Sermon: April 23, 2023

“Their Eyes Were Opened” | Luke 24:13-35

There’s a story about a young boy named Walter Elias. Born in the city, his parents one day moved out to the country to become farmers. Walter had a vivid imagination and the farm was the perfect place for a young boy and a wandering mind. One day in the apple orchard he saw an owl sitting on a branch of one of the apple trees. He just stood there and stared at the owl. He remembered what his father had told him about owls—how they rested during the day and hunted at night. This owl was asleep. Walter imagined that it might be neat to have an owl as a pet. (You can imagine where this is going)

Being careful not to make any noise he stepped over sticks and leaves. The owl was in a deep sleep because it never heard Walter sneaking toward it. Finally, standing under the owl, he reached up and grabbed the owl by the legs. Now, what followed is difficult to explain—but suddenly everything was utter chaos as the owl came to life. Thoughts of keeping the owl as a pet were quickly forgotten. The air was filled with wings—feathers—and screaming by both the owl and Walter. In the excitement Walter tried to hold the owl’s legs tighter. But in his panic, Walter Elias, still holding on to the owl, threw it to the ground and stomped it to death. After things calmed down, Walter looked at the dead bird and began to cry. He ran back to the farm—got a shovel from the shed—and buried the owl in the orchard.

At night he would dream of that owl. As the years passed he never got over what had happened that summer day. Deep down if affected him the rest of his life. As an older man he said he never, ever killed anything again. Do you see it? Something significant happened after that event. Something that Walter didn’t miss. Something that transformed Walter Elias—something that redeemed him from the pit of despair—something that resurrected him—something that made Walter Elias Disney give life to thousands of animals on the big screen.

The resurrection changes everything. It transforms us. It moves us from despair to new possibilities of life. It takes our blindness and opens our eyes. It transforms ordinary bread into a holy meal. It takes two sad individuals on the road to Emmaus who had lost the only world they knew and gives it back to them. Jesus comes to them and says—see, I’m not dead—I am alive—now, go and tell the world!
Luke records for us that there were two disciples, who had been in Jerusalem, and are now on their way home to Emmaus. Did you know that no one knows for sure where Emmaus was? It appears that the town itself doesn’t exist anymore. But Emmaus doesn’t need a physical location. Where is your Emmaus? Where is the place in your life when you were grieving and hopeless—and the presence of Jesus became real to you—and you turned around and went back to share your joy with others? I’m reminded of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.

Anyway, the distance between Jerusalem and Emmaus was about seven miles which would have taken about two hours on foot. As you know, Jesus had the original disciples that He called to follow Him, the twelve. But He also had 72 others that He sent out to do His work and these two disciples that we read about this morning were probably part of that group. One of them is named Cleopas, but the other remains unidentified. As always, there are many reasons one can read into the fact that this other disciple isn’t identified. One of the reasons I was introduced to and still consider is that this other disciple is me, or for that fact, can be you; we are all called to be disciples and if we want can insert ourselves into this story. Some believe that the other person was Cleopas’s wife—her name was Mary and she is recorded being at the Cross in John 19:25.

Luke writes that these two are on their way home from Jerusalem. They had been there for the celebration that had turned into tragedy. Jesus, their Lord had been crucified and with Him all of their dreams and expectations had vanished. They were probably very sad. They were probably saying the same things you have said at the loss of a loved one: “He was so young; I can’t believe He is gone; what will we do now.” These disciples, along with many others, had come to rely on Jesus.

These two disciples were probably very confused. Before they left town thinking that everything was over the women had come to the Upper Room to announce that someone had stolen the body of Jesus. That they had gone to the tomb early that morning and Jesus wasn’t there, and they had seen a vision of angels who said He was alive and according to Luke the disciples all thought this news was nonsense.

They were probably also upset that God had allowed this to happen. They may have been thinking that there was no God; that the God that they had come to know wasn’t really in control anymore; just as we think when tragedy occurs in our own lives and the lives of those around us.

This walk to Emmaus that we read about this morning was a sad walk for these disciples. All of us, on occasion, have had to make a similar sad walk in our lifetime. Maybe it was the walk from your visit to the unemployment office after learning that your job had been terminated; or the walk from the doctor’s office when you received a bad report; or the walk from the courthouse when your marriage was over and when you arrived in your empty house you were trying to figure out where your life would go from there. All of us have had this walk to Emmaus experience and weather or not we realized it then, just like the disciples, Jesus joined us on that walk.

