Luke 24:13-33a That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. But God kept them from recognizing him.
He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”
They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “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 asked.
“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.
“Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”
Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. 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 recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!
They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem.
The journey to Emmaus in Luke 24 is one of my favorite stories in the gospels. It’s a part of the Easter story that is often overlooked. On the same day that the women discovered the empty tomb, two other disciples of Jesus (one named Cleopas, the text does not tell us the name of the other) were walking seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. This journey that would have taken them at least 2-3 hours without stopping.
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus appeared and began walking alongside them, but “God kept them from recognizing him.” They talked about everything that had happened in the last 3 days, from the crucifixion of Jesus to the women’s discovery of the empty tomb. These two disciples had not yet seen the risen Lord, and were probably extremely skeptical about the women’s report. Then Jesus “took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
What an awesome Bible study that must have been. Yet still the disciples did not recognize that this was Jesus. When they finally arrived in Emmaus, it was getting late, and they invited him to stay the night with them. As they sat down to eat, Jesus took the bread, blessed it, and gave it to them.
Suddenly their eyes were opened and they recognized that it was Jesus. In that moment he disappeared.
I have always loved the mystery that surrounds this text. But this Sunday our Senior Pastor preached on it from a perspective I hadn’t heard before (see above video). I had always acted as if the story ends in verse 31 when Jesus disappears. But in reality, this was only the beginning. The text goes on to say that “within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem.”
Although I have read this chapter many times, I never took the time to consider what that really means. The disciples had just walked for seven miles. They must have been exhausted. Add to that the fact that it was already getting late when they first arrived at Emmaus – by now it was probably night.
By human reasoning, it makes no sense that the disciples would walk for seven miles all the way back to Jerusalem at night after walking all day to get to Emmaus. It was not only exhausting, but dangerous to travel at night. Yet their hearts burned within them when Jesus explained to them the scriptures. When they realized that Jesus was alive, their passion and excitement was too great to contain. There was no way they could sleep that night. They had to immediately go to Jerusalem and tell the other disciples the news: Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.
God’s timing is perfect, even when it doesn’t make sense by human reasoning. The two disciples walked all night, and arrived in Jerusalem in time to witness the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven (verse 51). Not only that, but Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (verse 45).
Imagine if these disciples had stayed in Emmaus to rest. If they had delayed their journey to Jerusalem, they may have missed one of the greatest moments in the history of the world.
God’s timing often requires our immediate action.
Acts 16:6-10 Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas. That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.
In this passage I’m blown away by two things. First, the direction of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, in guiding Paul and Silas, and giving them specific instructions on where to go. Second, the speed at which they responded to the Spirit’s leading. When Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia, he wasted no time: “we decided to leave for Macedonia at once.”
Put yourself in Paul’s shoes for a moment. Would you leave for Macedonia at once? Or would you question whether the vision was from God, or the pizza you ate last night?
The Holy Spirit gave Paul such incredible clarity of vision that there was no question this was from God. He knew exactly where he needed to go. All that remained was for him to step out in faith and go there. It didn’t matter that Paul had other travel plans. Those plans had to scrapped. God gave him a specific calling for Macedonia.
Consider the way in which Jesus called his first disciples:
Matthew 4:18-22 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed him.
I’m blown away by the simplicity of this passage. Again, try to put yourself in the shoes of Peter and Andrew. You’re out fishing for a living. Would you leave your nets behind and follow a complete stranger for no apparent reason?
Yet there is something powerful about the call of Jesus. Scripture repeatedly tells us that he “spoke with authority” (Luke 4:22, Mark 1:22, Matthew 7:29). As soon as Peter and Andrew received the call of Jesus, they knew what they had to do. From a human perspective, it made absolutely no sense for them to abandon their nets – their only source of income – to follow a complete stranger. But the calling of God is like that. It often does not make perfect sense. It often requires sacrifice and immediate action.
Luke 9:57-62 As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.”
He said to another person, “Come, follow me.”
The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.”
But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.”
Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.”
But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”
We often forget that the call of God is time sensitive. These people wanted to wait for a more convenient time to follow Jesus. He rebuked them. His call requires immediate action.
Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
What is God calling you to do? How often do we use excuses like “we need to slow down, don’t want to rush things,” or “God’s timing is not our timing” to avoid stepping out in faith right now? Although they may sound spiritual, these are really just excuses for our own laziness. We don’t want to count the cost, drop the nets, and step out of the boat. We don’t want to change our plans so we can follow God’s plan. Although Jesus has clearly called us in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) to “go and make disciples of all the nations,” often times we just don’t want to move. But Jesus says: “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”
In the Great Commission we are called to go into the world, to baptize, and to teach. Scripture describes us – the church – as the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12). We are “Christ’s ambassadors” and “God is making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). God gives us incredible opportunities to represent Christ in the lives of other people. But these opportunities have expiration dates. If we don’t move when God calls us to move, we can easily lose the opportunity to make a difference.
