Why Did Jesus Need to Explain the Scriptures to Cleopas?

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Luke 24:13-35

If you were walking with Cleopas along the road to Emmaus, you would think that the story of Jesus was a tragedy. After all, Jesus was crucified.

Crucifixion was the most shameful and disgraceful way to die. It was a method of torture reserved for the most despicable kind of criminals—slaves, thieves, pirates, and traitors. The goal? To dissuade the public from following in the traitor’s footsteps. To this end, an individual’s suffering was prolonged and their exposure to the public was maximized.

Nothing was more shameful than the cross.

Seneca once said, “It is better to commit suicide than to go through crucifixion.” Another Roman concurred, adding that Romans should keep the crucifixion far from their bodies, the minds, their eyes, and their ears. In other words, even thinking about a crucifixion was shameful! Especially because it wasn’t only the crucified individual that was shamed; anyone affiliated with the individual was humiliated alongside them.

If you were walking alongside Cleopas, Christ’s crucifixion would truly be a tragedy.

Christ’s crucifixion was shameful, but the fact that his body was missing only rubbed salt into the wound. Of course, Cleopas tells us that the women came to the disciples with news of Jesus’ resurrection, but the disciples had not believed them. After all, without the Holy Spirit, it would be very difficult for them to believe the women’s testimony!

As if this was not tragic enough, Cleopas and the disciples had high hopes for Jesus. Of Jesus, Cleopas said, “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.” This is reminiscent of Zechariah’s song in Luke 1: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel / because he has come to his people and redeemed them!” Jesus was their great redeemer. He was the one who they hoped would redeem Israel. Instead of watching him redeem Israel, however, the disciples watch him suffer the most shameful of executions.

To the disciples, this was truly a tragedy. But to us, Luke 24:13-35 is more than a tragedy—it’s a tragicomedy.

Jesus appears to these despairing disciples, but they cannot recognize him. Furthermore, Jesus doesn’t reveal himself immediately. This allows for several comic moments. Especially when Cleopas says, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened here?” and Jesus replies, “What things?”

But this exchange between Jesus and Cleopas is more than entertaining—it is enlightening. We can see God’s character through the way that Jesus speaks with Cleopas. Foremost, we can see that God is patient. Jesus does not introduce himself immediately. Instead, he walks and speaks with Cleopas. He listens. Despite Cleopas’ ignorance, Jesus never once smacks Cleopas on the head. God is patient. He is also compassionate and forgiving.

Do you remember what the disciples did when Jesus was arrested? They ran. The apostles locked themselves in a room. Even now, the disciples are not looking for Jesus’ body.

But Jesus is looking for them.

Although we never see the words “I forgive you,” we can sense that Christ has already offered his forgiveness to Cleopas. He walks with Cleopas, talks with Cleopas, and even accepts Cleopas’ invitation to stay in the house. Despite Cleopas’ betrayal, Jesus has forgiven him. Our God is forgiving.

What does God do in this passage? He walks alongside the disciples, he speaks with them, and—most importantly—he explains the scripture to them. But why would Jesus need to explain the scriptures? The disciples spent three years with Jesus. They heard him teach many times. After Jesus told a parable, he turned to the disciples and explained the parable to them. The disciples saw Jesus heal people and exorcise demons. They even saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead! Yet the disciples still cannot understand the scriptures. Why is this?

Was it because they were not well trained in the scriptures?

The scribes and Pharisees knew the Old Testament like the back of their hands. They were experts on both Jewish history and Jewish culture. They knew the nuances of the Hebrew language. Nevertheless, even the Pharisees could not understand the scripture!

Often, we think that if we (1) had lived with Jesus or (2) if we understood Jewish culture better, we would be able to understand the Bible better. The disciples and the scribes show us that this is not the case. While both are helpful, neither can supply us sufficient understanding of the scripture.

Jesus is the key to understanding the scripture.

Talented mystery authors often explain that they plan the crime before writing. While writing, they will scatter several clues throughout their novel that indicate this solution. If you are reading the novel for the first time, these clues might not stand out to you. But if you have read the book, learned the solution, and read the novel again, the clues become obvious.

Jesus is the solution of the Bible.

If we read the Bible with Jesus in mind, we will be able to understand the scripture. However, if we read without considering him, we will likely overlook or misinterpret a clue that God has left for us! This is what the disciples and scribes did.

However, even when Jesus explained the scriptures to the disciples, they were still unable to recognize him. They understood the scriptures, but they could not recognize him. This is what makes the end of the scripture so important.

After entering the house, Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to the disciples. The words used in this verse are very similar to the words of Luke 22:19. In the upper room, Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to the disciples. He tells them, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Jesus chooses to reveal himself through Communion.

When Jesus broke the bread and handed it to Cleopas, his eyes were opened. In the same way, when we do Communion, our eyes are open anew. This is why we call Communion a sacrament: Christ has chosen to reveal himself to us through Communion. When we partake of the bread and the cup, we are meeting the risen Lord—just like Cleopas!

There are no direct commands to us in this passage, but Jesus’ interaction with Cleopas shows us that God has indirectly asked something of us: to rely on Christ. The primary way of understanding the character of God is through the scriptures. Without Christ, we cannot understand the scriptures. So we must come before Christ. Through Communion, Christ has given us a way to do this. All we are called to do, then, is to be willing to listen and break bread with him.

The Romans considered the cross a tragedy. They recommended that citizens avert their eyes—and their minds—from crucifixion. However, through this passage, we learn that the cross was not a tragedy: it was Christ’s glory.

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