoken of, but no one knows. Jesus may have mentioned the Fall of Man – the “Original Sin or the Call of Abraham” in Genesis 3 and 12.
- Or, the “Suffering and Glorification of the Servant” of Psalm 53.
- Or, the “Restoration of Israel” in Jeremiah 31.
- Or, the “Judgement of Israel’s Enemies” in Zechariah 9 and the “Cleansing from Sin” in chapter 13.
- Or, the “Day of Judgment” in Malachi 3.
Yet, they failed to recognize Him until later that day. He also talks with our hearts as we hear the Holy Scriptures read. He speaks to us softly through every living thing. He discusses issues with our consciences as we do daily tasks. Yet, often, like the two disciples we see Jesus and never recognize Him. Is it because “faith is the … evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1)?
If we – like those two disciples – do not understand what the Scripture means, we can turn to other believers who know the Bible and have wisdom to apply it to our situation. That is why attending church, Sunday school, and Bible studies is so important to the maturing of the Christian
VI. Our Hearts Burn: Luke 24:28-32.
After the two disciples encountered Jesus along the road to Emmaus without recognizing Him – after explaining the Scriptures to these two self-absorbed disciples as they walked – and still not recognizing Jesus – He almost departed from them – but they invited Him to stay. Then, the guest became the host and as Jesus broke the bread at the meal table. “Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.” (Luke 24:31) Is this a picture of our lives? Does Jesus join us on our journeys? Do our hearts ache? Does He expound the Scriptures to us? Do our hearts burn? Does He then open our eyes at simple events like a meal?
VII. The Mystery Revealed: Luke 24:33-35.
An original definition of the word sacrament was simple. It meant “a visible sign of an invisible grace” according to Augustine of Hippo or as many still teach today, “all of life is a sacrament.” Eastern Orthodox call these sacraments mysteries because we see one thing and believe another. Let us pray to see God’s invisible grace in the visible things around us. For instance – communion bread is far more than a mere symbol. It is a sacrament – a visible sign of an invisible grace through which Jesus the Messiah is revealed to us – through which He speaks to us – and through which we feel His presence. Has the mystery also been revealed to us that, “The Lord is risen indeed” (Luke 24:34)?
The two disciples returning to Emmaus at first missed the significance of history’s event because they were too focused on their disappointment and problems. In fact, they didn’t even recognize Jesus when he was walking beside them. To compound their problem, they were walking in the wrong direction – away from the fellowship of believers in Jerusalem.
We are likely to miss Jesus and withdraw from the strength found in other believers when become preoccupied with our dashed hopes and frustrated plans. Only when we are looking for Jesus in our midst will we experience the power and help he can bring.
Our lives are a journey to Emmaus. Along the way we meet a stranger who walks with us and opens the Scriptures to our understanding. Then as we partake of the bread do we recognize who that stranger is and the Good News he brings?
Let us pray – O Thou, who doest all things well, we pray that after each experience of life – however dark and hard to understand – we may be able to see that Thy hand has been at work and to say: “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.” May your faith and loyalty to the things of God never be dependent on the success of our earthly plans, nor contingent on prosperity according to the standards of the world. Rather, make our fellowship with the Master utterly independent of any outward circumstance of time and space. In His Holy Name – Amen.