Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 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.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.
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?”
They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.”
Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
– Luke 24:13-34
Why didn’t they recognize Jesus? That’s what I want to know. Why did it take them so long?
It was the first day of the week – it was still Easter. Two of the Jesus’ friends were heading out of town, going to a little town a few miles up the road.
It doesn’t say why they were leaving Jerusalem. Maybe they had friends or family they were going home to. Maybe they thought Emmaus was a good place to hide out till the hue and cry died down.
As they were walking along, they talked about everything that had happened in the last week, trying to make sense out of it all.
I don’t know if they were walking along a deserted stretch of road. More likely, the road was crowded with pilgrims returning from the Passover feast. If the road was crowded, they were probably keeping their voices pretty low. They had to talk, but they also had to be pretty careful about who might overhear them. Remember, Jesus had been executed only three days before.
As they were walking along and talking, Jesus himself caught up with them and started walking beside them. And they didn’t recognize him! That’s why this story is so interesting. Why didn’t they recognize Jesus?
There are a lot of possibilities.
I’ve heard it suggested that since the village they were headed to was west of Jerusalem, and since the story says it was late in the day, maybe the sun was in their eyes, and they couldn’t see clearly. They didn’t have their Foster Grants on.
Maybe it was because Jesus’ appearance had changed somehow. He wasn’t wearing the same clothes, or he’d gotten a haircut, or he was wearing a hoodie or something.
Or maybe they didn’t recognize Jesus simply because they knew that he was dead and buried – it couldn’t be him, so it had to be somebody else, a stranger.
This business of not recognizing Christ is important, because it’s one of the few details that’s echoed in the other versions of what happened after Easter.
Do you remember how in one of the Easter stories, Mary didn’t recognize Jesus right away, even though she loved him so much? She went to the tomb, and it was empty, and she thought someone had stolen Jesus’ body. Jesus himself came to her, but she was weeping so hard she was blinded by her tears.
It wasn’t till he called her by name, that she recognized him.
Or there’s a story about how soon after Easter, the disciples were out fishing, and they saw a man standing on the beach. It was Jesus, but they didn’t know him. They’d fished all night, and caught nothing.
And the stranger on the beach called out to them, “Hey, have you caught any fish?” And they hollered back, “No!” And the stranger called out, “Try your net on the other side!” And they did, and they caught so many fish that the net nearly broke. That’s when they knew it was the Lord.
Seems like those two guys on the road to Emmaus weren’t the only ones not to recognize Christ at first. Maybe the majority of people have trouble recognizing Christ, even now.
But let’s get back to the story.
As Jesus walked with them, he said, “What are you talking about?” And they stopped right there in the middle of the road, looking sad. And one of them said, “Are you the only one who doesn’t know what’s been going on?”
If you stop and think about it, there’s some pretty heavy irony going on in that exchange. “Are you the only one who doesn’t know what’s been going on?” – addressed to the one person who knew better than anyone else in the whole universe what had happened!
But Jesus played it straight, and he said, “No, what? Y’all tell me!”
And they answered back, all in one breath, “Well, there was this guy Jesus, who was the hottest prophet to come along since nobody knows how long, and the religious leaders turned him over to the death squad to be killed. We really put our hopes in him – we thought he was going to be the one who would turn things around.”
“Well, all that happened three days ago,” they said, “and just this morning, some of the girls went to put flowers on the grave, and it was open, and he was gone! And they came back saying they’d had visions and seen angels who said that he was alive. Well, some of us went down to check it out, and the grave was empty, all right, and he was gone, and that’s all we know.”
And Jesus, who had been pretty patient, and who loved them, couldn’t hold back any longer. He said, “That’s all you know? What more do you need to know? Haven’t you read the prophets, and Moses, to see what kind of things God does? And if you look at how God has redeemed people before, wasn’t it necessary that this Christ of yours should suffer before coming back in glory?”
Then he carefully and patiently went over the stories of the Old Testament with them, and the words of the prophets, and tried to make them understand.
By this time they had reached the village, and they begged him to stay the night. So he sat down to super with them, and blessed the meal, and broke the bread – and then they recognized him!
I wish we could have been there, to hear Jesus talking that afternoon on the road with them. I wish we could have been there, as they sat down to supper, and recognized Jesus at the same moment they did. Wouldn’t that have been a joy?
I don’t know what it was that made them recognize Jesus. It might have been his hands, marked from the nails of the cross. It might have been his feet, when he took his sandals off. It says they recognized him “in the breaking of the bread. . .”
They had broken bread often before with Jesus. They’d eaten with him many times. You’ve probably read the stories of Jesus feeding the crowds, how he took what little there was and blessed it, and how that was enough to feed thousands. Do you remember Jesus’ saying to the crowds – “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, whoever believes in me shall never thirst. . .” (John 6:35) Maybe it was some echo of meals like that which made them recognize him.
Maybe we need to recognize Christ more often when we sit down to eat. Maybe we need to set an extra place at the table once in a while.
I think that we need to open our eyes. If Jesus promised to be with us always, that means all the time. If Jesus promised never to forsake us, I think we need to look up and see him beside us a little more often.
When they talked about it later, the two disciples asked each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened the scriptures to our understanding?” Burning hearts – that’s one of the signs that Jesus is nearby. When Jesus is beside us, hearts are on fire.
Anyway, it says that they got up, and they ran back to town. And they found others who said, “Yes, he is alive!” And they told each other what had happened.
We all know the rest of the story – they went on telling what had happened, and the truth is still told, down to this very day. He is alive. Go out and meet him. Tell it to others. Recognize Christ, the bread of life, at every meal. He is here, with us.
If you have the eyes of faith, you’re going to meet Christ everywhere. He’s there beside us, when we pray. He’s in our midst, when we laugh and sing and celebrate.
He’s beside us, whenever we repeat his words, and when we teach them to others. He’s beside us, when we pray in his name for people to be healed and made whole again.
Jesus is beside us in the face of our neighbor – when we reach out to the poor, to the hungry and naked, to the lonely person and the prisoner. “When you do something good for these people,” Jesus said, “you’re doing it directly to me.”
Jesus is beside us whenever we feel joy – joy is one of the infallible signs of Jesus’ presence, just as sourness and hatred are signs that he’s absent.
He’s beside us when we suffer for his sake. He’s beside us when we try to find the right words in a difficult situation, when we try to bring people back, when we reconcile and forgive and make peace in his name.
Christ is beside us more than we realize – almost all the time. We just have to recognize him.
The grave is empty. He isn’t there. He’s alive. He’s out ahead of you. You’ll find him – unexpectedly, by your side.
Copyright © 2016 by Joshua Brown