Sermon for April 23, 2023, Third Sunday of Easter

Luke 24:13-35 (Third Sunday of Easter—Series A)

“Recognizing Jesus”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

April 23, 2023

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text is the Gospel Reading recorded in Luke 24:

13And behold, two of them, on the same day, were traveling to a village seven miles away from Jerusalem named Emmaus, 14and they continued to talk to one another about all the things that had happened. 15And it happened that while they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself drew near and traveled with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing Him. 17And He said to them, “What were you discussing with one another as you walked along?” And they stood still, looking gloomy. 18And one named Cleopas answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting in Jerusalem and you do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19And He said to them, “What things?” And they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a man, a prophet powerful in word and deed before God and all the people, 20and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the judgment of death, and they crucified Him. 21But we had hoped that He was the One who was about to redeem Israel; but along with all of this, today is the third day since these things happened. 22But also some of our women astounded us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23and when they did not find his body, they came saying that they had seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. And some of those with us went away to the tomb and they found it so, just as the women had said, but Him they did not see.” 25And He Himself said to them, “O foolish ones and slow in your heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. 26Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” 27And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. 28And they drew near to the village where they were traveling, but He acted as if He were traveling farther. 29And they strongly urged Him, saying, “Stay with us, because it is toward evening and the day is already far spent.” And He entered to stay with them. 30And it happened while He was reclining at table with them, when He took the bread, He blessed it, and breaking it, He gave it to them, 31and their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He disappeared from their sight. 32And they said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us as He spoke to us on the road, as He opened to us the Scriptures?” 33And they rose and returned to Jerusalem that very hour and they found the eleven gathered together and those with them, 34saying, “The Lord has risen indeed and He has appeared to Simon.” 35And they began to tell what had happened on the road and how He was made 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. It’s probable that these disciples of Jesus were part of the seventy that Jesus had sent out earlier in His ministry. Naturally, the conversation between these two was about what had happened to their Lord and Master during His arrest, trial, crucifixion, and now the mystery of that day’s morning when the women didn’t find Jesus’ 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, about seven miles, a couple hours’ walk, from Jerusalem. Could they ever make sense of what had happened to the One that they hoped would redeem Israel?

          Then something unique happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus drew near and traveled with them. But 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 ESV). Later, 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 this Easter evening appearance of Jesus to the two disciples on the Emmaus Road was different. The Lord kept them from recognizing Him.

          Certainly, this begs the question: “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 in the Gospel Reading the promise of Jesus to St. Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” After Jesus’ 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. 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 two 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 from Moses and from 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! Led 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 ESV) and having Jesus explain how 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, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2 ESV).”

Imagine hearing Jesus talking about Himself as the Suffering Servant from the Book of Isaiah, having fulfilled just fulfilled these things: “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 might have reminded them also 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” (Psalm 16:8-11).

There are just so many passages that we could look at and see how Jesus 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 Jesus revealed to the disciples on the road so that they might recognize Jesus as the Messiah-Savior, not because they saw Him risen from the dead, but because the Word of God promised and guarantees that Jesus is risen from the dead.

And then came dinner that evening, maybe at an Emmaus inn. “And it happened while He was reclining at table with them, when He took the bread, He blessed it, and breaking it, He gave it to them, and their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He disappeared 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 or the feeding of the 4000. 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 first revealed Himself to them in the Scriptures and then became known to them in the breaking of the bread.

This is also 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. He is the Crucified and Risen One! It was indeed necessary that He suffer and die on the cross in full payment for our sins. It was 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 and Blood, once crucified and shed, in, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion. He comes with His now risen Body and Blood giving forgiveness and abundant life to us, 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 forgiveness and life with our Triune God forever and ever. Recognize Him with joy in the Scriptures and, with a repentant heart filled with faith, come this day and know Him again in the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup. He fills you with His Spirit so that your hearts burn within you as He reveals Himself to you in His holy Word and blessed Sacrament. Amen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s