Roadside Encounters

So be ready yourselves, for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:44, Moffatt Bible)

This text is usually applied to eschatology, the Lord’s return, to the parousia. But there is an element of this text than can apply to any epiphany experience, to any time the Lord reveals Himself. For the Lord comes to us and reveals Himself to us, when we do not expect it. One example of when the Lord revealed Himself when that was least expected is in Luke Chapter 24.

Here is the background to Luke 24. Jesus was crucified. He died and was buried.1 The women went to the tomb where Jesus’ was buried and find Jesus is gone.2 Two men tell the women Jesus has risen.3 Now the story starts. Two disciples were walking to the town of Emmaus. They were discussing Jesus. Christ joins them, but they do not able to recognize Him. The Messiah asks what they are discussing. We start the story at this point.

They replied, “All about Jesus from Nazareth. To God and all the people, he was a prophet strong in action and in utterance, the high priests and our rulers delivered him up to be sentenced to death and had him crucified. Our own hope was that he would be the redeemer of Israel; but he is dead, and that is three days ago! Though some women in our number gave us a surprise; they were at the tomb early in the morning, and could not find his body, but they came to tell us they had actually seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. Some of our company did go to the tomb and found things exactly as the women had said, but they did not see him.”

He said to them, “O foolish men, with hearts so slow to believe, after all the prophets have declared! Had not the Christ to suffer thus and so enter his glory?” Then he began with Moses and all the prophets and interpreted to them the passages referring to himself throughout the scriptures.

Now they approached the village to which they were going. He made as if he were going further on, but they pressed him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is towards evening and the day has now declined.” So he went in to stay with them.

And as he lay at the table with them, he took the loaf, blessed it, broke it and handed it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him; but he vanished from their sight. They said to one another, “Did not our hearts glow within us when he was talking to us on the road, opening up the scriptures for us?”

So they got up and returned that very hour to Jerusalem. (Luke 24:19-33, Moffatt Bible)

The road was not a freeway, not an Interstate Highway or the Autobahn. One commentator describes the road to Emmaus as a rough path.4

There is debate as to why these disciples did not recognize Jesus. Some people agree with the respected commentator Adam Clarke, who indicates there was no supernatural reason why the two disciples did not recognize Jesus.5 Other commentators feel the Lord kept them from recognizing Jesus.6 I side with those who believe God prevented the disciples from recognizing Jesus, until they understood the role of the Messiah. Had the disciples immediately recognized Jesus, they would have been too excited to listen to His explanation of prophecy pointing to Jesus as the Messiah.

The disciples were devastated. They hoped Jesus would save Israel (Verse 21). Now their dreams were shattered.7 The disciples were discouraged because God did not do what they wanted God to do.8

God did not meet their expectations. These disciples thought Jesus was going to free Israel from the Romans, to redeem Israel. They were looking for a political Messiah, a Messiah who would set up a political kingdom.9 And the political savior is dead, his body missing! How can we blame them for having weak faith? Who would expect the Messiah to come and pour Himself out completely, to give up all of His power to serve humanity?

What can we learn from the story?

The Messiah did not hold the weakness of the disciples against them. In the moment of their weakest faith, He sought them out. He personally reinforced their faith, by explaining the Scriptures to them. Then He revealed Himself to them in such a powerful way that they were motivated to serve Him.

Verse 31. The disciples eyes were opened. Within Greek, the meaning conveyed is their eyes were opened literally as a new-born’s eyes.10 In other words, they saw as they had never seen before.

Verse 32. When the disciples heard the Christ explain the Scriptures, their hearts burned. In Greek, their hears were “set on fire” or consumed.11

Before Jesus revealed Himself, the disciples were going away from Jerusalem. After His appearance, they turn around and go back to Jerusalem. What is the result of Jesus’ visit. The disciples turn around. They forget how tired they were,12 how discouraged they felt and return immediately to Jerusalem. In the dark,13 across the rough path, they return to Jerusalem. And once in Jerusalem, they tell of their encounter. They tell people Jesus has risen!

The Emmaus road experience is common in life. We go through it as individuals and as communities of faith. Not a Christian, not a church gets through life without taking the road to Emmaus. Rich, poor, gifted, challenged, gay, straight, rich in faith or new to the faith, we all travel the Emmaus road.

In the midst of our Emmaus road experiences, those times when the Lord seems so remote, it feels like He is dead, the Lord searches for us, finds us and gives us strength and comfort. When your longed for sexual orientation, your career goals, your dreams for a lover, your marriage, your family or your spiritual success feel threatened, you are not alone. The Lord walks with us when our hopes are dashed and helps us discover the meaning of the resurrection.14

A character in a romantic story says, “I never knew what life meant until I saw it in your eyes.”15 During the perplexing, confusing times of life, we understand what life means when we look in Jesus’ eyes.16 When we understand the meaning of life, by looking in Jesus’ eyes, our pain, discouragement, sorrow and despair are replaced with hope. And we, like the disciples, rush off to share the good news – Jesus is alive and He reigns! That is why the Christian always walks into a sunrise, not a sunset.17

The New Jerome Bible Commentary makes an interesting point. The authors said Jesus explained at the last supper that He would not share food with the disciples until the Kingdom of God had indeed come (Luke 22:16-18). And here we see Jesus sharing food with the disciples. This shows the Kingdom had indeed come.18 For those disciples I think we could all agree the Kingdom had come.

The Kingdom is not way off. We do not have to wait centuries for the Kingdom. It is here, now, at our very fingertips. And the Kingdom is at our fingertips, even when we struggle, lose hope and feel discouraged. On the Emmaus road of your life, be ready. For the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Matthew 24:44).

  1. Luke 23:44-56.
  2. Luke 24:1-3.
  3. Luke 24:4-6.
  4. Frederick Eiselen, Edwin Lewis and David Downey, eds. The Abingdon Bible Commentary. (New York: Abingdon Press, 1929), 1058.
  5. “Clarke’s Commentary.” Vol. 5. The Sage Digital Library. (Albany, Oregon: SAGE Software, 1996), 949.
  6. One such commentator is Kenneth Barker, et. al., eds. The NIV Study Bible: New International Version. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Pub. House, 1985), 1589.
  7. Warren W. Wiersbe. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Vol. 1. (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1989), 278.
  8. Wiersbe, 278.
  9. Jean Alley, et. al., eds. The Open Bible: New Living Translation. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1998), 1380.
  10. “Strong’s Definitions.” Bible Library 3.1. (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.: Ellis Enterprises, 1998), software.
  11. “Strong’s Definitions,” software.
  12. Eiselen, Lewis and Downey, 1059.
  13. Eiselen, Lewis and Downey, 1059.
  14. Christian Community Bible. (Quezon City, Philippines: Claretian Pub., n.d.), NT, 187.
  15. Barclay, 296.
  16. Barclay says it is only in Jesus we learn what life means. Refer to page 295.
  17. Barclay, 295.
  18. Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmeyer and Roland Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Bible Commentary. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1990), 721.