Sometimes the Lord will open our eyes to see the familiar things of life in new ways.
The Incognito Series is a discussion of an event that takes place on the Road to Emmaus. The Road to Emmaus is an incident that occurs in Luke 24. Instead of going back and resetting everything, I’m just going to read through the passage. This passage is the one that precedes the one in your handout. Follow along if you have your Bible or Bible app as well. We’re going to read through so that everybody can connect to what we’re reading. We’re going to talk about how Jesus wants to connect with us in a very deep way.
In Luke 24:13 it says, “that very day,” the day that’s being referred to is Easter Sunday. That very day, two of them, the two of them would have been followers of Jesus. They were not part of the twelve. One of them, we’re going to find out his name is Cleopas. These two are part of an extended group of people who had followed and believed in Jesus. They had thrown everything they had behind Him believing that He was Messiah, the savior, the promised one. For them, the cross meant ultimate failure, devastation. It meant the brokenness of their dream. They lost Jesus, who had been the most important person in their lives. He died on the cross and it wasn’t just a normal death, it was an awful death.
It was devastating. We talked about this, how ugly it was, how violent, how emphatically disfigured Jesus was by the time the Romans were done with Him, and what a shock that would have been to anyone who cared for Him. It wasn’t just something that you could get past in only a few days. They were still grieving the loss of Jesus and recovering from the trauma that they had experienced. Some of us know, there are certain traumas in life that take months, sometimes years, to really heal from if we ever do. In this case, they’re traumatized by what has happened to Jesus. They were going to a village named Emmaus. That village was about seven miles from Jerusalem. I love the imagery that they had come up with for the series, this Incognito Series, Jesus in disguise. The idea of a pathway leading from Jerusalem to a more remote town called Emmaus, seven miles away. How that path would have been somewhat isolated like the one we’ve come up in, created in our mind’s eye, and how these two are friends. They have been followers of Jesus, but now they’re devastated. They’re walking, talking, and sharing together. They’re trying to figure things out.
In verse 15, it says while they were talking and discussing together, Jesus drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing Him. All of a sudden, there is a fellow traveler on the road. They didn’t see where He came from, but all of a sudden He’s walking with them. The next thing you know, He’s joining them. Notice what happens next. He said, “what is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” So the stranger who they didn’t know joined them on the road, they can’t remember exactly. He must’ve been going faster than them, but he shows up, he’s walking down the same path. He says, hey, what are you guys talking about? You seem pretty intense. Notice what it says. They stood still. They stopped as the stranger inserted himself into their conversation. They looked sad and they were sad. They were discouraged, defeated, and very hurt. One of them, Cleopas, answered Him. “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened in these days?” He said, “what things?” They told Him the things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people. How our chief priests and our rulers delivered Him up to be condemned to death. They crucified Him.
We had hoped. We had believed that He was the one to redeem Israel, the savior of the promised one. Besides all this, it’s been about three days? This is the third day. Since these things happened. There have been some women who were part of our group, our company, and they may assist. They came up with this story. They said that they were at the tomb early in the morning. When they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. But some of those who were with us went to the tomb to check it out. We found it was as they said, the body of Jesus is gone, but no one nobody saw Him.
It wasn’t like He’s alive. That was the last thing on their mind. The idea that Jesus was alive. You have to understand the cross for the disciples of Jesus meant the end. That was their mentality. It was a defeat. There is no sense of, “oh, He might be alive.” That thing ended, whatever it was, it’s over. Whoever He was, He was a good man. He was a good teacher. He was the most beautiful man we’ve ever known, but He wasn’t who He said He was. We believed Him to be the Messiah. He clearly wasn’t. This sets us up for where we are in our handout. We’re going to look at Verse 25. It says, “He said to them, this stranger, who seemed to know them, who they did not recognize, oh, foolish ones and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.”
