Several months ago, my wife and I had the privilege of going to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte (If you are ever in Charlotte, NC you must go). Once you are in the Library, you can take a self-guided tour. Along the way there are videos of people talking about significant events in the life of Billy Graham. The folks on the videos were there at the time so these are eyewitness accounts. There are also numerous artifacts which were collected over his many years of ministry in a variety of places around the world. These artifacts are also eyewitnesses to the events of Billy Graham’s life. The tour ends in a large room with seats. Everyone sits and watches a video of Billy Graham preaching about Christ and salvation. This is a truly powerful moment and conclusion to a great tour.
In the second part of our tour with Jesus and his final days on earth I want you to imagine that you are sitting in a room like the one at the Billy Graham Library. In front of you is a giant screen. On the screen you will watch two stories of people who encountered the risen Lord days after his death. Today we will look at the first story which is from the gospel of Luke. The second story is from the gospel of John. These stories are not just another story, these stories will prove that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and because of his resurrection, we have hope beyond the grave through faith in Jesus Christ.
Our first eyewitness account is set on a dusty road. Two people are returning home after the Passover celebration in Jerusalem and they are trying to make sense of the events that have transpired relative to Jesus. For the disciples and those who followed Jesus, these were very difficult times. Even though Jesus had prepared them for what was to come, (Matthew 16:21-23) they still struggled with the reality of his death and resurrection. As we watch the story unfold, we know the ending, but let’s engage with the story as if we are experiencing it for the first time.
Let me begin by asking a question. Have you ever been guilty of eavesdropping? Something you hear captures your attention and you can’t stop listening to someone else’s conversation. Yes, we are all guilty of eavesdropping because we are nosey people and we want to know other people’s business. Well our story begins with Jesus eavesdropping on a conversation between two travelers.
The Passover celebration has concluded, and Jesus has been crucified and buried when two people are returning home to Emmaus from Jerusalem. Luke tells us Emmaus is about seven miles from Jerusalem—a two-hour walk. The two men are perhaps disciples of Jesus, not two of the twelve, but still followers of Jesus. They are heading home and as they walk the dusty roads, they talk about all that has taken place the last few days relative to Jesus and they try to make sense of it all.
Making sense of the events of the last couple days is the story on center stage (vs. 15-19a). The text tells us these two are talking and having a discussion. This means they are in a heated debate concerning the events of the crucifixion and what it meant. As they are discussing the events, Jesus walks alongside and asks a question that takes the discussion to a new level. Jesus’ identity, however, is somehow veiled, so they do not know that it is Jesus walking with them.
Have you ever been in such a heated debate with another person that you are oblivious to your surroundings? Maybe this conversation has taken place on the phone in the car on your way to work. You are discussing an important project with your co-worker when you find yourself disagreeing with the way the project is progressing. As you engage in the intense conversation, you miss a turn, and forget to grab a coffee from Starbucks on your way to work—because the conversation you are having has distracted you. For the two men walking home, Jesus’ identity is veiled. Perhaps it is their unbelief and intense conversation that blinds their eyes.
As the journey continues, it becomes clear that the two disciples misunderstand all that has taken place. This misunderstanding is the basis for the next segment of the conversation (vs. 19b-24). The misunderstanding is made clear when Jesus asks a question: “What things?” Jesus does not ask this question because he does not know. He asks to expose what these two people do not know. Their response to the question reveals their heart condition toward the Messiah. Listen to what they say and think about what their words reveal about them.
Poor Identity (19b): They call Jesus “A man who was a mighty prophet." Moses told the people in Exodus that a prophet like him was to come. These two ascribe to Jesus some identity as a prophet but do not identify him as “the” prophet.
False Hope (20-21): They say, “This prophet was condemned to die.” They did not understand the true role of the Messiah. They thought Jesus would redeem Israel through ruling power, instead of redeeming Israel of their sin through the cross. Because Jesus dies, their hope that Jesus was their promised Messiah fades.
