There are lots of reasons that people struggle with Christianity. I talk to lots of people who have all kinds of objections. How could a loving God send people to hell? If God is good and powerful, why is there so much evil in the world? Doesn’t science disprove Christianity? How can Christianity claim to be universal truth? And why are Christians such hypocrites?
These are important questions, and they need to be answered. But although they are important, they are not the most important question about Christianity. The main question we have to answer is: Did Jesus really rise from the dead? If he did, then that’s enough to change our worlds and sideline all the secondary issues. If Jesus rose from the dead, then we have to accept all that he said. But if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then who cares about any of the other issues about Christianity? The issue upon which everything hangs is whether or not Jesus rose from the dead. If he did, it changes everything. If he didn’t, then you don’t have to worry about the rest. We can live our lives however we want without worrying what the Bible says.
So today, we really have to pay attention to what the Bible says happened that first Easter Sunday. The resurrection is the ultimate vindication of who Jesus is and everything that he said. The resurrection, if true, means that there is a God, and that he as acted in history. It means that we no longer have to be afraid of anything. If Jesus did rise from the dead, it changes everything. So a lot rides on what really happened.
But we have to be honest. It’s not so easy to believe in a resurrection. And it’s exactly here that today’s passage is going to help us. What this passage tells us is that it wasn’t so easy to believe in a resurrection then either. In fact, some of us are going to really relate to the two people that we encounter in this passage.
So what I want to look at this morning is simply three things: first, at our doubts about the resurrection; secondly, at how these doubts can be resolved; and finally, the difference that it makes.
Let’s first look at our doubts about the resurrection.
We sometimes have the crazy view that we are modern, scientific people, and therefore we are a lot more levelheaded than anyone else who’s lived before us. C.S. Lewis called this chronological snobbery: the belief that the thinking of an earlier time is inherently inferior when compared to that of the present. But one of the things I love about Scripture is that there is every bit as much skepticism about the resurrection as there is today. It isn’t just modern, scientific people who struggle with the idea of resurrections. The people in Scripture struggled every bit as much as we do today. They had the same doubts about the resurrection that we do.
There were dozens of accounts of what are called post-resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ. But out of all the ones that Luke could have chosen to describe, Luke chooses three. And what all three have in common is disbelief. They know something has happened, but they are having a hard time making all the pieces fit. And they are certainly not ready to just believe that Jesus has risen from the dead. It’s as hard for them to accept as it is for the most skeptical person here this morning. And these are his followers, his disciples!
So in verse 14 we meet two of his disciples. We learn later, in verse 18, that one of them is named Cleopas. We have no idea who the other person is, although some guess that it could have been his wife. If you’re the skeptical type, you’ve got to pause here and ask why Luke mentions the name Cleopas. There’s no real need for him to be named. There’s an answer that really helps me. This was a rare name, and it’s so rare that Luke is essentially giving us a footnote, so that the original readers can check the original source and verify the story. If you lived in Luke’s day, and you wanted to, you could look up Cleopas yourself and verify that what Luke wrote was true.
So we get to verses 13 and 14, and we see that these two are walking to a place called Emmaus, and while they’re traveling they’re discussing all that happened in Jerusalem that Passover weekend. We learn what they were discussing in verses 20 to 24: about the crucifixion of Jesus; how their hopes had been shattered; how they had heard of the empty tomb, but were having a hard time coming up with a logical explanation for it. Again, we have to stop and recognize that this was big news. They said in verse 18 to this stranger who walks with them: “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” This was not something that a small group of people knew about. The crucifixion and even the empty tomb were big news, so much so that some 25 years later, the apostle Paul could stand before King Agrippa, the ruler over the temple in Jerusalem, and say, “The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:26). Agrippa didn’t deny that he knew. He actually made an attempt at a joke to try to change the subject. And this was 25 years later. People knew the basic facts; the challenge was how to make sense of them.