When we think about “calling” we often think about some massive life-long thing. But I think it’s the small callings in life that we struggle with the most. God lays a particular person on your heart for you to go minister to them, encourage them, speak life into them. How often do you put that off? The Holy Spirit urges us to show a random act of kindness to someone, but we feel awkward about it, so we ignore it and hope the feeling will fade away.
By doing so, we are being like the men in Luke 9 who were unwilling to follow Jesus on his schedule. They would rather go about their own business than the Lord’s business. They weren’t willing to keep up with the pace at which Jesus moves.
I think the main reason we fail to act on the small, daily callings of God is because we accept this one lie from the devil: It won’t really make a difference.
How often do we accept that lie, and use it as an excuse for our inaction? I know God is calling me to encourage and speak life into that person, but “it won’t really make a difference.” I know God is calling me to bless that person with this act of compassion, but “it won’t really make a difference.” I know God is calling me to go introduce myself to that first time guest at church, but “it won’t really make a difference.” I know God is calling me to preach the gospel, but “it won’t really make a difference.” And so we sit on the sidelines and completely miss out on the opportunities Jesus is giving us to represent him in the world.
I love this quote from our Senior Pastor: “I believe that a high five in the name of Jesus is more powerful than you know. I believe that a fist bump in the name of Jesus is more powerful than you know. I believe that a hug in the name of Jesus is more powerful than you know.”
Sometimes it’s the little things God calls us to do that are the most powerful. Sometimes a simple word of compassionate truth changes a person’s entire perspective on life. And if we’re not being obedient in the little things God instructs us to do, why would he entrust us with greater things (Luke 16:10)?
God has a calling on your life. Sometimes we spend so much time trying to figure out exactly what the calling is, that we never take any steps to accomplish anything. Take one step first, then God will reveal more. He doesn’t necessarily reveal everything at once. He reveals his will for our lives piece by piece as we remain obedient to follow it.
Psalm 37:4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart’s desires.
I used to think this verse meant that God would give me whatever I want. But that made no sense. First of all, God has never given me everything I want (and praise God for that, because many of the things I wanted were not what was best for me). Secondly, what if I desire something that is contrary to God’s will? Will he still give that to me? Why would God give me whatever my heart desires, if, as the Bible says, “the human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9)?
These are tough questions, and for a long time, I never really understood Psalm 37:4. Then one day I read the same words again, yet saw a completely different meaning. It was like scales fell from my eyes so I could see the text clearly for the first time.
God doesn’t give us whatever we desire. God gives us the desires themselves.
As we grow in the process of regeneration/sanctification, the Holy Spirit begins to root out the carnal desires of our sinful nature, and replace them with righteous desires that are pure and holy. God doesn’t call us to do something, and then not equip us for it. He gives us the ability to do it, and he gives us a passion for it.
God has a calling for your life. It’s the intersection of opportunity, skill, and passionate desire. These three things create the sweet spot where God works through you to change the world.
If you’re skilled at something and passionate about it, but God never gives you the opportunity to do it, then you get nowhere.
If you have the opportunity and you’re passionate about it, but God hasn’t given you the skill for it, then you get nowhere.
If you have the opportunity and the skill, but God hasn’t given you a passionate desire to do it, then your heart won’t be in it, and you won’t do it justice. You get nowhere.
Every day my prayer is for God to give me a heart to do his will for my life, to give me the desire to pursue it, to give me the skill to accomplish it, and to give me the opportunity to do it.
Often times, God gives us all of these things in abundance, yet we still don’t move. We count the cost of following Jesus, and the cost seems too great. We don’t want to step out in faith to do something that God is clearly calling us to do, even though it may not make 100% sense from a purely human perspective.
In times like that, I remind myself of the Emmaus story in Luke 24, and how the disciples left for Jerusalem “within the hour.” It didn’t matter that it was dark outside, and they were exhausted. As soon as they recognized Jesus, they moved. As soon as Paul received the vision of the man from Macedonia, he changed all of his plans and he immediately moved. As soon as Jesus called Peter and Andrew, they left everything behind and immediately followed him.
Jesus is moving quickly to change the world, and we need to respond quickly to keep up.