by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Luke 24.
This is a chapter which comprehends the whole range of testimony concerning the Christ and which enshrines at its heart the greatest issue of all the ages. There are many details gathered around that central value, and before we arrive at the essential message, I think it would be helpful and profitable if we just consider some of those relative features.
There is first of all this journey which these two men took to Emmaus, what we might call a transfigured journey, for never did a beginning have such a wonderful ending; never did a greater change take place within the compass of a comparatively short distance.
An Unexpected Meeting with the Lord
In the first place, how unexpected and unimagined was the event that took place on that journey! No men were ever less suspecting, imagining, what was just about to happen. They went on their journey of a little over seven miles for their own reasons, which we shall look at presently, and they were not expecting anything but that they would eventually arrive at Emmaus and go into whatever place they were making for, and after that, well, who knows? For them the future was a blank perhaps, anything beyond that journey which they might have accomplished in a couple of hours. I do not suppose they were hurrying, apparently they were not, and then, after that, all was a big question for them; a great big question for their entire future. No, they were not expecting anything, they were not imagining what might be. They had just walked out. Perhaps they had said one to the other, "Well, let us go to Emmaus, let us just go..." - and that is all. "We do not know what lies ahead, everything is very dark, very uncertain... we really do not know where we are, but let us just go." And the greatest thing in history and in human experience came into that which seemed so casual; came right into their lives, but even then it was not realized. All its import, all its tremendous significance was still veiled, though so near. "Jesus himself drew near, and went with them". He was there with all the immense significance of His being there at that time after what had happened, with all the far-reaching meaning and value of His being alive. He was there, but unrealised; so much present of meaning and value and portent, but still not recognising, not knowing. They had their reasons for taking that seven mile walk, but the possibilities in it and of it had never occurred to them.
That is of wider application than to just the incident we are thinking about. It contains a message in itself right at the outset. There may be the greatest possibilities, potentialities - the greatest things in human experience right close to us all, unsuspected - and we are casual. We have come here; let us at once adjust ourselves, for this same Jesus lives and has said, "I am with you all the days" (Matt. 28:20). There may be the greatest experience in human history right near to you, just now. It might perhaps prepare the way for the Lord if we take that attitude. But let us go on.
Two of them... who were they? Well, so far as our enquiry and search goes, we are still unable to identify them. There have been guesses, but I do not think there is any proof yet as to who they were. Two unknown people - one named, but that does not help us at all; the other unnamed. They were certainly not apostles, but they returned to Jerusalem later and reported to the eleven. You notice it says here in the narrative, that they told all these things to: "the eleven... and them that were with them". Paul, much later, in speaking of or recording the appearances of the Lord after His resurrection, said, "He appeared to above five hundred brethren at once" (1 Cor. 15:6). These were two of all the rest, that is all.
One of the greatest things that could possibly happen to men, came to one unnamed and one named, but unknown, persons. That may help us. Perhaps you are feeling that these great things of God may be for some important people, they might be for the apostles or people of that category, but I am just one of the rest, my name is not known and is not mentioned, and if it should be mentioned, it does not signify anything, it does not imply anything... I am just in the crowd, I am just in that larger company - "above five hundred". The Lord was not confining Himself to the "important" people. Here were two of the rest, whatever that might mean, people of all shades and grades. He had gone down that way - it would seem out of the way, because they were certainly out of the way, they had to get back into the way to come into the full value of things. He had gone out of the way for people like that, just the ordinary people, and what a thing for ordinary people! I know how simple, how very elementary, these things may sound, but they lead us into the heart and will help us perhaps when we come to the greater matters. Yes, they were not people who have a record in history for any outstanding personality or position. They belonged to the rest, but the Lord gave them as great an experience as He gave to the apostles. The Lord Jesus has not reserved His great values for important people.
