Reformed Quarterly Volume 8, Issue 1
The quietness of the early morning was broken only by the song of an innocent bird, who was unaware of the cloak of sadness which shrouded the garden like a thick but unseen fog. The only sound did I say? Not quite so, for there was another sound, and that in stark contrast to the gentle bird song. It was the sound of almost inaudible weeping. A woman sat alone by a huge rock that lately had served as a seal for a now empty tomb.
Earlier, just at dawn, she and others had come to the tomb to prepare the body of their beloved Lord for His final resting place. The preparations had been of necessary haste because the Sabbath was upon them, but much more needed to be done, and they were not even sure that kindly Joseph of Aramathea had intended that Jesus’ body remain in his tomb when he had placed Him there just before the Sabbath fell. Their arrival at the tomb revealed a stone rolled back, an empty place where His body had been deposited, and a vision of angels. They had fled quickly back to fetch Simon and John, not knowing for sure what they had seen, doubting their own senses, not fully able to comprehend what the angel of the vision had said.
Even after Peter and John had arrived breathlessly on the scene and had inspected the empty tomb, even after the look of incredulous joy beamed on the face of John, even after the other women had left with Peter and John to search out the rest of the scattered flock, still Mary Magdalene wasn’t sure what to make of it all.
This she knew: Jesus was dead. She had seen Him die. The spear that had been thrust into His side had slain her spirit and killed her joy. Hopes had died when He had breathed His last. So soon, so soon had all joy and hope fled from her life. Lost now were all the purpose and meaning which in these past three years had been found again.
So she wept in silent, miserable solitude. Then soft footsteps approached behind her, accompanied by a gentle, sympathetic voice that asked, “Good woman, why are you weeping so?” Mary answered Him whom she supposed was the caretaker of the garden, “O, sir, if you have borne Him away, tell me where you have laid His body, and I will take it away.”
A moment of silence followed; the bird had hushed his singing. “Mary,” said Jesus. “Rabboni, Master!” said she, surprised by joy, a greater joy than ever she had known, a joy that surpassed all expressions of joy and was pure, holy joy itself.
When the little flock had at last been gathered, when Peter had rehearsed the whole tale in their ears again and again, with John confirming every word he said and Mary and the other women testifying to their joyful surprises, two disciples finally left. They had a long way to go; it was eight miles to their home in Emmaeus, and it was growing late. So they left just moments before the risen Lord appeared the first time to the assembled group.
They walked silently and in great pain of spirit together. Finally Cleopas, the only one of the two whose name is given, broke the silence and began to talk about all that had happened the past few days. The others joined in also. They went through the whole story of the trial, the terrible moment when Pilate surrendered Him to the crowds to die, the Via Dolorosa, the ugly act of murder done on His pain-racked body, the awful hours of agony they had witnessed from a distance. Then came the death, the burial, and even the unbelievable, mixed-up story of the hysterical women, the disturbing words of John and Peter who had apparently succumbed to their hysteria, too.
As they walked and talked, another traveler drew near, also walking away from the city and going toward Emmaeus with them. His steps fell in with theirs, and there was silence again until finally the stranger spoke. “What were you talking about just now as I drew near? And why do you seem so sad?”
“Truly you must be a stranger not to know all the things which have happened in Jerusalem these past few days,” they said. “What things?” He asked. And He seemed so filled with genuine interest and true concern, they soon found themselves talking with Him not as a chance stranger, but as if they had known Him all their lives. They poured out to Him their sad story of blighted hopes and forsaken dreams. They even told Him about the report of the women and their vision, and of the empty tomb that none could explain.
Slowly and patiently He heard them out, then He picked up the broken pieces of their dreams and awakened in their hearts that faint ember of hope and fanned it into a flame. He began with the book of Genesis and showed them clearly how all these things were but a part of the divine plan of salvation running all through Scriptures. He opened to them the hidden depths of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. He showed them that the seed of the woman who bruised the serpent’s head had been among them. He showed them the inner meaning of the rites and ceremonies of the sacrifices, and the worship of the temple. He breathed into their hearts a new knowledge of the love of God revealed in the law of God.
