What does it mean to walk the road from Emmaus?
Cleopas and an unnamed disciple were walking without hope on the road to Emmaus. Luke 24:17 tells us that when Jesus asked, “’What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still looking sad.” The reason they were sad was because they were unable to believe the good news that had been shared with them about Jesus’ resurrection earlier on the first Easter.
Luke 24:9-12 provides this explanation for the sadness Cleopas and the unnamed disciple were experiencing as they walked to Emmaus.
“and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”
In the reality of their disbelief, Cleopas and the unnamed disciple were unable to comprehend the reality of the risen Christ. Grieving without hope on the road to Emmaus, they told Jesus of all that had led up to the message the women had shared with the eleven and to all the rest. They told of Jesus’ crucifixion and the report of the women about the empty tomb, but they told the story without hope as they refused to believe the good news the women had shared with them. In fact, Luke records that Cleopas and the unnamed disciple were unable to believe the in the resurrected reality of Jesus even after some of those who were with them went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said.
To appreciate the reason why Cleopas and the unnamed disciple were walking without hope on the road to Emmaus we need to hear the pivotal verse of the Emmaus story. That key verse is Luke 24:21:
But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.
Dr. Greg Carey, Professor of New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary, shares the following explanation of why this verse defines the sadness that Cleopas and his fellow disciple were experiencing.
“A messiah absolutely should redeem Israel. We do not know how many ancient Judeans and Galileans were expecting a messiah. We lack survey data concerning what folks thought a messiah’s arrival would entail. But our ancient Jewish sources, among which stand the Gospels, suggest that any decent messiah would repair the world, starting with Israel.
If that’s what people thought, we can understand the disciples’ dismay. We professors sometimes overstate things in order to focus students’ attention. I often declare to seminarians and church folk, “If Jesus was the messiah, he wasn’t very good at it.” I do worship Jesus the messiah, but I mean to address precisely why the two disciples and other contemporaries would have experienced distress. They awaited Israel’s redemption.
… In response to the two disciples’ hope—and to their disappointment—the Risen One lays out “all that the prophets have declared” concerning him (Luke 24:25, 27). “Was it not necessary” for the Messiah to suffer all the things these disciples have described before attaining glory (24:26)?
The reason Luke 24:21 is a pivotal verse in the Emmaus story is because this verse allows the risen Christ to teach Cleopas and the unnamed disciple what resurrected hope looks like. Jesus does this in two ways:
Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interprets to them the things about himself in all the scriptures
Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them
Luke tells us that when Jesus redefined hope through Word and Table that the eyes of Cleopas and the unnamed disciple were opened as they recognized Jesus and he vanished from their sight. I would suggest that it is at this point that Cleopas and the unnamed disciple begin to walk with hope from Emmaus.
Joni Eareckson Tada has experienced walking with hope from Emmaus. A diving accident in 1967 at the age of 17, resulted in her becoming a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. After two years of struggling through depression and rehabilitation, she emerged with new skills and a fresh determination to help others in similar situations. During her rehabilitation, Joni spent long months learning how to paint with a brush between her teeth. Her high-detail fine art paintings and prints are sought-after and collected. Walking with hope from Emmaus, she described her journey in hope in her book, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God.
… hope is hard to come by. I should know. I remember the time when I was once busy dying. It wasn’t long after I had broken my neck in a diving accident that I spent one particularly hopeless week in the hospital. I had endured long surgeries to shave down the bony prominences on my back, and it was a long recovery. I had lost a great deal of weight. And for almost three weeks I was forced to lie facedown on what’s called a Stryker frame—a long, flat canvas sandwich where they put you faceup for three hours and then strap another piece of canvas on you and flip you facedown to lie there for another three hours.
Trapped facedown, staring at the floor hour after hour, my thoughts grew dark and hopeless. All I could think was, “Great, God. Way to go. I’m a brand-new Christian. This is the way you treat your new Christians? I’m young in the faith. I prayed for a closer walk with you. If this is your idea of an answer to prayer, I am never going to trust you with another prayer again. I can’t believe that I have to lie facedown and do nothing but count the tiles on the floor on this stupid torture rack. I hate my existence.”
I asked the hospital staff to turn out the lights, close the blinds, close the door, and if anybody came in—visitor, parent, nurse—I just grunted. I justified it all. I rationalized that God shouldn’t mind that I would be bitter—after all, I was paralyzed. And I didn’t care how much joy was set before me. This was one cross I was not going to bear without a battle…
My thoughts got darker because no longer was my bitterness a tiny trickle. It had become a raging torrent, and in the middle of the night I would imagine God holding my sin up before my face and saying lovingly but firmly, “Joni, what are you going to do about this? What are
you going to do about this attitude? It is wrong. This sin is wrong. Get rid of it.” But I, hurting and stubborn, preferred my sins. I preferred my peevish, snide, small-minded, mean-spirited comments, grunting at people when they walked in or out, and letting food drool out of my mouth. Those were sins that I had made my own.
… And I broke. I thought, “I can’t do this. I can’t live this way. I would rather die than face this.” Little did I realize that I was echoing the sentiments of the apostle Paul, who in 2 Corinthians 1:8 talks of being “so utterly burdened beyond [his] strength that [he] despaired of life itself.” Indeed, he even had in his heart the sentence of death. “O God, I don’t have the strength to face this. I would rather die. Help me.” That was my prayer. That was my anguish.
… That week a friend came to see me in the hospital while I was still facedown counting the tiles. She put a Bible on a little stool in front of me, and stuck my mouth stick in my mouth so that I could flip its pages, and my friend told me to turn to Psalm 18. There I read: “In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. Then the earth reeled and rocked. . . . Smoke went up from his nostrils… He bowed the heavens and came down. . . . He sent from on high, he took me. . . . He rescued me”—and here’s the best part—“because he delighted in me” (vv. 6-19).
I had prayed for God to help me. Little did I realize that God was parting heaven and earth, striking bolts of lightning, and thundering the foundations of the planet to reach down and rescue me because he delighted in me. He showed me in 2 Corinthians 1:9 that all this had happened so that I would “rely not on [myself] but on God who raises the dead.” And that’s all God was looking for. He wanted me to reckon myself dead—dead to sin—because if God can raise the dead, you’d better believe he could raise me out of my hopelessness. He would take it from there. And he has been doing the same for nearly four decades.
When the eyes of Cleopas and the unnamed disciple were opened to the resurrected Jesus, they began to walk with hope on the road from Emmaus as they told the disciples about what had happened on the road and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Many times, when we hear the story about Emmaus, we conclude the story with what Cleopas and the unnamed disciple share with their fellow disciples in Luke 24:35, but the story does not end there. It continues with all of Jesus’ disciples experiencing the presence of the risen Christ as Jesus redefines hope by teaching the disciples and sharing a meal with them, but the story does not end there. The story leads to Jesus telling Cleopas, the unnamed disciple, and all the other disciples that they are to be witnesses of resurrected hope as they walk the road from Emmaus. May God bless you as you walk this road in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The Road From Emmaus
by Pastor Marc Brown
April 23, 2023
Accompanying Scriptures: Luke 24:13-49
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for April 23, 2023
Scripture Lesson Luke 24:13-49
The Good News “The Road From Emmaus”
Music “How Firm a Foundation” Hymn #529
Closing Music “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” arr. Gary Norian