The Lord meets with us in our painful places.
Very quickly, I want to review and jump in by reading through this extensive passage in Luke 24. You can follow along in your Bibles, Bible app, or handout. I’m not going to go back, cover the ground, and explain it through again. The resurrection of Jesus has just happened. Many of the disciples are unconvinced that He has risen. Some of the women have come back with testimony or some type of communication. They’ve been suggesting that Jesus is alive and they had an interaction with angels. We can read about it now, and we’ll pick up and move along.
It says in returning from the tomb, “They told all these things to the 11 and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James and the other women,” this group of women who had gone down to care for the dead body of Jesus, anoint it, and bury it properly. When they got there, the stone had been rolled away. They had this interaction with what seemed like something from heaven. They went and told the disciples that Jesus’ body was gone and He was alive. That was the message. In verse 11 it says, “but these words seem to them,” to the disciples, the apostles, the 12 and the others who were there, “like an idle tale.” You’re just making this up because you want to believe it. It says emphatically at the end of verse 11, “they did not believe them.” So there was no question that nobody believed Jesus was alive. The disciples did not believe it.
Jumping to verse 13, it says “that very day, two of them,” the them, by the way, is part of the rest that’s referred to in verse nine. It says the disciples and the rest. There was this larger gathering of people who followed Jesus. We know the names of the disciples, the male small group that Jesus had. We also know many of the women who were involved and committed followers of Jesus. We don’t know the names of the men in the larger group of Jesus’ followers. They had believed in Jesus and followed Him. They were part of a very small community, like a small church that had followed Jesus with sincere devotion. These are two of those people that are referred to in that ninth verse. Now we are told they are making their way out of Jerusalem while all this is going on to a village or town called Emmaus.
Even though we call this series “Incognito,” it really is a series that has to do with this incident that occurs on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. This amazing exchange occurs. It’s wonderful. Jerusalem is obviously still there today, this can be seen in the places that we talk about all the time that are real places. Emmaus was a village about seven miles away from Jerusalem. You head west to Emmaus. It’s small though and nothing significant. The road to it was not a well-traveled one. The imagery that is given here leads us down this road. You get that sense of remoteness and the idea that two friends could be traveling together and talking for a long time. They had a lot of time.
Along the way, there might be a stop every now and then where someone could get a refreshment, rest, even stay overnight. Periodically, you would see other people connecting, as it would be the case on any trail. Where a person might come by or one person might pull over and rest, and another one would keep going. There were travelers, but it wasn’t well-traveled. It was more remote. It says “That very day, two of them were going to a village named Emmaus and they were talking with each other about all the things that had happened” during their journey. They talked as friends do. They talked about what had transpired. They were recovering from deep trauma.
They were past the city limits and on their way they had time to talk. They had time to engage one another in conversation. They were sharing and trying to work through what had happened. It was just days earlier where it seemed like everything they had hoped for was about to come to pass. A week before, Jesus was welcomed with people clamoring in the streets, calling Him the coming Messiah, waving palms, and crying out like the scriptures said would happen with the Messiah. They were crying out “Hosanna” or “Lord save us.” “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” Jesus engaged the moment, rode on a donkey into the town.
They also understood that it was a fulfillment of a prophecy about the Messiah. Everybody felt like this was the moment. Jesus is going to unveil Himself. Everything that we’ve been talking about, hoping for, believing in, poured our life into for these last three years is about to happen. Then the thing turned completely upside down. It went berserk. It was crazy before they knew it, everything had changed. The last thing they saw was Jesus hanging like a ghastly, crimson silhouette on a Roman cross with a gray sky. The man that they saw, if you would have seen Him, didn’t look anything like the man they knew. He had been their Teacher and Mentor. He had been their Master and Lord. His words had been the words of God. His hands had touched people and healed them.
To watch what happened to Him, it was awful. They’re talking about this. How their world had crumbled because Jesus, as much as they had loved Him, proved to be what they thought he wasn’t. They not only lost Jesus physically and His presence in their lives, but they lost Him in a way that was connected to their hopes and dreams. It’s like people with broken dreams. That’s part of what’s happening here. We move forward. One of the things I realized as I was thinking about it is we understand that they were trying to process through their loss. They lost a person who meant something to them. I don’t know if we can relate to this, but I think most of us can. I just want to say this. I don’t think it’s profound. I think it’s real. “Part of the pain of living has to do with loss.” In life, we’re going to lose things. Maybe we’re younger and haven’t lost a lot, or maybe we’re younger and have lost a lot already. Maybe we’ve experienced pain. I can tell you this. If we live long enough, we’re going to experience a loss of things. We’re going to lose our youth for one.
