Two disciples are heading to Emmaus (a village about seven miles from Jerusalem) where presumably they’ve been attending the Passover Feast. But that’s not what’s on their hearts and minds. They are thinking about Jesus and how He was turned over to the Romans for crucifixion by the Jewish leaders. As if things could get worse, it’s the third day since this occurred and apparently something has happened to His body. His tomb has been disturbed and His body is nowhere to be found. You wonder how many pilgrims who attended the Feast are trudging home entertaining similar thoughts.
They are joined by the resurrected Jesus—only they are “kept from recognizing Him” (v. 16). I suppose it’s natural for us to question why this concealing was done. Haven’t these two suffered enough—wouldn’t the sensitive thing be to immediately reveal Himself and deliver them from their despondency? While I think you could make a good argument for that, Christ regards it as a teachable moment—one that would not occur if He revealed Himself immediately to them. He’s taking a longer view of things with them. And by recording it years later, Luke is doing the same for Theophilus and others who will read his gospel.
This longer view interestingly points away from personally experiencing the resurrected Christ as the apostles and a substantial amount of other people did (1 Corinthians 15:5-8) and toward the witness of Scripture. It’s the same thing that Jesus tells Thomas when He says to him “Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29). John segues from this event to explain that he has written his gospel so that people might believe in Jesus and find life (v. 30-31). While we are to appreciate those who bore witness to the risen Christ, they are very much the exception rather than the rule. That’s why a blessing is attached to those who come to faith through the witness of Scripture.
Returning to Jesus and the two disciples, it’s important to note that the issue is more than just the resurrection of Christ. They are missing out on something else that is just as fundamental—they are stumbling over the suffering of Christ (“Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter His glory?” – v. 26). It is this point that Jesus develops as He explains the Scriptures to them (v. 26-27). It is this point that Peter stumbles over after his great confession of Christ (Matthew 16:21-23).
It is not insignificant that this understanding takes them seven miles from where they need to be (in Jerusalem – 24:47,52). They’re still close, in the vicinity, within walking distance—just not where they should be. I can’t help but think that there are many today who are seven miles from Jerusalem. They believe in the Christ and wish to follow, but they don’t want the cross that Jesus brings (Matthew 16:24-25). They embrace the glory, but not the suffering that goes with it (Romans 5:2-5, 8:17-18).
I just finished reading about four believers in Nigeria who were killed by Fulani herdsmen. The people of this particular village now sleep outside so they can get away quickly when they hear the herdsmen or members of Boko Haram coming at night to raid their village. Church leaders are discussing with disciples “what if” scenarios (What if you are threatened with death if you don’t denounce Christ and other similar situations). In light of this, our desire (at times) for God to take away any pain or discomfort the moment it dots our horizon is embarrassing as well as ill-informed. We never consider that it might be a teachable moment or that He might be putting us in that situation to transform us and/or bear witness to others.
Luke would have us to know that Jesus was with two disciples in Emmaus but when He opened their eyes they were no longer satisfied to be seven miles from Jerusalem.
Neither should we.