The gleaming cloud tops and fragrant spring air would have invigorated most travellers leaving Jerusalem that Sunday afternoon. But these two began their trek to Emmaus staring grimly at the trail, forcing leaden feet up the steep path to the ridge, where they would follow the road down the Judean slopes.
Cleopas and his friend were going over and over the events of the weekend that had climaxed with their Leader hanging limp, pale, lifeless on a stained wooden cross. Then a hurried burial — and despair.
Hearing the crunch of footsteps behind them, Cleopas glanced back. Another traveller was rapidly climbing the grade, as if to join them. But he had caught only fragments of their conversation. “What are you talking about?” he asked, as he caught up to them.
Cleopas stopped. “Where have you been?” he asked. “Everybody in Jerusalem has been talking about Jesus of Nazareth.” He told of their excitement. Of the arrest and crucifixion. Of the women’s tale of a stolen body and of angels. “We had hoped that he was the Messiah,” Cleopas said, “but now….” His words drifted off in sadness as he resumed the journey.
They were at the summit, and as the road began its downward incline, the traveller shot a strange challenge: “Don’t you know what the Scriptures say?” Cleopas just shrugged and gestured with his hands as if to say, “We don’t know.”
So for the next several miles, the traveller began to talk, patiently explaining each of the Scripture passages that spoke about how the Christ, the Messiah, would have to suffer. Then he explained about Messiah’s glory to come.
Cleopas and his friend walked with amazement. It was as if Scriptures that they had heard, but never understood before, began to click into place. Their steps quickened. Their hearts were pounding, but they didn’t notice.
The miles seemed to melt away. Then suddenly, just around the bend was their village, Emmaus. They were home. The traveller thanked them for their company and turned again to the path, but they didn’t want to let him go. Not someone who could bring them such hope, such understanding from the Scriptures.
“Won’t you stay overnight?” Cleopas called. “It’ll be dark soon. You must! Please!”
He did stay. As they reclined around the table, Cleopas handed a fresh round loaf to the traveller. “Would you honor us by offering the blessing tonight?”
The traveller lifted up the bread and repeated the familiar the Jewish blessing:
“Blessed are you, O God, King of the Universe,
Who brings forth bread from the earth.”
And then he began break it, handing a piece to each of them in turn. Cleopas caught his breath. His eyes met the man’s. Suddenly, in that moment, he knew! Who knows how? – but he knew. It was the Lord! He saw the faintest glimmer of a smile on his face, and then Jesus simply vanished.
All they could do was stare at each other for a moment in stunned amazement.
Then Cleopas jumped up. “It’s true! The women were right. Jesus is alive! He has risen!”
Their food and drink lay untouched on the table, but both men were bounding out the door and away, running. “No wonder our hearts burned within us while he was talking to us on the road,” his companion said later, as they paused briefly. They ended up running, then walking, then running again nearly the whole way back to the city.
Cleopas pounded on the upper room door. “We have seen him! We have seen Jesus!” Peter opened the door a crack, but Cleopas couldn’t contain himself and pushed his way in. Then their story tumbled out. “He’s alive!” Cleopas concluded. “The moment he broke bread with us, all of a sudden, we knew him.”
Like these two men on their way to Emmaus, many have come to the same startling conclusion. Unrecognized, Jesus begins to walk the road with us, to talk to us. And if we think to, if we care enough to ask Him in, we come to realize who He really is — the Christ, the Son of God, the Risen One.
The story of the disciples on the Emmaus Road is important for many reasons. It provides an emphasis on the Old Testament prophecies related to Jesus, evidence regarding an additional appearance of Jesus, and a connection regarding the many eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus. Luke 24 is often seen as a model of the journey that Jesus makes with many of us today, as He opens our eyes, points us to the Word, and reveals Himself along life’s walk as the resurrected Savior and Lord.
We, like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, have sorrows, confusion, disillusionments, and despair. It is our lot as fallen individuals, living among other fallen individuals. Yet, 1 Peter 1:6-9 is a great passage to realize the depth and truth of Jesus’ words in John 20:29: In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.