Some events really do change everything. Just after my wife graduated from college but more than three weeks before our marriage, we went to sign the lease on what would be our new apartment. I moved in June 1, and then Beth moved in after our honeymoon. I remember sitting in the leasing office very naively thinking how strange it was for the apartment complex to be leasing an apartment to two people who weren’t married. I felt like I should explain to them that we weren’t going to be “living in sin” together before our upcoming wedding.
Fast forward three-and-a-half weeks or so. … On our wedding night, we arrived to check into our hotel room for the night. I introduced Beth as “my wife,” which made us both giggle and blush a bit. Then the attendant escorted us down the hall to our room as husband and wife. Regardless of current cultural standards, we knew something as we walked down that hall together: Our wedding had changed everything! Today, almost 15 years and three children later, our lives are radically different than what they would have been had our wedding never happened.
In Luke 24, we meet two disciples who are walking together. Their emotional state was the exact opposite of how Beth and I felt walking down that hotel hallway. They were crushed, devastated, disappointed, and disillusioned. On the road to Emmaus, we see in these two disciples a picture of what would have become of the church without the Resurrection.
We know one of them was named Cleopas. We do not know the other disciple’s name, but we know they were walking sadly on that seven-mile journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. When Jesus Himself came alongside them and started walking with them, they did not recognize Him. They were not expecting to see Him, and it had not entered their minds that this man could be their Master.
Jesus, as a Master Teacher, effectively drew out His disciples’ understanding of what had happened and of who He is. He asked, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?”
“And they stood still, looking sad.” I love Luke’s attention to detail in his narrative. “Then … Cleopas answered him, ‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’” This very question shows how thoroughly unaware they were of the identity of their new guest!
Then Jesus asked them to explain (“what things?”), and their response showed exactly what would have become of the Christian faith without the Resurrection: “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.”
Notice how they identify Jesus: a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people. This view of Jesus is pretty close to the Muslim view of Jesus and is actually lower than the view of Jesus held by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Without the Resurrection, these disciples cannot say anything more about Jesus than this. He was a man. While He was a mighty prophet and did miraculous deeds and spoke powerful things, He came to a bitter end, and the hope they had was now in the past.
It is remarkable to note that these disciples had heard the Resurrection account from the women who visited the tomb. Even though the women had told them about the angels and their message (see vv. 22-24), these men still did not believe, and they walked home together dejected and defeated.
Jesus then rebuked the men, not for not believing the women who visited the tomb, which is what we might expect Him to say, but rather for being “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” It was their ignorance of Scripture and their lack of faith in God’s Word that was the true source of their despair and their desertion of their fellow disciples in Jerusalem.
And so Jesus did not address their need by revealing Himself to them, not at first. The first thing He did was open the Scriptures to them. As they walked together, perhaps for five miles or more, Jesus began “with Moses and all the prophets,” and “he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Can you imagine being part of that Bible study? Oh, how I wish I could have been there for that!
Yet the disciples still did not recognize Jesus, even after the extended redemptive-historical, Christ-centered Bible study. No, Christ did not open their eyes until He had broken bread with them; as they recalled later in their account to the other disciples, “he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.” It was at the table, as Jesus “took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them” that “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”
From this remarkable Resurrection account, we can learn at least three things:
The historical reality of the Resurrection of Jesus and His appearance to His disciples is the only sufficient cause to explain the rise of the Christian faith in the world.
Faithful Jewish men don’t just start worshipping dead prophets and calling others to repent and believe in them, too. Had Jesus not risen from the dead and appeared to His disciples, He would have been remembered only as a martyr, a remarkable prophet who met an untimely end and nothing more. The Resurrection is real and really did make all the difference to the disciples of Jesus.
We need a comprehensive, Christ-centered knowledge of Scripture.
In other words, we need to see and believe in the Gospel as it is present on every page of Scripture. Jesus made it clear by His rebuke of these disciples that their low view of Him and their lack of hope came from the fact that they did not know the Scriptures well enough and that they did not believe all that the Scriptures do say.
Selective knowledge robs us of our hope because it keeps us from seeing the One whom the Scriptures are all about — Jesus — and God’s true plan for redeeming us and His fallen world.
Selective knowledge of and faith in the Bible is very dangerous; it robs us of our hope because it keeps us from seeing the One whom the Scriptures are all about — Jesus — and God’s true plan for redeeming us and His fallen world through Christ. If you read the Bible only sporadically or if you search its pages only for practical advice for life or precious promises you can claim, you will be robbed of a strong and lasting hope because you will miss Jesus or, if you see Jesus, your vision of Him will be very narrow or shallow.
We need a comprehensive plan for reading and studying the Bible, and we need to be committed to this discipline for life. We need to read broadly, deeply, and with sound guidance — broadly to get the scope of the story of the Bible, deeply to understand individual books of the Bible well, and with sound guidance that will help us draw out the meaning accurately and see Christ more fully in all of the Scriptures.
We need the Sacraments along with the Word
Jesus first taught the Word and then broke the bread. By the end of this day, these two disciples had their eyes opened to see Jesus for who He really is in the two ways He revealed Himself to them:
A. He warmed their hearts through teaching the Scripture. “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
B. He opened their eyes in the breaking of the bread. That’s how this passage ends, with the men reporting “how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
God uses ordinary means to communicate extraordinary saving grace: the Word and the sacraments. In the Bible and in the broken bread of the Lord’s Supper, Christ warms our hearts and shows Himself to us.
Look for Jesus in the Bible. Look for Him in the gathered worship of His people as His Word is proclaimed and explained. Look for Him at the Lord’s Table.
If we will not find Christ in His word and at His table, the Lord’s Supper, then we will not find Him. Some seek out extraordinary experiences of Christ in miracles, dreams, visions, etc. Some have even said that if only they could’ve been there and seen Him perform the miracles, they would know Him, and they would believe. But how did Jesus reveal Himself to these disciples? First in the Bible and then in the breaking of the bread. The Pharisees and scribes saw all of Jesus’ miracles and rejected Him, because they did not see Him in the Scriptures.
Look for Jesus in the Bible. Look for Him in the gathered worship of His people as His Word is proclaimed and explained. Look for Him at the Lord’s Table. When you seek Christ in the word and sacraments, you will find Him, and He will nourish your souls with Himself.
Jason Van Bemmel is the pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Cheraw, S.C.