Jean’s Gospel: Grace For The Weak
Imagine that you were right there with Jesus during his earthly ministry. You witnessed the power of His many miracles first hand – the exorcisms, feedings, healings, etc. He anointed you with power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases. He personally taught you His Gospel, including that He would be crucified and raised on the third day. This is the preparation the disciples received first hand, from Christ himself.
But then the Romans crucified Him between two criminals. He died a curse and was buried in a tomb. In the face of His death, all the miracles and prophesies quickly faded into fanciful memories. Was it all a dream? The brutality of Jesus’ death on a cross undid the disciples’ faith in the resurrection. Without a resurrection, there is no hope, no deliverance from the powers of sin, death and the devil. Not even the testimony of Mary Magdalene and the other women, who had been to the empty tomb on Sunday morning and received word of Christ’s resurrection from two angels, could restore the disciples’ faith: “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (24:11)
Even among true Christians faith is often weak and fragile. The death and resurrection of the Son of God is most difficult to comprehend much less believe. It was not as if the two disciples on the road to Emmaus did not truly mourn Jesus or want His resurrection to be true; they most certainly did. But it was just too great a thing to believe. They were as yet unable to accept it as true, just as it is often too great a thing for us to believe.
“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.” (24:21)
Does Jesus reject the weak or erring? By no means! He knows our hearts and our weaknesses better and before we do. So, it pleased Jesus that first Easter to come alongside His two despairing disciples on their way to Emmaus to teach and instruct them until they grew strong and secure in their faith. “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27).
This is also how faith in Christ is nurtured and kept alive in the Church. Our entire life is spent combating this weakness, as even St. Paul says: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Phil 3:12) When I am weak, I need a fellow Christian to come along side me to instruct, admonish and encourage me with Christ’s Word until I am strengthened in faith; and when you are weak, I must be prepared to come alongside you with Christ’s Word to strengthen you in your faith.
“While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” (Luke 24:15-16)
Jesus did not enlighten the disciples with a demonstration of a great miracle or by being immediately recognized. That would have been easy enough and certainly could have solved the immediate problem of the disciples’ unbelief. However, if that was required, then for our sake Christ never could have ascended to the Father. So, Luke tells us their eyes were kept from recognizing him. Jesus, here, used the same means that we are to use today – the preaching of His Word.
“And he said to them….Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (24:25-27)
Jesus, who the disciples did not yet recognize, gave a sermon about himself from the Old Testament. God reveals his saving grace for us in His Word. It is through His Word that Jesus desires to be known among us as our Lord and Savior. Through the Word, the Holy Spirit gives us faith in Him. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17) Therefore, we should gladly hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ without growing weary.
Jesus also taught the disciples how to interpret and understand the Scriptures. The Scriptures, in this particular case the Old Testament, are rightly interpreted and truly understood with Christ as their primary subject. “For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him.” (2 Cor 1:20a) So Jesus preached Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins to the two disciples from the books of Moses through the prophets.
“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?’” (Luke 24:32)
The Scriptures are a closed book without proper interpretation and a willing and humble listener. As Jesus said: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Matt 11:25-26)
It was not as though the disciples were not thoroughly familiar with their Scriptures; they were. Neither were the disciples hostile to Jesus or his claims. But they still needed the true interpreter (i.e., the Holy Spirit) to open the Scriptures to them. Without the revelation of the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures are veiled. They might appear to someone as interesting stories, or containing good advice, perhaps even some interesting history. But without the work of the Holy Spirit, no one will believe that Jesus Christ was crucified for his sins and raised for his justification.
So Jesus came alongside these disciples on the road to Emmaus to renew their faith by the power of His Word (Did not our hearts burn within us….), not only for their sakes, but also for ours, to show us clearly that: (1) Jesus does not reject the weak or brokenhearted; (2) Jesus is the primary subject of all of Scripture; (3) Jesus desires to be known among us in His Word; and (4) the Scriptures are given for the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, through which the Holy Spirit gathers and preserves His Church.
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Is 55:10-11)