That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 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?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
As with last week, here we have an account of disciples meeting with Jesus and not knowing who he is. Mary thought she’d seen a gardener, these two disciples though they were simply talking to a fellow traveller. As far as they were concerned, Jesus was dead but there were rumours that he was alive. Clearly they were unsure enough of the truth of the rumour, that they didn’t recognise Jesus with them. Oh, the danger of missing God at work because we assume he isn’t there.
So it is that Jesus gently chides them: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” Let us not think that Jesus therefore wrote them off. No, through his grace he simply took them through the Old Testament and “interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself”. What a Bible Study that would have been!
The pair urged Jesus to stay with them, and he eats with them. As he takes, breaks and blesses the bread they recognise him. Then he is gone. The two cast their mind back to that Bible study: “did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”.
In all of this, Jesus’ actions are well worth considering. When he meets with those disciples, there were many options which lay before him. He could have told them who he was. He could have allowed the very fact that he was alive, risen from the cold of the tomb, to make a deep impression on them. He might have even worked some miracle to convince them of who he was. No, when instructing these disciples he simply turned to the Old Testament and led them through.
In an age - and I am sorry to say a church - which is increasingly sceptical towards the Bible this is very instructive. As much as we might think of Jesus as simply an example to follow, or a Christianity as a set of morals, it is clear that Jesus understood himself against the background of the Old Testament. His words, actions and teachings have to be considered in that context. After all, did he not say: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.”? (Matthew 5:17). In other words, we will seriously misunderstand Jesus if we don’t follow his example and look to the Scriptures. Jesus is no plan B, he is the fulfilment of plan A.
Over the years the great Book of Isaiah has held a special place in the heart of the church. Isaiah lived some six centuries before Jesus, yet his prophecies look towards the Christ. In the early church, he was known as the ‘fifth evangelist’, since his writings could be placed alongside Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in explaining quite who Jesus is.
A few years back, and Old Testament scholar put together excerpts from this ancient prophet. He grouped them in such a way as to make clear how they refer to the life of Christ. Read on, and let your heart be warmed as you realise how Christ was in the Old Testament all along!
Behold a virgin shall conceive and bring forth a son (7:14), a rod out of the stem of Jesse (11:1). His name shall be called ‘Immanuel’ (7:14), ‘Wonderful counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace’ (9:6), Key of David (22:22), the Christ (45:1). To us a child is born (9:6). The ox knows its owner and the ass its master’s crib (1:3). The gentiles will come to your light and the kings to your rising ... they shall bring gold and incense (60:6). The idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence (19:1). Behold my servant ... in whom my soul delights (42:1). The spirit of the Lord will rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding ... (11:2). By the way of the sea, beyond Jordan and Galilee of the nations (9:1), the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor ... (61:1). Surely he has taken our infirmities and borne our sicknesses (53:4). Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened ... then shall the lame man leap like a hart (35:5-5). The glory of the Lord is risen upon you (60:1). He shall be a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation (28:16), but also a stone of offence and a rock of stumbling to both the houses of Israel (8:14). He said, ‘Go and tell this people, Hear indeed, but understand not ...’ (6:9).
I will weep bitterly ... because of the destruction of the daughter of my people (that is, Jerusalem 22:4). Say to the daughter of Zion, Your saviour comes (62:11). My house will be called a house of prayer for all people (56:7). My servants shall eat but you shall be hungry, my servant shall drink but you will be thirsty ... (65:13). Ho everyone that thirsts, come to the waters ... (55:1). He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter (53:7). The government (that is, the cross bearing the inscription ‘King of the Jews’ on it) shall be on his shoulder (9:6), and there shall come up briars and thorns (5:6). I gave my back to the smiters and my cheeks to those that pluck out the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting (50:6). He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities (53:5). From the sole of the foot even to the head there is no soundness, but bruises and sores and bleeding wounds (1:6). He was numbered between transgressors (53:12). They made his grave ... with a rich man (53:9). His tomb will be glorious (11:10). Now i will arise, says the Lord, now I will lift myself up, now I will be exalted (33:10). Then shall your light break forth like the dawn (58:8). Seek the Lord while he may be found (55:6). Behold my servant shall understand, he shall be exalted and lifted up (52:13); he shall be high and lifted up (6:1). I will set a sign among them ... I will send survivors to the nations, to the sea, to Africa and Lydia, to Italy and Greece, to islands afar off, to those who have not heard about me and have not seen my glory; and they will proclaim my glory to the nations (66:19).
Sawyer (1996) The Fifth Gospel (Cambridge University Press), pp49-50.
Picture from The Bible Project (Luke - Part 5).