The Things Concerning Himself
St. Luke 24:13-27
Easter—the empty tomb—changes everything. The cross is ordinarily a symbol of humiliation, a symbol of torture, a symbol of death, a symbol of hopelessness, but seen in light of the empty tomb the cross of Jesus becomes an emblem of hope. And yet as we saw last week as Luke told us about that first Easter morning and about the women and then the disciples finding the empty tomb, they—strangely enough—found no hope there. We read that story each year at Easter and we sing “Alleluia!”. They found the empty tomb and they were upset and confused. Not only was their friend dead, but someone had stolen his body. It took a divine intervention in the form of two angels, reminding them of all Jesus had said, before the women “remembered”—before some kind of understanding began to dawn on the women. And yet they still didn’t really understand. They ran to tell the disciples, but Luke gives us the sense that their excitement had more to do with the mystery of the empty tomb and the missing body than it did the angels’ proclamation that Jesus had been raised from the dead. The disciples refused to believe their story, but Peter—of course, Peter, always the impetuous one—ran to the tomb to see for himself. He confirmed that Jesus’ body was missing, and yet Luke doesn’t say that he believed. No, Luke says that Peter was “amazed”—amazed in the sense that he was flummoxed by what had happened.
None of them could understand. None of this matched their expectations. They had truly believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but the Messiah wasn’t supposed to die at the hands of the Romans—he was supposed to vanquish the Romans! They spent Friday and Saturday trying to come to grips with things—to understand how Jesus could have been so wrong and how they could have been so deceived. They felt grief at the death of their friend and their master. I expect they also felt anger for having been led astray, at having been so foolish as to think this man who was now dead could ever save Israel. He was dead and they had to find some way to pick up the pieces and move on. And then on Sunday morning the tomb was empty and the women came with this crazy story of resurrection. That didn’t make any sense either. It’s not that they didn’t believe in or hope for the resurrection of the dead, but that’s just it. Their hope was in the coming resurrection of the dead—of all the faithful dead, not just one of them. The Messiah was supposed to come at the end of the age to lead Israel into victory over her enemies, to take up David’s eternal throne, and then to resurrect all of faithful Israel to live and to rule with him in his kingdom—ushering in the age to come. What the angels said simply didn’t compute. No one expected that the Messiah would die, let alone then be resurrected all by himself—just one person—and that somehow his kingdom might be inaugurated while the Romans and all the other gentile kingdoms continued seemingly to go on about their usual business. No one expected that. That wasn’t what was supposed to happen. And yet there was the evidence: the empty tomb and the testimony of the angels. We might think, we might hope that the disciples would figure it out and start rejoicing. But that’s not what happens.
In Luke 24:13-35 we have one of the most remarkable and one of the most glorious stories in all of Scripture. It’s a story that find the disciples—despite the empty tomb and despite the angels—still perplexed, in the dark, troubled, discouraged, and hopeless and in the midst of that hopelessness, they are confronted by the risen Christ and everything changes. The light dawns, understanding comes, they’re flooded with hope. Everything changes as they meet Jesus, risen from the dead. Everything changes as Jesus meets them in their darkest hour and speaks—as he tells them the story again. It’s the same story they’ve known all along. It’s the story of Israel. It’s the story they’ve learned growing up as Jews and growing up with the Scriptures. It’s the story Jesus has been telling them the whole time they’ve been following him. And it’s a story that, as it turns out, they only thought they understood. And so Jesus speaks and he explains and understanding dawns on them. With understanding the darkness flees and hope returns. Brothers and Sisters, this is this the story in which we must live as Jesus’ people. It’s the story that gives us hope and it’s the story we’re called to tell and to proclaim. This is the story of how Jesus has become the world’s true Lord. I hate to break the story into two, but there’s so much here that we need to. This morning we’ll look at Luke 24:13-27.
