Recognizing Jesus

Luke 24:13-35

We call Matthew, Mark, and Luke the Synoptic gospels, because they see with a single-optic, a single eye. Mark is primary because both Matthew and Luke follow him, and when one departs from his order the other follows it. Matthew and Luke also incorporate common material from a sayings source, and Matthew and Luke each has special unique material. The story of about two disciples meeting the Risen Jesus on the Road to Emmaus is unique to Luke. The gospels were not written down until the first generation witnesses, like Peter, and James, and the man we called Cleopas started to die out. During that time, the stories in the gospels were passed on orally, from person to person, often in public worship. Here is the story.

13   That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and 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 which 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, 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 this happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning 23 and did not find his body; and 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 men, 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 appeared to be going further, 29 but they constrained him, 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 out of 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 gathered together and those who were with them, 34 who said, “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.

Then, I have no doubt, the early church would have shared the Holy Communion, in the faith that Jesus could still reveal himself, in the breaking of the bread, and in the sharing of the wine.

This text is filled with things worthy of comment, I would single out four.

First, Verse 13 tells us that there were two disciples who made the walk to Emmaus, but the text mentions the name of only one, Cleopas. The name Cleopas appears nowhere else in the text of the New Testament. However, there is a man named Clopas who is mentioned in John 19:25. He is the husband of a woman named Mary, who was the sister of Mary the Mother of Jesus. These two Mary’s were with Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross when Jesus was killed. Can you imagine a woman who knew all three introducing them in better times: “This is my friend Mary, and my other friend Mary, and my other friend Mary.” It sounds like an episode of the Bob Newheart Show!

The plot thickens. Writing in the middle of the second Christian century, a church father by the name of Papias, tells us that Cleopas was also known as Alphaeus. That is interesting because the gospels identify two of the twelve disciples as James the Son of Alphaeus and Levi the son of Alphaeus. The plot thickens yet again. The 4th century historian, Bishop Eusebius quotes, a 2nd century source named Hege-sip-pus who said that he had interview the grandsons of Jude the Apostle (who may have been Jude the Brother of James and Jesus {Jude 11.1}), and learned from him that Cleopas was the brother of Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary. I am quite sure that all these family connections gave rise to the saying since heard over the last two millennia by many new members in many churches, “Don’t say anything about anybody in this church, because everybody is related to everybody else.”

Second, not everyone who sees Jesus recognizes him, at least, not at first. Verse 16 says that when Jesus drew near the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” In this story, the disciples did not even recognize Jesus when he instructed them in the scriptures concerning himself as they walked along the way; but only after “he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

Few of us expect to see God. We know he is “Immortal invisible, God only wise in light inaccessible hid from our eyes.” And few of us expect to see the Risen Jesus in person. We know that the time of the apostles—the time of the eyewitnesses are over. The Apostle Paul said, “Last of all…he appeared unto me.” We don’t expect to see God, but we do want to see some evidence of God’s activity in our lives. In this regard, we are like the prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah 64 the prophet asked God to tear open the heavens and come down. Isaiah wanted to see God through Cause and Effect, as when fire causes wood to burn and water to boil. Often we look in vain for this evidence. That may be more our fault than God’s. John Bailey, author of “The Diary of Private Prayer,” says that we cry out for some fresh revelation of God, and it does not come, it is because we have failed to act on the revelation we already have. Jesus said the same thing. In John chapters 14 through 16 Jesus said that if we love him, we should keep his commandments. Then he gave his disciples a new commandment. He said that we should love one another as he loved us, that is sacrificially. Jesus then said that if we keep his commandments, then the Father will love us, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Father and he will come to us, and God will make his home with us. There is no two ways about it: Obedience is the best chance we have of seeing evidence of God in the world. Or, as the author of the Hebrews says, “Those who would draw near to God, must believe that he is and that he rewards those who seek him.”

Third, it is obvious from this text that Cleopas and his companion were slow on the uptake, as Jesus himself said, and they not very curious, either. According to the text they knew about the discovery of the empty tomb. They also knew about the vision of angels seen by the women; and they knew that certain of the disciples had investigated the empty tomb reported by the women. However, they did not know that Jesus had actually been seen, ALIVE. The two disciples who traveled the Road to Emmaus had heard the first half of the greatest story ever told, and then they had chosen to go about their business in Emmaus, before the second half of this earth shaking story had been fully reported.

