This post is mostly excerpts from a short sermon I preached today at South Salem Friends from Luke 24:13-43, the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Because it is written for the spoken word, it uses non-standard grammar and more of a poetic structure.
13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence
It’s the evening of resurrection Sunday. The women go to the tomb and see that something has happened. It was a good day for the women. They were at their best and showed up, even after it seemed the men had given up. The angels had informed them that Jesus has risen.
It was a bad day for the men. It is hard to tell if they were blinded by grief, or perhaps blinded by sexism. According to Josephus, women were not even seen as credible witnesses in a court of law. If you were making up a story about the resurrection, women finding the tomb first would not be a good way start out. None of the men had believed their female messengers, at least not yet. Not only this, two of the men even leave— perhaps heading back home to Galilee. Peter is known for his infamous moment of betrayal, but perhaps these men did not even have enough faith to commit betrayal. Perhaps without the resurrection, they would just have ended up being the first wave of deserters. For them, following Jesus seems to have ended up being a big mistake. They are sad, heartbroken really. Their hopes are crushed, and now they are headed home to lick their wounds, perhaps to pick life back up where it had left off before they met Jesus.
Jesus has risen, but they are off somewhere missing it. And Jesus has come to chase them down and restore them as His followers. He has come to show them that they tapped out too soon, that the best was yet to come. But, God hides the fact that Jesus is with them so He can help them to see. What we are seeing here is perhaps Jesus’ first post-resurrection pastoral moment. These disciples had hoped Jesus was going to redeem Israel as a nation, but they were not quite ready to grasp that Jesus would soon be chasing them down redemptively Himself!
Perhaps they did not expect a Messiah who would suffer. Many of us have trouble with this today. We do whatever it takes to avoid suffering, and we think God should avoid it too. Pain seems like such wasted time. We want a shortcut to the victory march, a resurrection without all the death that comes before it. Like these disciples, we read over these things as we read our Bibles. Yet, suffering was not proof that Jesus was not the Messiah, as these disciples might have supposed. It was actually proof that Jesus was the Messiah, the Redeemer of Israel. Like the Passover lamb, Jesus was to be a living sacrifice. He even turns their conversation on the road into a mobile Bible study to show them this. And who better to study God’s word with, when you are running from the truth, than God’s Incarnate Word, the Logos Himself?
Parts of their exchange seem curious. At first blush, Cleopas seems condescending when he says “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” It’s almost like he is saying, “Have you been living in a cave? How could you not know what has been going on?” But he is actually giving Jesus the benefit of the doubt, perhaps thinking something like “He must not have heard, so I will help Him understand…”
Jesus also seems kind of harsh, saying:
“How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter His glory?”
In Greek, which this was originally written in, there are different ways of asking questions that do not exist in English. For instance, if you are expecting an answer to be yes, there is one way to ask a question. If you are expecting the answer to be no, there is another. In another story, when Jesus is invited over to a Pharisees’ house and the woman washes his feet with her tears, the Pharisee says, “if He were the Messiah, He would know what sort of woman this is.” It is crystal clear in the Greek that the Pharisee is openly snubbing Jesus and saying publically that He is not the Messiah, where in English it might come across more like open doubting. For even more clarity, all the things the woman was doing were cultural expectations of any host. She did them because the host had not, using what she had. Knowing this helps the story make more sense.
What we have here is the opposite. There is another way to ask a question when the expected answer is yes. This is what Jesus is doing. Jesus is saying, even as He asks, “You do know these things. You do know the Messiah was supposed to suffer and die before He came into His glory and you did not want to believe it. You heard the women found the tomb empty, and had spoken with angels, yet here you are running away?”
What does this story teach us about God? What does it teach us about ourselves? Do we know that God is the kind of God who goes on an all out rescue mission for His wayward disciples? That when we run from Him He also runs after us? Do we know He is present in moments our faith seems like its dying, even gone? God is big enough for our doubts, big enough for our fears, and big enough to baffle us most of the time…even if we are paying attention.
