On the road to Emmaus

Rev Dr Emanuel Audisho, multicultural ministry co-ordinator at the Uniting Church in WA, led the Bible study on Wednesday 15 July at the recent 14th Triennial Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia, held in Perth. His study on Luke 24: 13-35 is below. In this study, Emanuel focused on the perspective from Middle Eastern culture. 

Station One: Travelling with Jesus in the 21st century

When Jesus ministered in Israel, he and his disciples walked everywhere. This was their only means of transport. Walking was the usual way of travelling in the Middle East at that time.

For the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, walking and talking was perhaps a means of managing their grief and distress. Many people today go for walks to manage stress but without Jesus walking can be lonely.

As they walked the two disciples discussed the events of the past three days. It is clear from Luke’s account that they didn’t understand all that had happened. They were disappointed. They told Jesus that they had hoped that the man who had been crucified would have been the one to redeem Israel v21. They also told him of the rumors of the Resurrection, but it seems that they found this too hard to accept.

Luke tells us that: “They were kept from recognising him.” v16. We can’t be sure why this should be so, but it is within God’s sovereign will to decide when and where and how he will reveal himself to his people.

However, sometimes our emotional state can make us spiritually blind. The extreme grief and shock experienced by Mary Magdalene, both by the crucifixion and when she discovered Jesus’ body missing from the tomb in the garden prevented her from recognising the Lord when she saw him. John 20:15-16.

You know, we’re so like Cleopas and his companion on the dusty road that night. We speak of Jesus with our limited understanding, but we often forget that he is with us, travelling the same road we travel, feeling the same emotions we feel, sharing the same joys we experience.

So how do we see him more clearly? How do we recognize his presence with us?

We will be able to recognise Jesus when we deliberately look for him; when we expect to find him. God told the prophet Jeremiah: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you…” Jer 29:13, 14.

If we truly seek him we will find him: in our own lives, in the lives of those other Christians whom we know; in the lives of those we meet who suffer need, sickness or any other adversity.

Let us actively look for Jesus in those situations. Let us expect to find him in all the corners of our life. This is our Christian hope: our confident expectation.

Station two: Who’s in charge of our life?

It’s clear that the two disciples on the road to Emmaus had had great expectations of Jesus: Messianic expectations. They knew the prophecies regarding Messiah.

The 7 Miles walk to Emmaus would have taken about 4-5 hours, so Jesus had plenty of time to expound the scriptures and relate them to the events of the past three days.

As Jesus spoke, as he retold the stories from Genesis to Malachi, it is likely that he reminded them of the story of Abraham and Isaac.

We have a synopsis of that story in the letter to the Hebrews: “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” Heb 11:17-19.

It is important that we remember that Jewish culture in Bible times was Middle Eastern culture and in traditional Middle Eastern culture, knowledge, and especially religious knowledge, is highly respected. The ancient texts had authority and someone who could teach them also had authority in the eyes of the Jews. Jesus established his authority by demonstrating his knowledge, and indeed, his understanding, of the sacred texts of Moses and the prophets.

Another aspect of Jewish culture in this story is seen when the disciples invited Jesus to stay and share a meal with them. So in this station we are led to consider two things: the authority of Jesus and the honor due to him.

Regarding his authority, it is clear that in our society many people hold Jesus in high esteem as a man who said that we should love our neighbour; who went about doing good and who did no harm to anyone. But the majority of these people would never dream of seriously considering acknowledging his authority over them in the way they live, or devoting their life to him.

Many people today are happy to admit that Jesus was a good man. But we Christians do not worship a ‘good man’. Jesus was much more than that. We worship the one, true God, who became a man and died for our sins, who was raised, and who now reigns in heaven; who, while he walked the earth, taught with an authority of his own. Just before his ascension, Jesus told his disciples: “…all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” Matt 28:18.

Only by recognising his authority and bowing before it can we claim the privilege of being his disciple – one who is under his discipline. 

And concerning Jesus’ honour: if we expect people to take us seriously when we speak about our faith in Christ, we need to make sure that our lives honour him in every way. In the way we behave, in the way we speak, in the way we use his name with respect and not as a curse or blasphemy.

The lessons taught by Jesus on the road to Emmaus continue to resound down through the years to those of us who call ourselves Christians. Let us take those lessons as seriously as did Cleopas and his anonymous friend.

Station Three: Hearts on Fire

“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?’ Luke 24:32.

There are three aspects of this text.

First, Cleopas and his friend experienced something previously unrevealed to them: the presence of God as Jesus.

Second, they understood something previously unrevealed to them: the meaning of the cross and resurrection in Old Testament prophecies.

Third, they realised only after Jesus mysteriously disappeared from their sight, that the source of their experience and their understanding was Jesus Christ himself who was actually present with them both physically and spiritually.

