It was Sunday afternoon when they managed to get on the road to Emmaus. They had come to Jerusalem for the Passover and were swept into the frenzy of events that had marked the sacred festival. Jesus was dead. They had been present for the entire sordid nightmare surrounding his death. Jerusalem was shaken in its wake and so were they. They had followed Jesus’ ministry over the past three and a half years, they considered themselves his disciples but nothing had prepared them for his death.
They had hoped that he would be the one to save them from the galling yoke of their Roman oppressors. instead, he had succumbed to their brutality and breathed his last on a Roman cross. As far as their overlords were concerned Jesus was just another dead Jew. He wasn’t the first and he certainly wouldn’t be the last.
Yet the two disciples that made their way home to Emmaus on that Sunday afternoon struggled to accept this. They had believed that he was more. So much more. They had believed that He was the Messiah. The Son of God. The one who would save them. But he hadn’t been able to save himself and so what hope was there that he would ever save them?
Dejected and confused they trudged along the road until they were joined by a stranger. Mired in grief they didn’t spare him a second look but continued their conversation. The stranger listened closely as they poured out their disappointment and despondency, giving voice to their shattered hopes. Finally, perhaps during a lull in the conversation, he asked them why they were so sad.
One of them, Cleopas by name, looked at him in shock. How could he not know? Was he the only man in Jerusalem who hadn’t heard of what had happened? Cleopas proceeded to enlighten the ignorant stranger about Jesus and his crucifixion ending with the stark words “We trusted that it had been he which would have redeemed Israel”
Their words are an echo of our own disappointed hopes and dreams. All the times we prayed asking God to provide or intervene or deliver or guide only to have our prayers go unanswered. Moments in our lives when it seemed that God had forsaken us.
And yet nothing could be further from the truth
The stranger listened to their tale of woe and then he took the lead. Beginning with Moses and the prophets, he gave them a Bible study on exactly who the Messiah was and what His mission was supposed to be. He helped them to understand that the work of the Messiah was not breaking the yoke of Rome but breaking the yoke of sin and death. It was not the purpose of God’s son to establish an earthly Kingdom but rather to plant the seeds of a heavenly kingdom in the hearts of all those who claimed to be his followers.
The Messiah was not a conqueror set on slaying his enemies. He was a servant, set on seeking and saving the lost.
When they got to Emmaus the shadows of night had fallen and the stranger who had accompanied them and preached to them prepared to continue his journey. But the two disciples persuaded him to join them for a meal and perhaps more conversation. As they sat down to eat in the dim light of the candles the disciples still could not discern the identity of the stranger who sat before them until he did something distinctive.
He took the bread that was laid out on the table, blessed it and broke it. Dumbfounded the disciples recognised the familiar gesture and saw the nail scars on his hands. As the realisation dawned that they were sitting in the presence of Jesus, he vanished from their sight.
Alternating between shock and joy, the two disciples left their food and hightailed it all the way back to Jerusalem to tell the others what they have just seen and heard. As they were excitedly relating what had happened Jesus appeared to them all, holding out his hands and feet as clear evidence of his identity. He then proceeded to eat with them and spend time in fellowship with them.
They all needed that meeting. Drowning in doubt, confusion and fear the disciples had no sense of direction. Jesus was dead and all their hopes seemed to have died with Him. Yet here he was now, standing before them, alive and scarred. The scars proved that he had died. The fact that he was alive proved that he had conquered death.
His presence in their midst proved that their greatest disappointment had merely been a stepping stone to their greatest appointment. From the ashes of their despair was born the certainty of their calling. Jesus was alive. They needed to tell the world.
When you choose to follow Jesus, there will be moments when he leads you down a path that seems shadowed and fraught with uncertainty. You might be tempted to doubt if God is leading you. If he truly hears your prayers. If he will ever answer. But the story of the road to Emmaus teaches us a few important lessons.
First; in your darkest moments when you think you’re walking alone, you can be sure you’re not. Jesus is on that road with you even though in your disappointment and pain you might not recognize his presence.
Second; God never wastes our pain. Our greatest disappointments can turn out to be our most meaningful appointments. When you give your life to Jesus, you can be sure that your life will not be in vain. Your faith will not be fruitless.
When Jesus vanished from their sight at the dinner table, the two shocked disciples looked at each other “and they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?”
When we spend time in Jesus' presence, studying his word, opening our hearts in prayer, and listening for the voice of his spirit our bruised and disappointed hearts can find certainty. Our despair can find hope. The safest place for us to be, when trials roil around us or when life throws big decisions our way is at the feet of Jesus. It is then that we can experience a burning in our hearts that shows us clearly what we should do and where we should go.