What can we learn from that “walk to Emmaus” about ministering to the people God has placed in our path? In Luke 24, Jesus gives us a ministry model worth imitating. Four ministries served two hopeless travelers on one road in a single day, yet they show us the history-shaping life and ministry of Jesus on a small scale. He walked with us, talked with us, taught us, and brought us to himself through the taking, breaking, and giving of his body for us. These are the ministries of incarnation, inquiry, interpretation, and ignition.
The Ministry of INCARNATION | Draw Near
The ministry of incarnation happens when we become love in the flesh with up close compassion and personal pursuit of the heart. When he found the downtrodden disciples on the road to Emmaus "Jesus himself drew near and went with them" (Lk. 24:15). He showed up in the flesh, entered their world, and physically walked alongside these two disciples.
I love Eugene Peterson's description of Christ’s incarnation in this paraphrase of John 1:14, "The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood." He moved into their life, into that particular page of their story at that messy moment. In the ministry of incarnation, we draw near to the people in our path by taking the time to enter into their world and story right now, right where they are. But like Jesus, we go there with a prayerful purpose.
The Ministry of INQUIRY | Draw Out
What did Jesus do after he showed up? He drew out their hearts’ hopes, fears, and desires by paying attention to and poking around in their story with curious questions. This is the ministry of inquiry.
First, he paid attention to their story. He made an effort to listen to them. He walked with them for a while before he said anything. He was aware of and interested in their conversation and their concerns. He was listening for their hopes, fears, and desires as “they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened” (verse 14).
Next, he began to poke around in their story a little bit. He started asking questions. He not only listened but also wanted to learn more (as if he needed to!). Jesus’ compassion made him curious, and so he asked, "What is this conversation that you are having?" “And they stood still, looking sad,” Luke noted. We must stop there with Jesus and see the sadness in their eyes and hear the hurt in their voices.
We, too, can offer the people in our path the ministry of inquiry, drawing out their hearts by using curious questions to explore their smaller story as we prepare to tell them the Larger Story of Jesus.
The Ministry of INTERPRETATION | Draw Connections and Draw Them Up
After Jesus drew near these disciples and began to draw them out, he then began to draw connections between their small story and His Large Story, and thus he drew them up into that Larger Story. This is the ministry of interpretation.
They had grown up hearing all the stories of the coming Messiah all of their lives, but still, they were like those to whom Jesus said, "You search the Scriptures looking for eternal life, but you missed Me. You're supposed to come to Me!" (Jn. 5:39-40). These guys had the Scriptures, but they didn't have Jesus. They knew the Bible, but they hadn't connected all the dots so that Jesus appeared on every page, making sense of the whole Story.
So, he took the time to draw the connections for them by beginning with Moses in Genesis, then walking them through the Scriptures, interpreting them, translating them, explaining them, so that they could see him and see that the Scriptures were all about him (Lk. 24:27).
We must take the time to take our friends to the Story of Jesus, drawing connections between one Bible passage and the others, showing them how Jesus is the center of it all, and drawing them up into the Larger Story God is telling, so that they might interpret their stories in light of his. It’s only when we talk with them on their journeys and “open to them the Scriptures” that the Spirit draws them to Jesus and sets their hearts ablaze with faith, hope, and love in him (Lk. 24:32).
The Ministry of IGNITION | Draw Them to Jesus
Jesus’ fourth ministry to these disciples was the ministry of ignition. By drawing those connections, Jesus drew them up into the Larger Story. He was ultimately drawing them to Himself. That's where he wanted this journey to take them. Pay attention to what happens to these disciples. When Jesus enables them to rightly place their faith and hope in him as he is offered in the pages of Scripture, the Spirit of God ignites them and sets their hearts ablaze with love for him and others.
It may have happened like this:
When he opened the Scriptures to them on the road, he lit the fuse, and their hearts began to burn. 10, 9, 8, 7, . . .
Then at the right time, when he was ready, 6, 5, 4, . . .
Dinner with the disciples in Emmaus, 3, 2, 1, . . .
“When He was at table with them, He took the bread, and blessed and broke it, and gave it to them” . . . IGNITION! He opened the eyes of their hearts so that they recognized Him as the Jesus who had served them bread in those same actions just days before.
He drew them to himself and BLAST OFF! He's gone, and so are they. Immediately they run back to Jerusalem. It's already nightfall, and they’re back on the road, but now a whole day’s journey must have felt like a 100-yard dash. They go straight back to that Christ-and-people-loving community and that Christ-and-people-loving mission to which Jesus had called them on Thursday night. In the ministry of ignition, Jesus drew these disciples to himself and set them ablaze with passion for God and compassion for people by enlightening their eyes and inflaming their hearts to see and to serve him for who he really is. He was not the redeemer they wanted, but now they know he is the Redeemer they needed.
It is worth noting that the ministry of ignition is the one ministry that we can’t quite do the way Jesus did. “No one can come to me,” Jesus said, “unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). Only God can draw people to Jesus so that they see his glory and catch fire (2 Cor. 4:4-6). None of us have the power to ignite faith, hope, and love in the life of any person; only the Spirit can do that (John 6:63; Romans 8:2). Our participation in Jesus’ ministry of ignition is to pray that God would light the fire, that he would draw them to Jesus (Ephesians 1:16-18).
We pray that he would open the eyes of the hearts of the people in our paths to pay attention to his Word, just as he did for Lydia in Acts 16:14. Jesus invites us into the ministry of ignition by asking us to pray for the Spirit to come in blazing power to set hearts on fire with faith, hope, and love in Jesus as He is offered in the gospel story we’re telling the people in our paths (Luke 24:49-53; Acts 1:14 – 2:47).
The Emmaus Model of Ministry: incarnation, inquiry, interpretation and ignition. He did them for us, and he gave them for us to do. The book of the Acts of the Apostles, which is actually Luke: Volume Two, documents the continuation of these ministries in the lives of the disciples. Luke began Acts saying, “Remember in my first book I told you all that Jesus began to do and teach. Now I'm going to tell you what he continues to do and teach by the power of his Spirit through His people." May God grant us grace to continue the Emmaus ministry of Jesus with Jesus in the power of his Spirit.
Jimmy Davis is an ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America currently serving the good folks at Metrocrest Presbyterian Church in Carrollton, TX. He occasionally shares some thoughts and resources at The Cruciform Life Blog, Twitter @cruciformlife, and Facebook. He is the author of Cruciform: Living the Cross-Shaped Life.