May 8, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered [Jesus], “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And He said to them, “What things?” And they said to Him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered Him up to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel. . . .”
The two disciples trudged along the road to Emmaus. Much had happened in the past couple of weeks. Jesus had raised Lazarus from the grave. Jesus had entered triumphantly into Jerusalem. Jesus had taught one final time publicly in the Temple. And then the unthinkable occurred: Jesus was betrayed by one of His confidants, He was arrested and condemned by the religious leaders, He was sentenced to death by the Roman governor, and He died by crucifixion. Centuries later, these events intrigue people. For the two disciples, these events depressed them.
The Gospel writer describes these two disciples of Jesus: “That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing Him. And He said to them, ‘What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?’ And they stood still, looking sad.” Why were they sad? Because of what had happened in Jerusalem, because of the demise of Jesus.
These two disciples had been devoted to Jesus. When pressed by Him to make known what had happened in Jerusalem, the disciples revealed what they had believed. Hear again what they said about Jesus: “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered Him up to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel.” In that answer are several statements of belief. The two men believed that Jesus was a prophet sent by God: His mighty deeds and mighty words had shown that to be true. In fact, Jesus’ mighty deeds and mighty words had caused these two disciples to really believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the Redeemer that the Lord had promised through the centuries to send to Israel.
But this faith was shattered, upended by the events that took place in Jerusalem: “Our chief priests and rules delivered Him up to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. . . . Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.” For these two disciples, the events that they had witnessed led to two conflicting conclusions. The mighty words and deeds of Jesus showed Him to be a prophet, even to be the Promised Christ. But the rejection of Jesus by the religious leaders and their handing Him over to the Gentile authorities to be crucified were leading them to believe that He was not the Promised Christ. And what took place that Sunday morning further confused the matter: “Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find His body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that He was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but Him they did not see.”
But note how Jesus responds to them: “And He said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Jesus’ response is to explain the events that these two disciples had witnessed. Jesus confirms their conclusion that He was the Promised Christ: the two disciples had rightly interpreted His mighty words and deeds. But they had missed what Moses and the Prophets had said about the Promised Christ: “it was necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory.” These two disciples had seen what Moses and the Prophets had foretold. Yet when they did, they doubted Jesus’ identity.
Jesus’ response to the two disciples was meant to restore their faith in Him. But that faith restoration was accomplished by restoring their belief in what the Lord had promised before, the promises that Jesus fulfilled. In many ways, the Emmaus Road event is similar to an event that we heard during the Advent Season, when the imprisoned John the Baptizer sent the question to Jesus: “Are You the One who is to come, or should we look for another?” Like the two disciples, John had his faith upended by the events that were taking place. But Jesus restores that faith by directing John to what was happening and how it coincided with what the Lord had promised through Moses and the Prophets. And when that was done, faith was restored. So it was also with the two disciples.
Jesus’ dialogue along the road to Emmaus shows that it everything that transpired in Jerusalem was meant to be. It was what the Lord had promised. It was the way that Israel would be redeemed. He is the Promised Christ who had necessarily suffered death. But He is also the Promised Christ who had now entered into His glory. What the two disciples had seen was according to plan; what the women had reported to them was true. And note how the two disciples received this: “They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?’” When Jesus had demonstrated that Holy Week events in Jerusalem fulfilled the Scriptures, these two disciples believed.
This is how Jesus continues to work in all His disciples. You believe in Jesus’ identity as the Promised Christ. You believe that the events that took place in ancient Palestine bring salvation to you. That is what you state, when you pray the creeds and say, “I believe.” It is what has been delivered to you, as you received salvation in the way that Jesus authoritatively gave through His apostles: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” It is what you have been given because of Jesus’ actions: “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake, who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”
But there are many confounding things that rise up during your pilgrimage on earth. Like the two disciples traveling the road to Emmaus, there are events that stick in your mind. They are the events that seem to contradict the conclusions that you have made concerning Jesus’ identity and the salvation that He gives. There are things that happen that do not seem to be right. They keep your eyes from recognizing Jesus’ presence. They lead to the questions that depress and sadden hearts: “Why do I participate in the Church’s life, yet my children who were raised in the Church do not? Why am I ridiculed for my faith and life of discipleship? Why must I suffer through this disease or illness? Why is my congregation faced with conflict and fellow believers don’t get along? Why aren’t there many other people my age who believe the same I do? Why am I always tempted to break certain commandments of God that I really do want to keep?” There are many others that could be asked. But often the mind thinks: “I had hoped that Jesus was the One who saves and that all would be restored like He promised.”
Like the two disciples who trudged along the road to Emmaus, you have your own conversations about the events that you witness. But as you travel that road, Jesus is present with you. He is there, even when His presence is hidden. He comes with the same answer to your questions, directing you to what had been promised and fulfilled by Him. Jesus points out what He has done for you and what He has promised for you, His disciples. And He tells you about the necessity for you also to suffer these things and then enter your glory. For following Jesus includes taking up your cross, bearing your burdens in this world, yet always doing so with the eyes pointed toward what awaits when He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
Jesus’ response to your questions of doubt and uncertainty is to direct you to what stands eternally true: “the living and abiding word of God” that He has had preached to you. “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” He takes you back to what stands sure, even amidst everything in this world that is easily upended. What stands sure is the salvation that Jesus has accomplished for you. Just as Moses and the Prophets said, Jesus has suffered death and has entered into His glory. So He can give to you the sure and certain hope in your own resurrection from the dead. He extends to you a share of the life that He has earned.
But until you receive the fullness of your salvation, you continue your journey in this world with all its doubts. You urge Jesus to stay with you. So He makes Himself present with the pledges of forgiveness, life, and salvation based on what He has accomplished for you. You are led to remember your baptisms and birth from above each time that you hear the name that your foreheads and hearts have been marked with: “the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” You gather together to hear the record of the mighty words and deeds of Jesus and what they have achieved for you. You proclaim Jesus’ death for your salvation every time that you eat the bread and drink the wine that He takes, blesses, breaks, and gives to you.
All of these events are done in response to the things that happen in your lives that jar your faith and sadden your hearts. Through them, the gift of the Holy Spirit is given again. Through them, your eyes of faith recognize Jesus’ presence. So your hearts will once again burn with joy, knowing what is true and what has been done for your salvation: Christ has suffered death and entered into His glory, so that you may also do so when your journey with Him to Paradise is complete.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.