Why did it take Jesus so long to identify Himself to those two disciples who were walking along the road to Emmaus? That was the question that popped into my head this week as I was preparing for my sermon. I mean, stop and think about this story for just a moment and ask yourself the same thing. Couldn’t Jesus have simply appeared and said, “Look at my hands. Feel my side. I am alive! Tell my brothers that I will see them soon.” Jesus could have done this. Why didn’t He?
Let’s look at the text. First off, we have a couple of guys who are walking along the road to Emmaus, and Jesus pops in. The guys are talking about “the things that have happened,” and Jesus wants to join in on the conversation. “What are you discussing?” Jesus asks.
We get an interesting clue to our puzzle right off the bat when Luke tells us, “They stood still looking sad...” These guys are sad. Which leads us to ask, “Why are they sad?” What has got them upset? Clopas, one of the two guys gives us the answer. First, I’m going to read everything that Clopas says, then I’m going to work our way through it step by step.
‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ 19He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’
Why are these two guys sad? Look at how Clopas begins, “Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all people, and He was killed. We hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” Stop right there. “We hoped He was the one to redeem Israel.” You know what this meant, right? You know what kind of hopes these men had pinned upon Jesus, right? They hoped, they desperately wanted Jesus to be a king who would lead the Jewish people in an uprising to free them from the control of the Roman empire. They desperately wanted Jesus to use His power and authority from God to free Israel and establish them as a world power once again. They wanted him to be like Sampson who slew the Philistines; Gideon who drove away the Midianites, Elijah who overthrew the prophets of Baal. They wanted Jesus to be the guy who would deliver to them their hopes and their dreams, and they were sad because Jesus didn’t deliver that. Their hearts, like the hearts of so many who followed Jesus, weren’t right. They were not attuned to what Jesus was really about.
I find quite a few parallels in how many people treat Jesus today. I mean, I see it a lot. Heck, I also fell into the trap myself, so I don’t just see it, I’ve done it! Many folks, yours included, try to use Jesus as a means to an end. The two disciples were trying to use Jesus as a means to the end of the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. More than a few folks try to use Jesus as a means to the ends of health, wealth, prosperity, and status. If you just believe in Jesus and have enough faith, then all of these things will come to you because God wants to bless you. God wants to give you everything He possibly can. He doesn’t want you to be trapped by fear of finances–He wants you to have in abundance. He wants to give you the victory! Now, just believe in Him enough and give us 10% of your gross income as a sign of your faithfulness, and then all these things will be given to you as well. O.K. Sorry about that little bit of parody, but it’s true! There are more than a few folks out there who announce such things. But it gets worse, because folks aren’t only trying to use Jesus as a means to an end of health, wealth, status and prosperity. No. They also use Jesus as a means to feel better about themselves and give themselves meaning and purpose in what they do. You can spot these folks when they say, “You really ought to help others because it makes you feel good about yourself.” “You ought to work for justice because it makes you feel better to address the world’s problems.” “We have to work for justice because Jesus worked for justice, and just like He took on the problems of the world, we have to take on the problems of the world.”
Now, there’s nothing wrong with helping others, or working for justice, or obtaining wealth and status, and health for that matter. These things aren’t bad in and of themselves, and working for justice and helping others are very, very good things, but there are more than a few folks who do all of these things and find absolutely no peace, no satisfaction, no joy or fulfillment. They may be trying to do the right things, but personally, they are still sad, angry, and overwhelmed. Why? If they are people of faith, they are trying to use Jesus as a means to an end and not an end Himself. As I told you in my Easter sermon, I’ve been there and done that. I tried to use Jesus as a means to an end of becoming a famous and well respected pastor. I tried to use Jesus as a means to an end to grow a congregation. I didn’t have peace. I didn’t have satisfaction. I didn’t have joy. I was miserable, fearful, anxious, and sad. My heart wasn’t in the right place.
Back to those two disciples now. Clopas not only lays out where his heart was, he also lays out that the tomb was empty and that angels had appeared to the women disciples telling them that Jesus was risen. This news wasn’t enough to gladden the men’s hearts. They still were down in the dumps. So much for knowing that something is different changing you. So much for having it in your head that Jesus is raised from the dead making a tremendous impact.
Again, many parallels. Many of us have heard that Jesus is risen from the dead. Many of us have heard that Jesus is savior of the world. Many of us have heard that Jesus changes our hearts and our lives. But it hasn’t made the impact in our hearts. The head knowledge is there, but it hasn’t dropped into our hearts to change us. We are still fearful; we are still sad; we are still anxious; we are still depressed. Doesn’t sound too hopeful at this point, does it. Well, let’s continue on.
Jesus, after hearing Clopas’ explanation reacts in a very intriguing fashion, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”
What congregation member is going to stand around if his pastor said something like this to him? How foolish you are and how slow of heart you are to believe...” Most folks would get offended and say, “See you later. I’m going down the street to the next church that doesn’t insult me.” But Jesus doesn’t hold back any punches. He doesn’t try to sugar coat anything. He’s confrontational, and He’s willing to push these two disciples’ buttons. “You just don’t get it, do you?” Jesus basically says. “You are pretty thick headed. You’ve got your priorities all wrong. You don’t understand what has been foretold by the prophets. Your assumptions are completely misguided.”
And then, Jesus continues to walk with them. Jesus continues with them on their journey, and He cuts them to the heart. We are told that Jesus then proceeds to open up the scriptures to them and tell them all about how He fulfilled the Scriptures beginning with Moses and working through to the prophets.
The group finally arrives at its destination, and Jesus is going to walk on; however, the disciples beg Him to stay. They beg Him to eat with them. Mind you, they still do not recognize Jesus. They still don’t know who He was. Until, they sit down to eat. Jesus breaks the bread, and then their eyes are opened. They realize, they’ve been in Jesus’ presence the entire time.
And then, I think a key statement is uttered, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
Were not our hearts burning? Since John Wesley came along–the founder of the Methodist church--,
most folks have interpreted this particular saying to mean a burning sensation of warmth that spreads over a person and makes them know they are coming to faith and belief.
I’d like to challenge that a little bit this morning. What if, just what if the burning in our text was a little different? What if that burning is closer to the understanding of the Greek which connotes burned up or consumed by fire? What if their hearts were burning because Jesus was burning up their old ways of thinking? What if Jesus was burning up and consuming their thoughts about how they thought Jesus should have operated? What if Jesus was burning up all of their thoughts about how they believed they would achieve salvation; and wholeness; and joy; and peace; and fulfillment? What if Jesus was burning up all of their desires to use Him as a means to an end and changing their hearts so that He would be the end Himself?
What if Jesus is doing that to each and every one of us all throughout our lives? What if Jesus is working, even though we do not recognize Him, burning up all that stuff that is preventing us from placing Him at the center of our lives? What if He is operating, silently, diligently in the backgrounds of our lives piece by piece arranging our hearts so that at the right moment, at the right time, when we are finally ready to see, He will appear to us in such a way that we will know Him. He will be revealed to us in our lives as the one who came into the world to save us–to redeem us–to be the center of our hearts and the center of our lives.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that the world may be saved through Him.
Let that news sink in. Let that news inform your life so that you may know that Jesus is walking along with you. Let that news offer you encouragement that Jesus is burning away all the stuff that is preventing you from knowing Him and seeing His work in your life. And let that news give you patience–patience to know that Jesus isn’t done with you yet. Just as it took Him a while to reveal Himself to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, it may take Him a while to reveal Himself to you. But He will. He always does. He loves you too much not to. Amen.