There are two lessons here. I will call them A. and B.

A. There are some things in life that are worth a closer look. In 1899 a prospector in Nome Alaska found gold where no one had ever found it before, on a beach. Every time he dipped his pan in the sand and washed it out with sea water, he found gold, not just gold dust, but grains and nuggets of gold. He rushed to a tent he shared with his partners and told them about his find. They thought he was drunk and crazy. When he showed them a vial of gold nuggets he picked-up on the beach, they said, “Some miner lost his poke. That is what you found.” He persisted in his story, and just to shut him up, his partners went to the beach to look, sure they would prove him wrong. They ended up proving him right, and they all became very rich men, as did many other who learned from them.

The Bible says that faith in the risen Christ is more precious than fine gold. (1st Peter 1:7). As death draws near, even the richest people, come to understand this. When the California gold ship the SS Central America went down off the coast of North Carolina on September 3, 1857, her passengers threw away millions of dollars in gold, just so they could stay afloat a few seconds longer. At that gold was no better than ballast that would drag them to their deaths all the sooner.

The Bible preaches Jesus and the resurrection. Jesus spoke to the Jews saying,“You search the scriptures, because in them, you think you will find eternal life, and they are they that testify of me.” Not even the disciples saw this, until Jesus opened the scriptures to Cleopas and his companion. Of course, the New Testament is much easier to understand. Every line in the New Testament is written in the conviction that Jesus Christ was crucified, dead, and buried. Then, on the third day, rose from the dead. Of course, many people who read it dismiss its claims. “The women went to the wrong tomb,” they say. “After Jesus was crucified and killed, the disciples missed him so much, they fooled themselves into thinking him alive,” they say. Some people even say thate was a passover plot, and the disciples of Jesus stole the body of Jesus and lied about his resurrection. For 2000 years, the church has maintained that a careful study of the evidence gives a good hope. Each of the four gospels shed light on the Resurrection. And the earliest first-hand eyewitness testimony to the resurrection is found in one chapter of one of Paul’s epistles. This chapter is called “The Resurrection Chapter.” I wonder how many of you know it, and how many of you could show it to a friend. And that leads us to B.

B. Fortunately, God often looks after us even when we do not look after ourselves. Cleopas and the second disciple left the epicenter of Resurrection Central, but the Risen Jesus sought them out on the Road to Emmaus, and revealed himself to them there. He had a task for them. St. Luke tells a several similar stories. In Acts chapter 8, a man known as as the Ethiopian Eunuch, an Minister of the Candace (or Queen) of Ethiopia had been to Jerusalem seeking to learn more about the God of Israel, and what he was doing in the world. He missed the 11 o’clock service of the first church of Jerusalem, but God had a task for him. So God called upon a deacon of the church known as Philip to leave a revival he had started over in Samaria and go to him. Philip travel to the south to a road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza. The text says, “This is a desert road.” The road may have been in the middle of a desert but it was there Philip the Evangelist found the Ethiopian Eunuch and told him about Jesus. The Eunuch believed, and was baptized. He disappears from the pages of the New Testament; but reliable traditions says that he carried the gospel to Ethiopia, and became not only the first missionary to Africa, but the first Bishop of the Church he founded there. And you know the story of St. Paul as it is told in Acts chapter 9. How Paul was a persecutor of the church until the risen Christ appeared to him on the Road to Damascus and appointed him Apostle to the Gentiles. After that, it was said that Paul was preaching the very faith he once tried to destroy. It is pretty obvious that St. Luke believes in what we to call “election,” meaning, at the very least, that God has chosen some people to be his witnesses in the world, and God spares no effort in bringing these people into his service.

The remarkable thing is that even when these people mess up, God manages to get them where God need them to be. Take Abraham for instance. God called him to leave his country and his kindred, and his father’s house, to go to the land of promise. It was God’s goal to make Abraham the Patriarch of a great nation, Israel, and the father of all who have faith, Jews and Gentiles alike. When Abraham went to Egypt, he played false with God and man. He told Pharaoh that his beautiful wife then known as Sarai, was his sister. Pharaoh fell for her, and took her into his household. However, before he could commit adultery with her, God stepped in an punished—him. (Genesis 12:17) God had a plan for Abraham, and even Abraham’s failures could not thwart it.

