Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.
18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”
19 He asked them, “What things?”
They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 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 took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”
25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. (Luke 24:13-27, NRSV)
If I were given the opportunity to be physically present at just one of the many events recorded in the Gospels I think I might choose this event. To have seen Jesus turn water into wine, or walk on water, or raise a dead guy from the grave would have been a marvelous experience. Nonetheless, I still think that given the choice I would rather have gone along on that seven mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus that Sunday afternoon.
It had already been an extraordinary weekend. Jesus had been crucified and buried that past Friday. Saturday, the Sabbath, all his followers hid themselves away in fear and grief. Early Sunday morning some women who were friends with Jesus mustered the courage to go to the tomb to anoint his body. To their shock, however, they found the tomb open and empty. Suddenly, strange men appeared and told them that Jesus had risen from the dead. They were stunned, and ran to tell the disciples who found their story too fantastic to believe. Still, the body was gone. They had to acknowledge that. Something unexpected must have happened in that tomb that morning.
Later that same day two of these disciples decide to travel back to their home in Emmaus, a seven mile walk from Jerusalem. Naturally, along the way they cannot help but talk together about all that has happened. We can only imagine the heaviness in their hearts as it sinks in that the one in whom they placed all their hope is now dead. But now his body is gone. What could it all mean?
Suddenly, a stranger appears beside them on the road, a man traveling in the same direction towards Emmaus. Having overheard their conversation, he comes alongside them and asks them what they are discussing. One of the disciples, a man named Cleopas, seems annoyed with this stranger who seems to be the only one in town who has no clue of the tragic events which have just unfolded. The stranger listens patiently as the two recount for him all that has taken place. The one they hoped would save Israel, Jesus of Nazareth, was now gone. There were rumors that he was alive again, but those rumors seem to have been proven false. If he was truly alive, why would he not have shown himself?
If they expected sympathy from this stranger they do not get it. On the contrary, he insults them. “You are fools,” he says. “How slow of heart you must be if you have failed to believe all that the prophets have declared. Didn’t you know that these things had to happen this way? Don’t you realize that everything is going exactly according to plan?” He accuses them of reading the scriptures through the wrong end of the telescope. They had been looking for how God would redeem Israel from suffering instead of looking for how God would redeem Israel through suffering.
It is at this point that the stranger, who we know to be Jesus, begins to take these two on a journey through the entire Old Testament, right from the beginning, showing them everything in the scriptures that pointed to him. It’s Old Testament 101 from Jesus himself. Can you imagine?
You know, people walk slowly when they’re sad. People walk even more slowly when they’re engrossed in deep conversation. I can’t imagine that this group covered those seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus in anything less than three hours that afternoon. For all that time these two disciples had the opportunity to listen to Jesus himself interpret the Old Testament scripture from Genesis onward. And here is the reason why this is the one event in the Gospels at which I would most have liked to have been present. Just imagine the questions which were answered along the road that day, the insights that were given. It’s no wonder that when they finally reach Emmaus, Cleopas and his companion beg this stranger to come home and spend the night with them. They don’t want this to end.
As much as I find this story fascinating, I also find it disturbing. These two disciples on the road were both 1st century Jews who, like all 1st century Jews, knew the Old Testament and knew it well. Furthermore, these two disciples had just spent a considerable amount of time, maybe as much as three years’ time, living face to face with Jesus himself, listening to him teach with their own ears and watching him work wonders with their own eyes. And yet in spite of it all, they still missed it, so much so that Jesus calls them thick-headed and hard-hearted. And I ask myself, do I know the Old Testament better than they did? Have I had more experience with Jesus than they did? You see why I get disturbed? If they missed the point, is there not a great likelihood that I will miss it as well?
It is worth noting that when confronted with people who did not understand exactly who he was and what he came to accomplish, Jesus responds by taking them immediately back to the Old Testament. Maybe that surprises you. Maybe you think that instead, Jesus would have wanted to review some of the things he taught them while he was with them. You know, go through the Sermon on the Mount again, or retell a few of his most popular parables. But that’s not what Jesus does. For some reason, when he wants to enlighten his disciples about himself it is to the Old Testament that he turns.
Is this something that you often do? When you find yourself wanting to better understand Christ, do you go to the pages of the Old Testament? There are many of us here who have probably not even read large portions of the Old Testament. Some of us don’t want to read it because we’ve gotten the idea into our heads that it’s only full of violence, and bloodshed, and strange and backward religious customs which have little or nothing to do with life in our world today. I’ve even heard many people, even people in the church, say that they don’t much like the God they meet in the Old Testament and much prefer the God they meet in Jesus in the New Testament.
The problem with people who say this, of course, is that they don’t know either very well. If they did, they would know the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are the very same God. In fact, some of this misunderstanding comes from the fact that many of us still fail to recognize that Jesus himself is just as present in the Old Testament as he is in the New. Remember, Jesus’ life did not begin at Bethlehem, or even in the womb of Mary when he was conceived nine months before that. Jesus is not like us in this respect. My life had a beginning. I was born on July 29, 1966. Before that day I did not exist. I suppose you could say my literal existence as a person began sometime 9 months before when I was conceived in my mother’s womb, but before the day of my conception I definitely did not exist, on this earth or anywhere else. My life had a fixed beginning.
