Saturday, 3 April 2021

Thought for Easter Sunday - two disciples on the horns of a dilemma: Luke 24:13-35


Luke 24:13-35 ... a Bible exposition for Easter Day.


The disciples of Jesus were in a turmoil … perhaps even moreso than the residents of Jerusalem and the Passover pilgrims who had been packing the place for the last few days.

Where had all this turmoil come from?

Firstly, the Romans had crucified a Galilean preacher (big news in itself) and they had done that not with the grudging collusion of the High Priests and the Jerusalem hierarchy, but at the INSISTENCE of the religious leaders of Israel.

For this there was ABSOLUTELY no precedent.

However well-known these high rankingJewish families were for protecting their own political and financial interests with Rome, they were still no friends of their Roman overlords or the regime that was imposed upon them. And here they were not just conniving with but PUSHING the Roman authorities to kill one of their own, the wandering preacher Jesus of Nazareth.

And then secondly the Roman legionaries guarding His tomb found themselves unable to account for the body.

Looking back on things now we can see that the Lord had predicted His own death and resurrection, and everything had happened JUST as He’d said it would … but it was all so unthinkable back then that even the Lord's closest followers couldn’t grasp what had happened when they saw it.

We’ll come back to this issue … but notice from the start that spiritual truth has to be revealed to be spiritually discerned.

Let’s just review briefly what takes place in this narrative, then we’ll draw conclusions as to what’s going on and what the implications are for us from this passage.

1)   Setting, vv. 13-16

“13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.

This ‘two of them’ are part of ‘the eleven and all the rest’ of v. 9.

They are disciples, as they know about the empty tomb and do not know what to make of it all.

But that same day the women discovered the empty tomb and reported back to the eleven and all the rest, they decided to walk to Emmaus, which we’re told in Greek was “sixty stades” away from Jerusalem.

A stade (στάδιονstadion) was a unit of distance of about 607 feet (185 meters), so the journey is about 11 kilometers or around seven miles.

It was going to be, probably under those conditions and in sandals, I’d have thought, something like a two-hour walk.

And of course this journey on foot gave these men adequate time to discuss their confusion.

 14 "They were talking with each other about everything that had happened."

Yes, of COURSE they were … but it was a certain SORT of discussion.

 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other,

The word translated ‘talked’ is general conversation.

But the word ‘discussed’ is more vigorous altogether:

In the New Testament this word is used to mean to discuss, to dispute and to question.

They’re not agreed on what to make of everything that's happened and as they walk they’re having what we might reasonably conclude is a bit of a ding-dong.

“Jesus himself came up and walked along with them

 16 but they were kept from recognising him.”

Now this is remarkable, the Jesus they’d followed, seen, heard and known in the flesh as He walked and talked in Galilee that day they were for some reason do not even able to recognise.

The Lord has got something ‘going on’ here!

These disciples were actually KEPT from recognising Him

And of course, the Lord's going to be teaching a lesson when He puts in place an unusual thing like that ...

It all starts off with Jesus interrogating them about what had been going on as He caught up with and started to accompany them.

2)   Interrogation, vv. 17-24

17 He asked them, ‘What are you discussing together as you walk along?’

They stood still, their faces downcast. 

18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, ‘Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’

19 ‘What things?’ he asked.”

These two are stuck on the horns of a dilemma

There are two parts to the disciples’ answer, and those two parts highlight the horns of their dilemma.

Firstly, no-one's HEARD of a crucified Messiah

They had high hopes of Jesus for being the Messiah but now He’s dead and beyond the bounds of life, to their thinking:

‘About Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied.

 ‘He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.

There’s the high hopes bit.

But their hopes, they thought, had now been badly dashed.

“ 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him;

 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.

And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.”

OK. Right there you have the source of this first problem.

Who’d ever HEARD of a crucified Messiah … death was failure for first century Messiahs, and His fate (they thought) was sealed – He was finished – because the third day from death they believed there was no hope left for a person any more.

As Martha famously said in John 11:39 of her dead brother Lazarus, by the third day it’s all over, well … actually … Martha’s comment was that it was now the third day and, Lord ‘he stinketh’!

The first horn of the dilemma is that they’d been convinced Jesus was the real deal, but no-one could accept a crucified Messiah.

But now here comes the second part of their dilemma ...

Secondly, they were quite adamant that dead men absolutely don't rise

 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. 

They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 

24 "Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.’"