In some cases, at different times in our lives, certain things we’ve always taken for granted about our health, capacities we’ve always enjoyed, we’re going to have to wrestle with losing those too. That’s not easy. It’s easier in an age like ours than it may have been in previous generations, but it’s never easy. Others of us may lose people we love. We have. It’s hard to deal with that. Some of us had been pursuing something like a dream, career, business, or something that we were aspiring to, and it has evaporated. It crumbled. It’s gone. That’s a loss too. For others of us, it may have to do with relationships. Sometimes when relationships die, it can be utterly devastating.
I’m not just talking about ones that we might call romantic. I’m also talking about friendships, relationships, or family fissures. When relationships die, it’s hard to lose those things. These are losses in life. I go back to people we love. They leave. Sometimes they die, and we can’t recover from that. Those are losses. These two followers of Jesus on the road to Emmaus were wrestling through a loss. This is really important because I want us to think about how the Lord can teach and help us when we experience inevitable losses in our lives. One of my favorite authors in terms of reflectiveness in life examination is a Christian writer named Henri Nouwen. Henri Nouwen was this gentle and introspective theologian. He wrote about loss. He talked about how losses can settle into our hearts and minds.
Henri Nouwen shared about different kinds of losses. He talked about the loss of intimacy through separation. He talked about the loss of safety through violence. He talked about how it’s even possible for us to lose our innocence through abuse. Or how we lose friends through betrayal. How we can experience the loss of love through abandonment. Henri Nouwen was really digging into that, deep, real thing. There might be some of this that we deeply relate to. I want to suggest that Jesus, at the cross, experienced every one of these losses. If you think about it for a moment, at a relational level, Jesus was betrayed by Judas. He had invested in Judas.
Jesus loved Judas. I think there’s some kind of perverse love that when Judas betrays Him, he kisses Him on the cheek. Jesus says, “Friend, do you betray me with a kiss?” It was something about that. The hurt, the wound, even at the table, when Jesus says to Judas, “What you’re about to do, go and do,” is a deep wound at a relational level. We tend to think of it as only very clean, black and white. But at a human level, Jesus was affected by this. He felt betrayal at the deepest levels. On top of that with Peter as well. Peter was His most trusted disciple, the recognized leader of His team, the one who had at times shown amazing understanding and boldness. Peter said he would die for Jesus.
The interesting thing is when they came to arrest Jesus in the garden, even though it was dark, Peter actually did take out his sword. He was prepared to fight and didn’t. He wasn’t just passive in it. He did it. If it wasn’t for Jesus, the whole thing would have melted down. The point being is that Peter was willing to die for the Lord at that moment. Once the adrenaline came down, it showed the fissures in his character. As things unraveled with Jesus, Peter was not up to the task. Eventually, he’s put into a place where he’s asked a question. Peter’s world has been turned upside down and he’s not understanding. His weakness shows up. We all have them.
The right buttons are pushed. Peter denies Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times, emphatically breaking with Him. There’s this powerful moment where Jesus sees him as He’s being taken and it just breaks Peter in pieces. But Jesus was hurt too. “I know you, Simon Peter,” He felt that pain. Judas, Peter. On the cross, Jesus. You think about the seven recorded sayings. The second last, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” Jesus feels the distance from the Father as He bears the weight of lost humanity. He pays the price that we could never pay. He feels the separation and abandonment, think about it. “Why have you abandoned me? Forsaken me?” He feels it. Betrayal, abandonment from people who should have loved Him better. On top of it, the other things that are referred to when he talks about violence and abuse.
The worst part is we know what happens to Jesus. It was awful. The physical abuse that He received. The violence that was placed upon Him is stunning. The ugliness of humanity at its most base level that we see at times and makes us recoil, where we say, “Well, how can that come out of a human being to someone else.” He experiences the worst of it. My point is He experienced everything. He understood every one of those losses. He experienced every one of them. God is not just talking to us from a distance. He has entered into the human experience, understands suffering, and brokenness at a very profound level. He didn’t have to do it. He chose to let it happen. There’s something about that. Keep that in mind as we move forward here, let’s look at it together.
