Sometimes we cannot see what is directly in front of us. This often happens when we misplace our car keys. We look on the kitchen table and do not see them. So then we go searching on night stands, coffee tables, and perhaps even underneath the couch. Later we realize that the keys were on the kitchen table all along. We had overlooked them. Have you had that experience?
Sometimes the same thing happens with Jesus. He is right in front of us, but our eyes are closed to his living presence. That’s what happened to these two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus was there with them, but they did not recognize that it was Jesus. We read that their eyes were closed in verse 16, and it is not until verse 31 that their eyes are opened to see him for who he truly is.
The great cause of sadness and hopelessness in the world today is that the eyes of our hearts are closed to the resurrection of Jesus. I am not talking about seeing Jesus physically, but I am talking about the fact that there are many who do not recognize the he is alive and able to give joy and hope. The good news of this passage is that
Jesus opens our eyes to his resurrection
and gives us joy and hope.
This morning I want us to look at this passage in two major sections. First, I want us to look at verses 13-24 and see what we can learn about what life is like when our eyes are closed to the resurrection of Jesus. Second, I want us to look at verses 25-35 and see what we can learn about how Jesus opens our eyes and gives us joy and hope.
1. When our eyes are closed (vv. 13-24).
Sometimes our eyes are closed to the resurrection of Jesus. This passage is a window into what life is like when we do not recognize that Jesus is alive.
The first lesson we learn in this passage is that when our eyes are closed to the resurrection of Jesus, we are sad (vv. 13-17).
The narrative begins with two disciples who are on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. As they walk side by side they discuss all that has happened from Good Friday until Easter morning.
Luke doesn’t tell us exactly what they discussed, but we might imagine them talking about the darkness of human depravity that casts its shadow over the end of Passion Week.
Perhaps they spoke about the depravity of Judas’s betrayal of Christ for only thirty pieces of silver. Or maybe they spoke about Peter’s three denials of Christ and how the rest of the disciples deserted him. They may have discussed how the Sanhedrin had lied about him, how Pilate had refused to release an innocent man, and how the drunken Roman soldiers had mocked him and nailed his hands and feet to the cross.
They had heard that the women discovered the empty tomb and claimed to have seen angels. Perhaps they asked themselves, “Is it true? Could Jesus really have risen from the dead, as he said?”
What we do know is that when Jesus approaches, they do not recognize him (v. 16). Some commentators suggest that they didn’t recognize him because he looked different in his resurrection body. Others suggest that Jesus didn’t look different but that God kept their eyes from recognizing him in order to teach them an important lesson. It may be that they simply didn’t recognize him because they didn’t expect to see him alive.
When Jesus asks these two disciples what they are discussing, Luke tells us that “they stood still, looking sad” (v. 17). They looked sad because they were still living in the darkness of Good Friday.
We learn from this that the cross of Christ is only good news in light of the resurrection. The death of Christ will only make us sad if he didn’t in fact rise again.
Paul once wrote to the Corinthians and made the same point: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Many people in our culture today have their eyes closed to the resurrection of Jesus, and, as a result, their hearts are full of sadness. For them, death is the end of the story. Death gets the last word. Death means, “Game Over.”
When our eyes are closed to the resurrection of Jesus, we are sad. Are you sad today? Are you living with the impression that death is the end? Or you living as if there is no hope for tomorrow? Are you still dwelling on the depravity of Good Friday? Even as disciples, we can live like this at times. But we see here in this narrative that closed eyes not only brings sadness.
We see also that when our eyes are closed to the resurrection of Jesus, we have an imcomplete understanding of Jesus (vv. 18-20).
Cleopas is the one who responds to Jesus’s question about what they were discussing. His response to Jesus is certainly accurate, but there is something missing. He says, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” Jesus entertains Cleopas’s question: “What things?” he asks. The two disciples continue: “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him” (vv. 18-20).
Now we all should agree that Cleopas’s explanation of Jesus is certainly accurate, but, at the same time, it is also inadequate. It is an incomplete answer.
Jesus is a prophet. Jesus was condemned to death. But he is so much more than a martyred prophet. However, since their eyes are closed to the resurrection, they cannot see him as anything more.
The same thing happens today. There are people whose eyes are closed to Jesus yet they will affirm that Jesus was a good moral teacher. They will affirm the Golden Rule. We should follow the example of Jesus and be good people. All of this is true yet we know that it is incomplete. Jesus is more than a good moral teacher. Yet when we remain in the darkness about the resurrection, that is all that we see of him.
There’s more. As we continue to read their response to Jesus, we see that when our eyes are closed to the resurrection, we are without the hope of redemption (v. 21).
Verse 21 are some of the saddest words in the whole Bible. Look what they say: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.”
We can hear the disciples's deep disappointment in these words. We had hoped. The book of Proverbs tells us that hope deferred makes the heart sick. Their hearts were sick with sadness because they recognized that a dead Jesus was no Savior at all.
They were, in point of fact, correct about that. If Jesus is still in the tomb, we all should say, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” If Jesus is dead, then he is no Savior at all. Long ago, Job said, “I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25). The God of Israel had promised a living Redeemer, not a dead prophet.
Matthew Henry puts their disappointment in other words: “Our hopes were all nailed to his cross, and buried in his grave.”
When our eyes are closed to the resurrection of Jesus, we have no hope of redemption. We need a living Savior. We need the One who has died, but is now alive forevermore. When our eyes are shut to the resurrection of Jesus, we see our sins and have no hope that we will ever be delivered from them. We are who we are. There is no hope of new life or change.
There is another aspect to having our eyes shut to Jesus. We are unsure what to believe (vv. 22-24).
