Christ Our Fellow Traveler
We turn to the Gospel of Luke to remember Christ this morning. There are some interesting details recorded at the end of this Gospel that give food for much thought.
My focus is on His post-resurrection appearances, particularly Luke's account of His appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. My title is "Christ, Our Fellow Traveler" (or Christ, Our Traveling Companion).
1A. Post-resurrection appearances are rare and brief
Looking at the post-resurrection appearances, I am left with the following question: "Why does so little take place and why are we told even less?" He appeared over a period of forty days (Acts 1:3) but we do not have forty appearances nor we have forty days of His presence with the apostles and other disciples. John records His third appearance to his disciples (Jn. 21:14). Time had elapsed since the upper room with Thomas not present at the first appearance and present at the second. He had appeared to some women (briefly reported) and to Peter (just mentioned but not narrated, Lk. 24:34). Acts 1 summarizes the teaching of the forty days as concerned with the kingdom of God and the promise of the Holy Spirit. Matthew ends with the Great Commission, which is all we have of His post-resurrection instruction in this Gospel (except for a few words to the women, vs. 9-10).
So there is little and we might say we are told even less. Of course, this puts the final words of our Lord into special relief especially the Great Commission, the words to Peter about feeding the sheep, and the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
2A. The appearance on the road to Emmaus is unique
The account of the travelers on the road to Emmaus is unique among the post-resurrection accounts. It is one of the longer accounts yet it may leave us with more questions than answers. Probably the most striking thing here is the fact that Jesus is not recognized as the risen Lord for practically the entire time He is with the two travelers. They recognize Him for a few seconds (or a split second) before "he disappeared from their sight" (v. 31). This is more a post-resurrection disappearance account than an appearance account as far as these disciples are concerned.
Beginning with His death, we have four events recorded at the end of Luke's Gospel. 1) He died (Lk. 23:44f). 2) He appeared to two disciples. 3) He appeared to the apostles and disciples. 4) And He left them ascending into heaven (24:50-53).
1B. When does Luke reintroduce Jesus into the narrative after His death?
Following the history, when do we see the risen Savior? It is after the tomb was found empty (24:1-12). The angels told the women to remember what Jesus had said about His death and resurrection (24:6-7) and they remembered (v. 8) and reported all these things to the apostles. But their words seemed like nonsense to all the apostles (v. 11, we might think that there response does not make sense given their time with the Lord observing His miracles and hearing His promises). Although Peter also interpreted their words as nonsense, he nonetheless ran to the tomb, carefully observed the grave clothes lying there by themselves with no body in them, and then went away "wondering to himself what had happened" (v. 12).
2B. How does Jesus first appear in Luke's narrative?
He first appears "sight unseen." That is, He simply came up and walked with Cleopas and his friend but He was not recognized because "they were kept from recognizing Him" (vs. 13-16). This is the first time we see Jesus but they do not know Him, they do not know this traveler who walks with them on the road.
Seen but unseen, Jesus asked questions, listened to them, and He probed into their thoughts (vs. 17, 19, 17-24). Still unknown, He rebuked them and instructed them out of the Scriptures (vs. 25-27). We can see so clearly what they cannot see. Why are they so sad here on the third day? Why so sad in light of the empty tomb, in light of the testimony of angels, in light of what Jesus had told them, in light of their own testimony concerning the Lord Jesus that He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed (v. 19)?
Perhaps the answer is found in the nature of the issues at stake. We are talking about victory over death. We are talking about resurrection from the dead. This is a bottom line of bottom lines. In the typical battle of life and death, death always wins. The testimony of the generations contains this repeated claim: "and he died," generation after generation after generation.
Nonetheless, they are rebuked as foolish and slow to believe the prophets. The Christ must suffer; He must die in order to enter His glory (v. 26).
Therefore, their sadness is not due to weakness in relation to the profoundly powerful enemy of death. Instead, it is due to weakness in relation to Holy Scripture in its presentation of the work of Christ. Perhaps, we can summarize by saying that it all has to do with where your eyes are fixed. Are they fixed on Jesus presented in Scripture or are they on the stormy sea of death? The traveler walking with them as they approach Emmaus raises this question for them and for us.
