The Road to Emmaus, 1877, Robert Zund, Swiss painter, (1826-1909)
Luke 24 tells the story of Jesus joining two men walking on the road to Emmaus, a little town about seven miles from Jerusalem. It was the afternoon of the day Jesus rose from the dead. These men had known Jesus but they thought he was dead, and the Bible says that for a while on this walk they were kept from recognizing him (verse 16). Luke records a casual conversation between the three men about the events of the past few days (v. 17f):
Jesus asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“What things?” Jesus asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”
In the rest of the story Jesus explained to them from the Scriptures the meaning of those events. Then, at just the right moment, the Bible says their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus, their friend, back from the dead (verse 31). And suddenly, Jesus disappeared, and the two men ran back to Jerusalem to tell the others.
In verse twenty-one the men said: “They crucified Jesus, but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” We had hoped. That is a very sad little phrase. Hope there is in the past tense. Hope is a wonderful thing, but in order for hope to work, it has to be in the future tense; you have to be hoping for something yet to come. But here, hope is in the past tense. So this sad little phrase is really not talking about hope at all, rather, it is talking about the DEATH of a hope. “We had hoped he was the one,” they said; but “they crucified him,” and now he was dead, so now, there is no hope.
We have to have hope to live. We can be in the most desperate and miserable of situations, but if we have hope, we can go on. Prisoners of war, living under horrible conditions, tell how they were able to survive because they kept hope alive. On the other hand, many survivors report that those who lost hope, would die. We must have hope. So it is a depressing little phrase that says, we HAD hoped he was the one. Perhaps you know the feeling.
I had hoped, she said, that he’d give up drinking after we got married, but he didn’t and now my life is ruined… I had hoped, he said, that the treatments were going to work and I would get better, but that didn’t happen and I’m not going to see my kids grow up… I had hoped, she said, that our son would at least call us someday, but we never hear from him… I had hoped, he said, that I could keep my job, but I got laid off, and I’m 55 years old, so now what will I do?… I had hoped, she said, that my prayers would be answered, and he would have returned to me, and I would not be alone. But the praying did no good, so where is God anyway? If this faith thing can’t get me the help I need when I need it, then I’m not interested.
We had hoped that he was the one, said the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. We all know what it is to have hoped for something, and we all know what it is to have those hopes disappointed.
And hopes and dreams, even when met, can, after a while, still be disappointed. There are a lot of little boys and girls right now who are just hoping for the time to go fast so Christmas can arrive, with days off from school and presents galore. That hope will be met, the time will go by fast and Christmas will arrive; but so also then will the vacation time go by fast, and the gifts will be opened and stuffed in the closet, and it will be back to school.
As we get older and learn how this goes, our hopes deepen and mature, as we have more long term goals and dreams. But still, whatever we hope for, even if achieved, will not last. Even life-time hopes like for a career and marriage and family will come and go like a Christmas vacation. “I had a good life,” said the old lady in the care center; “I got pretty much everything I wanted and worked for, and it was nice, but now it’s over.” Even if we get everything we want, our hopes will still soon be disappointed, because the most basic fact of life is that time runs out.
I Corinthians 15:19 says, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” We need a deeper hope, a more profound hope, a more long lasting hope than anything we are able to manage on our own. We need a hope that will transcend all of our other hopes. Even if God’s way would be to give us everything we wanted, when we wanted it, we would in the end, says the verse, still be sad and pitiful. Death ends even the very best lives.
But, says the very next verse (verse 20), “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead”– and that changes everything. As the Bible says, “the last enemy to be defeated is death.” Now, all who believe in Christ will be made alive again. Alive again. There is a hope worth having. There is a hope that grants a whole different perspective on whatever you get or do not get in this life. We will be alive again, says Jesus, and all that is lost will be restored, all that went wrong will be made right, and everything all so confused now, will be made clear and good in that perfect home prepared for us. “We had hoped,” they said on the road to Emmaus, but they thought that hope died with Jesus on the cross. But then, after seeing Jesus again, they had their hope restored, and they said, “Did not our hearts burn within us to hear him speak.”
Romans 5:1-5 — Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and this hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Isaiah 49:23b — (The Lord says), “…Then you will know that I am the Lord, and those who hope in me will not be disappointed.”
Revelation 21:5 — And He that sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”
Romans 8:18 — I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.