Luke24v13to35: ON THE ROAD TO EMMAUS
(A) Introduction. Read: Luke24v13to35
This is a wonderful story. It is like a rich fruit cake - full of good things. Luke alone among the gospel writers recounts with great skill the charming account of a most gracious ministry. Jesus' encounter with the two dejected disciples on the road to Emmaus is a great encouragement to all weary, dusty pilgrims on the hard and narrow way that leads to life.
I will examine the experience of the two travellers - Cleopas and in all probability his wife.
(B) Doubt and sorrow.
Luke deals at some length with the condition of the two supporters of Jesus as they walked home together. They were:
(1) Sad. They stood still, their faces downcast. v17.
When Jesus caught up with his two followers he asked them what they were talking about. I think they must have been so engrossed in their conversation that Jesus' presence hardly registered until he questioned them. Then they stood still, their whole demeanour one of utter dejection, before giving him an explanation for their sorrow: "Jesus of Nazareth .... 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." v20.
Make no mistake the two disciples had good cause for great sorrow. The crucifixion of Jesus, engineered by the leaders of his own people, was a gross injustice and a terrible consequence of human wickedness. Jesus' death should be a cause for sorrow in us because it was our sin that nailed him to the cross. However, the sorrow of the two travellers had a bitter edge. We detect it in the words: "We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel." They had hoped that Jesus would redeem Israel from Roman occupation and oppression. They looked forward to the day that Jesus set his people free. When Jesus put up no resistance and was led as a lamb to the slaughter their hopes were dashed. Their sorrow had a bitter edge because God didn't do what they wanted and expected.
Disappointed hopes are the cause of much anguish and grief to Christians. There are many like Hannah who pine for a child - or a husband. The most visited page of my website is that dealing with, 'Hannah's prayer.' There are others like Elijah who are devastated at the apparent failure of their ministry. I know of a young pastor and his wife who recently began their ministry with high hopes in a small country church. Within a few months the church was wrecked by the disruptive behaviour of two members. Some of us are dejected because little use is made of our talents. I can recall being wretched when a religious periodical rejected all the articles I sent it for publication. I heard recently of a struggling town church that had a new couple with five children attend for three weeks. Hopes were raised only to be dashed when they stopped attending. I can remember praying with other Christian teachers for one of our pupils with leukaemia. If anyone deserved to live Simon did. He fought his cancer with courage and determination - but still he died. I was asked to say a prayer at his memorial service. I found it difficult because I was angry with God for not answering our prayers.
Sorrow in all the cases above is understandable - but if we feel God has let us down it will also be tinged with destructive resentment and bitterness.
The travellers went on to say to Jesus: "In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early but didn't find his body 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." v23and24.
The two disciples remained glum in spite of the joyful testimony of the women. This means they must have been sceptical about what the women said. There is a hint of this when they say that the women had seen a vision of angels. The women saw actual angels not a vision of them! Perhaps there were feeble glimmerings of hope in the hearts of the two disciples but on the whole the dark clouds of doubt predominated. In this respect they were like Thomas. See exposition on John20v19to31.
I wonder if we are sceptical about what we have not experienced ourselves notwithstanding the testimony of others. There are a few people in our fellowship that have never made a commitment to Jesus. They expect God to work in their lives before exercising faith. I tell them that Jesus gives his Spirit to those that believe. The Spirit will give them assurance, enlightenment and the strength to be Christians. But my testimony is not accepted. There are others who attend our chapel who have never been baptised. I have described to them the tremendous joy that accompanied my own baptism and the great blessing it was to the church. But this does not seem to make any impression. A few have believed and been baptised but won't join the church because of bad experiences in other fellowships. I tell these people that the leadership could not be less authoritarian and they have nothing to fear from our one elder - me! But the doubts and fears persist. My testimony is greeted with unwarranted scepticism.
None of us are immune from scepticism. It is not easy for me, brought up in a Reformed tradition, to accept that the Holy Spirit still gives supernatural gifts to believers. The Holy Spirit has not given me such gifts and so I am doubtful of the claims of charismatic Christians.
I think we discount the experience of others at our peril.
I think this best describes the state of the two on the road to Emmaus. They just couldn't understand what was going on. This is evident from their observation: "And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place." v31. Why did they say this? It is a reference to what Jesus promised in Galilee and what the angels reminded the women of at the empty tomb: "The Son of Man must .... on the third day be raised again." Lk24v7. It is likely that the two disciples thought that if Jesus had, indeed, risen as promised on the third day he should be out and about, rousing his supporters, confounding his enemies, preparing to drive the corrupt priests from office and the hated Romans out of the country. So if Christ had risen why wasn't he doing this? Where was he? What was he up to?
There are quite a lot of Christians in Britain who are puzzled that the church is losing influence, secularism is gaining strength, congregations are declining or closing, young people aren't interested, Sunday schools are dwindling and youth groups vanishing. We think to ourselves, why doesn't the risen Christ do something? Why isn't the Holy Spirit sweeping through the land in revival power? Doesn't God care that our little fellowship is in danger of dying out?
