My Easter sermon — given five times over the span of 18 hours — took a different look at what to many folks is a familiar story: The Road To Emmaus.
At least, that’s what the heading over Luke 24:13-35 says the story is about in my nifty NIV Large Print bible.
But when you read the story all the way through, you realize that the way back from Emmaus is much more significant than the rode there. I’ll show you what I mean in this rough manuscript:
The story we are going to explore today on Easter Sunday is usually called “The Road To Emmaus” (bible heading) and I know that some of you have even been on a spiritual retreat called “The Walk To Emmaus.” I’ve been on that “WTE!” But today, I’m not very interested in the road TO Emmaus. I’m more interested in the way BACK. Getting there might have been interesting and climactic on that very first Easter Sunday but it was the road BACK that was ultimately more meaningful & triumphant.
Let me show you what I mean. When we get to Luke 24:13 it is the first Easter Sunday. I mean Day Zero for Jesus-rising-from-the-dead. And round about mid-morning – maybe just after brunch & Starbucks – two guys – one named Cleopas & the other who is never named (can you imagine?! Bitter!) – are leaving town, leaving Jerusalem, leaving all. See, they’ve been followers of Jesus for the last three years and they had invested their hopes and their lives in him and on Friday they’d seen their hopes & their future NAILED TO A CROSS. Up there, bleeding, moaning, dying, was everything they’d come to believe in. So they are fully disillusioned and completely stressed by Sunday.
Maybe you’ve had those kind of moments. We’re everything you had hoped for, most of what you had believed in, just SNATCHED away from you. You had hopes around your career, your family, even your ministry and at some point it seemed that all those hopes just got nailed up out of your reach and beyond your power. What it was for these two. And then on Sunday they heard these bizarre, unproven rumors that Jesus’ tomb was empty. The women of the group told it first and in those days men felt that women were unreliable, so they actually regarded the stories as “idle tales.” So here these guys are, mid-day on Sunday, disillusioned and stressed out, conflicted & confused, and what do they do? They walk away. Emmaus (AV) was a village about 7 miles NW of Jerusalem and they just start walking. It’s likely their home and it is certainly their escape.
Rather than face their issues and drama head on, they withdraw into what is comfortable, familiar, and quite possibly self-destructive. Emmaus is what they know even if it’s not what they need. They deal with pain by escaping into to comfort.
I think most of us have an Emmaus we go to, don’t we? A place, a realm, a pattern of behavior that when life becomes too much and the stress gets too high, we head to it as an escape. It’s the familiar, even if it’s not the healthy. For someone here, Emmaus is one more drink. Your marriage is too tense, your kids are loud, your boss is too demanding and it’s just one more drink. Which quickly becomes eight more (like I heard a wise-&-recovering alcoholic say one time, “when you start drinking, it’s like getting hit by a train. It’s not the caboose that kills you.”). For someone else here, Emmaus is that place of isolation. Relationships – romantic & otherwise – have proven difficult and so you’ve just found it easier to withdraw. Your hope is so low you default to disengage. Or someone else here it’s your mobile device. You find the digital world much more compelling than the literal one. But what’s really going on is escape & avoidance. And then for more than a few of you, you deal with pain by escaping into the comfort of not believing. When you can edge God out of your life, it feels so escapist because you’re in charge. And that’s where you go whenever hope fades and stress rises. Emmaus is not just a place on a map or a word on a page, it’s a reality we live.
Which is what these two guys are doing in Luke 24. Jesus wouldn’t do what they wanted him to do & how they wanted him to do it so they bold. But look what happens on their way in 24:15-16:
15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
Now how did that happen? We don’t know because Luke doesn’t say. There is a phenomenon called “Face Blindness” in which folks who can otherwise see perfectly well can’t process the faces of people they should know. Perhaps these two got that. In any event, Jesus intrudes in their space, in the lives, and what results over the next few verses is a caper in which the readerknows what the characters don’t: Jesus is spoiling their escape. So for seven miles they walk. How long? Three hours? Maybe. Look at this classic line in 24:18:
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?”
How great is that?! Are you the only one who DOESN’T when he is actually the only one who DOES. Another bit of hilarity in 24:24:
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 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.
They did not see Jesus . . . while we are but don’t realize it!
Well as they are on about mile 6, Jesus lays into these two to let them know that all the events they have just described are part of a long, unfolding plan. They make perfect sense in light the revelation embedded in the OT that the Savior would have GLORY THRU SUFFERING. Finally, in 24:28-29, they get to Emmaus, the place of comfort and it is almost evening, and Jesus is not going to impose, he is going to go on, but they’re like “no, you are an incredible conversationalist, so hang with us tonight.” So the first climactic moment happens in 24:30-31:
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 recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.