You know the scriptures and what the prophets have taught us. You know what the writings of the scriptures say, was it not necessary that the Christ, the Messiah, the promised one should suffer these things before He enters into glory. Notice what He says beginning with Moses and all the prophets. He interpreted to them in all the scriptures that would include the Psalms, all the scriptures, the things concerning Himself. What a marvelous conversation that must have been. An impromptu Bible study like no other. It would have been amazing. Here they are. They’re walking. As they’re walking, the stranger is talking. As He’s talking and they’re walking together, He’s telling them all the things in the scripture that foreshadow the coming of the Messiah and why He had to suffer and die. He takes them on a journey. A journey all the way back to the very beginning of the very book of Genesis itself. The Five Books of Moses, the Pentateuch, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
Jesus points back to them because the scriptures that Jesus is referring to when we have a Bible, our Bible is made up of a New Testament. It goes from the life of Christ on. An older Testament that has to do with how the beginning occurs in Genesis and moves all the way through God, calling out a man named Abraham forming ultimately a nation. Out of that nation comes the promise of the Messiah. It’s all pointing toward Jesus. It’s filled with other things like sacrifices that foreshadow the ultimate sacrifice of God Himself. The blood that was spilled, even at the very beginning to cover the shame of the first human family and the very beginning of the book of Genesis. The scarlet thread that scholars say runs throughout the entire Bible from the Old Testament into the very point where there’s a Passover lamb, as they are broken out of Egyptian bondage, into the Promised Land all the way through to the promise of the Messiah.
Jesus is unraveling those things. As they’re walking and saying, look, the scriptures foretold of a savior who has suffered before the glory. First, the thorns, then the glory. You should know your own scriptures. You’re familiar with them. You are slow to believe. Can’t you see it? As He talked, our hearts started burning. This is another reason why it’s important to study the scriptures. Anybody who is serious about following Jesus needs to take seriously the study and reading of His words. Including the older Testament because that’s what Jesus was actually using as a guidepost on this Road to Emmaus. Think about that, the value and understanding of what we call the older Testament.
It almost points to Jesus just as everything in the New Testament points back to Jesus. It all centers on a cross and a risen savior. In my mind, what we’re doing right now is huge. Coming together in a larger gathering to hear His words. I hope we understand that this was the custom of Jesus Himself. Those who would follow Jesus follow His path. If you read Luke 4:16, it says that as was His custom, Jesus went to the synagogue. Jesus went to church on the seventh day. He was in the Lord’s house where the scriptures were read. That was a custom of Jesus, a way in which He built the rhythm. He was the Lord of glory and He had a rhythm of coming to the Lord’s house. You realize that’s a place where we hear God’s Word. It’s where the Lord can speak to us.
You’ll also see the value of small groups. If the custom of Jesus was to go to the Lord’s house and hear the word and read the word and share it in commentary, then the method of Jesus was small group. He had built His team into a small group. That’s where they shared life. They shared scripture, talked, and engaged in that environment. If you notice, Jesus also had a practice of getting away on His own to spend time with the Father. I’m giving us the gold standard of the Christian life. One day a week in community with other followers, hearing His words. Another time of having a small group engagement, where there’s fellowship where we’re discussing, reasoning, praying, and worshiping together. Then, of course, supplemented by eight dailiness, like a daily vitamin, if you will, at a spiritual level. Engaged devotionally or with His word. Where I’m reading His words, thinking about them, learning to let them settle into my heart. It’s a training regimen that will produce health in life. It’s a fantastic rhythm and way of moving. Let’s go back to this passage and we’ll see it one more time. When He’s on the road talking to them about the older Testament, He’s opening up the scriptures and pointing to something. He’s leading them somewhere. He’s saying the Messiah was supposed to suffer and die before His glory. In a sense, they’re on a journey and he’s leading them to the cross, if you will.
