How We Miss Jesus in the Dust of Our Own Hopes and Expectations

Reading from Luke 24:13-21.

"That very day two [men] were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel."

This encounter took place after Jesus was publicly seized, tried and crucified. These men were discussing those events. Everyone was talking about it. Jesus had stirred up the hopes and dreams of the people, including these two men, but those hopes and dreams ended shockingly and abruptly just few couple of days ago.

Everything changed. Expectations deflated Hopes crashed. The shameful and humiliating death of Jesus, the man in whom so much hope had been placed, was overwhelming. It’s all they could talk about.

When Jesus, himself, came and joined them, walked with them, and and spoke with them, they didn’t recognize him. It wasn’t the first time Jesus wasn’t recognized by his people.

Jesus was born into a world that was ripe for his coming. The last of the Hebrew scriptures was written about 300 years prior, and the thrust of those writings, the prophets, anticipated the coming of a Messiah.

The first century Jews believed this Messiah would be a king that would rescue them from Roman rule and reestablish God’s Kingdom in their promised land, rekindling the glory of their heritage. The air was virtually electric with that hope and expectation.

Jesus didn’t deliver what they expected and hoped for. He was a controversial figure from the start. He offered them hints of the promise they hoped for, but he didn’t deliver on their expectations.

Jesus was controversial because he seemed to stand in opposition to the existing Jewish leadership. He seemed to be more critical of the contemporary religious leaders than the secular Roman imposters that governed their homeland.

The orientation of Jesus in opposition to the contemporary religious leaders was not lost on them. They saw Jesus as a threat. Jesus seemed to provoke them with violations of the laws they handed down. He appeared to say blasphemous things like, “Before Abraham was I am”, and claiming to have the authority to forgive sins.

The Jewish leaders were aware of the miracles Jesus performed and the following Jesus had with the poor, the weak, the vulnerable and the downtrodden people. They loved him and who flocked to him, but he gained no trust or respect from the leaders and learned men.

The men with the religious credentials characterized his miracles as magic, sorcery. They called him a hypocrite for hanging out with prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners. That their protestations failed to detract from his popularity was worrisome.

The Zealot movement that predated the birth of Jesus was driven by people had gotten tired of waiting for a Messianic figure to come. They determined to take the course of history into their own hands, to overthrow the Roman government by their own force and to reestablish the Kingdom of Israel in the present time.

Many zealous leaders rose promisingly in in opposition to Roman rule. They quickly generated a following. Just as quickly their followings fell away as those leaders were caught, tried and executed. Jesus seemed no different than they.

This was the atmosphere of First Century Judea. It was a tumultuous time, but a time filled with an air of expectation. Jesus was the closest thing to the promised Messiah that had come along. He had just been welcomed by throngs of adoring people as he entered Jerusalem. They public spectacle they caused stood, now, in contrast to disappointing end to their hopeful Messiah.

Within days, that spectacle took a sinister turn. Jesus was betrayed in the cool of the evening by a long time follower. Jesus, the miracle worker, did not even put up a fight.

This was his opportunity to turn the tables on everyone, the religious leaders that so often clashed with him and, more importantly, the Roman leaders who kept the Jews in check with an iron fist. This was surely the time for Jesus to show who he really was, but he did nothing.

Jesus let them mock him. He let them beat him. He let them scourge him, and push him around and march him to his own death in the most publicly humiliating way imaginable. It seems he wasn’t who he claimed to be.

Jesus seemed different than all the others who had come before. He spoke with power and authority. He healed the sick and cast out demons. He brought a tangible hope to people who had suffered much, but now it was over. Jesus was dead, like all the rest.

The text says that Jesus “drew near and went with them” as the men walked slowly along, reeling from the sudden turn of events. In their preoccupation on these things, they didn’t recognize Jesus.

When Jesus asked them what they were talking about, they were incredulous. “Did this guy just crawl out of a cave?! Everyone is talking about it! How could this guy not know?”

As they answered the question with the details that were fresh in their minds, they described Jesus as “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all people”. Not the Messiah, but a prophet. Jesus died like many of the prophets before him.

They did not describe him as the Son of God, or the Son of Man (the messianic references from the Book of Daniel). They called him a prophet. (At least, they couldn’t deny the authority with which he spoke.)

At one time, during the height of his ministry, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” They answered, “The Messiah.”  But these men would not utter those words as they walked along the dusty road.

They described how the chief priests and rulers delivered Jesus up to be condemned to death. This was the reality they knew in that moment. It was the reality that defined their knowledge and understanding of the truth. They did not suspect that reality may be different than what they thought they knew.

Their assumptions and expectations had changed: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” They hoped he was the one to redeem them from Roman rule and reestablish the kingdom of Israel in their time, but he wasn’t. It didn’t even occur to him that those hopes and expectations were wrong.

He wasn’t who they thought he was. They saw him through the eyes of their own expectations, hopes and experiences, so they didn’t even recognize him when he came along side them on the road to where they were going.

How many times have we failed to recognize Jesus in our midst?

We should not let our expectations and experience prevent us from recognizing God in our lives.

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