One thing that holds true for just about every Christian is that – over time – we take God’s Word and overlay it with our own personal expectations of what we picture those people to be doing and those words to actually be saying. This is especially true if you have been hearing and studying these accounts for much or even all of your life.
For example, this morning we have the familiar account of the two people walking to Emmaus who were unexpectedly joined by the resurrected Jesus. Our text begins with these words: “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.” [pause] Have you ever wondered just who those “two of them” were? Just before today’s lesson Luke has been talking about the remaining eleven disciples, so they can’t be the “two of them” because later Luke tells us that these two people went back to Jerusalem to tell the eleven what they had witnessed.
In verse 18 Luke tells us that one of the two goes by the name of Cleopas. The name probably isn’t familiar to you – nor should it be. Cleopas is never mentioned anywhere in the Bible before these verses and he is never mentioned again after these verses. Roughly 150 years after the resurrection Eusebius, the Christian Bishop of Caesarea, taught that Cleopas had been the brother of the Virgin Mary’s husband Joseph. Could it be? Possibly. Do we know for sure? No, and there is no Biblical evidence either way. And does it make one bit of difference in God’s overall plan of salvation for His people? Of course not.
Listen again to the beginning of our text: ““That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus.” No matter who or who not Cleopas may have been, the person who was traveling with him is never named. But the expectation of virtually everyone who hears these verses – and I can pretty much guarantee that this is your expectation as well – is that this second unnamed person is a man. Throughout the ages, literally every painting or artistic representation of this text has shown two men walking along the road … two men talking to Jesus … two men with Jesus as He blessed the bread and broke it and gave it to them. But do we know that this second person was a man? Does the original Greek text use words or modifiers or any indicators that specifically identity two as men?
Actually, no. In the absence of definitive proof, some scholars suggest that this second person may have been the wife of Cleopas. It makes sense, doesn’t it? When the men went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, their families went with them. Passover was and is today a family event. But every time you hear these verses your expectation is that they are describing two men rather than a man and a woman.
Once again – could it be? Possibly. Do we know for sure? No. And does it make one bit of difference in God’s overall plan of salvation for His people? Of course not.
Let’s look at another expectation – and this one does matter. These two people are walking from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus. They are having a serious conversation – recounting the arrest and trial and death and burial of Jesus – and, as of that morning, still unsubstantiated claims that He had risen from the dead. As was true of many followers of Jesus, their hearts were heavy with sorrow. A man walks up and joins in their conversation. You know and I know that this third person is Jesus – the risen Jesus – but they don’t know it. They don’t recognize Him.
This is where our expectations kick into high gear. After all, these people were followers of Jesus. They almost certainly had heard Him preach. They may have witnessed His miracles. They may have been at Calvary when He was crucified. They were close enough with Jesus’ 11 disciples and the women who followed Him that they had heard the accounts of the women seeing angels at the empty tomb and they knew that some of the disciples – Peter and John – went and saw that empty tomb for themselves.
So we have an obvious question to ask: if they knew so much about Jesus and were such faithful followers of Him, why didn’t they recognize Him? This man walks with them and talks with them and even went to the dinner table with them – and they don’t have a clue that this is Jesus Christ. Why? What’s missing here?
We might very well ask the same question about people today. Most people – even if they don’t believe in Jesus – know a lot about Him. They know the stories about the virgin birth and the miracles and the arrest and trial and crucifixion and resurrection. They know the stories that Jesus went to heaven and says that He is coming back for judgment day. Why can people know so much about Jesus and still not believe in Him?
We find our answer in verse 16 of our text: “But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Their eyes – their minds – their hearts – their souls – were kept from recognizing Jesus. Something that is – sadly – so very true today.
You know, our human reason tells us that pretty much nothing about the Gospel accounts can be real. A virgin giving birth to a baby boy? Physically impossible! Healing people with just a word or touch rather than by the wonders of modern medicine? Can’t be. Walking on water or stilling a violent storm with just a simple command? Ridiculous. Now the part about the crucifixion they can believe – after all, crucifixion was a common form of execution back in those days.
But then there’s the matter of the resurrection. We have all been to more than enough funerals to know that when you are dead you stay dead. Right? That’s not just an expectation – it’s a proven fact. If the body was not in the tomb, them somebody had to have stolen it. There have been grave robbers as long as there have been graves. At Oakridge Cemetery in Springfield, Abraham Lincoln is buried under tons of steel and concrete because people had been trying to steal his body. As soon as Jesus’ tomb was found to be empty, stories started circulating that His followers had stolen the body so that they could make up ridiculous stories about His resurrection.
Verse 16 of our text: “But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” True then and still true today.
How about your eyes? Almost 2,000 years after that Easter morning, we Christians no longer have the blessed opportunity of seeing our risen Lord face-to-face. We can’t directly see Him as the two people walking to Emmaus saw Him. We can’t see Him as the disciples who were cowering in fear behind locked doors saw Him later that evening. We can’t see Him in the many appearances that Jesus made to His followers between the day of His resurrection and the day of His ascension. For now we can behold Him only through the eyes of faith.
Verse 31 of our text: “And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” Last week we talked about verb forms – and once again, understanding the verb forms that the Holy Spirit inspired St. Luke to write is vitally important to our understanding of what God is telling us in these verses. In verse 16, when we read that “their eyes were kept from recognizing him,” the verbs are in the passive voice – something from the outside was done to these two people. The passive voice is used again in verse 31 when we are told that “their eyes were opened.”
The point – and this is important to remember – is that those two people did nothing to recognize Jesus. On their own, they could see him as nothing than just another man who came walking down the road. They could not see Him as Jesus. They could not see Him as the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the World – until their eyes were opened. That was true on that road to Emmaus and it is still true some 2,000 years later.
In Scriptural terms – and this is true throughout the Old and the New Testaments – references to eyes refer not only to physical vision. Scriptural references to eyes being opened mean far more than getting a new pair of glasses or contacts so that you can read the words on a page. Scriptural references to eyes being open refer to faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Faith in the Triune God of the Father who created you … the Son who saved you … and the Holy Spirit who has brought you to faith in this One True God.
And how have your eyes been opened? How were the eyes of the two people at Emmaus opened? [pause] By the revelation of God through His Holy Word. Verse 27, before they recognize Jesus: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” And then verse 32, after they recognize Jesus: “They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?’”
So how have your eyes been opened? How has the Holy Spirit brought you to faith? It’s really quite simple. Jesus opens your eyes of faith through His Word. Through His Word that tells you why you need a Savior and how your Savior has earned your salvation. Through His Word of promise for eternal life. Through Holy Baptism, where the Word of God is joined together with ordinary water to give you a washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit. Through the Lord’s Supper, where the testament of Christ is joined with the bread and wine to give you His true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.
Before His ascension, Jesus left the disciples with these parting words of comfort and encouragement: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The words “I am with you always” are the virtual equivalent of the name Emmanuel – the name of the Messiah foretold by the prophet Isaiah and proclaimed in Matthew 1:23 – the name that means “God with us.” “God with us” in the flesh-and-blood Jesus is still “God with us” in the risen, glorified flesh-and-blood Jesus. “God with us” is the God who is always with us. The God who comes to you in His holy Word. The God you see today with wide-open eyes of faith. Until that glorious day when we are called to the side of our great Good Shepherd – seeing Him face-to-face for all eternity.
He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia.