Once when I was in Belfast, I was walking down the street (killing time as I waited for a friend), I spotted a couple walking towards cheerfully and with intent. Their gaze was fixed, and their combined grins gave me the sense they thought they knew me (I had no clue as to who they were). I smiled back, and no sooner had I move my mouth was I being greeted joyfully with a hug; like the long lost friends, they seemed to think we where. I am not good with faces out of context (or names!), so as we stood there talking about life, I still had no clue as to who they were. I assumed by their enthusiasm and force of conversation form this delightful woman that they knew who I was. Thus, I just chatted away and kept it as general as I could! After about five minutes chatting, bantering and conversing away about the joys of lights and delights of Belfast. Eventually, the conversation seemed to slow down, and I thought I was going to get away, then the dear lady seemed to look at me with a new intent. She appeared to be readying herself for something, as she looks up at me with a stern face. Her shoulders now straight and lungs full after a good breath I was questioned she enquired:
“Whatever happened ….”
Now throughout the conversation, I was 90% sure I did not know this person. However, once she asked that question, I was awkwardly sure they had mistaken my handsome appearance for that of another gentleman. Equipped with this new fact, I smiled and laughed a bit as I attempted to communicate this apparent misidentification. I thought it would draw this ever strange conversation to a close. How foolish of me! I was wrong! Apparently whoever thy thought I was had a great sense of humour, and loved the banter! No sooner had I communicated their mistakes, where they both laughing, then he responded:
“Ah, mate! You are not getting away from us this easy, We are not falling for that one! Ha! Good attempt…”
Again I assured them that I was not who they thought I was… Our conversation continued for another few minutes before they finally started to believe me. Apparently, somewhere in Belfast, there is a ruggedly handsome doppelgänger of me. Yet, we awkwardly laughed, departed, and I tried to walk away as quickly as I could.
In this beautiful passage from Luke 24, we join two disciples on their journey to the village of Emmaus. A short trip of about seven miles on which they are joined by Jesus. Yet, it appears at the start that they have mistaken his identity, they have thought him someone else. Finally, what we learn as we go through this passage is that far from misidentifying him, they were learning his true identity. Before they could see him, they had to understand.
1 – THE SLOW WALK (13-19)
We join two unknown followers of Jesus, (perhaps some of the 72 who had been sent out) late into that first Easter Day, as they journey the seven miles west from Jerusalem to Emmaus. As they walked their minds where filled with all that had happened, and the journey giving them the space to try and compute it. These two disciples are aware of all the events of Easter morning:
- The missing body.
- The claims of the women who had been to the tomb.
- The witness of the male disciples that confirmed what the women had seen.
It is not hard to picture them as they walk side-by-side on that dusty road, carrying a weight of worry and confusion on their shoulders; reflecting on all that had happened (13-14). The more they talked, the more confusing and arduous it must have seemed. Perhaps the sense of the stranger approaching them offered them some hope or distraction. The chance to think about something different. Like the one, they thought lost stood beside them, and they did not know.
God is at work
The passive tense of verse 16 implies only one source for their ‘blindness,’ God. God acted to keep them from recognising Jesus at that moment! Why? So that they would have the opportunity to understand before they experienced. Think about their journey until this point. As they talked about all that happened, it was evident to us with the benefit of the full picture that they, in fact, had the whole picture. They had all the information (as they summaries the events in response to the question of Jesus), but they had no understanding. It was like having all the clues to a murder mystery but having no context. Thus, God kept them from seeing Jesus at that moment, because if they had seen him; yes, they would have believed: but, they would not have understood the ‘why’ behind it all. They would not have been appropriately equipped to live for him and with him beyond that moment.
Firstly, they needed to grasp the redemptive plan that God had been working out since the beginning. They need to have it all explained through scripture. They needed to see why it must happen before they could experience the wonder of experiencing its vindication. Thus, God keeps them from seeing Jesus at that moment to give space for teaching them. This small act of God screams the most essential truth: God is in control and at work in all things. That which was true then is true today. God is at work in the world in the silent and significant moments, and we can trust him to work for his Glory and the good of those who love him.
What Are You Guys Chatting About?
As this stranger joins them on the road, he questions them (v17). Something similar to us asking today: “What where you guys chatting about?” A question that brings their slow walk to a stop, they seem flummoxed by the fact that someone would have to ask. You can see their gaze lifting to this stranger in bewilderment:
“Are you being serious? Are you the only person in the whole of Jerusalem who has missed the events of the last three days – where you hibernating….”