This is not true with Jesus. Yes, Christ took on human flesh at a certain point in history, a point we just celebrated at Christmas. But his life did not begin in the manger at Bethlehem or even in the womb of Mary. His life is eternal, outside of history, beyond time and space. For, you see, Christ is God. Christ is not creation but Creator. Revelation 22:13 declares, he is the “alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Referring to Christ, John 1:1 declares, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” When the sun and the stars were created, Christ was there. When Adam and Eve turned their backs on God, Christ was there. When Moses stood before the burning bush, Christ was there. When David slew Goliath, Christ was there. When Daniel was rescued from the lions’ den, Christ was there.
Are you starting to see why I would have loved to have been on the road to Emmaus that afternoon? Cleopas and his companion got to have the Old Testament explained to them by one, the only one, who was an eye witness to all of it. Furthermore, Jesus was not walking them through the scriptures simply to give them a history lesson. As Luke tells us here, Jesus was walking them through the Old Testament to show them how the scriptures, all the scriptures, pointed ultimately to him. Christ knew that these disciples could not understand him apart from understanding the Old Testament. Christ also knows that the same is true for us.
What is this book? Many of us read from it every day. We preach and teach from it all the time in the church, particularly on Sunday mornings. So what is this book we spend so much time reading? I know it’s a simple question, one that you might only expect to hear in children’s Sunday school. Still, I ask it here because I’m often stunned by how many different and often conflicting answers I get to that question, even from people in church who ought to know better.
You see, many people think the Bible is a book of rules, rules which tell us what we should and should not be doing in life. And yes, the Bible does contain rules, lots of rules. But if that’s what the Bible essentially is, a book of rules, it’s no wonder so many people don’t read it. Can you blame them? The last thing in life people are looking for is more rules.
Some people think the Bible is a book of heroes, a showcase of all the great men and women of the faith who can inspire us and model for us the sorts of lives we should be living. Abraham shows us how to have faith. David shows us how to have courage. Mary shows us how to have devotion. And it’s true, of course, the Bible does have lots of inspirational characters, but if you actually sit down and read their stories they come off looking a lot less heroic than you might imagine. In fact, more often than not they come off looking selfish, or disobedient, or cowardly, or deceptive, or even downright mean.
Other people think the Bible is a book of answers. Struggling with anxiety in your life? Here are some verses which will show you how to live worry-free. Having trouble with your marriage? There is wisdom in here which can patch things up between you and your wife. Now, of course, the Bible has much to say about worry, and marriage, and countless other aspects of our everyday lives. But anybody here who has ever read the Bible in much depth knows that the Bible raises just as many questions as it gives answers.
So what is the Bible? Well, primarily the Bible is a story. Not a made-up story, a true story. It’s an account of events, a lot of events, which actually happened. It’s not primarily a book of rules telling us what do to but is, instead, a book recounting for us what God has already done. It’s not a book about human heroes who show us how to live, but a book about a divine hero who has made it possible for us to live in the first place. It’s not a book of answers to the question of the day, but a book that points us to the Savior who became, himself, the answer to every question we will ever have, even the questions we never dared or imagined to ask.
The Bible is a story, a story whose central character, both in the Old and New Testaments, is the God we know in Jesus Christ. And as biblical scholar N.T. Wright puts it, trying to understand Jesus without first understanding the story of Israel recorded for us in the Old Testament is a bit like trying to understand why someone is hitting a ball with a stick without first knowing what baseball is all about. I have come to believe he is right. It’s impossible. That is exactly why we see Jesus doing what he is doing on the road to Emmaus. All of scripture, including the Old Testament, is meant to ultimately point us to one thing, to Jesus Christ and God’s plan to save and renew the whole world through him.
I have come to believe that it is possible, even quite common these days, to know the stories in the Bible and miss the Story of the Bible. The Bible is full of rules which none of us have ever been able to keep which means that if the Bible is only a book of rules it ultimately stands in judgment over us and leaves us miserably discouraged and hopeless. If the Bible is only a book of heroes we are meant to copy, one has to ask if these are really the role models we want to emulate in life? Jacob was a liar. David was an adulterer and a murderer. Moses was a fugitive. Thomas was a doubter. Peter turned on his best friend. And if you say that the Bible is simply a self-help book full of answers, have you ever tried to follow its advice? Love your enemies. Give away your money. Never worry. Forgive always. Pray at all times. Let’s see you set and keep even one of these as your New Year’s resolution!
You see, we have got to get past this screwy idea that the Bible is meant only to inform us. It does inform us, of course. But that is not its main purpose. God’s Word is ultimately meant not to inform us but to transform us. And it is meant to transform us by pointing us to, leading us to, introducing us to the One who came to do just that. In the pages of scripture, in this story of what God has done, we meet Christ who is ready, if we will let him, to make everything in our lives and in our world new again. And I have come to believe that every page of scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, points us to that end. The journey Jesus took those two unsuspecting disciples on that day on the road to Emmaus is a journey he wants to take us all on, a journey to the new life he wants to give to all who would have faith.
