The Sad Ones and The Savior
On The Road To Emmaus
The passengers were seated in the jetliner as it climbed to its cruising altitude. Over the intercom came a calm voice notifying everyone that the plane was fully automated – in fact, there were no cabin attendants and no pilots! This miracle of science, the voice continued, was thoroughly dependable because all mechanisms were fail-safe. To further assure the listeners, the taped voice of the plane’s computer went on to say, “There is no need to fear, because nothing possibly can go wrong. . . go wrong. . . go wrong. . . go. . . .”
Have you ever had an experience in which you thought everything would work out perfectly, only to find your plans come crashing down through an unexpected and disappointing turn of events? This was the personal experience of Cleopas and his friend as they trudged heavily toward a little village called Emmaus seven miles west of Jerusalem one spring Sunday around the year 30 A.D. Their story is recounted for us in Luke 24:13-35. What was the reason for their discouragement? How did the stranger who joined their walk minister to their despondency? In the answers to these questions are found insights into the attitudes of Jewish people to their Messiah and valuable instructions for all who want to better understand God’s program of redemption for man.
As they were discussing the recent events that had transpired, Luke tells us that Jesus joined them on the road, but they failed to recognize Him. Jesus inquired about the reason for their sad countenances and conversation. Surprised that He appeared unaware of the recent events, they quickly summarized them:
And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people; And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him. But we hoped that it had been he who should have redeemed Israel; and, besides all this, today is the third day since these things were done. Yea, and certain women also of our company amazed us, who were early at the sepulcher; And when they found not his body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. And certain of those who were with us went to the sepulcher, and found it even as the women had said; but him they saw not (Lk. 24:19-24).
Solomon of old reminds us that “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick” (Prov. 13:12). If ever there were a living example of that proverb, it was this discouraged, despondent and heartsick pair! Their hopes had been dashed. Everything that seemed to have been going so well had fallen apart in a few short days. Like so many Jews of their age, they had longed for a Messiah. In their eyes this Son of David would break the despised Roman yoke of oppression and lead tiny Judea into the freedom it had not experienced since the glory days of the Maccabees over one hundred years earlier. When Jesus had appeared, performing wonders and proclaiming a “Kingdom,” they were sure they had found the deliverer of their dreams. But when the time had arrived, when they were sure that this Jesus would lead the long-awaited revolt, their hopes were crushed by His arrest, trial and shameful crucifixion. They were so distraught at this unexpected turn of events, that they had even discounted the reports from some women that Jesus actually had returned from the dead. In light of all this, they had decided to return home to Emmaus and to begin picking up the shattered pieces of their lives. Having listened patiently to their disheartened report, Jesus then began to minister to their hearts in a very direct way.
Then he said unto them, O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them, in all the scriptures, the things concerning himself (Lk. 24:25-27).
In these words are found the answer to the problem of the two disciples and also the answer to one of today’s chief Jewish objections to the messianic claims of Jesus of Nazareth. Those two had considered Jesus’ rejection and suffering as incompatible with their own view of Messiah as a conquering deliverer of the Jewish people. For nearly two thousand years many rabbis have sought to discount the claim that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah by pointing out that Jesus did not bring lasting peace to the world. As a matter of fact, they say, His shameful death effected the crushing defeat of any messianic aspirations He may have entertained. Then and now the Jewish people have seen the cross as incompatible with their own messianic expectations. Paul expressed the problem thus: “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:23).
But what was really the problem – Jesus’ failure or a wrong Jewish expectation? Jesus’ answer was that these disciples had not considered all that the Hebrew Scriptures had said about Messiah (Lk. 24:25). The same Scriptures that spoke about a glorious Messiah also spoke about a suffering Messiah. Jesus did not deny that the Scriptures foretold a time of glory when Messiah would bring worldwide peace; He explained that before that took place, however, Messiah had to come to suffer. His words were powerful, “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” (Lk. 24:26). Yes, that was the order – suffering, then glory! The painful events which they had witnessed over the last three days were not evidence that Jesus had failed – they were evidence that He had succeeded in accomplishing the first stage of His two comings! The Scriptures actually had prophesied that He would be rejected and would die a shameful death.
It was then that the master teacher began a Bible study that must have been a marvel to hear. “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them, in all the scriptures, the things concerning himself” (Lk. 24:27). If this writer were able to board a “time machine” and be transported back to any place in history, it would be to join in this instruction of Scripture from the One who had authored it! Although Luke does not tell us the specific passages discussed, the rest of the New Testament indicates that Jesus undoubtedly included Psalm 22, Isaiah 53 and Zechariah 9:9 in His teaching. No doubt He also expounded upon many more passages as He covered the entire field of Old Testament messianic prophecy from Moses to Malachi.
Suffering and glory – those two apparently contradictory themes compose the key to unlocking the riches of Old Testament prophecy and the mystery of Messiah’s person and work. Peter later wrote that the Hebrew prophets searched out the relationship between these two seemingly contradictory roles: “Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ who was in them did signify, when he testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (1 Pet. 1:11). This much was becoming clear to the disciples – it was God’s plan that His Messiah first come as a lamb to suffer and die before He would come as a lion to conquer and reign.
The effect that this new light had on Cleopas and his companion must have been slow in coming, but later it hit them like the proverbial “ton of bricks.” They were fascinated enough with His exegesis to invite Him to join them in a meal. Then, as He was breaking bread with them, “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us along the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Lk. 24:31-32).
Nothing less than a “holy heartburn” could describe their reaction to this marvelously new approach to the Scriptures which they previously thought they had fully understood. They raced back to relate their experience to the other disciples huddled in Jerusalem suffering from the same discouragement that they had earlier experienced. Then Jesus appeared to them all and showed them His wounds and expounded the Scriptures again, now to the entire group (Lk. 24:36-48).
The lessons arising from these momentous events recorded in Luke 24 are for all people – Jews, Gentiles and the Church of God. Jewish perplexity and hesitancy regarding Jesus can be cleared up by an honest appraisal of what all the Jewish Scriptures foretold about Messiah’s coming to suffer and die for sin. Most Jewish people have never taken the time to consider the evidence of fulfilled messianic prophecy. When they do study the many prophecies that found their fulfillment nearly two thousand years ago, they often conclude with Philip, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (Jn. 1:45).
And what of the practical lesson for God’s people in this passage? The great physician both diagnosed their problem and prescribed the remedy. Their problem lay in an ignorance and misunderstanding of the Scripture; their remedy lay in understanding and trusting the promises of Scripture. He healed their hurting hearts by pointing them to the one unfailing source of comfort and assurance – the faithful promises of a loving Father.
Let the Great Physician minister to you from Scripture, dear reader. Only as we lay aside our own self-pity and open our hearts to Him will we experience His unfailing help and healing.