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Burning Hearts & Broken Bread

April 8, 2012 ()

Luke 24:13-35 |


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Churches are usually full on Easter Sunday. Nostalgia, tradition, respect for family, these are some of the reasons why people come out. But I would imagine that deep down what most people want, even those who are cynical about Christianity, is an encounter with the living God. Luke 24:13–35 is a story about how a man named Cleopas encountered the risen Lord that first Easter morning. Through his journey, we learn how we can encounter Jesus as well.

As Cleopas and his unnamed travel companion return to their hometown of Emmaus, they process all the strange events of the past week. In mid-dialogue, Jesus, who is at this time unrecognizable to them, asks what they are talking about. Luke simply records how “they stood still, looking sad” (v17). Luke’s evocative description sums up the disappointment, doubt, perplexity, and anguish that Cleopas is feeling. In that moment he embodies all of the Psalms of Lament at once.

When the silence breaks, a dialogue emerges between Cleopas and the risen Lord that is full of irony and intrigue. Cleopas asks: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days (v18)?” Of course, Jesus is the only visitor who does fully understand what has happened. Nevertheless, Cleopas recounts the week for Jesus, highlighting that no one saw Jesus’ body (v24).

Like Cleopas, many today want to believe that the gospel story is true, but feel they can’t because there is simply not enough evidence to say that God exists or that Jesus rose from the grave. I once heard it said: “If it can’t be tested in a laboratory, it doesn’t exist.” (I wonder how that person’s spouse feels about that statement?!). Cleopas also needed cold hard evidence.

Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t respond the way we would expect. Instead of opening Cleopas’s eyes to see where Jesus stands, Jesus opens the Scriptures to explain who he is (vv25–27). Why? Because Cleopas had failed to consider all that the Scriptures said about Jesus. He couldn’t properly understand who the risen Christ was, until he understood that it was the crucified Christ who had been raised. Cleopas lost hope because Jesus had died, and a dead Messiah cannot bring liberation (vv20–21). But the message of the Scriptures is that the Christ had to suffer and die in order to bring redemption.

But at this point Jesus has been explained, but not been revealed. The recognition doesn’t happen until later that evening, when Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives bread to them (v30). Luke has already shown Jesus doing these actions with the feeding of the 5000 (ch. 9) and during the Last Supper (ch. 22). The text says that when this happens, “their eyes were opened and they recognized him (v31).” Just as Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened in eating the forbidden fruit (Gen 3:6–7), so now Cleopas and his companion’s eyes were opened in eating this holy meal. Except this time, the knowledge is not unwelcomed shame that results in death; rather, it the one thing necessary for eternal life.

Jesus immediately vanishes from the scene, but not without leaving behind evidence that they had encountered him—burning hearts and broken bread. And he leaves these two behind for us as well, so that we can know him and know that he has risen indeed.

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