The Road to Emmaus
The story of the two men going to Emmaus is significant because it deals with one of the great issues of life - spiritual blindness. Spiritual blindness is not something people easily recognise in themselves or in others. What is it? The former slave ship captain John Newton knew what spiritual blindness was. He wrote the words "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me....I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now, I see.” For him, spiritual blindness was an aspect of his life before he had had a personal meeting with Jesus Christ. Spiritual blindness meant that he had had no sense of what was right and wrong. He had no sense or instinct for the will of God in his life. He had no concern for his fellow human beings. He did not see God, he did not recognise God, he did not seek God’s will at all in anything he did. He had not a clue. He could as much describe the kingdom of God as a person blind from birth could describe Ben Nevis.
The large majority of people in our land suffer from spiritual blindness. They live without any sense or apprehension of the reality of the living God. Before Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time, he wept over its spiritually lost population. He said he always wanted to gather them up in his arms but they resisted his embrace. Do you think that people whose eyes have been spiritually opened would live as they do today? Is it not people who have no personal sense of God’s love for them and no relationship with the risen Jesus Christ who cause all the problems in society and nation? But it is not just the trouble makers. Go down to Livingston Almondvale or Macarthur Glen shopping centres on Sunday afternoon. How many of the thousands there have the slightest sense of God in their lives? How many have been to church that morning? Go into the pubs any Friday or Saturday. Are any of those drinking aware of their own sins? Are they capable of doing anything about them? Are not many intent on sinning and happy to boast about their intentions?
Spiritual blindness is inward, not recognising our human predicament and it is outward, not recognising the difference between living a good life and a stupid one, a helpful life and a selfish one, a fulfilling life and a wasted one. Just think of a world with the majority of the human population being blind. Because that is the image of spiritual blindness that is the actual case in our land today. Nearly all our media discourse takes place in states of spiritual blindness. The work of comedians, entertainers and sport; the world of advertising and merchandising. Even politics and law are not exempt. Spiritual blindness is the human condition by default.
So we heard about these two men who were leaving Jerusalem as seriously disappointed people. There was nothing to keep them in Jerusalem. Jesus had been crucified. Their expectations had not been met. They had indeed been shattered. These two people were broken. If you invest your life in a cause that proves futile, there is a lot of mental and emotional turmoil to go through. Men and women invest life and time in relationships. Some do not work out. There is a lot of hurt. There is also a lot of denial that there is any hurt. But you can see on people’s faces the pain of rejection and of the wounding of others. It is as if they are carrying behind them large sacks of baggage, burdened and dragged down, walking slowly and without freedom. These two men were very unhappy indeed. Defeat is painful at anything you take seriously. It was traumatic for anyone who followed Jesus to have watched his end. Gruesome. Final. Irredeemable. Living bereavement. Knowing it was over. These two men had set their minds on certain things happening. They had wanted the establishment of Jesus as a ruler in Jerusalem. That was the limit of their understanding and the scope of their vision. All was lost.
They were walking west from Jerusalem. It was evening. The low setting sun was in their faces and in their eyes. Perhaps their heads were bowed, picking out the least uncomfortable bits of the rough pathway. They were preoccupied with their thoughts. They were depressed and they were grieving. The text says that Jesus Himself came up and walked along with them. It seems as if he materialised beside them, or, perhaps just behind them and caught up with them. But why did he do this? Why did he pick them out? After his resurrection, Jesus appeared many times in different settings and locations and to different people to establish the truth of his resurrection. These were people he knew and cared about.
Jesus begins a normal conversation. 'What are you talking about?' The two stopped in their tracks out of amazement and tried to answer their new companion’s question. Their faces were etched with sadness. 'Are you kidding?' they implied. Cleopas asked, 'What planet do you live on? Have you no idea what has been going on?' Jesus asks for further clarification. Both men then talk about Jesus of Nazareth. They begin with the Jesus they saw - a human person with a human name and place - not a divine person, not Jesus the Messiah. They describe him as a prophet powerful in word and in deed before God and all the people. That was all they had seen in Jesus. They crucified him - can you imagine? 'We hoped he would free Israel from the Romans'. There’s more, they said. 'Some of our women came with a fantastic story that his tomb was empty and his body missing and they had seen angels who told them Jesus was alive. Can you believe it? Our friends went to the tomb and found that it was empty but they saw no trace of Jesus. Who on earth would believe all this? I bet you don’t'.
