Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 05/12/1996
Luke 24:13 And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 And they were conversing with each other about all these things which had taken place. 15 And it came about that while they were conversing and discussing, Jesus himself approached and began traveling with them, 16 but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 And one of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, 20 and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him up to the sentence of death and crucified him. 21 But we were hoping that it was he who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. 22 But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning 23 and did not find his body, they came saying that they had seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 And some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but him they did not see. 25 And he said to them, “Oh foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, he explained to them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures. 28 And they approached the village where they were going, and he acted as though he would go farther. 29 But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.” And he went in to stay with them. 30 And it came about that when he had reclined at the table with them, he took bread and blessed it and, breaking it, he began giving it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 And they said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was speaking to us on the road, while he was explaining the Scriptures to us?” 33 And they arose that very hour and returned to Jerusalem and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, 34 saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 And they began to relate their experiences on the road and how he was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.
The account of the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus has always been one of my favorite Easter stories because of the fascinating questions it raises. Who was the second disciple? Why couldn’t they recognize Jesus at first? I do not know the answer to the first question, but I think I can venture a good guess: Mrs. Cleopas. And as for the second question, I think I can also shed some light on it later on. But I love this passage even more for the important lessons it teaches us about the meaning of Easter.
The first thing we learn here is something about the reality of the resurrection. This is only one of several accounts of resurrection appearances. Paul tells us that there were a total of some five hundred people who saw Jesus alive between his Death and his Ascension. We know about the eleven (several times) and the women, the Mary’s. But there were many other followers of Jesus to whom he appeared during this time. This story lets us put a name on at least one of them. This tells us that the resurrection was not some tiny, ingrown, tightly woven conspiracy, but a widely experienced phenomenon not limited to the inner band. And it is curious that all these stories have certain features in common. Jesus is recognizably Jesus, but recognizing him is not a simple matter. It is the same body that was killed, with scars to prove it, but it had powers not normally seen before the resurrection, such as the ability to walk through walls and appear in a locked room, or, as in this case, to appear and disappear. These appearances, these encounters, had the hard, knobby, unyielding feel of reality. They involved eating fish or bread, things that almost seemed normal, but they were never quite what you expected. This appearance is no exception, and it confirms that we are dealing with a phenomenon that was stubbornly itself and very, very real. Nobody would have made up stories with rough edges like this: women as the first eyewitnesses, other eyewitnesses who couldn’t even tell who they were talking to! The only reason to write it this way is that this is how it happened.
I do not see how one can read these accounts, with all the rough edges of stubborn reality about them, and think that the resurrection was just a way of talking about the fact that the significance of Jesus’ life and teachings survived his death. I do not see how one can read these accounts, with all the rough edges of stubborn reality about them, and think that the resurrection was just a way of talking about the fact that the impact of Jesus’ life continued in his disciples. I do not see how one can read these accounts, with all the rough edges of stubborn reality about them, and think that the resurrection was even just a way of talking about the fact that his Spirit lived on in their hearts. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was bodily, objective, physical, and real. The body was not just missing from its tomb; it could meet you on the road and walk and carry on a conversation. It could share in the breaking of bread. It said, “A spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see I have.” Its hands and side could be touched. The resurrection was dynamic and powerful: the dead body from the tomb was alive, transformed, more alive even than it had been before—as ours will be when it returns.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the best attested event of ancient history. We have many eyewitnesses, whose accounts are consistent enough to be believable and varied enough to save them from any charge of collusion. We have the witness of the women, the eleven, and of Cleopas. We have the empirical evidence of eyes and hands and senses; and they stand for the five hundred who saw the risen Lord. The Jewish establishment dealt with their testimony in a curiously consistent way. They never tried to refute them; they never appealed to contradicting evidence. They just tried to kill them. It was the only way they could shut them up. In every way these witnesses have the ring of truth.
