ESV Luke 24:13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. 28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
We leave the city by the western gate. Then we make rapid progress for about twenty-five minutes and we reach the edge of the plateau. The blood-stained city, and that cloud of gloom of the followers of Jesus are well behind us. With every step forward and upward the air seems fresher and freer. We fell that freedom in the scent of mountain air and the far off breezes of the sea. Another twenty-five minutes and we are passing here-and-there country-houses. Now we pause to look back. There is Jerusalem, the city with blood stained hands. The city of weeping and sorrow this day. Off in the distance is Bethlehem. Then we turn to continue our way. We are now getting beyond the dreary, rocky region, and are entering a valley. In just a quarter of an hour more we will leave the well-paved Roman road and head into a lovely valley. The path gently climbs in a north-westward direction with Emmaus at the top standing prominently before us….what an oasis this is in a region of hills! Along the course of the stream which babbles down and low in the valley crossed by a bridge are scented orange and lemon gardens, olive groves, luscious fruit trees, pleasant enclosures, shady nooks, bright dwellings, and on the height stands lovely Emmaus. A sweet spot to which to wander on this spring afternoon.
This is how one 20th Century author imagines the way two followers of Jesus may have walked that first Easter afternoon. Interesting to envision. Sounds like a pleasant stroll. Truth is, we don’t know the way they walked. So much of the landscape has changed in two thousand years. Whole towns, including Emmaus have crumbled to dust. Today we can only guess at the road they may have taken.
But it doesn’t really matter. These two first century disciples knew their way. They had traveled these paths several times from Emmaus to Jerusalem during their lives. They knew the way. Problem was, they didn’t know God’s way. Just as often, that is a problem for us as well. We know our way, or we think we do, but often we don’t know what God is up to or where he is going. Too often it seems to us as if God has lost his way. That he is going the wrong direction.
When we face times of tribulation, suffering, worry, anxiety, stress, we wonder not only what God is up to, but even if he is still in control. Is he leading us, or is he just as lost as we are? We become afraid. We miss seeing where God is going even after he’s told us. That was true of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that Easter afternoon. Jesus had told them where he was going, just as God had told his people throughout the Old Testament. The Christ was going to the cross to suffer and die, but then would rise on the third day. Well, it was now the third day, and women had told the disciples they’d seen Jesus, but the disciples still didn’t know where God was headed.
Fact is, in spite of our circumstances, in spite of what we see happening, God always has and always will know the way to redeem us and to use us. First let us take a look at the way he has worked in our past.
The Emmaus disciples hadn’t seen which way God was going. So they went the wrong way; they headed toward Emmaus. Easter was happening in Jerusalem, but they were leaving the city despondent and sorrowful. They had witnessed the death of Jesus, and now they didn’t know where to go or what to think or what to do. They had placed all their hopes on this Jesus, but now he was dead. Their whole world came crumbling down. In a sense they had lost their way in life. The only way they knew now was how to get to Emmaus. So that’s where they went. Looking for a place away from all the commotion. A quiet place where they could hide from the Jewish leaders and the Roman soldiers, and bury their heads in sorrow and grief.
On their way they were joined by a stranger. At least they thought it was a stranger. It was really Jesus, but they didn’t recognize him. No, it wasn’t a problem with their eyes. He miraculously kept them from knowing him. The problem was they didn’t understand God’s purpose in all of this. They didn’t see which way God was going. And so they missed the point entirely. To them, the crucifixion of Jesus was a defeat.
Well, that’s us too. We miss seeing where God has taken us too, don’t we? It’s so easy to focus on the negatives in life. We dwell on something critical or unkind someone said to us way back in the past. We see TV commercials and think about all the things we don’t have but sure wish we had. We are surrounded by sinful people, even our own spouses and families, and what we see most is their faults. It’s so much easier to see their faults than our own.
We focus on negatives in our church’s life too. We remember the financial problems. Or we tell ourselves we are too small to do much as a congregation. We become anxious when sin leads to conflict in the church. Or we give in to fear and uncertainty when the world, sometimes even the government, persecutes us by trying to make us do or accept sinful behaviors that are against our Christian conscious or beliefs.
We dwell on these negatives because we forget God’s purpose for us—God’s way. Our self image is threatened by things others say because we’re so insecure about our purpose or value in God’s plan. We’re preoccupied with the things of this world we don’t have because we forget this world isn’t our real home. We focus on faults because we forget we’re called to be the salt of the earth where, of course, everyone is sinful. We get stuck on negatives here at church because we treat it like a business and forget the gates of hell will not overcome it.
When we fall into that kind of thinking, and things don’t always work out according to our plans, we may think God’s going the wrong way, or that he’s lost his way. He certainly hasn’t!
God’s always been going the right way—his way. Jesus showed these disciples God’s way. He explained to them the Old Testament Scriptures. The Scriptures are always God’s way of showing us his way! Jesus showed that the whole Bible points to his death and resurrection. He showed them that his suffering and death were God’s way of salvation for us. His death was no defeat at all. It was victory. It all added up to glory. Jesus’ death was God’s way—his only way—to cleanse us of our sin. Because of the sufferings Christ suffered, your sins are forgiven. God has cleared the way for eternal life by his death.
In other words, God used the death of Jesus, what seemed like a setback, as his way of saving us. And whether we realize it or not, God has been guiding our way too….his way. All of God’s people have ups and downs, but never really setbacks. When we are overwhelmed by difficulties and worries, God is guiding our way. His way may be precisely through these rough spots in life. His way is the way of the cross and he leads us to our crosses often. In fact we usually turn things just upside down. What we call ups are really not our ups at all. Those days when we experience emotional highs are not the real ups in our life, rather the days when we are brought to our knees and forced to trust God amid sin and tragedy are the true ups in life. But these are the days we call downs in our life. And they are never really God losing his way, rather they are God’s way of strengthening us and putting us back on his road so we go his way. All the negatives in our life are not just side tracks we think we see on the road to heaven. But in reality they are what keeps us on the road so we don’t wander astray.
This is where God is taking us. So let’s let God show us his way for our future.
Christ got the disciples turned around the right way, God’s way. He opened their eyes and they recognized him. He opened their eyes right as they partook of the Lord’s Supper and in the breaking of the bread they recognized who he was. It was at that moment that they finally realized what God’s way was all about. God opens our eyes in the Sacrament. Then they exclaimed, “Sure enough, it’s just as he said!”
They realized that God was in control all the time. In all this suffering and death, God was in control. This was his way. This was all part of his plan! Likewise in our suffering and yes, even in our death, God is in control. It is all part of God’s plan, his plan of salvation. His plan to bless us. God’s plans for us are good plans. He plans good, not evil. He plans blessing, not curses. Even though to us they may seem painful for a time, they are in God’s hands and under his control and they are for good, not evil.
Having their eyes opened, they now knew the way. God’s way. They turned around and ran back to Jerusalem. All the way, seven miles. Filled with joy. Couldn’t wait to tell!
God’s way for our future is the same. His way is for us to continue to tell the world with joy that Jesus is alive. His way is for us to explain that Scripture has been fulfilled in Christ, our Savior. His way is to open eyes so that all who believe may have life. The seven miles the disciples ran to Jerusalem isn’t a bad objective. Imagine the lives we could change within a seven-mile radius of Jackson and Fourth Avenue.
That’s God’s way. That much we know, because God’s way is to redeem all people by Jesus’ death and victorious resurrection, and God’s way is to use us to spread that news. God has shown us his way, and that means we know where we’re going, even while we’re still on the way. Amen.