He’s leading them to the cross. The very thing that they saw as defeat, He’s saying that was what was supposed to be. They listen, no doubt in utter amazement. I put in your handout a quotation from a commentator named G. Campbell Morgan, who I just love. I love the way he renders it. It’s kind of poetic. He says Jesus was taking their own profits and unlocking them. I love the way he describes it, flinging back the shutters and letting the light stream in. He talked to them. They were silent and there broke upon them a new vision of truth, a new understanding of things with which they were perfectly familiar. In this new vision, they found a new understanding of all things, which they had long known.
I want us to see this. A new understanding is a powerful dynamic. Particularly when something familiar is revealed to be so much more than what we thought it was. Notice that word, the idea of the man, Jesus took something familiar to them, the scriptures, and opened them up in a fresh new way. It was almost like they came alive in a very different way. Familiarity. Familiarity is when we know someone. In a relationship, when we have familiarity, we’re close. We’ve had a relationship for a while. We understand the other person. Familiarity may be something that we have with an acquired skill set. I’m familiar with that. I know that language. I know this, I understand it. I’m familiar with it. We use the word all the time. Jesus says He opened up things that were familiar. When we talk about familiarity in a relationship, we must understand familiarity has advantages and disadvantages. Doesn’t it?
The familiarity advantage, as we think about it, has to do with things like the ease of access or what we might call the speed of trust. We know each other, we trust each other. So there’s not a lot of pre-work that needs to be done to make sure that my assumption of who you are is correct. Usually, when we enter into a new relationship, we don’t really know. We’re engaging relationally to understand. The closer you are, the more familiar you are with someone, then you have a higher level of trust. This is the speed of trust. So familiarity has its upsides to it. It’s safer. It can be safe when we’re familiar with someone, there’s safety there. I know you, you know me. You know my ways, I know your ways. There’s the ability to have a kind of comfort or a lack of pretentiousness.
I don’t have to worry about this or that because we’re familiar. Just be as I am, that’s what’s comfortable. There can also be a kind of beauty of intimacy that comes with familiarity at its highest level. There’s not only safety, there’s a beauty of truly being vulnerable because we know each other so well. You see the advantages of familiarity, but there’s also a disadvantage. What do you think that disadvantage is? The disadvantage is that we can easily start to take it for granted. Our interest and appreciation, which was once special, can start to wane. The more familiar we become, the more ordinary it seems to be. I take you for granted. If it’s played out in a very negative way, not only can my appreciation and interest wane, but if unchecked, it can find its way into scorn and disdain. That’s the most negative expression. Some of us have heard this phrase. I hear it all the time. Familiarity breeds contempt, familiarity breeds contempt. I’ll hear that phrase thrown around at different times. Usually when someone says familiarity breeds contempt, what they’re saying is the closer you get to people, the more you lose respect. Why? Because we see flaws. When we see flaws, the less we regard them. The more common something becomes, the less special it is. Familiarity breeds contempt.
Now the word contempt is a strong word. I remember I was on a retreat a couple of months ago with my wife. We were talking and I was telling her about this passage. I said Jesus took things that were familiar and opened them up in new ways. I said, what do you think about that phrase? “Familiarity breeds contempt.” I said, “I’ve used it probably a couple of times, but contempt is a strong word.” Are we saying that whenever we get close to someone over time, inevitably that relationship will break down and even become ugly? Is that what we’re saying? Familiarity breeds contempt. Think about it. It’s interesting because when you look up the word contempt, it essentially has one definition that goes in two directions. One definition of contempt is when you hold someone in a scornful place or see them as contemptible. For example, I’ll use it, “you make me sick.” That’s Contemptible. That’s one understanding of contempt.
Another definition of contempt is a loss of respect or reverence. That’s why in a court of law, you’ll hear someone say, “you’re out of order. You’re going to be held in contempt of court.” What do they say? You’re disrespecting the court. If you look up the meaning of that phrase, familiarity leads to contempt, it has to do with familiarity, not leading to known disdainful scorn. It has more to do with leading to a place of disrespect because the closer we get to people, the more we see their weak sides. Here’s what I think. I do believe this statement and the more and more we see someone’s weaknesses and shortcomings, then the less we feel close or respect or care for them. That’s what this implied.
