Luke 24:13-23 “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 recognising 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.”
Luke approaches the end of his gospel with one of the most beautiful incidents in all the New Testament. Its literary quality and sense of suspense is exquisite. It is like other parts of Luke where the writer also excels himself, such as his description of the feeding of the 5,000, or of Jesus being anointed by the sinful woman, or the parable of the prodigal son. It also has a number of similarities to his story of the salvation of the Ethiopian eunuch which he records in his Acts of the Apostles. They all have some kind of heavenliness about them. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus being visited by the Lord Jesus has been described as a “wonderful, unique, spellbinding” history. C.S. Lewis discusses this example of what he calls ‘a novelish, realistic narrative’ and, he says that when you come across such an example which is 2000 years old then you know that it is incredibly factual. The account must have come first hand from Cleopas . . . or Luke, if he were the one being spoken of here as Cleopas’ companion.
The story is also a model of how many people become Christians. It begins with the total bleakness of people whose dreams are shattered, facing a dark future because the cruelest of providences has happened to someone they’ve loved more than anyone else in the world. Then God in his providence brings a stranger into their lives, maybe on a journey, and they feel a growing openness to him. They cast their cares on him maybe for an hour or two. Could he be someone who might help them . . . or not? Their faces reflected the state of their hearts, utterly downcast (v.17), but after he had listened and responded to them their hearts caught fire (v.32). This incident declares to all mankind the reality of new life through the kindness of the living Jesus who does come near us.
THE BACKGROUND OF THIS STORY.
i] Where were these people? They were walking to a place seven miles from Jerusalem, a small hamlet called Emmaus. Men have put a compass point on Jerusalem and have drawn a circle seven miles in circumference around the city, and thus have suggested one or two places on that line which might be that Emmaus. Over the last two thousand years that community’s name has changed to whatever it’s known as today. No such place with that name exists today and so we’re not sure what direction they were heading. A place called El-Qubeibeh is one of the most popular suggestions because 700 years ago the crusaders built a fort there. They called it Castellum Emmaus, but they were guessing almost as much as we are. What Luke wants us to notice is that this place was in the vicinity of Jerusalem where the Lord Christ had died and risen.
ii] Who were these people? There were two of them and they had been disciples of the Lord Jesus. We know that from a number of clues; the confession they make about Jesus, that “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people” (v.19); they had personal hope in him, “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (v.21). His death has been a body blow to them. Again we are told plainly that they were part of the disciples following Jesus because they refer to Mary Magadalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James as “some of our women” (v.22) showing that these men and women were amongst the 500 disciples the Lord had gathered around him during his ministry. They were a part of the inner circle because they had heard that morning on the disciples’ grapevine what the women had reported to the Eleven of the empty tomb and the angels. Also they must have been disciples known and loved by him because none of Jesus’ resurrection appearances was to his enemies.
We know the name of one of them, Cleopas (v.18). He could be the man mentioned in John 19 and verse 25 where he is called ‘Clopas,’ and if that is him then it fits with the picture of discipleship that we have here. Clopas was the brother of Joseph the carpenter from Nazareth, the husband of Mary, Jesus’ mother. Clopas was Mary’s brother-in-law and he was related to the Zebedee family and we can imagine him staying with them and he’d have met the women who had gone to the tomb coming and going early that morning. Of course no one can be sure if Clopas and Cleopas were the same person. However, if that were the case then the person with him might well have been his wife, and from John’s gospel we learn that her name was Mary, and she was at the cross with the other women. Of course many Christian couples have read this chapter and it’s become to them an encouragement to bring their lives, and questions to the Lord Jesus. “We must take our concerns to Christ.”
