The Journey, the Table, and the Prophets, or: When God Says It’s Time, It’s Time (Luke 24:1-35)

Last week we talked about death a lot, and how ancient people considered it a terrible curse to die a violent death and then have your body discarded and eaten by animals. They believed that if a person’s body was lost and scattered, it condemned the spirit to a restless afterlife.

So Jewish burial customs were very particular. When a family member died, they would wash the body and wrap it up with several kilograms of expensive spices. They were not trying to mummify the body, like Egyptians did. For the Jewish people, the spices served two purposes: first, it covered up the smell of decay. Second, it kept small animals and insects from eating the body; by wrapping the body in spices, the family was making sure the body would decompose in peace, without being disturbed.

Then they would bury the body in the family tomb. Jewish tombs were large stone caves cut into a hillside, usually with two rooms. They would lay the wrapped body in the first room, and then block the doorway with a large round stone, and wait for the body to completely decompose. After a year or more, they would open the tomb again, carefully gather up the bones, put them in a box, and put the box into a shelf in the second room. That way their relative’s body parts would all be there and ready for resurrection day.

Now, a large family could use one tomb for generations, until it gradually filled up with bone boxes. Then they would have to cut a new one. And apparently, that is what Joseph’s family has just done.

We met this Joseph in the closing moments of last week. He was a member of parliament, and a secret disciple. He voted against Jesus’ death, and last week we saw how he obeyed God’s law by taking Jesus’ body down from the cross and burying it in his family’s own tomb. And Luke makes a point of telling us that this tomb has never been used. There are no other bodies decomposing in the first room; there are no bone boxes on the shelves of the second room. Jesus’ wrapped-up body is the only one in that cave, so it is impossible to mix his body up with someone else’s.

And then Luke made a point of telling us that Jesus’ women disciples took careful note of where he was buried, and then rushed home to prepare spices for his body. Their plan was to go back in the morning, unwrap Jesus’ body and wrap it up again properly, with spices. Their beloved teacher died a violent death. They believe his spirit exists now in a half-dreaming eternal nightmare of agony and shame. They want to try to minimise his shame by making sure his body is taken care of properly. They want to give him a chance of being resurrected with an intact body on Judgement Day.

But the next day was the Sabbath, the Jewish day of worship and rest. So the women could not return to the tomb in the morning. Instead, they rested, being faithful to God’s law, even though they knew that leaving Jesus’ body untreated for another day will make their job more difficult.

So they wait, impatiently, their spices ready. And then, [1] On the first day of the week, — Sunday — very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. [2] They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,

and they probably thought some other disciples had gotten there before them to help,

[3] but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

[4] While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. [5] In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground.

The women are not worshiping; they are terrified.

Now, I don’t know how you feel when you walk through a graveyard. It can be creepy. And imagine how you would feel if, while you were in the middle of a graveyard, suddenly two beings appeared to you. I’m pretty sure we would respond just like these women did! — and I, for one, would need some new underwear.

But these men are not evil spirits or ghosts. They are angels, God’s messengers. And there are two of them, which is important, because God’s law requires at least two witnesses to establish the truth of something. These angels have been sent to scold the women: “What are you doing here, with all these heavy bags of spices? Why do you look for the living among the dead? [6] He is not here; he has risen!

These women wanted to help make sure Jesus would have a good resurrection.

Here, they find out Jesus didn’t need their help. The job is already done!

The messengers continue: “Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: [7] ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ”

These angels preach to the women, but they are not saying anything new. They are reminding the women of what they already know, what they have already heard from Jesus’ mouth.

And the women remember.

So, of course, they went back as quickly as possible, found Jesus’ disciples and told them the good news! And Luke names these women in verse 10: It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.

These are the same women Luke named for us back in Chapter 8. And Luke is a clever writer; he names these women again in order to create an emotion in his readers.

Remember, Luke wrote this down only thirty or forty years after these things happened. These women he names here were still alive. Christians could go and talk to them, and say, “What was it like that morning? What was Jesus like?” These women would have been the grandmothers and great-grandmothers of the church at this time: highly respected, highly honored.

So when Luke’s first readers heard these names, they would have been filled with a sense of awe and respect —

Which just deepens the shock that comes next:

[11] But the disciples did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.