I believe the first part is true. Always. The closer we get to people, we inevitably will see inconsistencies. There’s no way we won’t see flaws. We all know that. There’s not one of us that doesn’t have any flaws. People who are close to us know that. But the former is true, but I’m not sure about the latter. I’m not sure that necessarily means that because we see someone and their flaws, that we’re automatically going to hold them in contempt. In fact, I recall in my life, some of the people that I’ve most appreciated and gotten close to who were people that I respected in my life. I think of two people or relationships in particular that stood out to me as having a spiritual influence in my life. One was the first youth pastor I ever had, a man named Steve McFarland.
I didn’t know him, but one summer they welcomed me into their home and I stayed for an entire summer at their house. He and his young wife’s house. I remember what an effect that had on me. I got to see up close and personal a whole lot of stuff, flaws and all. I remember my grandfather, who was the first and only pastor I ever had in my life. The closer I got to him initially, I always thought of him one way. But as I got older, I’ve shared before, and as I got closer to him, I started seeing flaws. I saw areas of inconsistency. But you know what happened in neither of those cases? My respect and love didn’t diminish necessarily. It just changed. In fact, I ended up becoming more protective and desirous of helping the situation improve because it was a deeper level of love there that had been built around trust, honesty, and real vulnerability.
Familiarity for me did not necessarily breed contempt, but I did see as many of us do, shortcomings. It was interesting because the idea is that it is possible clearly for familiarity to lead to contempt in a bad way when there are huge disconnects. When we’re seeing hypocrisy lived out, that will tear us. That can do real damage. But I think in most cases, the real danger of familiarity is that we start to take things that are gifts to us for granted. I think we start to take things that are fascinating, that had been before for granted because now we’re used to them. We get accustomed to it and they lose their sparkle as human nature.
I was having this conversation with my wife. I said, “So do you think familiarity breeds contempt?” She says, “I like to think of it in a different way. Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt as much as familiarity can breed content.” I liked that. Familiarity breeds content if we do it right. Godliness with contentment is a huge blessing, a great gain, the Bible says. I was thinking about that. Something that’s been in the news recently is the death of Barbara Bush. Who of us have not heard about, read about, or watched in some way, shape, or form? The discussion has been going around the death of Barbara Bush. The former first lady was married to George H. W. Bush, the father of W. Bush. She was an amazing woman in her own right. People are really honoring her because she died. She died at 90. The reason I bring it up is that I was saying to my wife, “honey, did you know that they were married for 73 years? That’s amazing. It’s unbelievable. We have been married for 34 years. But you have to double that and add five to get 73. Can you believe that? That’s amazing to me.” Many people are going back over some of Barbara’s better speeches, some of the things that she said and talked about and who she was as a woman, and the influence she had.
Barbara Bush had a lot of wonderful things she did. One of the things that came back up was a speech she gave in 1990 at Wellesley College. She was talking to a group of achievers who were getting ready to graduate and hit the world. She made a statement. She said, and it seems so apropos right now,
“When you get to the end of your life, remember this, you’re not going to be thinking at the end of your life about closing one more deal. No one’s going to go, oh man, I wish I just closed one more deal. Or you’re not going to be thinking about passing that one more test or the grades you got.” We’re not thinking about that. It’s not going to be about closing a deal. Winning one more verdict, one more career notch. She says, “at the end of the day, if you have the benefit of having that end of the day moment, you’ll be thinking about the time you wish you spent a little bit more with the people you loved.” For us with the Lord. Also she says, “your husband, your wife, your child, your son, your daughter, your friend, a friend or two, that you really grew to love. Your parents. Just at the end of your day, that’s what you think about. You don’t think I wished I could have cut another deal.”