Disappointed and Despairing Men
Then about the journey itself and its reason. Why did they go down to Emmaus? We can only guess, I think, and yet we may conclude from their own conversation. First of all, they were disappointed men. Life for them had lost its meaning. As they said, they had hoped that it had been He Who should redeem Israel, and their hopes were dashed. They had centred all their expectations in Him and calculated for the rest of their lives by Him. He had become life and all its meaning and value, and now, so far as they knew, He was dead and buried. And what a death! Not the death of a recognized and acclaimed king, but the death of a felon, an outlaw. Oh, what an ignominious death! That it should have come to Him, and that it should have come to them and come into their lives! That this should have come into our life! It is one thing to read it in a book as having happened at some time, somewhere, but that should have come into our life! Things like this happen to some people, you feel exceedingly sorry for them, even distressed, but that it should have come into our lives... a thing like this! That a tragedy of the first magnitude should have come right into our life and shattered everything for us, all our hopes and expectations cut off... deepest disappointment and despair! That was the mood, the atmosphere. They walked and the word used means "discussed" these things, and were sad.
Not only were they disappointed, they were perplexed. They just did not know, in the first place, the meaning of it all. And then people were talking about strange things, talking about experiences; there were reports and rumours. They said to Him "Certain women of our company amazed us, having been early at the tomb; and when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, who said that He was alive. And certain of them that were with us went to the tomb, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not." Reports about people having experiences. People were saying, 'We have had a wonderful experience', and here these were in dire distress and despair. "Other people... rumours and mysterious things, but we are out in the cold, we have nothing of that, we do not know anything about that; that may be true or may not be in their realm, but in ours it is all a mystery."
You see what I am speaking about. There are those who hear testimonies, hear experiences, hear others speaking about what they have come to know, but for us life has lost its meaning, life does not hold a great and wonderful secret any longer. It all seems a mystery and all that we hear from other people about these things just leaves us perhaps all the more perplexed because we are not in it, we are outside. They had heard these things, the reports about the empty tomb, they had heard these exclamations - He is risen! And after hearing they went away, they took the journey. You would have thought that they would have stayed to prove, to ascertain, to make sure. No. You notice that on more than one occasion it says that they disbelieved, they could not take it in, and so they went away. "This is all too unreal, too mysterious, too outside of our experience; let us get away from it all!" and being disappointed and perplexed, they became escapists.
How true to life this is! 'Let us go away from it all!' So many people react in that way. Things, divine things, are happening. They know little about it in personal experience, and the thing becomes a complex, it begins to work itself up into a constellation of complexities, and they get all confused, and then the reaction - 'Let us get right away'. I am anticipating. It might be possible that there are some here who will take that course at the end of this conference. 'There have been lots of things said which I do not understand; people are talking about their experiences, they are saying this and that, and to them it is wonderful, they go into ecstasies, but I do not know anything about it, and I have not got the secret; let me get right away from it all'. Be careful! And there are those who, having come into touch in some way with those great things of God and the spiritual life which are happening, which things have come into touch with their lives, are reacting by trying to get out of the way, to run away, to evade. I am not saying these men did that, but I am enlarging on the occasion of the journey.
You may be afraid that you will be caught into this tide, this that you are at present disposed to call 'this strange kind of life', you might be caught in it, and half of you, perhaps three-quarters of you, says that you do not want to, but the other little bit is wistful. You would like to know, but you are afraid. All these things may take place in mind and heart when something that God has for us of immense value and significance is right near at hand. We are afraid, and yet - if only it could be true! I am quite sure that these men had that wistfulness. If only it were true! You can see how at the end of the story they rushed back over those seven and a half miles because it was true. 'We were wishing, if only it could be true how different things would be' - and it is true. It is no mere rumour. There is a risen, living Christ in all the significance of that mighty fact to be known as an experience. But let us go on still.
