The road to Emmaus

By James V. Heidinger II

Jesus had been crucified and buried. Three days later, two lonely disciples were trudging home to Emmaus seven miles out of Jerusalem. They were discouraged, dejected, and defeated. Their world had come crashing in, their hopes demolished. They were talking with each other about all that had happened.

Then Luke reports, While they were conversing and discussing, Jesus himself approached, and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing him (Luke 24:15-16).

Across our land today, thousands of Emmaus Road disciples trod on. Persons whose lives are filled with doubt and despondency nurse keen feelings of disappointment in a faith without reality and without hope. Some keep going through the motions of religious activity, saying the words and singing the songslike statuary fountains in public squares where water gushes out of lips that never taste it.

As Jesus drew near to the two disciples, he asked, What are those words which you are exchanging with one another as you are walking? (Luke 24:17).

To this, the stunned travelers replied, Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days? (Luke 24:18). They seemed to be asking, Are you serious? their voices almost sharp from their deep hurt.

With his probing question, Jesus began to help them share their discouragement and frustration. In our churches are hosts of those who, because of misunderstanding or personal injury, have withdrawn, pulled back; who have emotionally disengaged themselves from active involvement with others. Some are disappointed about their church, its problems, its failures, its controversies, its questionable stands, its spiritual anemia. They are hurt, angry, withdrawn, and isolated on their own Emmaus Road, trudging on toward nowhere. Defeated.

Shattered hopes
In the midst of their sadness, Jesus appeared. Does it not still happen? How often that day of sadness and hurt comes. Our hearts are despondent and broken, and we suddenly and inexplicably become aware of his loving presence walking alongside us, engaging in conversation with us.

This might be the key to the beatitude we have read so often, Blessed are those who mourn (Matthew 5:4). The Savior often finds ready response within us when we experience mourning and sadness. Jesus, man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, breaks in upon us, turning our sadness to joy, our darkness to light. How comforting.

On the Emmaus Road Jesus continued to probe when he asked, What things?

The two travelers knew the facts. What things? The things about Jesus the Nazarene, a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and rulers delivered him up to the sentence of death, and crucified him. But we were hoping that it was he who was to redeem Israel (Luke 24:19-21). Did you note that? But we were hoping. The dreams and expectations about their Messiah were dashed upon the beams of an ugly Roman cross. Their hope was shattereddead and buried.

How those around us in this fast-moving world need hopefounded on a life of purpose and direction. Without hope, life withers. Dreams deteriorate. How vitally important that our hope be rightly grounded upon him who came that we might have lifeboth abundant and extraordinary.

A journalist once conducted a poll to determine the hope and purposes for which people lived. He discovered that 9 percent of those interviewed were living for some imagined tomorrow, a suspended fulfillment out there in a fuzzy future:

A college senior, for instance, could hardly wait to graduate, get married, settle down, and have a family.

A weary mother sighed, I hope I can stand the strain til the kids are grown, married, and my husband and I can have time to.

A Hollywood actress said, I am just existing until I get my divorce and marry so and so, then Ill be ready to.

There it is. Their hopes were built upon some imagined tomorrow, a suspended fulfillment out in an indefinite future. Might Jesus have said to these what he spoke to the disciples, O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for Christ to suffer these things and to enter into his glory? (Luke 24:25-26).

With gentle chiding, Jesus noted their ignorance of Scripture. How often our lack of knowing the Scripture leads us to defeat and confusion. Amidst all of our nations religious activity, how often the Savior would say to us, You do err, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God (Matthew 22:29 KJV).

Spiritual sterility
Their ignorance didnt last, however, for we read, And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures (Luke 24:27).

Oh, to have heard that discourse. There, without doubt, was the greatest Sunday school lesson ever taught. Teaching them was Jesus, who at the same time was the great Expositor of Scripture and the Content of the lesson.

Only hours later, the two would say to one another, Were not our hearts burning within us while he was speaking to us on the road, while he was explaining the Scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32). The church of every age would do well to note that the burning heart is always closely related to the proper expounding of the Word of God.

Some 17 centuries later, a discouraged Anglican priest attended a meeting, and unwillingly at that, on Aldersgate Street in London. It was there while hearing the Word read from Luthers preface to the Book of Romans that John Wesley felt his heart strangely warmed. This then changed the course of history.

If the fires of United Methodism have been reduced to smoldering embers today, the remedy for this spiritual sterility will be found in the Word of God. We need to open it, read it, study it, pray over it, expound it in our preaching, and let the Holy Spirit unleash the power of Scriptural truth anew in our midst. Let us do so until our own hearts burn within us and his presence is felt walking with us, reviving our lives and our churches.

As they drew near the village to which they were going, Luke notes, He acted as though he would go farther (Luke 24:28). The Savior would have left had they not sincerely invited him to stay. How many are there to whom the Savior has drawn near but with whom he has not come to abide, only because he was not invited. Though he tarries, standing at the door knocking, seeking, he will not push his way into our lives.

Happily the two travelers urged Jesus to stay with them, and he did. While they were at the table, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, he began giving it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight (Luke 24:30-31).

In that beautiful setting around the table, in the commonplace act of a household meal, the two realized their guest was Jesus, their risen, living Lord. They had seen him break bread on so many other occasions. This sacred act has reminded Christians through the centuries that in the solemn sacrament of breaking the bread, the Savior is uniquely present with his Church.

It was too good to be true. The two travelers, though tired from their days journey, couldnt wait until morning. Luke says, And they arose that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them saying, The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon. And they began to relate their experience on the road (Luke 24:33-35).

In similar ways, multitudes throughout the years have been telling what happened on their Emmaus Road. It cannot be contained. Centuries later an Anglican hymn writer would say, If I had a thousand tongues, Id use them all to praise my God.

ResurrectionHes alive!
Thats why Easter morning rings all around us with life and with hope. Those two Emmaus sojourners would need time to realize all that it meant. Jesus was proven to be the very Son of God who lives forever. His righteousness was vindicated. Death was defeated. The future resurrection of every believer to life eternal was guaranteed. Resurrection life is possible right now.

On Easter, the newspapers will write about it but not understand it fully. Millions of Christians around world will lift their voices in global anthem, singing, Christ the Lord is risen today. Alleluia!

The Lord has risen indeed and has appeared to Simon. And to you. And to me. To countless millions of weary Emmaus travelers Jesus has drawn near to lift us from our sin, our sadness, our despair, and to bring us new life.

Not only to the Ephesians, but to you, me, and the ages, Paul wrote triumphantly, And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked (Ephesians 2:1-2 RSV).

He is risen, indeed! This day, this very moment, he lives. And so may we.

On July 1, James V. Heidinger II retired as the president and publisher of Good News. This article originally appeared in the March/April 1983 issue of Good News.

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