April 30, 2017 “Walking” – Luke 24:13-35
April 30, 2017 – Third Sunday of Easter
Some of my best memories are walks. I’ve hiked with the Scouts in the Sierras, meandered around the twin lakes at Notre Dame with my wife-to-be, sweated up trails with my daughters in Arizona, and I still enjoy getting out to backpack with a church group or walk along the beach with Beth. It’s not so easy, maybe not even possible for some of us, but when it is, walking is a great gift from God. Some of you have recently been hard at work helping your child learn to walk, to take the first of hundreds of thousands of steps in a lifetime. For whoever is able, walking is usually a key part of life.
Jesus walked with His disciples. That’s how He first found them. He walked along and called some men to follow Him. With them He walked back and forth around what we now call the Holy Land. Jesus did not set up an academy where students came to Him listen. He walked about His country stopping to teach wherever crowds formed, or simply instructing His followers along the way. That’s where we see Him in today’s reading from Luke. Jesus took a walk on the evening of Easter.
In past preaching about this text, and in the title I had at first given this Sunday’s sermon, I focused on the second part of the text, the meal there in Emmaus where Jesus was recognized. But when Kristin and Bryan talked to me about this Sunday being the day to present our new vision statement I knew I had to zero in on the first part of it, that incredible walk between Jerusalem and Emmaus.
We don’t know exactly where Emmaus was. You would think it would be easy to identify since Luke gives us the distance there in verse 13. Whatever your translation says, it’s 60 stadia in Greek. Different standards were used for the length of a stadion, but it was about 185 meters, roughly twice the length of a football field. So, as your English Bible may suggest, Emmaus was somewhere between six and half and seven and a half miles from Jerusalem. But that’s about as far as we can get, because there is no decent record and no modern city with the name that exactly pins down the location. One of the best candidates is way too far, about 160 stadia from Jerusalem. Other closer possibilities did not have that actual name.
So we don’t know exactly where the two disciples were headed or where their house was when they got there. If we take this Emmaus journey as a picture of our own Christian walk with Jesus, that’s appropriate. Our Lord invites us to walk with Him, but often does not show us exactly where we are going.
For people used to walking distances like that, seven miles is about a two to two-and-a-half hour journey, walking without breaks. It’s plenty of time for some good conversation and that’s just what the two were doing. Verse 14 says they were “talking with each other about all these things that had happened.” In other words, they were talking about Jesus’ death on the Cross and, as we learn down in verse 23, about reports that He was now alive.
Again, if this is a picture of what it’s like to travel with Jesus through life, then here is another clue for us about our Christian walk. We want to be talking with each other along the way about our relationship with Jesus, what we know about Him and what questions we still have about it all. That’s why our church emphasizes meeting together, not just on Sundays, but through the week to study and explore our faith in smaller groups.
Of course we all wish that we might have the Teacher who showed up there on the road to Emmaus in verse 15, “Jesus himself came near and went with them.” So one thing I’d like to assure you this morning is that we do have the same Teacher walking with us. But like those two commuters outside Jerusalem, we often don’t realize He is there, as verse 16 explains, “but their eyes were kept from recognizing Him.”
There are various explanations for why those two didn’t recognize Jesus. There was apparently something the same but different about His resurrected body and the way He appeared. But I like the reason Augustine suggests. He notes that these disciples did not recognize Jesus until after they had walked along being taught by Him. Augustine says, “Their eyes were held from recognizing him; their hearts, you see, needed more thorough instruction.”
I can’t say how many times I’ve heard someone wish that he or she could have walked along that road listening to Jesus explain the Scriptures, as further down verse 27 tells us He did. What might you learn with the Lord Himself as your Bible teacher? You would find insight and wisdom in this book that you’ve never seen before.
What we’re not recognizing, just like those men did not recognize Jesus, when we think and say things like that, wishing we could have been there too, is that we do have our Lord as our instructor. He taught the apostles and they teach us. And He gave us His Holy Spirit to guide and direct our study of what the apostles wrote for us. Whenever we walk and talk together about the Bible, whenever we sit down in a circle and open the pages of this book, Jesus is walking with us and teaching us through those who went before us and through His Spirit. But, as Augustine suggests, we may need some more instruction to recognize that, to see Him here with us even right now.
