The Emmaus Road – the path from sadness to joy
It was the end of an eventful day and two of Jesus’ followers were headed out of Jerusalem. They were going to a village called Emmaus which meant they had a seven mile journey ahead of them – there was plenty of time for them to talk together and that is just what they did. One topic dominated their discussion – they were talking about Jesus and all the things that had happened to him in the past few days.
It was a good subject for them to dwell upon and although they didn’t get it yet by the time the day ended they most certainly did. Were we to talk more about Jesus with each other, I wonder how much we too might progress in our understanding of this outstanding man.
We don’t know a great deal about the two people on the road that day – one was named Cleopas but who was the other? His wife perhaps or was it a friend? We don’t know. We don’t know either why they had decided to leave the city of Jerusalem – was Emmaus the place where they lived or were they just lodging there during the time of the Passover feast? Maybe accommodation was a bit cheaper there compared to the city. Again we don’t know. What we do know is that whatever the reason was they had for going there it wasn’t so important that it would still be at the top of their list of priorities in just a few hours time. Then they would leaving Emmaus again in order to race back to Jerusalem to share some excellent news.
Our task this morning is to see what it was that brought about such a change not only in their plans but also in their emotional state too.
As we look back upon this episode we have the great advantage of knowing the end of the story, something that these two disciples hadn’t yet understood. Yet, when they did these disciples were transformed.
Has anything like that happened to you? You see it is one thing to be aware of the facts and another to be moved by them, to be transformed by them. I hope you’re not going to be content with simply having your head stuffed full of facts. May your heart burn within you as you too come to understand and grow in your understanding of Jesus risen from the dead.
Well, let’s see how it was that these two disciples were brought to their vital living faith in the Lord Jesus.
They knew what had happened.
On the road these two passed the time talking together about what had so recently taken place in the city. This was no idle chit-chat; they were involved in serious conversation with each other trying to make sense of all the recent events. And, when you think about it, there was so much for them to mull over. The words that Luke used to describe their talking and discussing suggest that they were to some extent arguing with each other as to what it all meant – it is clear that they hadn’t as yet come to any settled conclusions.
And then, as they were trudging along the road, someone else caught up with them. We know that it was Jesus but at the time they didn’t realise that and they wouldn’t do so for some time yet. What are we to make of this?
Well, Luke doesn’t tell us that they simply failed to recognise him, instead he tells us that “their eyes were kept from recognising him” (v.16). In other words there was some force at work that was preventing them from accurately identifying who this stranger on the road actually was. But what was this force? Who was stopping them? Theologians have answered these questions by referring to what they call “the divine passive”. It was God who was at work and he had his reasons, reasons which Jesus would make clear as he entered into conversation with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
The two had been deep in conversation and evidently passionately so, they weren’t chatting about the weather or what they were planning to eat when they got to their destination. And so when Jesus joined them on the road he was understandable that he should ask them what they were talking about.
Cleopas and his companion stopped at once. What long sad faces they had! And then Cleopas gave his answer. But he made it clear that he was amazed at the question. Surely there could only be one possible subject of conversation that day. The events that had recently taken place in the city of Jerusalem had been so publicly enacted, had so dominated proceedings, and had been so utterly unexpected that surely no-one could be talking about anything else. Wasn’t it obvious that they should be talking about what had happened?! Or was this stranger the only visitor in the region who wasn’t aware of what had been going on?
Jesus made no attempt to change the subject and neither did he jump in to quickly dispel their sadness. He would do that in due course but his method was to first encourage Cleopas to go on talking and so to draw him out.
This question did indeed draw Cleopas out. Speaking for himself and his companion, Cleopas summarised what had happened during the last few days. He described the principal actors who were involved and then went on to reveal just how confused and downcast it had all left them. Cleopas knew a great deal but neither he nor his companion were able to fit it all together in any way that made sense to them.
I wonder, do you know what they knew? And do you do what they did? They knew a lot about Jesus and they talked about him too! And they would end that day knowing much, much more, they would understand him far, far better!