We see this in the disciples’ report of the empty tomb. They tell of the women’s story. They had found the tomb empty. They had seen angels. Some of the disciples had gone to the tomb and fount it empty.
Yet there is a hint of doubt at the end of all they say in verse 24: “…but him they did not see.” They have not yet seen Jesus.
An empty tomb does not prove that he is alive. Someone may have stolen the body. He may have been moved. They do not jump to the conclusion that Jesus is alive simply because of the report of some emotional women.
Here is where they linger: “him they did not see.” That is what it is like not to see Jesus for who he is. We are confused about what we believe. We may linger between two different opinions. We may look out and hear the claims that the different philosophies and religions are making and have no living faith in a living Christ.
Is that what life is like for you? Are your eyes closed to a living Jesus? Are you confused about what to believe? Do you feel like you cannot trust anyone? That can change for you, but only if Jesus opens your eyes to his resurrection life.
Now here enters the good news found in the second half of this narrative. Jesus is able to open our eyes to his resurrection and give us joy and hope. He is able to turn our sadness to joy, our despair to hope, our death to life, our darkness to light, and our confusion to clarity. Look with me at the second half of this narrative at how Jesus opens our eyes.
2. When Jesus opens our eyes (vv. 25-35).
Jesus loves us so much that he opens our eyes to see him as he truly is. Notice that he begins the Scriptures.
Jesus interprets the Scriptures to these disciples (vv. 25-27). He first rebukes their unbelief (v. 25), not their unbelief in the testimony of the women, but their unbelief in the testimony of the Word. They should have known that the Old Testament Scriptures foretold that the Messiah would suffer and die before rising again and entering into glory (v. 26). He teaches them in verse 27 that the entire Old Testament is about him. He explains to them that the Old Testament is a revelation of Jesus.
When our eyes are closed to the resurrection of Jesus, the Bible can be a confusing book. “What is it really all about?” we may ask. But when Jesus uses the Scriptures to open our eyes, he shows us that the whole Bible is about him.
St. Augustine said, “The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.” There is a scarlet thread that runs from Genesis to Revelation, and the scarlet thread is salvation through Jesus.
I wish I could have been there when Jesus explained how the Old Testament was all about him. Perhaps he spoke to them of that ancient promise in the Garden of Eden where God said that the offspring of the woman would crush the serpent’s head. Or maybe he took them to the call of Abram and spoke about how God said that one of his descendants would spread the blessing of forgiveness to all the nations of the earth. Maybe he related to them the story of Abraham who almost offered his one and only son, Isaac, as a sacrifice, but God stayed his hand and provided another lamb to be the sacrifice in Isaac’s place. He may have walked them through the days of King David and the covenant God made with him that one of his own sons would sit on the throne and rule the world. Or perhaps he took them to the specific prophecies, like Isaiah 53 that we read in our service this morning, and spoke about how he was the One who would be wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. Or maybe he simply walked through the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, pointing out each and every object and ritual and showing them how it was all about him. He may have showed them how he was the temple where God’s presence dwells, and how he had said that if they destroyed the temple, that he would rebuild it in three days. Or maybe he pointed to the Passover Lamb and said that he was the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He would die, and God’s wrath would pass over all who believe in him.
What a joy it would be to hear the Incarnate Word explain the written Word! When Jesus opens our eyes, he shows us that the Bible reveals that he is our Savior. He is the One who died for our sins. He is the One who rose again to give us forgiveness, life, joy, and hope.
But even though Jesus explains all this to them, their eyes are still closed. He has not yet opened their eyes. That doesn’t happen until they reach their destination.
When they finally reach their destination, they invite Jesus to stay with them, and Jesus reveals himself in the breaking of bread (vv. 28-35).
They were not celebrating the Lord’s Supper. It was a common meal. Yet when Jesus took the bread, broke it, and blessed it, they would have been reminded of the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
On that dark night, he had taken bread, blessed it, broken it, and said, “This is my body, which is broken for you.” He had also taken a cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for the remission of sins.”
They make the connection in verse 31: “And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” Then they knew their Lord! Then they knew that he was alive!
Verse 31 tells us that he then vanished. One might conclude from this that Jesus was a ghost or a spirit, but Luke clarifies later in verse 39 where Jesus says, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Jesus was not a ghost or a spirit. He was physically resurrection from the dead. He touched the bread. He blessed the bread. He broke the bread. This was no phantom.
Yet we do see that his resurrected body was capable of things that we cannot explain naturally. There is mystery here to be sure.
When their eyes are opened, they say something amazing in verse 32, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” They knew that this was Jesus. They now had open eyes and burning hearts. So they return to Jerusalem in time to see that Jesus has also appeared to Simon Peter (v. 34). And they relate to the rest of them that Jesus had made himself known to them in the breaking of bread (v. 35).
Jesus uses his Word to open our eyes, but he also uses the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. For disciples, when we come to the Lord’s Table, we see that Christ is yet again opening our eyes to Good Friday and to Easter Sunday. He is showing us that his body was broken for us and his blood shed for us. He died in our place. And he rose again to reign over us in heaven.
And when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are also reminded of the hope set before us because he shall return to drink the fruit of the vine anew with us in his Father’s kingdom.
Jesus is able to open our eyes. He is able to reveal himself to the eyes of our heart. We do not see him with the eyes of flesh, but we are able to see him with the eyes of faith. When Jesus opens our eyes to his resurrection, our lives change. We have life, forgiveness, joy, and hope. He died, but he is alive forevermore. He has the keys of Death and Hades. He is the Lamb of God, standing as though it had been slain. He is the Living One who shall never die again. He is the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever lives and believes in him, though he die, yet shall he live. Do you believe this? Are your eyes opened? “Turn your eyes to Jesus! Look full in his wonderful face! And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”