Today’s gospel lesson begins, as all incidents lived out on the salvation journey wrought by the God we know in Jesus Christ, in grief. But like all such incidents, it ends in life and in joy.
It’s late in the afternoon on the first Easter, the day that Jesus rose from the dead. Two disciples, filled with grief, not yet convinced by the testimony to Jesus’ resurrection given to them by two different groups of their fellow disciples, are walking from Jerusalem, where they witnessed Jesus die, toward Emmaus.
This is where our lesson, Luke 24:13-35, begins: “That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”
Why were these two disciples kept from recognizing Jesus? Was Jesus engaging in a little heavenly hocus-pocus? No, I think there are two reasons they didn’t know the man walking and talking with them was Jesus.
First, neither one of them was expecting to see Jesus. They had watched Jesus die.
Second, taking all the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection into consideration, one gets the idea that in His risen form, Jesus was the same, but different.
He could express a desire for food. He could be touched. He could show people the wounds He’d incurred during His passion and crucifixion.
But He also could show up in rooms behind locked doors. He seemed capable of being in multiple places at the same time.
Jesus was the same, yet different, just as God’s Word promises that you and I will, beyond our own deaths and resurrections be the same--recognizable as the people we have been in this old creation--yet new, surprising, different, more whole, bathed in eternal life.
Verse 17: “And he said to them, ‘What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?’ [Jesus always meets people where they are. He often starts with a question, a good way to start any conversation.] And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’ And he said to them, ‘What things?’ And they said to him, ‘Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 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.’”
Can’t you hear the hopelessness in the voices of the two disciples here? They had put all of their hope in Jesus. But what had their hope really been in? They had hoped that Jesus would redeem Israel, by which they meant, that Jesus would set the Jews free from the Romans. But it hadn’t happened.
I know a man who was super-active in his church. He was considered a leader in the congregation, a person of prayer. But one day, he just gave up on God, dropped out of church.
What happened? He’d counted on Jesus to make him wealthy and successful. He thought that he had a deal with Jesus: he would be a good guy and Jesus would give him what he wanted. He thought Jesus was a genie subject to his command, rather than the Savior from whom he took commands. When the man’s dream job turned to ashes and when his personal life got hard, he gave up on faith.
Jesus can and does redeem from sin, death, darkness, and futility all who turn from sin and trust in Him. But that doesn’t mean that the lives we live before our own deaths and resurrections will be successful or easy. The Bible reminds us: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)
And Jesus did pity these two disciples who had placed their trust in Jesus for the wrong reasons. We see this as the two tell Jesus about the strange reports they’ve heard of Jesus rising. “‘Moreover, [they continue] 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.’ And [Jesus] said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!’”
Jesus’ words of admonition remind me of Psalm 14:1: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’"
Jesus was saying that the two disciples were foolish for not believing that God is God. He chastises them for failing to believe that Jesus Himself could do what He'd said He would, die and rise for the sake of sinners like them like me and you.
The disciples were stuck in the same kind of thinking you hear from modern-day atheists and agnostics who say, “People don’t rise from the dead. Therefore, Jesus couldn’t have risen from the dead.”
These folks are half right: According the ordinary laws of this world, dead people don’t rise, just as, according to the ordinary working of the law of gravity, an apple that falls from a tree will land on the ground below.
But what if, as I walk by that apple tree and see the apple start to fall and, instead of letting it hit the ground, I catch it?* The law of gravity will not have been rescinded; but I will have intervened to change the usual outcome.
Like every other human being, Jesus died.
But then, God the Father did something: He intervened in the normal outworking of this fallen universe’s laws. He changed the outcome and raised Jesus, His Son, to a new and eternal life.
And by His death and resurrection, Jesus both paid the debt we owe to God and neighbor for our sins and then opened up a perfect eternity with God to all who trust in Him.
The God we meet through Jesus can intervene in our lives to make us new.
It’s foolish to think that the One Who made everything in the first place can’t make it new when it gets messed up.
That’s effectively what Jesus tells these two disciples walking to Emmaus.
Jesus now teaches them how the Old Testament had pointed to His death and resurrection. Jesus no doubt mentioned chapters and verses of prophecy.
But more importantly, He must have pointed to the character of the Creator God,
- Who created out of love,
- Who was loathe to give up on the human race,
- Whose passion for us all would inevitably lead Him to stop at nothing--not even death on a cross--to destroy the power of sin and death over our lives.
- The God with this character and these traits would, of course, enter our stories to write new, everlasting endings for all who believe in Jesus.
I love this part of the Emmaus narrative! Notice two things.
First, this: Luke tells us that when Jesus broke the bread, “their eyes were opened.”
Does that sound familiar? It should. Think back to Genesis 3:7. Adam and Eve have just violated God’s command that they not eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Until this point, the two had been blind to sin, knowing only good. But, as soon as they eat of the fruit, Genesis says, “...the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked…”
Suddenly, the two now saw how their bodies and their lives could be misused. And they were ashamed.
Now, come back to Emmaus. The two disciples--who many scholars today believe are husband and wife--see Jesus break the bread and they see, not their own capacity for evil, but God’s infinite capacity to forgive, restore, renew, and remake those who turn from sin and trust in Jesus.
Jesus reverses the curse of Eden.
In Him, this couple sees not their own sin, but Christ’s righteousness. That’s what Christ wants all of us to see.
Our sin left uncovered by Christ’s righteousness will damn us. But Christ’s righteousness can cover even the darkest of sins and most awful of hurts in God’s grace, love, and life!
Secondly, notice how Jesus reveals Himself to this couple and makes it possible for them to believe. He does this in two ways:
- First, He shares God’s Word about Himself.
- Second, He shares bread at the table with them.
These are still the ways Jesus reveals Himself to us today. We call them Word and Sacrament: The Word of the Bible which testifies about the loving God we meet in Jesus. And the sacraments, in which Jesus uses common elements like bread, wine, and water to meet us, claim us, shower us with grace, make us new, forgive us, and assure us that He is with us always, now and in eternity.
Jesus is saying to those two disciples and to you and me, that every time we hear His Word and receive the Sacraments, as we are doing together again this morning, He is with us, making us new, replacing our doubts with faith, replacing our sin with His forgiveness.
We can come to Him whatever the current state of our lives--grieving, sad, joyous, contented, depressed, excited, whatever--and He will show Himself to us again. He will open our eyes and remind us once again that He saves by grace and eternally lives with all who surrender to Him and His love.
After their encounter with Jesus in Word and bread, the two disciples run back to Jerusalem. Suddenly, they don’t care if the sun has gone down and they can’t see the ground beneath them as they run to tell the others that they’ve seen Jesus. Their hearts are burning within them and they simply have to add their testimony to that of the others who have encountered Jesus. Their day began in grief and has ended in joy! They have to tell the world about their risen Lord.
Let me ask you: After our encounters with the risen Jesus in the Bible, in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, can we do any less?
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This message was shared during worship this past Sunday.]
*This illustration comes from The Case for Faith.