Luke, as he writes, wants their emotional state to be exact, they are ‘Discouraged’ (CSB) or Downcast (NIV). The original Greek is Skuthropos, and it paints a picture of someone with a gloomy disposition, the only other use in the New Testament is Matthew 6:16:
“”And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”
You can picture them weighted down by the world, and wondering how anyone would need to ask. It is interesting because it shows in some way, how the events of Easter affected the more expansive city – there must have been rumours and upset caused by events surrounding the cross. No content with the blunt reply: “Are you the only one in the city who does not know what has happened?!”, the stranger presses them further:
Before we look over the rest of the Passage, I feel it is essential to highlight a more general lesson here about life and faith. Think about Cleopas and his friend at this moment. They are living in grief, walking in hopelessness sand weighed down by worry. Their Mentor has just been murdered in the most gruesome way by the religious and state authorities (v20), then add in missing bodies and visions of angels. Their heads must have been spinning! They have all the information, the pieces of the jigsaw, yet no content.
It is a picture of life, those times when we find ourselves surrounded by darkness or walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Those seasons in life, when we struggle to believe that we will come out of them. We have all been there and will be there again. However. As this passage unfolds, we are reminded of the beautiful truth that God is at work and in control, and that often it is only when we look back on something we can see Gods hand in it. The beauty of hindsight. As followers of Jesus (if we have put out faith in him) we hold on to the hope that God is at work, in the knowledge that we might see and understand one day.
Today, whatever we are facing; worry, stress, situations we think have no end. Let us encourage ourselves with the same truth – God is at work. We need to remind ourselves that at the moment, we may not see His hand, and we may never. Yet, we can always trust that God is at work. Hindsight is a wonderful thing when it comes to faith.
2 – THE THINGS ABOUT JESUS (19b – 24)
In response to the question, Cleopas summarises all that has happened, the events concerning Jesus Christ. It is an outline that acts as an excellent summary of the events pertaining to the Gospel:
- His Ministry: A Prophet mighty in word and deed (19).
- His Death: Chief Priests/ and leaders handed him over to be crucified (20).
- Their Hope: That Jesus was about to Redeem Israel (21).
- His Vindication: The Empty Tomb, witnessed by the women and the Angelic message, and then witness of John and Peter (22-24).
We see here that the disciples have all the pieces for understanding. Yet they are not quite there. Two things seem to be keeping them from grasping the fullness of what is before them:
- They had a wrong understanding of GOd’s redemptive plan. They still thought of redemption through an earthly filter: Their minds filled with notions the overthrow of the great oppressor Rome, through military power and might. Then the establishment of a new political kingdom under one from the line of David who would rule from Jerusalem, and establish the nation of Israel in might and influence again.
- They were missing the point of Christ’s crucifixion, and of the resurrection. It through a proper understanding of these events that all the happenings they had described would not only make sense but bring hope. It is the witness of the Living Word that would turn their words into life, their statement of facts into living truths.
Soon they would understand, now however they must journey with this stranger into a full understanding. There is a vast difference between knowing about something and knowing it. In the case of these two disciples, the difference is eternal.
Knowing About: Truly Knowing
Imagine I told you that my favourite city was Dakar, Senegal. As we chatted, I was able to tell you about my favourite street, restaurant, corner coffee shop, even the tourist attractions were worth seeing. I went on and on about the real city; the one that the Brochure did not show you. Eventually, you asked: “When did you live there?” To which I replied: “Oh, I have never lived there!” Then you asked: “When did you last visit then?” I replied: “Oh, I have never been to Dakar!” You would (rightly) think I was mad. How could I call somewhere my favourite city if I had never truly experienced it, never known it? I might read all there is online about Dakar, and living in that city, but without firsthand experience, I could not speak from authentic experience. Knowing the town via Wikipedia is a very different thing to living in it and knowing its life!
Making Sure We Truly Know Jesus
While not an explicit point from today’s passage. This encounter between the Emmaus disciples and Jesus draws parallels to the above experience of true knowledge and understanding of a city. One of the biggest threats to the Church and true discipleship is our knowledge and experience of Jesus. Today, we must ask ourselves, do we indeed known Jesus?