This is what Cleopas and his friend knew about Jesus:
· He was a prophet:
That is, he spoke and acted with both power and authority and this he did so
· Openly before:
· Delivered up by the Jewish leaders
· To be condemned to death and crucified by the Roman authorities
Then, to all this, Cleopas added a brave and courageous testimony. For some time the Jewish leadership had been threatening those who sympathized with Jesus with exclusion from the synagogue and you’ll remember that the disciples in Jerusalem were meeting in secret behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews” but Cleopas speaks out boldly to this “stranger” about his own personal convictions:
v.21 “but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”
Now everyone knew that the One who was going to do this was none other than the Messiah, the kinsman-redeemer, the Saviour, the Lord’s own Shepherd, great David’s greater Son.
It was a bold statement but at the same time it was a sad one because this was how they used to think about Jesus until their faith had been so severely shaken by those recent events. How was it possible for their crucified leader to redeem his people now that he was dead? Poor old Cleopas! How confused he was! How discouraged he and his friends were!
And if that wasn’t enough their confusion was compounded by something else. There was talk of resurrection in the air and Cleopas really didn’t know what to make of it at all. You see it was their women. Some of them had returned from an early morning visit to the tomb which they had found open and empty and they reported that some angels had told them that Jesus was alive. Others of their number had been able to confirm some of the details of the women’s story - but what did it mean, what could it possibly mean?
vv.21-24 “And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."
It seems to me that Cleopas was a bit like a person with a jigsaw puzzle. He had all the pieces necessary but he doesn’t yet see how they fit together – in fact he doesn’t even seem to realise that there is a picture to be seen at all, for if he had then why on earth was he heading away from Jerusalem, away from where the action was?
I wonder: are any of you like these disciples? You maybe know a good deal about Jesus, you’re even impressed by him, but you can’t quite make sense of it all. Well, if you are listen to how Jesus helped these disciples and it may well help you too.
A Gentle Rebuke Precedes an Explanation
Jesus responded to what Cleopas had said and indicated that Cleopas actually knew even more than he was telling. Cleopas knew that the Scripture spoke about the sufferings and rejection that would be the lot of the Messiah. The trouble was that Cleopas and others with him simply hadn’t been prepared to embrace the truth that the Scriptures revealed – and it may be the same with you too. Are you trying to settle things in your own mind without referring to what the Bible has to say about it all?
It was for this lack of preparedness to accept God’s Word that Jesus rebuked Cleopas:
vv.25-26 "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?"
The most important reason why these disciples were in trouble and discouraged was that were sidelining the Bible and they really ought to have believed its clear testimony. Jesus didn’t focus on their unwillingness to trust the eyewitness testimony of the women, nor the corroboration their colleagues added, and he didn’t blame them for not recognising him but he did rebuke them for not believing God’s Word.
And it is here that we begin to see God’s purpose in keeping their eyes from recognising him. If they had immediately seen with their own eyes they might have by-passed God’s Word entirely. Why would they need Scripture if they had seen him themselves? But then what about those who could never see him with their own eyes, people like you and me? We might try to excuse our lack of faith and trust – how could he expect us to believe when we can’t see him with our own eyes?
But no, the emphasis that Jesus places upon God’s Word underlines both the importance of that word and its relevance and effectiveness – a relevance and an effectiveness that reaches down to us today. We have just the same word available to us as they did – indeed we have more – and if they were to believe that Word so must we. This means that you have everything that you need in the Bible for faith and trust in Jesus.
The Bible speaks clearly about who he was, what he was to do and what he was to suffer in order to achieve the mission upon which he had been sent. The OT even included indications that he would rise from the dead and the NT includes testimonies and descriptions confirming that resurrection.
Jesus believed that the Scriptures explained him and his mission sufficiently to make unbelief reprehensible and indeed outrageous. To illustrate just what he meant he proceeded to lead them in a Bible study and what a Bible study that must have been! He showed them that the very things that had happened to him were just the things that they would have expected had they paid attention to Scripture. How we would love to know exactly which books he referred to and to which passages he directed them!
