Today, I want to tell you a story. This story is about two men, mired in frustration and confusion, even the complicated and painful feelings of betrayal. They are shocked and disappointed. They feel a little uncertain about where to land in the midst of all these emotions. They’re trying out a little logic, a little anger, a little reasoning, and a little hope.
These two men, these two disciples, and their multitude of emotions can be found in the book of Luke, specifically chapter 24: 13-53. This story picks up immediately after the death of Christ and the discovery of His empty tomb. It’s a story that many of us have heard again and again: two disciples are walking the road to Emmaus from Jerusalem. They’re discussing all of the events that have taken place over the last few days, and they’re so engrossed in their discussion that when Jesus appears to them, they fail to even recognize that it’s Him! I’d be willing to bet that upon hearing this story, many of us have thought “How crazy!” and continued right on doodling through the sermon or reading to the next chapter in our Bibles. But to do so is to truly miss out on an enormous lesson, one so very applicable to our own lives and stories.
Let’s take a moment to consider what it would be like to be in the dusty sandals of these two disciples. First of all, they’d just lost their leader, their friend, their beloved teacher in a brutal, astonishing crucifixion. They feel sad and hurt, traumatized perhaps, and even betrayed because it all ended so gorily and in such anti-climactic fashion (given they can’t really see the “big picture” yet). They feel lost without the leadership of Jesus, and on top of everything else, they’ve just been alerted to the fact that Jesus’s tomb is now empty! So many questions. So much confusion. And all of it like salt in the wound of the hurt they’re still feeling over His very recent and dramatic death.
Like you and me, these two men are so caught up in their emotions, so very caught up in their external circumstances and trying to understand everything and make sense of everything that they become blinded to what’s right in front of their faces: Jesus! The Bible states that, “And while they were conversing and discussing together, Jesus Himself caught up with them and was already accompanying them…[but] they did not recognize Him” (vs. 15-16). Y’all, this right here is me!! I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been so caught up in my problem or my situation, so focused on myself and my own attempt at reason/logic that if Jesus stood directly in front of my face, I’d likely miss Him. How many times He must have moved on my behalf only for me to miss it because I wasn’t looking for Him, I was looking for an explanation.
Jesus, waving His hand in front of my face: “Um, hello. Right here with you.”
Me, all caught up in my problem: “Oh, where are you Jesus? Where have you gone when I needed you?”
Yep. Been there. And it’s not like He just shows up when I need Him and stands around. Instead, when I need him, Jesus is with me, speaking to me, questioning me so that I can see the answers and sense His presence for myself, but I’m so busy talking and fretting, my head so full of my own noise that I don’t recognize Him, His voice. Our disciple friends did exactly that same thing. In fact, when Jesus begins questioning them regarding what events had taken place to get them so upset, they get frustrated with Him and His ignorance. The disciple named Cleopas even goes so far as to basically say, “Are you seriously the only stranger in this whole area who doesn’t know what’s just happened around here?” (verse 18) In other words, you and your ignorance are inexcusable. (YIKES!!) The disciples go on to answer Jesus’s question about what’s happened by listing ALL THE WRONGS that happened. All the negatives. (Let’s take a quick moment right here to recognize that because they didn’t know what God knew and because what they expected to happen was based on their own limited understanding of God and how He worked, they’re even more upset, confused and worked up than if they’d just remember who Jesus was and put their trust in the same Father He trusted. Preaching to myself. Okay, back to our story.) So after listening to Cleopas and his fellow disciple-friend detail all the things that had gone wrong and upset them, Jesus had something to say…something He’s probably said to me a thousand times: “And [Jesus] said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” Did you catch that exclamation point? I hope so. Jesus’s statement paraphrased: “Are you braindead? I told you what was going to happen, it happened, and now you’re confused? Have some faith, my friends!” Isn’t that what you and I should be doing in the midst of our upset too? Shouldn’t we be purposefully reminding ourselves of God’s promises in His Word, taking a couple of deep breaths, and intentionally choosing to believe that God will do what He says He’ll do?