(C) Burning hearts.
God's ways are past finding out! The risen Christ, far from rounding up his supporters for an attack on Rome, visits his two sad, disillusioned and perplexed disciples as they trudge home to Emmaus. He came to give them hope, to dispel their doubts and above all to make things clear. In this Jesus sets us all an example on how to deal with troubled fellow believers. So let us examine how Jesus proceeded:
(1) He was comradely.
The two disciples said of him: "He talked with us on the road." v32. I love to think of Jesus walking between this couple - sharing the long trek home. Perhaps he thought that the exercise in itself was therapeutic. It is heart warming that a conversation with two disconsolate disciples along a country road took priority over a spectacular appearance in the Temple courts to discomfit his opponents.
We can sometimes help people who are despondent and troubled by engaging in a joint activity. In Philip Yancey's book, 'Finding God in unexpected places,' he describes the, 'Jericho Road ministry' of Louise Adamson. Here is the sort of thing Louise does. A mother calls her at supper time. Louise goes over and finds the woman sitting in the middle of the floor with bruises all over her face. Her husband has been beating her again. A big bottle of prescription medicine is beside her on the floor. The mother has been fighting all day not to take it. Two small children are howling in the next room. Louise has brought some groceries with her. Together they cook dinner, calm the little ones down and spend two hours cleaning the house. By the end of that time the mother and Louise are singing hymns as they work. That is just such a great way to minister to a troubled heart! It is the method Jesus adopted by walking along with the two dejected disciples. Perhaps we ought to try it more often.
(2) He was sympathetic.
Jesus took pains to find out what was troubling his two supporters. He asked: "What are you discussing as you walk along?" v17 He listened patiently as the two companions poured out their tale of woe.
Sometimes we can help people just be listening sympathetically. That is how the Samaritans operate; volunteers just listen to people in distress. As I was distributing the church newssheet round the village recently I bumped into Richard. He was glad to tell me all about his painful leg that had been making his life a misery for months. I couldn't make his leg better but I could make him feel a little better just by listening sympathetically to his predicament.
After listening carefully to someone's problems we can give good advice. I have been grateful for the listening ear and sensible advice of my friend Tommy Bamber when things have gone awry during my teaching career. My friend never listens attentively when I try and talk to him about Christianity but it is a different matter if he feels I am in trouble.
(3) He was instructive.
Unlike the Samaritans Jesus didn't just listen. He rebuked his two disciples: "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" Then he probably proceeded to show them from the Old Testament how redemption was nearly always achieved through suffering. There are innumerable examples:
(b) Moses was rejected by the Israelites in Egypt and spent 40 years in the wilderness before God at the burning bush called him to his saving work.
(c) At the Passover a lamb had to die so that Jewish families could shelter beneath the blood as the angel of death passed over. After that fateful night the Israelites were delivered from slavery.
(d) Sampson killed more Philistines at his death than he did during his life.
(e) David was a fugitive in the wild and desolate places before he was crowned King of the Twelve Tribes.
(f) The Israelites had to suffer 70 years of exile before they were finally purged of idolatry.
(g) In Isaiah 53 God's servant was oppressed and afflicted before he saw the result of his suffering and was satisfied.
Over and over again rejection and suffering preceded vindication and deliverance.
There is no doubt that instruction from God's word will lift our spirits and dispel gloom. Today I took a ladies meeting. I prepared very carefully for it! There were only four present. It is easy in such circumstances to feel a bit despondent. This very incident helped me! I remembered Jesus considered it worthwhile on his resurrection day to teach just two puzzled disciples on their way home.
From time to time I am perplexed that I am given so few opportunities to preach and teach. But then I meditate on the Parable of the Talents. That parable teaches that we shall be judged on how we use the opportunities we are given. If God only gives us a few opportunities the important thing is to use them as well as we can.
The two disciples said of their experience: "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road." v32.
It is wonderful when we can put new life into discouraged Christians. I have been able to do this on those occasions when God has seen to it that a sermon just met someone's need. I believe there were times that a school assembly strangely warmed the hearts of my listening pupils. They may not have even realised why their hearts were warmed but they were.
There are other ways of breathing new life into flagging Christians. Perhaps all it needs is a letter of encouragement, an expression of gratitude or a token of love. I believe Jesus' heart was warmed by Mary's gift of precious ointment. See sermon on the Precious Perfume. Not long ago I was sitting in the pulpit waiting to give the address at the funeral of a member of our church. I was feeling rather apprehensive and in low spirits. Before the message my friend Peter sang a solo. He is 80 and his voice is not what it used to be. But on this occasion he sang just as he used to when he was 30. It was amazing. The Holy Spirit gave him special power. My heart burned within me and my spirit soared.
(D) The joy of his presence.
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 recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. vs30and31.
