Have you ever given up on God? Walked away? Or found yourself having walked away without even realizing it?
I have. Those walks are usually preceded by a question – why? And almost always with a feeling of disappointment.
If you haven’t walked away from God, you’ve surely thought about it.
It’s easy to experience such thoughts in this fallen world. Our disappointments in ourselves, each other, and simple facts of life. For example:
· Gun violence and a lack of legislative action
· Lack of clean water
· Natural disasters
· Pain and suffering
· Illnesses, disease
If it makes you feel any better, we’ve been walking away from God from the beginning. The Bible is filled with the stories of those who walked away – even those who walked with the Savior, the Messiah, our Redeemer.
Our scripture today tells of two early walkers, and it is a beautiful story. It has all the elements of a good story: relatable characters, drama, a little mystery, meaningful dialogue, great themes, and an arc.
Like so many great stories, there is a lot packed into it. And as with any reading of biblical scripture, especially the New Testament and the Gospels, it’s important to think about everything that is said – and all that isn’t. It is in this way that God uses the scripture to speak to us.
Let’s break it down.
The setting (read the beginning of Luke 24 (1-12) is Easter, only they don’t realize that there is anything to celebrate. The women went to the tomb and Jesus’ body was not there. They had a vision or saw some angels and were told that Jesus isn’t there but had risen. They ran back to tell the disciples. They then went to the tomb and saw nothing.
13 On that same day, two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.
Who were they? Not part of the 12 disciples, now 11 because Judas is no more. There were followers other than the 12, others who had chosen to follow Jesus. We know one of them was Cleopas, because he is named later. Some say Simon is the other. Others believe the other was Cleopas’s wife. I like the other being unnamed and unknown. That makes it easier to relate to him or her – to put ourselves in his or her sandals on that road that day. Why were they going to Emmaus? We don’t know. We know they had chosen to leave the others, the center of activity. I think we can surmise that they had given up. They had lost hope.
Now, we can relate to these guys, right?
14 They were talking to each other about everything that had happened.
This is right after Jesus' crucifixion and the discovery of the empty tomb. Even though they were trying to walk away, to separate themselves from what had disappointed them, to give up, they couldn’t. It was all simply too powerful, too strong, Jesus was too amazing. They had believed. They had trusted.
We can only hope that our faith makes it more difficult to walk away.
15 While they were discussing these things, Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey.
Jesus himself arrived. Not an apparition. Not a ghost. Not a vision. The resurrected, risen Jesus Christ. And he joined them on their journey.
Wow. Isn’t that powerful? Isn’t that reassuring? He joined them on their journey, just like he joins us on ours.
16They were prevented from recognizing him.
They were kept from recognizing him, not that he was unrecognizable. That’s significant. What kept them from recognizing him? Many assume that Jesus prevented himself from being recognized. Maybe. But it doesn’t say that. Could it have been their own mind, their disposition, or mental state? Why couldn’t they remember and believe that he had risen? It should not have come as a surprise.
How often do we fail to recognize Jesus’s presence in our lives? How often do we forget that He is walking with us? How often do we fail to see God’s work all around us? We tend to focus on things of our own choosing, our disappointments, our “failures,” and that keeps us from seeing God.
17 He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?”
Jesus shows an interest in what is going on with them. He is reaching out to them. He wants to be a part of the conversation.
Isn’t that nice to know? He cares about what we have to say, how we are feeling, and what is on our mind. He wants to be a part of our life.
They stopped, their faces downcast.
They were sad, there was no denying it. They might have even been hesitant about sharing how they felt about what was going on with this stranger. These were dangerous times for Jesus’s followers. But they could not hide their disappointment.
When we are disappointed with life, it shows. Jesus surely knows, but so do others. How does that reflect on our faith? If we lose hope as a Christian, what must others think about this God of ours?
18The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?”
This sentence is Luke’s opportunity to let the reader know (again) how widespread what had happened was – how everyone knew. Jesus, the human being son of God, was killed. We need that to be evident to many if the resurrection is to have any meaning, any power.
And here we are over 2,000 years later and its still known. We know. We cannot deny it. We cannot pretend that we have never heard of Jesus. We have no excuse. We can choose to believe or not.
19 “He said to them, “What things?”
Jesus is going to make them tell him. He knew what they were thinking, but he wanted them to explain it, to verbalize it, to admit it. It’s like therapy, isn’t it? It’s important for us to verbalize what we are thinking and feeling if we are going to deal with it. It is also like the power of journaling.
