Running from Jesus on the Road to Emmaus – A Sermon on Luke 24:13-35

Our story this morning begins in a place of division within the close knit community of Jesus’ disciples.  Luke says, “Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus about seven miles away from Jerusalem.” 

The immediate question that comes to my mind is why?  Why are they on the road? Why are they leaving town?  The Greek text implies that that they are running away.  This sentence contains two Greek prepositions: ἐκ, which means “out of,” and ἀπὸ, which means “away from.”  For some reason these two find it necessary to get out of the group and away from Jerusalem.   

Why?  Maybe they were angry at Peter and the 11 who had failed to stand by Jesus.  Maybe they felt guilty themselves about failing Jesus.  Maybe they were disillusioned and disappointed with Jesus. They had pinned their hopes on him only to have them destroyed by the crucifixion. Maybe they felt like fools who had been taken in by Jesus’ words. And maybe they were afraid to get their hopes up just one last time, so that when the women reported that Jesus was alive, they just couldn’t take it.  And so they stood, made their excuses to the rest of the group, and said, “I’m sorry but we’ve got leave. It’s been nice knowing you, but we’re out of here.”   

Yet while they were on the road, they were still processing all the things that had happened not only during the last 3 days but also during the last three years.  They may have walked away from the other disciples, but they are still carrying their hopes and hurts within themselves. And so they spend their journey discussing what had happened and what had gone wrong.  But this is not some polite discussion; this is a passionate and heated argument.  The Greek literally says “they were disputing with each other (συζητεῖν),” and when Jesus addresses them he literally asks them “What are these words you are throwing against (ἀντιβάλλετε) each other?” When things really matter, conversations often get heated.

“While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them (v 15).”  These words are a great encouragement to me.  These two were running away from the other disciples, and from Jerusalem, but ultimately, they were really running from Jesus.  They wanted to get as far away from him as they could.  But they can’t do it.  Jesus runs away with them.  He comes near and walks with them in the midst of their hurt and confusion.  And that is good news, because sometimes I want to run away from Jesus, but I know that he will always be with me.  As the psalmist says:

Where can I go from your spirit?
    Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
    if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
    and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me fast.
(Psalm 139:7-10)

You can’t run from God.  Sooner or later you will discover that he is running right beside you.

Although Jesus is walking beside them, these two don’t recognize him.  Which raises the question:  How can you not recognize someone with whom you have spent every waking moment for the past three years? 

A news story I read on the internet this week may shed some light on their lack of recognition.

German police are on the hunt for a burglar whose style choices were so ugly that no witnesses were later able to identify him.

According to a report from a local German paper, Der Spiegel, a bank just outside of Frankfurt was robbed on Tuesday. The man, who cops confirm was armed with a black pistol, demanded the teller hand over an unknown amount of cash before fleeing the scene.

However, the criminal’s appalling 1980’s-style tie was so distracting to employees and patrons that witnesses could not recount other details of the man’s appearance. As of now, German officials believe the costuming choice was intentional. “He did it cleverly,” a police spokesman said. “Everyone focused on the ugly tie and didn’t pay attention to his face.”
(Bank Robber Escapes After Witnesses Distracted by His ‘Ugly Tie’ (

Well, I think the disciples were in a similar situation.  They were so focused on their own pain that they couldn’t see their savior.

Jesus walked with them for a few minutes and finally he asked them a question.  “What are you arguing about with each other while you walk along?” or as we saw a little earlier, “Why are you throwing angry words against each other?” 

Jesus’ words are like a cup of cold water thrown in their faces.  They come to an immediate halt. All the angry energy that had fueled their long walk drained from their body and they just stood there, looking sad.  The word for looking sad literally means with sullen eyes. You can imagine the tears, welling up in their reddened eyes and spilling down their faces.  Behind their anger and frustration was a deeper emotion, that of grief. And Jesus’ question allows all that grief to spill out.  Jesus knows, sometimes you just need get past your anger and let the grief leak out of your heart and through your eyes. 

But their grief does not last long because it is soon turned to anger and vented on Jesus.

Have you ever noticed that if you want to stop two people from arguing, one of the easiest ways to do that is to butt into their argument?  It only takes a couple of minutes before they stop arguing with each other and start attacking you.  Well that’s what’s happening here. Cleopas turns his anger onto Jesus and says “Are you the only stranger who does not know what has happened?”

