Luke 24:13-35 (Third Sunday of Easter—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
May 8, 2011
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel Reading recorded in Luke 24:
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. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 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. 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?” 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, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 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. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 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. 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.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 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. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 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?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Alfred the Great was the ninth-century king who saved England from conquest by the Danish. At one point during his wars with the Danes, Alfred was forced to seek refuge in the hut of a poor Saxon family. Not recognizing her visitor, the woman of the house said she had to leave and asked Alfred to watch some cakes she was baking. But the king had other things on his mind and did not notice that the cakes were burning. Upon her return, the lady unknowingly gave her sovereign a hearty scolding!
In our Gospel lesson today we have another case of someone not being recognized, and that someone was Jesus. It was Easter evening and Luke takes us to meet two of Jesus’ followers on the road. Naturally, the conversation was about what had happened to their Lord and Master during His arrest, trial, crucifixion, and the mystery of that day’s morning when the women didn’t find His body in the tomb. We can almost imagine their chatter about the seemingly wild tale of angels saying Jesus was alive. That, compounded with the deep grief they were experiencing over the death of Jesus must have left these two disciples quite dazed and very confused. Perhaps they were trying to sort everything out during their walk to Emmaus. They were trying to make sense of what had happened to the One that they hoped was the one to redeem Israel.
Then something unique happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus drew near and went with them. And Luke tells us that “their eyes were kept from recognizing Him.” These two disciples were blocked or restrained by supernatural, divine power from recognizing Jesus. This is very different from the other resurrection appearances of Jesus. In the Easter Gospel this year we heard that as the women departed from the empty tomb “Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him.” (Matt. 28:9) On the first Easter evening Jesus came and stood among the disciples and said, “Peace be with you.” He showed them His hands and His side. “And the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:19-21) Even Thomas was given the opportunity a week later to see the Lord Jesus and the nail marks in His hands and to put his hand into the pierced side of the resurrected Lord. But the Easter evening appearance of Jesus to the disciples on the road to Emmaus was different. The Lord kept them from recognizing Him.
Certainly this begs the question of “Why?” Why did Jesus follow a different pattern here than in His other resurrection appearances where He clearly wanted His disciples and apostles to recognize Him? I wonder if perhaps it was for the sake of those who would not see Jesus with physical eyes but only with the eyes of faith and trust.
Last Sunday we heard the promise of Jesus to St. Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” After the Day of Ascension, forty days after Easter, people would not have the opportunity to see the resurrected Jesus with the naked eye. They would not be able to see the marks of the nails in His hands or put their hands into His pierced side. They would not be able to see Him and fall at His feet in holy worship. They would not eat breakfast with Him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. So what trustworthy way was there to assure people after Jesus’ Ascension that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah-Savior, promised by God and now fulfilled in His life, death, and resurrection? What was there that could announce to people forgiveness of sins and eternal life through Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross and His triumphant resurrection from the grave? One thing and one thing only—the Scriptures.
Jesus confronted the doubt and confusion of these disciples, not with a revelation of His risen person, but with a revealing of what God had promised and how Jesus Himself had brought it to completion. Jesus asked, “‘Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” (Luke 24:26-27)
What a Bible study that must have been, lead by the very Son of God who gave those words of Scripture by the Holy Spirit to the Biblical writers! Imagine starting in the Book of Genesis, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15) and having Jesus explain how that He is the Seed of the woman who was born of a virgin just as Isaiah said He would be, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) Jesus would have spoken to them about the promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:16-18)
I am certain that our Lord spoke to these disciples about the Suffering Servant in the Book of Isaiah, which Jesus Himself fulfilled in the very days of which these followers were speaking. “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. . . . All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—everyone—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?” (Isaiah 53:1-12)
Jesus would have reminded them of the words of Jonah 1:17 as a foreshadowing of His resurrection, “And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Also Psalm 16, “I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” (Psalms 16:8-11)
And there are so many more passages that we could look at and see how Christ is the complete fulfillment of the Old Testament Word of God, especially in His suffering, death, and resurrection on the third day. And that’s what our Lord revealed to the disciples on the road so that they might recognize Jesus as the Messiah-Savior, not because they see Him risen from the dead, but because the Word of God promised and guarantees that Jesus is risen.
And then came dinner that evening, maybe at an Emmaus inn. “When He was at table with them, He took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized Him. And He vanished from their sight.” Having seen the crucified and risen Jesus through the eyes of faith as the Scripture revealed Him to them, in the breaking of bread Jesus allowed them to physically recognize Him. And then He vanished from their sight. No doubt these men had dined with Jesus previously. They may have been at the feeding of the 5000 and the feeding of the 4000. Perhaps they were part of the 72 that Jesus had sent out to announce the arrival of the Kingdom of God in Jesus. But here, for the very first time, they truly recognized Jesus as the Messiah-Savior, for whom it was necessary to suffer, die, and rise again. And not because they saw Him alive, but because He had revealed Himself to them in the Scriptures and then became know to them in the breaking of the bread.
This is now how we recognize Jesus. The Holy Spirit, as He did with these disciples, opens the Scriptures to us to see by faith that Jesus is the promised Messiah. He is the Christ, our Lord, and our Savior. It was indeed necessary that He suffer and die on the cross in full payment for our sins. It was completely necessary that He suffer our death and hell so that we might have everlasting life because of His shed blood that cleanses us from all our sins. Jesus had to rise again on the third day, guaranteeing that His sacrifice was successful and that you and I will rise again with our bodies on the Last Day.
We recognize Jesus through His Word of truth and life, His Word of peace and forgiveness. We recognize Jesus in the pages of Genesis through Revelation as He reveals Himself to us through the working of the Holy Spirit. And in a very, very special way, we know Jesus in the breaking of bread in a way the Emmaus disciples did not. For Jesus comes to us personally with His body once crucified and risen in, with, and under the bread of Holy Communion. He comes with His body and His blood with forgiveness and abundant life, just as the Scripture says, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
We do not need to see Jesus with our physical eyes to believe that He is the One sent to redeem Israel and the world from sin, death, and the devil’s power. He opens to us the Scriptures through the Holy Spirit who enables us to see in those sacred pages Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man, our Savior. Jesus alone is the One who died and the One who rose again winning our forgiveness and life with our Triune God forever and ever. Recognize Him in the Scriptures and with a repentant heat filled with faith, come this day and know Him again in the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup. Allow Him to fill you with His Spirit so that your hearts burn within you as He reveals Himself to us in His holy Word and blessed Sacrament. Amen.