147: On the road to Emmaus
It was the afternoon of the day of Jesus' resurrection. Two men were walking along the road that led from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a little village a few hours away in the hill country of Judea.
They were talking busily. They looked somber and discouraged. From time to time they sighed and shook their heads.
They had come from Jerusalem, where they had been with Jesus' disciples. They were disciples too. They had believed in Jesus and loved Him. They had longed for the day when all the people would revere and honor Him as their king. Instead they had seen a day when all the people rejected Jesus. They had thought of Jesus as ascending a throne, but He was nailed to a cross instead.
It seemed that His amazing power had suddenly left Him. He had allowed them to make fun of Him and whip Him and crucify Him. He had made no effort to resist. He was like a lamb led to the slaughter. They had hoped He would be the lion that arose from Judah's tribe to chase away all the enemies of Israel.
Now Jesus was dead and buried. His life had ended, just as everyone's life came to an end sooner or later. No, He could not possibly be the Messiah. A prophet, perhaps, but not the Messiah.
That morning some women had reported excitedly that Jesus was alive, but who could believe it? Peter and John had gone to the tomb and found it empty. Now John, too, believed that Jesus had arisen. How was that possible?
If it was true that He had risen from the dead, He must be the Messiah, the Son of God after all. But if He was the Son of God, why had He subjected Himself to all that suffering?
They simply didn't understand it. They grappled with a terrible riddle that confused and depressed them. They simply couldn't stop talking about it and probing each other for answers.
But they got nowhere, and the riddle grew more and more mysterious.
Suddenly they sensed that they were not alone. Someone had come up behind them and was now walking alongside them. They took a quick look at Him, but they didn't recognize Him. They said hello in a halfhearted, sorrowful way.
The man asked them, "What were you two talking about as you walked?"
The surprised answer came from the one named Cleopas: "What do you expect we would be talking about? Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who doesn't know what has happened there in the past few days?"
"What do you mean?" the man asked.
His voice was so warm and friendly that they trusted Him at once and poured out their soul before Him.
"Don't you know what happened to Jesus of Nazareth?" they said. "He was a great prophet. He performed many miracles and said many wonderful things. But our chief priests and leaders delivered Him up to be condemned to death and crucified."
They sighed deeply. All their sorrow rose anew in their hearts. "We hoped He was the Messiah," they said in despair, "the one who would deliver Israel. But He has already been dead for three days."
There were tears in their eyes, but they were not ashamed.
"Some of the women in our midst have brought us alarming news. Early this morning they went to the tomb, but they did not find His body there. They came to us and said that they had seen angels who told them that Jesus is alive. A few of our friends then went to the grave and saw for themselves that the tomb was empty, but they did not see Jesus. We can't bring ourselves to believe that He has truly risen from the grave. If He is able to overcome even death, why didn't He overcome His enemies? Why did He let Himself be taken captive and beaten and whipped and mocked and put to death?"
They looked at the stranger sadly. They assumed that He would now shake His head and join them in their mood.
Instead He chided them. He did it in a friendly way, but He definitely straightened them out. He said, "How foolish you are and slow of heart! Didn't the Christ have to suffer all this in order to enter His glory?"
Then He began to explain the Scriptures to them. He went back to the books with which they were raised. They were instructed from those books each sabbath, but they had almost completely forgotten them.
He talked about Moses and David and the other prophets, who had all mentioned the Messiah's suffering. He quoted Scripture passages that they had known all their lives but had never understood clearly until then. He reminded them about Isaiah's words concerning the Messiah. Isaiah had called Him a "man of sorrows."
This was Isaiah's song: "He took our sicknesses upon Himself and bore our pain. We considered Him tormented—stricken and afflicted by God. He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brings us peace was inflicted upon Him, and through His lashes we are healed. All of us, like sheep, have gone astray; we have all turned to go our own way. Yet the Lord laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. He was mistreated and oppressed, but He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep that is silent before the shearers, so He did not open His mouth."
As Cleopas and his friend listened to all this, the sun seemed to rise within them to chase away all the darkness of doubt and unbelief. Now they finally understood the glorious prophecies they had listened to so often without understanding.
Jesus had to suffer all those things. That was how He bore the punishment for the sin of the world and reconciled people with God.
Then He was the Redeemer after all, the Messiah. He had the power to destroy His enemies, but He did not do it. Out of love for His people and obedience to God, He submitted freely to His suffering.
When that message finally sank in, they were joyful and deeply moved. Never had they felt such complete happiness before. They would have gladly listened to that wise stranger for hours, but they had been talking for so long that they were finally in Emmaus, standing before the house of Cleopas.
The stranger seemed about to continue His journey, but the two men did not want to part with Him yet. They urged Him not to go on. "Stay with us," they said, "for it is evening. The day is almost done."
The stranger agreed and went inside with them to eat supper. Soon He was reclining at the table with them. He took the bread, asked for a blessing, broke some off, and offered it to them.
Who was this stranger who took on the role of host in the home of Cleopas? His eyes were more pure and kind than any other eyes they had ever seen. And there were nail holes in His hands!
Suddenly the eyes of the two men were opened. They trembled. "Jesus, Master!" they stammered, and they reached out toward Him.
But His place was empty. He vanished. They didn't even have a chance to kneel before Him.
Pale and deeply moved, they looked at each other and said, "How our hearts burned within us while we were on the road to Emmaus and He opened the Scriptures for us!"