Before Connie and I were married I was eating supper one night at Zaxby’s in Cordele, when a young lady with two little girls came up to my table and started a conversation. Now, trust me when I say that I am not famous. But as a Pastor and someone who is in the public eye a lot I have people come up to me and converse like we are lifetime friends, but this was different. She called me by name and asked how things were going and trying to be polite I said okay. When she walked away for the life of me I couldn’t figure out who in the world she was. Later that evening it finally dawned on me, she was my dental hygienist. You see, I only knew her from the context of lying in a dental chair with my mouth open and her with the tools of pain in her hands. I didn’t recognize her in the context of a casual meeting at Zaxby’s, only that of a dental visit.

It’s possible for us to be so engrossed in our wearied debates that we fail to know Jesus as He is. It’s not like reading another book to get better information about Jesus; it’s about an intimate awareness of His presence in your life.

These two disciples in our text this morning remembered a crucified Jesus. They remembered a dead Jesus. A risen Jesus is out of context for them. Is this why when He joins them they don’t recognize Him? It sounds good, but we don’t know for sure. We do know that they expected a political Messiah so in a sense they didn’t really recognize Jesus before the crucifixion either.

The greatest blessing God can give us isn’t an easy life. The greatest blessing God can give us is the knowledge that He is with us in all our challenges and struggles.

Luke writes that Jesus took these confused two down a whirlwind memory lane from the very beginning with Moses, and all the prophets, explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Him; and after this crash course and sitting down to eat with Him they finally connected the dots. Their significant testimony was that their hearts had burned as He had opened the Scriptures to them and then, right then, they returned to Jerusalem, walking, or running, those seven miles that once seemed so destitute but now were filled with joy.

This story is good news for us today because Jesus appeared to two regular disciples…not just to the well-known ones or the connected 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 these two disciples that we have the Holy Spirit speaking directly to us and through other Christians as we study the Word!

The two on the road recognized the incognito Jesus when three things occurred.

  1. They dived into the scriptures together. Too often we want to know God without troubling ourselves with the Bible. The Scriptures are God’s divinely-ordained means by which we can know and experience God—and especially when we study them with others. And I’m not talking about the watered-down version.
  2. Jesus was known to them in the breaking of the bread. Holy Communion is the highest moment of the Christian life—for Christ is present each time we gather at the table and break bread—symbolic of His act of salvation.
  3. Their simple effort of hospitality was the prelude to their awareness of Christ! He was going on but they begged Him to stay—to share a meal. Did you notice that it was Jesus—the guest—who blessed and broke the bread? We often feel we don’t know Jesus because we never meet up with the poor—we never reach out to those desperately in need of food and shelter. But when we do—not only do we help others—we discover Jesus—alive and blessing us. (Smiling on us)

I read once about a little boy who decided he wanted to find God. He knew it would probably be a long trip, so he decided to pack a lunch—four packs of Twinkies and two cans of root beer.

He set out on his journey and went a few blocks until he came to a park. On one of the park benches sat an old woman looking at the pigeons.

The little boy sat down beside her and watched the pigeons too. When he got hungry, he pulled out some of his Twinkies. As he ate, he noticed the woman watching him, so he offered her one. She accepted it gratefully and smiled at him. He thought she had the most beautiful smile in the world. Wanting to see it again, he opened a can of root beer and offered her the other one. Once again she smiled that beautiful smile.

For a long time the two sat at that park bench eating Twinkies, drinking root beer, smiling at each other, and watching the pigeons. Neither said a word. Finally, the little boy realized that it was getting late and he needed to go home. He started to leave, took a few steps, turned back and gave the woman a big hug. Her smile was brighter than ever before.

When he arrived home, his mother noticed that he was happy, but strangely quiet. “What did you do today?” she asked. “Oh, I had lunch in the park with God,” he said. Before his mother could reply, he added, “You know, she has the most beautiful smile in the world.”

Meanwhile, the old woman left the park and returned home. Her son noticed something different about her. “What did you do today, Mom?” he asked. “Oh, I ate Twinkies and drank root beer in the park with God.” And before her son could say anything at all, she added, “You know, God’s a lot younger than I imagined.”

There’s an old Celtic prayer that reminds us that Jesus knows our hearts. He knows our disappointment and our heartaches. And that may be why He chose to return to His disciples in such an ordinary state. In the Upper Room, He showed the disciples His wounds. On the road to Emmaus, He appeared as an average traveler. But each of the disciples experienced overwhelming joy and peace in His presence. And He still promises His presence to us today, wherever our journey takes us. So, I’ll close with this prayer as a reminder that as Jesus sends us out to do His work, He is always with us, equipping us for that work.

May the Christ who walks on wounded feet walk with you on the road.
May the Christ who serves with wounded hands stretch out your hands to serve.
May the Christ who loves with a wounded heart open our hearts to love.
May you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet, and may everyone you meet see the face of Christ in you. Amen.

Thanks be to God!

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