So now we continue. To a road outside Jerusalem, leading to one of the surrounding communities, a place called Emmaus. Emmaus was seven miles out of Jerusalem, about a two-hour walk for most people.
Two disciples are walking along this road. One is called Clopas. We don’t know the name of the other.
As they walk, they talk. They were in Jerusalem for Passover weekend, and they saw and heard about all that went down with this Jesus guy. They had put all their hopes on him as the Messiah and Deliverer of Israel, and then he went and got himself crucified. Simply horrible, the way all that went down. But now, what else is there to do? Just go back to life as it was before. “Dream another dream, this dream is over”, as Sammy Hagar would have said, except that Sammy Hagar wouldn’t come on the scene for another two thousand years. And on top of all that, some really strange reports have been going around lately. Seems some of the women went down to the tomb and saw angels, but you can’t trust women. They’re always talking nonsense. Somebody saw a man there (the gardener?). Somebody saw the tomb empty and all the grave clothes all neatly folded up. But nobody saw Jesus. Something really fishy must be going on here.
As they talk, a stranger comes up alongside them and joins their conversation. What are you talking about as you pass along the way on this fine day? They respond as you or I would: Dude, what rock have you been living under the last several days? Have you not heard all the craziness back in Jerusalem about Jesus of Nazareth?
Now we know, because Luke tells us, that this stranger was Jesus. But the two disciples did not know. Why? Not because of original sin. Not because of a lack of faith, or because of some sin in their lives that blinded them to the sight of God. No, Luke makes a point of telling us that they were kept from recognizing Jesus because he had concealed his identity from them.
But now Jesus begins to lead them along. “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?” (Luke 24:25-27) He then launched into a full-on Old Testament Survey course, right there on the road.
So now they get to Emmaus, and Jesus acts like he’s going on further. They insist that he at least stop and have dinner with them. He agrees, then immediately takes over the house and makes it his own. He breaks bread and shares it with them. Immediately their eyes are opened and they recognize him, and immediately he disappears.
Now our scene shifts to an upper room somewhere in Jerusalem. All of Jesus’ closest disciples are here, with the door locked shut for fear of the Jews. They all saw and heard what happened to Jesus; how much more could they expect the same to happen to them if it got out that they were with Jesus.
All of a sudden Jesus appears in their midst, right there in the middle of the locked upper room. No Jesus standing outside knocking on the door of your heart, which can only be opened from the inside (thank you very much Thomas Kinkade). Had there been a knock at this door, it could only have meant one thing.
“Peace be with you”, he says. But the disciples act like they have just seen a ghost. You would too, if you had just seen someone appear right in the middle of the room from out of nowhere. So he shows them his hands and feet. See the nail marks. Yes, it really happened. Watch me eat some fish. Ghosts don’t eat. He then goes on to explain to them everything out of the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms (the three divisions of the Jewish Scriptures: Law, Prophets, Writings) and how it all pointed to him, just as he did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
But Thomas was not with them. When Thomas came back and the disciples said they had seen Jesus, he responded just as you or I would: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” (John 20:25) This reply gets Thomas tagged with the nickname “Doubting Thomas”. But who wouldn’t have had a similar reaction? And on some level, doesn’t his reaction make sense?
So fast-forward one week. Same upper room. This time Thomas is present. Jesus appears again, from out of nowhere, just like last week. Again, “Peace be with you.” And he goes straight to Thomas. Take your finger and put it into the nail marks in my hands. Take your hand and put it into my side. Jesus didn’t even have to be there, and he knew exactly what Thomas was thinking. How creepy is that?
So what does all this mean for us? It means that Christ is truly risen. No one believed it at first, because dead men don’t rise. But this one did. Had Christ not risen, we would be of all men most to be pitied, as Paul makes painfully clear. If Christ is not risen, if the resurrection is just a tale made up to make us feel good and give our lives meaning and inspire us to courage in the face of death, then the Christian message is pointless. Faith in Jesus saves only if Jesus saves, and Jesus saves only if Jesus is raised from the dead. If Christ is not risen, then the Scriptures are all lies, fabrications, and misrepresentations. Jesus is no moral teacher or inspirational example; he is just a false prophet who deserved exactly what he got when he was crucified. If Christ is not risen, then you are still in your sins and you’d better get busy trying to atone for them. Good luck with that.
If Christ is not risen; if all we have is some spiritual resurrection that happens inside our hearts like all the liberal scholars love to talk about, if our Scriptures are nothing more than a book of cleverly invented tales about a dead Jesus who inspired some people to write interesting lies so we can all feel good about ourselves in this life, then we above all are the most pitiful religious sops ever to walk the face of the earth. You might as well go join another religion; try Hinduism or Buddhism. Or better yet, atheism. Makes life a whole lot simpler. Shame on us for succumbing to all those crazy God delusions. Let’s just eat and drink and live it up, because tomorrow we die.
But Christ is risen. The Word of God is vindicated. Your faith is not in vain. Your sins are atoned for and you are forgiven. Death is defeated, the grave has lost its sting, and in Christ all the dead will rise. Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we live, because Christ is risen.