Let’s go back to the verse in Luke. As I look at it, I see these two friends talking. They’re lingering in their loss. They’re despairing and disheartened. I think you can also see this. I want us to understand as they’re talking about their loss, they’re blessed before Jesus ever shows up. You may say, “Well, how are they blessed?” I say they’re blessed because they had one another. That’s a huge blessing because one another is no small thing. It really isn’t. “To have a friend or two with whom we can honestly share our loss,” think about this for a moment, “with whom we can honestly share our loss is to be blessed.” It has been said, “Shared pain is half the pain and shared joy twice the joy.”
There’s something powerful about that. There’s something about the freedom to be vulnerable and honest. To share our heart in our pain and be able to do that authentically without fear is a blessing. It’s one of the ways in which that pain is reduced in our life. It’s the same thing with joy. To be able to share it with someone makes it even more so. Sometimes quality conversation is an excellent medicine for a melancholy spirit. Remember that. Companionship, good companionship, friendship, honest and true is often God’s method for comforting a morning or a grieving soul.
In times of loss, we would do well to guard ourselves against isolation. We talked about that. There is a time to be alone. Jesus modeled it. There is no question. There are some things that God can only do in our lives when we are willing to be alone. Some of us need to be able to carve out time, Jesus modeled that, to be able to think long thoughts, pray, and look inside of our hearts. Some of us are afraid of that. We always have to have something. There are times where it’s good to be alone. In times of great loss or sadness, those times are not one of them. It is not good to be alone in times of sadness and loss.
In verse 15 it says “while they,” they traveled, talked, and were there for one another. “While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing Him.” Are there not times when Jesus is among us and we did not know it? What follows is this amazing amusing tenor that is even a little bit playful. What I noted here is that Jesus is post-resurrection. This is worth noting because it seems that after Jesus rose from the dead, His body, though the same, was also different. Many people have discussed what happens after. Jesus before and after His rising can be recognized. Thomas is able to actually touch His body and feel His wounds, right?
So Jesus is recognizable, but He also can be unrecognizable. It seems the laws of time and space that used to apply don’t apply anymore in this resurrected body. That has a lot of implications for us. I’m no physicist, but I will suggest that the laws of physics of movement in time are very different on the other side of death in Christ. Certainly, Jesus is modeling this as He engages. What we’re being told here is they were talking and discussing and Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. I see these two walking down a road where they’re talking with each other and engaging in conversation. It is sad, honestly. As they’re talking about what could or should have been, why did it happen? Why did God allow it? All the things that people talk about when you experience deep, traumatic loss. In the middle of that conversation, they realize that they’re being joined by somebody. He’s a stranger and they didn’t even see him coming. Maybe they thought for a moment, “Well, it’s because we were just so focused on each other that we didn’t notice him.” They see this other traveler on the same road coming from behind. It looks like he’s going to pass them. Maybe they just take a glance to make sure there’s no trouble here. They just keep their conversation going. But He interrupts them. Let’s look at what happens when the stranger speaks to them.
“And he said to them, ‘what is this?'” It looks like he’s going to pass. But he said to them, “What is this conversation you are holding with each other, as you walk?” All of a sudden they have this stranger who they don’t recognize coming up while they’re in the middle of this conversation saying, “Excuse me, I’ve got a question about what you guys are talking about. You look pretty intense right now.” It’s almost like, “Excuse me, we’re having a conversation right now?” Just keep right on going there. It says, “Then he said to them, ‘What is this conversation that you were holding with each other as you walk,'” when you look so beaten and sad. One of them, now we know the name, Cleopas, answers Him with what has to be one of the most ironic statements of all time. For he says to this stranger who has inserted himself out of nowhere into the middle of a conversation that they were having with each other. “Are you serious? Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem? Because that’s where you came from who has no idea about the things that have been going on? How can you not know?” That is ironic.
What follows is interesting too because He says to them “No, I have no idea. What things are you talking about?” Cleopas is very serious. “I’m talking about the things concerning Jesus of Nazareth. I’m talking about a man who was a prophet mighty in deed, and word before God, before the people. Our chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death. They crucified Him. He was a good man. He was a great man. No, I tell you he was a prophet. Our religious leaders did what they always do to the prophets. They had them killed. Not with their own hands, but they condemned Him. They conspired to have Him crucified. The Romans did their work. They beat Him until He was unrecognizable before He was hammered on the cross, it was a bloody mess. It’s awful.” Cleopas’ intensity drops. In Verse 21, you can hear the dashed hope. “We had hoped He was the one. We believed He was the one to redeem Israel, the promised one. When believed He was the Messiah. We had believed that He was the one who would set us free. The truth is it’s actually been three days since this happened.”
Again, they only saw failure. Their love for Him remained, no question. But their hope was the confidence in His ability to do what they thought He was going to do. That was gone, vanquished. In verse 22, Luke goes on to say, Cleopas says, “Moreover, there were these women in our company. They amazed us. They kind of caught our interest. They had this story that somehow they were at the tomb early in the morning.” Verse 23. “When they did not find Him, they came back saying that they had seen a vision from angels. They said He was alive. Some of those who were with us went back to the tomb to see. But they didn’t find his body. It’s just gone.”
Do you know what they get next from this stranger? They get two things, a rebuke, and a Bible study. Remember, they don’t know this is Jesus. “He said to them, “Oh, you foolish ones. You are slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. You’re so close. Yet you’re not seeing. You’re not seeing what is right in front of you. Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory? Don’t you remember, the scriptures clearly tell us about a suffering Messiah? Haven’t you read Isaiah? Haven’t you read the scriptures? It teaches us that before the glory, He was going to suffer.” Verse 27 “And beginning with Moses, through the law,” first five books, “and all the prophets, He interpreted to them all the Scriptures of the things concerning Himself.” That’s the older Testament. Jesus walked them through the Old Testament. “You see this? This was said about me, this was saying this about the suffering Messiah. Remember back in Genesis, the first time the blood was shed and a covering was given? Remember in Isaiah, the brokenness, the stripes?” He went through the whole thing and they still don’t know who He is.
Later on in verse 32, we’ll get to this next week or the one after, it says their reaction was. It says, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked with us on the road, while He opened up the Scriptures to us?” Do you know what they had a bad case of? Holy heartburn. That’s what they had. Holy heartburn. That’s what happens sometimes when God’s Word hits us inside. I’ve had it happen. My heart burns within me. A couple of things I just want to submit. It’s good for us to remember. I’m coming back full circle here. That the Lord will meet us in our painful places and He will join us in our loss. That’s part of what this is teaching us. I love that. He who was abandoned will not abandon us. Even when we are faltering in faith, He abides faithfully. Into the painful places, He will come. Into the broken places, He will come. Into the questioning despairing places, He will come, and remember, these were believers who were trying to make sense of what had happened. I was thinking about it because it reminded me that what happens when you do a message like this, it drives you back a little bit into your own self if you do it right. I was sitting there thinking about the losses of life. I found myself thinking about my own losses in life. And I thought, “Well, what would be my three greatest losses in life?”
I think I can identify the first one for sure. It happened when I was 12 years old. My brother and I watched our mom and dad split apart and get divorced. That was the only home I’d ever known. There probably was obvious stuff going on. I just didn’t know it, not to that level. I remember not having my dad. Basically the rest of it I’ve shared before and it is not necessarily news. I remember though because my dad goes AWOL and he was never in my life from that point on. Just gone. I remember how I would feel because there were other guys in my life to play sports and stuff. I just never had my dad and my mom was working.
So just that’s the way it was. I thought about that and I thought, “Wow, how did that hit me?” That was a loss. Like my family died. I saw a lot of us have had that experience. But my dad just disappears essentially. He’s an emotionally wounded devastated man, who never recovers fully. It took me a long time. I don’t think I ever fully processed what that did to me at a relational level because I moved on. That was the way life was. I don’t need you anyway until the Lord started getting into my heart a little bit about dealing with some of the anger in there and being able to forgive him. I said, “Lord, j take my anger away. Just take my anger away.” We were helped, and in the end, I was able to pray with my dad before he died.
