Sermon / May 4th, 2014 / Luke 24 / The Road to Emmaus / Pastor Terry Defoe
13 Now that same day, two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®
Tourists in Israel sometimes discover a little village that has a beautiful church in its midst. Surrounding that church are pine, oak and arbutus trees. In Jesus’ day, that village was called "Emmaus." The events we are considering this morning took place in that place, just after Jesus’ death. The disciples were mourning the death of their Teacher. It was late in the day on the first day of the week – the day we now call Easter Sunday. Two men were out walking. Their destination was seven miles away, which meant they'd be walking for a couple of hours, with plenty of time to talk. One man's name was Cleopas. We don’t know the name of the other man. Both were followers of Jesus, the Messiah. I pray that God would bless our consideration of His Holy Word this day.
As those two men walked those seven miles, they talked what had happened to Jesus. They tried their best to make sense of these things. But, truth be told, they were confused. And frightened. They had no idea what the future would bring – for them – or for Jesus’ other followers. You know, when my daughter Michelle was a small child, Kathleen and I went out shopping one day in a mall at Trail, B.C. One of the merchants in the mall was handing out balloons and Michelle took one. We took the balloon home. A few days later, I noticed it in Michelle's room. It had a slow leak and was now half-full of air. The faith of the two men on their way to Emmaus was like that balloon – deflated! They were devastated.
There are times in life when hope is replaced by sadness and joy is replaced by depression. Moses, you may remember, was the leader of the people of Israel. But, at one point in his life, the pressures of leadership got to him. Job, too, lost all hope. He got a raw deal in life and, as a result, his faith was shaken to its foundations. And King Solomon, as an old man, came to a point when despair took over. So, if you’ve ever felt this way, you’re in good company. Those men on the road to Emmaus knew that everyone was talking about the death of Jesus of Nazareth. People had heard about his arrest and trial. They had heard about his crucifixion and his burial.
As these two men walked along, a stranger approached them. It was late in the day. The stranger was perhaps shrouded in his garment and the two men didn't know who it was. The stranger was curious. He asked about the recent events in Jerusalem. The two men were amazed that this stranger didn’t know about these things. These two men knew the facts. But that’s all. They knew, for example, that Jesus was a prophet – that He spoke for God. They knew that He was powerful in word and deed – before God and all the people. They knew that, in the last couple of hundred years, God's voice had fallen silent, but now God had been speaking powerfully to Israel through Jesus. The two men told that stranger how the religious leaders had handed handing Jesus over to be crucified. They said that they had hoped that Jesus would redeem Israel – that he would set it free from its bondage to Rome. They said that it was now the third day since all these things had taken place. They told the stranger what the women had said about the tomb where Jesus had been buried – that Jesus' body was missing. They told him about the angels and their claim that Jesus was alive. They said that some of Jesus’ disciples had gone to the tomb and found it empty, just the women had said.
Imagine, if you would, that you are one of those two men. Imagine that, after telling this stranger your story, he says this to you (Luke 24:25-26):
25 “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (N.I.V.)
It was as if God was saying:
"Consider these events in the light of Holy Scriptures and then they'll make sense to you. I want you to know that I have been at work in all of these things. They were predicted long before they came to pass. My plan of salvation is being worked out before your very eyes. Can you not see it?"
Have you ever had trouble understanding the Bible or spiritual things? If you have, you're not alone! Jesus’ disciples had the same problem. They often didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about. But Jesus was patient – most of the time. At one point, recorded for us in the book of Matthew, Jesus told his disciples a parable, and then asked His disciples if they understood the meaning. Peter spoke up – he often spoke did – and said that they didn't. Jesus then said, (Matthew 15:16, N.I.V.)
"Are you STILL so dull?"
Here in Luke chapter 24, the stranger criticized these two men for their lack of insight. He told them that, given their knowledge of the Scriptures, they should have been able to understand these things. They should have been able to make a connection between the Old Testament predictions and the events that had just taken place. This stranger showed these two omen – and us today – that everything they needed to know about God’s plan of salvation was already present in God's word. As Pastor Jim Schuelke, who, for many years, was pastor at Calvary Lutheran Church in Red Deer Alberta, used to say, they had it in writing. When God’s predictions about Jesus were coming to pass, they didn’t understand what was going on. In our day, not much has changed. We, too, have God's word. We, too, have his will clearly laid out for us. But few people understand what God is saying through His Word. Somebody might say,
"Well, I've got a Bible at home, and I've tried to read it and make sense of it, but it seems like a closed book to me." Someone else might say, "I try to read the Bible, but I end up more confused than when I started! It seems to me that the Bible's truth is under lock and key."
Notice carefully what this stranger did. He explained the Scriptures to these two men. Luke chapter 24, verse 27:
27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (N.I.V.)
Thankfully, when it comes to our understanding of the Bible, God doesn't leave us on our own. Thankfully, He offers us all the help we need. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job. As the Holy Spirit has enabled them, God's people, down through the years, have accumulated a great deal of wisdom about the Bible. The meaning of God's word has been made clear. Those who want to become pastors in the Lutheran church have to study for eight years past grade 12. The first four years are spent securing a university degree. And the last four are spent at a Lutheran seminary. Three of those seminary years are spent in class, learning the accumulated wisdom of the Christian church. And a fourth year is spent under supervision in a parish, as Vicar James is doing this year, learning how to put that knowledge to work among God’s people.
There's no reason why the Bible should be a closed book. God, by His Holy Spirit, has provided all the assistance we need. God knows very well what his Word can do for people. He knows that it has the power to transform sinful human lives. After those two men heard the stranger's words, their hope was revived. Their spiritual darkness was dispelled. Luke, chapter 24, verse 32:
32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (N.I.V.)
These three men were now approaching Emmaus. Luke 14, verses 28 & 29:
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. (N.I.V.)
The stranger agreed. They shared a meal together that evening, a most unusual and significant meal. Luke 14, verses 30 and 31:
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. (N.I.V.)
Suddenly, in an instant of time – and significantly, in what seems to be in the context of the Lord's Supper – these two men recognized Jesus, who had risen from the dead. Suddenly, in an instant of time, and significantly, as I say, in the context of the Lord’s Supper, the truth of the resurrection struck home to them. This stranger – this man with an amazing knowledge of the Scriptures – broke the bread of life with them. As he did that, their spiritual eyes were opened, and they understood the true meaning of all these things. Some people have called this an "Aha Experience." All of us know what it's like to struggle to understand something. And all of us know what it’s like to come to a sudden and glorious moment when it all makes sense.
This stranger, this man on the road, this wonderful interpreter of the Scriptures, this man who broke the bread of life with them, was none other than Jesus of Nazareth, risen from the dead. This stranger, this man on the road, this wonderful interpreter of the Scriptures, this man who broke the bread of life with them, was the One who had died on a cross for them the Friday before. He had taken their place. He had died for their sins. He had made a place in heaven for them. His righteousness was now theirs, by faith. This stranger on the road to Emmaus was Jesus Himself! He was there, very much alive, resurrected from the dead! And now they understood! For Christian people, God’s Holy Spirit provides us with a special window on God’s Word. Through that window, we see God’s truth. Through that window, we see Jesus as he really is – the Babe of Bethlehem – the Master Teacher – the Healer – the One who died on the Cross to forgive our sins – the One who was raised from the dead for our justification.
The story of the road to Emmaus reminds us that God goes out of his way to enable us to understand his word. The Bible need never be a closed book for God's people. A lot of people in our world know ABOUT Jesus. They've heard his story, or at least parts of his story. But they don’t KNOW JESUS. They haven’t allowed God to establish a relationship with them. A lot of people haven’t let the Holy Spirit work in their lives and hearts. It’s my prayer this morning that each of us, each and every day, would invite Jesus into our hearts and into our homes. It’s my prayer that we would invite Him to bless our meals with His gracious presence, including that special meal we call the Lord’s Supper. May God grant it. Amen.
Let's Pray: DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER – Open our eyes so that we may see Jesus as he really is. By Your Holy Spirit, grant us insight into your Word and into your will. May our hearts burn within us because Your Word has spoken powerfully to us. May Jesus always be the Lord of our lives and the Savior of our souls. In his holy and precious name we pray. Amen.