How could a personal friend of two men seem to be a total Stranger on the road to Emmaus?
The Morning of Resurrection Day:
Mary Magdalene and other women visit the tomb of Jesus early on the third day after His crucifixion to discover that His body is missing. Two angels are there and one tells them that Jesus has risen and go tell the others. As they are leaving, a man notices that Mary Magdalene is weeping and asks her who is she looking for? She mistakes the man for a gardener and asks that if he knows where the body of Jesus has been taken, please tell her so she can go get Him. She does not recognize that the man is Jesus, until He said her name, “Mary.” She instantly recognizes Jesus, and the women run to Him, but He instructs them to go tell the disciples that He is risen. They obey.
The disciples do not believe the women, but Simon Peter runs to the tomb and finds nothing but the burial linens of Jesus. No evidence that Jesus has risen from the dead and no angels. He leaves disappointed and perplexed.
The Road to Emmaus:
Then two disciples set off for a village about seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus. On the way, a Stranger joins them. As they continue to walk with the Stranger on the road to Emmaus, the Stranger casually asks what the two men are talking about. His question stops the two men in their tracks. One of the men, Cleopas, seems incredulous that this visitor has not heard the news:
“Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“What things?” He asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied, “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.” ~ Luke 24:18-24 NIV
The Luke Gospel account states that they were kept from recognizing him (Jesus). Mark’s Gospel account states that Jesus appeared in a different form. Obviously, both men’s ability to recognize Jesus was altered supernaturally for a purpose. Just like Mary. Doesn’t this sound like a familiar pattern in the Gospels? How many times have we read where the disciples, followers and crowds were spiritually dulled or blinded to the Truth? Jesus spoke in parables and then explained the parables, and still, there was little discernment. Throughout the ministry of Jesus the hand of God had veiled the minds of Jesus’ followers in order for His divine purpose to be fulfilled. God was not taking any chances for humans, devils, or Satan to thwart His divine plan of redemption. That veil remained in place until the fulfillment by Jesus of every Messianic Prophecy recorded in the Old Testament. However, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, follower disbelief plays a part (these men have just left them – (the disciples who have heard from the women that Christ is risen, but doubt).
So we have evidence of disbelief by Jesus’ own followers. The women do not believe the angels at the tomb. The disciples do not believe Mary and the other women. But Jesus IS RISEN and appears on the road to Emmaus to set the record straight by being His own witness. He calls the two men foolish, and expounds once again what the Scriptures foretold about Himself beginning with Moses and the Prophets. When the three arrive at the village of Emmaus, Jesus stays for dinner at the invitation of the two men. He breaks bread with them. As soon as Jesus gives it to them, the veil drops from their minds and they recognize the Stranger as their very own Jesus of Nazareth.
And then He disappears! Mission accomplished? Well, not quite.
The Evening of Resurrection Day:
The two men hurry back to Jerusalem and announce to the disciples that the women are not crazy. They have seen Jesus alive, too!
As soon as the two men share their astounding news with the disciples, Jesus appears with a greeting of, “Peace be with you!” Now all of the men recognize Jesus but think they are seeing a ghost. Jesus patiently shows them the wounds on His hands and feet, and since they still do not believe it’s true (mostly from shock and joy), He eats a piece of fish and opens their minds so they can at last understand the Scriptures. One detail recorded in John’s Gospel is that Jesus also breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, the are not forgiven.” So Jesus immediately imparts authority to His disciples, once they believe that He is the True Messiah.
And then He disappears again! Third time’s the charm, right? Well, not always.
Read supporting scriptures John 20:19-30:
Time for a head count: Thomas was missing from the group when Jesus met with them, so there were ten disciples present plus at least the two witnesses that met up with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Including the women who saw Jesus at the tomb site, the disciples have been told by two different groups of witnesses that Jesus is alive. They have just seen Him appear before their own eyes in the flesh. These disciples tell Thomas later that they have personally seen Jesus alive and the sad part? Thomas doubts:
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” ~ John 20:25b NIV
At the End of Resurrection Day:
So what has Jesus accomplished by the end of His Blessed Resurrection Day? He has gathered His flock of followers and shared the Truth about Himself. He has been the first witness to His own resurrection. He has testified in person that He is, indeed, the promised Messiah who has conquered death and the grave. The sheep have all become believers; not just followers. All but Thomas. Does Jesus leave it there and just let Thomas go on with his life in unbelief? NO! Jesus never lets go of His own!
Fast forward one week to all eleven disciples gathered in one room with the doors locked. Suddenly Jesus blows through the wall, stands before them, and greets the terrified men with, “Peace be with you!” (again, He doesn’t want to scare anybody). Of course, Jesus has come there for Thomas – just like in the Parable of the Lost Sheep:
“Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to Him, “My Lord and my God.” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” ~ John 20:27-28 NIV
Yes, that is the best part of this story. Jesus makes it so clear – not only to His disciples, but for all generations to follow. In every case of spiritual or even physical blindness (Paul on the road to Damascus), there is a joyous instant when the Light of recognition is allowed to shine through for every believing sinner. That moment when Jesus is recognized in all of His glory! It is the life changing moment of victorious realization over doubt. Praise God!
You could say that this story is really about the “Doubting Thomas” – and yes, it is. But we are all “Doubting Thomases” until we kneel at the feet of Jesus. I believe that God is Wisdom. He knew that without the meeting between two men and His Beloved Son on the road to Emmaus, an important opportunity would be lost. It was necessary, for we all need to hear that personal testimony from Jesus Himself that all Scripture about His coming is fulfilled. Until Jesus appeared alive and proclaimed Himself as the promised Messiah, He would always be a Stranger. There would be no redemption, due to lack of faith resulting from lack of evidence plus corroborative testimony. We need to hear from the two men on that road, who personally testified that they walked with, talked with, and saw Jesus in the flesh as He broke bread and handed it to them. We need to hear from the women who saw, spoke with, and clung to His garments at the tomb site. We need to know that the disciples were convinced, and personally witnessed Jesus as risen and transformed bodily – that Jesus bore the wounds of the cross that they personally touched; that Christ ate real food but also had the power to pass through walls. Without these events, there would only be a legend or myth today about a great prophet named Jesus who claimed to be the Son of God and was then killed; and the disciples and ultimately, the lost world, would have only kept doubting.
Jesus Himself testifies that HE LIVES. Let there be no doubt! There is no more reason to keep God’s plan a mystery. Jesus finished God’s perfect plan of redemption. The whole world has to know; both then and now. Jesus showed plainly by His example to us that personal testimony is the way to share the Good News.
This is the reason there had to be a Stranger on the road to Emmaus.
Note: For those interested in where this village of Emmaus may be located near Jerusalem, check out “The Identification of Emmaus” from Selective Geographical Problems in the Life of Christ, a doctoral dissertation by J. Carl Laney (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1977).
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