How does Jesus minister to us?
At the end of Luke’s gospel, in Chapter 24, is an account of the resurrected Jesus, and it is in two parts, the first of which we dub The Road to Emmaus.
The day Jesus was resurrected, two discouraged and down-hearted disciples were joined by a stranger as they walked from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus, and as they walked, the stranger explained the scriptures to them and opened their hearts to the truth about Jesus’ resurrection. When the stranger broke bread with them, they recognised him as Jesus, and, filled with joy and excitement, they quickly returned to Jerusalem.
In the second part, while the disciples were still talking about the appearance on the road, Jesus appeared to all the disciples and assured them of his resurrection, and again, explained how he came to fulfil the scriptures and how his disciples were witnesses to it all.
There is something, I think, special about the account of Jesus’ resurrection at the end of Luke’s gospel, for in both parts of the story, Jesus ministered to his disciples, comforted them, encouraged them, and gave them hope.
From Luke’s gospel we read that the disciples were perplexed, downcast, discouraged, frightened, troubled, and doubting. They were in a bad place, and if we put ourselves in their shoes, and try to understand how they might have felt, we may also add the adjectives grieving, devastated, broken, anguished, heartbroken, fearful, and crushed. They had just witnessed their Lord and saviour — the one on whom they had pinned all their hope — put to death in such a grievous way that any glimmer of hope was permanently extinguished. They had wasted the best years of their lives to a cause that had come to a sudden and violent end.
Worse still, some of the disciples were hiding from the authorities. Jesus was a convicted criminal and the disciples were guilty by association, and wanted by both the Judean guard and the Roman patrols. In the same way that Jesus kept his identity hidden on that road to Emmaus, the two disciples were keeping their heads down too. They did not reveal to the stranger that they were Jesus’ disciples. For very good reasons, they too were incognito.
We do not know why the two disciples did not recognise Jesus. Some think it was because they were grieving and in shock, others that they were expecting a risen Jesus to be a radiant God-like figure, glorious and triumphant, and yet others that Jesus was somehow disguised or under wraps. Perhaps all three were true, but from my reading of Luke, there are often times when Jesus seemed to be playful, saying things tongue-in-cheek, almost teasing his listeners, and on this occasion he even called them ‘foolish’ and ‘slow of heart’. I can almost imagine Jesus thinking, “I can’t wait to see the look on their faces when they realise it’s me!” But also, perhaps it was important that these two disciples understood the importance of the stranger’s explanation about scripture without being blindsided by the immediate presence of the resurrected Christ.
Whatever the reasons, Jesus came to them and ministered to them. He offered compassion to them, and importantly, he listened to their stories. He wanted to comfort them, encourage them, and give them hope.
Today, in the same way, Jesus wants to minister to us and his Holy Spirit is with us, even when we do not recognise him. Jesus listens to us when we are lost for words, comforts us when we are in pain, and guides us when we go off course. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
This week I took two funerals, and at one of them the scripture reading was Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth (Chapter 13, Verses 1-13) — his famous words about love — and as I drove to the funeral it occurred to me that as God is love, these words are about God, and when you are feeling downhearted and discouraged, you can read these words of love to you:
God is patient, God is kind. God does not envy, God does not boast, God is not proud. God does not dishonour others, God is not self-seeking, God is not easily angered, God keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. God never fails.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest news in the world. It is the news that death has been defeated, life has triumphed, and that hope has conquered despair. Therefore, if you are feeling lost or hopeless, remember the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and how Jesus ministered to them and filled them with hope and joy. Let it remind you that Jesus is always with you, and that he loves you more than you can possibly imagine.