A Familiar Road
Cleopas and his friend had spent the last few days in Jerusalem along with the friends of Jesus. They had been devastating days and all their hopes and longings suddenly vanished. We are not told who Cleopas' friend was on this occasion, but it could quite easily have been his wife since they appeared to be going home. They were walking to Emmaus, a village about seven miles (12 km or 60 furlongs) to the north west of the city. They might have left by the Damascus gate and turned left, westwards or possibly by the Jaffa gate, from which they would need to turn somewhat northwards. They were probably walking towards the sunset, down hill, most of the way from the heights of Jerusalem (762m) towards the Judean foothills. They must have travelled that way many times before and their most recent visit had been for Passover and to see the prophet and teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. It was about three years since they had first met him and become familiar figures in His little band of close disciples.
Slowly, through the years since then, they had built up high hopes that he would do something for the people of Israel. Everything seemed to point to Him restoring the ancient Kingdom of Israel and ridding the land of the hated tyrants, the Romans who ruled. They so wanted to be free to worship the one true God, as only they could. So when they walked up the hill, only a week before, they were confident that Jesus was about to act and eagerly looked forward to listening to Jesus and watching Him at work. Then as the feast approached it became more and more obvious that the Judean Jews, many of whom lived in the city, were bitter in their opposition to Jesus. While among the Galilean pilgrims in Jerusalem they felt safe but there was a nasty undercurrent of opposition to their beloved Master. Then just as the actual feast was beginning, a dreadful thing had occurred. One of their own number betrayed Jesus' whereabouts after sunset to the Jewish priests. They had Him arrested, tried Him by kangaroo court that was quite illegal and rushed Him off to the Roman governor to 'rubber stamp' their conviction by the death sentence. It all happened overnight and Jesus had ended upon a cross ‑ crucified by Roman soldiers at the behest of the Jewish leaders. When they first arrived in Jerusalem it would have seemed impossible for such a thing to happen. Through it all, they had believed that Jesus, with power from Heaven, would overcome His enemies. But He did not and now he lay dead in a borrowed tomb.
As the two people walked, they talked. It helped to relieve their feelings and their conversation was animated. It helped to pass the miles as well. And as they walked they became aware of a fellow traveller, someone else going their way and he drew up alongside. He was interested in their conversation and enquired what was causing them so much distress. They were mystified that someone who had just come from Jerusalem should not know the talk of the town. They explained how they had cherished high hopes of Jesus restoring Israel as an independent nation. They had so looked forward to Him transforming God's people. There was more than a Romans occupation to sort out. They wanted their freedom to live as God had instructed.
Now He was dead and their hopes of liberation at the hands of their Messiah had gone. They were now utterly devoid of hope. As they walked they told the Stranger of their confused and anxious thoughts. Their hearts were heavy with sorrow. He questioned them about their troubles and they revealed to Him their deepest longings and heartaches. . Slowly they became aware they their new companion was not only asking questions but supplying some answers.
He made it clear to them that they had no reason to be disappointed and in fact should have understood what had happened. He explained to them that Israel's Holy Writings clearly showed that it would be so. Like all Jews and others of the people of Israel, they had completely failed to identify the true Messiah from the words of the prophets. As they had read them, they particularly noticed the crushing of their enemies but had been blind to the fact that before His ultimate triumph, the Messiah must endure much suffering and hardship.
As Jesus hung on the cross on Calvary, He cried out in a loud voice, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" As to why Jesus cried out in such a way has been the focal point for many enquiries since. If the disciples had understood the whole of Psalm 22 and not just looked at the latter verses of triumph, they might just have had a clue about what was happening. It was in that first part of Psalm 22, following the words of 'the great cry' that the sufferings of Messiah are described. Some of the more thoughtful in Israel had felt that the suffering described the experiences of the nation as a whole but not Him who was to 'redeem Israel'. In much the same way they had interpreted Isaiah 53.
Human nature sees what it wanted to see and somehow filters out that which it doesn't want to know. Now the 'stranger' had revealed the truth ‑ the need for suffering and death that the prophets had clearly spoken about. As He quoted the prophecies about Messiah, the two men, who had been so sad, felt their hearts tingling, as the words of Scripture became clear. But they did not recognise their 'new' friend. Did Jesus have a power to prevent from them knowing who He was? And had this been so earlier in the day when others saw Him at the tomb? Or is it that spiritual blindness is caused by sin? Are things of the spirit not perceived if we regard sin in our hearts? Strangely, physical blindness and other disabilities were regarded as being the result of sin by the people of ancient times (John 9.2). Jesus made it clear that this was not so.
These two men, Cleopas and his companion, had been humanly normal in their reaction to the real world and its circumstances.. The miles sped by during those two or three hours. Almost too soon they were at Emmaus and home. Nightfall had come suddenly and the unidentified 'Teacher' made as if to continue His journey. And like good eastern people they extended hospitality. I wonder if they ever read those words 'entertained angels unawares'. But they had been with more than an angel. They pressed the unknown man to stay with them as it was getting dark and He accepted their kind invitation. They would have felt hungry after the walk and the excitement of the day and quickly placed a few good things on the table and sat down together to enjoy them. The man who had led their conversation now led them in prayer and asked a blessing before breaking the bread. When did they last see bread broken like that? They were hardly likely to have been at the Lord's supper. Did their minds go back to a hillside in Galilee when some hungry crowds were fed as their Master broke the loaves and fishes? As the thought came into mind, so the stranger was gone. It was so important that Jesus was properly identified by something he did. For the second time that day, a disciple, not in the elite band of 'eleven', was given the unique privilege of identifying their risen Lord. Was that characteristic of Jesus too?
Cleopas and his companion asked no more questions,. They put on their cloaks and were soon on that road again but this time they were heading for Jerusalem to break the news to fellow disciples. Now it was tears of joy not sorrow and they only wanted to say 'We have seen the Lord'. What a lovely walk it had been.