Emmaus Road-Part I
I believe I represent most of the church family when I say that I am ready for us to come together again. COVID-19 has put restrictions on how we worship and serve one another, but it has not eliminated our fellowship. Following the resurrection of Jesus Christ, most of the inhabitants of Jerusalem were deeply troubled at the events surrounding the trial, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Two disciples had an encounter with Jesus on the day of his resurrection that reminds us of the feelings of many Jewish people following Jesus' death. In many ways, these two disciples represent a large portion of the community of Jerusalem. In many ways, they still represent all those who are on the way to receiving salvation through faith in Jesus.
The portion of scriptures that contains this account is referred to as the Emmaus Road Experience. The text in Luke 24 is one of the most extended narratives recorded in the Gospel of Luke. It is as vital today as it was to the two disciples who first experienced Jesus in a new way. The story of the road to Emmaus is a picture of the journey of many disciples of Jesus. A potential disciple begins their journey with doubts and despair in their present condition. At some point along the path, the Spirit of Christ woos and continues to reveal the truth of God's Word and answer the questions of the traveler. The arrival at saving faith comes as the sojourner sees a clear picture of the crucified Savior and risen Lord. There must be a full-hearted surrender of the travelers will to the Lord Jesus. The joy that overwhelms the changed heart will spill over into every area of life, and every relationship maintained by the traveler. The road to Emmaus is every believer's journey. The question remains, who will you bring along the road to experience the power of the crucified Savior and risen Lord.
The conversation between the two men on the road with Jesus is one of the first events following the resurrection that inaugurates a season in the church known as Eastertide. According to church tradition, Eastertide began with the resurrection of Jesus and ended with the ascension of Jesus on the Mount of Olives. It is marked by a season of joy and hope as the resurrected Messiah appears to over 500 people. Ultimately, Eastertide reminds us of the eternal hope we have in Jesus Christ.
The day Eastertide began, we observe two men leaving Jerusalem for the City of Emmaus some 7 miles away (Luke 24:13). These men were in an in-depth discussion about the circumstances and events of the past few days as it relates to Jesus of Nazareth. The discussion grows more intense as Jesus walks up to them to join them on their journey. In some supernatural display, Jesus disguised himself from the two disciples. One of the disciples is referred to in the passage as Cleopas, but the other is unknown to us. Why did Jesus disguise himself to the traveling disciples? Some believe it was so he could progressively reveal to them his true identity through the teaching of the scriptures. In other words, he wanted them to know why he had to come to earth as the suffering Savior before he revealed himself as the resurrected Messiah. There were at least two occasions when Jesus explicitly taught his disciples that he would come to earth and suffer, but the prophetic teaching was concealed from their understanding. For example, in Luke 18:34-35, It says, "And taking the twelve, he [Jesus] said to them, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise." 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said." The men did not recognize Jesus, but that did not stop Jesus from entering into their conversation to draw out their beliefs about his identity and their understanding of the events surrounding his death and empty tomb. Jesus interrupts the dialogue between the two men by asking, "What is this conversation you are holding with each other as you walk?" Cleopas' response is first non-verbal and then verbal. His first response was a stillness that reflected a sadness not to be conveyed with words. Cleopas then responds with a slightly sarcastic answer to the question of Jesus. He said, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there [Jerusalem] in these days?" The snarky question was telling. It revealed the rippled effect of Jesus' death, and the empty tomb was already having an impact far and wide. Cleopas was stunned that Jesus, disguised as a sojourner from Jerusalem, could not have heard about the trial, death, and empty tomb of Jesus. Jesus is not finished with Cleopas. The response also seems to hit a nerve as we consider the tone of Cleopas. Jesus retorts, "What things?". In this short two word question, Jesus is slowly and patiently extracting the pain and disappointment from Cleopas.
Cleopas begins to share with disguised Jesus about Jesus, ironic, isn't it? He tells Jesus about how Jesus of Nazareth was a mighty prophet of God before the people. He then places the blame for the crucifixion on the religious leaders. I can almost imagine, though this is not in the text, that there was a deep sigh in the lungs of Cleopas before he finished his answer to Jesus. In verse 21, he concludes his last thoughts on Jesus' trial, death, and the missing body from the tomb. He says, "But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."
The tone of Cleopas was a mixture of profound loss, anger, and confusion. He had hoped, like many in Israel, that Jesus was the coming Messiah who would redeem Israel. In most people's minds, the death of Jesus meant the end of redemption, at least for their generation. However, it must be noted that many in Jerusalem believe the Messiah would be a combination of a political and religious deliverer. Jesus did not come to eradicate the Roman government. He did come to conquer sin and its death grip on humanity. Cleopas was also confused because of the ending of the story of Jesus. He recalls the report of the women of Galilee, as recorded in Luke 24:1-12, that Jesus was not in the tomb and that two angels told the women he rose from the dead as he said he would do. Two of the Apostles even corroborated half of their story, the tomb was empty, but they did not see the angels. The conclusion of the two men on the road to Emmaus is summarized in the last six words of verse 24, "...but him they did not see." In other words, because they did not see Jesus, he is dead, and the body was stolen or taken in some other terrible way.
In this first part of the story of the Road to Emmaus, there is much to reflect upon. First, we must acknowledge that the journey to Jesus begins with many questions and much despair. We sense that there is something we are missing. Even when we start to get answers and begin to understand the truth, we often push back and away from the gift of life. Second, the person and work of Jesus are sometimes concealed to those who are seeking him at first. Salvation is a progressive journey. There is a point of saving faith, transformation, and growth in the Spirit. However, we must also acknowledge that the journey to saving faith is fraught with doubt, confusion, anger, and so many questions. Jesus is patient with us and gently guides us along our Emmaus Road experience. I can still remember when he began to speak to my heart as a boy. I did not recognize it as my crucified Savior and Risen Lord. He kept knocking on my heart's door, and eventually, I saw him and opened my soul to his saving work. My life has never been the same!