Dale Ralph Davis in his commentary on Luke makes a number of suggestions about the passages he thinks Jesus took them to. The disciples needed to be reminded of these because the truth they revealed they would remain totally confused. They were at sea precisely because they were failing to take the whole teaching of Scripture into account.
For our own benefit I think we should pay attention to Jesus’ method here. At this point it was more crucial for these two disciples to hear Christ than to see him. Jesus could have disclosed himself with simple “It’s me” but Jesus didn’t give them a neat experience – he rubbed their noses in the scriptures. You must not merely get relief, you must understand Jesus, you must grasp what sort of Messiah he is, and you will not understand Jesus unless you go to the scriptures. Otherwise, you’ll always be making him something he’s not. Here Jesus thought learning Christ was more urgent than eliminating sorrow. We usually prefer an instant solution, for Jesus to lift the sadness, clear up the perplexity, while more than that he wants us to know him. So how will Jesus often relieve you? Not by some mystical experience but by dragging you into the scriptures.
Well, those disciples certainly enjoyed that unexpected Bible study they had led for them by that stranger. All too soon, though, it was over and they reached their destination. Jesus made as if to continue his journey but the disciples had enjoyed his company on the road and weren’t keen to lose it now – even if they still didn’t know who he was. So they pressed him to stay and enjoy some hospitality with them.
And then it happened! As they sat at table Jesus took the bread and broke it before he distributed it to them. Suddenly they knew who he was – “their eyes were opened” – there’s that divine passive again! And they recognised him. The man who had walked and talked with them was the same man who had been crucified just a couple of days earlier and now, on the third day, he really was alive – he was with him, they saw him. And just as suddenly he was gone and they saw him no more!
It was all so extraordinary – but isn’t that just what you would expect when a dead man lives again?
And now the tone of their renewed conversation was so totally different. Leaving Jerusalem they had been sad and discouraged – already their feelings had begun to change as the stranger on the road had opened up the Scriptures to them and they had found their hearts to be “strangely warmed”, indeed burning within them. They now understood why that had been the case – Jesus was alive!
Jerusalem was 7 miles away and by the time they had arrived at Emmaus the day was already far spent. But there was no stopping them now – they were up and off, hot-footing it back to the city. They had great news to share with the friends they had left behind earlier in the day.
They knew where to go and soon they found the place – it was full of excited disciples who quickly explained what had so affected them:
v.34 “The Lord has risen indeed” they declared “he’s appeared to Simon!”
It wasn’t long before the two travellers, who really ought to have been be quite weary by now, were sharing their own story. They recounted how they had taken part in an evangelistic Bible study on the journey to Emmaus and how, after it was over, they too had seen the risen Lord Jesus. It was the way he broke the bread, they said, you couldn’t be mistaken it was Jesus!
None of them had been expecting to see Jesus alive again. They had all preferred to trust in their own assessment of the situation and the best they could come up with was depressing. Dead men don’t live again. They must have got things wrong - how could such a Saviour suffer so? Impossible!
But gradually their thinking had changed, gradually they had been convinced.
Angels had reminded the women of what Jesus had taught. Jesus himself had reminded these two disciples of what the Bible said. And in this way all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Joy replaced sadness and the future didn’t look so beak and hopeless as it had done earlier that same day.
Have you understood what it is about Jesus? Have all the various truths you know about him fallen carefully into place for you too so that you too can now see the completed picture? A suffering Saviour! That is God’s way! And how his ways surpass our own! Who could have dreamt up such a story? The offended God sends his choicest possession to suffer, the innocent for the guilty, that the innocent might be set at liberty and freely adopted into God’s own family!
Have you got it? Do you believe it? Will you follow him, this risen Lord of glory? If you haven’t seen it yet, get your Bible and read it asking God to shine the light of his Word into your darkness. But what if you have seen it then what are you to do? Go to that same Bible and plunge your gaze into its truths so that you grow in your understanding and that you might enjoy the grace and steadfast love of the Lord more and more.
And to God alone be the glory.