Jesus wants to hear from us. We should share with him what is on our minds, and what is bothering us. In that way he can help us, and we can help ourselves.
They said to him, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth. Because of his powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. 20But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him.
They recognized who Jesus was when he was among them. They are testifying to his powerful words and deeds. More evidence, says Luke. Let’s include it. They are likely Jewish as they referred to “our chief priests and our leaders.” More evidence and a reminder that it was the chosen Jews who chose to have him killed. This, too, is important to the story.
The fact that it was the “church” that initiated Jesus’s death should not be lost on us. When religious leaders get away from what God intends, that’s bad news. Unfortunately, we have seen it too often. And we still do. History repeats itself. Over and over again.
21 We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel.
Aha! Here is the admission. Here is why this story is important for us. They had hoped. Past tense. Hope is gone. They’ve given up on Jesus. Given up on God.
This is our point of connection. This is why this story is so powerful when we lose hope.
All these things happened three days ago.
Jesus is definitely dead. And this is consistent with what Jesus said would happen.
22 But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.”
Bless. No one believed the women. Men went (Peter) but didn’t see Jesus or the angels. So, what to make of this? He is dead and someone stole his body? Grave robbery was common in those days. Graves cost money and could be re-sold. But what had Jesus told them? What had been prophesized? They still don’t get it.
Leave it to the disciples to make us feel better when we don’t get it. Think of them as the “duh – sciples.” If it wasn’t so serious, this has all the makings of a sitcom. What is really happening – the truth – is obvious to the observer, the reader, and the audience, but the characters are oblivious.
25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. 26 Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.
Jesus was honest with them. They needed to hear it. Listen to what you are saying. You’ve just explained to me how the prophecies have been fulfilled. Now, if they were practicing Jews, they should have known this from their days in the synagogue. The Messiah had been talked about for millennia. But, Jesus says, here you go. Let’s review. And he explains it all. They had the benefit of having their faith restored by Jesus himself. Live. In the flesh. Wow. But they still didn’t believe. They still lacked faith.
We have the same opportunity. We know more than they did about what was to come. We also have a risen Jesus to show us the way. How often do we overlook what God has done? Not just with Jesus but in our lives? In the lives of others? How often do we forget the big picture? How often do we lose faith over something insignificant or merely out of our own neglect? Scripture can help us reconnect with God. Prayer can allow our faith to be restored. It is our opportunity to have God remind us of our faith.
28 When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. 29 But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
He “acted” as if he was going ahead. I love that. He wanted them to ask him to stay. He wanted them to reach out to him for more, for continued conversation, and for more time together.
We must reach out to Jesus. He wants us to want to spend time with him.
30 After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
Just like he had with the disciples. Just like we are going to do today.
31 Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight.
Their eyes were opened? They chose to recognize Him? He said do this and remember me. They did. But then He disappeared? He is there even when He isn’t. He was resurrected but His existence is not as we would imagine. It is not something that we can understand. We must have faith that He is there even when we cannot see Him. That should be some comfort to us today.
32 They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”
They had a burning desire to be near God, to have faith. That is grace.
Have you had that experience? Felt on fire about your faith? Or had the experience reading scripture? Don’t give up. Once you experience it, you won’t forget it.
33 They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem.
When their faith was restored, they took action. They went back to Jerusalem that night! That wasn’t easy or safe. But they did not delay in taking action.
And that is what we should do. We must act when our faith is renewed and restored. No matter what that looks like.
They found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!”
We know they weren’t part of the original disciples as they returned to them. They too had had their faith restored. They had learned that Jesus had risen from the dead and appeared to Simon.
Isn’t it nice when we have our own little private faith renewal, and once we share it, we learn that others have experienced one too? How would you know if you didn’t share it? This should be encouragement to share.
35 Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread.
They shared their experience. Jesus was known to them as he broke the bread.
This is yet another good reason to celebrate Communion. It gives us an opportunity to see, remember, and recognize Jesus. To be reminded of His sacrifice and his promise. To have our faith restored.
Where are you on your journey?
Have you given up on God because things didn’t go like you thought they would?
Are you walking away from God?
Are you on your own road to Emmaus?
Are you walking with Jesus, but you don’t know it?
Are your eyes closed to Jesus in your life?
Have you recognized Jesus but not done or said anything about it?
Are you sharing your experiences with others?
We must open our eyes. We must reach out to God. Jesus is there. He is risen.
Sometimes a little story is all it takes to get back on the right road.