Jesus then rebuked them for their spiritual blindness. He called them foolish and slow of heart to believe. They were lacking in spiritual perception and not well enough versed in the Hebrew Bible - the Old Testament; they could not put the events together in a positive narrative. It just had not clicked in their minds. That is the human state. We are not normally geared up to take in such an event. We are not switched on to God at all. Jesus then corrected their limited version of the role of the Messiah in Jewish expectation. He was not to be a political Messiah. He was to suffer and then enter his glory. Jesus then, as they continued their journey- the three of them - went through the Scriptures highlighting the references to the real purpose of the Messiah from God’s point of view.
This had an effect on the two men but they still had not recognised their companion. The reached Emmaus. Jesus began to bid them farewell and began to walk on but - they urged him strongly 'No, no - don’t go - it’s far too late in the day come and spend the evening and night with us'. This was a common courtesy in that culture in those times. You never said to anyone 'You’ll have had your tea' or 'We don’t have a spare room'. People shared their food with passing strangers and made a place on the floor for an overnight guest to sleep. Jesus had already turned the two men’s despair to hope. Their demeanour had improved. They were uplifted in spirit. But they still had no clue as to who their companion guest actually was. They were still spiritually blind.
People can come to church for years and for decades and still not have a clue who Jesus actually is and who Jesus can be for them. Even born-again Christians have blind spots. Jesus talked about people keen to take a speck of dust out of someone else’s eye while not seeing the wooden plank in front of their own eye. In general humanity, we all have moments when suddenly we see everyone and everything in a new light. Falling in love, seeing your first child. Sometimes illness makes people revalue everything they have thought about their lives. Bereavement and loss can do so too - but - that experience has a different quality to it than the happy positive events on life.
Jesus had not imposed himself on the two travellers. He waited until they invited him to join their evening meal and spend the night. He did not ask if he could have something to eat and bed and breakfast. In all that happens in human life people often ask where God is. But God does not force himself on us. It is up to us to seek out God and invite him into our lives and make him welcome in our hearts and souls and minds. Jesus stands at the door of our lives and it is for us to open the door and let him come in. Jesus - the guest - took the evening bread. He prayed and then and broke it and gave a piece to each. As a guest he would have been served - he would not have served. So - this was presumptuous - but - it was also typical. Jesus served people. He had not changed. The text says that it was at the moment they received the bread in their hands that their eyes were opened and they recognised him. It does not say that their eyes opened, it says their eyes were opened. It was the presence of Jesus which opened their spiritually blind minds to Himself. That is the truth and history of Christianity. Sometimes it takes a spiritual earthquake to make a person see Jesus Christ for who he truly is. Most of humanity in our time and age are blind to the risen Jesus Christ.
Seeking him out, praying, reading the Bible, attending Church can prepare us for that moment when he will reveal Himself to us. Responding positively to some important or traumatic event in our lives by turning to God can also help to make that moment of recognition arrive. If we live without the slightest concern for our eternal destiny then we will never recognise Jesus even if he is standing right beside us.
Jesus then disappeared. He was no longer limited by a human physical body. He had entered into his glory. He had his resurrected body but he was still identifiable as Jesus. There was continuation from the Jesus of Nazareth to Jesus the Lord of eternity. The two who were left were enthralled by what had happened and the Holy Spirit had burned within them as Jesus had been speaking to them from the Scriptures. They did not go to bed after their food. They got up and walked the seven miles back to Jerusalem. Contrast their attitude and demeanour. They had been broken - now they were on fire. They had lost all hope - now they were filled with optimism. They had thought politically and now they saw the greatness of the Messiah’s role and that Jesus had fulfilled it. They went back to visit Peter and the others and testified 'It is true - the Lord has risen'.
That moment of insight can be yours also if knowing Jesus is sufficiently important to you. Why live out your years on earth like a blind person? Ask the Lord to touch you and grant you spiritual sight always.