Unbelief (22-24): These two must have been present with the disciples when the women came back from the tomb and said that Jesus was not there. They reference two men going to the tomb (Peter and John) and that the men did not see Jesus. The travelers understand that Jesus was to rise again but they do not believe Jesus has risen because he was not present at the tomb. The empty tomb was not enough for them to believe, they need to see Jesus alive.
After Jesus has listened to the answer to his question, Jesus does not leave them in a state of unbelief but brings them to a point of understanding (vs. 25-27). At one time, the two thought Jesus was the Messiah, but because of his death and non-appearance on the third day, they lost hope that Jesus was in fact the Messiah. When Jesus, who is still unrecognized by these two travelers, finally opens his mouth, he approaches the misunderstanding in three ways.
Jesus rebukes them (25). Jesus identifies their lack of understanding. They lack understanding because they do not believe all that the prophets, including Jesus himself, have said about this moment.
Jesus questions them (26). Jesus asks them a rhetorical question which calls their attention to Jesus’ crucifixion and subsequent return to glory and which speaks of his resurrection.
Jesus teaches them (27). Jesus takes the OT scriptures and speaks to them concerning himself. He helps them understand and grasp the truth of the events that have transpired as fulfilling what the scriptures said would happen.
One can only imagine what it must have been like to experience this teaching firsthand. Here is the Word that became flesh, teaching the Word that was written down—everything one needs to know about the Messiah. Not only does Jesus give proof texts of who he is, he interprets the texts for them, which means he teaches them the truth contained in the text. At this point in the conversation, the two are not impressed or moved to respond. They continue in their state of unbelief and disappointment which blinds their eyes to the truth.
The three continue to walk together and finally arrive at Emmaus (vs. 28-31). Jesus tries to separate from them, but they invite him to stay with them (common in this day.) Jesus is still unrecognized as they sit down for dinner. At dinner Jesus blesses the food, breaks it, and distributes it to them. In this moment something happens that causes the two disciples, who believed they were showing hospitality to a stranger, to realize that Jesus was walking and talking with them all the way home. As their eyes are opened, Jesus vanishes from their sight.
This brings the story to a conclusion. These two have seen Jesus in his glorified state as the risen savior, their Messiah. However, there is one more aspect of this story that is significant. The story ends where it began, with the two people in conversation with each other (vs. 32-35). This time they reflect on their failure to hear the words Jesus spoke on the journey. They immediately travel back to Jerusalem, find the eleven disciples and others, and make this proclamation, “The Lord has risen indeed!” These two are now sharing with everyone present what happened as they traveled home that Sunday afternoon. They specifically mention how their eyes were opened as they broke bread together.
This story demonstrates the importance for believers to stay anchored to the truth in challenging times. The events of Passover were truly a dramatic moment for anyone who lived through those days. The two disciples walking home that day failed to remember all that Jesus had taught them. When times are tough, they failed to remember the truth and struggled to believe.
Today, we have God’s Word which is the source of truth that keeps us anchored. The lives of the two disciples who came to see Jesus that day were changed forever. Their eyewitness story proves that Jesus is alive and demonstrates paths people may be on today.
Maybe you are on a path where you are questioning your faith because of a challenging time in your life. Remember what God taught you in his Word and do not let doubt overcome truth.
Maybe you are walking down the path of unbelief. Think about the conversations you have had with someone who knew Christ and his saving work on the cross and the victory of his resurrection. Your unbelief has blinded you from seeing Jesus in that moment. Allow the message of truth to permeate your heart as you see Jesus through the one sharing gospel truth with you. There will come a day when your eyes will be opened, and your heart will burn because you rejected the truth for so long.
The resurrection appearances of Christ are captured in some cool stories. These stories as told in the scriptures are eyewitness accounts. The stories are not told from a third person perspective but from the lives of those who experienced the risen Lord. Jesus appeared to strengthen the faith of those who would carry the message after him and for us today to understand that Jesus is truly alive.
David Karn is the Senior Pastor at Grace Community Church in Goldsboro, NC.