So one way to look at this text, at this story of that amazing journey to Emmaus, is to receive the blessed assurance that you and I do, in fact, get to walk with Jesus along the road of life. Last week we heard how Jesus made a special point to come and show Himself risen to one of the twelve disciples who was doubting.
This week we see the risen Christ meeting and instructing two of His followers who are not even among the twelve. Cleopas is named in verse 18 but he is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. The other person is not even named. From the beginning Christians have speculated about the identities of these two. I’ve even read the suggestion that the other disciple was Mrs. Cleopas, his wife. But the fact is that Jesus appeared to, gave instruction to, and gave Communion to a couple of Christian nobodies, unremarkable followers who don’t appear anywhere else in the written record of those times.
Here, then, is the assurance that if we set out to do what our vision statement suggests, to walk with Jesus, then He will be here with us. It doesn’t matter how big our church is or whether we’ve made a name for ourselves. It doesn’t matter if what we are doing makes the evening news or whether a lot of folks realize there is even a church on this corner. If we set out to walk with Jesus, He knows who we are and will join us on the way.
However, I do want to add this about it all. I’ve deliberately talked about we as a church walking with Jesus, about Him meeting us on the way. As our vision statement says, we are a family, we are connected, we walk with Jesus together. As modern Christians we’ve gotten far too accustomed to the idea that we learn from Jesus and from the Holy Spirit in isolation, as individuals alone with our Bibles by ourselves.
Let me be clear. I do hope that you will each have a Bible and read it. If you don’t have one, we will give you one! I hope that you will each bring a Bible here to Sunday School and worship and read along with your teachers and our Scripture readers and with me as I preach. But we’ve heard “I come to the garden alone… and he walks with me and talks with me,” or “Here I am to worship…” just a few too many times. It’s not just about me walking with Jesus. We are meant to learn the most, to hear the deepest instruction, to see Jesus most clearly when we are together, just like those two were together on the road.
Look at the end of the story. What was their first reaction when what they had heard on the road came together with what happened at their table? Verse 33 says they got up and went back to Jerusalem. Unpack that. They were finally home after a long day and a long walking commute, but they turned around and walked the seven miles or so back to Jerusalem, just so they could share what they had learned with other disciples. That’s the family connection. That’s what walking with Jesus means, not just Him with me, but Him with us all together.
It happened this past week. Steve and Anna were in crisis around her brother. They came Wednesday evening and the study group prayed with Anna. They posted a prayer request by e-mail. And others in the family joined in. You walked together with Jesus in prayer, and shared encouragement and wisdom and resources with Steve and Anna. And Jesus met you all by offering some hope for change in Anna’s brother. That’s how it’s meant to work.
Back to this journey to Emmaus, let’s turn the perspective another direction. Like you can click your mouse to pan around Google Earth in 3D, let’s look at this all from another angle. I’ve been talking about Jesus coming to walk with us, about us seeking the instruction we need to see that He is present with us, meeting us on the road, and guiding us through His Word and through His Spirit. But something else is meant to happen on the road with Jesus. It’s captured in the mission statement we’ve had for many years and in fresh words in the suggested mission statement at the bottom of the page in your bulletin.
As we walk with Jesus, we want to become like Him. Our old mission statement says we want to “grow faithful followers of Jesus Christ.” I really like the proposed new statement which refreshes that idea by saying we want to be “apprentices of Jesus Christ.” That makes it clear that walking with Jesus means learning to do what He does, to live like He lived, to be like Him.
The two disciples Jesus found on the road showed how they were becoming like Jesus in at least two ways. First, when they arrived there in Emmaus, verse 29 tells us they invited someone who was a stranger to them—remember they did not then know this was Jesus—in to share a meal with them. They had walked and talked with Jesus enough to grasp that His Spirit is a spirit of hospitality and welcome to strangers. They also discovered the literal truth of what Jesus said about welcoming and feeding and caring for strangers. When we welcome them, we welcome Him. Cleopas and his fellow disciple invited a stranger into their home and in the process they invited Jesus in. That’s what we are about when we welcome homeless men and women and families in to stay here with us at Valley Covenant.