There are other references to fire in the Bible in relation to God: his nature, his relationship with his people and his presence with them. 

We read of the burning bush, when God is revealed to Moses. Ex 3:2-3.

In this instance, although fire can speak of judgement, it is not the purpose of God to destroy but to give life. The fire does not consume the bush.

Then we see God revealing his presence in the pillar of fire which led Moses and the Hebrews through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. Ex 13:31,32.

In the New Testament also we find reference to fire: John the Baptist said: Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Matt 3:11; at Pentecost tongues of fire came upon the heads of the disciples. Acts 2:3.

When Jesus explained to Cleopas and his companion the Old Testament prophecies pointing to himself, the disciples were listening to none other than the Lord God. And their hearts burned within them. A ‘burning heart’ is a Metaphor for fervent emotion, intense love, burning conviction, unquenchable determination and commitment. What we need today is to hear directly from God, to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us when we hear, read or study the Bible. When God speaks to you, your heart may burn with delight within you and you will not be able to remain cold and indifferent.

Text and Context  

Jesus gave these two disciples a four hour Bible study. When Jesus taught the scriptures to his disciples, he focused on the prophetic texts which were written hundreds of years before the events. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” v27.

As he explained scripture to Cleopas and his friend we see his ability to make sense of things. Their whole basis of belief had been thoroughly shaken. They knew, they remembered, the good things about the prophecies regarding Messiah but they had forgotten the dark side of those prophecies. They remembered the promised deliverer of Israel, but they forgot the Suffering Servant spoken of in Isaiah. Isa 53:1-5.

However, Jesus was just as much concerned with the attitude of their hearts as with their biblical understanding.

Let’s not wait for everything to fall apart before we read our instructions. Let us acquaint ourselves with the word of God, both with the written word of scripture, and with the Word made flesh and came to dwell among us. Both are indispensable to our life as Christians.

Jesus opened the understanding of Cleopas and his friend. When they finally recognised him, they recalled all he had taught them during that four hour walk.

 

Martin Luther said that “the longest journey in the world is from the Head to the Heart.” Too often people have the head knowledge, but not the heart knowledge. Many can quote the Bible word for word, but the meaning is lost to them.

It is true, that we can make the Bible say whatever we want it to say. Unless we understand scripture in its context and culture, we are in danger of misunderstanding it entirely. And also in danger of passing on our ignorance to others. We have a responsibility to try to the best of our ability to understand scripture so that we do not confuse others and ourselves.

 

 

 

Station Four:   The unseen guest in every home

In this story we find two more aspects of Middle Eastern culture: courtesy and hospitality. We see the courtesy of Jesus as he makes to move on and resume his walk. He would not embarrass himself or his two disciples by presuming on their goodwill, although he knew how they would respond. We see from this example of our Lord, that God does not force himself upon anyone.

He has given to us the most gracious, and yet the most dangerous, gift in the world: the gift of free will. We can use it to invite him to stay with us or to allow him to move on. Cleopas and his companion immediately offered Jesus the customary Middle Eastern hospitality of inviting him to share a meal with them.

Such hospitality was also offered by Father Abraham when he was visited by three men at Mamre Gen 18:1-8, and at the end of that meal God revealed himself to Abraham. This Genesis story is a parallel of the meal in our Emmaus passage: when, at the meal table, Jesus revealed himself to his two disciples.

It is the Middle Eastern way for the guest to be given the place of honor at the table, and he then adopts the role of the head of the house and speaks blessings to those gathered there with him. When Jesus was invited to be the guest at a meal with Cleopas and his companion, Jesus took the leading role in the situation, in accordance with Middle Eastern tradition.

In this culture, the guest is given the seat of honour. In this instance, Jesus broke the bread, which would normally be the role played by the father who was the head of the house. Some see this as a reference to Holy Communion.

However we see this moment, we should be aware that it is not only at the Communion table that we can be with Christ. This was an ordinary meal in an ordinary home, and it shows that we can be with Christ at the dinner table, in our homes, too. He is not only the host in the Church, but also, if invited, a guest in every home.

Many families in the Middle East leave an empty chair at their table, believing Jesus will join them as their unseen guest. They believe what they say: “Christ is the head of this house: the unseen guest at every meal, the silent listener to every conversation.”

We can meet Jesus in the extraordinary circumstance and we can meet him in the ordinary, hum-drum routine of living our life from day to day.

Let us, invite Jesus into our homes, into our lives. Let us walk with him in our life’s journey, let his spirit guide us and uphold us in the ministries he has given us so that we can play our part in the extension of the kingdom of God.

Prayer:

God of life and love, your son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of the bread. Open the eyes of our faith, that we may see him in his redeeming work.

Loving God, we pray that as Christ appeared on the road to Emmaus, he might appear to us, and through us, to others. We pray this in the name of savior Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen.

 

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