Seven Miles From Jerusalem
3rd Sunday of Easter – A LSB #476, TLH #207
Text – Luke 24:13
Now that same day two of them were on a journey to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.
SEVEN MILES FROM JERUSALEM
Quite some years ago I came across a saying that has helped me keep a more balanced approach to living. It says: “Life is a journey, not a destination.” In a way that summarizes today’s Gospel reading, because Luke uses elements of a journey to provide a structure for the lesson we’re to learn from today’s reading.
In fact, his entire Gospel was written with the idea in mind of a journey. After the first 4 verses complete Luke’s introduction, we find doubting Zechariah on duty in the temple at Jerusalem. The Gospel ends with the followers of Jesus joyfully returning to the temple at Jerusalem; always praising God as they await Pentecost.
It helps us then to put our lives, especially our spiritual ones, into the perspective of a journey. Like Zechariah, all of us start out with unbelief & hopefully, by the grace of our heavenly Father, through the journey of life, end up joyfully praising God in His temple.
How do you look at life, is it journey or destination? In the past month, have you been paying attention to what God might be trying to do in your journey here on this earth? What kinds of twists & turns has that journey taken in the past year? In May of 1999 I’d never heard of Rugby, ND & by July of that same year I was living there.
No matter how confusing & disconnected things may appear, our Creator knows exactly which twists & turns are awaiting us at the next fork in the road. You see God already knows every choice we will ever make & He’s factored those into the plan He has for each of you. He’s like the Ultimate Travel Agent. He has all the connections & reservations prearranged. Figuratively speaking, He knows when your flights will be delayed & when you’ll miss the connections He had set up.
In the fall of ‘97, after moving from Indiana to Colorado, the 4000-foot increase in altitude had me very focused on one of my destinations. That was getting my lungs adjusted to the much thinner atmosphere so I could continue running. However, in focusing too much on that destination, one day I totally missed a connection that God had set up in my journey.
I’d just started teaching a 7th grade religion class & didn’t know yet all the students by sight. While I was out running one evening, three young girls were sitting on the curb across the street from my path. They started harassing me about the Batman shirt I was wearing but I joked along with them. Eventually, one of the girls said she was in my class at school.
Still, it never occurred to me to stop running & actually spend time getting to know them. I was too focused on myself, & my destination, to pay attention to the need of those girls for the respect of an adult role model. As it turned out, the girl in my class was a very troubled young lady who already at the age of 12 was frequently running away from home.
Do you see how, in my self-centeredness, I missed an important stop in the journey? God had prepared that moment of my journey in advance, but I was watching the clock. God had also prepared in advance that moment of that young girl’s journey, & I failed her as well.
Where are you in your spiritual journey? Are you paying attention? Or, is there some destination you have in mind that’s blinding you to the will of your heavenly Father? Are you so focused on how far you have yet to go, that you’re not stopping to consider why it is that God has you alive here today? PAUSE
The structure of today’s Gospel reading takes us from Jerusalem to Emmaus & back again. The two disciples on that journey were very confused & disappointed. They had met a prophet who was powerful in word & deed, & they’d hoped he was the One who was going to redeem Israel. But then their rulers handed him over & he was crucified. Finally, some women amazed them with a story about this prophet’s body being missing from the tomb. What on earth were they supposed to make of all this?
None of it seemed to fit in with the destination they thought they were headed to. They believed this prophet was going to reestablish the kingdom of David here in Israel, but that belief sure seemed to hit a roadblock when their prophet was crucified. “It is finished!” He cried out before He died. To these disciples, those words seemed ever so true.
Their plan was finished. You can’t rule the kingdom with a dead king! PAUSE
Have any of your plans ever ended that way, like trying to rule your kingdom with a dead king? Life becomes particularly hopeless when all our best-laid plans come to naught. Pain & confusion take over & they rule our kingdom when our dreams are shattered.
For the disciples from Emmaus, the cross had shattered their hopes, but they had their eyes fixed on the wrong destination. That’s why they couldn’t understand the recent events of their journey. They had all the elements of the resurrection truth but were unable to perceive how they fit together, or even perceive what the real truth was.
People’s dreams are shattered every day in this world. Our cars break down, role models ignore us, jobs are eliminated, illness & age destroy our bodies. Recently a man randomly shot & killed an elderly gentleman in Cleveland & then broadcast it on Facebook. The president of Syria dropped Sarin gas on his own citizens. Dreams, large & small, are shattered every day.
Where is God? People ask that in the confusion of our sin filled world. The disciples from Emmaus were asking that question as a stranger drew near to them on the road from Jerusalem. Their confusion over the events of the previous days set the stage for that Stranger’s teaching on the necessity of His suffering, death & resurrection. The Stranger says to them, “How foolish you are, & how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things & then enter His glory? And beginning with Moses & all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.”
The journey of the Emmaus disciples is for their transformation through the teaching of Jesus on the road, where their hearts burn, & through the breaking of the bread where their eyes are opened. Their journey summarizes the entire Gospel, which began with doubting Zechariah in the temple at Jerusalem, & which ends with joyful worshippers in the temple at Jerusalem.