She’s talked about that all the time. Be very careful about misplaced priorities. She says, don’t just seek to accumulate treasure in this world. It is a fleeting thing. You can’t carry it with you in the end. It’s not about anti-achievement. It’s just about remembering perspective and priority. I think we get familiar with the things that are treasures. Sometimes we seek too hard after the things that look like treasure, but they’re really not. We need to be open to new ways of seeing and being so that what has been familiar can take on new life. Just like Jesus tried to get them to see the scripture that they were so familiar with in fresh new ways.
We need to be open also to adjustments. Open to change, open to shifting things around. It’s okay to do that. That’s why change can be okay. It’s why change is okay. We want to have the security of familiarity, but at the same time, keep it alive. It’s true. It’s even kind of like doing what we’re doing? Things that we’ve done for a while. Every now and then it’s good to shift things around. Familiarity is huge. We live in a culture where people don’t even see commitment modeled at all. It’s more of a free agency thing. You go on to a new thing all the time. Keep moving, keep moving. There’s no loyalty going around in either direction these days. I’m making a general statement there, but the danger is that we don’t ever give ourselves enough time to have things that are familiar in healthy ways.
The key is not discarding familiarity. It’s learning how to keep things alive in that familiarity. What the Lord is doing is taking something that is old and brings life into it in a new way. He takes something that is familiar to them and brings life into it in a new way. Every now and then we have to do that, too. We have to mix things up once in a while, certainly in our relationship with the Lord. It’s going to mean that we need to mix things up, do something a little bit differently. Change it a little bit, not the big thing, but shifting it around. That’s true in any natural relationship as well. Friendship is just the way it is. We can get familiar and start to lose what it is and what is meant to be. Every now and then we need to shift it around.
We need to create a little bit of life flow there. Open up to a new season of discovery, not be so stuck in the same way, always of doing it, but being open to shifts every now and then. Some of us need to be okay with not jumping just because it doesn’t feel like it used to feel. Others of us need to know how to be more attentive to making things stay alive because it has to do with shifting some things around. In a way, just the same thing that we’re trying to do in a lot of areas. Even in our church life, we’re trying to do that right now. It’s the same principle. Let’s go back to Emmaus with these two friends. They’re on the road, where were they impacted? Where did their real impact come from? You know, when it came? It came in the conversation with the one that they didn’t know was Jesus.
It came as they were not just speaking, but actually listening to His words. The real impact came in listening to His words, reflecting, pondering, and wrestling with them. If you really want to know where things come alive, it’s in the conversation. When we engage in Jesus’ conversation, we pause and listen to Him. In His words, we will find new things. He has new things to say to us and fresh places to take us, new revelations to unveil, a new treasure to unearth, new beauty for us to behold, new learning and growth. Don’t let anybody ever say the Christian life is like some boring thing. Only familiar. It is familiar, but it’s a treasure, new and old. It’s about something that is familiar, sound, and trustworthy. If it’s done right, it’s alive, dynamic, and constantly flowing a new word for a new season of my life.
It moves with us. The Lord moves with us all the way through every detail and turn. The Lord is with us. There’re new things we learn. As we look at His Word, things come alive in us. Things become words to us. There’s so much life in it. It affects everything. The presence of the Lord is a beautiful thing. It’s like life is familiar but yet beautiful and new. If we’re doing it right, it comes alive in multiple ways. It burns inside of us. When we engage Jesus conversationally we are spending time in His word. I talk to Him. I write, I always say, listen, read, write, and think. These are the exchanges of relationships. No relationship goes deep without some type of genuine conversation. Real honest conversation is a key to depth, relational depth. I’m not saying that all the time we have to have a deep conversation. What I’m saying is if we never have one, we’ll never have depth in this relationship.
The depth in the relationship with Jesus comes in real conversation. Their hearts burned inside as they engaged Him in conversation. I believe there are words the Lord has to burn in our hearts for who we are if we will engage him in conversation. Maybe He’s doing that right now. Verse 28, “So they drew near to the village to which they were going, and he acted as if He was going to go farther, but they urged Him strongly saying, ‘no, stay with us for it was toward evening. The day is now far spent.’ So He went in to stay with them.” They’re saying, “oh, okay. Wow. We’ve been enjoying this conversation with you. Oh my goodness, who are you? We feel like we know you, but we don’t.”