And the word Luke uses here for “nonsense” literally means “crazy talk from a person with a fever”.

Luke’s first readers would have read this and said, “What? You mean that Jesus’ disciples, his apostles — our pastors — treated Grandmother Mary and Auntie Joanna and Suzanna like that? What a bunch of jerks!”

Yes! That is Luke’s point. These men are being jerks. They have fallen behind the women in their comprehension, in their faith.

Why? What is the difference?

These women have had the gospel preached to them, and they listened. These men are not listening. They are too proud to listen. These women are low status; their testimony is not even valid in court. These men are saying, “You ladies are having an emotional breakdown!”

They don’t know, and refuse to accept, that God’s kingdom has already begun. And Jesus spent many chapters during their journey to Jerusalem, trying to tell them, “The citizens of my kingdom are going to be humble. The greatest man in my kingdom will be no greater than the lowest woman or child. In my kingdom, you are all children, you are all brothers and sisters; you all receive the same inheritance!”

But even after all that, the disciples are still not ready to hear it. They are still convinced that Jesus died a failure, cursed by God. So why should they listen to his words now?

But, it is easy to check on the women’s crazy story, right? So Peter gets up and runs to the tomb. He doesn’t go in, but bending over to look through the low doorway, he sees the empty wrappings sitting there on the stone shelf. He went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

He just saw something very astonishing — and he is astonished! But because he refuses to listen to the explanation, it means nothing to him.

And as the reality sets in that Jesus was a false Messiah, and that Special Branch is probably out looking for them…the group begins to break up. The fellowship of disciples falls apart. So, that very same day, two of them leave for a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.

[14] They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. [15] As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; [16] but they were kept from recognizing him

— and I have to point out that Luke uses a special grammar here to tell us that it is God who keeps these disciples from recognizing Jesus.

Why is that important?

Because we have to understand that it is God alone who leads each of us to salvation. It is God alone who opens our eyes, opens our ears, at the right time.

So far, God has opened the ears of the women, not because they are smarter, or more humble, or more spiritual, but because he is making a point: he likes to take special care of those who are at the bottom of society.

Now, with these men, who are escaping from Jerusalem — saving themselves — God keeps their eyes closed. Not because they are necessarily more arrogant or less spiritual than the women, but because he is making a point: he saves who he wants to save, when he wants to save them!

And Luke, again, is a very clever writer. As his readers, we know that these men have been on a long journey with Jesus. From Chapter 9 to Chapter 19 they walked with Jesus, they were taught by Jesus…but they never really recognized him. They arrived in Jerusalem still thinking that Jesus was there to start a war, that he would be victorious, and then they would get to be the prime ministers of the world. Even at the last supper, the very end of the journey, they spent their last moments with Jesus squabbling about swords and who would be the greatest.

Now: here they are again, on a journey with Jesus. Their last journey was a flop. The disciples failed to recognize who Jesus really is — God did not allow them to recognize who Jesus really is.

As readers, we are supposed to be asking: what is going to happen this time? Is God going to finally let them figure it out?

So Jesus casually joins them on the road, and [17] he asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

And the disciples stop, and look depressed. And [18] One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

They are assuming Jesus is a pilgrim, like them. They are assuming Jesus came to Jerusalem for the Passover festival last week, and now he is going home. And they are wondering how he missed the biggest local news of the week!

And of course this is deliciously ironic for the reader, because we know what Cleopas doesn’t know.

And Jesus plays innocent: [19] “What things?” he asked.

About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.

“He did these crazy, unbelievable miracles. And he did these things in the open. There was no way to fake these miracles. But —

[20] “The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; [21] but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.

“We thought he was the Messiah, the anointed king! — and then he died under a curse?

And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.”

In the Old Testament, the third day was a symbolic concept: you ask God for help, you wait one day, you wait two days, and on the third day God’s help arrives.

According to one tradition, the Messiah would start the final war during Passover. The war would last two days, and on the third day it would be all over. These disciples are telling the stranger, “We thought this great prophet — this Messiah — was going to start the war last Thursday night. We thought today — Sunday — would be the victory celebration! Instead: here we are.

[22] “In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning [23] but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. [24] Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

And here the stranger responds with great emotion. He actually begins with a groan, which is written there in the Greek, but perhaps difficult to translate into English. He says, “Ohhhh! How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”

And we should notice here the emphasis, again, on speaking and listening.

Almost from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he has been saying, “Hey! Over here! Yes, my miracles are very, very cool, but they are actually telling you to listen to my words. If you refuse to listen to my words, my miracles will not do you any good!”

The women saw the empty tomb, but they did not understand it until the angels spoke and explained it to them.

Peter saw the empty tomb, but he did not understand it because he would not listen to the womens’ explanation.

And now these men have all the facts. They have all the information they need. But without an explanation, they cannot put it together in a way that makes sense to them.

And this stranger has just scolded them, and said, “C’mon guys, you are good Jewish men, you know the prophets’ writings. The explanation is right there!”

The stranger goes on: [26] “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” [27] And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

And of course today we wish those guys had taken notes. We all want to know what verses did Jesus use?

Well, the answer is: all of them! Jesus did not just use specific verses; he also used major concepts that cannot be found in individual verses. And one of the most important of those Old Testament concepts is this: prophets tend to get murdered by their own people.

Now, this is not a law that we find written down anywhere: “Every prophet of God shall be murdered by his own people.” No. But when we scan through the scriptures, we discover that God’s prophets were regularly rejected, betrayed, arrested, and killed by their own people. This is not unusual. And their deaths were not proof that they were false prophets.

The disciples are stuck, just like many of us. They think that God’s blessing always leads to power, which always leads to wealth and health and religion. They think that a true prophet will live a peaceful, pleasant life under God’s protection. They have just admitted that Jesus was the most powerful prophet who ever lived — possibly even the Messiah! — and so they assumed he would go from victory to victory. And they believe this even though, in their own scriptures, the evidence is there again and again and again that prophets almost always come to a messy end!

No wonder Jesus groans! They don’t want to listen to him? Fine! But they should listen to their own prophets, at least!

So Jesus starts from the beginning. Who was the first prophet to die, to be rejected by his own people? Abel, Adam’s son. Murdered by his own brother. Who’s next? Abraham, rejected by his own foster son. Jacob, chased away by his own brother. Joseph, sold into slavery by his own brothers. Moses, rejected by his own people. And on, and on, and on.

And really, Jesus is only making one point. He is saying, “Guys, persecution and suffering is not a mark of God’s curse. In fact, it is a mark of God’s blessing. And the greater the prophet, the greater the blessing. Therefore, the Messiah — this guy Jesus, the greatest prophet ever — had to suffer the worst kind of death before God could raise him up to real power and victory!”

[28] As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. [29] But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. [30] When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.

And here, again, we see Luke’s skill as a writer. Jesus has eaten many meals with many different kinds of people: friends, enemies, sinners, saints. And every time Jesus has eaten with someone, he has revealed something about himself.

Once, Jesus ate with a tax collector and his friends, and he revealed that God’s kingdom has nothing to do with what you eat or drink.

Once, he ate with a religious leader and a prostitute crashed the party, and Jesus revealed that in God’s kingdom a prostitute can be just as precious as a pastor.

Once, Jesus ate with five thousand people, feeding them through a miracle, and right after that the disciples realized he must be the Messiah.

Now here we are again, at the dinner table with Jesus. And as readers, Luke wants us to be asking: what is Jesus going to reveal this time? Is God going to finally let the disciples figure it out?

So Jesus takes charge of the table. They invited him in to be their guest. Instead, he acts like their host. He acts as if this is his house. He takes the bread, he gives thanks, he breaks the bread and passes it out. And [31] then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.

God opens their eyes when he wants to open their eyes.

And then — Jesus disappears. They no longer need to see him, because they have heard him, and his words remain with them, in their memory. They have Jesus’ words. They have the words of the prophets. And that is enough. Faith comes by hearing, not seeing.

And that is exactly what these disciples go on to say to each other in verse 32:

They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Even before they knew who Jesus was by sight, their hearts recognized the truth of what they were hearing about scripture.

So [33] they got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together

— the fellowship of disciples is restored! —

— [34] and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.”

So it turns out that while these guys were on their journey with Jesus, Jesus also revealed himself to Peter, back in Jerusalem.

And [35] then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Between Peter and these other two disciples — not to mention the women! — there are more than enough eye-witnesses to establish a legal case: Jesus is not dead. He is not under God’s curse. He has been raised, restored.