This meal time incident teaches:
(1) Something about the resurrection body.
When Jesus came alongside the 2 travellers they were kept from recognising him. v16. In this they were like just about everyone else. Jesus was not immediately recognised because his body had changed. His old body had not been resuscitated as Lazarus' was. Jesus old body was taken into the new. That is why his grave clothes lay in their folds in the tomb. See exposition on john20v1to9. I cannot imagine that Jesus resurrection face was lined or drawn. His opponents once said of him, "You're not yet 50." This suggests that Jesus looked older than he was. His resurrection body bore no marks of age!
But for all that the old was not completely lost. I used to tell my pupils during the short time that I taught religious education that a vacuum cleaner albeit very different from a brush nonetheless contains a brush within it. So when Jesus took bread, gave thanks and brake it something of the old Jesus was to be seen. He had done this many times before and always the intense gratitude for his Father's provision shone through. I expect the reverent way he handled the bread and the gracious way he distributed it revealed Jesus for whom he was.
In the same way, we shall be recognisable after the resurrection of the body. Some better features of the old will remain to give us away to our nearest and dearest. I hope to recognise my mother's sparkling blue eyes and my father's sheepish grin. See exposition on 1Cor15.
(2) The importance of hospitality.
The two travellers experienced the joy of Christ's presence because they invited him to stay. As they approached the village to which they were going Jesus acted as if he were going further. 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.
Jesus did not force himself upon his two disciples. It was very much down to them that he agreed to stay with them. They urged him strongly to accept their hospitality.
I wonder if there are places from which we shut Jesus out. If I am honest, Jesus has not always been welcome in my classroom or on the hockey pitch or on the cricket square or even in my living room. I am afraid that there are church business meetings where Jesus is locked out. There are denominational committees where no seat is left for Jesus.
When we urge Jesus to join us he will grace us with his presence as he did the wedding feast at Cana. What a difference Jesus makes to the marriage of two Christians, a Christmas party, a wedding anniversary or a special birthday celebration. At the Diamond Wedding anniversary of my friends Edward and Dorothy we had a short service of thanksgiving. Jesus was in the midst and what a lovely atmosphere he created. When I served at Pioneer Camp - a Christian holiday for young people - we started every day asking for Jesus' presence amongst us. There is no doubt that the happy spirit that usually prevailed and the spiritual blessing that ensued was the result of his blessed company.
(3) Jesus can be present in the simple things of life.
Jesus was recognised in the breaking of bread. Love can be expressed in simple ways. My grandfather Reed showed his love for chrysanthemums by the careful way he picked them and cradled them gently on his arm. One afternoon I sat in the restaurant of the Natural |History Museum in Kensington watching a young mother express her love for her dear, small son by the way she fed him grapes. Many years ago I travelled on a bus from my home village to Bury St Edmunds and observed a middle-aged woman reveal her love for an aged father by the tender way she picked the fluff of his overcoat. It was a revealing incident because her father was not the one named on her birth certificate.
I believe Jesus is present when a Christian shows the reality of their love for him by what they do and how they do it. I deal with this in my short story: See, 'Thanksgiving.'
Last week I spoke at the ladies meeting at Rattlesden in Suffolk. I watched as David Piper carefully and cheerfully unloaded four ladies in wheelchairs. It took him some time. He had already loaded them on the bus and he had the return journey still to make. The trouble David took over those frail old ladies was a measure of his love for Jesus. It was an opportunity to see Jesus at work in the community.
(4) Jesus can be evident in the humdrum of life.
I don't suppose Gideon thought he would have an angelic visitor as he threshed corn in the wine press. Moses did not anticipate an encounter with God as he looked after his father-in-law's sheep in the desert. Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John from their boats on the shore of Galilee and Matthew from a custom officer's booth.
William Barclay wrote: Jesus is not only at the communion table .... we can be with him at the dinner table too. He is the guest in every home. Fay Inchfawn wrote:
Corrie ten Boom wrote about her encounters with Jesus as she worked alongside her dear, godly father in his watch mender's shop in Haarlem.
(E) The sweetness of fellowship.
After Jesus left the disciples in their own home in Emmaus they got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. v37.
(1) They wanted to share their joy with other believers. That is one of the reasons we meet for worship for as the hymn puts it:
And let your joys be known
Join in a song with sweet accord,
Join in a song with sweet accord,
And thus surround the throne,
And thus surround the throne,
(2) They hoped to encourage their brethren. The two disciples had a testimony to tell. It ia always very encouraging to hear how Jesus has worked in the lives and hearts of others. It is because Christians have told the story of Jesus that the church has grown.
That shall turn their hearts to the right;
A story of truth and sweetness,
A story of peace and light;
A story of peace and light.
For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
(3) They received happy confirmation of their experience. 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. v34.
(4) They didn't let anything put them off from meeting with their brothers: the late hour, another long walk, the darkness and dangers. It was just so important to meet with others and to rejoice together that Christ had risen from the dead.