If Messiahs don’t get crucified, then these disciples were equally certain that dead men quite simply don’t rise.

As a matter of interest, I had a little interaction on Twitter yesterday with Prof. Alice Roberts who says of herself that she is:

Professor of Public Engagement in Science at Uni of Birmingham; biological anthropologist, author, broadcaster; President of Humanists UK.”

(If you are not familiar with the term, 'humanist' is what respectable atheists chose to call themselves, you see?)

Professor Roberts posted: Just a little reminder today. Dead people - don’t come back to life.”

Four thousand six hundred people 'liked' that post.

I’m afraid that I rose to the bait with: “Even professors struggle to prove a negative conclusively ...”

But Professor Roberts very plainly exemplifies the position that expresses the second dilemma that those disciples were struggling with that day ... I do think she manages it perfectly.

These disciples on the Road to Emmaus are struggling because the tomb is empty, but just as Messiahs don’t get crucified they’re pretty sure too that dead people DON’T come back to life.

Jesus addresses both horns of these disciples’ dilemma, and He does it by way of correcting their expectations using Scripture.

3)   Correction

25 "He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!

 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’"

That is going to come as a shock to them, because what the religious establishment of the day taught them as being the teaching of prophecy was NOT that the Messiah would die … the establishment saw that as a ‘fail’!

‘Cursed was anyone who is hanged on a tree’, said Deuteronomy 21:23 but Galatians 3:13:  unpacks and spells this out:"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’

Until they understood this point, the thought of a cursed Messiah was a contradiction in terms which these disciples’ brains instinctively threw out.

Jesus is going to correct them, and He’s going to do that by teaching them the Bible

“ 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

The reference to "Moses and all the prophets" is a way to say the promise of Messiah runs throughout OT scripture from first to last.

All of the Bible is all about Jesus in some way or another, and the Lord took these two disciples from the start to the finish of the books in the Hebrew arrangement of the books of the Old Testament (which goes from the Law to the Prophets) and showed them what the Bible ACTUALLY said about Jesus.

You usually measure sermons in minutes … this one is measured in MILES!

Seven or so of them, until they arrived that evening in the vicinity of Emmaus as Jesus taught them the Bible end to end.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going further.

He acted as though he wanted to go further.

This is written in a way that gives the impression Jesus knew they would ask him to stay.

This is a hospitality culture. There were no motels in that society, you invited home someone you saw preparing to spend the night in the town square because it was a shame to leave someone out overnight and giving hospitality was something they took on board.

Incidentally – and here’s a bit of a red-herring – during lockdown believers have been lamenting that the lockdown put a stop to face-to-face worship, but I’ve heard precisely NO believers lamenting the banning of and prevention of the Christian responsibility to show hospitality.

Hospitality is something we're told to do in Scripture just as much as to gather for worship

(It's just a thought - but it's something to play with!)

 29 But they urged him strongly, 

‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’

So he went in to stay with them.”

The scene is set for the denouement of the narrative, and its’ big point …

4)   Recognition

“30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.

 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight.”

I need to point out the pronoun ‘Him’ that gets used there is emphatic

THey recognised HIM ... did you notice?

It wasn’t the bread that they recognised, it was HIM, the crucified, raised and LIVING Lord Jesus.

And it wasn’t the breaking of the bread that jogged their memories of that night in the Upper Room, and that THIS is what led them to recognise Jesus.

It was that when He did that breaking of bread then by another agency altogether their eyes were opened for them and they recognised Jesus THEN.

Just to be clear, they didn’t recognise Jesus when they recognised the action that Jesus was performing with the bread, but when God opened their eyes to see Jesus.

And it was THEN, after recognising Jesus, that they remembered the heart experience they’d had of meeting with Him out walking and talking that day… check the next verse:

 32 They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’”

They’d had the explanation of the Scriptures.

They’d had their eyes opened to recognise Jesus.

And SUBSEQUENTLY to that they remembered the heart-experience they’d had walking along with Jesus.

But the definitive point – the one they needed to get to - was reached when their eyes were opened for them and they personally saw and recognised Jesus as the Risen sacrifice for sin and their Saviour.

And that opening of their eyes was life-transforming.

It leads to the fifth phase of this narrative.

5)   Proclamation

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem.

If you check with v. 29 you’ll see the evidence of the thrill and the urgency of their new-found faith.

It was almost night when the disciples had reached the little village they were going to, and since then the dinner had been prepared, the travellers had washed and refreshed themselves and a hospitable evening meal had got under way.

