On the Road to Emmaus
“Some theologians interpret hell as alienation from God,” writes Norma Swetnam. “I have experienced such a hell while in the throes of depression—a terrible sense of aloneness and isolation from everything, from everybody and from God. This results in a loss of hope for the future, and without hope what is there?”
Elizabeth Wurtzel adds, “A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.”
In the depths of despair and depression is where we find two individuals whose story is told in Luke 24:13-35. One of the individuals is identified as Cleopas. The other is probably his wife Mary, who is identified in John 19:25 as “the wife of Clopas.” They are walking seven miles northwest, from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They walk with their heads down because of the setting sun before them and because of the despair within their hearts. Their despair stems from a tragedy that took place just a couple of days before: the one they had hoped would redeem Israel had died by crucifixion and had been sealed in a tomb.
As they walk along, someone new joins them and asks what they are discussing. As the story unfolds, we discover that their new companion is Jesus, but, in the midst of their hopelessness, it will take them a while to figure that out. The irritableness of depression flashes forth from Cleopas, who retorts, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”
If irritation had flashed back from Jesus, he might have walked away at that point, leaving them to continue on in despair. Instead, he gently asked them questions about what had happened, enabling them to pour forth their expressions of sorrow and confusion.
When they finished, Jesus invited them into a new way of perceiving what had happened, explaining to them from the Scriptures the good that God accomplished through Jesus’ crucifixion.
As they walk along together, the mood of their souls changes. By the time they reach Emmaus, they are no longer irritably trying to get rid of Jesus. Instead, they urge him strongly to stay with them. When Jesus breaks bread and blesses it, they recognize him. They exclaim to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
Hope had come alive in them! Despair had been replaced by burning or glowing hearts.
What produced such a change in them?
What made the difference was the presence of Christ. Discovering that Christ had not been defeated and that he had not abandoned them made all the difference in the world.
Bruce Larson comments, “The events of Easter cannot be reduced to a creed or philosophy. We are not asked to believe the doctrine of the resurrection. We are asked to meet this person raised from the dead.” That’s what happened to Cleopas and Mary on the road to Emmaus.
J. Sidlow Baxter adds, “Fundamentally, our Lord’s message was himself. He did not come merely to preach a Gospel; he himself is that Gospel. He did not come merely to give bread; he said, ‘I am the bread.’ He did not come merely to shed light; he said, ‘I am the light.’ He did not come merely to show the door; he said, ‘I am the door.’ He did not come merely to name a shepherd; he said, ‘I am the shepherd.’ He did not come merely to point the way; he said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’”
While two depressed individuals trod along toward the setting sun, Jesus cared enough to come and walk beside them. By his presence, Jesus turned their despair to hope, and their depression to joy, for with his presence is the assurance that we are never left alone, that we are remembered and loved, and that the God of resurrection will see us through.