People long for renewal. Anyone honest with themselves feels the gnawing suspicion that we are not as we ought to be. We desire change.
Theologian James K. A. Smith in his book On the Road With Saint Augustine offers us a blueprint to modern spiritual life that looks for help from the great hero of the faith – Saint Augustine. Smith’s book is necessary reading for navigating life with God in the modern world. But I want to take us back even farther. I want to take us to a different road seven miles outside of Jerusalem. On that road, some 2,000 years ago, two unsuspecting disciples had an encounter that changed their life.
Luke 24:13-35 gives us the story of two disheartened disciples plodding their way on the road to Emmaus. Sometimes grief gives you tunnel vision. Which may explain why these two disciples fail to realize that none other than Jesus Christ joins their journey. These disciples began walking to Emmaus as disheartened followers of God (Luke 24:17-21) and ended their journey awakened to the reality of Christ (Luke 24:31-32). How did it happen?
1.) Spiritual renewal comes through talking with Jesus about the things that matter most.
Jesus asks these two disciples a question, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And just like that these disciples (unbeknownst to them) go from merely talking about Jesus, to actually talking with Jesus. There is a very big difference between talking about Jesus and actually talking with Jesus.
Before Jesus joined them these disciples were talking about the things that had happened in Jerusalem, most significantly the things that happened to Jesus. They were talking about Jesus. When we talk about something, we’re able to stand at a distance from the subject matter. We can talk about it rationally, logically, and with objectivity.
When we move from talking about Jesus to talking with Jesus, we start to have an authentic encounter with an actual person. Talking about God keeps Him at a safe distance. Talking with God thrusts Him into our life in disruptive ways.
2.) Spiritual renewal comes through seeing the Bible as God’s Word about Christ.
These disciples are discouraged that Jesus has been killed. Their hopes have been crushed. They interpret the cross as a defeat, not a victory. This prompts the hidden Christ to issue a rebuke. What is surprising is what Jesus doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “O foolish ones and slow of heart to believe… the women’s testimony about the empty tomb!” Surely an empty tomb was powerful evidence that Jesus was not dead, but Jesus does not rebuke them for that. Instead, He rebukes them for not believing what the Bible says!
He says, “25 O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” and then in verse 27 says that Jesus “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
These two disciples failed to read the Bible as God’s Word about Christ. It is the Word of God, rightly understood as the revelation of Christ, that is one of the keys that unlocks spiritual renewal. This means reading the Bible with eyes of faith, so that we see Jesus Christ as the center of God’s revelation.
What Jesus says here is not just some ivory tower theological point. If we fail to read our Bible as God’s Word about Christ, if we fail to see that the whole redemptive purpose of God centers on the person and work of Christ, we will fail to live the Christian life! It really is that important that we understand the Bible as God’s Word about Christ. We can’t make sense of our life and we can’t make sense of our world apart from seeing the Bible as God’s Word about Christ.
3.) Spiritual renewal comes through walking obediently with Jesus in all of life.
All throughout the Bible the metaphor of “walking” with God is used to describe our obedience to God in all of life. Abraham is called by God to “walk” before Him (Gen 17:1). Paul tells us to “walk” in step with the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:16). The word “with” is significant. This renewal comes through being with Jesus. Spiritual renewal comes through living in the presence of God in all of life. That means on Monday, and Tuesday, and at home, and at work. We are called to literally live ALL of life in obedience to Christ.
That’s what these disciples are doing. They are walking with Jesus on the road. They are sitting with Jesus in a home. And they are eating with Jesus at the table. They are walking with Jesus in all of life. And not only that, but they are earnest about. Verse 29 says they “urged him [Jesus] strongly” to stay with them.
These disciples will not let up until Jesus is with them. I wonder if we pursue the presence of Jesus with the same earnestness?
I know I don’t. I can go about my whole day with only a few superficial passing thoughts about Christ. That’s not life with Jesus. That’s not walking with Him. Instead, these disciples urged Jesus to stay with them, because they did not want to be without Him. Renewal comes through walking with Jesus in all of life.
4.) All spiritual renewal comes through the gracious initiating work of Jesus Christ.
Spiritual renewal is not something we can manufacture. Yes, there are certain things that we can do that open us up to the renewing work of God in our life. But ultimately all renewal comes through the gracious initiating work of Christ. Because if it did not, if it came through my efforts, through me doing certain things, then I could boast about. Then I could take credit for it. Then I would be the one controlling God and telling God what to do and when to do it.
Why was it that in the “breaking of the bread” the disciples came to truly recognize who Jesus was?
If I may indulge a bit of sanctified speculation, I think that when the disciples saw Jesus physically breaking the bread, they were reminded of all the statements Jesus made about the necessity of His suffering and death. As these disciples saw the bread broken before them, suddenly they were reminded that Jesus was broken on the cross. Suddenly all that had happened to Jesus that seemed like a defeat began to be viewed as a victory.
Seeing the bread broken helped these disciples see that Jesus had to be broken on the cross, so that all who turn to Christ can be forgiven of their sin and made whole. This is what we remember every time we take Communion, the Lord’s Supper. This is what Jesus was saying to His disciples at the Last Supper that His body had to be broken for them so that they could be made whole.
On the Road with Jesus
These disciples had their world turned upside down. At this point in the journey, we know it is late in night and they have arrived at Emmaus after having walked the 7 miles all the way from Jerusalem. But they don’t stay in Emmaus. They change plans.
Verse 33 tells us that they set out for Jerusalem, because they can’t contain what they just experienced. They need to tell the other disciples. They have just had an encounter with the living Christ, resurrected from the dead!
Isn’t that what Jesus does in our lives? We, like these two disciples, have our plans. We are going to go to Emmaus, and we better get there before it’s dark. And then Jesus inserts himself into our life and disrupts our plans.
When you have a true encounter with Jesus, your life will change.
Do you remember the description of what happened to the disciples when they finally realized that it was none other than Jesus in their midst? Here it is “And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (v. 31).
Does that phrase remind you of anything?
There was an incident, thousands of years before this one, when two other unsuspecting people had a stranger insert himself into their lives, and then their eyes were opened and they came to recognize some things. There was another incident a long time ago when two other people, after having some food, had their eyes opened to new knowledge. But this wasn’t a saving knowledge and this wasn’t a righteous recognition, it was sin.
I’m talking about Adam and Eve, who disobeyed God when tempted by Satan. They ate of the forbidden fruit, and brought the whole world under the curse of sin. And when that happened we read in Genesis 3:7 “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they recognized that they were naked…”
The Greek Old Testament (the LXX) of Genesis 3:7 is almost identical to the Greek New Testament of Luke 24:31. There is a direct link between these passages. And what that means is that the person and work of Christ is undoing the curse of sin. Jesus is reversing the effects of sin.
In Genesis 3, our eyes were opened to the reality of sin. In Luke 24, the disciples eyes are opened to the reality of Christ. Jesus is ushering in the New Creation, and these disciples are experiencing it! Those hungry for spiritual renewal need look no further than Jesus Christ.