On the Road to Understanding – April 12, 2015
Genesis 12:1-9, Luke 24:13-35
April 12, 2015
This is a great story! And, this is a dramatic story! We’re talking today about the “The Road to Emmaus.” And this is a story that has often made me say that God has a great “flair for the dramatic!” Isn’t that true?
I think this is also a story that is descriptive of the experience of faith. Coming to faith, and growing in faith, and understanding the faith, can be seen as a journey along a road. Things that we do, people we meet, experiences we have, all contribute to who we are at the end of the journey. Or who we are at any point along the way that we find ourselves. And this is the story of one such “journey.” It was a literal journey. But it was also a journey of understanding!
This story took place later on Easter day. These two travelers on the road home from Jerusalem, where they had been for the Passover – along with many other pilgrims! Along the way, they meet another traveler, who we know to be Jesus, but who they were kept from recognizing. Jesus sees that they are looking sad. (A horse walks into a bar, and the bartender says, “Hey, why the long face?”)
Well, Jesus says, “Hey, why the long faces?” And they tell him what has happened in Jerusalem in recent days. (Like he doesn’t know that!) Jesus gives them a mild chastisement for their lack of faith, and then he ‘splains’ everything. They listen eagerly! And when they reach Emmaus, Jesus acts like he’s going farther, and they ask him to stay with them. And then we have this great scene where Jesus breaks the bread, they recognize him, and he vanishes. And they realize that they have been changed by this journey, a journey that was both literal and figurative. They discover that they have been “on the road to understanding!”
This makes me think of the “conversion” – the coming to faith – of the great writer C. S. Lewis. (You know him. He’s the “Chronicles of Narnia” guy!) Lewis was an Oxford professor, and a proclaimed atheist/agnostic. He describes himself as being “angry with God because he didn’t exist!” And if you’ve read about him, you’ll know that he describes his experience of coming to the faith as literally being that of a bus ride. He got on the bus at one end, and by the time he got to his destination, he knew he was a Christian. He can’t offer much of an explanation, he said. He just knew. The faith just made sense to him. Or better, it became real to him. And he referred to himself as “The most reluctant convert in all of England!” He was “dragged kicking and screaming into the kingdom!”
It has been said that, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” And as we go through this life, I hope we see that we are “on the road to understanding.” And yes, there are some people who have had more of an Damascus Road experience. You know what happened along that road! It happened to a certain man named Saul. He was overwhelmed by the presence of God, and his life changed dramatically.
I have a good friend who tells of having that kind of experience. He said that, for a lot of his life, he was “not all that religious.” But then one day, when he was driving along in his car, he felt the presence of God with him. And it was so powerful that he had to pull off the road. His wife thought he was having a heart attack or something. He said, “No. I feel the presence of God in this car.” And she said, “Oh really?” and he said, “Yes!” And his life was changed dramatically!
Like Saul (Paul) and my friend, some people are overwhelmed by the presence of God in some way. They come to faith in a blinding flash! But most do not. Yes, some may be able to point to a specific time when they were convinced of the claims of Jesus Christ and their need for his salvation. They may even be able to point to a day in their lives when they made that decision. But for a lot of people, coming to faith is often a “road to understanding.” And it’s more of an Emmaus road experience, rather than a Damascus road experience. (It occurred to me the other night that Luke described both of those roads in his writings – the books of Luke and Acts!)
I want you to think today about your own road. I know my own experience with the faith was more of an Emmaus road journey. It didn’t happen overnight. And, when I think of all the factors that contributed to my own experience with Jesus, it makes me very grateful! Many wonderful people – including, of course, my parents – were instrumental in showing me the faith – or at least keeping me heading in the right direction. Many people taught me a lot of the stories and beliefs. But it was still a road to understanding!
I was thinking about this the other night. (Literally!) And I thought about how I already knew a lot of things about Jesus, long before I made the decision to follow him. Maybe that’s where you are. Maybe you can point to a lot of people who were influential in your life in that way. Maybe they helped you to understand a lot about Jesus, and a lot about the Christian faith. But, you’re still not sure about that whole “following” thing.
In this story, Cleopas and his unnamed friend, also “knew a lot about Jesus.” They knew who he was. They had probably heard him speak. They had their hopes about him. They hoped that he was going to be the one who would redeem Israel. (That is, to restore Israel!) But they didn’t have the full understanding about him. None of them did at this point.
So here Jesus gives them that understanding. And he does it in this dramatic way. That’s because this was more than just a matter of him giving them the right understanding. Yes, he taught them from the scriptures. But he was still “incognito.” Still, he kept them from recognizing him. He wanted to do more than just inform their minds. He wanted to inspire their hearts! And so he waited, and at the right time, he revealed himself dramatically – in the breaking of the bread!
Maybe that’s where you are. Jesus is trying to tell you some things. And your heart has been touched in some way! You’re still not sure about everything, but you feel inspired somehow! And you know it’s time for you to do something. Maybe you even know that it’s time to make a decision to follow Jesus.
That’s a good thing! And I want you to know that, if you think you’re there. you don’t have to know everything first. In fact, that’s rarely true about the decision to follow. It’s more a decision of faith. “I’m going to follow, God, Even though I don’t know where we’re going.” God told Abram to pack up and hit the road. He didn’t tell him where he was going. He simply asked him to have faith.
Maybe God is doing the same with you. He’s calling you. You know he wants you to follow. But you don’t know the destination. Maybe you’re not sure you can make such a decision. But again, most people don’t know. They just come to a point where they decide to trust God. They decide that that God is trustworthy, and that he knows the way!
Well, let me say here that this journey didn’t end in Emmaus. For these men, an important part of the journey was the journey back to Jerusalem. Jesus touched their hearts in Emmaus, and when they knew their lives were changed, they knew they had to go back and tell! Maybe that’s where you are. You know now! You’re ready to follow! And you’re excited to tell!
That’s important, because the last part of this story was about these men helping others to understand, too. They went back and told what had happened to them. They told how they had been with Jesus. And it helped those they were telling to come to their own understanding.
Maybe you’re ready to do that, too. People are on their own roads. And maybe they need a little guidance. Maybe they need a little inspiration. Maybe they need some companionship along the way. We do those things for each other, don’t we? We’re not followers all by ourselves. We have each other. And we help, we share, we reassure.
That’s important. Because sometimes you’ve been on the road so long, you aren’t sure if you still should be. I remember I was driving to Phoenix one day. And I was on Route 56 in New Mexico. It was just a two lane road, and it had been a long time since I saw any signs! And I started to wonder if I was still on it! There was no GPS in those days! And I remember driving along thinking “Please, just let there be a ‘Route 56’ sign along here soon!” Sure enough, after what seemed like an hour of anxiety, there it was! A “Route 56” sign. I can’t tell you how reassuring that was!
We need those signs along the way! Don’t we? Maybe you need a sign like that along your road. You’ve been on the road to understanding for so long, but you haven’t seen a sign in a while! You need some reassurance. And just maybe you are that sign along someone else’s road! Do you see how that works!
So I ask you today, where are you along the road to understanding? Do you know about Jesus, but you haven’t yet made a decision to follow him? The knowing definitely is important! But it’s a decision of faith. Are you close to your destination, and yet you know it’s time to follow? Have you had the experience with God in your life and you’re excited to follow, but you aren’t sure where you’re going? Or are you on that road, you’re inspired, and you are excited to share that experience. It’s all part of “the road to understanding.”
Eternal God, help us to hear your call to follow. And help us, wherever we are on our journey, to feel your spirit within us, as we seek to be your people. Help us to grow, help us to have faith, help us to help one another. For these things we ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.