When I reviewed what “Road To Emmaus” paintings I could find, I noticed that Jesus is never smiling! In each one he is undertaking the somber business of awakening dull and disheartened followers of Jesus. Given his countenance, this task was apparently heavy lifting! Jesus sobriety seems out of place to me. Seriously! How could he awaken fulness of joy within us (as he said he would) if he himself is such a sad sack? I believe artist’s portrayal of Jesus say much about our views of God and our Christian experience. How do frowns and holiness go about forming their unholy alliance? Is your Jesus smiling or frowning? Let’s take a smiling-Jesus look at our passage.
As Cleopas and friend were commiserating about all the things which had taken place, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them.
It is always helpful when trying to reframe our picture of Jesus’ face to recall that; as the One who spoke the cosmos into existence, it is unlikely that he has lost control of things and that the desired stability of this little planet now depends on his laborious task of awakening disheartened travelers from their unbelief. It is also helpful to dismiss the idea of random encounters. Jesus deliberately intercepted these men with the knowledge that everything he created was good and that the plan to reclaim full authority of the earth is on schedule. Staying moored to these realities tends to brighten ones outlook and loosen the religious muscles that control and contort our lips into frowns, preventing the more natural curvature that betrays true faith, peace and love. It is also helpful to understand the origin of the disciple’s perception problems. What prevented them from seeing?
Their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. And He said to them, “What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” And they stood still, looking sad. One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?”
I not only think smiles come easy to Jesus; I believe he has the best sense of humor in his cosmos. He no doubt has shared a good laugh with these men since this day hike. Can you imagine Cleopas’ reflections on this encounter? He essentially stood eye to eye with God and said, “Are you the most clueless being on the planet!?” I can’t help but think the Creator of the planet found this humorous. I could just hear Jesus’ reply, “Oh, there might be one or two others.”
Jesus, who is the perfect representation of God, is not thundering commands now from the heights of Mt Sinai; instead He is walking along side men asking them what they are thinking. How precious that our God is approachable and listens to us even as we open our mouths, spilling out our unbelief and profound ignorance which is, in large part, the origin of our smile- deficit. I believe God wants us to have winsome outlooks as a part of an early inheritance. So, as co-heirs with Christ, what else can we learn along the Emmaus Road? Jesus doesn’t direct the clueless men with commands; he draws them out with questions and asks, “What things?” (referring to all that had recently happened)
When God asks questions he is not seeking information. (Read Psalm 139 for a review of God’s level of awareness and involvement.) With his potent questions, he is functioning in his capacity as the Awakener and Searcher of Men’s Hearts (Roman’s 8:27). There is great value at times for us to hear ourselves say what we are thinking. The Emmaus Road Intercept reveals what God desires to happen when we reveal our thoughts in prayer or in dialogue with others. Like Cleopas, when we get our thoughts out into the light we often discover that our grasp of reality is grossly undersized. Listen to the discounted understanding of these men….
And they said to Him, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him.
Jesus had just spent three years teaching them in deed and word that he was the Promised One, the Suffering Servant of Israel and they were honoring his memory as nothing more than a “prophet” mighty in deed and word?!” The discovery that Jesus’ legacy was going to be discounted from Son of God and Messiah to prophet might have been cause for Jesus to just throw up his hands and give up. Instead he just began patiently working on their understanding, reviewing the facts, helping them out of their sadness into a place where they could have the same joyful confidence that filled his heart.
After Jesus gets them to invite him to eat and overnight with them (I also think God Almighty having to invite himself in, provided a fair amount of laughter at some later date.) He opens their eyes and the lights came on.
When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?”
After Jesus had flushed out their confusion and hopelessness he opened their eyes and revealed himself to them. As soon as he knew he had restored an accurate vision to them of who he was (insuring that the appropriate facial muscles would not atrophy) he vanished. Note too, the Scriptures weighed heavily into their awakening. So, what was the byproduct of their encounter with the resurrected Christ?
They got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.” They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.
As we find that our smiles are being influenced directly by the nearness of God and his promises, we too shall arise and give the fresh accounts of our awakening. Until this muscle group is activated and sustained by Christ alone, it may be best for us to postpone our sermons. If we think ours or the human race’s problems are heavy lifting for God, we should probably not move our lips too much. Perhaps our smiles will be rescued if we will remember that we have in fact been rescued; that God is good; that he knows us; that he is in control; that we are not victims of random circumstance; that it is not a big task for God to turn on the light; that our ignorance and unbelief are not insurmountable obstacles to God;
Father, restore to us the joy of our salvation. Let a confident eternity-driven smile replace our short-sighted frowns as we grasp how firm your grip is on us and the affairs of men (however lost the cause may seem to us). Grant us our own Emmaus Road and may your word burn appropriately in our hearts. So be it.