This past Sunday I preached on the account in Luke’s gospel where Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-15). I’ve long found this to be a fascinating story for many reasons, notably what Jesus does to reveal himself–and how he reveals himself–to these two who didn’t even recognize him at first.
In many ways, we suffer the same dilemma. On our own, in our sin, we do not recognize Jesus rightly. We co-opt him to fit our favorite cultural or ideological agendas. He becomes a team mascot for whatever movement we are seeking to legitimize. We attribute words or attitudes or convictions to him in order to make him align with our various political or social platforms. He becomes the assistant coach for our favorite sports team.
We don’t see him clearly, or perhaps we know parts of the story but don’t understand how it all fits together. We cut and paste together a version of Jesus that has the features we like, but doesn’t say the hard things that make us uncomfortable. Like these disciples, we have, at best, unfulfilled hope and, at worst, complete despair.
John Owen once wrote, “An imaginary Christ will effect nothing in the minds of men but imaginary grace.” We need to see Jesus clearly, as he is, and not as we falsely imagine him to be. Briefly, I want to consider four aspects from this passage regarding what it means to see Jesus clearly.
1. It is Jesus who comes to us, meets us, and reveals himself to us.
It is a simple point, but he meets the disciples unexpectedly as they journey. Jesus is not sitting back, playing some game of spiritual hide-and-go-seek wishing and hoping that we will find him. The one through whom all things were made stepped down into creation for the purpose of seeking and saving those who the Father has given to him (John 1:1-14; 6:35-40). He meets us in our place of despair and hopelessness and reveals himself to us.
2. Jesus reveals himself as the one who has suffered and is now glorified.
If we don’t see Jesus as the one who was “delivered over to death for our sins and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25), then we are not seeing him clearly. In the book of Revelation, he is portrayed as the Lamb “standing, as though it had been slain” (5:6) and now enthroned in glory. Because of his humiliation, obedience, and death, he has now been exalted above all things and is the one to whom all creation will one day bow (Philippians 2:5-11). As he tells the disciples, this is what the Christ had to experience: suffering that leads to glory (v. 26). Jesus reveals himself as the Crucified One who is now the Risen King.
3. Jesus reveals himself as the one to whom all the Scriptures point.
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (v. 27). Jesus reveals that Scripture is the unfolding of God’s divine plan of redemption and the outworking of his promise to rescue those who had fallen into sin through the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah. All of Scripture finds it orienting center in this. As Erich Sauer once said, “The Old Testament tells us what the Christ will do; the New Testament tells us who he is.” Jesus is the one who speaks through his Word, making it come alive and igniting a yearning in our hearts (v. 32). He removes the veil from our eyes and through his Spirit speaks his life-giving Word into our hearts.
4. Jesus encounters us in the breaking of the bread.
When he “was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” (vv. 30-31). Perhaps this was simply an opportune time to finally let them know who he was, though I’m among those who see this as a reminder that it is when we sit table with Jesus at his ordained meal that he reveals himself as the one who was broken and pierced for us. The one who is the “bread of life” (John 6:35) is the one who meets us at his table. We encounter the real, though not physical, presence of Jesus Christ in the Lord’s Supper.
To see Jesus clearly means to see him as the one who finds us, reveals himself as the crucified and risen Lord to whom all the Scriptures point, and encounters us in the breaking of the bread. Once that happens, we rush to rejoice with others and confess the truth of the resurrection (vv. 33-35). Until that happens, no matter how well we may think we recognize Jesus, we are not seeing him clearly.