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. (Luke 24:13-14)
Luke tells that two of “them”—that’s two of those disciples who had written off the women’s story as crazy talk—were on the road to Emmaus. He doesn’t say why they were going there, but the sense we get is that in the aftermath of Jesus’ crucifixion the fellowship of his disciples is now breaking up—leaving Jerusalem, maybe to go home after having followed Jesus for some time. Things had ended and ended badly. Luke says that this was the topic of their conversation as they walked on the road. What did it mean? Where did they go wrong? How could this have happened to Jesus? They had seen his miracles. They had heard him preach with such authority. Surely he was the Messiah, but how could that be now that he was dead? And what were they going to do with their lives now? This wasn’t a deep theological conversation. No, this was a conversation about the hopeless situation they felt they were in. It was a conversation about how bleak everything had become in the aftermath of Jesus’ death.
Luke goes on in verses 15-16:
While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
Jesus walks up to these two on the road. They’re not strangers to him—they’re disciples—and yet they can’t recognise him. It sums up Jesus’ entire ministry. He’s spent three years living and travelling with these people. They’ve heard him teaching and they’ve seen him performing miracles. They’ve heard the good news he proclaimed to the poor, the release he brought to the captives, the healing he brought to the sick. They’ve seen him open the eyes of the blind and yet even on that first Eater the disciples still can’t see—they still can’t understand. I don’t think it was simply an issue of Jesus’ looking different. His body was raised from the tomb. He wasn’t given a new body; his old body was resurrected. Certainly his resurrected body was different—better, more alive, more glorious—but still his body. No, they didn’t recognise him because the idea that Jesus was alive and that he might meet them in person was impossible. Jesus was dead so there were was no way this man approaching them on the road could be Jesus. They were that lost in a hopeless lack of understanding. Even as Jesus speaks they’re blind to who he is.
And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (Luke 24:17-18)
Jesus walks with them a while and listens to the conversation and then uses it as an opener: “What’s all this you’re talking about?” And Cleopas and his friend stop there on the road. They stop and Luke says they looked sad. It was all so terrible. They didn’t want to explain it and have relive Jesus’ death all over again. They stand there for a minute looking sadly at this man, but finally Cleopas answers him. He doesn’t tell him what happened, he just asks how he could possibly be in the dark about what happened to Jesus. Everyone had heard about Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey the Sunday before. Everyone had heard about him upsetting the temple. People had been talking about his teaching. And how could anyone have missed his trial and his procession through the streets to be crucified? The sky had gone dark and the curtain in the temple had been torn. How could he be unaware of all this? It’s ironic. He says that Jesus must be the only person in the dark and all the while it’s really Jesus who is the only person who is in the light—who understands what has happened.
And yet Jesus at first plays dumb. He wants to hear Cleopas’ explanation of the events.
And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” (Luke 24:19-24)
They really did believe Jesus was the Messiah. They heard him and they saw him and they saw that the power of God was with him. They really did believe that he was the one who had come to save Israel, and yet the leaders of Israel had handed him over to the Romans to be crucified—three days he’s been dead. Yes, some women we know him went to his tomb and found it empty. They claimed to have seen a vision of angels who told them Jesus was alive. Some of us went to see for themselves. Sure enough, the tomb was empty, but Jesus was nowhere to be found—no one has seen him.
As they told the story to Jesus all the grief, all the pain, and all the anger came flooding back. They looked sad when Jesus asked what had happened, but I’m sure they looked even more sad, dejected, and hopeless after they told him everything. Retelling the events of the last three days just drove home to them the hopelessness of the situation. Jesus had got their hopes up. For a while they thought he would deliver Israel from her suffering, but instead he was the one who suffered and now he was dead and gone. There’s nothing worse than getting your hopes up and then having them dashed to pieces and here was this stranger asking them to relive it all.
