Our Sunday Gospel reading a few days ago was taken from Luke 24:13-35.
One of my readers, kimi17 of The Jordan Valley, wrote a marvellous analysis of the doubt and disappointment a man named Cleopas and his friend — possibly St Luke himself — felt after Jesus’s crucifixion.
What happens in the aforementioned verses of Luke 24 turns everything on its head. If you are unfamiliar with the passage, please read it, then do read kimi17’s analysis, which is spot on.
Cleopas and his friend compare notes on the temporal expectations that many ordinary Jews had of Jesus. He would be an earthly Messiah who would deliver them from the Romans and save them from oppression. Then, a stranger approaches them and walks along with them. Wanting to join in their conversation — or get them to elucidate their thoughts — the man asks them what they are talking about.
As our Lord’s crucifixion was the main news in Jerusalem as that particular Passover neared an end, they expressed astonishment. Surely, everyone had heard about what had happened.
Note what they tell the stranger (emphases mine):
19 … they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21But 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. 22Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”
As kimi17 writes:
Their narration of the events showed their lack of faith. The man they had followed and believed to be the Messiah was now just a ‘Prophet’ to them. Their faith is shaken to the extent that they found it hard to believe that some of the disciples had seen Jesus earlier that day. It took just 3 days for them to forget all what Jesus had been telling them for the past 3 years. Can we put ourselves in their shoes, amongst all the turmoil, and ascertain that our faith would not have wavered?
I, too, believe we would have done the same and so did my parish vicar in his Sunday sermon. We still doubt today, even if we’re regular churchgoers.
But, as Luke goes on to say, the stranger walked with Cleopas and his friend along the road to Emmaus. From the point where he joined them, it would have taken approximately an hour. During that time:
27 … beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
As kimi17 says:
From Moses to the Psalmist to the Prophet Hosea, He listed out all the prophesies that were made regarding Christ’s sufferings and his resurrection. He was explaining to them what all these prophecies meant while they stood in awe of his knowledge of the scriptures …
Not surprisingly, Cleopas and his friend invited the stranger to have dinner with them. Initially, the stranger declined, but the two persuaded him to join them. Then:
30When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.
Cleopas and his friend left immediately for Jerusalem to tell the remaining eleven Apostles that Jesus had truly risen from the dead.
However, the story does not end there.
In this last chapter of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus reappeared, granted peace unto His Apostles, forgave them their doubts and ate with them, before giving them a final blessing and instruction.
This is the reading, if I am not mistaken, which appears at the end of Nicholas Ray’s 1961 film King of Kings, as it ends with the Ascension.
It appears that Luke condensed the 40-day period of time from Easter to our Lord’s ascent into heaven, returning to God the Father.
These are the final verses of Luke 24. Note the parallel to the story of Doubting Thomas from John 20:
Jesus Appears to His Disciples
36As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate before them.
44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
50Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.
I’ll go into this story more next Eastertide. One could write a theological thesis about it.
It really is a marvellous episode in the Apostles’ lives after Easter and a useful lesson for wavering Christians and eager newcomers exploring the faith.
Luke 24 (Matthew Henry’s Whole Bible Commentary)
Christ: The Living Expositor, Part 1 (John MacArthur)
Christ: The Living Expositor, Part 2 (John MacArthur)
The Living Christ Dispels All Doubt (John MacArthur)