Jesus gets revealed in the MUNDANE! While eating dinner! Not while meditating on a mountaintop or even waiting by an empty tomb. While breaking bread. So after 7 miles, 3 hours, lotta talking, THEY GET IT, they see him, but then: POOF (24:31b). He’s gone! So frustrating! Why didn’t Jesus let them bask in his presence? Why so fleeting? Bothered me!
But the only reason it bothered me is because I hadn’t read the rest of the story. Because remember: it’s late in the day, it’s been a 7 mile walk and they’ve now arrived at the place of comfortable dysfunction & escape and all of a sudden, with that flash of insight they realize: he DID rise from the dead. And then he vanish. Insight followed by decision-time. Why? Ah. 24:33 is real climax of the scene:
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together
They got up and returned AT ONCE. In the dark. No overnight stay in Emmaus. This was no seven mile miracle! It was a 14 mile one! Emmaus was not the destination! The return was! Inconvenient, late in the day, probly dark, another 7 mile hike but these two had to stop escaping and start living. THAT’S WHY JESUS ROSE! To get these two guys back into life with its complexities, challenges, difficulties and know they could deal with them by resurrection power. Look what they found in 24:33: “the Eleven.” Not 12. Cuz no Judas. They go right back into this little community that’s torn apart by betrayal. But not to avoid it; to enter into it. And so here’s what I now know about Easter & I know it because the way FROM Emmaus is more important than way TO it: Your desire to escape is Jesus’ signal to invade.
Jesus rose from the dead in part to make all kinds of uninvited, unexpected, unpredictable intrusions into your life. To keep you from reverting to those same old self-destructive patterns. When you think you need some kind of spiritual high – even a Walk TO Emmaus – he’s gonna intrude on your meals, your travel, your conversation, your church, in the mundane and the routine to open your eyes and bring you back to himself. To head off your escape at the pass. To get you stop avoiding and to start dealing. To stop isolating and to start engaging. Hey – to stop medicating and to start living. Your desire to escape is Jesus’ signal to invade.
Goodness, this is the way God has always looked. Moses? Huh? Moses, it’s me in this fiery bush. Stop killing and start leading. Isaiah? Isaiah? Who, Lord? Hear the song? ‘Holy Holy Holy’? Now you know what kind of God I am. You weren’t looking but I telling you anyway. Saul? Saul? Your arrival in Damascus is going to be delayed. Time to turn your persecuting into preaching and your Saul into Paul.
And I know he still does. His intrusions can be so awkward, so unexpected, so ultimately liberating. Awhile back a guy at this church – whom I had no idea was going through anything – was into escape mode. Leaving faith, escaping responsibility, avoiding family. Bad way. And he wandered into church on Sunday when, as part of a series called Man On The Runwe played this bumper before the sermon: PLAY Know what he told me later: he knewthat guy was him. He did NOT have to hear any sermon! : ( He saw it! He saw himself! Jesus told him: that’s you, bud, and you’re running will get you exactly nowhere. Thank God my friend was wise enough to see! We play a bumper to set up a sermon and God uses it to save a soul, a family a life. Don’t tell me Jesus isn’t alive and well! Your desire to escape is Jesus’ signal to invade.
I was even talking with a real accomplished guy in CLT awhile back and was saying “hey, only a few years til I’m 55 and you KNOW then I have to start winding down. New career or something!” And he took in my drivel and came back about three weeks later: “do you know how young 55 is?” Total change in outlook. Renewed energy. Church blessed. Don’t tell me that when I start pre-planning an early escape from life that Jesus isn’t alive and well! My desire to escape was Jesus’ signal to invade.
Yeah, it’s the road BACK that’s more interesting and more significant. To return & re-engage is so much better than escape. Because look at 24:35:
Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
These two would-be-escape-artists end up telling the story. They join the cause. They started out the afternoon anticipating the pina coladas in Emmaus and they end it by doing the work of telling the story and sharing the faith. I know there are people here who tried to escape but he caught you and brought you back. Tell someone. Today. Around here we believe that a living relationship with Jesus Christ means you are sharing the gospel. If he intruded and protected you well from your worst enemy which is you, oh, tell somebody about that today. Your desire to escape is Jesus’ signal to invade.
Some of you remember Donna Rice (AV). Very sad story. Got caught up with Gary Hart, running for president in 87, the relationship got exposed, Hart’s campaign crashed, and Donna Rice’s life went to hell. You know what’s sad? She’d grown up in in church. Had a different hope for the way life was to work. When it all came out, her hopes for life were nailed up on a cross, right?
And Jesus intruded before any further descent in her life. Friends, songs, parents. Intrusion. Where she was a national punch line, she now has a ministry. Here’s what she says happened: “It took falling on my rear in front of the whole world to get my attention. Help me to live my life your way. God answered my plea by flooding me with his presence & forgiveness & by surrounding me with Xn people.” I pray, I pray, you’ll see his intrusion before you ever have to fall on your rear . . . much less in front of the world. Have him open those eyes today for your road back FROM Emmaus.