I don’t think you can even begin to
imagine how excited I am to preach this morning’s Gospel lesson.
My doctoral dissertation was on Luke, and most of one chapter
was about this passage from Luke 24.
I love this story!
And one of the things I love about it is the fact that Jesus
himself was walking along with those two disciples and they didn’t
know who he was. It
makes me wonder how many times he has walked along with us when we
didn’t recognize him.
But it also makes me wonder how they couldn’t.
These weren’t two of the Twelve Disciples, but they were
They had been on the road with Jesus; they had heard the sound of
his voice, and seen the look in his eye.
Luke explains it by saying their eyes were “kept” from
recognizing him, but then you have to wonder who was it that was
“keeping” them? Was it
God? Was he saving it
for the surprise ending of this story?
Or was it their own minds that kept them from recognizing
him? If Robert E. Lee
had come up alongside me as I walked to church me this morning,
dressed in a Confederate uniform, I probably wouldn’t have said,
“General! How are you?”
but I might have thought, “These Civil War re-enactments are so
authentic! This guy
looks exactly like Robert E. Lee!”
Those disciples on the road might have thought, “This is
incredible: this guy looks exactly like Jesus!” but they didn’t come
right out and say, “Jesus!
How are you?”
Because they knew Jesus was dead.
They had seen it with their own eyes.
In Luke 23 we are told that, “all of Jesus’ acquaintances,
including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a
distance watching these things” when he died (vs. 49).
These two were almost certainly in that group.
And this would have accounted for their state of mind when
Jesus caught up with them.
They were headed home, to Emmaus, talking about what they had
seen and all the things that had happened in the last few days.
The road may have been crowded.
The Passover festival was coming to an end.
Everyone would be heading home.
Jesus could have been perceived as just another pilgrim.
But he overheard their conversation and asked them what they
were talking about. And
that’s when Luke tells us, “they stood still, looking sad.”
One of the footnotes in my dissertation mentions that that
kind of description is highly unusual in the New Testament.
It wasn’t the custom in those times to describe how people
looked, or what they were wearing, or how they were feeling.
This line reads like something out of a modern novel: “They
stood still, looking sad.”
You can almost see them, can’t you?
And you can almost hear them say, “Are you the only stranger in
Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have taken place there in
these days?” “What
things?” Jesus asks. I love
that question; the irony just
drips! Here is the
one to whom all these things happened asking about the things that
have happened to him. At
one time I thought Jesus was merely having a little fun with these
two, but now I think he really needed to know how they understood
the situation. And they
tell him. They tell him
that Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet mighty in deed and word before God
and all the people, had been handed over by the chief priests and
elders to be condemned and crucified just three days earlier.
“We had hoped that he would be the one to redeem Israel,”
they say, meaning, “We had hoped that he was the Messiah, but now
he’s dead, and our hopes are dashed.”
Let me say a little more about that:
Traditional Jews are still waiting for the Messiah to come.
According to the
Judaism 101 website: “Belief in the eventual coming of the
Messiah is a basic and fundamental part of traditional Judaism.”[i]
Furthermore, “It has been said that in every generation, a person is
born with the potential to be the Messiah. If the time is right for
the messianic age within that person's lifetime, then that person
will be the Messiah. But if that person dies before he completes the
mission of the Messiah, then that person is not the Messiah.”[ii]
The “mission of the Messiah” in Jesus’ time was fairly clear: the
Jews expected a king who would rout the Romans, restore the kingdom
of Israel, sit on the throne of his ancestor David, and preside over
an age of unprecedented peace and prosperity.[iii]
The disciples on the road to Emmaus had hoped that Jesus would be
that person, but now he was dead, and their hope was gone.
Except for one little thing.
Some women in their group had come back from the tomb that very
morning with the news that they did not find Jesus’ body there, and
that they had seen angels who told them he was alive.
“Some of those who were with us went to the tomb,” they
added, “and they found it just as the women had said; but they did
not see him.” And this
is what they had been puzzling over on the road that afternoon.
How did this rumor of resurrection alter their understanding
of the Messiah? If he
really was alive, how would that change things?
And that’s when Jesus says, “Oh, how thick-headed you are!
And how slow-hearted to believe all that the prophets have
Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and
then enter into his
glory?” And then,
beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he began to explain the
things that were written about him in the Scriptures.
But here’s the problem, at least it was a problem when I
wrote my dissertation:
Luke doesn’t tell us exactly which passages Jesus referred to.
We get some hints in the Book of Acts.
