The Gospels: Luke 24 – The Road to Emmaus
It’s a familiar story, so I’ll just go through it quickly, and save my comments for the end. In Luke 24, we read that the women went to the tomb early on the first day of the week, and they found the tomb empty. Two angels appeared, and told them that Jesus had risen. So the women ran to tell the apostles the good news, but the apostles did not believe the women, because their words didn’t seem to make any sense. Let’s read the story starting in verse 12:
Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.
He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast.
One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“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. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 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.
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.”
He said to them, “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?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 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.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 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?”
They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
Who were these two disciples? One was named Cleopas, but we do not know the name of the other one. Maybe it was Mrs. Cleopas – we don’t even know whether the person was male or female.
Maybe we can put our own name into the story at this point – maybe Luke doesn’t tell us the name of the other disciple so that we can imagine ourselves as part of this story.
OK, so we were walking with Cleopas on the road to Emmaus, talking about all the things that have happened in the last few days.
Was it only a week ago that Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey? Weren’t all the children singing Hosanna? Didn’t all this happen to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah about the king of Israel, riding on a donkey?
We were sure that Jesus was the Messiah, come to rescue us. We were sure that he was going to set up the kingdom of God. He kept talking about it – that’s what he wanted to do, and that’s what we wanted him to do, too.
And we could sure see God working in him. He kicked scoundrels out of the temple courts, and nobody stopped him. He told parables that clearly said God was rejecting the Pharisees and Sadducees, and would give the land to someone else. He showed that all those so-called leaders couldn’t even interpret the Scriptures right.
He predicted the end of the age, and the Son of Man coming in glory with the clouds of heaven. And he gave us signs of a new covenant, a new relationship with God. We were sure that he was the Messiah.
And then he got killed.
(I’ll skip the gruesome details.)
Remember that guy named Judas the Galilean? He said he was the Messiah and attracted a big following on the other side of the Jordan. But he got killed and all his followers scattered. Maybe we got sucked into that kind of thing. Just because we think somebody is the Messiah doesn’t necessarily make him the Messiah. Jesus did some amazing stuff – I guess Judas did, too. Lots of people thought he was the Messiah. But they were wrong – and it looks like we were wrong, too.
Now it’s time to get out of town, as inconspicuously as possible. We can’t do it on Saturday, because that’s the Sabbath, and we’ll look pretty conspicuous. So we’ll just stay inside and keep the doors locked. We can’t leave on Sunday morning, because that’s when everybody is heading into Jerusalem for more festival celebrations. The best time to leave is on Sunday afternoon, when people start going home to the nearby villages. We’ll just blend in with those people, if we leave on Sunday afternoon.
And so here we are, walking away from Jerusalem, talking about what a great disappointment we’ve had. We thought this was going to be the best week of our life, but boy, did we get all our hopes smashed!
Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever hoped that Jesus would rescue you from some sort of problem or another? Have you ever hoped that Jesus would give you a problem-free life? Have you ever felt that instead, God had abandoned you? If he really existed, then he sure didn’t seem to care about you?
That’s what these disciples were talking about on the road to Emmaus. Sometimes Christians are on that road, trying to walk away from it all without attracting too much attention to themselves. They were following Jesus, but they became really disappointed in him. Their faces are downcast. They are just trudging along, going away, not quite sure where they are going to.
“We hoped that he was the one who was going to rescue us, but it sure doesn’t look like that now.” Maybe there won’t ever be a rescue, and boy, is that depressing!
And along comes Jesus, and he chews them out, “You idiots! If you don’t believe in me after all I’ve done for you, then good riddance! Just go away. I don’t need disciples like you!”
No, Jesus didn’t do that, did he? It’s true that he doesn’t need disciples like us, but it is also true that this is the only kind of disciples he has. We are all weak in faith. If we had been in Jerusalem that year, we would have walked away, too. We would have gone fishing, gone back to whatever it was that we were doing before. We might have hoped that Jesus would be the Messiah, but we would have given up on that hope.
Sometimes we hear other people talking about Jesus, but it just doesn’t make any sense right now. The tomb might be empty, but we can’t see Jesus anywhere around. It sure seems like he hasn’t done anything for us. He might as well be dead, for all we are concerned.
And so we are walking away from Jerusalem, talking with our buddy Cleopas about how we got ripped off.
Jesus is not offended. He just walks with us for as long as he needs to. We don’t even know that it’s Jesus, but he is walking with us whether we know it or not. He’ll let us talk, and tell our disappointment.
That’s OK – Jesus does not feel compelled to be everything that we expected him to be. Sometimes we expected something, or hoped for something, that Jesus really isn’t. Eventually, if we give Jesus a chance, he’ll explain to us what sort of Messiah he really is.
For Cleopas, he talked about the Old Testament scriptures. For us, he might talk about something else, or explain things in a different way. Did you really want a Messiah who would prevent you from making mistakes? Did you really want a Savior who would suspend the law of cause and effect? Did you want a “Lord” who would do what you wanted him to, as if you are the one who is really in charge?