And this changes everything.

Every week we come together like this, we read God’s Word together, we do our best to understand what it meant to the readers of that time. And then we ask, “What is this supposed to mean to us?”

Luke uses three major concepts here to help us remember what we have heard, and to help us apply Jesus’ resurrection to our lives. Three major concepts that he has used all throughout his book. Three major concepts: the journey, the dinner table, and the words of the prophets.

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus’ journey with his disciples is the journey of fellowship in Jesus’ sufferings and his resurrection. That journey taught the disciples that suffering is not necessarily a curse from God; and there is redemption on the other side of shame and death.

Our journey with Jesus teaches us the same thing: suffering and failure does not mean God is not our Father anymore. He is leading us by the hand through the valley of the shadow of death and shame and suffering, and on the other side of the valley there is a mountain where we will live in peace with him forever.

So also, in the gospel of Luke, Jesus’ dinner table is the table of revelation. The disciples ate with Jesus many times, and each time they learned a little more about who he is. It was at a dinner table that Jesus finally revealed his full identity.

It is the same for us. We all understand that eating together is the best way to get to know someone — and we get to eat with Jesus, the Son of God! Through this meal we get to know God a little bit better every time. Through this meal, we discover that no matter how shamed and unredeemable we sometimes feel, Jesus’ love for us is as real as the bread and the wine.

And then, in the gospel of Luke, the words of the prophets — explained by Jesus — were actually the source of the disciples’ faith and understanding.

It is the same for us. We often have this idea that if we could just see Jesus in the flesh, then our faith would be certain. But remember: the disciples saw Jesus for years — and yet, they did not really see him until he finally explained the whole bible to them at the end. Jesus’ words were the source of their faith. Faith comes by hearing, not seeing.

First we hear Jesus’ voice, explaining the journey ahead. Then we see the bread and wine for what they really are: the promise that our Father will feed us all along the way. Then we walk, and we suffer, and we get lost sometimes in the shadows. But always the voice of the resurrected Lord is speaking to us, telling us to lift our heads and see the great city shining on the mountain ahead.

So…what is our Father telling us to do this week as we consider Jesus’ resurrection?

First: do remember that we are on a journey together. Jesus’ resurrection is a promise that our destination is sure. So our Father is telling us to encourage one another as we travel.

Second: do remember that Jesus’ dinner table is where we get to know him, and be fully known. God reveals himself to each of us at different speeds; some are more advanced in the faith, some are just beginning — but that is God’s work, not ours. So our Father is telling us to eat and drink together without jealousy and without boasting; this meal makes us one family.

Third: do remember that the words of the prophets all point to the suffering and the resurrection of Jesus. They also point to our suffering and resurrection. So our Father is telling us to listen to his prophets, listen to his Son, listen to his Word. Sometimes we feel like we are lost, without explanation or understanding. But the faith we need, and the resurrection we need, will come when he wills it — and when it comes, it will come through his spoken Word. So our Father is telling us to listen and to speak of this hope: he has arranged it so we actually help build up one another’s faith.

So we listen. We eat. And then we go. That is the Christian life. Simple, right? And the reason it is so simple is because our destination is certain. We do not have to worry about what happens to our bodies after death; we do not have to worry about what happens to our spirits. And this sets us free from all kinds of things that people from other faiths have to worry about.

For instance, the ancient Jews had to work very hard to make sure that their relatives’ bodies would be resurrected properly. That is what the women were trying to do when they went to the tomb that Sunday morning: they wanted to save Jesus from eternal death.

But Jesus’ resurrection proves that he doesn’t need our help. In fact, we need his. His resurrection is the living promise of our resurrection: the promise that, no matter what happens to our bodies, our spirits are safe in the hands of our Father.

And that is really good news, isn’t it!

If you are here and you don’t know what is going to happen to you after death; if you are suffering and wondering what is the point of it all — then you should know that God reveals himself to anyone who asks. Ask him to speak to you, and he will. Ask him to feed you, and he will. Ask him to journey with you through these shadowlands, and he will. You too can live a life free from the fear of death.

If you are here and God is already your Father, then let us be his obedient children. Let’s continue to listen. Let’s continue to eat. And then: let’s get on the road again.

Scroll to top