But then Jesus speaks. They still don’t know who he is. In fact, Luke says that he walked with them all the way to Emmaus, explaining things to them, and the whole time they were oblivious to who he was. It wasn’t until he stopped to eat with them and they saw him breaking bread that they recognised him. Something in that act opened their eyes. But now we’re getting into the half of the story we’re saving for next Sunday! Into the midst of their hopelessness Jesus speaks. Look at verses 25-26:
And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
“O foolish ones!”, he says to them. Jesus isn’t saying that they’re stupid, but that they’ve been slow to understand and he gets at this when he also says that they’re “slow of heart”. It’s a Hebrew or an Old Testament way of saying that at the core this is a heart problem. The heart refers to their disposition and to their attitude and to their commitments. All along Jesus has been calling people to repent—to abandon everything that is not Jesus—so that they can follow him. Repentance is a matter of the heart—it’s a complete realignment of disposition and of attitude and of commitment. And all along Jesus’ disciples have struggled with repentance. We all know, it’s a hard thing. It’s easy to let go of some things. It’s easy to let go of things we hold loosely, but it’s hard to let go of the things in which we find our security. In our materialistically oriented society of riches the hardest thing for most of us to let go of is our money. For the Jews of Jesus’ day it was their nationalism. It coloured everything, from the way in which they lived their lives, the way they saw and dealt with outsiders; it coloured their hopes, and it was precisely what made them blind to Jesus when he came as Messiah—he didn’t meet their expectations. They expected the Messiah to redeem Israel from her suffering, but instead Jesus himself was subjected to suffering and death.
And this is just what Jesus gets at. They’ve told him why they’re upset: We hoped he would redeem Israel, but now he’s dead and Jesus then asks: “Wasn’t it necessary for Jesus to suffer—for all these things to happen to him—in order for him to be glorified?” And we can only imagine how incredulous they were when he said that. Of course it wasn’t necessary for these things to happen for Jesus to be glorified. That’s not what was supposed to happen and because it did Jesus clearly was not glorified—he was dead regardless of what those hysterical women said.
Brothers and Sisters, sometimes we fail to understand, sometimes we fail to see, because our perspective is all wrong. I remember watching, years ago, a little girl climbing up to one of the telescopes outside Canada place. She ran up to one of the telescopes with a huge smile on her face. She got it pointed at a ship in the harbour, and stuck her eyes to the glass—but she was looking through the wrong end. She quickly gave up and ran back to her dad, complaining and looking very disappointed that it was broken. She couldn’t see anything. But he then took her by the hand, walked her back, turned the telescope the right way and held her up so that she could see through it. Suddenly it worked and she could see and the excitement returned to her face.
The disciples have had this sort of problem all along. In fact, it wasn’t just their problem; it was Israel’s problem. She had the telescope turned backwards. She read the Scriptures as the story of how the Lord would redeem her from suffering, but what Jesus makes clear now—and what he’s been saying all along—is that the Scriptures are the story of how Israel will be redeemed through suffering. Getting the telescope turned around the right way was no easy task when Israel was convinced that having it backwards was the right way. But Luke goes on:
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Notice what Jesus did to get them straightened out in their thinking and to restore hope. He didn’t just share with them a few proof texts from the Scriptures. No. He told them the story of Israel—he told them their own story and he told them his story—working from Genesis at the very beginning all the way to Chronicles, the last book of the Hebrew Bible. He had plenty of time on that seven-mile walk! In one sense this was the story they already knew, but as he retold it Jesus put himself at it’s centre. That was new. He showed them how the Old Testament from start to finish is about God’s calling of Israel, how it’s about the destiny of Israel and her being light to the nations. And as he told them the story he showed how the Messiah’s character and the Messiah’s calling was the same as that of Israel—he was to embody Israel, to be her representative just as she had been called to be the representative of all of fallen humanity.