But of course our story doesn’t end there. Fast forward through their journey. The two disciples arrive at their exit and implore Jesus to stay with them instead of continuing on. He agrees, even staying to have dinner with them. It was during this meal, when Jesus took the bread (remember, they have a kinship with this man they can’t quite understand but they still think he’s merely a friendly stranger), broke it and prayed over it that the Bible tells us “…their eyes were instantly opened and they [clearly] recognized Him, and He vanished (departed invisibly)” (vs. 31). CAN. YOU. IMAGINE? My head would be absolutely spinning! I’d be so shocked that Jesus was right there with me (wait, what?! Isn’t he DEAD?!), and then after He just vanished, I’d be left trying to remember all the crazy mess I’d said in front of Him when I thought He was just a random stranger. Surely Cleopas thought, “Oh no, I got snarky with Jesus!”
Like what you and I would most likely do, these two friends had to verbally rehash all that had happened since this stranger came into their presence. I love verse 32 because it really shows us the humanity of these men, trying to explain a greatness that they can’t really put into words. Putting ourselves in their shoes we can see how they were both calmed by this “stranger” and even desired His presence without even realizing it. This is such an important moment of awakening for these hurting, confused men that I want to separate it out. Verse 32 is below.
“And they said to one another, Weren’t our hearts burning within us while He was talking with us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us?”
Look at this. Jesus’s message to them was so anointed and so impactful that these two men, despite being overcome with so many different emotions, had a physical reaction to the words of Jesus. I want you to take a minute and think about whatever is weighing on your heart lately. Or, think about something you were going through recently that lasted substantially longer than you’d have preferred. Jesus talks to us in the midst of our struggles, you know. He’s right there. The whole time. And you know what else? He’s guiding us. But like these two men, we get so caught up in foolishly trying to understand it all or having our own way or being mad because life didn’t happen the way we expected that we shut down the burn from the Holy Spirit that we feel within. Some of us shut it down with substances. Some of us shut it down with noise: social media, hectic schedules that keep us busy and occupied from sun up to sun down, television, even social engagements so we make sure we aren’t ever still and quiet. Some of us shut it down with food. And then others of us find ways of insulating ourselves against that burn with anger or harshness or hatred. But what if we stopped all that? What if we just let ourselves feel the burn? What if we just stopped making excuses and getting so wrapped up and just let Jesus be Jesus? Sure, it’s going to be hard to do and, I’ll be totally honest, pretty painful at first. But look at our reward: Jesus, by way of the Holy Spirit right there with us, guiding us, explaining things to us, helping us in every possible way. That’s definitely worth it, wouldn’t you agree?
At the close of Luke 24, Jesus is taken up into heaven while in the presence of His disciples, including the two friends from our story, but before going, He says to His friends, “Peace be to you!…Why are you disturbed and troubled, and why do such doubts and questionings arise in your hearts?” As friends of Jesus, He is saying these things to us, too. He’s asking you and me, why are you choosing doubt and upset and anger and food and alcohol and distraction over me? I am trying to help you. I am trying to point out to you the things in your life that need your attention. I am trying to help you make decisions that, while possibly inconvenient and unpopular right now, will set you up for abundant blessings down the road, but you refuse to heed the burn of My Holy Spirit’s prompting within you. Stop fighting Me. Stop avoiding Me. Stop carrying into your future all that baggage (guilt, hurt, shame) that I died to save you from. Why are you disturbed and troubled when I’m right here? I want to help. I died to help. Please, let me.
Dear Lord, thank you so much for the incredible gift of the Holy Spirit that, as a believer, I get to carry within me at all times. Thank you for the continual guidance and instruction I receive from Your Spirit. Father, I ask that You please help me to mirror my life after Your Son. I recognize that Jesus’s life wasn’t comfortable or easy, and I know that sometimes mine won’t be either. I know that You’re right there with me, though, when things get tough, and I know that You’re using those trials to bless me and bring glory to You. Help me, also, Father, to stop tuning out the voice of the Holy Spirit when I feel it burning within me. Help me and those I care about to stop seeking ease and comfort and to start seeking You, no matter what that costs us. I love you, Lord, and I simply want to know You and to have more of You. In Jesus’s name I pray, Amen.