But the Anglican evangelical scholar John Wenham (the author of a famous Greek tutor which generations of theological students used to learn koine Greek) has another theory as to his identity. Wenham wrote an interesting article on this question of the identity of the anonymous person on the Emmaus road in the Evangelical Quarterly exactly fifty years ago and he gathers the evidence for concluding that the companion of Cleopas was none other than Luke himself, the author of this gospel. The empty house to which they were returning in Emmaus was Luke’s home. That is a very happy thought that I want to be true, but no one can prove it so.
iii] What was their problem? They tell their story to this stranger so poignantly. Cleopas is the first person in the world to speak to Jesus about what happened, to give our Lord our perspective on what Jesus had said and done, and how shattered his followers were after his crucifixion. They had regarded Jesus as a prophet, and more than a prophet. God’s power had been present with Jesus in his miracles and his teaching. They couldn’t doubt that this man had been the man of God’s choice. He had been the one who would redeem Israel. Tom Wright points out helpfully, “Clearly, for them, this referred (as Luke has been saying all along) to the new Exodus: just as Israel had been ‘redeemed’ from slavery in Egypt at the first Passover, so they had hoped that now Israel would be ‘redeemed’, that God would purchase her freedom. They hoped that Israel would be liberated once for all from pagan domination, free to serve God in peace and holiness. That’s why the crucifixion was so devastating. It wasn’t just that Jesus had been the bearer of their hopes but now he was dead and gone. It was sharper than that: if Jesus had been the one to redeem Israel, he surely would have defeated the pagans, not dying at their hands! Cleopas’ puzzled statement only needs the slightest twist to turn it into a joyful statement of early Christian faith: ‘They crucified him – but we had hoped he would redeem Israel’ was going to become, ‘They crucified him – and that was the way he did redeem Israel.’ And it was, of course, the resurrection that had made the difference” (Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone, SPCK, 2001, p.294).
iv] When did this occur? ‘Twas late on Sunday morning, the first day of the week. Their home was Emmaus, and they had been to Jerusalem for the Passover and it was on the day that the lambs were slain that their great teacher Jesus was crucified. They would have gone home there and then but the Saturday Sabbath was to begin within about half an hour of his being taken down from the cross, this holy day beginning at sunset. So they were stuck in Jerusalem for a day because seven miles was much further than a Sabbath day’s journey permitted. The streets were quiet and they were left stationary away from their home stewing in this immeasurable grief for 24 hours. So Sunday morning this incident occurred.
But it is possible to answer this question as to when this incident occurred in a broader and more searching way. It happened to them one day after years of their hearing this powerful prophet preaching to thousands in the open air, stirring and astonishing the multitudes by his words. It happened to them after many personal interviews had taken place and questions had been answered by him. It happened after they had seen hundreds if not thousands of miracles. The very books of the world could hardly contain all that Jesus had done during this time. He had replaced sickness with rude health whenever suffering ones had come or been brought to him. They had never seen him fail in healing a person, not once. The very winds and waves obeyed him. Demons stopped their tormenting and fled when Jesus came to their victims. His life had persuaded them that he was the prophet who was going to redeem them. So when did this walk to Emmaus happen? It happened a week after he had raised Lazarus from the dead. It happened after years of exposure to this extraordinary life; it happened after they had experienced years of his warm, strong love for them. So let us look at this incident . . .
THE LONGEST WALK.
The longest walk you’ll ever take is the walk away from the grave of someone you loved. If you’ve never done that, you can’t imagine how grievous it is. To walk away and feel as if the world has come to an end. To walk away and think about what used to be, and what might have been. To walk away and realize, “I’ll never be the same again.” To play over and over in your mind the good times, the laughter, the fun stories, to reach out and touch a face and find it gone forever. To cry until you can’t cry any more. To watch them bury your dreams and hopes and all that was good about life. To know it’s over, done, finished, the end, and there is nothing you can do about it. To walk away to friends who cannot understand and to a world that cares little. It is the longest walk and the saddest day. Every step takes you away from the tombstone of a broken dream.
Here were two people, and Luke tells us that they were not on a silent and morose walk, but that after the Sabbath rest they were constantly talking and discussing the things that happened. Their question is our question, only slightly rephrased. “Where is Jesus when you need him? Where did he go? Why did he leave us? Whey didn’t he vanish the previous week and walk away from his plotters? Why did he let them kill him like that? We needed him and we still do, more today than ever. It’s not fair.” As they walked and talked, I’m sure they did a lot of reminiscing, such as that time when the people in the synagogue in Nazareth had caught hold of him, so angry with his preaching and his claims. In fact they tried to throw him off a precipice, but he just walked through the midst of them and none of them could touch him. He could do it then, so why didn’t he do it last week? How could Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead ( . . . “and two others” maybe threw in his companion) and yet let himself be killed a week or so later? Like anyone who lost a loved one, they tried to make sense out of the tragedy and see some good, but it was hard. Only those people who have seen a dream crushed and the death of a great hope can enter emotionally into this story. If you have ever walked away from a funeral so deeply hurt that you couldn’t speak, if you have loved and been dumped, tried and failed, believed and then been disappointed, you will know something of what it was like for these two disciples. Jesus had journeyed from Galilee a week earlier and had entered Jerusalem as King, but now he walks back down the road of disillusionment with two disciples and he listens to all their pain. And he does the same to us! He will walk with us through our journeys of loss and confusion.