They listened breathlessly as he traced the notes of the Messianic promises in David’s psalms and heard Solomon call Him “the Lily of the Valley,” “the altogether lovely one.” They drank in His every word as He showed them that the Jesus who suffered was the child king, virgin-born, foretold in Isaiah, upon whose shoulders the divine government rested, who became the man of sorrows, who revealed the meaning of Jeremiah’s words of woe and Ezekiel’s vision of a new temple. All of the prophets spoke of this one whom the two men mourned, and for the first time they understood the Scriptures.
They had reached Emmaeus scarcely aware that they had covered the eight miles. The stranger was leaving, but they begged Him to stop, to rest, to dine, and perhaps to tell them more. He stopped and joined them for a meal. To the honored guest they turned that He might say a prayer of thanksgiving, and when He blessed the bread and broke it for them, they, too, were surprised by a joy that had been welling up in their hearts along the way. They knew Him, not only because their eyes were opened to His presence, but because their hearts had been opened to the word of God.
Theirs, too, was the joy of Mary — joy itself, unmingled, undiluted. They hurried back even though darkness gathered about them. The miles sped away beneath their lightened feet.
Soon they were again in the place with the others, telling them what they had seen and heard, and listening to the others as they related how they had all seen Him, and even Peter the denier was forgiven.
Cleopas and the unnamed disciple began to reflect on their surprising and surpassing joy and, as they reflected, their joy deepened and in their glad surprise found new depths of truth.
Of course the greatest truth of all was that He lived again. Obviously He had dealt death a fatal blow; a grand cosmic event, akin to the first creation, had taken place on this earth, and it would never be the same again, nor would they. Something tremendous had happened that was still more than they could comprehend.
But there were other pleasant facts they had not expected, nor could they have. But, as a result, their joy increased.
1. The magnificent hero conqueror of death, the risen Lord of glory, the fulfillment of all the Scriptures was still the Jesus who walked and talked and had loving fellowship with those who believed in Him. In this at least there had been no change. You would have expected Him to be lofty, remote, unapproachable, ethereal, untouchable. Not so! He walked the road with them even as He had before. He talked and conversed with them. Lord of glory He was, but still their dear and kind friend who was not above a walk in the country and a supper with His friends in their humble home.
He is alive, He is near, He is approachable, companionable, willing and eager to share every road of life with those who love and believe Him. He is heaven’s mighty prince, the victor over the dark domain, the Lord of creation and resurrection, but also the dear kind Jesus who loves little children, and even sups with sinners like me. Isn’t that glorious? Doesn’t it surprise you with joy?
But if He is that sort of Savior, isn’t His heavenly home of that sort, too? Aren’t our loved ones who are with Him much nearer than we dared hope? Is it really so far to heaven after all?
2. The risen Lord of glory, in whom are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge and whose eyes have beheld the glory of the beyond and who has emerged in triumph, was still the rabbi who found in the Holy Scriptures the full meaning of life and death.
There was no new revelation from the other side to startle their senses — just the same patient, reverent opening of the Holy Scriptures to believing hearts. Thus is the full worth and value of Scriptures attested by the Lord, the Living Word. And no new revelation is needed today. Nothing we need know for our salvation comes directly to us from the mysterious beyond, just a reaffirming of the truth and the entire sufficiency of the Word once for all delivered to the saints.
That Bible you carry in your hand or that lies so often neglected upon your table or at your bedside contains all the information you need. You have all the light necessary to light your way through this dark world and into heaven. You have the secrets of life and death laid bare; nothing is hidden from you. Take it, read it, live by its light; it is enough.
3. Finally, their joy was the joy of a burning heart, set aflame by the risen Lord. It was a wild and glad joy of assurance, of knowledge, of hope realized, and dreams waking to a more beautiful sunrise of reality.
Oh yes, they were surprised by joy back then on the Emmaeus road, even as they were at the empty tomb and in the upper room. Their hearts were set aflame, and the flame spread, beginning in Jerusalem, and then to Judea, Samaria, Rome, the uttermost parts of the earth.
And the Holy Spirit continues that activity today, touching hearts and setting them aflame with the joy of the resurrection, making all things new, dispelling despair, and bringing an undying hope.