The other way those two walkers with Jesus became like Jesus is right there at the end. They could not wait, even for a well-deserved night’s sleep, to go and share what they had heard and learned. They told Jesus in verse 24 that disciples in Jerusalem had gone to the tomb and found it empty but did not see Jesus. They clearly had left the city before Jesus appeared to the disciples there. So when they recognized Jesus there at their own table, their first thought was to get up and take that amazing message back to their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.
Jesus came to show two walkers along a lonely road that He is risen. They turned around to share that good news with people who they thought hadn’t heard it yet. Jesus comes alongside us to walk with us and show us He is alive. And we too are called to share that good news with others who have not yet heard or received it.
We get a helpful hint in how to share the good news from Jesus Himself in this story. Notice that He did not start the conversation on the road with a Scripture lesson. No, in verse 17, He asked them what they were talking about, what their concerns were. And in the next few verses He didn’t interrupt or jump in to straighten them out. Instead, like our BLESS emphasis asks today, He listened. As a good listener does, in verse 19, He even asked an encouraging question about the “things” that had happened in Jerusalem.
Walking with Jesus teaches us to listen to those around us. We need to hear their stories, to hear what they are concerned about before we can offer them good news in a way they will be ready to hear. Ask Jim and he will tell you that what most of those guests who sleep here on cold nights need most is not so much the warmth or the food as it is someone to listen. They each have a story to tell. Some of you heard a couple of them tell those stories here in Sunday School last fall. We need to listen before we preach or teach or sometimes even before we offer help or advice or anything else.
We learn from and become like Jesus when we walk with Him. And part of what we learn is to become like Jesus in giving ourselves away for the sake of others around us and with others around us. Our walk with Jesus is from the beginning meant to be a walk together with others who are also walking with Him. Walking together and not alone is the most satisfying way to walk with the Lord.
One of the places I like to walk is along or river carrying a fishing rod, or even in a river wearing waders. Many years ago I had the privilege of discovering how helpful it is to walk with a fishing guide alongside. The first time was at the San Juan River in New Mexico. I had fished there once before and totally struck out. I saw dozens of trout rising, but no matter what fly I flung at them I couldn’t get a bite. But for Father’s Day one year, Beth gave me a trip with guide. He walked beside me, showed me which fly to select, how deep to fish it, where to cast, and then what to do when I hooked a fish bigger than I ever had before.
Walking with that guide along the San Juan was a great experience, but the most satisfying and blessed guided trip I ever took was with my two daughters a few years ago along the Grand River in Ontario in Canada. It was more fun to buy my girls their own waders than it ever was to buy my own. I didn’t mind at all standing and waiting while the guide showed them how to tie on a fly and where to cast it. And when one of them hooked a fish on her second cast it was way more fun for me than hooking it myself. Fishing alone with a guide is fine, but sharing that experience with someone you care about makes it glorious. The same is true about walking with Jesus.
For many of us, one important way to share our walk with Jesus is just like my fishing. You parents are called to walk with Jesus and bring your children along to learn walk with Him too. It’s one of the deepest and most important callings a Christian can have.
For all of us, though, we have other opportunities to share our walk with Jesus. We share it with our brothers and sisters here in this church. A few of us will share it with brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. And we share it with those who are not quite there yet, who need to be brought along and listened to and then instructed like Jesus instructed Cleopas and his friend.
It’s good to walk. You can walk by yourself, and that’s O.K., but it’s better and more satisfying to share that walk with someone else. This year at Valley Covenant we want to deepen our experience of that kind of walking with Jesus, walking together as His family, as His people.
As the old praise song sings,
We will walk with each other,
we will walk hand in hand.
We will walk with each other,
we will walk hand in hand.
And together we will spread the news
that God is in our land.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2017 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj
 Sermon 232.3, quoted in Arthur A. Just Jr., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament Volume III, Luke (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), p. 378.