They had known him his whole life. As his aunt and uncle, they had watched him grow from a little boy into a man who had faithfully provided for his widowed mother and siblings. Then, as his public ministry began, they had followed him and had come to believe, however crazy the thought might seem, that their nephew, Jesus, was actually the Messiah, the One who would redeem Israel. But then the unthinkable happened. Right when they thought things were finally coming together, when Jesus had entered Jerusalem to songs of “Hosanna,” he had been betrayed, arrested, tried, and executed. The shock, fear, and grief that came crashing into their hearts would have been indescribable. Their dear nephew was dead. The Romans had done it again. Their nation would remain under their cruel oppressors.
And so, after a few days in hiding and mourning, when the Sabbath ended and they could travel, Cleopas and probably his wife, (another) Mary[i], began their journey home to Emmaus. It had been the worst weekend of their lives. But everything was about to change.
As they made the journey along the dusty road home, they were joined by a stranger. “What are you talking about?” he inquired. “Don’t you know what’s happened these last few days?” they answered.
They proceeded to describe how their dreams had been crushed beneath Rome’s heel. But then, as the stranger spoke to them, their hearts began to glow and then burst to flame again. Later they would say to their friends, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he . . . opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).
What set them on fire? What changed them? The resurrection and their new understanding of the Scriptures.
That Jesus would have risen from the dead was completely unthinkable to them, even though they had actually heard stories from those who had seen the empty tomb, and even though he had foretold it. They simply didn’t have a category for understanding what had just happened. So Jesus had to open both the Scriptures and their understanding. And that’s just what he did, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). And as he did this, their hearts, once shattered, cold, and unbelieving, were set ablaze.
In one short conversation, Jesus explained the meaning of the Old Testament to them. Although they were certainly familiar with it and undoubtedly knew that it foretold a Messiah who would bring redemption, they had misread it. They had assumed the Christ would be a powerful king who would establish an earthly kingdom, exalting their nation and expelling their oppressors. They had misread all the stories about Abraham, Israel, Moses, David, and Daniel as being about them and their ultimate earthly success. And it was their misreading that caused their confusion and sadness. So he opened their eyes and they began to see.
Filled with excitement and joy, they made the journey back to Jerusalem and brought the news to the eleven disciples. And then, the Lord “stood among them” (Luke 24:36) and repeated the same conversation with the whole group. He “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45).
IT’S ALL ABOUT JESUS
What was the meaning of the Scriptures? What had Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms been about? They were actually about the gospel.
Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:46-47).
The entire corpus of the Old Testament was about the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, the God-Man who would become one of us, live perfectly, die shamefully, then rise and ascend bodily. It was about mankind’s need for redemption, as seen over and over again in the epic failures of every one of its “heroes.” It was about the suffering that everyone deserved and the patience and forbearance of the Lord who had held out his hands to a disobedient and contrary people “all day long” (Rom 10:21). And it was about the child of the woman who would trample under and crush Satan, the tempter (See Gen. 3:15).
But how would this happen? Shockingly, it would happen through the suffering of the only One who didn’t deserve to suffer, the Sinless Son. As much as his disciples had believed that Jesus was the Christ, they had missed this message entirely.
ARE WE MISSING THE POINT?
And so do we. We miss the message when we try to turn the Bible into morality tales that tell us how to have our best lives now. Be like Moses! Dare to be a Daniel! we’re told. We miss the message when we use it like tarot cards, predicting our personal future: Should I move to Atlanta? What does this verse say? And we miss the message when we read the Bible as though we’re doing our algebra homework, so we can get a good grade from God for the day.
The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, are about Jesus, our need for redemption from sin, new life, and his mission supply all that we need. It demonstrates the truth that all people are fallen and in need of redemption from outside ourselves. And it shows us where that redemption comes from: the second Person of the Trinity who took upon himself our flesh and our debt, lived the life no one had ever lived, died the death we all deserved, and then broke the power of the curse of sin for disobedience by rising on the third day.
What turned the disciples’ worst day into their best? Nothing less than the gospel. And when we read it the way he taught them to, our hearts will blaze into zealous fire too!
Elyse Fitzpatrick is a frequent speaker at churches, retreats, and large conferences such as The Gospel Coalition and True Woman. She has an MA in biblical counseling from Trinity Theological Seminary and has authored 23 books on daily living and the Christian life and lives with her husband in San Diego, California. Learn more at www.elysefitzpatrick.com.