One of the greatest stories of resilience in the Bible relates to the response of Jesus’ disciples after the resurrection. In the days between the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, we see His followers completely demoralized and discouraged. And who can blame them. They had seen the man they had followed for over three years, that they had left everything for, that they believed to be the Son of God, tried and executed as a common criminal. In those circumstances, you don’t quickly or easily pick up the pieces of your life and move on!
I would like to focus on two of Jesus’ followers, one of them unnamed, who experienced the risen Christ and had their lives forever transformed. The account of their experience is found in Luke 24:13-35.
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.
He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
As Cleopas and an unknown follower of Jesus walked along the road returning from the Passover in Jerusalem, they are confused and disillusioned. As Jesus joins them, they are astonished that anyone in Jerusalem would not know of the crucifixion of Jesus that had occurred only five days after Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Consider the following evidences for their despair:
- Verse 17 describes them as being “downcast”
- In verse 21 they refer to their hope that Jesus was “the one who was going to redeem Israel.” in the past tense. Their hopes had been dashed.
- Even the knowledge that Jesus’ tomb was empty does not seem to inspire hope as they obviously fall short of believing Jesus has risen from the dead as He said he would.
It is at this point that Jesus stops them and begins to provide them a reasoned and thorough exposition of the Old Testament scriptures to support the necessity of the suffering and death of the Messiah. As He concludes His instruction, the two disciples invite their fellow traveler to stay with them and it is only as Jesus is breaking bread with them, that He is revealed to them (His identity had been hidden from them – vs. 16) before vanishing.
It is at this point that we see a complete transformation in these men – as we also see in virtually every other witness of the resurrected Jesus. They are first thrilled at their new understanding of the Scriptures in light of Jesus’ teaching. Next, they excitedly return to Jerusalem to report their experience to the disciples of Jesus and they are even present when the resurrected Jesus appears to His inner circle of disciples.
In the book of Acts, we find the disciples transformed into an irrepressible, emboldened group of men and women willing to endure any trial or persecution to tell their story of the resurrected Jesus. What could possibly explain this transformation? Only the knowledge that while their story certainly sounded incredible, it was TRUE!