Do you want a Jesus who shows you mercy, but does not show mercy to other people? Do you want a Jesus who brings you personal happiness while leaving other people in misery? Do you want a Messiah who tells other people to behave themselves, so that you can have a better life?
Just what is it that you wanted from a Messiah? If you are disappointed with Jesus, just what is it that you expected, and was it a realistic expectation?
The conversation could go a thousand different ways, depending on what our difficulty is, but it eventually comes around to this: Didn’t the Christ have to be the way he actually is?
Isn’t death the biggest problem that humans will ever face? Whether we are rich or poor, good-looking or bad-looking, powerful or weak, all of us are going to die. And if death is the biggest problem we will face, wouldn’t it be necessary for our Savior to show that he has been there and done that, and come out OK? Don’t we need a Savior who has been killed, and then resurrected?
Isn’t one of the biggest problems we face broken relationships? To give us assurance that Christ has overcome that, too, wasn’t it necessary for him to be betrayed by one of his closest friends? Wasn’t it necessary for him to be betrayed by his own people, to be betrayed by the best that human governments had to offer at the time?
There is no question about it: Life in this age is far from perfect. Everybody we meet is dysfunctional in some way or another. No matter what sort of people you have to deal with, Jesus has been there, and he’s been hurt by it. He knows what we are going through, and by his example, he assures us that we can go through it, too, and come out the other side.
If we want to get away and walk to Emmaus, or even further, Jesus is willing to go with us, and keep talking with us. Eventually the time will come when it begins to make sense again. We will see that Jesus has been with us all along.
And then we’ll whip out the handcuffs and lock Jesus up so that he will never leave us ever again. No, it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes when we see him, he is soon gone. We have a dramatic moment when our eyes are open, and just as soon as we recognize it, the moment is gone again. We do not get a chance to put Jesus in our briefcase so that we can pull him out whenever we happen to want him.
No, we cannot control him.
So what should we do?
We should return at once to Jerusalem, to hear what the other disciples have to say about Jesus. Yes, he has risen and appeared to Peter – and to James, and John, and even Thomas – and can you believe it, even to a Pharisee named Saul!
We can hear their stories, and we can tell our stories, too, of how we met Jesus. Maybe it was something as ordinary as eating an evening meal; maybe it was an extraordinary experience with miracles at an empty tomb. We can tell of how we were walking in the depths of despair, and Jesus gave us unexpected hope. Or we can talk about how we were wallowing in guilt, and Jesus gave us freedom from our greatest oppressor. Or when we were trapped in a habit of some sort, and Jesus set us free. Or when life seemed pointless, all of a sudden we saw the point.
You know, life on this planet is filled with problems. If we are crippled by the fear of death, Jesus can set us free. If we are poisoned by one bad relationship after another, Jesus can heal us. If we are blind to the needs of other people, Jesus can open our eyes. If we are filled with lame excuses, Jesus can give us strength to be a better person.
Basically, if there were no Jesus, then we’d have to invent one to help us cope. But the truth is, that we are so dysfunctional that we can’t invent a Jesus who can even identify our problem, much less help us cope with it. We need a Jesus who is different than what we want, because there’s something seriously wrong about what we want. If we are to rescue ourselves, we need to desire a Jesus who is different than what we desire.
But of course we do not need to invent Jesus – he has been here walking with us all along, for almost 2,000 years now.
He is not in the tomb. He has risen, just as he said. He is not in Emmaus, but he is in his disciples – and we can sometimes see him, even if ever so briefly, when we eat together, and when we help each other, and when we talk with one another.
Each Easter, we celebrate the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. That is really good news for him, you might think, but what does it matter to me? The truth is, that it really doesn’t do us much good, until he rises inside each of us. He needs to live in us. He can’t do that unless he is actually alive, of course, but he also won’t do that unless we let him.
He is walking with us on the road to Emmaus. We may think that we are walking away, but the fact is that we can never get far away from Jesus, because he is walking right beside us – whether we know it or not.
As Paul says in Ephesians, God made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—even when we were totally unaware of it—and God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms—all when we were totally unaware of it. He has been walking with us all along.
Many of you – most of you – already know that this is really good news, because you have seen Jesus in your life. Maybe in the breaking of the bread, maybe in some other way. You’ve seen that he is not only alive, but that he is living in you.
Others are not quite so sure, and that’s OK. Or maybe you were once really sure, but you are beginning to have some doubts. That’s OK, too. Sometimes when we are going through a really difficult time, like when we are faced with cancer, or when someone we love has just died, at times like that we have questions that have no answers, and what we need more than answers is just somebody to be with us.
Jesus is that somebody, whether we know it or not, whether we see him or not. He has been in our situation. He has faced betrayal and suffering and death. He knows what we are going through, and he has already gone through it with us, and for us. He is walking with us, even when we are trying to walk away from him.
That is really good news. We have a Savior who will let us walk, and he’ll let us talk, and he will never let us get so far away that we can’t get back, because he is right beside us all along.
The resurrection of Jesus is really good news, but he is not going to force it on you. Eventually the time will come when our eyes will be opened and we will recognize him for who he is, and we can join the conversation with our story: The Lord has risen, and he is living in me!
Author: Michael Morrison