THE ROAD GOES EVER ON AND ON
A sermon on Luke 24:13-35
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
April 28, 2019
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Today is the Sunday after Easter. In some church traditions, this day is known as “Low Sunday.” The origin of this nickname is not clear, but it has been suggested that it describes the fall-off in worship attendance after Easter. Traditionally the Sunday after Easter is a low attendance day in most churches…
Today we find ourselves here in this place following Lent and the buildup to Easter. We read the scriptures during those days that spoke to us of our Lord’s final week—the celebration of Palm Sunday when we called out “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”…We experienced sadness and dismay during the Maundy Thursday Tenebrae service, when we joined Jesus at his last meal and contemplated his journey to the cross and to the tomb…And then there was the glorious triumph of Easter morning, announcing to all who would hear that he is alive. These last couple of weeks have been a great time to be a part of First Baptist Church.
And so now, here we are—it is the week after the Easter lilies. It is the week after the glorious organ, piano, and handbell music performed by Caleb and the Chancel Choir filled our ears and hearts. But now it is only a pleasant memory. It is the week after watching children (and grandchildren) excitedly scramble as they hunted for Easter eggs. It is time to put away the Easter baskets and the Easter decorations for another year. By now, the Easter candy is all gone—well, at least it is at my house. (Truthfully, any kind of candy seldom lasts very long in the Dakin household…) It is the week after we gathered with family and friends to celebrate the Risen Christ around the dinner table for a traditional Easter dinner. But by now, even the leftovers from that meal have likely disappeared too. The excitement and anticipation of the season are over for another year.
And so today, we might be tempted to take a good, hard look at God’s post-resurrection world and ask the question, “What now?” Or perhaps some of the more cynical among us might ask a different question: “So what?” In today’s scripture text from Luke 24, we hear the story of two disciples of Jesus on Easter evening. And I think they were asking those very same questions that we might be asking today…
Luke begins the story by telling us that two disciples of Jesus were travelling on a road from Jerusalem to a place called “Emmaus.” Luke tells us that it is not a long journey—only seven miles in length. It is a distance that could be covered in a couple of hours. We learn that one of the disciples’ names is Cleopas. The other is unnamed. This is important to note because it lets us know that these two guys are NOT part of the group of the eleven remaining apostles. They had no special place or authority among those who followed Jesus. They were just ordinary men who loved Jesus.
We are told in verse 14 that they were discussing among themselves the things that they had experienced during the last eight days in Jerusalem. It had been a heady time for sure. Perhaps they had witnessed Jesus coming into Jerusalem riding on a colt to the cheers and acclamations of the crowd. Maybe they had even been in the crowd shouting out “Hosanna to the son of David!” and laying their coats in front of him. Maybe they had watched the next day as Jesus cleared the Temple of the moneychangers and merchants. Maybe they had been present and attentively listened when Jesus went toe-to-toe with the scribes and Pharisees in the courtyard of the Temple—and how Jesus always got the best of them in their debates. And then maybe they had seen something of the crucifixion and of the gruesome way that Jesus had been treated and then eventually put to death. If they had not actually seen it with their own eyes, then it was apparent that they had been talking with those who had. These were things that had made quite an impression on them…
As they are walking along the road, they are joined by a third man. Luke lets us know from the outset that this third person is Jesus, but the two disciples do not recognize him. And Jesus asks them a perfectly normal question that anyone would ask in order to become part of the conversation. He asked, “What are y’all talking about?”
Let’s pause and think about that for a moment. Why would Jesus ask that particular question? Throughout the gospels, we are told that our Lord often knew what people were thinking. After all, he was God and he knew what was in people’s thoughts. So surely he knew perfectly well what they were talking about before he asked the question. So why did he ask it?
The scripture does not tell us why he asked the question, but I have a hunch that he asked it to see how much they understood of the meaning of his life. And perhaps he wanted to know how much they had absorbed of his teaching. And here is one thing that I want to say to you this morning: Jesus always starts with us where we are.
The truth of the matter is that not all of us are in the same place spiritually. We all begin in different places in our lives. And what’s more—we often progress at different rates as well. Some of us are more advanced in the life of the Spirit than others. Due to our life experiences, due to our understanding of the Scriptures, due to our backgrounds, due to the importance that we place on doing the things that help us to grow in the life of the Spirit—all of us are at different places in our walk with the Lord. But the thing is this: Jesus starts with us right where we are. He knows where we have been. He knows all about our struggles. He knows the doubts that have plagued us. And yet, Jesus turns no one away. He works with us—beginning with who we are—to begin to transform us more into who he wants us to be.