Men in Possession of Unrealized Wealth
We discover from this account that these two were really, in a way, in possession of wonderful riches, which meant nothing to Him. It is assumed by Jesus that they possessed all the Scriptures. What would have been the point in His starting at Moses and all the prophets and going through them if these men knew nothing about the Bible, if they had never been in touch with a Bible? He assumes their possession of the Scriptures. But they did not know what a mine of wealth and riches was right in their possession. They knew Moses, which of course means they knew the first five books of the Bible. They knew all the prophets, they even used that word about Jesus - "who was a prophet mighty in deed and word", and yet they did not know them. All that was of no practical value to them now. In this day of crisis, this day of their deepest and direst need, all their tradition was of no value at all, unless a latent value. It gave the Lord something to work on, but apart from that there was the wealth, and they were in poverty; there was the fulness and they were in emptiness; there was the glory and they were in the dark, and yet they had it. A terrible possibility. 'Oh, how wonderful it is! This event has not only transfigured our walk into the country (that is how Mark puts it - (Mark 16:12)), but it has transfigured everything we possess. He has given us a new Bible because a new Lord has revealed to us something that we never suspected.'
What I want to emphasise is this: we may know the Scriptures and what they contain, their teaching, doctrine, themes, subjects, and all that is there as in a book, but the Lord has a wealth there that is far, far beyond our dreams and our imaginations. The wonder of the Word of God is that it is as deep as Himself, and how deep is that? Have you fathomed God, have you comprehended God? No, we have but touched the fringes and the edges. Though we may have been in touch with this for a lifetime, there is a fulness there beyond us. And so I would say to you - Do not take the attitude that you know it, or that you think you know it. Do not feel that you have comprehended the truth. The Lord may amaze you - for I am sure that these men were amazed from what they said later on when they summed up this walk and this talk. "I never saw that before!" I am sure inside they were saying that. "I thought I knew Genesis, I thought I knew Isaiah, I never saw that before!" They were saying it in such a way as to make them say that their heart was burning within them. It is a great thing to have your heart burning with a new revelation of the Lord, and that is possible to the most enlightened, the most instructed. You think you know your Bible and the truth and the doctrine. Let us stand back and say that we know nothing; though we know much, we know nothing. "The Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from His Word".
The Unrecognized Lord's Knowledge of Them
This strange Stranger - Mark says that He appeared unto them in another form (Mark 16:12). Luke puts it in another way and says "Their eyes were holden that they should not know him." It is the same thing put in two ways. But He knew them - and here is such a word of comfort. He had a complete knowledge of them and of their need, and He went out of His way because He knew they were men in need and in trouble; honest, sincere men who had no quarrel with Him, who had no controversy with Him. They were just perplexed and bewildered, honest men. There was loyalty to Him even though their hope was shattered. How other they might have put it when He interrogated them. They said - "Things concerning Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people". Now, how could they have put it? 'In spite of the fact that we had thought Him to be - and so on - He turned out to be...' In their perplexity and shattered hope, they still say "who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God". There is loyalty still and the undertones of devotion and of love for Him. This is not anger, this is sorrow, and He knew that. If you are taking the rebellious and bitter and antagonistic attitude, quarrelling and resentful, you will not come into the good of what the Lord has for you; but if you are honest, and although you cannot see and understand and are deeply perplexed, there is the undercurrent of loyalty, of love, wistfulness, of desire, desire to know Him; that is His ground. He will come to you on that ground. It is not very much, but it is enough for Him. He knew them and just where they were on the country road, away from the crowd. He knew two lonely, troubled souls on the country lane. He knows where you are and how you are, and He is ready to meet you just there.
The Lord's Tactical Approach
Note His tactical approach. All this may seem details, but they are important in working up to the big issues. His tactical approach. He knew it all and more than they knew and a very great deal more, and yet He is asking questions. "What is all this you are talking about, what is all this that is so seriously occupying you, what is all this serious preoccupation that is leading to all this discussion and something is making you very sad - what is it?" He knew all but He asked the question. "Are you only sojourning in Jerusalem, have you only just come in from a distance, perhaps stayed a night and going out again, and do not know all that has taken place there, the things that have taken place?" Again, "What things?" and how much more He knew than they did of the things! There is a lot in that of real value and help, but note His method.
