Exodus 28:10-17, Luke 24:13-35
April 19, 2009
Luke is the only one who tells this story. The other gospel writers would put this in the category of, “and Jesus appeared to many others.” The only specific reference is found in that “alternative ending” of Mark’s Gospel. There it says, “After this he appeared to two of them as they were walking in the country, and they went back and told the rest…” (Mark 16:12) But thankfully this story is recorded in full by Luke. Because this is a great story!!
This event called “The Road to Emmaus” actually takes place on that first Easter day. It comes right after Luke’s account of what happened when the women came back from the tomb. Remember, they saw the angels, and the empty tomb, they went and told the disciples what had happened. Then of course we have these words, right before our story for today. “But these words seemed to them (the disciples) an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”
That was the disciples’ first reaction to the resurrection. They refused to believe it. And we really can’t blame them, can we? Oh, we might find some criticism rising within us. We might find ourselves thinking “What’s wrong with those disciples? Why are they so thick-headed?” But if you really think about it, who of us would have believed the women’s story? (Really!) Remember again that we the readers have a better perspective than the people in the stories. We know what they didn’t yet know. And we know everything else that happened for the next two millennia! They didn’t know any of that!
So then, right after that statement of unbelief, Luke launches right into this story. He tells about these two disciples walking that road to Emmaus, and about Jesus meeting them and walking with them. And please understand, that this scene is meant to be part of the picture of Easter day. And it’s part of the picture of how the disciples came to believe what had happened!
The first thing I want us to see as we look at this story, is that God goes for the hearts of these people. He wants the disciples to get the message. He wants them to understand. He wants them to believe. But he wants them to believe in their hearts, not just acknowledge it in their minds. So, in this case, he doesn’t simply appear. He doesn’t just show up and show them his wounds. This is a “gentle meeting.” This is a matter of walking with them. It is an appeal to them to remember. And of course, it’s a conversation we Jesus, not knowing who they were talking to!
Let me ask you, doesn’t God sometimes do that with us? Are there not times in our lives where there is a presence with us, maybe during a tough time. Maybe we feel a sense of a peace or calm, or a feeling of presence we don’t understand at the time, but we recognize when we look back on it later? Does that ever happen to you? I think it happens a lot. And when it does, we realize that it’s not a direct intervention of God, though there are times we wish for that. Sometimes we say, “Please God, please just take this problem away from me!!” But that doesn’t happen. Instead there is more of a gentle, quiet presence with us. Then, later on, as we look back, we realize that God was with us!
In Genesis 28, Jacob has this wonderful dream of the ladder reaching up to heaven, and angels ascending and descending on it. In that dream he hears God’s words of promise and covenant. And he wakes up saying, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!” That’s the same kind of thing! There are times in our lives that, when we look back, we realize that God was with us and we did not know it! I encourage you today to watch for those times and recognize those times. I think you’ll find they are more numerous than you think!
So here Jesus is walking with these disciples, and they do not know it. And Luke tells us that they were kept from recognizing him. Now I know there are some who are quick to try to “explain away” anything supernatural in the Bible. (Oooh we can’t have that!) And in this case they’ve tried to say that it was the disciples’ grief that kept them from recognizing Jesus, not a supernatural act. Well, I think that’s wrong. In fact, I believe the way Jesus prevented them from recognizing himself at first is essential to the story! Jesus wanted it to happen this way. And by the way, would that not also be characteristic of the way he conducted his earthly ministry? Think about that. Do you remember in the Gospel accounts how Jesus sometimes charged people not to tell anyone who he was? He didn’t want the real news about who he was to come out right away? There was a sense of timing that was important to Jesus. And I think it’s the same here?
Sometimes we people can be pretty hard headed, can’t we? Sometimes it’s not easy to get things through our heads. And remember what I said before, that it was the disciples’ hearts that Jesus was going for. But sometimes it’s hard to get past the head to get to the heart. Remember the disciples’ first reaction to the women’s story? “Their words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Their heads were in the way! This couldn’t have happened, they thought. The women were nuts! And there was no way that news was going to get to their hearts – because their heads didn’t buy it!
Of course, for some people, even things that do make it into their heads get no further. Some people will allow themselves to acknowledge the truth of something, but that’s all. But God wants to touch our hearts. That’s where true belief takes place. As Paul writes, we confess with our lips but we believe in our hearts. That’s where true devotion begins. That’s where discipleship gets its inner power and strength. We get that when our hearts are fully engaged!
Because of that, God often does things in a dramatic way. As I’ve often said in describing events in the Bible, when God starts something, he really starts something! When God begins a new thing, when God writes a new story, he makes liberal use of the exclamation point! There is great power and glory in the stories the Bible. And there is great drama! I believe God loves the dramatic! Because the dramatic is the way to reach the people’s hearts.
Think about it. In the Exodus story, God certainly had the power to defeat the Egyptians and free the Hebrew slaves in one fell swoop. But he didn’t. Because it was the power of the story the people were in, and the way God engineered it, that stayed in the people’s hearts for the next three thousand years! Look what God himself says in Exodus 10. “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants…” God hardened their hearts! Why? The answer is in the second half of that verse, “that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell [it all] in the hearing of your son and your son’s son… that you may know that I am God!”
God is the God of the dramatic. He wanted to stick these stories deep in the people’s hearts! So in our story for today Jesus “acts like” he was traveling further. That’s important. Because then they compel him to stay. And when he does, he goes in, he breaks the bread, their eyes are opened, they recognize him, and he vanishes! Wow! What a story. And what do they say about it? It’s not “Wow, didn’t he really blow our minds when he disappeared like that?” No. They said, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us while he talked with us on the road?!”
My friends, that’s the level on which I believe God wants all of us to live. Do you remember what I said on Easter? I said that Jesus has come alive again so that we can come alive. God wants us to live our lives fully aware of his kingdom. He wants us to have that abundance in this life. He wants our hearts to come alive!!! He wants our hearts to burn within us, about his story, about his glory, and about the joy of living this life. And again, that’s despite the circumstances of our lives! He wants our hearts to be alive and engaged, no matter what may happen to us – good or bad!
Jesus is alive again so that we can be alive again. I felt like a lot of you connected with that message last week. And I’m glad. Because we often talk in terms of that famous passage in II Corinthians where it says, “If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation…” Well, that can’t happen without new creation of our hearts. That’s what we need! Otherwise, we will fail God again and again, and even though we will know we are forgiven again and again, still it we will feel like we are more of a failure than a new creation.
Believers, the real difference knowing the spirit of God living in our hearts, touching our hearts, making our hearts burn within us. That makes us new creations. That’s what makes us fully alive, which is the Glory of God, as Saint Irenaeus said!
So remember this story. Take this story with you – in your heart. Picture those disciples on that road, walking with Jesus, though they didn’t know it at the time. Look for those times when Jesus has been walking with you, though you didn’t know it. Seek out and recognize those times when he touches your heart. Know that you are truly alive in him. And to God be all glory, honor, and praise.
Eternal God, you have put us in the most amazing story. It is one in which you sent your son into our world and into our lives. Help us to know the power of his spirit reaching out to us, touching our hearts, empowering us by your joy to be your people, your new creations, alive and eager to know you better. Help us to see your kingdom every day! For this we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.