There’s a powerful story recorded in Luke 24:13-33 of two disciples walking ahead of Jesus on the road to Emmaus.
In verse 16, it’s revealed that Jesus, the Divine Storyteller, is doing something intriguingly creative. The men do not recognise Jesus. The Bible explains why. It’s not because Jesus is wearing a mask, or because His post-resurrection body is markedly different. Verse 16 tells us exactly why they don’t recognise Jesus: “God kept them from recognising him.”
He's not asking what happened on the cross. He's asking what happened inside of them when they witnessed the cross.
The Storyteller is crafting something special. He starts with the end in mind. This verse reveals the goal of the story from the Teller’s perspective. The Author’s goal for the characters in the story is to recognise Jesus. At what point will the Divine Storyteller reveal the third Man to be Jesus?
Interestingly, the characters’ goal is not the same as the Author’s. They want to understand why: Why did Jesus die? Why had they believed a lie? Why had the meaning and purpose been sucked out of their lives? Why?
Have you ever asked why? Why do bad things happen? Why doesn’t God intervene? Why am I broken, used up and wasted? Why? Why? Why?
God’s goal for us in our story is the same as the goal He set for the characters of this story—that we may see Jesus. This story is for those who are walking away. It’s for those who are searching. It’s for those who are asking. God sends you a companion for the journey—so that you might see Jesus.
As listeners participating in the story, we want to know: When will these two men see Jesus as Jesus? What will it take? What needs to happen for people to recognise Jesus for who He really is?
Jesus knew them. He knew their struggles. He knew their thoughts. He knew their story. But Jesus had a plan and it started with them telling their own story. So He asked a question. He could have asked why they were walking away—away from the suffering followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, away from the crucified and resurrected Messiah.
When Jesus sees His followers walking away He chases them, not to belittle them but to join them on their journey and in their conversation, and starting where they are, He asks, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”
One of them, Cleopas, replies, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.” “What things?” Jesus asks (Luke 24:17-19).
This is such a powerful question, coming from Jesus: “What things?” He’s not asking what happened to Him in Jerusalem this weekend. He’s asking what happened to them in Jerusalem this weekend. He’s not asking what happened on the cross. He’s asking what happened inside of them when they witnessed the cross. He’s not asking for a factual recounting of the resurrection. He’s asking for their view of the resurrection.
Jesus wants to know what His story means to them, where it has been misunderstood and what it’s becoming within them. Because seeing Jesus through our eyes and seeing Jesus through God’s eyes are often very different things. And we become that which we behold.
After hearing their story—their story of seeing Him—Jesus has the chance to explain Himself. He opens Scripture, from memory, and pours the Word of God into their hearts and minds.
When Jesus joined them on the path, they didn’t recognise Him. When He joined their conversation, they didn’t recognise Him. When they told their Jesus story, they didn’t recognise Him. Finally Jesus has a chance to explain things. Surely He will reveal Himself. Surely they will recognise Him when the Living Word explains “from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself”.
But they didn’t. It’s so important, at this point, to remember the Author’s goal—Jesus will be seen when He intends to be. He’s shaping the story of a people. He’s teaching them and us the way He wants to be seen and remembered.
Jesus has journeyed with us, joined our conversation and heard our story. Finally He speaks. He reminds us of the Old Testament teachings. He unpacks all that Moses and the prophets said about the nature of the true Messiah. In their own words, He causes “our hearts to burn within us”.
Now both the two men and we understand who the Messiah was and is. You and I have heard the same sermon from a hundred pulpits. We know who Jesus is. On the road to Emmaus, the characters have reached their goal—they understand what has happened this weekend. But do they recognise Jesus? No, not yet.
The Great Storyteller is still with them. Jesus has yet to reach His goal in their story. What is the Great Author doing? What is God waiting for?
“As they sat down to eat, he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognised him” (Luke 24:30-31).
Four days previously, Jesus did the same thing in a different room.
“On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.’ In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.’ For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
Like in the upper room, Jesus enters the house in Emmaus misunderstood and surprises everyone with His words and actions. And in this, He is recognised.
How does the Great Author want us to see Jesus? How does Jesus want to be remembered? In what act did the Divine Storyteller reveal Jesus and tell us to announce “the Lord’s death until he comes again”?
The two men on the road to Emmaus knew Jesus. They had walked with Him before His death. They knew all about Jesus. He had explained the meaning of His death from the Scriptures. But they didn’t recognise Him in their midst.
Until they ate together.
Jesus is to be remembered through the catalyst of communion. Bread and wine. Food and drink. Together. In the upper room, Jesus redefined the Exodus memory event—the traditional Passover meal—into a commemorative meal of the New Covenant. Then in Emmaus, Jesus redefined every meal into a memory moment—the moment when we recognise Him among us.
Whenever we eat together—at home, at church, at the park, in the office, at restaurants, on the road—we recognise Jesus among us. We must eat with our family. We must eat with our leaders. And we must impress upon all followers of Jesus that to eat together, in remembrance of Him, is more important than we can ever hope to understand.
We must take every opportunity to eat together. And when no opportunity presents itself, we need to create one.
We must eat together.
It’s how Jesus wanted to be remembered.
Pastor David Edgren is an author and director of Children’s Ministries in the Victorian Conference.