The Emmaus Road disciples where and would be faithful followers. They had followed Jesus for a couple of years, and soon they would give their lives to him. Yet, at this moment, we are reminded of a significant danger to Christ, knowing all the truths, but never experiencing them. As they walked the Emmaus Road, Cleopas and his friend had all the fact had all the points, but not the faith. Soon they would come to believe through the filter of the resurrection. They made the journey to understanding, the question is, will we?
When I think of Church today, it breaks my heart to think of how many might sit in our pews every week, every increasing their knowledge of God, Christian living and Jesus, and thinking that is enough. They know all about Jesus, yet have never experienced him. Their knowledge is not a saving-knowledge. They believe implicitly that their understanding of Jesus will save them, their morals and their living. It is self-based salvation, not a gift of Grace. It is self-righteousness, rather than imputed righteousness. Yet, no matter how Christian they might look to the world (or themselves), they are lifeless vessels floating in the dead sea. One day they will knock at the door and hear Jesus say: “I do not know you.” Let us not fool ourselves that because we have attended Church for thirty years, wear a nice suit, never swear, and live ‘Christian’ lives that we will be okay. Let us make sure our knowledge of Jesus is a saving one.
In our passage today, the disciples were missing the living words of Jesus, to help them make sense of all that had happened. Today, we do not have that excuse, and we have heard the requisite of what it is to indeed follow Jesus, and we see it through the reality of the resurrection. One who truly knows Jesus knows that they cannot save themselves and puts their all in with him. If Grace is a gift and genuinely undeserved, then there is nothing we can do. A proper understanding of redemption leads us to see the ugliness of our own sin in light of the beauty of Jesus and our need for saving. Today, let us consider the exact nature of our Knowledge of the Gospel and Jesus Christ.
3 – The Wonder of the Word of God (25-28)
Jesus hears the Gospel summary (without a right understanding of the cross) of these two disciples. A fantastic moment as they say all the rights truths, without any of the accompanying hope. Hence, they are rebuked by this apparent stranger because they should have understood. What a moment! Here these men think that this man knows nothing, they reluctantly respond to his intrusive questioning. No sooner are they finished answering than they receive a rebuke to the answer they gave. Yet, as far as they know, they have nothing to be rebuked about! Soon they would understand, that although they had everything right – they had it all wrong. They were looking at the events that they had just described through the cold lens of this world, not the vindicating lens of the Kingdom. They are rebuked because they should understand, they had been with Jesus for some times (they are referred to as his disciples). They would have heard him teaching; beyond that, they where devout Jews raised on Scripture. They should have seen.
On A Different Road
Soon, as they walked the Emmaus Road home, this ‘stranger’ would help them to understand, and at the end, they would grasp they are on an entirely different journey. What must it have been like to walk that road, as this man who seemed oblivious to all that had happened started to give context to it through the Scripture? That with every step forward despair dissipated and hope arose. That a journey of apparent darkness would finish with a blazing light of understanding.
The privilege to hear Jesus teach in such an intimate setting as he worked his way through the entire Old Testament narrative and explained how it pointed to him. That he taught in such a way that their hearts burned with passion and hope, and something was birthed in them, and suddenly the meta-narrative of scripture made sense. It was such a decisive moment that the image used later (verse 32) is of something being set ablaze. Like a dropped match turning into a raging house fire; the spark of Jesus teaching had caught in their hearts, and they would never be the same.
Three Lessons for the Church and Following
I am blessed to work as a Minister to serve Jesus and his flock. In that (and a personal) capacity, I often return to these verses. They carry something significant and challenging to all who would seek to follow Jesus, and all who have the privilege of leading in his Church; especially those called to preach. Here we are reminded there are some central resources to the cross-centred life. Disciples and tools that enable us to become who Jesus is calling us to be.
The Sufficiency of the Old Testament
The first challenge I see here is related to the Old Testament and our view and treatment of it. We are reminded here of its sufficiency and necessity. Too often today in the pursuit of relevance and influence the Church finds itself embarrassed by the canon of the Old Testament. The world around us tells us that it is archaic, dangerous, or just wrong. Then either through ignorance or explicit action, we start to set it aside: even within my evangelical circles as we declare the sufficiency of Scripture we too often practice something else.
How much of our Sunday preaching (in person or online) centres in the Gospels or Letters, and (bar the odd funeral sermon from Psalm 23) implicitly ignores the Old Testament. Communicating to the communities, we serve through inference that it is inferior, or secondary. Certain ‘Christian’ groups sin by explicitly ignoring it, changing it or through some awful hermeneutic twisting it. Yet we evangelicals can be worse by implicitly ignoring it or passing over those bits that we know will draw rebuke and world disdain.