When Peter stands up to preach on the Day of Pentecost, he
“proves” the Resurrection by quoting from Psalm 16: “For
you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One
But it may not have been the Resurrection those disciples on the
road to Emmaus were having trouble with; it may have been the
crucifixion. In their
minds the Messiah was supposed to conquer and rule, not suffer and
die. They may have been
thinking: “If that person dies before he completes the mission of
the Messiah, then that person is not the Messiah.”
And that’s where I think—I don’t
know, but I
think—Jesus may have
quoted from Isaiah 53.
It’s one of the “suffering servant” passages that the nation of
Israel usually applied to itself, but here Jesus may have applied it
to himself, and I can only imagine how it would have sounded to
those two disciples.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his
mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep
that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By
a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined
his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken
for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the
wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth...(vss. 7-9).
But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our
iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by
his bruises we are healed (vs. 5).
If this was the first time those two on the road had made the
connection between that passage and what happened to Jesus it would
have been staggering.
Their minds would have been reeling.
They would have been thinking, “That’s it!
That’s it exactly!
That’s what happened to Jesus!”
It must have been some Bible study on the road that day, and you
can see why these two wouldn’t have wanted it to end.
When they got to Emmaus they invited Jesus to come in and
stay with them and even fixed him some supper.
They asked him to say the blessing and when he had given
thanks he broke the bread and that’s when it happened: that’s when
they saw him for who he really was.
I think they may have remembered seeing him do it at the Last
Supper. I think they may
have shuddered to hear him talk about his body being broken.
But now his broken body meant something else to them
altogether. It became
the veil in the Temple, torn from top to bottom, so that God could
step forth from the Holy of Holies, so that death could be overcome
by life. Luke says that
in that moment their eyes were opened but maybe it’s just that their
minds were finally opened: they were able to see what had been in
front of them the entire time—the crucified, dead, buried, and fully
risen Christ. And in
that same moment he was gone.
But they—they gasped with surprise and then shouted for joy,
because if it was true that the Messiah had to suffer and then enter
into his glory, then Jesus had
to be the Messiah, the one they had been waiting for their whole
lives! And the dead hope
that had been lying at the bottom of their hearts suddenly came to
life and leaped from the tomb.
“Didn’t our hearts burn within us!” they said, which may be
exactly how it feels when the thing you have always dreamed of
begins to come true. In
that same hour they got up and raced back to Jerusalem, some seven
miles away. They burst
into that upper room but before they could catch their breath and
share their news someone told them, “The Lord has risen, and has
appeared to Simon!” And then they told their story, and how he was
made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
I’ve been thinking about that story, and about how it might
relate to our story, thinking about how sure they were that they had
no reason left to hope, except for one little thing: the possibility
that Christ had risen.
Because if he had risen, well, that would change everything!
How many times have we said about something, “We had hoped,”
conjugating the verb in the imperfect tense which means we hoped and
hoped and hoped that things could be different but finally, in the
end, our hope died.
Richard Swanson says, “I have heard families use that phrase when
they were packing up the things they had brought with them to the
ICU. ‘We had hoped … ,’ they say, and then they go home alone. I
have heard families use this phrase when addictions return, or jobs
go away [or any number of other things that might be mentioned].
Although theologies of hope
focus on a dawning future,” Swanson says, “the moment that catches
me is that moment of deep disappointment, when only a painfully
imperfect verb tense will express what needs to be said.”[v]
But if Christ is risen it changes everything, doesn’t it?
Even dead hope can come back to life.
That doesn’t mean that every hope we have deserves to live.
There are some hopes—false hopes—that probably need to die.
The sooner we crucify them and bury them the better.
And if they are false hopes then that’s where they’ll stay.
But if they are God’s hopes they will not stay dead.
God will not let his Holy One see corruption, and God will
not let his holy plans come to naught.
God will raise them up again, just as he raised Jesus.
We will feel our hearts burning within us as we realize the
thing we have always dreamed of is beginning to come true.
Let’s remember that the next time we are tempted to say, “We
had hoped.” Let’s
remember those two disciples on the road to Emmaus thinking their
hopes were dead and gone forever, except for one little thing: the
rumor that Christ had risen.
If that was true, it would change everything.
Well… it was.
And it did.
And it does.
Thanks be to God!
One of the most popular scriptures in that time was from the
apocryphal Psalms of Solomon, which said: “Behold, O Lord,
and raise up unto them their king, the son of David, at the
time known to you, O God, in order that he may reign over
Israel your servant. And gird him with strength, that he may
shatter unrighteous rulers, and that he may purge Jerusalem
from gentiles who trample (her) down to destruction” (Psalms
of Solomon 17:21-22).
Thank you, Eugene Peterson.
Richard Swanson’s commentary on Luke 24:13-35 on the Working