So as you read about these two disciples who were on their way to Emmaus, you see that they’re trying to make sense of things too. They were shattered. Even though they had heard about the empty tomb, they couldn’t explain it. Don’t miss the fact that they’re leaving Jerusalem; they’re not sticking around with any sort of hope that something world-changing has happened. They’re going home. Verse 15 says that they’re talking and discussing. There’s a bit of a debate going on. They’re trying to make sense of everything that’s happened.
I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed before, but when this stranger appears and asks them what they’re talking about, verse 17 says, “They stood still, their faces downcast.” They’re not having a discussion like we have about how Cito is doing as manager, or what the Leafs need to do to rebuild. This is something that’s really hit them. They had hopes for this Jesus, and their hopes had been crushed. And even though they had heard about the empty tomb, they weren’t ready to believe that this could mean Jesus was alive again. They had doubts. They couldn’t make sense of it all.
I think it’s significant that Luke chose three stories about the resurrection, and all of them are about doubt. The Bible is not sentimental at all. It’s not telling us some fairy tale that we’re expected to just swallow, or some story that is not literally true but that warms our hearts. What it’s saying is that it is hard to believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ actually happened. If you find it hard to swallow, you’re in pretty good company. So did everyone else who heard the news that Easter morning.
But something happened to change their doubts. So let’s look at that. We’ve seen their doubts.
Now secondly, let’s look at how these doubts were resolved.
Now everybody is different, and the fact that we have three stories here means that there is going to be more than one way to respond. It means that our stories are going to be different. But out of the three accounts, this one just may be the most meaningful to us today. What happened in the other two accounts will never happen to us. We’ll never stand by the empty tomb and see angels. We’ll never see the resurrected Jesus suddenly appear in a room with us like the disciples did. But what happened to these two followers can, in some sense, happen to us today.
So what happened that moved them from disillusionment and doubt to belief? Jesus appeared to them on the road, even though they didn’t recognize him. That’s the part that won’t happen to us today. But two things happened with these disciples that moved them from disillusionment to belief and joy, and these same two things can and do happen today. In fact, it’s my prayer that they will happen this morning.
First, they came to a new understanding of Scripture. You know, these two disciples had the same problem that we do. They read the Bible, and they had formed certain beliefs about the Messiah. Jesus had fit their beliefs until he died. Their problem is that they had read selectively, but they had never understood fully who the Messiah was going to be and what he was going to do. They didn’t have a category for a suffering Messiah. This is why Jesus said to them in verses 25 and 26, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”
Aren’t you glad that we’re better than they were? Actually, we’re not. One of our problems is that most of us have read the Scriptures, and we’ve found the parts that we like about Jesus, but then we leave out the rest. We have this tendency to domesticate Jesus, and the problem is that Jesus doesn’t fit the boxes that we try to fit him into.
So Jesus does something that helps these two, and it can help us as well. Verse 27 says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Jesus helped them see that the whole Bible, from start to finish, is about him. The storyline of all of Scripture – indeed, all of history – converge in Jesus Christ. Every page of the Bible is about him – not just the explicit prophecies, but much more. The historical patterns, the promises, symbols, blessings and curses, the pictures of salvation, the shadows and types, the ceremonies – all of them point to Jesus. He’s on every page of every Scripture.
So Jesus that day may have covered some of what we’ve been covering. He may have talked about Abraham, who led his son up Mount Moriah to die, just as God led his one and only Son up the same mountain. He may have talked about the Passover, and how that pointed forward to himself as the true Passover Lamb. He may have talked about the rock that was hit in judgment by Moses in the desert as a picture of what happened when Jesus was struck in judgment on behalf of his people on the cross. He may have talked about the serpent being lifted up in the wilderness, and about David’s victory over Goliath as a signpost pointing to Jesus’ victory as our representative over death and sin. Every page – the ceremonies, the stories, the psalms, the prophecies – point to him.
