Next words of Jesus: What’s bothering you?

“What are you discussing together as you walk along?” Luke 24:17 (NIV)

After Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene and the other women, he turned up on the road to Emmaus, where he met two men not otherwise mentioned in Scripture. They had been following Jesus and had hoped he was the promised Messiah. Even though they had indirectly heard about the women’s report, they walked in discouragement.

So Jesus asked them what they were talking about–not as an idle question, but as a means of getting them to open up so he could minister to them. I find two noteworthy statements close by. Verse 16 says they were kept from recognizing him, and in verse 25, after they answered his question, he called them foolish and slow of heart.

In this response, Jesus spoke more gently to these men than he did later to the Eleven: he rebuked and upbraided them (Mark 16:14, KJV) for responding to the women’s testimony with unbelief and hardness of heart.

We can certainly draw comfort from Jesus’ appearance to two men, one nameless, whom the Bible mentions nowhere else. They’re among the nobodies of the New Testament. If he spoke to them, he will surely speak to us, and for the same reason.

Unfortunately, we are likely not to recognize his presence, again for the same reason. They were not kept from recognizing him because Jesus didn’t want them to. They had effectively blinded themselves.

First, they were going the wrong way. All of the people who had known Jesus were in Jerusalem. They needed fellowship with other believers, but chose to walk away from them.

Second, their preoccupation with their own problems kept them from seeing Jesus. They did not expect to see Jesus, and so when he turned up, they did not recognize  him. Surely they must have heard, or at least heard about, his promise to rise again after death. Like the rest of Jesus’ followers, they failed to believe it.

Third, they had consistently misinterpreted Scripture, focusing attention on what they wanted it to mean and then their disappointment when it didn’t turn out that way. Like all other observant Jews, they expected the Messiah to drive the Romans out and restore a Jewish state and therefore missed scriptures that pointed to Jesus’ true ministry.

If we shun fellowship in times of stress, we lose out on the chance to experience Jesus through the love and wisdom of other believers. If we focus attention on everything that’s wrong, our negative thoughts will drown out any still small voice that tries to encourage us with the hope of the gospel. If we become fully persuaded in the truth of our own theological viewpoint, we will be deaf to any word that could correct our blunders.

We are probably all guilty of those errors at one time or another and therefore kept from recognizing Jesus. Praise be to God that he doesn’t give up on us.  Jesus went to minister to believers who had missed the truth. He bluntly called them foolish. And at that, they did something right; they did not become offended, but  humbly listened.

And so they finally recognized him. Did they see the scars in his hand? Did they recognize the familiar gesture of Jesus breaking bread? Did they recognize his habit of acting like the host even when he was their guest? No matter. They recognized him, and their encouragement turned to joy. They rushed back to join the fellowship they had walked away from.

Expect Jesus to do the same for you.

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