The Challenge for us Today
Yet, in three verses in this passage, we are challenged to consider our entire approach to the Old Testament: What place it finds in the life of our own discipleship, and more broadly what place it finds in the life of our Church. How does this walk along the Emmaus Road challenge us in this way? Because, to explain himself this was what Jesus used. He began “with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (24:27) Meaning, the Old Testament was sufficient to point to and help explain the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. Today, let us consider how (if even) it speaks to our lives, let us consider it in our devotions and our preaching. Furthermore, let us remember that it was all the early Church had as the Spirit of God working in and through they to advance the Kingdom of Christ.
The Written Word Explains the Living Word
The second challenge from this section of the passage effects how, as disciples of Jesus, we seek to follow and apply his teaching to our lives. Here we are reminded as we read this passage that it is through the lens of scripture that Jesus is made known. Jesus could have just relieved himself to the disciples, then through experience, they would believe. Yet, he did not. Through divine action, a process was set in motion. First, they must understand before they see. It was of first importance in the process of following Jesus, that they understood everything through the lens of scripture.
It is by the Word of God that we Know the Son of God: his life, ministry, teaching, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. Everything about him is brought to life – and understood – by the canon of scripture. The Word of God helped ground what these two disciples would soon experience – the resurrected Jesus – in a bigger Gospel context. They did not lose themselves in the emotion of encountering risen Jesus. First, the ‘stranger’ helped them understand through the Scripture, then they were able to experience.
The word of God is sufficient for the pursuit of Jesus. It is by it we understand his life and teaching, and what we are called to do, and be. It is through it we interpret the world around us, and how God is calling us to advance his Kingdom in our context. Finally, It is through the word of God that the spirit of God works in our lives to make us more into the image of the Son. After all, Paul reminded the Church boldly when he wrote to Timothy:
”16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim. 3:!6-17
Today let us remind ourselves of the central importance of the word fo God to our walk with Jesus. It is through the truth of Gods word that all experiences of God are to be judged and understood.
The Power and Necessity of Preaching
I love preaching, and I have always loved the power of a good sermon. What a privilege it is to sit under someone who loves what they do and preaches in a way that illuminates the scriptures and applies them to our context and culture, but most of all bring Glory to God. How powerful a sermon this stranger must have given them as their hearts are described as burning. Thus, the final challenge we find in this passage is the weight and consideration we give to the preaching of Gods word in our lives and the lives of our Church. In these three verses, we see the necessity, method, outcome and effect of preaching:
1. The Necessity
Jesus chose to first teach these two followers so that they could understand all things relating to him. Thus, today we are reminded of the central importance that preaching should have in the life of the Church. Good biblical exposition is necessary to making Jesus know in our churches and communities.
2. The Method
Jesus expounded the word of God in a logical and coherent manner. He did not pick a few verses and then go where the wind took him, no he started with Moses, and then worked from there. It was not the sharing a few abstract and spiritual thoughts that sounded nice; no, he opened the word of God and through his knowledge and experience of it brought it to life. He taught in a way that helped these two men understand afresh biblical texts they had known their whole lives. He also pointed to himself.
This should be what we expect and demand of all the teaching that we sit under: that it helps us to understand the passage, that it is true to the word, and that it points to Jesus and brings Glory to him. Then as we see him through the teaching, we are equipped by it to live for him.
3. The Outcome & Effect
The outcome of god preaching is clear to see from this passage: Jesus is lifted up! The effect is that those who listen know more about him, and what it means to live for him. This should be the intended outcome of every sermon preached, and the expectation of those who hear it preached.
To know more of Jesus, and to be equipped to live for him.
If it is not the outcome, then we must consider the teaching that we are sitting under. We see later in this passage (v32) the effect that true biblical preaching should have. It should kindle something in the hearts of those who hear it, Christian believe the bible is the living word. Thus, it is only logical to assume that when the living word is proclaimed, it will bring life! This is what we see as Jesus preaches – life. A new fire and passion for Jesus Christ burn within them. Good Preaching should leave you desiring more of Jesus Christ, it should affect your heart, fill you with hope and compel you to the urgent work of the Kingdom. This is Gospel preaching.
