We sometimes are slow to believe the Scriptures, where we find rock-solid truth.
While a group of Jesus’ disciples stayed in Jerusalem, two were headed home, or at the very least, they were on their way away from what had happened there. A change of venue would be nice. But even as Jerusalem receded in the distance, the walk didn’t have the power to shake loose their grief.
Missing the core explanation
The Emmaus account (Luke 24:13-35) holds a fascinating tension. On one hand, grief permeates the journey. They cannot outrun their dashed hopes. But on the other hand, their grief would be dissolved. One commentator likens the account to “the warm, soft sunshine of spring.” Their hearts will be warmed, but as they start their journey, the reality of their grief is far too great for them to see how that could be possible. We readers, though, are let in on the secret: Their traveling companion is the one who will warm their hearts.
Is there a better depiction of our lives as Christians? As we walk along with Cleopas and the other disciple, we are on our own life’s journey. We know their grief in our own dashed hopes. Yet we know that the risen Jesus is with them and that he is with us. Yet the tension persists. We don’t always know how our grief will be taken away, and sometimes all there is to talk about is our disappointment.
Luke said that as they walked and talked, they discussed “everything that had happened” (Luke 24:14). What things? Maybe they talked about some of the things Luke shared in the preceding chapters: Jesus’ betrayal and arrest while praying. The guards ridiculing the prophet himself and calling on him to live up to his claims: “Prophesy! Who hit you?” Pilate pleading with the crowd, but the crowd insisting on having an actual rebel released to them. Joseph, a member of the Sanhedrin no less, burying Jesus. The women going to the tomb. The angel telling them he was alive. Peter and John not finding his body.
Sometimes when we replay the events that grieve us again and again, we think we can find some hidden meaning. We think we can find the answer to our questions and the solution to our grief. No amount of replaying would help the disciples. They were missing the core explanation. They were not discussing what Jesus had promised before his death and what the angel asked the women to remember: “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again” (Luke 24:7).
Confronted with God’s fulfilled promises
The voice of a stranger interjected, “What things?” Their faces were downcast. Jesus’ question marks the beginning of the warm sun rising on the pain of their hearts. All the disappointment, grief, and lost hope bound up in their hearts came flowing out. None was quite as disheartening as their conclusion, “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Certainly they acknowledged that his body wasn’t in the tomb, but they said the women had been told he was alive and Peter and John confirmed that the tomb was empty. In their minds, everything they had thought this “prophet” would be and do was gone.
The stranger spoke again, and this time he pointed out their biggest problem. It wasn’t their grief; rather, it was their lack of trust. Then he reminded them why they could trust. He connected a golden strand between the Scriptures and himself and extended it to them. What did he tell them? Did he start with Genesis 3:15? “He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Did he move to Job 19:25,26? “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.” And to Psalm 16:10? “You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.”
On this journey our hearts crave one thing: certainty. And we have it after all. We have it in the Scriptures as they point us to both cross and tomb.
We don’t really need to know what Jesus said in order to understand what he was doing. He was holding before them the promises of God in the Scriptures and how those promises were fulfilled in him. If the golden thread of promises stretches across an array of generations and if someone comes along to fulfill them, that person must be reliable. Certainly all the promises must also be rock solid.
In this moment the tension was released. Their grief dissipated. Their hearts were warmed. As they themselves said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). The one thing that caused their trust to be strengthened and their grief to fade was to be confronted with the promises God had fulfilled.
Experiencing certainty through Scripture
A popular anecdote from the life of Martin Luther suggests that Luther was in a deep depression. His wife, Katie, tried to provide him with counsel, but it failed to give him hope. One day she came dressed in black. Luther asked, “Are you going to a funeral?” Katie replied, “No, but since you act as if God is dead, I’m joining you in the mourning.” Apparently, Luther’s hope increased.
I wouldn’t recommend this methodology, but I find it interesting that Katie’s counsel fell flat. As much as I am sure she wanted her counsel to help, it didn’t. The only thing that warmed Luther’s heart was a reminder of God’s promises fulfilled. God was not dead. The only thing that dispelled Luther’s gloom was a reminder that Jesus died, yes, but that he also rose three days later just as he said. He was reminded that God’s promises in Scripture are reliable and rock solid.
We are journeying—you and I. We are journeying home, and sometimes as home draws nearer, our grief persists. We face that tension once again. Grief is there. Doubts persist. Hopes are dashed. Or so we think. Jesus can sometimes seem more like a stranger than the risen Son of God.
But then there is that voice of a Stranger. Not the voice of counsel from my friends, though the voice of the Stranger may come through my friends. Not the voice of counsel through my family, though the voice of the Stranger may come through my family. The voice of the Stranger, “How slow to believe you are, but take heart I have entered my glory just as I promised!”
On this journey our hearts crave one thing: certainty. And we have it after all. We have it in the Scriptures as they point us to both cross and tomb. We have it in the voice of the Stranger who has become our risen Savior. We have it as he connects the golden strand of promises from Scripture to himself and then to us. In that way our eyes are opened again to see with certainty where our journey ends—to see our living Redeemer and in our flesh to see God.
Author: Aaron Goetzinger
Volume 109, Number 04
Issue: April 2022