As you no doubt recall, Jesus famously told Nicodemus that “You must be born again.” But being born again does not mean that you are born as a fully developed child of God—any more than a newborn is born being fully mature and developed. We all begin as babes in Christ and then we progress at different rates as the Spirit works in us and as God’s grace allows…
Still not seeing Jesus for who he is, the two disciples are incredulous that this stranger does not appear to know anything about what has happened in Jerusalem during the last few days. So they proceed to tell him what they know…and what they have heard…
They begin by describing their understanding of who Jesus is. They say that Jesus of Nazareth “was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.” They go on to say that some women had gone to the tomb and found it empty. They had seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. At this point, it seems that the two disciples did not know what to make of this turn of events. After all, there’s nothing certain in this world but death and taxes, right? Well, according to the women’s Easter story, perhaps that saying should be amended to say just taxes…
But then Jesus—who is still unrecognized by the two disciples at this point—changes the conversation. First he scolds them by telling them that they are foolish and slow of heart to not believe the Old Testament prophecies concerning him. And then he proceeds to take the scriptures and show them how they had foretold long ago that the Savior would have to suffer and die before he would enter into his glory.
I am sure that the two disciples were stunned. From the time they had been born, they had been taught that God was indeed sending a Messiah to redeem his people. This Savior would throw off the yoke of the hated Roman oppressors, reestablish the throne of King David once again in Jerusalem and usher in a new era of peace and prosperity for the entire nation of Israel. This is what they had been taught. This is what they expected. This is what EVERYONE in Israel had expected.
No wonder the disciples say in verse 21 that “We had hoped that he [that is, Jesus] was the one to redeem Israel.” Did you catch that? We had hoped—past tense. The Romans had brutally dealt with Jesus the week before. The restoration of the kingdom of Israel had obviously not been accomplished when they laid him in the tomb. There is more than a note of sadness and disillusionment in their voices as they confess their shattered expectations for Jesus. They were grief-stricken…and heartbroken…that their dreams and hopes for the Kingdom of God had seemingly all been for naught.
But our Lord showed them another way. Luke tells us that he spoke to them, interpreting the Scriptures to show them how he was indeed the Messiah. I imagine that these disciples were at first dumbfounded by Jesus’ words. The turn in the conversation was completely unanticipated. Who was this guy that they were talking with? At first, this stranger seemed to know nothing of the events in Jerusalem the preceding week. But now all of a sudden, he seemed to know everything about them. What’s more, this guy was offering them unexpected words of hope and assurance spoken with authority. He offered them words that dealt with their disappointments and he set them back on the right path of discipleship with a new understanding of the life of faith.
Here is the main takeaway from this morning’s sermon. This story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus illustrates a truth of the spiritual life. That truth is this: God often comes to us in our daily lives unbidden and unrecognized.
In the life of the follower of Jesus, there are some instances in which we have a reasonable expectation that we may meet God. When we spend time in prayer—especially when we bring ourselves in silence before God—we will have a good chance to hear God speaking to us if we are listening. Reading the scriptures while being sensitive to the Spirit is another occasion where God can speak.
Worship is another place where we often can hear God speaking to us. One of the best definitions of worship that I have ever heard came from 20th Century Baptist minister Carlyle Marney. He described worship as “an encounter with the Eternal with whom you have an appointment, but whom you cannot corner.” Gathering with God’s people to worship is no guarantee that you will always hear God speaking to you. But…if we attune our ears to prayerfully listen through the scriptures, through hymns and songs, and hopefully maybe even sermons, then the odds are greatly increased that we will be able to hear the Spirit speak to us.
But God is not limited to speaking to us through those activities. God can also speak to us through the everyday stuff of life: a conversation with someone—even a stranger (After all, it happened to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, didn’t it?), a show we see on TV…an article we see in the news, a book that we may read, a chance meeting with a friend…EVERYTHING contains the possibility of being the means by which God can speak to us. After all, God created everything. Therefore anything can carry within itself the possibility of revelation…But we will only recognize it as such when we keep our eyes open, when we keep our ears listening, and when we are open to the Spirit’s leading and direction.
And the thing is that it never stops in the life of the believer. There is no expiration date on which God stops speaking to us. It is an ever-present possibility regardless of where you are in your spiritual life or of how long you have been following Jesus…
The road—the journey—has been used as a metaphor for the life of faith since earliest times. In a very real sense, we are all on the road…all on a journey of discovery about the ways of the Spirit in our lives. You could say that every follower of Jesus is on his or her own road trip.
In the opening chapter of J. R. R. Tolkien’s magnificent work The Lord of the Rings, the old hobbit Bilbo Baggins leaves his hobbit hole in Bag End to begin a journey to the House of Elrond, never to return. As he leaves his beloved home, he softly sings these words to himself. I think that these words are an apt description of the life in the Spirit:
The road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can.
Pursuing it with eager feet
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
It’s not just descriptive of a hobbit’s journey. Those words also describe our journey of faith.
So walk on! Shout on! Pray on! And as we travel on this road, know that you are not alone. We travel together with the community of the faithful in Christ. And Jesus will meet us and travel with us. Sometimes we will recognize him when we meet him. Other times we may not—at least initially. How will you recognize him? You may not…unless you recognize him for who he is…unless you are sensitive to his Spirit…and unless you are committed to following in his way.
To God alone be the glory! Amen.
 Carlyle Marney from his lecture “The Recovery of Worship,” (Lecture 1) cassette recording located at the library of Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, VA.
 J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again—2001 edition. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1951), 356.