Sermon Series: Jesus: The Greatest Life of All
Fantastic! Outstanding! Incredible! Thanks to blockbuster movies, thrill rides, and Madison Avenue ad campaigns, we have come to expect that if life isn’t “sensational,” something must be wrong. If we are not careful, we can apply those expectations to our spiritual journey and fail to see the hand of God in the ordinary events of life. Even more tragic, we might fail to recognize His loving care for us in the midst of trials.
Let’s face it, life typically isn’t fantastic. Usually, life is ordinary and sometimes painful. But that is when we do the most learning and growing. That is when we have the greatest opportunity to encounter the risen Jesus . . . if we have eyes to see.
1. Understand the Setting (Luke 24:13-16)
Prior to His arrest, Jesus traveled up and down the strip of land once ruled by David and Solomon, inviting the people of Israel to become a part of His kingdom, promising abundant life. His followers fully expected that He would become their king and that Israel would again be prosperous and free. He was their Messiah. But on one fateful Friday afternoon, as the sun fell behind the horizon, the Son of God hung cold and lifeless on a Roman cross just outside the city walls.
As the sun rose on Sunday morning and the Passover feast came to an end, two of Jesus’s followers, disillusioned and resolving to leave their foolish dreams in Jerusalem, left for home. The dejected pair began the seven-mile walk to Emmaus even as rumors of resurrection circulated among the ranks of Jesus’s disciples (Luke 24:13).
Luke describes the disciples’ conversation as bantering ideas back and forth with great emotion in a shared search for answers (24:14-16). The Greek phrase homileo suzeteo, “talking and discussing” (24:15), would be more literally translated as “conversing” and “disputing.” The disillusioned followers desperately wanted to know why their expectations of the Messiah had come to such a tragic end.
2. A Revealing Question (Luke 24:17-29)
Luke employed a clever narrative device called literary irony, in which the reader is aware of important facts that are hidden from the characters.
And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. And He said to them, “What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” (Luke 24:14-17)
Jesus asked a question designed to engage the men in conversation, but Cleopas’ reply reveals a delightful paradox for the reader: “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” (24:18). Of course, if anyone understood what had happened, it was Jesus! They did not believe Jesus had risen from the dead, so they were left with three faulty perspectives.
First, their viewpoint lacked a spiritual dimension, leaving them with a human understanding of the events. Take note of how Cleopas characterized the death of Jesus. Don’t miss the lack of any divine involvement.
Second, their own agenda determined their expectations. Many disciples made the mistake of thinking that the Messiah would merely recapture the glory days of King David. In other words, they hoped Jesus would bring Israel the same power and prosperity she once enjoyed, only magnified and multiplied. Given their exclusive worship of God, this would not be an inappropriate wish. But compared to the reality that lay before them—Roman oppression and a dead Messiah—their hopes for glory seemed to have been utterly destroyed.
Third, they failed to acknowledge the resurrection. If these two followers believed that Jesus had risen from the dead, two things would have been true. First, they would have been walking toward Jerusalem to see the risen Lord, not away. Second, they would have seen the trials, crucifixion, and burial of Jesus as the fulfillment of all He promised, not as the end of their hopes.
The Gospel accounts of Jesus’s life were originally documents intended to be read aloud in Christian gatherings. When the reader reached the part of the story in which Cleopas recounted the events of the past three days, the tension among the listeners must have been unbearable, because the two followers simply did not have the eyes to see what should have been plainly visible (24:16).
Finally, Jesus broke His silence to bring a reproof, ask a question, and offer an explanation. In the reproof, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” (24:25), Jesus demonstrated that the two followers knew the contents of Scripture but did not accept its message as truth. As a result, they failed to see God’s sovereign plan. His question, “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” pointed to the reason for their unbelief (24:26). They had confused their own expectations with the hope God was offering, and they had failed to see God’s ultimate purpose.