Spot their THRILL here … they are utterly overtaken by the joy of recognising and meeting with the Lord Jesus and you can tell becaues of what they do next.

It is now dark.

It’s a good way back to Jerusalem.

But they are THRILLED with the Good News about Jesus, and they are GOING to carry that Good News back to Jerusalem … across country roads, with no street lights (or police force) through the darkness.

“There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, ‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’”

The dejected group that returned to in Jerusalem who'd been there since Golgotha on Good Friday looks like a totally different group of people by the evening of Easter Sunday … and their heads are up now as they wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit Who’d be coming at Pentecost.

And from that point on these previously rather crushed ex-disciples of Jesus were transformed into the revived and revitalised band of believers that was going to turn the whole world upside down.

35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognised by them when he broke the bread.”

The adequate testimony to Christ’s resurrection to life was now fully established under Jewish law and Jewish culture. 

There was now legally admissible testimony to the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus.



The resurrection of Jesus is now established

The first point of analysis to emerge from this event is that the fact of the resurrection of Jesus is now positively established.

I’m suggesting that what happens here is that the witness evidence to the resurrection has been LEGALLY established.

This is a report of a sighting of the Lord not just raised and out of the tomb but walking, talking, eating and pursuing a completely rounded and established pattern of existence.

And this event establishes the reality of His resurrection by the testimony of ‘two or three’ witnesses which the contemporary Jerwish view of the world required.

The Lord had appeared to the women at the tomb and it appears He’d also appeared to Simon Peter … but not all Jewish legal authorities accepted in those days the testimony of women.

It seems significant (in an era when women were not uniformly respected) that the Lord first appeared to the women at the tomb early that first day of the week.

But now with this encounter on the Road to Emmaus, there could be no more discussion of the sort that discounted the testimony of women. With the addition of these two travelling disciples, the matter was properly established by sufficient eye-witness testimony.

Then the second point of analysis to emerge here and possibly the main one is that in spite of all that they knew of the Scriptures and the recent events they witnessed at Jerusalem, they still didn’t ‘get it’ about Jesus until He revealed it to them.

There's a need of God's help for humans to 'get it' about Jesus

The testimony of Scripture is established in eye-witness history … Christ is Risen, He is risen indeed.

And so we do seek to persuade all humanity to turn from their own ways and follow this Saviour.

Yet whatever obstacles we encounter in going about the process of persuading people to become Christians, that’s the relatively unopposed and straightforward bit.

The battle for people’s souls is a spiritual one waged on our knees before God … and that’s often the hardest bit of all.

The persuasion of the truth, even the showing a life Christ’s changed so that folks can see the potential for faith, doesn’t do this.

Not alone, it doesn’t.

Oh, the Lord uses that to achieve His good purposes, but salvation is entirely ‘of the Lord’.

How Paul explains that goes something like this:

Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 

But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.“

                                                                   2 Corinthians 3:15-16

As Jesus says to His disciples in John 6:

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.

The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life. 

64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’ 

For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe

and who would betray him.

 65 He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me

unless the Father has enabled them.’”

                                                                                  John 6:63-65

Now, of course, the Lord sets the example and gives the instruction to His followers to go and offer the Gospel freely to everyone without distinction and to welcome into fellowship all those who respond to that by turning from sin and trusting in Him.

But He also makes equally clear that everyone must be ‘born from above’ to have life, and He makes THAT known to a very learned Pharisee in John 3 ... a man with PLENTY of 'knowledge'!

You can read more about this issue by clicking the external link HERE.


What this means for us is that recognition of the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection may be assisted by Gospel preaching and by rational apologetics, but switching the light on so people really recognize Jesus for Who and what He is hangs on the revelation of Him, personally, to individuals … people who might know it all but who don’t know Him yet.

Yes, Jesus taught these disciples from the Scriptures how His death and resurrection was the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy.

Jesus sets the example clearly to us that we approach mankind’s hearts through their ears and minds.

But He was only finally recognized by these disciples who were travelling that day after they both understood mentally Who He truly was, and when He had also opened their eyes as He broke bread.

And if we seek the salvation of the souls of men and women by the real, historic sacrifice of the now-risen Christ (which is really the fact that’s been crucially established here) we will be pleading with them to follow Jesus, but it’s our pleading with Jesus to draw them in by opening their eyes that is going to be actually be decisive.

The implications of that fact for what we give our energies to are going to be completely enormous.

Happy Easter!

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