“But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” – Luke 24:16
One of the strangest post-Easter accounts in Scripture is the encounter Jesus had with two disciples who were walking to Emmaus on the very day he rose from the grave. They allowed him to walk and talk with them but did not even recognize the one they had known so well. In fact, they did not recognize him until he later broke bread with them at their supper table. Why did they not recognize him immediately on the road and why did their recognition spark to life while breaking bread with him? They had remembered his prophecy about a third day, whatever they thought the “third day” would bring. But they did not believe he was alive; that he had truly risen, despite all they heard about an empty tomb.
What “kept” them from recognizing Jesus? Was it something supernatural from the Lord? Something had been changed in his resurrected body? Even though he had been recognized near the tomb by Mary. Or was it something in their own frame of mind that kept him hidden? But what then awakened their minds to recognize him later? Do we learn anything from this encounter about ourselves in our own failure to see Jesus? Whether or not Jesus concealed himself supernaturally, there is enough said about these two disciples’ frames of mind that could lead to their not seeing Jesus; and that also lead us to have in ourselves doubts akin to what Thomas experienced.
Jesus had not been silent in prophesying his crucifixion or his resurrection. Yet his disciples refused to accept His word as gospel truth. Clearly, they mistook his mission. They thought, not from anything Jesus told them, that He would deliver them out of Rome’s oppression, physically and politically. He would become their king in a kingdom of this world, something with which they were familiar. His words “my kingdom is not of this world” just did not compute with their thinking or experience.
The key ingredient to recognizing Jesus appears to be this: faith. Vibrant faith that Jesus is who and what he says he is, that his words and promises are true, explicitly so. These two disciples, most probably Cleopas and his wife Mary, the sister, or cousin (same word) of Jesus’ mother, who lived in Emmaus, did not have faith to focus on Jesus’ pre-crucifixion words and really believe them, while eagerly anticipating their exact fulfillment. After Jesus’ opening the Scriptures to them and explaining his presence in the Old Testament accounts, their faith was then enlivened and it opened their eyes to see Jesus, to recognize him.
Faith was the difference. Their frame of mind, as they walked in despair, was not one of faith. Jesus’ “third day” prophecy was still confusing to them. His specific promise that on the third day he would rise was not really accepted by them as something believable, something concrete, so they were not looking for it, or anticipating it. In fact, Thomas was apparently completely oblivious to the meaning of these prophetic words even though he had heard them along with Jesus’ other disciples and followers. It took the only kind of evidence Thomas would then accept, flesh and blood evidence; Thomas being able to see with his own eyes and touch with his own hands!
Faith, the evidence of things not seen, as defined in Hebrews 11, is essential to see Jesus as he is, to recognize Jesus in any of your life situations. Faith is necessary to see Jesus in your own life, to hear him speaking to you, to see his directing of your footsteps, to separate his direction and words from the devil’s. The devil will camouflage his words from the Savior’s to make it appear Jesus is speaking. Faith, however, is the discriminator. Faith in the truth of Jesus’ Word is the difference maker. All the more essential for you to know His Word, be in it, obey it. Apart from His Word you are like a wave of the ocean, tossed to and fro. You are like Cleopas and Mary, not able to recognize Jesus though you had walked beside him for months, years.
Faith must be exercised through your intimate knowledge of Jesus’ Word to recognize him at work in your life and in your consciousness; activity in prayer to Him; obedience in following Him. Do not be kept from recognition of your Lord. Believe Him!
“My heart is leaning on the Word, the written Word of God, salvation by my Savior’s name, salvation through his blood. I need no other argument, I need no other plea, it is enough that Jesus died, and that he died for me.”
(3rd verse of Lidie Edmunds’ hymn, “My Faith Has Found a Resting Place,” 1891)