But more compelling even than the eyewitness testimony of the observers, more compelling than the witness of the women, is the witness of the Word. Is that not why Cleopas and his friend were “prevented” from recognizing Jesus at first (vs. 16)? I think it was so that in vss. 25-27 Jesus could explain the Scriptures to them, so they could hear that testimony and base their faith on that, rather than on the less reliable witness of their own senses. Notice that word, “prevented.” It is not just that they did not recognize him at first; they were prevented. It is a word that implies a divine act with a purpose; and that purpose was that they should hear the Word and believe it. There is no doubt that the body they saw was the same body that they had known. The nail prints prove that. But they were full of sorrow and confusion, and they were not expecting to see Jesus alive again. It was easy for the resemblance not to register as anything more than a cruel coincidence. But after Jesus had opened the Scriptures to them, in his characteristic act of breaking the bread, it all suddenly hit home; it all fell into place. And he vanished from their midst.
It seems there was a point Jesus wanted to make here. Empirical evidence alone is not enough as a basis for such a radical and life-changing belief. The passage focuses our attention on the importance of the witness of the Word of God. It is when what the two disciples saw and heard fit what the Word had prophesied that real faith in Christ as the living Lord was born in them. The Scriptures confirm the empirical evidence: these are not just weird isolated facts; they are fulfilled prophecy. And the empirical evidence confirms the Scriptures as well: these are not just theoretically possible interpretations; they are the authoritative explanation of what God has actually done in the real world of space and time and experience. The witness of the senses and the witness of the Word mutually confirm one another: they fit together like two pieces of a puzzle. It is no wonder that their hearts burned within them as their minds were being prepared for the inevitable conclusion. And then, in the breaking of the bread . . . Wow!
Jesus’ explanation of the Scriptures’ testimony to himself points us to the reason why all of this was happening. Was it not necessary, he asked, that the Christ should suffer and then be raised? Why necessary? We do not get to hear the whole explanation as they heard it that night, but the rest of the New Testament is there to give it to us. And part of it is hinted at in vss. 44-48, where, as we will see next week, Jesus gives a similar explanation to the larger band of disciples. It was necessary, for one thing, to fulfill the Scriptures. God keeps his promises. And what had he promised to do in passages like Isaiah 53, which the early church, no doubt due to Jesus’ own emphasis here, made central to their understanding of him? He had promised to take away our sins. Behold, the promised Lamb of God, who has now on the Cross taken away the sins of the world! Behold the one who gave his life a ransom for many! The resurrection was finally necessary so that we would realize that God the Father had accepted the sacrifice for sin of God the Son, and that therefore we can believe that there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1).
Look again at verse 26. Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer and then to enter into his glory? The relevance of the resurrection is that it is God’s vindication of his Son and his acceptance of his sacrifice on our behalf; the relevance of the resurrection is that it is God’s promise to us of eternal life. But this is not just a promise of infinite duration to life as we live it now; it is a promise of a radically transformed quality of life and a purpose for life, one that could make a life of eternal duration worth living. Jesus entered into his glory—and he now turns and offers to share it with us. The glory of God is ultimately what this is all about. It is a cause big enough to live for, and it gives to life lived in its presence a quality that makes eternal duration appropriate and desirable. We see the first glimmers of that glory in the resurrection. It is what makes the promise of eternal life not only possible but desirable. The thing that beats at the heart of the universe and keeps all the planets and electrons going is an unbelievable splendor of powerful love—loving enough to give itself as a sacrifice for sin and powerful enough to overcome even the last enemy, Death. No wonder the hearts of the disciples burned within them on the road. Do not yours as well? If you have never done so before, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ now, and you shall be saved.
“When the New Testament tells us that Jesus Christ is risen, one of the things it means is that the victim of Calvary is now loose and at large, so that anyone anywhere can enjoy the same kind of relationship with him as the disciples did in the days of his flesh. The only differences are that, first, his presence with the Christian [for now] is spiritual, not bodily, so invisible to the physical eyes; second, the Christian, building on the New Testament witness, has access from the start to these truths which the original disciples only grasped gradually. Third, Jesus’ way of speaking to us now is not by uttering fresh words, but by applying to our consciences those words of his [and his apostles recorded in the New Testament]. But knowing Jesus Christ still remains as definite a relation of personal discipleship as it was for the twelve when he was on earth. The Jesus who walks through the Gospel story walks with Christians now, and knowing him involves going with him, now as then.” (Knowing God 33)
The reality of the resurrection is conveyed to us by the reportage of the resurrection, which tell us the reason for the resurrection and the relevance of the resurrection. Jesus Christ is risen! Jesus Christ is Lord. Jesus Christ is real. And Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by him. Are you coming?
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams