The way…

The Road to Mombasa

The Road to Mombasa, which I took in 1988!

Today’s sermon.  Text Luke 24:13-35 (Year A, Easter 3)

Sometimes it’s helpful to think of life (and the Christian life in particular) as like a journey on foot.  For anybody that likes hill walking, this is not hard to imagine.  There will be times when the going is good, the sun is shining, the view is amazing, the ground is firm and we are warm and dry.  But as we all know, it’s not always this way.  Sometimes the ground is wet and hard going, it’s raining and there is no view because you are stuck in a bog in the middle of nowhere surrounded by fog – all you want to do is go home!  And of course we have highs and lows in our everyday lives as Christians – times when God seems very near and easy to talk to and times when He seems quiet, distant and very difficult to talk to.

It’s probably the latter that two of Jesus’ followers are feeling as they walk along the road to the village of Emmaus, about 11 Kilometres from Jerusalem.  This is still Easter Day, the same day that the women had met with the risen Lord Jesus and the same day that Peter and John had ran to the tomb, found it to be empty and wondered what on earth was going on.  So now in the latter part of the day a follower called Cleopas and another are walking away from Jerusalem discussing everything that had happened when all of a sudden a stranger comes alongside them and asks them what they are talking about.  In response, Cleopas turns to the stranger and says:

“Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”  (18b)

Then Cleopas goes on to tell the Stranger about Jesus of Nazareth and how He was a powerful prophet in both what he said and what he did and how the chief priests and rulers handed him over to be crucified.  Cleopas then says (you can almost hear the sadness in his voice at this point) about how they had hoped that Jesus was going to be the one who was going to set Israel free but alas it was three days ago now that he was killed.  But he hasn’t given up all hope yet because he continues by telling the stranger that that very morning some of the women in their group amazed them all by going to the tomb of Jesus and finding it empty and they talked about a vision of angels.  Then some others had gone also and found the tomb just as the women had said.

The Stranger listened to all of this and then said to Cleopas and his companion:

“Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!  Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then to enter into his glory?” (25, 26)

So then the stranger goes on to explain to them from the writings of the Old Testament about the Messiah.

Cleopas and his companion (possibly his wife, see John 19:25) are no doubt a bit confused by this stranger who has suddenly come up beside them on their journey.  Luke tells us that they were ‘looking sad’ (v.17)  After all, they were followers of Jesus and their Master, Friend and Teacher had been taken away from them like a common criminal and cruelly executed.  They couldn’t face staying in Jerusalem with the others any longer, they had to get out and go home to Emmaus.  It was too much to be able to cope with.  Were they running away?  Did they think their lives were in danger for being followers of Jesus?  Perhaps, or maybe they thought they would go home, away from Jerusalem in order to rethink and get some rest before they decided what to do next.

However, their confusion wasn’t to last much longer.  Things began to become clearer as this Stranger went through the Scriptures with them.  There are so many Old Testament passages that talk about the Messiah and the nature of His mission that we cannot go into them in any detail, but here’s perhaps some of the texts that Cleopas and his companion heard explained to them:  The promised offspring who would crush Satan in Genesis 3:15, the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, the pierced one in Zechariah 12:10 and the Messanger of the covenant in Malachi 3:1.  There are of course many more passages throughout the Old Testament, more than enough to explain about who the Lord Jesus is and what He came to do.

So the Bible study is cut short as they arrive at the village of Emmaus.  The Stranger acts as if he is going further, but Cleopas and his companion are very impressed and want to hear more of what he has to say, so with the Sun beginning to set they urge the Stranger to come and stay with them.  No doubt their conversation about the Scriptures is continuing over their meal when all of a sudden they notice the Stranger taking a loaf of bread, giving thanks for it, breaking it and passing the pieces to them.  You can imagine the mixture of emotions can’t you?  Shock, bewilderment, fear, guilt, love, but above all excitement.  It’s Jesus!  All along it was Jesus who had met them on the road, Jesus who had been explaining the Scriptures to them and now it was Jesus who they were eating with!  I’m sure they just wanted to jump up and down and shout and sing their praises and fall at the feet of their guest and worship Him.  But before they can do any of this He disappears!

They look at each other in astonishment and say to each other:

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the Scriptures to us?” (32b)

Just a few hours before they had been explaining to a Stranger about how sad and confused they were.  The Stranger had ministered to them firstly through God’s word and then through the breaking of bread.  As God had revealed Himself to them through His Word and through His Son their hearts and lives had been transformed from despair and confusion to utter joy and excitement.

Even though they are 11 kilometres away from Jerusalem and it is dark they cannot keep their excitement to themselves any longer.  They get up at once and ‘hot foot it’ back to the house in Jerusalem where the disciples are staying.  Even though they have travelled on this same road just a few hours before, their journey this time is very different.  Now they are travelling in the opposite direction (and not just in a physical sense).  On their journey out, they had been sad and confused and their feet had felt heavy along with their hearts.  Now they are full of joy, there is a spring in their step and they can’t wait to get back to the disciples’ to tell them what had happened.  They have done a complete U-turn from a state of sadness and ignorance to one of joy and understanding.

And so it is for us also.  Before we encounter the risen Lord Jesus, we are wandering around in a state of spiritual sadness and confusion.  The purpose and meaning of life is not clear.  Just as Cleopas and his companion were walking away from Jerusalem, where they should have been, before we encounter Jesus we are walking in the opposite direction from that which we are meant to be travelling.  But then Jesus meets us – do we listen to Him and what He has to say?  Do we invite Him in to our hearts and lives?  Do our hearts burn within us as we listen to God’s Word?  Do we repent and turn around and walk in the right direction?  Do we long to tell others what we have learnt and experienced?

Yes, life is a journey, but only Jesus provides a map that makes any sense of it all.  Let us then let Him walk with us and show us the way.  Let’s stop trying to take our own paths thinking we know best.  Let’s listen to Him, and follow always, Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Amen.

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