Let’s set the scene real quick.
On Good Friday, everything is falling apart. Judas is dead. Peter denies Jesus and he is alone somewhere weeping bitterly. The rest of the disciples are abandoning ship, they’ve all fled and are hiding for fear of losing their lives. It’s utter chaos.
Besides a handful of steadfast women like Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and possibly a few others who stayed near Jesus during the crucifixion, many in Jesus’ inner circle had disbanded. All these core disciples had surrendered everything and placed their entire hope in Jesus and now all seemed lost.
And from that Good Friday, we come to Easter Sunday. One of the first things we see is the fact that the Romans are freaking out — their worst nightmare comes true. The body of Jesus is missing. How could this happen? That’s why they had covered his tomb with a large stone and posted a guard.
News of the missing body is spreading. Rumors are beginning to swirl that Jesus has risen. And by this point, Jesus had already appeared to Mary Magadelene and Peter and a handful of others in that inner circle, but many are still confused. They are trying to put the pieces together. It’s a big roller coaster of emotions.
Small pockets of people are rejoicing. But the vast majority are still in a fog. What is this news of a missing body? People don’t know what to make of it.
Besides the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, there was also the outer circle of disciples. Many crowds followed Jesus around. And out of the crowd, some familiar faces emerge. We read about them in the gospel accounts — people like the sinful woman, Zaccheus, Joseph of Arimathea, the bleeding woman and perhaps hundreds of others who were familiar with the teachings of Christ and had some level of commitment to him. In this account, we can presume that Cleopas and his friend who is unnamed were touched by Jesus’ ministry in some way. And they were part of the crowd gathered in Jerusalem to witness the crucifixion.
Picking up in Luke 24, we read that the two friends in this account were downcast as they walked away from Jerusalem, away from the cross, away from the tomb, away from their fond memories of Jesus, on a road toward Emmaus. Probably on their way back to their old lives.
Why were they downcast?
I have 1 reason and a couple of applications. It’s a rather simple message.
The reason they were downcast was because they failed to understand Scripture, and in this case, the gospel writer is talking about the Old Testament because the New Testament hadn’t been written yet. For if they had understood Scripture, then they would have seen that everything was a foreshadowing of the coming Messiah.
It’s interesting to note that Cleopas and the friend were actually conversing with the risen Christ about Christ, yet they didn’t realize who they were talking to.
I wonder how many times this happens to us. We are confused, we are downcast and Jesus is actually right in front of us, but we fail to notice him. Something to think about.
Luke 24 – 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
Just like many people throughout Jesus’ ministry, these two friends failed to recognize Jesus as the Son of God. Some thought he was a miracle worker. Some thought he was a great teacher. Some just hated him because he was a threat to their religious lifestyle. Some like the Roman soldier, who nailed Jesus to the cross, it was just another day at the office and he saw Jesus as just another criminal who was being executed.
The phrase in v16 is worth noting. These two friends on their way to Emmaus were walking alongside the resurrected Christ but they were “kept from recognizing him.” In other words, they saw him with physical eyes. He was just a traveler, a stranger along the road, and from their perspective, an ignorant stranger because Jesus seemed to be completely unaware of the big news from that weekend. It’s like these days I talk to students and some of them are in their little bubbles. And there could be some terrible catastrophe and I ask them, did you hear about the earthquake in Japan and even though it’s on every newspaper and it’s all over the internet and yet they say, no, I didn’t. I’ve been cramming for my midterm. To these two friends, Jesus must have come across as some country bumpkin from out of town. Completely cut off from reality and current events.
They saw Jesus with their physical eyes, but their spiritual eyes were still closed and they were kept from recognizing him.
Then in v20-21 we get a little insight into why they may not have recognized Christ for who He really was —
Luke 24 – 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel…
Why did they miss out on recognizing that Jesus was the Son of God? It says it right there in v21 — They thought Jesus was going to redeem Israel. In other words, they didn’t recognize Christ because they had their cultural blinders on.
And we don’t know exactly what kind of redemption they had in mind. Maybe to defeat the Roman Empire politically as many messianic expectations during the first century literature indicates. It could even be some kind of spiritual redemption for Israel. But the point is, whatever they thought, it was limited to Israel. A cultural blinder.