Let me tell you again the story of Dr. Lloyd-Jones on one of his journeys to Wales. I have told it to you before, but not as accurately as I would have wished. I now have his actual words before me and what he experienced merits my telling you again. For me it is safe and it will not be wearying for you. He tells his story like this: here it is.
I remember preaching in Wales one Sunday in the early 1930s. I was preaching in a country place at an afternoon and then an evening service. When I finished the service in the afternoon and had come down from the pulpit, two ministers came up to me. They had a request to make. They said, “We wonder whether you’ll do us a kindness.” “If I can,” I said, “I’ll be happy to.” “Well,” they said, “we think you can. There’s a tragic case. It’s the case of our local schoolmaster. He’s a very fine man, and he was one of the best church workers in the district. But he’s got into a very sad condition. He’s given up all his church work. He just manages to keep going in his school. But as for church life and activity, he’s become more or less useless.”
“What’s the matter with him?” I asked. “Well,” they said, “he’s got into some kind of depressed condition. Complains of headaches and pains in his stomach and so on. Would you be good enough to see him?” I promised I would. So after I had had my tea, this man, the schoolmaster, came to see me. I said to him, “You look depressed.” He was like the men on the road to Emmaus. One glance at this man told me all about him. I saw the typical face and attitude of a man who is depressed and discouraged. I said, “Now tell me, what’s the trouble?” “Well,” he said, “I get these headaches. I’m never free from them. I wake up with one in the morning, and I can’t sleep too well either.” He added that he also suffered from gastric pains and so on.
“Tell me,” I said, “how long have you been like this?” “Oh,” he said, “it’s been going on for years. As a matter of fact, it’s been going on since 1915.” “I’m interested to hear this,” I said. “How did it begin?” He said, “Well, when the war broke out in 1914, I volunteered very early on and went into the navy. Eventually I was transferred to a submarine, which was sent to the Mediterranean. Now the part of the navy I belonged to was involved in the Gallipoli campaign. I was there in this submarine in the Mediterranean during that campaign. One afternoon we were engaged in action. We were submerged in the sea, and we were all engaged in our duties when suddenly there was a most terrible thud and our submarine shook. We’d been hit by a mine, and down we sank to the bottom of the Mediterranean. You know, since then I’ve never been the same man.”
“Well,” I said, “please tell me the rest of your story.” “But,” he said, “there’s really nothing more to say. I’m just telling you that’s how I’ve been ever since that happened to me in the Mediterranean.” “But, my dear friend,” I said, “I really would be interested to know the remainder of the story.” “But I’ve told you the whole story.” This went on for some considerable time. It was a part of my treatment. I said again, “Now I really would like to know the whole story. Start at the beginning again.” And he told me how he had volunteered, joined the navy, was posted to a submarine that went to the Mediterranean, and everything was all right until the afternoon they were engaged in the action, the sudden thud and the shaking. “Down we went to the bottom of the Mediterranean. And I have been like this ever since.”
Again I said, “Tell me the rest of the story.” And I took him over it step by step. We came to that dramatic afternoon—the thud, the shaking of the submarine. “Down we went to the bottom of the Mediterranean.” “Go on!” I said. He said, “There’s nothing more to be said.” I said, “Are you still at the bottom of the Mediterranean?” You see, physically he was not, but mentally he was. He had remained at the bottom of the Mediterranean ever since. So I went on to say to him, “That’s your whole trouble. All your troubles are due to the fact that in your own mind you are still at the bottom of the Mediterranean. Why didn’t you tell me that somehow or another you came up to the surface, that someone on another ship saw you, got hold of you and got you on board his ship, that you were treated there and eventually brought you back to Wales and put into a hospital?” Then I got all the facts out of him. I said, “Why didn’t you tell me all that? You stopped down at the bottom of the Mediterranean.” It was because this man was dammed up in his mind that he had suffered from this terrible depression during all those years. I am happy to be able to tell you that as the result of this explanation that man was perfectly restored.
