Luke 24:31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him
When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight (Luke 24:30-31).
It is a wonderful thing if you have good eyesight. For my own part I have very poor eyesight, and without glasses I wouldn't be able to make sense of the words of this Bible on the lectern, or recognise the people in this congregation.
We don't know much about these two disciples on that first Easter Day, except that one of them was called Cleopas. We don't know what their physical sight was like. In those days, if you had bad eyes, there were no opticians and no glasses.
But we do know that these two disciples, initially, had poor spiritual sight. In fact the theme of sight is a very powerful one throughout the passage. The disciples' inability to recognise Jesus is a picture of their spiritual blindness; but their final recognition of Jesus follows the giving of spiritual vision to them. How is your spiritual sight? Have you seen that Jesus is alive? How can you?
1 The Disciples in the Dark
Here are these two disciples leaving Jerusalem and going to Emmaus, and they are walking and 'talking with each other about all these things that had happened.' Then, as they are doing this, 'Jesus himself drew near and went with them.' The next comment, in verse 16, is extremely important. 'But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.'
We should understand that these disciples were very familiar with Jesus, with what he looked like and sounded like. A few days earlier, had Jesus joined them, they would have immediately known it was him. But on this day, Resurrection Day itself, something was happening to them. The text tells us that their eyes were 'restrained' or 'held in check'. The normal and natural process of recognition was halted in some way. This can only be something divine and supernatural: God himself took away the normal capacity of human recognition.
But this physical inability to recognise Jesus was a sign of a deeper spiritual inability to understand Jesus and what he had done. The irony is, however, that these disciples think they understand. Jesus joins these disciples and asks them what they are talking about. And they are astonished that he doesn't know. 'Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?' It would be a bit like a visitor to New York a week after the 9-11 attacks showing complete ignorance of them, or someone in this country asking 'what does the word "Brexit" mean?'
And yet these two disciples straightaway give their own clear version of events related to Jesus. We can see what they say in verses 19 to 24. This is the current talk about Jesus. This is the general consensus. This is what is 'trending' in Jerusalem at present. Everyone is saying this about Jesus: if you don't know these things or agree with these disciples you're an outsider.
And what are they saying about Jesus? Yes, they say, Jesus was great and did wonderful things. He taught like no other prophet, and performed miracles like no one else. But when it all seemed to be going so well he was taken by the chief priests and rulers, and condemned to death. And that's basically the end. 'We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel' - not 'we hope' or even 'we hoped' but 'we had hoped' - but that's all forlorn now, all over.
And then they go on to these mysterious events that they've heard about this morning. There are these reports circulating about an empty tomb and a vision of angels saying that Jesus had risen from the dead; but of course, when some of our friends went there they didn't see Jesus. So yes, it’s all over – the fond hope that we had that Jesus was going to redeem Israel has been dashed.
But the question we need to ask is, what does ‘redemption’ mean? And the answer is that it is absolutely tied up in Jesus' death followed by his resurrection. And while these two disciples are in the dark about Jesus' death and resurrection, they remain in ignorance and blindness about what redemption means, about the great mission that Jesus has come to accomplish.
And let's be clear: Jesus himself doesn't want these disciples to remain where they are. He wants to bring them to certainty, to assurance, to faith, to wholehearted and joyful realisation that he has risen. Look at them in verse 17: they are standing still and looking sad. Is this the way a Christian is meant to be? Of course not!
2 The Disciples in the Light
How does Jesus get them to a better position, from blindness to sight and darkness to light? We are told in verses 25 to 27.
And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
This has sometimes been called 'the greatest Bible study of all time'. We don't know what Jesus actually said, however much we would like to. But we know two things: (1) by the time they approached Emmaus they didn't want to lose the company of this stranger. The subject of the conversation - everything in the Scriptures concerning Jesus - was just so compelling, so exciting, so enriching, so fascinating, so transforming. They urge him, 'Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent'. (2) And then we also see that they talk in retrospect about their experience of hearing Jesus talk to them. Look at verse 32: 'Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?'
There is no experience more thrilling or exhilarating in this life than for us to come face-to-face with Jesus Christ as his Word is opened up to us. Christians should avail themselves of every opportunity to do this. He is our life; his love is better than life.
Now these disciples understood that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer the things he did, and then enter into his glory. And that glory means that the Christ cannot be defeated, cannot remain dead. A little later on Jesus will undertake a similar exercise with the eleven remaining apostles. We read in verses 45 to 47:
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
Jesus ‘opened their minds to understand the Scriptures’. This is the great blessing of Christ towards the apostles, and the blessing we need and must seek. This is spiritual vision.
What can we say? The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were convinced that Jesus must rise from the dead even before he made himself known to them in the breaking of the bread. That is, a spiritual vision was given to them even before their physical ability to recognise Jesus was granted. They enjoyed the risen Christ through the Word of God, and it brought them joy, gladness, excitement, true spiritual vision. This is the enjoyment of the very redemption that Christ has brought us through his death and resurrection.
The same can be true for you and me! When God’s people gather together and hear his word with joy and delight, the risen Christ himself is ministering to us.
And this is the application which I want to close with. Does your faith rest upon a Jesus Christ who must be risen, who is risen? There can be no faith, no joy, no true Christianity without it. This is what Peter is talking about when he says:
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Because this passage is not only about the transition from blindness to sight. It is also about the transition from sadness to joy. See the transformation! Is it one that you yourself are familiar with – or indeed one that you would like to undergo? God himself must open your eyes, open your minds, to see the risen Jesus, to see the truth. Ask him to do that for you!