From the very beginning the Lord’s purpose was to create a holy people dedicated to his service—a people who would undergo humiliation and suffering for the sake of the world. From her suffering in Egypt, in Babylon, under the Persians and then the Greeks there was a common theme, over and over—a theme of exodus, of the Lord’s deliverance of his people from humiliation and from bondage. Every year they celebrated and remembered their birth as a nation in that first exodus from Egypt and that exodus became the prototype for Israel’s messianic deliverance and for her promise of glory. From Moses through the Prophets, the Scriptures pointed to exodus as the Lord’s means of dealing with sin. And yet as Israel’s was called to suffer in order to break the power of the sinful nations, as Israel was called was to suffer for her own sins, as Israel’s was called to suffering herself as the representative of the whole sinful human race, suffering was also to be the calling of the Messiah, Israel’s representative. He would embody her mission and complete where she had failed. Jesus showed them that rather than being some bizarre aberration in God’s dealing with his people, rather than being a failure in the plan, the cross was where all of Israel’s history pointed. At the cross God’s anointed one took on himself Israel’s suffering, he took on himself the punishment that she deserved. In doing that he took on himself the suffering and the sin of the entire world. Evil did its worst. Jesus was crushed for our sins. And just as evil thought it had finally won—like Pharaoh trapping the Israelites at the Red Sea—Jesus did the impossible: he rose from the dead. He inaugurated a new kingdom and a new creation and leads his people in a new exodus. As amazing as that first exodus was as the people passed through the miraculously parted waters of the sea, it was only a shadow of this new exodus in which Jesus parts death itself and leads his people into life.
All of this was there in the Scriptures all along. It was there all along in Jesus’ preaching and teaching. And yet no one understood it. They had the telescope backwards. And so the disciples were blind not only to the risen Jesus, they were blind to what was happening around them. The very events—the cross and the empty tomb—through which the Lord was giving hope to the world were, for the blind disciples, cause for fear and anger and despair. It took the risen Jesus himself to come alongside his people and to open their eyes. It took the risen Jesus to show them how it was he all along who was at the centre of the story they already new so well in the Scriptures.
Brothers and Sisters, the good news is that Jesus comes alongside us, he does the same thing for us, as he speaks to us through the words of the evangelists and of the apostles in the New Testament. In the New Testament we have the Holy Spirit’s own commentary on the Old, we have the witness that turns the telescope the right way round and that shows us Jesus at the centre of history. This is the story that brings hope to us and to the world. It’s the story—it’s the Good News—that we proclaim into the confusion, into the despair, into the hopelessness of the darkness that is around us. But, Brothers and Sisters, it is first and foremost the story in which we must ourselves live. And we can’t do that until we’ve repented—until we’ve given up on looking through the wrong end of the telescope. There are all sorts of ways we do that, but all of them result in blindness and an inability to see ourselves, to see the world, to see history, to see God correctly. A lack of repentance, continuing to hold onto things that are not Jesus, skews our perspective and makes us blind to our only source of life and of hope. When we are living in fear, in sorrow, in depression, in frustration, in hopelessness, Brothers and Sisters, let us remember the story, let us remember how Jesus has put himself in the centre of it for our sake and for the sake of all of creation. Let him set our vision on the cross and on the empty tomb the way he set the Israelites’ vision on the parted sea—let him show us the way out of sin and death to life. Let us find hope again as we recall the story and know that in Jesus and in his death and resurrection, our God is King, our God is sovereign, and our God is restoring his people and all creation to life and to peace. Let us remember the story with Jesus at the heart of it. Let us live in that story and let us proclaim that story.
Let us pray: Gracious Father, you have purchased our freedom and led us to life in Jesus, through his suffering, his death, and his resurrection. Remind us of the story. If we don’t know it already, I pray that you would keep us perpetually unsettled until we have immersed ourselves in the Scripture in which you have so graciously revealed it. As we read and recall the story, remind us always of Jesus’ place at the centre of it. And as we hear, as we read, as we consider the story, move our hearts to repentance. Give us faith to let go of everything that is not Jesus and fill us with the hope of the cross, with the hope of resurrection, with the hope of new creation, with the hope of glory that we might truly live in the story of of King Jesus and share it eagerly and joyfully with the world. Amen.