Return to Sermons | Home

“On the Road to Emmaus”
Luke 24:13-35


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Third Sunday of Easter—May 8, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Today’s Gospel Reading takes us back to the afternoon of the first Easter Sunday.  The exciting events of early that morning are over.  Most of Jesus’ disciples are now huddled together in a house at Jerusalem, not celebrating Jesus’ resurrection, which they still doubt, but cowering in fear with the doors locked.  At the Last Supper a few nights before Jesus ominously warned, “No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”  So, his disciples are now cowering in fear with the doors locked, because they are afraid that those who tortured and killed their Master will hunt them down and do the same. 

That same afternoon as the sun begins to set, two other disciples are departing Jerusalem for their hometown of Emmaus, a few miles away.  Jesus described Jerusalem as “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!”  That’s what these two are talking about “On the Road to Emmaus,” the horrible events of the past few days: the shocking betrayal of Jesus by one of his own disciples; the agonizing torture and shameful humiliation he endured; the unjust trials and false condemnation; the dreadful crucifixion, death, and burial of their beloved Jesus. 

Much like the confusion that has arisen surrounding the historic events of last week [death of Osama Bin Laden], they are trying to sort it all out, figure out what really happened, and the meaning of it all.  But, there was no doubt Jesus had been put to death.  They didn’t need DNA or photographs.  As Luke reports, “When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away.  And all those who knew him . . . stood at a distance, watching these things.” 

That is why these two disciples “On the Road to Emmaus” are described as “sad” and “downcast.”  Their hopes for redemption were centered on Jesus, and now he is crucified, dead, and buried.  But, although there was no doubt Jesus had been put to death, there was some doubt whether he was still dead.  For, the women who went that morning to anoint his body came back with an amazing story of angels at the empty tomb, who declared, “He is risen!”

“While they were talking and discussing these things together, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”  A stranger now enters the story and joins them “On the Road to Emmaus.”   Luke lets his readers in on the secret that it’s really Jesus.  “But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”  Perhaps they overlooked the obvious because it was just so inconceivable that their beloved Jesus, who was crucified, dead, and buried, should be there now, walking along with them.  Or, maybe Jesus clouded their perception in some way and prevented them from recognizing him at this point, because before they could believe he first had to interpret and open for them the Scriptures.

“He asked them, ‘What are you discussing together as you walk along’ They stood still, their faces downcast.  One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, ‘Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?’ ‘What things?’ he asked. ‘About Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. ‘He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him, but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.’”

Their gloomy sadness as they walk “On the Road to Emmaus” is not only because of Jesus’ death, not even because of the tragic circumstances surrounding his horrible death by crucifixion.  What is really crushing their hearts is expressed in their sad words: “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” “We had hoped,” they say, with a pathetic use of the past tense. 

“We had hoped,” but they hope no more.  For, the one they had hoped in was crucified, dead, and buried.  And dead and buried with him were all their hopes that he was the promised Messiah, “the one who was going to redeem Israel.”  There had been false messiahs in the past, and Jesus too must be just another imposter, another false messiah.  For, how could he be God’s great Redeemer if he is crucified, dead, and buried?

But the stranger rebukes them:  “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”  That is the root of their problem: they don’t rightly know the Bible, and they don’t truly believe it.  “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”

That is also the root of our problem, we don’t rightly know the Bible, and don’t truly believe it.  Just like the disciples “On the Road to Emmaus,” we are often confused, saddened, worried, perplexed by events in our lives today.  Especially when things don’t go the way “we had hoped,” as these two disciples say.

Like them, we reason and discuss and try to sort it all out, try to figure out the meaning of these events, why things are happening they way they do in our lives.  But, like them, we often become confused, saddened, worried, and perplexed by events in our lives because we are “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.”  Like them we can’t find comfort and assurance because we don’t rightly know the Bible, and don’t truly believe it.

There’s an ancient prayer that puts it this way: “Blessed Lord, you have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning.  Grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and take them to heart, that by the patience and comfort of your holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.”

When like the two disciples “On the Road to Emmaus” you are confused, saddened, worried, and perplexed by events in your life, you will find comfort and assurance in God’s Word.  For example, in Hebrews: “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’  So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.’”  And in the Psalms, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. . .  call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you.”  And in Romans: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”

“How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”  “Grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and take them to heart.”  That is why we gather here each week for worship, Sunday School, and Bible class.  Together we read, mark, learn, and take to heart God’s Word, that by the patience and comfort of his holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.  You will also be blessed when you read, mark, learn, and take to heart his holy Word in personal Bible reading and devotion.  That is where you will find patience, comfort, and assurance when like the two disciples “On the Road to Emmaus” you are confused, saddened, worried, and perplexed by events in your life.

“‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

What a Bible study that must have been! Jesus takes them through the Scriptures so they can see what they’ve been missing: the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Messiah for the salvation of the world, prophesied from of old.  As he told the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, “What is written about me is coming to fulfillment.” 

Passages from Moses foretelling the Messiah’s suffering, death, and resurrection could include the Exodus account that they have just recited once again at Passover.  For the slaughtering of the Passover lamb was a prophecy, pointing forward to the Lamb of God who would be sacrificed for the sins of the world.  As Peter says in today’s Epistle Reading, “You were redeemed . . . with the precious blood of Christ, a Lamb without blemish or defect.”

Passages from the prophets foretelling the Messiah’s suffering, death, and resurrection could include Isaiah’s famous prophecy:  “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. . .  Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.  We observed him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

The Psalms in particular prophesy in amazing detail the whole story of the Messiah’s suffering, death, and resurrection:

The plot against him, Psalm 31: “For I hear the slander of many . . . they conspire against me and plot to take my life.”