To help the two followers see, Jesus reviewed the entire history of Israel from the time of the Exodus to His own resurrection, highlighting God’s plan for the Messiah (24:27).
3. A Fascinating Dinner (Luke 24:30-35)
In keeping with ancient Near Eastern rules of hospitality, the two followers then invited the “stranger” to stay the night. Jesus accepted their offer, yet maintained His cover in order to complete the lesson He had begun teaching them just outside Jerusalem.
According to Luke 24:16, their eyes were prevented from recognizing Jesus. He revealed His identity only after taking great pains to explain to them “the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (24:27).
Luke concludes this story with another bit of irony. The disciples had been staring into the face of the risen Jesus, yet they were prevented from seeing Him until they buried their faulty expectations. Then, a careful review of the Scriptures gave them a divine perspective on what they once saw as dismal circumstances. Once their eyes were opened to the reality and implications of the resurrection, Jesus became visible to their physical eyes. The Greek phrase ophthalmos dianoigo epiginosko, translated “eyes were opened and they recognized Him,” literally means “their eyes were completely opened” and “they came to fully comprehend Him.” This action was more than a mere recognition of His features. They came to recognize Jesus in all His significance as the Messiah, the Son of God, and their risen Lord! Then Jesus literally became “invisible”—aphantos—meaning that He suddenly vanished from their midst once their eyes were open. Now, their new, resurrected hope carried them back to Jerusalem to bear the good news to others (24:33-35).
As Luke tells the story of the two despondent disciples on the road to Emmaus, we cannot help but identify with their pain. We, too, are pilgrims on a journey through life. We, too, despair of life’s circumstances from time to time. We, too, lose heart when our expectations come to a tragic end. But remember, every trial is an opportunity to discover what God wants us to see.
As in the case of the two followers on the road to Emmaus, we must allow God to open our eyes. While this is something He must do on our behalf, we can nonetheless make the process less difficult in four specific ways.
- Invite God in.
Have you invited the Lord into your life? Cleopas and his companion listened intently to the Voice of truth and invited Him into their home. If you haven’t begun a relationship with God, you will continue to struggle in vain.
- Surrender your expectations.
Personalize the following prayer and then offer it to God.
My Heavenly Father, I greatly desire ______________________. While this expectation is mostly honorable and good, it is nonetheless mine and may not be Yours. I am frustrated and disillusioned because all my efforts to accomplish what I believe to be right fail to accomplish anything. Therefore, I must accept that the outcome I desire is not what You desire. Lord, I release my expectation, and I humbly ask You to accomplish Your will in whatever manner You see fit and in whatever time You consider appropriate. Amen.
- Seek God’s perspective.
To help the two disciples see their circumstances from God’s perspective, Jesus explained the Scriptures. And we have the same opportunity to share God’s vantage point by reading our only completely reliable source of truth, the sixty-six books of the Bible. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply set aside as little as ten minutes each day and read.
- Trust God’s timing.
God, in His perfect discernment, did not allow the two disciples to recognize Jesus until the time was right. He didn’t allow them to suffer in grief a moment longer than was absolutely necessary, yet He didn’t end their discomfort too soon. Spiritual maturity rarely occurs instantaneously. Growth usually requires a journey, and journeys take time. Submit to God’s will and trust His timing. He is faithful.
- Invite God in.
Circumstances, especially those involving loss, are usually perceived as difficult because reality does not mesh with our expectations. The two followers on the road to Emmaus undoubtedly felt utterly alone as they mourned the death of their dreams. During their suffering, God was indeed nearby, and He allowed their pain to continue until their own desires no longer held them captive.
Like the two on the road to Emmaus, you do not travel alone. God is with you. Are you willing to see Him?
Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, Jesus: The Greatest Life of All (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 245-58. Copyright © 2008 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Also from Insight for Living, Jesus: The Greatest Life of All Bible Companion (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 163-73. Copyright © 2007 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.