Luke included the Emmaus road account (Luke 24:13-35), no doubt, because it was a powerful testimony of the resurrected Jesus by two credible eyewitnesses (Cleopas likely would have been known to many first generation Christians). But there is also something valuable to see in how Jesus chose to reveal himself to these sad, cynical disciples.
It was Sunday afternoon. Cleopas and his companion exited Jerusalem's Western Gate, heading toward Emmaus. Even a casual observer could tell that their discussion was intense.
About fifteen minutes into the journey, a man they did not recognize overtook them. "What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?"
They just stopped and looked at him, dumbfounded. Jesus' execution was about the only thing people were talking about in Jerusalem. It had been the tragic climax to a week of controversy, confrontation, and political intrigue.
Perhaps "climax" was premature. A new twist had emerged that morning. Jesus' body was missing. No statements had been issued from the Sanhedrin or the Romans. There were rumors of a resurrection. The gossip mills were all running at full capacity.
Cleopas said, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" The man replied, "What things?" "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people."
Cleopas paused, clearly feeling this very deeply, then continued, "But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel."
He quickly wiped his eyes and started walking again. "Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."
They walked in silence for about a minute. Then the stranger said the last thing they expected: "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!" Cleopas looked over at the stranger confused. Then the man looked right into Cleopas's eyes and said, "Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"
For the next two hours this strange man walked Cleopas and his friend through the entire Scriptures and explained all the references to the Christ. And as he did, the fire of their faith that had died out on Golgotha came back to life and burned with that familiar hope, the hope that Jesus was indeed the Christ. Could it really be true? Jesus resurrected? Who was this man who so beautifully made sense of everything that had happened, and yet at first had seemed clueless? There was something about him.
The sun hung low in the sky ahead of them as they reached Emmaus. The stranger gave every indication that he intended to continue on. So the two revived disciples, almost desperately, pleaded with him to stay at least for the night. They were overjoyed when he agreed.
At dinner the man took some bread, pulled it apart, and gave them each a piece. As soon as the bread touched their hands they recognized who it was. Both gasped. And Jesus vanished.
Why do you suppose these two men were "kept from recognizing" Jesus for hours (v. 16)? The clue, I think, is in verse 25. Jesus called them "foolish" and "slow of heart to believe" the Scriptures. Their outward inability to recognize Jesus mirrored their inward unbelief of what the Scriptures revealed about him.
Now, Jesus fully intended to help them see. But notice the priority of Jesus' revelation: before he opened their physical eyes, he purposed to open their heart-eyes.
Why? Because it was of utmost importance that they "walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7).
Jesus knew that between his resurrection and the full establishment of his kingdom would be the church age. His ascension was nearing. That meant these two men, all the other witnesses of the resurrection, and every generation of believers to come would not have his bodily presence for proof or guidance. They would have to rely on his "living and active" (Hebrews 4:12) Word to "light [their] path" (Psalm 119:105). Post-ascension, Jesus would be seen through the inerrant testimony recorded in the Scriptures and the imperfect testimony of followers whose heart-eyes were opened.
One last observation. When God ordains things to happen contrary to our expectations (like Cleopas not expecting Jesus to die), those are times when we are tempted to doubt his word—lose faith—and as a result lose sight of him. But not being able to see him doesn't mean that he isn't there walking with us. We may not recognize him. Those are not the times to neglect the Word. Rather, those are the times to spend hours looking. That is where you will begin to recover your sight.
Trusting the One who is patient with all of us slow-to-believe disciples,
P.S. Our featured Piper message for May is titled, "The Word of God: Living, Active, Sharp." Our prayer is that it will equip you in your ongoing fight against blinding unbelief. Our finances are tight right now, and so we ask you to prayerfully consider a financial gift this month in support of our domestic and international outreach strategies.