Hopeless doesn’t really start to describe how I felt. Pitiful is getting closer. Embarrassed, ashamed, angry, disheartened. This is how I felt at the sudden realization of my own disillusionment. I really thought He was the one. I had devoted the last couple years of my life to following this Rabbi, this Prophet who claimed to be the Messiah – the One who would certainly deliver us from our oppression. I really thought this was it. Israel would finally break free from the Roman Empire and regain its full glory like the days of King David. Our Savior had finally come, and He had come in my own lifetime!
And then in the blink of an eye it was all over.
This was how I felt as I, Cleopas, and my friend, who wishes to remain unnamed, were walking down that lonely, seven-mile road back home to Emmaus. I was terrified of what my family and friends were going to think of me. I had forsaken everything to follow this Jesus of Nazareth, and now I had to go back to the people whom I had left because of what this Man said. His words were still ringing clearly in my ears as if they were said yesterday, “Anyone who loves his father and mother, his brothers and sisters, even his own life more than Me, he is not worthy of discipleship to me.”
Choosing to follow Him was the toughest decision I ever had to make. I fought long and hard with my family about this Man. I laid awake in bed several nights as I pondered whether to follow Him or not. I had heard the stories of men and women being expelled from the synagogue for their decision to follow this Rabbi. I knew that I would be laying everything on the line just for the hope that Jesus would be different.
Several individual men had, in the recent years, pretended to be the Messiah, the one who would lead Israel in a revolt against the Romans – men like Theudas, or Judas of Galilee. The words they said had struck a chord in the hearts of many Jews throughout Israel who had been longing for some word of hope and deliverance from their present, pitiful state. Both these men had gathered large followings. Both were arrested and crucified by Rome as revolutionaries. All their followers dispersed, and their movements died out along with them.
But Jesus was different. I just knew He was. Granted, I didn’t know half as much then as I do now, but I could still tell that Jesus had something better to offer. His revolution was more of an inward transformation than an outward uprising. When He spoke, His words were deep, challenging, and meaningful – not shallow, emotional talk of war or revenge. While others told me to hate Rome and love my own nation, Jesus told me to love my enemies and pray for those who persecuted me and my nation. While my countrymen were telling me to only do the minimal requirements expected of me by the empire, Jesus was telling me to go a second mile along with the Roman soldier. While other would-be Messiahs were telling me that God would soon restore the Promised Land to its rightful owners, Jesus was telling us about a new, better, true promised land which is in heaven with God.
Jesus was different.
I’m still not quite sure what made the religious leaders hate Him so much. When they tried to trap Him in His words, He always said the right thing. They tried to catch Him breaking the Law of Moses, but even Herod and Pilate could not find any fault in Him. Yet they killed Him anyway.
I thought Jesus was different. I thought He would be the one. At the time I didn’t understand it all, but I thought that He would somehow liberate us as a people from the inside out. It would be just like in the days of captivity in Babylon. I thought me as a nation would be able to turn our hearts back to God and become fully devoted to Him, and through our national repentance we would gain the freedom we had sought after all our lives. After all, wasn’t that what John the Baptizer was proclaiming?
I thought He was different, but they killed Him anyway. Same song, different verse. I saw the mob with torches and spears drag Jesus into the city. I saw the Roman battalion shove the crown of thorns, or should I say spikes, on His head. I watched from the crowd as they beat His back. I stood on the side of the road where Jesus stumbled beneath the weight of the cross beam. I heard the cries from the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?!” Though I watched from a distance, I could see the blood flow from His side as He was pierced by the spear. I stood paralyzed by fear when the sun was darkened and the foundations of the earth quaked beneath my feet. I saw them wrap the cold, bloody, lifeless body in cloth and lay it in a borrowed tomb as the sun set on the darkest day this world had ever seen.
I was there. I saw it. Jesus was dead. And every ounce of hope, joy, confidence, and courage I had gained was ripped away from me, placed inside a tomb, and sealed shut with a gigantic boulder. There is no lower feeling than the one I experienced that Friday night.