When these two looked back on what Jesus taught them about Scripture, they said in verse 32, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Something happened within them as they began to see Jesus on every page of Scripture. The same thing happens today. When we stop seeing Scripture as a set of unrelated stories, or a set of fables and examples almost like Aesop’s Fables, and when we start to see Scripture as about Jesus Christ, something begins to happen within us. Our hearts begin to burn. We begin to see Jesus not in the little box we’ve created for him, but as the climax of all of Scripture, the resolution of every storyline, and the revelation of all of Scripture.
Something else happened to turn them from doubt to belief and joy. Verses 30 and 31 say, “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.” We don’t know what exactly happened when Jesus broke the bread – more on that in a minute – but somehow, something changed. All of a sudden they saw things they hadn’t seen before. In verse 16 it says that they were kept from recognizing him, but all of that changed now. Their eyes were opened.
You may say, “That’s not very useful to me. That’s something they had no control over. It happened to them.” And you’d be both wrong and right. I’ve been reading a short biography of Jonathan Edwards, a brilliant theologian and philosopher who lived in the 1700s. He lived during a new era of scientific progress in which people were leaving Christianity behind. He wrestled with it. He wanted to believe, but he couldn’t seem to overcome his doubts. But one day he found that the certainty and clarity that he had been searching for was there. One day God gave him the spiritual eyesight, just like he gave these two disciples, and it changed everything.
If you are wrestling and seeking, then this is evidence that God is already at work. He’s already opening your eyes. You may feel like you’re all alone, but like these two disciples, you may not realize until later that Jesus has met you on the road of doubt, and he’s already walking with you. If you seek, you will find. God has to give you the gift of spiritual eyesight, but he meets us, and he gives it to those who search for it.
Well, we’ve seen the doubt, and we can relate to it. We’ve seen what changed them: that they began to see that all of Scripture points to Christ, and that they were given spiritual eyesight to see what they couldn’t see before, just like God gave spiritual eyesight to Jonathan Edwards and to all those who seek him.
As we close, I want to look at the results.
As we close, I want to look at the difference it makes when we move from doubt to belief about Jesus, and about the resurrection.
At the surface level, it’s clear that this made a huge difference. We read in verses 33 and 34 that they had certainty, so much so that even though they had settled for the night, they got up right away and made the round trip to Jerusalem.
But there’s something else that happened that’s a little below the surface. Do you remember when their eyes were opened? Verse 35 says, “Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.” Why did they recognize him in the breaking of the bread?
There are three times that Jesus broke bread in the book of Luke: one when he fed the five thousand; one when he broke the Passover bread for what we now call The Lord’s Supper; and here. Scholars who have studied Luke have identified a major theme that develops in the book of Luke: that of a Messianic banquet. In Isaiah 25, the prophet had said:
On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine–
the best of meats and the finest of wines….
On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The LORD has spoken.
In that day they will say,
“Surely this is our God;
we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the LORD, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”
Luke keeps pointing us to this Messianic banquet, in which God defeats sin and death, saves his people, and feeds us with the best food and wine. And when Luke says that they recognized Jesus as he broke the bread, I think he’s pointing us to this theme again. He’s saying that these two doubters became guests at the Messianic banquet that God has prepared for us, in which God triumphs, evil is defeated, and the world is set right.
We’re coming this morning to our own foretaste of the Messianic banquet. The food we’re about to eat is a pointer to that day when we say, “Surely this is our God;
we trusted in him, and he saved us.” God still welcomes people who’ve been on the road of disillusionment and doubt to meet him at this table and feast with him.
Father, we thank you that Jesus met these two doubters in the middle of their doubt. I thank you that before they even knew it, Jesus was with them, teaching them and us that all of Scripture is about him. I thank you that you opened their eyes.
I pray today that you would open our eyes. I pray that we would see all the story-lines and symbols of Scripture converge in Christ. I pray that you would allow us to see the risen Christ as someone who changes everything. And as a result, I pray that you would allow us the privilege of feasting at your table with you this morning, and fill us with hope that we will dine at the coming banquet you’re preparing for us. Grant us this I pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.