(An eyewitness’ account*)
By Glen Elliott
To Luke, my brother in the Lord, from Cleopas. I understand you’ve been collecting eyewitness accounts about the life of Jesus. Here is mine.
I live in a small town called Emmaus. I have made the journey to and from Jerusalem many times in my life. But one such journey forever changed me. Here’s what happened that Sunday.
Passover Week in Jerusalem
A friend and I had been in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration with others who were following one who was clearly a prophet. God had not sent a prophet to his people in more than four hundred years. However, we personally saw this man perform miracles, and his teaching was powerful. His name was Jesus.
The week leading up to Passover started in an amazing way. Jesus was welcomed into the city with great fanfare. We were so hopeful he would redeem our beloved Israel from the tyranny of Roman occupation. He celebrated a Passover meal with his twelve chosen disciples.
Then, right before the actual Passover, a series of events unfolded quickly. Jesus was betrayed by one of his disciples. He was arrested and tried by our religious leaders and then the governor appointed by Rome. He was killed on a cross. Before sundown, he was buried in a tomb. But on Sunday morning, some women went to the grave and were told by angels that Jesus had risen from the dead. We didn’t know what to think. I’ll admit that I was afraid. After all, Jesus had been arrested and killed. A friend and I decided to leave the city and head back to Emmaus.
The journey home seemed longer than usual. My friend and I had an intense discussion about what happened. Why had things transpired the way they did? Why was Jesus killed? Why was the tomb empty? Had he really risen from the dead? If so, where was he? What would the eleven disciples do now? And what was next for us?
We had many questions and no clear answers. You can only imagine our confusion and sadness. In the span of a week our world turned upside down. We were struggling, to say the least.
As we walked along, all of a sudden a fellow came up and joined us. It seemed as if he came out of nowhere. I think he had overheard part of our discussion, but he asked what we had been talking about. His question literally stopped us in our tracks. It seemed unlikely he knew nothing of what had happened in Jerusalem the last few days. Still, I told him about Jesus and the news from the angels—that’s how the women referred to them—that Jesus was alive.
Then the man, who seemed very confident, challenged us by saying we were slow to believe. That got our attention. He said the Messiah had to suffer first before he would be glorified. He showed us what the Torah and the prophets had said about the Messiah. This man knew his Scriptures well. Time began to fly by. We reached our village as evening fell. We were so enthralled by our conversation that we begged the man to stay with us. We were delighted when he accepted.
We prepared a meal and, as we sat down, this man took a piece of fresh-baked bread and offered thanks, then broke it and passed it to all who were around the table. At that very moment, something unexplainable happened. It was clearly supernatural. We recognized that this man we had been with most of the afternoon was Jesus. How did we not realize it earlier? We had been with him and seen him before! Maybe it was because we weren’t expecting to see Jesus alive, but something had kept us from recognizing him. Now, we both knew for sure he was Jesus.
While on the journey we had sensed he was no ordinary man. As Jesus explained who the Messiah was from Scripture, we experienced a change of mood and attitude. We went from grief and hopelessness to a strong confidence that God would in fact provide a living Savior. Because of our time with Jesus, everything began to make sense! And now we knew for certain Jesus is alive.
Then something else miraculous happened. As soon as we recognized Jesus, he vanished! His place at the table was empty. There were none of the customary departing words and thanks. He just disappeared as fast as he had appeared to us on the road.
Back to Jerusalem
Well, we couldn’t just sit there. Even though we had already made the trip from Jerusalem to Emmaus that day, we had to go back and find the eleven and the others and tell them what had happened. We hurried and found the disciples. They immediately told us that Jesus is alive, that he had appeared to Peter! Then we shared about our experience of seeing the risen Jesus, and how we realized it was Jesus when he broke the bread. The eleven reflected on their memory of Jesus breaking the bread during the last supper they had together.
As my friend and I returned home again, our conversation was completely different. Our confident belief that Jesus was alive made this trip so different than the last one. We reflected on our encounter with the resurrected Jesus. First, we just had to admit our serious doubt about Jesus as we headed home the first time. In fact, that was the first thing Jesus addressed about us. He had noted we were slow to believe. Slow! I think Jesus was being kind by using that word, though it surely was the case. His conversation with us had snapped us back to our senses.
As we walked with Jesus, he taught what Scripture said about the Messiah. Hearing from the Word of God helped open our eyes—it always does. Before that, our disappointment that Jesus was crucified had caused us to put our heads down. We were blinded by grief and confusion, so much so that we couldn’t see Jesus was right there with us, in our very presence. By now, as you know, Jesus has ascended to Heaven, but he has not left us as orphans; he has left us with the Holy Spirit until he returns. And so God is still living beside us, for us, with us, and in us.
What we learned will carry us through our entire lives. I know that I occasionally still struggle at times. The religious leaders in Jerusalem and the Romans hate us. We know hard times are ahead. But when we are “slow to believe,” as Jesus said to us, we’ve learned we need to engage that doubt through prayer and by going to Scripture and reconnecting directly with the living Jesus. When we engage our doubt by going back to the Word of God, and when we seek the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, our eyes are reopened, our hearts reconnect with our living God, and our faith grows. When we sit with Jesus—when we listen to the Word—our trust deepens.
Luke, please share this with others. I want our story to help others who doubt that Jesus came back from the dead. There will always be doubt, just as there will always be doubters, and that’s why we need to share what we have seen and heard. Going from no faith, or slow belief, to a rich faith is a process. It’s a journey like the journey my friend and I experienced. We must continue to faithfully seek God and his promises in his written Word. When we do, it illuminates our heart and opens our eyes. The journey to Emmaus that day changed our lives. I believe it will continue to change our world.
* This article, based on biblical events, employs some creative storytelling that includes fictionalized dialogue and description.
Glen Elliott serves as lead pastor at Pantano Christian Church in Tucson, Arizona.