Do we know that God might choose to work in ways we cannot recognize, to bring our hearts back to His? So often, when we study the Bible it is like we are dissecting God so we can better explain Him, rather than seeing how God’s story of redemption. and our story of redemption fit together into a bigger story. We speak of God’s motives, His substance, His nature. We talk about what makes God tick with giant words no one understands outside seminary. We often make Him seem more about philosophy than about passion, more about the head than the heart, more about His substance than His sustenance that comes to us moment by moment.
These disciples had not believed the scriptures would be fulfilled and Jesus would rise from the dead on the third day. In AA they have a saying for something like this, “Don’t quit before the miracle happens!” The disciples may have had fire in their hearts, but still had ice in their veins. They grew numb at hearing those confusing words about death and resurrection. We do the same. Our ears perk up at God’s promises, but they dampen when we hear of the suffering and sorrows around us. So, Jesus comes to help them see it. He comes to help them see that—what they didn’t want to see—had been God’s plan all along. Before He showed them who He really was, He had to reshow them why He had come in the first place. God does this so often, nearly every time we try to cage Him inside our expectations, or control Him with our prayers. Our will may be good. It may seem right. But, no matter how good or how right it seems, our will does not force God’s hand. He loves us far too much to be a cosmic pushover. He comes more as a Parent—complete with tenacious love and iron will—but with room for us to grow in our relationship together.
Jesus waits to be invited. He stands at the door of our hearts knocking, and waits to come into our lives. He did this on the road to Emmaus and He does it today. And like us, they didn’t want the flame to get away from them. He let them invite Him in as a stranger to share a meal and spend the night, before He revealed Himself for who He is. How often the work of God takes place along a routine journey, on a porch, or at an ordinary table! And how often it is hard to recognize Jesus as He walks or sits across from us!
Has God ever hidden His presence from you and revealed it in a powerful way? When has your heart burned within you? Does it burn still, even now? This is another part of the story lost in translation, that not only their hearts were burning as they walked with Jesus, but they were still burning after He had left them, perhaps changed from a dying candle to a blazing inferno for good. Maybe this fiery heart lit their path as they raced the seven miles back to Jerusalem that night; as they stopped running the wrong way, and started running the right way, back to be with Jesus and the rest of the disciples.
As disciples, we often quit too early while waiting for Jesus to act. We tire from following Him, because after finding His yoke to be easy and His burden to be light, we begin to add some weights to it. We add a dash of legalism, a few bushels of materialism, and project on Him our expectations of safety, security and comfort. We make ultimatums and produce hoops for Him to lead us through. We try to add a little “Jesus” to what were already going to do anyway, instead of stripping away the anchors we drag behind us and chasing after Him.
We start with high hopes and we follow for a while, but we quit before the miracle happens. We become sad. We walk away disillusioned. Sometimes we count the cost, but we are not willing to pay the price of true discipleship. But God seeks us out anyway. He reveals Himself and His purpose, even if only a little at a time. He waits to be invited. And He woos us once again into changing our direction back to where He had called us to be. Once again, God’s presence and word set our hearts aflame, and once again, He sends us out to share that fire with others.
I have a few queries for us to respond to. They seemed to have leapt straight to my heart right from the page. This is a short message because I wanted to leave a little time for us to wrestle with these things as a community; to share one another’s burdens and pray for one another as the people of God…
- Where are you tempted to give up in your walk, or what brings disappointment into your life? What is that miracle you have been waiting for that just doesn’t seem like it will ever happen?
- What is hard to hear, but God keeps pressing you to listen to?Are you running from God or toward God in this? Where do fear and doubts rise up in your mind?
- Have you seen the hiddenness of God revealed? How is God revealing Himself in your life in new ways, or how have you seen Him journeying with you as you reflect back on His presence and provision?
- Is your heart burning within you? Do really you want it to, or are you afraid of being consumed and losing control?
- What gifts and passions do you want God to fan into flame, and which ones are off limits to God for now? What reservations need to die in your life, and what things need to die so that they might be resurrected or restored by God?