The Emmaus Way
I think that the story of these disciples on the road to Emmaus is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. I always remember the 1877 painting by Robert Zünd that shows the disciples approaching a small bridge on a country path and in deep conversation, with Jesus between them. There is a certain presence and hope about that image.
These disciples were walking to a place called Emmaus, which means hot baths. I tend to believe that they were headed to a hot spring close by. Maybe it was a place off the beaten path where people could get away from it all. In fact, we do not know exactly where Emmaus was. Emmaus has a sense of being a lost little place, and that in my mind is where the disciples were heading. They wanted to get out of Jerusalem. They wanted to get away. Maybe they just wanted to get lost because what else could they do? Jesus had been killed by the worldly authorities, and now even his body was absent from the tomb. What must it have been like to have been them?
Do you remember that old late 70’s commercial with the woman lounging in a warm sudsy bathtub and slogan was “Calgon take me away.” In the midst of a hectic life the housewife just wanted the luxury of a warm bath and quiet moment. Yes, I know the image is dated, but I think the disciples were just looking for a Calgon moment and the hope of never returning to horrors of those last few days. Sometimes you just must start over again.
But then something unusual and unexpected happened in the midst of their getaway. A stranger drew near and began to engage them during their walk and sad conversation. These moments drew them back and literally turned their lives around. Soon they came to realize that the stranger was Jesus in his risen form. He was hidden from their eyes until the moment they broke bread with him. In that moment of communion and prayer they realized just how not alone they really were. From there what was the sad Emmaus walk, down a lost road to become lost, turn into the Jerusalem run. They hurried back to report the tremendous truth that they had met the risen Jesus. Jesus is alive.
Who couldn’t like this story? These disciples suddenly got caught up in a God moment. They encountered one of those miraculous moments where suddenly they realized just how much God is real and active in changing life. The world gets prioritized by such moments. One begins to see what is truly important and there is no going back. Life itself is changed. In the midst of a dark place, God has turned the light on. Oh, that we could all have moments like this. That we might remember what God has truly done for us and what God has truly called us to be, and what God really wants of us. We need this. Our nation needs this. Our world needs this.
You know I get tried of going back to this but for this year there have been over 165 mass shootings in the United States. That is more mass shootings than days. This past Saturday, April 15, registered 7 mass shootings with 10 deaths in that day alone. The news does not report on the extent of gun violence within our nation. The leading cause of death for children and youth under 19 years of age in 2020 became firearms.  In other news Russia has their media outlets talking as if a global nuclear war is winnable, and China keeps wanting to show how they will send a missile strike against Taiwan. One would wish that the leadership of our world would mature beyond the stupidity of war, but this does not seem to be the case.
Can it be that what is lacking is the simple knowledge that God has created us for something more and something better. God has meant us for a greater day. Can it be that what young people need and what older people need is that God moment within life when they might discover that God has not left them but walks with them, and there is hope.
Well, here is the thing, I believe God is still in the habit of walking beside everyone who seeks to know Him better. I also believe that God is still in habit of calling and inviting us to share in such moments with others. God has given us the task to call others to such moments as well. God wants us to be a part of switching the light on for others. We are all called and we have been enabled to be Jesus voice to another. In this way people might encounter God for themselves.
While a person may sometimes feel uncertain about being a witness for Christ or sharing one’s faith, we need to remember that the end result is dependent upon the power of God’s Spirit. Salvation in a person’s life is ultimately the work of God. We are witnesses, but it is God who brings conviction to the soul, grace to turn the heart, and the power to save. We cannot save people, but God does, and God has fully completed this work in Jesus Christ so that all who call upon the name of Christ may indeed be saved.
Still there is much we can learn when it comes to doing our part. Another point I like about this story is that it really serves as a model for teaching and reaching people for Christ. The Emmaus story illustrates an educational model for sharing Christ with others.
As I was looking at some information, I came across a document written by Bill Muir. It was titled, “Three Story Evangelism.” He wrote a short parable that went like this:
“A person once went to a wise storyteller in his town to discover the best way to tell his friends about Jesus. “I want to know how to tell Jesus’ story to others,” said the young man.