I began this morning by telling you that I’ve always wished I could have taken that seven mile walk with Jesus on the road to Emmaus that Sunday afternoon. Well, this coming year I’m going to try to do just that and I want to invite you along for the journey. We can’t go back in time, of course. We don’t need to. Christ himself is alive and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, present within and among us. And so for the next 51 Sundays of 2014 we are going to ask him to walk us through the scriptures of the Old Testament, beginning with Moses and the prophets, to help us see how all of it ultimately points to him.
Pastor and author Tim Keller, who has been a great influence for me along these lines, says that if we take this journey with an open mind and a soft heart we will be amazed to see how clearly we come to see Christ in every page of scripture.
In his words,
Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden, his garden, a much tougher garden, and whose obedience restored us to God’s favor.
Jesus is the true and better Abel who, though he was innocently slain his blood cries out not for condemnation but for acquittal.
Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go into the void not knowing where he was headed but went nonetheless for the sake of blessing all the world.
Jesus is the true and better Isaac who was not just offered up by his father on the mountain but was truly sacrificed for us. God said to Abraham, now I know you love me because you did not withhold from me your son, your only son, whom you love. Now we, at the foot of Christ, can say to God, now we know that you love me because you did not withhold from me your son, your only son, whom you love.
Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow, the justice we deserved, so that we like Jacob only receive wounds of grace which wake us and discipline us.
Jesus is the true and better Joseph who is at the right hand of the king and forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his power ultimately to save them.
Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord to mediate a new covenant.
Jesus is the true and better Job, one who is truly innocent but suffers nonetheless and intercede for us to save us from stupid friends.
Jesus is the true and better David whose victory over the giant enemy of death became his people’s victory though they never lifted the stone to accomplish it themselves.
Jesus is the true and better Esther, who for the salvation of his people didn’t just risk losing an earthly palace but lost his ultimate heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life but gave his life, who didn’t just say if I perish but when I perish.
Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast out in the storm so we can be brought in, who for our sake didn’t just spend three days in the belly of a whale but three days in the belly of the grave.
Jesus is the true and better prophet, the true and better Passover lamb, the true and better king, the true and better temple, the true and better priest, the true and better manna from heaven, the true and better river of life.
I believe, along with many of you, that Jesus Christ is alive and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in our midst. I also believe that it is his desire to crack open our thick heads and soften our hard hearts so that we can see who he truly is and understand what he ultimately came to accomplish in our lives and in our world. Next week we are going to start in Genesis 1 and begin working our way through the Old Testament scriptures together, hitting the high points as we go along throughout the year. As we do, I want us to expect to meet Christ along the way. I want us to be attentive to whatever it is he wants to teach us or show us. I want us to be humble enough to let him correct whatever foolish or faithless readings of scripture we have embraced in the past.
As we go, each week we will list for you in the Next Step the scriptures we will be covering that next Sunday and I want to challenge you to take time and read through those scriptures that week before we preach on them. Sometimes, like this coming week, the reading will be just a chapter or two. I hope this week you and your family will read together Genesis 1-2. Other weeks it will be a considerably longer reading, sometimes even a whole book of the Old Testament. In either case, most of the time these readings will be stories, some which are very familiar to you and others which are perhaps not familiar at all.
On Sundays, whoever is preaching will do his or her best to help us all see how the passages we are reading, even though they will not mention him by name, are ultimately pointing us to Christ. That will be our aim. So pray for me, for Jim, for Rick, for others who will take on this task. Pray mostly that as we embark on this journey together Christ will come alongside us and, along the way, just like he did for Cleopas and his companion, open our minds and soften our hearts to know with great certainty that he is, after all, not dead, but alive and nearer to us than we ever before imagined.
The Next Step
A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Read Luke 24:13-27. What stands out to you from this amazing story?
Why do you think Jesus took time to explain to these two disciples from the Scriptures what had happened rather than just revealing himself to them right there on the spot?
If you had been there and shared that journey on the road to Emmaus with Jesus, what question would you have wanted to ask him?
What is the Bible? What purpose does it serve in our lives? What purpose has it served in your life?
What do you think about the Old Testament? Do you spend must time in the Old Testament? Do you believe the Old Testament is just as important as the New Testament?
Do you think that we can meet Jesus in the Old Testament just as easily as we can meet Jesus in the New Testament?
It’s been said that we cannot understand Jesus apart from understanding the Old Testament and the story of Israel. What does this mean to you? Do you believe this is true?
Do you believe that Jesus is eternal, that his life has no beginning and no end? Why does this matter?
 I stole this phrasing from N.T. Wright in Luke for Everyone, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), p. 294.
 Sally Lloyd-Jones was helpful in categorizing the way people see the Bible in The Jesus Storybook Bible, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), p. 14-17.
 N.T. Wright, Simply Christian, (San Francisco: Harper, 2006), p. 71.