My friend and I finished out the rest of the Passover weekend with the apostles and some of Jesus’ other followers. We needed each other. If ever there was a time to love each other as Jesus had commanded, it was that weekend. There were some disciples, mainly some of the women, who were still hopeful. They kept referring back to what Jesus had said about being raised on the third day. We didn’t try to argue with them, but others of us knew that Jesus was the only one who had the power to raise others from the dead – we saw it with Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus. So what happens when the only one with the power to raise the dead dies himself? We knew it was impossible.
But we just let them keep talking. It was good to share our memories of Jesus with each other. Andrew shared fishing stories with us, like the time Jesus told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. Mary Magdalene told all of us about her life before she met Jesus and had the demons driven out of her. Matthew, the tax collector, and Simon, the Zealot, together retold the story of how they hated each other initially when they were called by Jesus, but through His teachings and constant show of love, they had become good friends. Peter had the hardest time, though. He sat silently most of the day Saturday, which was completely out of character. Tears rolled down his cheeks for quite some time. He never cracked a smile, even when we talked about the time demons were driven out of those men and into the pigs, which then ran off the cliff into the sea.
There we were – a bunch of second class citizens. Aliens among our own people. What would we do now? What would become of this community that had slowly formed over the last three years? Where would we go? What would we tell people? How could we possibly keep this going if our leader is dead? We had no guidance, no leadership, so direction. We were nothing but a band of outcasts and misfits.
These were the thoughts going through my head as I lay in bed Saturday night. The women had made plans to go back to the tomb first thing in the morning and finish preparing the body for a proper burial, yet a couple were still trusting that the “third day” prophecy would come true. But to me and some others, we knew that the dead cannot raise themselves. The final enemy had won. Victory was swallowed up in the death of Jesus. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I cried myself to sleep that night. I was at rock bottom.
I was roused from my half-sleep by the first ray of light through the window. I crawled off of my mat and stood up, looking around at the others still asleep. The women had already left like they said they would. I figured they should be back in an hour or so, and when they returned, my friend and I would say our good-byes and hit the road. Then I noticed that Peter was awake, standing silently at the window, looking out into the countryside. He still not said a word. I went over and put my arm around him, but he didn’t flinch. He just stared.
I gathered my few belongings together, and by the time I had finished everyone in the house was awake. Breakfast was close to being ready when the women came running back into the house. They were all talking at the same time, and I couldn’t understand anything they said until we could finally convince them to calm down. Then they spoke one at a time, telling us that when they got to the tomb, the stone was rolled away and it was empty except for the linen cloth folded neatly on the stone slab. There was no body.
My first inclination was that someone had stolen the body of Jesus. But why would anyone want to do that? Who would be so sick as to steal the dead body of a Prophet?
Then they went on, saying that they had seen a vision of messengers from God who appeared to them suddenly out of thin air. The messengers spoke to them, asking why they were looking for the living among the dead. They were told that the “third day” prophecy had come true and that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
But that’s impossible, I thought.
This story didn’t make sense to most of us. They didn’t see the dead body, much less the actual risen body. They had no way of proving this alleged encounter with angels. For all we knew, they could be making this all up in order to trick themselves into believing that what Jesus said was true. I couldn’t believe it. This was just too incredible.
After they had finished telling us this story, Peter bolted out the door and down the road toward the tomb, still not saying a word. John took off after him to make sure he would be ok.
I would have liked to stay around some more to discuss these things, but we had to hit the road if we wanted to make it back before dark. We said our good-byes and walked out the door, beginning the loneliest journey of my life.
My friend and I couldn’t stop talking about what had happened and whether we could believe the women or not. Not that they were untrustworthy, and they weren’t the kind of women to lie about these things. It just seemed too good to be true – too incredible, too contrived.
We were walking rather slowly – neither of us had much energy left after the events of the past week – and we noticed a man coming up behind us fairly quickly. He appeared to be returning home after his visit to Jerusalem for Passover.
He caught up with us and slowed down, listening to our conversation. Then he asked us what we were talking about, as if he had no idea. I told him he must have been the only person in Jerusalem that had not witnessed or heard the things that had happened all week.
“What things?” He asked.
What things? How could he not know?
I filled him in on all the things concerning the Rabbi Jesus: how he was a powerful prophet in word and in action; How he was betrayed and arrested for no good reason, receiving a skewed trial, and was sentenced to death, though he had done nothing wrong.