Let’s review. We’re coming to the village, Emmaus. This is what we’re going to be staying. This is where we were heading. It says that Jesus, the stranger, acted as if he was going to go further, I’ll see you later. It’s been great talking with you. Shalom. Maybe goodbye. They said, no, no, it’s getting dark. The road ahead. The day is far spent. Would you do us the honor of coming and staying with us? We have a place. Share this with us. Share this meal. Let’s have dinner together and talk about this. This is what it says. So he went. The older version said ‘they constrained him’ is the word that is used. The one thing the Lord cannot resist is hospitality. He loves hospitality.
You have to understand unless we invite the Lord into our lives and our hearts, He will always be a stranger to us. Some of us have been impressed with Jesus. We love the conversation. It’s a fascinating encounter. We don’t know. Until we welcome Him into our life, invite Him into our home, then He will always be to us a stranger. A fascinating encounter. Yes. An interesting and mysterious conversationalist. Yes. But a stranger nonetheless, until we welcome Him into our home, He waits to be welcomed. Jesus says, “I stand at the door and I knock, will you let me in?” It’s an interesting thing. The Lord won’t force His way into our lives. He will not kick open the door. He waits for us to open it. He would have gone further. No, no, no. Stay with us. If that’s true, how it is for problems, too. There are probably problems or situations in our life, and the Lord is saying, “welcome me in. Welcome me into it. I’ll go with you. It’s so bad it’s shameful. I can’t. No one can know about… no, no, no. Bring me. I’ll go with you. I’ll go anywhere with you. I’ll have any conversation. You just got to want me to come.
Welcome me in. I’ll come, but I’m not going to force my way into your life. I’m not going to force you to have me. You have to choose. Another reminder is that there is a part of God who refuses to push Himself upon us. There’s a part of God who will only go where He is invited. He waits to be wanted. It seems like when they brought Him in, they gave Him a place of honor. They said we have a table. We’ve enjoyed this conversation, so we want you to be at the center of the table.
Could you do that? They gave Him a place of honor. Then something remarkable occurs. Something catches us all off guard, something nobody was expecting, because then the stranger who was welcomed in, placed in the center of the table does something that would have initially, a couple of hours before, seemed incredibly audacious. Now it seems somehow appropriate for the stranger they had welcomed in and invited as their guest assumed the role of a host. It says when He was at the table with them, He took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. Someone comes over to your house. You say, hey, I’d love to have you over. They come over. They start telling you what a blessing it is for you to be able to be here and have them at your own house. You know, this is what we’re going to do. Why don’t you sit over there and I think we’re going to have this tonight.
See what I’m saying? It’s like He comes in and He, the guest, becomes the host. It’s like, wait, wait, you’re the guest. No, but not now. When you welcome me in which you have to choose to do. But then when we welcome the Lord in, He becomes the host. We’re going to see that when He breaks the bread there’s something powerful in that. A wonderful thing happens right there. He takes the place of the host. He is at the table. He’s the one who is welcomed in and becomes the host in the end. He breaks the bread and begins to lead them through a meal. It’s an amazing moment.
Now I did something we don’t usually do. I put a prayer in the handout. We wrote it out from the devotional Bible. I’m going to ask us all to read this out loud together as our closing prayer. We’re going to pray this prayer together, connecting with what we’ve just shared, inviting the Lord to be in our lives, too. “Abide with us. Lord Jesus. For it is toward evening. The day is far spent. Abide in our homes and in our hearts. Open our eyes to see you, our minds, to know you, our hearts to give heed to you and your word. Be our companion on the way of life and teach us in the perils of the day and in the darkness of the night, to trust in your loving care. Above all, when the evening of our life turns into night, abide with us in that last trial and keep us safe until we see you face to face in the Father’s house. Amen.”