“That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened.” (Luke 24:13-14)
Two men walked on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Recent events in Jerusalem surrounding the Passover was the topic of conversation. It was all hard to believe. Chaos. Injustice. Mob rule. Corruption. In one 24-hour period, the man they’d believed to be the Messiah went from the acclaim of crowds to the jeering of the same under shouts of “Crucify him!”
The entire past week leading up to the Passover had been crazy. A week before Jesus had entered Jerusalem riding on the back of a donkey. “When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in an uproar, saying, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21:10-11)
Jesus had confronted the religious leaders directly. Their reputation had been tarnished. Two days before the Passover, the final death plot emerged and took form, aided by one of Jesus’ own disciples coming to the religious leaders with inside information about where Jesus would be the night of the Passover meal. They need to do this secretively “lest there be an uproar from the people.” (Mark 14:2)
Jesus had been captured, unjustly tried and sentenced, crucified and buried. It has been three days since. It was the only topic of conversation that made sense. And then Jesus showed up to walk with them down the dusty Emmaus road.
“While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.” (Luke 24:15)
Jesus asked them what they were talking about, and they responded sadly, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” Then they related the series of unfortunate events that had crushed their hopes in deliverance.
Missing the nearness of Jesus
We don’t know how they missed understanding that the man talking with them was Jesus. It was supernatural. That much is clear in the text. (“Their eyes were kept from recognizing Him.”) However, while their eyes failed to grasp, their hearts kindled. They just knew something significant was afoot. They just didn’t know in those road-weary, emotion-laden moments how near God was.
Isn’t that just like us? We focus on the chaos, corruption, confusion and disappointments around us, and we miss the nearness of Jesus. It’s a strange disconnect between our eyes and our hearts. We know that one of Jesus’ names is Emmanuel – “God with us” – and yet we allow circumstances to obscure our faith sight. Like Peter sinking beneath the wavy Galilee, when we turn from looking at Jesus to the storms around us, we too sink.
It was finally revealed to the men over supper that Jesus was with them. Powerfully, it was in the very moment that Jesus prayed, broke the bread and gave it to them. At that, He disappeared. They were stunned. They held bread in their hands and a burning awareness in their souls. ““Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” they asked one another.
Awareness of nearness displaced fear and disappointment.
There was nothing else to do but completely reinterpret everything they had been thinking about the past three days. JESUS WASN’T DEAD. HE WAS ALIVE. That changed everything. It meant there had been a bigger plan than the one set in motion by the religious leaders. It meant God was in control in spite of chaos, injustice, mob rule and corruption.
In a new moment of clarity, the cross made sense. The Messiah had to die for us to be free. Jesus had explained it to them before they recognized Him, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26)
These days of pandemic, politics and cultural turmoil have produced such deep rooted fear, anxiety, anger and division – not just in our culture but in our churches.
Jesus is near. Jesus is here.
When we don’t recognize His presence, however, we cannot enjoy His assurance. When we focus on circumstances, we miss the promises of His Word in scripture.
Like the two travel-weary disciples, we also can be near Him and yet miss Him. Jesus is easy to miss if you don’t expect Him to be there. There’s a danger for us “modern” Christians. Think about it. Jesus walked with these two men, freshly raised from the dead. He was the Resurrection Life. Yet they were still living in sadness and fear and disappointment.
A recent Kim Walker-Smith song has a beautiful chorus that reminds us of the constancy of Jesus and it proclaims the necessity of our fear and anxiety bowing before Him. Even when everything “gives way,” Jesus walks with us, instructing and tenderly waiting on our moment of recognition of His nearness.
You’ve always been, and You’ll always be
The God who gives, such perfect peace
So, all my fear, and anxiety
Will bow to my God
The King of Kings, oh, my Prince of Peace
I’m not afraid, I’m not afraid
‘Cause everything gives way, when I speak Your name