3B. Why does Jesus act as if He were going farther?
The next striking detail is that when they reach the village to which they were going, Jesus "acted as if He were going farther" (v. 28) but they urged Him to stay with them and have dinner (v.29-30a). What are we to make of this statement that He "acted as if He were going farther"? He intended to eat with them. His action made them intent: "they urged him strongly" (v. 29). He shapes their intentions. Is this not like our Lord to draw out our attention and to cause us to seek Him. It is pleasing to the Lord that we petition Him to come to our dinner table, to come and fellowship with us.
4B. When is Jesus recognized?
He then broke bread with them at the table. As He did so, "their eyes were opened and they recognized him" (v. 31a). This must have been in a pattern that was typical (v. 30b, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to them). Paul fixes on this pattern as central in remembering the institution of the Lord's Supper on the night Jesus was betrayed (1 Cor. 11:23-24; this remembrance is forever etched into Christian practice).
We might think that this is the opening of not only their eyes but of a time of special fellowship at the table. But no special fellowship occurs at this table in the town of Emmaus. Instead, strikingly, Jesus disappeared from their sight as soon as their eyes were opened to see Him (v. 31b). They comment on how their hearts burned within them while He opened the Scriptures to them (v. 32). They had fellowship with Him on the road though it was dimly lit. They fellowshipped with Him without seeing Him.
5B. Why is there so much ambiguity?
It seems that Jesus is teaching us about the life of the church for the time between. His bodily presence with the church on earth after the resurrection is temporary and transitional. He prepares the church for her journey without Him physically present (He left them, 24:51, like He disappeared from the sight of the two disciples on the road).
Our fellowship with the risen Lord Jesus is much like that of these travelers. We are on a road, on a journey. Consider some ways.
1). He walks along with us. He is with us though we do not see Him in the flesh. He is the risen Lord and He said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." He is our fellow traveler. He is our traveling companion.
2) Our fellowship with our risen Savior centers on the Scriptures.
His word and its testimony to redemptive history is the place of fellowship with our risen Savior. Whether we move about in our homes or away from our homes, He is with us wherever our feet take us for there His word is the lamp under our feet.
3) We do not always recognize Him.
The bare fact of His resurrection is not sufficient for knowing Him. Actually physically seeing the risen Lord is not sufficient for knowing Him either. To know the risen Savior, to know Him as the risen Savior, He must open the eyes of our hearts. He is sovereign Lord of the church in this too.
We do not always know what is going on but He is with us and He will give us special glimpses of Himself. But He questions us. He listens to our prayers. He probes our deepest thoughts. He directs our thinking to redemptive history that centers in His Messianic work. He rebukes us directing us back to the Scriptures. Our problem with death (and with life for that matter) is not its profound power as relentless grim reaper. Like other disciples on the road, our problem is a lack of focus on the Scriptures, to believe all that is written particularly of Christ who must suffer death in our place and be raised for our justification.
4) Communion is a special means.
And we must move in thought from dinner to the Lord's Supper because the Emmaus dinner has the reminder in it of the institution of the Supper in the pattern that was followed (v. 30). He is here with us at the communion table. Although unseen, He is present to fellowship with us and to make Himself known to us stirring up our hearts and giving us special glimpses into Holy Scripture. This is a special means of grace appointed by the Lord for the Christian journey. He is with us on the road of life wherever our feet take us; He is with us in a special way here at the table.
How do we remember Christ via this narrative?
We remember the one who died, who endured the radical anomaly of death, its deprivation and its unnaturalness. But He is the one who did this voluntarily for us. We remember Him humble in character going unnoticed in order to benefit His disciples on the road to Emmaus. We remember Him questioning, listening, rebuking, and instructing.
So here we are in the same shoes as the disciples of Luke 24. We see Him and know Him as risen Lord but we do not see Him because He left us to remain here while He is in heaven. So we too worship and praise God with joy while we wait for the blessing of His presence with us here on earth by His gift of the Holy Spirit.