Now I tell you this story simply in order to show you the condition of these men on the road to Emmaus. There they are: “We had thought . . . but, oh, what’s the use of thinking? They tried Jesus and condemned him unjustly. They crucified him. He died, and they buried him. And he’s in the tomb.” They were so certain of this that they had become oblivious of everything else and blind to everything else. And I have a fear, my dear friends, that that is the trouble with so many of us. We are so aware of the problems, so immersed in them, that we have forgotten all of the glory that is around us and have seen nothing but the problems that lead to this increasing dejection. That is my analysis of these men on the road to Emmaus (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Setting Our Affections on Glory, Crossway, 2013, pp. 74-76). That is Dr. Lloyd-Jones on the state of these men.
THE UNEXPECTED SAVIOUR.
There is an easy way to outline this story. Two people. Three people. Two people. Everything you need to know is in those three phrases. Down the road the two people walked, deep in their sorrow and despair. Suddenly a stranger joins them and walks with them. When he leaves them, they are changed forever. To begin, their hearts are burdened. To end, their hearts are burning. And then, their hearts are bursting. Such is the power of the risen Christ. They hadn’t talked to one another that day and said, “I know, we’ll go back to Emmaus. We might bump into Jesus on the way.” They didn’t think for a moment like that. They never dreamed of meeting him. The planning was all his. The decision was his. He chose to come and meet with them. They felt abandoned by him, but then he decided to come to them and met them, and he transformed their lives. What about that meeting? What do we see here?
i] Sometimes people didn’t immediately recognize the Lord Jesus. Of course his enemies were convinced that Jesus Christ was dead and gone. Saul of Tarsus knew that 100% and he hated Christians for spreading more lies about Jesus. He was determined to wipe out his followers before more people became deluded. Then as he was walking along another road to another place this same living, resurrected Jesus met him too, but there he overwhelmed Saul. He was struck down by this encounter with such bright glory. “Who are you, Lord?” (Acts 22:8) he asked. It couldn’t have been Jesus; Saul never considered that to be the slightest possibility; Jesus was long dead and gone. Then who could this mighty overwhelming divine Lord be, intervening in his own bitter and angry life? He didn’t recognize the Lord Jesus because of unbelief.
These two people on the road to Emmaus weren’t enemies and yet they didn’t know who this stranger was. Some say that that was because they didn’t expect to be seeing him again, and there must be an atom of truth in that. Also it’s suggested that their heads were so lowered in grief that their eyes were glued to the ground and they never gave this man more than a glance. However, there are the real reasons.
A] God hid it from them. He was the one who put a spiritual blindfold over their eyes preventing them recognizing him. It was God who did this. God can do this. All people that on earth do dwell have forfeited every right to gawk at Jesus whenever they chose. The angels in heaven hide their eyes when they look at the Son of God. Who are you looking at? Men cannot look at God and live, and so God, I say, was the one who was actually stopped them from knowing his Son. Christ came to them and he spoke to them but the time was not yet for them to know him. They first had to feel something of their own darkness and wretchedness and the emptiness of their lives when Christ was absent. John Newton sings, “How tedious and tasteless the hours when Jesus no longer I see,” and that feeling was needed to sink into Cleopas’ heart. His only joy from this day onwards was going to be found in knowing Jesus with him. There were lessons of the heart and the affections that they had to learn before they could rejoice in fitting worship knowing he lived! They first had to see that he was risen because of what the Bible said to them, because henceforth this is how every single Christian is going to meet with Jesus, through the Scriptures. He had risen the third day, as he said he would. God had kept Saul of Tarsus from seeing the glory of Christ, matching his spiritual blindness with a physical blindness. He became literally blind until a Christian had dealt with him when the scales fell from his eyes and he saw. Could God be dealing with you in this way? Then please pray, “Lord, open my eyes. Help me to see, Lord. Give me a sight O Saviour of your wondrous love to me.” Again don’t we see this . . .