We explained to the man that we had hoped Jesus of Nazareth would truly be the one to deliver our nation from the hand of the Romans and redeem our people. We told him of the third day prophecy and how the women had gone to the tomb and did not find the body. We told him how angels had allegedly appeared to the women and told them that he was alive, but the women themselves did not see him.
We were dazed and confused as to what was going on, and this stranger could tell it. But something seemed different about this guy. I could sense something in the way he looked at us and listened to our story. He had this gleam in his eye. Something was different. I could feel it in my heart.
We finished telling this story, expecting to leave it at that and part ways again, when suddenly he burst out, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?”
We were taken aback. We hadn’t expected this. I thought I knew the scriptures quite well. But he began to reason with us and prove his case through Moses and the Prophets. He told us the scriptures we had heard all our lives, yet we never really made the connection.
“He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
“They have pierced my hands and my feet.”
“Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me.”
“Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.”
“The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.”
“I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.”
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering…But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities…He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth…He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth…Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer…”
I knew he was right. I didn’t understand everything, but I could feel it in my heart that this man was right. I had never heard the Scriptures this way before, and it started making some sense. Everything I thought I knew was wrong.
But there was one problem – Jesus was still dead.
My heart and mind were being pulled in all sorts of directions as we neared Emmaus. I still needed some answers, and this stranger had them. It was getting somewhat late, so we pleaded with the man to stay with us for the evening, eat with us, and explain more to us. Though he looked like he was going further, he agreed to come.
We came to my house, which was just as I had left it before Passover. I scrounged through the cupboards to find something to eat and drink. I grabbed some bread and wine to start off until I could prepare a proper meal for the man and my friend.
When we reclined at the table, the stranger took the bread before I could reach for it. I didn’t argue with him, I just let him serve as host though it was my own house. He took the bread, said a prayer of thanksgiving and blessing, broke it, and handed us our share.
Suddenly, chills went down my spine, my heart raced, and my head started to spin. This was Jesus! It was him all along! How could I have missed it? How could I not have recognized the man to whom I had devoted my entire life? He was right there in front of me and I never knew it until he broke the bread.
Before we could say anything, he vanished. Just like that, he was gone. But we didn’t care. We now knew for a fact that our Rabbi, the Messiah, had indeed risen from the dead. The feeling I got while he was speaking with us on the road was the same feeling I had gotten whenever I heard the words Jesus spoke throughout his ministry. I knew there was something different about that stranger, and I knew there was something different about Jesus.
I had gone from rock bottom to top of the world in the time it takes for a man to break a piece of bread. I now knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He is Lord and Master over all things, including death itself. Jesus had been resurrected and so had my hope and my faith.
I knew that Jesus was different.
My friend and I left everything at my house and ran seven miles back to Jerusalem to tell the others what had just happened. When we got there, the scene was much different than it had been just that morning. Instead of crying, there was rejoicing. Instead of confusion, there was confidence. Instead of silence, there was laughter. This was the first testimony to the transforming power of the resurrected Christ. We were the dry bones which God had caused to live again.
Before we could even get our words out, the others greeted us with the news that Peter had encountered the risen Lord. The others had not yet seen Him, but the testimony of Peter was all they needed to be convinced. Then we shared our story of how Jesus met us on the way back to Emmaus and how we didn’t recognize him until he broke the bread for us.
The most amazing part of the story, however, is this: While we were still talking, Jesus himself appeared to all of us. What further proof would anyone need? The rest, as they say, is history.
So that’s my story. But it’s not just my story, it’s really the story of many followers of Jesus. Whenever I share this testimony, I hear countless other stories of people struggling with their faith in the resurrection of Jesus. Or maybe they have a misconception about who Christ really is. Some simply cannot believe that the Savior of mankind had to be killed. Still others are actually walking with Christ but have yet to fully recognize Him in His full glory.
If this is your story as well, I have two words for you: Jesus Lives!
Don’t be foolish like I was. Don’t have as little faith as I had. Simply believe that Jesus lives. I witnessed and felt the transforming power of the Resurrected Christ, and if He can lift me up from the sewers and place me on the mountaintop, I know he will do the same for you.
Jesus is different. Jesus is real. Jesus lives.