It was just a couple of guys, followers of Jesus, heading home after what must have been the most disappointing week of their lives. They no doubt had been present on Palm Sunday, when Jesus had marched with his disciples into the city of Jerusalem, and hopes were certainly high that Jesus would finally reveal himself as the long awaited ruling and reigning Messiah.
But things had not turned out the way they had hoped they might at all. All during that week Jesus seemed to be doing nothing of great significance at all. Every day he came into the city, but when he came in, he seemed to be doing just more of the same. He’d go into the temple area, people would gather around him, and he would teach. There were no bold pronouncements, no exciting proclamations, and no spectacular moves. As the week progressed, I’m sure that many of the followers of Jesus wondered, what day will he pick to make his announcement that he is indeed the Messiah of everyone’s fondest imaginations? Passover, perhaps?
But by Thursday evening, things had taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Jesus had been arrested. As word got around Thursday night, lots of Jesus’ followers must have speculated among themselves that this must surely be the time. Messiah would certainly not subject himself to the indignities of arrest, at least not for very long. Now would be the time for Jesus to prove his might and power in a spectacular way. But Thursday night went by and Friday arrived, with events taking an even more sinister direction. A badly beaten and bloodied Jesus could be seen being led through the city by a detachment of Roman guards. If Jesus didn’t act quickly, he would be crucified.
It was obvious to all who saw him though, that Jesus was in no condition to emerge suddenly from that situation as any kind of victor. He had been so weakened by the beatings that he had endured, that he frequently stumbled and fell under the weight and the burden of the cross he was carrying. Eventually one of the Roman soldiers ordered one of the bystanders to shoulder Jesus’ cross, and the tragic parade continued it’s grisly progress to the place of crucifixion. Why doesn’t he make his move now? Why doesn’t he call on the powers of heaven and utterly stun and amaze everyone in sight? When will Messiah reveal himself? When will we see his glory? If not now, when?
But Jesus didn’t do any of that. And as he was lifted into place on his cross, and as he writhed in agony, many of Jesus’ followers must have been having their doubts. Did we follow him all this way to witness this, is this what it all comes down to, a man, whom we had hoped would be the one to redeem Israel, crucified and dying, hung up along with two common thieves? Is this what we have given our lives over to?
And apparently it was, because hours later Jesus was dead. Gone. Gone from this world and gone from the lives of those who loved him and gave their lives to him. Apparently everyone had been wrong. Jesus was no Messiah. His body was reposing in a grave. There was no glory to be seen anywhere. The Sabbath came and went, and now it was time for everyone to go home and to begin the process of getting on with their lives.
It is Sunday afternoon, now, and this is where we find Cleopas and his friend. They’re headed home; on their way to Emmaus. And like any of us, would do, they were rehashing the events of this most tragic of weeks as they walked along. As awful as the topic was, they just couldn’t seem to keep from discussing it.
And then, suddenly, a stranger joined them. Hi guys, can I join you? “What are you discussing?” The question must have seemed terribly irreverent, because both Cleopas and his friend stopped dead in their tracks. What an unbelievably silly question! How can anyone be traveling out of the city of Jerusalem and not know what had taken place during the past week there? How could anyone have been so ignorant of such a significant event? This would be like us not knowing the latest coronavirus statistics! Or not knowing that it was election week!
But apparently this stranger had no clue, because he asked, rather innocently, “What things? I can feel the sadness and the grief that must have washed over Cleopas and his companion like a giant wave. Here they are, deep in grief, overwhelmed by sorrow, profoundly moved by their utter disappointment in Jesus, and now they’ve met a stranger who seems not to share any of their sorrow, and who seems woefully unaware of the events that brought about that grief. This is not somebody that either of them would have picked as a traveling companion.
But just the same, they shared their story. They gave a quick summary of Jesus’ life, they explained that Jesus had been handed over to be crucified, they expressed their lost hope that Jesus might have been the Messiah, and they even described their skepticism at the astounding story told to them by the women.
I suppose it is no wonder that Jesus exploded into a bit of a tirade.
“Oh how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?
If Cleopas and his friend were disappointed that this stranger seemed ignorant of the tragic events that had just taken place in Jerusalem, Jesus was frustrated even more that these two guys were ignorant of the teachings of the Scriptures relating to Messiah.
But Jesus doesn’t leave them in their ignorant, unbelieving condition. Suddenly this ignorant stranger becomes the educator. You know, there’s a big part of me, that just would have loved to have been there that afternoon and evening. How absolutely awesome it would have been to have heard Jesus himself as he worked his way through the Scriptures, from Genesis to Malachi, explaining those Scriptures in light of himself. I can only dream about how wonderful and amazing that must have been. I can imagine, though, with certainty, what gifted teachers of the Scriptures that these two guys must have become. We don’t keep good news to ourselves, and generations of disciples must have benefited from their wisdom. And we are still benefiting from it today.
But as our story goes along, Jesus is still a stranger to these two guys. But even though he is still a stranger, we can see that a relationship is beginning to develop. As Cleopas and his friend get closer to home, it looks like Jesus intends to continue his journey. But they prevail upon him to stay the night with them.
And, as they gathered around the table, the stranger took some bread, and he blessed it, and he broke it, and he gave it to them.
And those hands; hands that they had seen lifted so many times toward heaven in prayer, hands that they had seen cradling a child, hands that touched the sick and made them well, hands that lifted up the sorrowful, hands that raised up the down trodden, hands that clapped with joy and laughter, hands that took bread, blessed and broke it and fed thousands, and hands that still bore the wounds of the nails of his crucifixion and death.
And, as Jesus shared bread with these two guys that evening, they recognized their Lord. Jesus was alive.
And as soon as they realized who this stranger was, Jesus vanished from their sight. But now it all made sense. And they realized that even on the road, as Jesus shared his life with them, that their hearts had been ablaze with wonder and amazement at this stranger. Something profound was going on inside of them as they walked along with Jesus. Their lives were being transformed by a stranger who later turned out to be the Lord they had loved all along.
As we move along the paths of our lives, Jesus moves from stranger to savior to Lord. The road that we walk can be frightening and disappointing and even sorrowful. And the truth of the matter is that we might not always recognize the presence of the risen Lord as he walks along beside us. Sometimes we will be so overwhelmed by the events of our lives that we can only see the event, and not the savior. But Jesus is always there right beside us. And that’s why we need to notice those times when our hearts are ablaze, and we need to hold the hand of the one who carries us along. And in holding that nail-scarred hand, we will know that he lives. And if he lives, we live. Jesus, who suffered and died, has entered his glory, and we join him there now.