We had that moment. I say that because that was a loss to me. I don’t think I really understood that loss. Although it’s informed my life, just like all of our losses at profound levels do. Another loss that occurred was when I was 25. I’ve shared this before. I’m not trying to make this all about me. I used sharing with my own losses as I sat with this message and how the Lord enters into these losses. I didn’t really see the Lord enter into my loss when I was 12. It wasn’t until years later that He was welcomed into that wound that I didn’t even know I really had. But when I was 25, I had just been told that I was going to be the pastor of this church. It was a small church. Trisha, my grandfather had founded in a house as he drove his muni bus as a part-time pastor. That was how it was when I was growing up. But he filled a gap for me, my grandfather. My father’s father became a father to me in the faith. Taught me how to love God and pray. He did.
I think of that and see what could have happened. That can happen out of nowhere. You hit the right chord. Boom. It goes right? It just hits you. So I remember when I was 25 and my grandfather was dying. Six months into this he dies. He goes to be with Jesus. We did his funeral right here. I didn’t even know how to process that through. It was like, the Lord helped me, my mentor, the one who’s filled my gap? My father in the faith, everything, he’s gone. How am I going to do this? It was a loss. It was a loss at a number of levels. But at the same time, like a lot of you’ve had losses. Sometimes, you don’t even have time to grieve properly. You have to move on and you can’t even stop to really grieve because you have weight on you. You have to keep going. I think the Lord helped me through that as well. I found Him in that place. It was one of the times where, as I went on, I became grateful for what I had, not just sad over what I lost.
You ask, “Well, what is the third one?” Those are things for me personally. This is going to sound like it is out of left field. But one of the great seasons of loss, the third one was a season of loss. I wanted to point this out. We can go through a season where it’s a season of loss. It’s not just one thing. It’s a series of things that hit us in a period of time that is so short that as it compounds, it begins to overwhelm us with a sense of loss. In my case, it happened a little over three years ago. Right before I had to go on that medical sabbatical, a number of things hit me at a loss level, my grandmother. I have people who I love dying, the sense of my own identity. A lot of things, my body, I lost my voice. I was just losing things everywhere. Someone asked me “What’s going on?” I said, “I’m losing stuff. I’m afraid. I’m losing stuff.” That season of loss was profound for me. I shared about this before. I don’t want to turn it, but God really met me out of the broken places. God brought life. Out of the cross comes resurrection. It doesn’t mean that every situation comes back to life.
Sometimes it changes, but in every situation, He is present and willing to teach us things about ourselves, about who He is, about His love for us. “He is ever present with us, even when we are foolish,” do you see that and slow of heart to believe, “slow to believe. He works with us.” Please see that. I know that there are times when in seasons of loss, we become foolish because we want to deal with that hurt. Sometimes in the place of loss and struggle, we become self-destructive because we’re trying to address that loss. The Lord works with us even there. A lot of times in those places of loss, we are having a hard time believing in God’s goodness.
He still works with us there. He works us through it. If we’ll let Him. He was with me and I didn’t know it. One of the things I’ve found personally at my own level is that God shows up in many ways. Sometimes it’s through wrestling and working through it. That is where the real depth starts and change occurs. God brings good out of the bad. We call it redemptive. That’s what the cross is all about. We say the cross is redemptive. It means death isn’t the final word. God’s life is. He can bring good out of any situation. If I walk with Him and let Him walk with me, He can do amazing things. Again, I’m profoundly amazed at His gentleness, His goodness, and His love, because the Lord will not abandon us. Even when we’re pushing Him away, He will not abandon us. Such is His love. Please, don’t ever underestimate His ability for resurrection. Maybe it’s not the same, but a wonderful gift of life will come. It’s what He does. He heals wounds, turns them into scars, and opens up new things. That’s His way.
Let’s pray. Lord, I am overwhelmed, thankful, and grateful for Your goodness, Your love, and Your life. I ask that as we finish this time together, that we would leave stronger, more encouraged, less afraid of things that sometimes look like loss and devastation. It’s true, that’s exactly what they may be, but your ability to come into those places, to change them, turn them, and to bring life into them. Your ability to heal us and deepness and work in us. Lord, let’s not underestimate Your capacity to do that. You who experienced ultimate loss, You understand our loss. You know what hurt is. You know what wounding is. Yet you work with us. You love us. You’re patient with us. I thank You. What a wonderful, amazing faithful Lord you are. How much we love You, Lord, we are overwhelmed by it. We ask for your blessing. Bless this closing time of our giving. Bless this closing song. May we who love You honor You together. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.