The wise storyteller’s response surprised the young man, “You first must spend time with Jesus and learn from Him. Have you done that?”
“No, I’ve been too busy trying to get His story out.”
“Then go spend time with Him and come back later, and then we‘ll talk about the three steps of storytelling.”
Several days later the young man came back to the storyteller and asked what the first step was. “You’ve done it,” said the wise storyteller. “Knowing and obeying Him is the first step to telling His story. The more of Him and His story you know, the more His light, love, hope, joy and peace will be reflected in you.”
The young man said, “Now tell me how I tell my friends His story.”
Then the storyteller went on and said, “The second step in telling His story is listening to their story. When you’ve listened to them long enough, they’ll ask you about your story. As you listen to their story and tell yours, I want you to be real and honest with them about it.” “What if…” and before the young man was finished, the storyteller told him, “No, what if. Just honesty and realness. By the way, as you spend time with them listening to their story, I want you to continue spending time with Jesus and His story.”
“When do I tell them His story? What is the third step?” “The third step happens when you see the connection between their story and needs and His story and provisions. Telling His story isn’t just about His death. That’s why I told you to continue discovering more and more about Him and His story. The power of Jesus’ story is that it connects with different people in different ways. Be kind and compassionate as you introduce His story to them. If they’re ready to become a part of Him and His story, pray with them and then continue teaching them His story. Some call that discipleship. If they’re not ready, keep praying for them and listening to their story until there’s another moment where you can show them how His story connects to theirs.”
So, the three stories in Three Story Evangelism are: Jesus Story, knowing the other person’s story, helping to connect the other person’s story to Jesus’ story until their story becomes a new story.
This approach is what Jesus did with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus came up to them and he didn’t just appear and say guess who? Instead, he entered into their story. He asked them, “What are you talking about along the way.” Now I am fairly sure that Jesus knew what the discussion was, and he knew what had them feeling down, but there is just something undeniably important about Jesus spending time to listen to their story. There could not have been any education or a new understanding about the events that had passed without these disciples being able to speak from their own hearts about how they were feeling and what they had experienced. Jesus took the time to enter into what was really bothering them. This was good pastoral care. This was good evangelism. This is a good model for education.
Along the way the conversation continued and after Jesus heard their words, he wasn’t shy about explain the truth to them from a scriptural point of view. We can’t know everything, but I am sure that Jesus spoke to them about what was in the scriptures because that is what they needed to hear. This was what was important to them, and what they really needed to know. He talked with them as they had heard him speak before in times past, and even though they did not yet recognize him, they felt an encouragement within, like something that was lost had been found. They came to say that their hearts were burning within them. Jesus in effect reconnected them to his story.
Finally, in a moment of prayer and communion, in the breaking of the bread as Jesus gave thanks to God for the gifts of wheat and wine that sustains them, they looked up and realized who their new friend was. Jesus was made known to them and in that instant the mystery of his resurrection could not have been made clearer and Jesus vanished from their sight. Now they ran forth with a new story to tell others. Jesus is truly risen from the dead they would say. We met him on the road to Emmaus and he taught us and ate with us.
Can you see where we go with this? Sharing our story is that kind of a process. It is not about cornering anyone and just dumping the message on them, but it is about knowing Christ in your own life, it is about living with a genuine love and concern and wanting to be present to hear the other person’s story, and it is about helping the other person to realize the connection between Jesus story and their own story. When that happens then their story becomes a new story.
That is real story telling, real pastoral care, real Christian education, and real evangelism. It is about people, and it is about truly caring. When we know Christ, and when we care enough to allow that love, peace, and joy to guide us to care and listen to others, then we are telling the story, and making a difference. We are turning the light on, and entering into a God moment that has the power to change lives. We can trust that God will do his part. I encourage you to think about how you can make these truth yours and share your story in Christ with others until their story also finds its place in Christ story. Amen.