The Sad Reality
Too often within our churches, the preaching has the veneer of Gospel, but not the heart. It sounds like the good news of Jesus, but when it is considered against the Scriptures, it lacks Jesus. This is the most dangerous preaching, something close to the truth but not entirely true. Moral rather than Gospel; person-focused rather than Christ-exalting. Where Grace is preached, but ‘effort’ is elevated:
‘Yes, we are saved by faith, but it is important to read your bible, pray, do…’
All of this is true, but let us make sure that of our understanding of the ‘how’ behind our faith; that we ‘do’ not to earn, but because we have received. Thus, the things of faith (Prayer, Scripture, Study, Service) are done as an act of worship, in response to the Grace received. Not, as implicit subversive acts to impress on God our holiness or goodness. Let us make sure we are approaching the throne of God effortlessly through Grace, not through graceless-effort.
Finally, let us prayerfully consider the teaching that we allow ourselves to sit under every week. Does it honour and model what Jesus Christ exampled throughout his ministry and here today? I do not just mean the pulpits from which we hear Gods word. I mean everything: Sermons, blogs, podcasts, books, YouTube channels. We must consider all that we allow to influence and ask ourselves what is their intent, and are they those who first seek to honour Jesus and point to him in their teaching? Furthermore, is it equipping us in our walk with and finally does it leave us wanting more of Jesus, and desiring to make more of him known.
4 – Eyes Open and Heats Ablaze (28-35)
Every road travelled must end somewhere, and how much must these disciples have wanted their journey to be longer. So that they could take this all in. As they arrive at their destination, the stranger seems to be going on further. They are having none of it, so they invite him in to stay with them (It was late in the day, and to travel alone would be foolish, thus the offer). However, they must have hoped the conversation would continue and that this man would teach them into the night.
As they gather around a meal and the stranger seems to occupy the place of honour: he is breaking bread and giving thanks. It is at this point their eyes are opened to what their hearts have already experienced. For at that moment, it is no longer a stranger breaking bread, but the one who was broken for them. They realise that the one they had missed was the one explaining everything to them. It is a wonderful moment again as the passage also infers divine work. Thus, God opened the eyes that he had shut. God was at work in the small details of their journey, and so he is at work (profoundly) in the most insignificant moments in our life.
Darrell Bocks notes on this section of the passage that the langue draws parallels with the feeding of the 5000 (9:16) and the last supper (22:19 – 24:43), but there is no explicit attempt by Luke as he writes this to replicate the scene of the last supper. There is no wine or passing of bread. The fact that the stranger was giving the blessing suggests that the hosts knew they were in the presence of someone great, yet, until their eyes where opened, they would not realise they were in the presence of the king. Thus their blindness is reversed, their eyes opened and the lives transformed by both the teaching and experience of Jesus.
They want to share what they have experienced, as they return back down the road, they walked to confirm the message that the angels delivered to a group of women earlier that Easter morning. Upon their return, they learned that Peter had also seen the risen Christ! Now the Victory of the Cross and the Vindication of the tomb was real to them in their head and heart.
Close and Challenge
This passage reminds us of a few simple truths that should encourage us and challenge us as we walk our road with Jesus. Firstly, we have the assurance of the resurrection; two more men move from despair to delight and have their lives transformed by an encounter with the risen Jesus. Secondly, we are reminded that God is at work in every detail of our lives, as he stopped them seeing for a moment so they could understand. In what was an insignificant act, so to God works in our lives in ways beyond our understanding. Let us trust him to do what he said he would do – to be God, the sovereign overall.
Finally, we are challenged in two practical ways in terms of our own faith, discipleship and Church family. Firstly, in how we treat our bibles. Secondly, in what we expect from those who teach us the bible:
Firstly, what does your devotional life look like? Do you approach the bible as the living word of God crafted and equipped for every aspect of faith; or is it like a lottery, you flip it open and hope for that little bit of wisdom or truth that you need to affirm what you have already decided. Let us be real in our approach to scripture, let us consider our own study of it and maybe make the changes in our own reading of scripture that we need to make.
Secondly, and finally, let us consider what we sit under and listen to this day. Is it preaching that sets our hearts ablaze for things of God, that kindles a burden in us for the work of the Kingdom and ultimately glorifies and points to Jesus? Or is it just the same old message on a different day, in a different form. That equips rather than equips us in our walk with Jesus. That leaves us neither challenged nor convicted. Ask ourselves are the books that we are reading, the podcasts we are listening to, the sermons we sit under Gospel-centred or Gospel-lacking. Then prayerfully consider what changes or challenges need to be made.