The Emmaus road encounter in Luke 24 should be reassuring for us. For starters, the account involves two disciples from a different tier than the main eleven. (Remember, Judas is no longer part of the group.) We’re not told much about these guys, other than one of their names: Cleopas. We know they’re going to a village about seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, but we’re not told why. Perhaps they’re going there to sort things out, or because they’re afraid. Whatever their reasons, I’m guessing they’ve pretty much given up on Jesus at this point.
The women had told them about the empty tomb and the angels. According to the account in Luke, “their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women.” These guys weren’t buying it either, or I believe they would have stuck around longer. They had waited until the third day to leave, so perhaps they had remembered what Jesus said in Luke 9:22: “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected—by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts—and be killed and be raised on the third day. (CEB)” But by Sunday afternoon, all they had to hang on to were rumors and speculation. And for all they knew, the authorities might come after them if these stories started spreading.
Jesus shows up and joins their walk, but they are “prevented from recognizing him.” It’s not clear who or what does the preventing, at least as far as I can tell. If these are the same two guys from Mark 16:12, we’re told Jesus appeared to them in a different form. But he didn’t reprove them for not recognizing him-- he reproved them for not believing everything the prophets had said: “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” He wasn’t insulting their intellect-- he was rebuking them for their reluctance to believe. He told them they had dull minds because they had closed their minds-- and their hearts too.
They didn’t recognize Jesus partly because he had appeared in a form they weren’t expecting. But that’s really what had already happened. Jesus had been crucified without being the political messiah they had hoped for-- so in a sense they didn’t recognize him before the crucifixion either. But after having a crash course in scripture from the Son of God himself, and sitting down to eat with him, they finally connected some of the dots.
Could this be a picture of the importance of both the Word and Holy Communion in instilling faith?
Some people say this episode gives us another angle to look at the Lord’s Supper -- not only as a commemoration of the Last Supper but as a resurrection meal. I think they might be on to something, and that topic could be fun to explore, but based on this passage, we’re not sure if these guys even finished the meal. And maybe that’s the point. They were probably too excited to eat!
Jesus appeared to two regular disciples... not just to the well-known ones. God uses ordinary Christians even today, and this story reminds us that it’s not enough to know Scripture on an intellectual level, we also have to “get it” on a spiritual level. The risen Jesus taught Cleopas and his friend-- we have the Holy Spirit speaking directly to us and through other Christians as we study the Word.