Sometimes it is a big step towards the light if we will only state our own case. How often it is like that. Now then, what is your trouble? Sometimes we do not know what our trouble is until we have to put it down, and then it may be that we are beginning to see light. At any rate, we have opened the way. And so He draws them out to express themselves, to state their case, and it means this - 'What really is troubling you? What is the reason for your present position?' This may touch somebody who is in some position of reservation, of question, of prejudice, of fear, of suspicion, of reserve of some kind. It might be just as these men were perplexed. Exactly what is your trouble? What are you afraid of? What is the reason for the position you are in? What is the reason for your prejudice? Analyse it, study it. What is the reason for your fear? Why are you afraid? What are you afraid of? Just say why you are evading. What is it you are trying to evade? Why have you gone down that road, the Emmaus road? Why are you going that way?
I believe if only you would frankly state your case, you would open the way for the light, it would be a big step toward deliverance. And the Lord paved the way for this wonderful revelation which was their emancipation by getting them to come out with it. 'Now then, let us have it out, state it'. Have you not discovered the value of stating a thing? How it gets locked up and confused and it goes round and becomes something so immense! When you write it down in so many words, well, things at least begin to get a bit clearer. Try it! If you are locked up, held, bound, afraid, if you are not really in the good of this life of the risen Lord, try to make clear to yourself, and then to Him. And that is what He asks. Is it fear? What are you afraid of? Is it prejudice? You will have to let that go because that locks the door before ever there is any approach. Is it what someone has called 'the malady of not wanting'? You will have to deal with that.
Their Outreach of Heart
And now we must close this part. He draws the veil aside. He has got them so far - and ever remember that they do not know Who He is. We do not know how far on the journey it was when He joined them - but He took up Moses and all the prophets and spoke of Himself in them all, and while He was speaking of Himself - but to them He was but a stranger still, a Bible teacher such as they had never listened to before, an expositor of the Scriptures talking about someone whom they mutually called the Christ - then as He talked to them out of the Word of God, things began to happen in them. While they listened, not knowing Him yet, not knowing Who it was, some strange thing was beginning to work.
We are going to have to leave it for the moment. What a drawing aside of the veil that was, far, far beyond our powers of grasping. We shall say something about it perhaps later. But there was the climax to this, the end of the road, the day far spent, a perilous district, and they were loath to let Him go. They said, "Do not leave us, do not go on, come in and abide". You see the issue in all these simple things that I have been saying, the issue is there - a personal, definite reach-out to the Lord on your part, even though there is as yet no recognition of Him in any fulness, no knowing of Him in any great measure, but sensing that there is something here; an outgoing of heart, a kindled fire of desire, the outreach. "Do not go, stay!" it is very simple in words, but oh, the Lord waits for that: "He made as though He would go further." Is it not strange how He did those things?
When His disciples were on the lake and He came walking on the water, "He would have passed by them" (Mark 6:48). The Lord is not going to coerce you or force Himself upon you. With all the mighty thing that is bound up with Him, He is not going to force it on you, He is not going to compel you, He is going to be constrained by you. "They constrained him." We have to arrive there. I end by saying that you can miss it, you can let it go. He is going on, He will be back in Jerusalem presently. Others will be coming into the full glory of it. Will you have missed all that God means for your life - not only, perhaps, as one who has not yet commenced to know the Lord, but in that immeasurably greater fulness for those who do know Him? Are you going to miss it for want of that eager outreach which says, 'No, come in and abide! We cannot go on without You, I cannot do without You, You have made me to know that You are the one Who has the answer to my problems, the secret I am seeking is in You.' "They constrained."
We will all have to constrain Him, not just read or listen to things about Him and great things that the Lord wants for us. They could have heard it all and could have let Him go on. They could have said, 'It was a wonderful walk, a wonderful talk, he was a wonderful teacher, and that is the end - He has gone'. No, no! There is that outreach of heart, that outreach from the inside which takes hold and says, 'Lord, I cannot do without You'. And He went in, He yielded to their constraint and went in, and they sat down to eat, and He took a loaf - He had done that before - and broke it, and their eyes were opened and they knew Him. That was the beginning of history for them. He becomes known when we in our hearts have said, 'Lord, come in, stay!'