These disciples travel from skepticism & ignorance to enlightenment & faith; faith in Jesus’ as the suffering & dead king, who is raised to life. Their eyes were opened not only to recognize this Stranger as Jesus, but also to an understanding of the work of Jesus that is intimately connected to the Last Day.
This understanding stretches way back, to the very beginning of salvation history in Genesis 3. The phrase used in today’s Gospel lesson is the same phrase used where the eyes of Adam & Eve are opened to the knowledge of good & evil. There’s a striking irony here.
The opened eyes of Adam & Eve are the 1st expression of the fallen creation recognizing that the image of God has been trashed by their disobedience; but the opened eyes of the Emmaus disciples are the 1st expression of the new creation recognizing that the image of God is now restored to mankind.
The new Adam, the crucified & risen Jesus, has made possible that restoration and put it into effect. The meal of broken bread at Emmaus reverses the 1st meal, the fruit of the forbidden tree in the center of the Garden. Paul works with that same concept of Godly reversal when he writes, “We know that God works all things together for good for those who love Him.” Likewise, we celebrate a meal in our service today, which also reverses the effects of our sin. In the Supper that our Lord instituted He promises life & salvation through the forgiveness of sin.
Whenever we are too focused on our own plans, our own goals & our own destinations, we’ve made ourselves god. Because of sin, that’s like trying to rule our kingdom with a dead king. No matter how hard we try, a dead king can never reach its destination. A dead king can never overcome the shattered dreams of this world.
What dreams & destinations are you focused on? Are they God’s dreams & destinations for you, or are they your own dreams?
As you think of the empty tomb this 3rd Sunday of Easter, consider this question. What is there in my life for which God would send His own Son? Was it merely to solve my day-by-day problems & to achieve my earthly destinations? Or did God’s Son need to die for MY sin? Did He live, & die, & live again, so that I could live for the journey of this life? PAUSE
That’s the case as Luke makes it. Jesus lives, that we might live. Jesus draws near to us on our journey in order that He might open our eyes to His plan. Often, that plan is vastly different from our own. As Luke unfolds the story, Jesus begins as the one asking questions. He finishes as the teacher. He begins as the guest at the meal. He finishes as the host.
One moment Jesus is present with them, breaking bread, the next moment He vanishes. Our lives take similar, unexpected twists & turns, & those trials, as we see them, can seem to prevent us from reaching our destination. But this presence & disappearance of Jesus should help us understand that He is with us, even though He is unseen.
That tension that still exists in the church today, especially in the ugliness of a church & people marked & scarred by sin. Yes, Jesus still promises to be with 12 year old girls that run away from home, & with pastors so focused upon themselves that they literally run away from opportunities to share God’s love. Those are the sort of failures we encounter too often in this journey, & yet God’s Word assures us that He is powerful to work even those failures together for good for those who love Him. That is the tension of our journey in this world.
That tension in this journey is used, by God, in order to open our eyes that we might recognize the Stranger called Jesus. It is in the recognition of Jesus that we also find understanding of His work, a work that is intimately connected to the Last Day.
As Luke begins, we find doubting Zechariah on duty in the temple at Jerusalem. As Luke ends the followers of Jesus are joyfully returning to the temple at Jerusalem. Do you notice the repetition of words, Temple at Jerusalem? That’s what the journey in the Gospel of Luke was revolving around, the temple at Jerusalem.
“Then their eyes were opened, & they recognized Him. And He vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?’ And they rose that same hour & returned to Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:31-33a)
Our heavenly Creator is this very moment revealing Himself to you through the preaching of His Word, & in that word He is calling you to Jerusalem. No matter how far away you are, He is strong to save & to bring you back. In fact, He draws near to you that He might walk with you along the journey of life.
You & I are on a journey to a temple at Jerusalem, but our journey is to the New Temple, & to the New Jerusalem. We read of them on the Last Day in the 21st Chapter of Revelation:
“I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty & the Lamb are its Temple.” (Revelation 21:2 & 22 NIV) You see, the saying I’ve found so helpful, “Life is a journey, not a destination,” is not completely true. For children of God life is also very much a destination, & our Savior Himself is bringing us there, to that Last Day. That’s His work, & we never walk this road or this journey alone. Amen.
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, & they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking & discussing together, Jesus Himself drew near & went with them. Amen. (Luke 24:13-15 ESV)
P: Heavenly Father, as weak & unfaithful children, we do not handle well the tension of being Saint & sinner at the same time. We’re tempted to look only to our destination & forget the journey, or we’re tempted to focus only on the journey, & to forget that You have already promised to bring us to our final destination. Lord, help us to balance that tension in our lives, through the saving power of Your Word & Sacraments. As we fail to share Your love in our journey, forgive us. As we fail to accept the free gift of eternal life, but strive to earn it instead, we also ask Your forgiveness & mercy. Reveal to us the love & work of Your only Son, that we might be comforted & encouraged for the journey. Lord, in your mercy,
 Luke 24:25-27 NIV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet