While the turning seasons and longer days do much to lighten the mood, we have a long way to go before we emerge from our Coronavirus crisis. And, as I talk with different ones of you, I feel your strain from social isolation, your struggle for purpose in life, and your stress from financial burdens.
All this makes for a great time to return to our study of Luke where—after our Easter Sunday study in 24.1-12—Jesus is alive! Even so, in our gospel account, nobody has seen Jesus. Luke is crafting a cliffhanger, and by verse 12 of chapter 24, we’re left to wonder what difference resurrection makes, how Jesus will reveal Himself, and even how Jesus’ new life will affect our present purpose and place with God some millennia later.
Luke 24.13-35 finds two men walking to an unimportant village named Emmaus. On the surface the passage is about a walk, a conversation, a meal, and a community. But it’s about far more than that. We’re about to rediscover our present purpose and place with God. We’re about to trace the different stages in which we become acquainted with resurrection life.
Jesus unrecognized (:13-16). The passage opens with two men walking the three and a-half miles to Emmaus (the distance taken as a round number). They’re in intense discussion about Jesus. Suddenly, Jesus joins them. Only they don’t recognize Him. There’s something about resurrection life that we in our fallen state can’t grasp without help. (So Mary in John 20, the disciples in John 21). Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable (1 Cor 15.50).
Even so, none of us starts out recognizing Jesus. We have our notions of Jesus, don’t we? He’s an historical or religious figure, an idea, or a real person whom others have used to manipulate or shame us. But He’s anything but the risen Savior … when we start out.
Jesus revealed in Scripture (:17-27). Next follows the conversation. Jesus, unrecognized in His resurrection state, draws the men out. He wants to know what they’re discussing. At first they “stood still, looking sad”. They’re crestfallen, disappointed in their purpose, disillusioned about God’s plan and their proper place with Him.
Then one of the men, Cleopas by name, wants to know how his new companion couldn’t know about Jesus. Jesus draws the men out further. And Cleopas unloads with his account of recent events. In this description we see Jesus described as a great leader on par (it was hoped) with Moses. Jesus was thought to be a prophet “mighty in word and deed”. It was hoped He would redeem Israel. But Jesus was killed, and now confounds everyone in the disappearance of His body, as reported by otherwise trustworthy women known to the two men.
And it’s in Jesus’ response to the men in verses 15-17 that we learn what the men (and us, if we’re honest) are missing. There’s suffering before glory. Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? (:26). And then Jesus starts from the beginning of what we’d call the Old Testament, and he interprets the entire Bible, showing the men how all of it pointed to Him, and can’t be made sense of without His work on the cross.
Like the two men, many of us grow in our understanding of Jesus but then somehow miss the cross. This won’t work. We’ll be disappointed in Jesus. We’ll blame Him for not being the Savior we’d expected. So it was with the men. And—crazy thing, even after hearing this first preaching of the gospel from Jesus Himself—they still haven’t recognized Jesus!
Jesus recognized in relationship (:28-32). Now the men invite Jesus home to lodge. They share a meal. And it’s in the act of being served by Jesus that they’re no longer “kept from” recognizing Jesus. They suddenly know Him in His resurrection body, just before Jesus vanishes. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him (:31a). The same language of “opening” is used twice more in the passage (verses 32 and 45) to describe Jesus revealing Himself to others in the Scriptures.
What do we gather from this about seeing Jesus? About resurrection life? The lesson is complex and profound. We know we can’t recognize Jesus without help. And, apparently, the bare facts of the gospel as recorded in Scripture don’t change us. There’s a work of God that needs to take place for our eyes to be “opened”. For the men, this work took place face-to-face with Jesus. But Jesus had talked about the Spirit’s future work (Jn 14.26, among other places). And Paul would later describe how God’s Spirit would interpret the Scriptures for us: Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given to us by God … (1 Cor 2.12a).
To really “recognize” Jesus we need the calling of God through His Spirit. This will take place entirely by God’s grace as we hear the gospel through God’s Word. And, when we respond by faith, we understand spiritual things—who Jesus is, the importance of the cross, our purpose in life, our place with God, and God’s purpose in the suffering of Jesus, as well as God’s purpose in our suffering.
Jesus revered by others (:33-35). It might seem at this point that the passage is over. But the men return to Jerusalem, and they join others who are celebrating the risen Lord. And, before they can tell their own story, they learn that Peter has seen Jesus too! God has provided a community for the men. They’ll share their experience of the risen Lord. They’ll proclaim the gospel together. They’ll study Scripture together. And they’ll be transformed by the Spirit and share resurrection life together. Even more, they now have a renewed purpose as they understand God’s plan for them. And they’ll share suffering with one another before entering into glory, even as Jesus did.
In the same way, we receive a new community when we trust Jesus. We’ll share resurrection life with others. This new life starts spiritually when we trust in Jesus and will be completed when we’re with Him at His return. As we go we’ll remember that Jesus is finished with His suffering, but we aren’t quite finished with ours. We’ll have opportunity to contend for the faith along with our new community, even as Paul did: Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church (Col 1.24).
So, here we are in our final month of the “sheltered in place” directive. I would venture that we struggle because we don’t really understand the place of suffering in resurrection life. Like the men on the road, we need to “recognize” Jesus and understand the place of suffering in relation to glory. With this comes a new appreciation for God’s purpose in our own suffering. Rather than view our present crisis as something to be gotten through, we need to see the Coronavirus as something God is using to prepare His church for Jesus. Cross first, then glory. Spiritual life with Jesus now, glory at Jesus’ return.
When we meet Jesus in the Scriptures and receive the promised help of the Spirit we have our eyes opened in this way. We recognize Jesus in all His past suffering and present glory. And, in our present situation, we see—along with Jesus’ companions in Luke 24— that resurrection life restores our purpose and place in Jesus.
How’s that for some encouragement as you shelter in place a little while longer?
Now, have a great week in the Lord, and we’ll “be seen by you” tomorrow.