Michal Beth Dinkler, an assistant professor of New Testament at Yale Divinity school comments

We cannot know Celopas’ tone, but I imagine a hint of disdain: Are you clueless? How can you NOT know?  Now, in Greek, the word for stranger is paroikosOikos means “house,” so literally, par-oikos means “outside the house.” This is the same word that is used for someone who lives in a country without citizenship. Cleopas is basically calling Jesus an “ignorant immigrant.” (Working Preacher, April 11, 2021)

But Jesus is not put off by the insult. Instead he plays dumb by asking, “What things?”  I can imagine Jesus chuckling to himself as he asks this.  But Cleopas himself is clueless. He puts his foot in his mouth, doing his 1st century version of “mansplaining,” recounting to Jesus all the things that had happened to Jesus.  Michal Beth Dinkler comments,

Jesus asks Cleopas and his companion twice what they are talking about, even though he obviously knows. He is the expert because he is the one who experienced it. What they really need to do is listen to him tell the story. Instead, they discuss someone else’s suffering, assuming they already understand. This ironically leads them to miss the truth, the risen Jesus, when he is right there with them. (Dinkler, op. cit)

And there is a lesson here for us:  We need not to figure out things for ourselves; we need to listen Jesus, because he is the only one who is in the know.

Now truth be told Cleopas already has enough information to figure things out.  He finishes recounting the passion narrative by saying, “Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.”  This phrase, “the third day,” should have struck a chord in his memory.  Three times in Luke’s gospel Jesus has prophesied about his passion and death (Luke 9:22; 13:32 and 18:33).  Each time his prophesy ends with the words “and on the third day he will rise again.”  If Cleopas had been thinking he would have asked himself, “Now where I have heard this phrase, ‘the third day,’ before?”  Joel B Green comments

With their use of the expression “the third day,” they recall Jesus’ prophecies, affirming again though unknowingly his reliability as a prophet. In this way, they intimate that all the raw materials for making sense of recent events are available to them, but they are as yet unable to construct a faithful interpretation. (Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, p. 847, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing)

You see, Cleopas and his companion knew more than they realized.  They needed to search their memories and connect Jesus’ prophecies with their current situation.  But instead Cleopas speaks without taking the time to reflect, and thereby misses the point.

Once Cleopas has vented all of his grief and misunderstanding, Jesus seizes a teachable moment.  Cleopas needed to get all this stuff off of his chest before he could begin to understand what Jesus was about to show him. 

And so Jesus says “Was it not necessary [that’s short hand, for “was it not God’s will]… Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 

God’s plan you see was not one of victory after victory but suffering that leads to resurrection and glory. There is no Easter without Good Friday, no resurrection without the cross. It was God’s will that Jesus should suffer and then enter into his glory.

I want to tell you two things that are very important

First, only people who are broken need a savior.  Truth be told we are all broken. So if you recognize a brokenness in your life, you’re in the right spot.  Jesus came to save broken people and that includes you.

Second, only a God who is broken can be a savior.  Jesus has taken our brokenness, our sin, our death and made it his own.  As Hebrews 2: 10,14 & 15 says,   

It was fitting that God, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.  Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 

Jesus did not hold himself aloof from our brokenness, but he made it his own so that we could be God’s own. Jesus is a broken Savior, who saves a broken people.

That’s the lesson Jesus explained to his disciples as he took them through Moses and the prophets.  He showed them God’s plan had always been to have a suffering Messiah who would raise his people to glory.

I’d like to go on and explain the rest of this scripture lesson, but I’m afraid that it would take me another 10 minutes to adequately explain it.  So if you have additional questions, email me or call me and I’ll be glad to explain more.

Let me end, however, with one final observation:

At the beginning of this sermon we met two of Jesus’ disciples who were running away from the fellowship of believers and from Jesus.  But by the end of the story, after meeting Jesus on the road, they return to Jerusalem and to the fellowship of the believers.  There is an important lesson there for us.  We are not meant to live alone.  Jesus came to save broken people but he also came to unite broken people into a fellowship.  It is the resurrection that brings us salvation and that also unites us as a church.  That’s an important message that I need to share with you as I retire.  Let the message and the power of the resurrection bind your hearts to one another.

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