B] In a number of the appearances of Christ he hides himself from his disciples. We notice how the risen resurrected Jesus was not fully and immediately recognized, don’t we see this? When he appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden, or the eleven in the upper room, or the seven in the fishing boat then in each such case, and maybe in every case, there was no immediate recognition that this was the Lord Christ risen from the dead. It was never an automatic reaction. This must have been because the Lord Jesus had changed in certain ways, and because of their own sinful blindness and unbelief, and also because their sight of him was initially sovereignly hindered. Such a combination of sovereignty and sinful unbelief was the reason for Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus being with the Christ they had know so well for hours on the road and hearing him teaching them, but incredibly not recognizing him. How real and profound is spiritual blindness.
C] Let’s consider also the work of the devil as responsible for such blindness. Paul tells the Corinthians, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
D] The change in the bodily appearance of Christ. The impression we receive from the New Testament is that there was a continuity of the body of Christ before his resurrection and the body after it. It was still a physical body; it could eat and drink and be handled. It was not a ghost, but it was not just exactly identical with the body he had before his death. It has been glorified and there are events that indicate that element of discontinuity. We’d expect that, and indeed we welcome that. In our resurrection bodies we don’t expect identical bodies needing food and drink and defecation. We expect transfiguration and glory and honour and power to characterize them because our bodies are gong to be like Christ’s resurrection body. So initially people didn’t immediately recognize the risen Jesus
ii] Sometimes the Lord Jesus can break in perforating our lives. So here were two baby Christians who were walking along with this person whom they didn’t recognize. After a brief exchange of words they quickly learned it was so easy to open up to him and share everything with him. He encouraged them to talk to him. He asked them, “What are you talking about?” The question perplexed the two men because everyone in Jerusalem knew about the terrible things that had happened to Jesus of Nazareth. It seemed a stupid question because all the citizens of that sleepy little place had been talking about nothing else but the killing of Jesus. “Are you the only one who hasn’t heard?” They were talking to the veiled Lord of glory, and their remarks were all about him, and yet they were addressed to the Lord himself! In fact Jesus was the only one who knew all the facts as to what happened to himself in Jerusalem. He knew it better than anyone else. Instead of being the only person who did not know he was the only person who did know it all. So they eagerly told the story to someone who seemed to them a kind, inquisitive but ignorant man, their words were a combination of love and grief, devotion and sorrow, belief and perplexity.
Yet what was missing in this speech of Cleopas? Why is it an unfinished creed? The answer of course is that there is no resurrection! For them Jesus Christ was dead. Evil has conquered. Even God was helpless to overcome it. There was no gospel in the words of Cleopas because Jesus was killed and was buried and his body was decaying somewhere, they didn’t know where. This is what Good Friday looks like without Easter. Without the resurrection, the cross is nothing but a tragedy, a story without a moral, a drama that is amputated, ending before the final act.
Some of you have been walking along the Emmaus Road too long. Alone and overwhelmed, with doubts creeping in, your heart giving way, you sometimes feel you can’t go on. But where two or three gather together in his name there is the Lord Jesus. So we are meeting in his name and so he is here! He is really here, the great Physician, the Wonderful Counsellor, the loving Saviour is here, and he comes assuring us, “You’re not alone. You never were alone. Even when you thought you were alone, I was with you every step of the way, and when there was just one set of footsteps in the sand that was the stretch that I was carrying you along.”
Some years God asks us to take that long walk from the grave, and sometimes our eyes are covered and we don’t see him near us. We must weep; it’s not wrong to shed tears at loss for he did so himself, and then remember someone you love, and wonder why. But never forget every value and affection you have known has changed since that resurrection day. It may seem like Saturday for you, but thank God, Easter’s light and life has dawned across the universe. A bright light shines from the garden tomb. The light slowly chases the darkness away until one day the darkness will be gone forever.
Men and women, behold the risen Christ! You can never be alone again. We are the sons of the resurrected God. Because he lives we shall live also, and so every Sunday we celebrate the great triple truth of this holy day. The tomb is empty. Jesus is alive and he comes to us in our grief and need and listens to us. We are not alone. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.
19th May 2013 GEOFF THOMAS