The betrayal by Judas at the Last Supper, Psalm 41: “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.”

The unjust trials and hatred of his enemies, Psalm 27: “False witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence”; and Psalm 69: “Many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me.”

The collusion between Pontius Pilate and King Herod, Psalm 2: “The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.”

The soldiers dividing his clothes, Psalm 22: “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”

The offer of a drink when he is crucified, Psalm 69: “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.”

The taunts of the crowd around the cross, Psalm 3: “Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him.’  All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.”

The cry from the cross, “I thirst,” Psalm 22: “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.  I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.”

The final cries from the cross, Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”; and Psalm 31: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

The breaking of the other victim’s legs but not his, Psalm 34: “He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.”

And his resurrection from the dead, Psalm 16: “You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.”

Those are just some examples of the passages Jesus was referring to when he told the disciples “On the Road to Emmaus,” “‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

“On the Road to Emmaus” Jesus gives his Church a lesson in how to read the Bible, the interpretive key for understanding all of Scripture, the overall way to approach the Bible, the lens to look through in order to rightly read the Scriptures.  He sums it up this way in Gospel of John: “These are the Scriptures that testify about me.”

We see from Jesus’ own interpretation “On the Road to Emmaus” that the right approach to understanding Scripture puts Jesus, and especially his suffering, death, and resurrection, at the center of Scripture.  Jesus himself says that that is the way the Scriptures are to be understood.  As he later explained to all the disciples, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. . . This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.”

Therefore any preaching that does not have at its core the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ is not Christian preaching.  As Paul says in 1st Corinthians, “We preach Christ crucified.”  But, in many churches today the focus is not on Christ crucified but on supposed practical principles for successful living.  Here’s what one leading “Church Growth” expert advises: “The how-to section of a bookstore provides a great resource for relevant sermon ideas. The psychological and self-help sections prove especially helpful. Written to meet the needs of people (and to make money), the authors focus on sure-fire concerns.”  [Timothy Wright, A Community of Joy: How to Create Contemporary Worship (Nashville: Abingdon Press, l994), p. 102]

The Emmaus disciples had been looking for a “successful” Messiah, as they envisioned it.  Therefore they thought that things had turned out rather badly with this whole Jesus enterprise.  It was a disaster, a failure, because they had hoped that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel, which for them meant throwing off the shackles of the Romans who ruled over them and creating a glorious earthly kingdom.  But, because he was crucified, dead, and buried, they thought he was a messianic failure. 

Little did they realize that it was precisely in dying that he would truly redeem Israel!  It fact this was how he would redeem the whole world!  It was a redemption far greater and far different than they were expecting.  With his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death, Jesus Christ has redeemed us lost and condemned persons, that we may be His own and live under Him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  He has purchased and won you, rescued you and set you free—free from all your sins, free from the death that sin brings, free from the enslaving power of the devil.  Your Redeemer died that you would live, just as he is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

“‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”  Any church that does not put Christ crucified at the center of its doctrine, and worship, and preaching is no longer walking with Christ “On the Road to Emmaus” but has wandered off and taken a wrong turn.

“As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther.  But they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is far spent.’ So he went in to stay with them.  When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.  They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’”

Again, Jesus sets the pattern for the Church.  First there is the teaching, then the eating; first the interpretation, opening up the Scriptures, then the breaking of the bread.  From the earliest days this has always been the pattern for Christian worship, preaching the Word and administering the Sacrament, just like those two disciples “On the Road to Emmaus,” who on the first day of the week listened to Christ’s preaching and joined him in the breaking of bread.

“They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’   They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. . . Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.”

The Emmaus disciples go from shattered hopes to burning hearts.  What a blessed experience that must have been!  Too bad we couldn’t have been there to enjoy it.  But, wait a minute!  How foolish we are, and how slow our hearts are to believe!  No, we can’t go back to Emmaus.  But, Jesus comes here to us!

Jesus is with us as we walk along the road of life: “Surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Jesus is here as we worship: “For wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am among them.”  And, just as he was recognized in the breaking of bread at Emmaus, Jesus is here in this breaking of bread: “Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you. . .  this cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

The story of these two disciples encountering Jesus “On the Road to Emmaus” has a wonderful message for you.  As they walked “On the Road to Emmaus” they were on their way home.  As you walk on the road of your life you also are on your home, to heaven.  Just as Jesus joined them and walked with them “On the Road to Emmaus,” Paul says in Romans that in your Baptism you were “united with him” on your journey through life. 

Just like the disciples “On the Road to Emmaus,” we are often confused, saddened, worried, perplexed by events in our lives.  Especially when things don’t go the way “we had hoped,” as these two disciples say.  But, as you encounter your own set of disappointments, dashed hopes, and shattered dreams, Jesus is right there with you, walking beside you on the road of life.

“‘Stay with us,’ the two disciples say, ‘for it is toward evening and the day is far spent.’  So he went in to stay with them.”  Jesus still abides with you, here in his house, week after week, as he opens up for you the Scriptures, and invites you to join him at his table for the breaking of bread.

Our lives are often like the experience of those two disciples “On the Road to Emmaus.”  We walk through life with disappointment, pain, grief, confusion.  By ourselves we can’t come up with any answers to explain it all.  But, then the Lord joins us on our way through life, joins us to him through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  He listens to us as we pour out to him our troubles and sorrows.  Then he speaks to us through his Word and opens the Scriptures to us.  He reveals himself to us in the breaking of bread, the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  And, like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, through our encounter with him in the Word and Sacraments, we find patience, comfort, and assurance as our hearts burn within us with the fire of faith.

Amen.

  Return to Top | Return to Sermons | Home | Email Pastor Vogts