Have you ever stopped to think that God might have a plan for you? “I am too old,” you say. That excuse did not work with Abraham! Nor did God accept the excuse of Timothy or Jeremiah that they were too young. Moses protested that he was no public speaker, but God gave him Aaron to be his mouth piece, until he became the greatest Prophet of all, except for Jesus himself. Just think, God may have a plan for you! If God has a plan for you, then the best part of your life may lie in the future, not the past. I was reminded of this one day last week when I was in my mother’s house. I found a sign in the kitchen that read.

“Often we stand at life’s crossroads, and view what we think is the end; but God has a much bigger vision, and he tells us it’s only a bend.”

Fourth, it is obvious that after his resurrection Jesus is (did you notice I said “is”) more special than ever. After making himself known to Cleopas and his friend in the breaking of the bread, Jesus vanished from their sight. Later, in this same chapter, the risen Jesus suddenly appears before his disciples. In John 20, he appears to the disciple even though they are hiding behind lock doors. There are two points that need to be made here. Let me me again call them A and B.

A. Jesus is now more than a mortal man. He vanishes and appears at will. It may sound silly, but when I read these text I am always reminded of the transporter used by Captain Kirk and Dr. Spock on the Starship Enterprise. Or, better yet, I am reminded of what scientist call string theory. When you and I look at the world we are conscious of three dimensions, height and width and depth, and a fourth dimension time. String theory suggest there may be 10 dimensions, or 11 dimensions, or twenty dimensions. In New Testament times people thought that the universe had three stories. Heaven was up there, and earth was, well, right here, and hell was, well, down there. We know better, now. If string theory is correct, it may be that heaven exist right alongside us, in another dimension, if only we had the eyes to see it. And it may be, that those who dwell there, may have the power to look back and see us even if we cannot see them. If you think I am crazy, talking like this, you should listen to Stephen Hawking talk about space and time.

B. Jesus is more than a man, but he is still a man. In this story Jesus sits at table, and he breaks bread. Later in this same chapter he invites his disciples to handle him. Then he asks his disciples if they have anything to eat, and they gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he ate it before them. In the very last verses of Luke’s gospel, Jesus lifts his humanity into heaven, and in Acts chapter 1, the event is set forth a second time, and an angel promises that he will “come again in the same way he ascended into heaven.” Not on a cloud, but in a glorified human body. Did you get that? Jesus has lifted our humanity into heaven. He is the first fruits, we are the harvest. His present is our future.

So, what are we to do? Are we to sit around and wait for the resurrection? Are we to be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good? No, I think those of us who believe that Jesus lives should busy ourselves looking for him. There are several ways we encounter him.

We encounter Jesus in worship. In the gospels the risen Christ is known to the disciples in the breaking of the bread, in communion. Karl Barth said if the word of God is faithfully proclaimed, then God will make himself know. Stanley Jones says, we come to the words of scripture, and we out of the words, emerges the Word, Jesus himself.

And, as crazy as it sounds. We can see Jesus in one another. There is a sign affixed to the back of the pulpit at Litiz Moravian Church that only the preacher can read, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” It would be fitting if there were a second sign placed on the front of the pulpit. “Ladies, Gentlemen, I would see Jesus, too.” We are not all called to preach, but we are all called to be witnesses for Christ. My dad used to say, “I just want to be a witness.” So I put Acts 1:8 on his tombstone. Therein, Jesus says to his disciples,” You will by my witnesses.” My mother used to say, “The Only Christ the world will see is the Christ it sees in you and me.” We see Christ in one another.

Finally, In his book about Jesus entitled, “Perfect Everything,” a professor from Georgia named Rufus Mosely writes that when he was seeking Jesus, he was told to “look for him at the bottom of human need.” He went to Georgia’s death row, and found Jesus as he ministered to men waiting to be put to death by the state. He said, in that horrible place, he recognized the presence of Jesus. In Matthew 25 Jesus says that when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, or visit the prisoner, we are doing it unto him. And when we fail to do it, we fail to do it to him. You may recall that Cleopas and his companion did not reognize Jesus until he choose to reveal himself to them. It is my prayer that each of us will look for Jesus, and know him when we see him. You can do that as you give blood, or as you keep the homeless company at City with Dwellings, or serve the hungry at Sunnyside Ministry. More and more I am convinced that those who wish to recognized Jesus will not confine our search just to church and worship, but we will look for him “out there” where the need is great.

Finis

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