Two disciples are headed to Emmaus (a village about seven miles from Jerusalem) where presumably they have been attending the Passover Feast. But that’s not what is on their hearts and minds. They are thinking about Jesus and how He had been turned over to the Romans for crucifixion by the Jewish leaders. As if things couldn’t get worse, it is 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 for Jesus to immediately reveal Himself and deliver them from their despondency? While I think you could make a good case for that, Christ regarded it as a teachable moment—one that would not occur if He revealed Himself immediately to them. He’s taking the 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 told Thomas when He said 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 stumbled 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 disciples 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 remember reading about four believers in Nigeria who were killed by Fulani herdsmen. The people of their village slept outside so they could get away quickly when they heard the herdsmen or members of Boko Haram coming at night to raid the village. Church leaders discussed with disciples “what if” scenarios (What if you were threatened with death if you wouldn’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 as embarrassing as it is 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.