Unexpected Encounter

Unexpected Encounter

Sermon Podcast Audio


Today I have the privilege of teaching from one of my favorite stories about Jesus.  And that’s a pretty BIG statement given all the stories about Jesus in the Bible.  I mean, whether you’re a Christian or not, the stories of Jesus in the Bible are rather incredible; they tend to draw you in and make you want to know more about this man and his miracles.  He taught with such wisdom.  Many of the things he said are cliches everyone in America knows, like the Golden Rule to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. His miracles included giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf; he made mutes speak and the lame walk; he purified the skin covering lepers’ bodies and stopped the 20 year internal bleeding of a woman. 

Whatever your opinion of Jesus, the stories about him are wild and always unexpected. 

And that’s why we named our current series “Unexpected: What you Never Saw Coming.”  Up to this point, we’ve talked about Jesus’ unexpected death that surprised all his disciples, and then his unexpected life and resurrection, which shocked his disciples even more.   

Today, I’m going to share with you another story about Jesus walking with some unsuspecting travelers on an Unexpected Encounter.   In Luke we read one of the first stories that took place after the women find that Jesus’ tomb is empty—this story took place the same day as his resurrection—before Jesus even appeared to his disciples. 

The Travelers and their Blindness

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.  They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.  As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. —Luke 24:13-16

This story begins with two Jews: maybe two men, possibly a husband and wife.  We know one of them is a man named Cleopas, but the other person remains unamed.  Some speculate it could have been Luke, the author of this book.  

Regardless, they were walking home to Emmaus from Jerusalem, where they had probably traveled that weekend for the Passover celebration on Friday.  But now it was Sunday, and they were heading home.  While they were walking home, a traveler came upon them, and while WE see that this traveler is the resurrected Jesus, the Bible tells us that they “were kept from recognizing him.”  

Now I wish I could tell you definitively why they didn’t recognize him, but for some mysterious reason, God divinely chose to keep them from recognizing Jesus.  I know this sounds weird, but this does fit with the other stories about people encountering Jesus.  Remember, when Mary saw Jesus she thought he was the gardener.  And when the disciples first saw Jesus they thought he was a ghost.  And in this story, these travelers simply don’t realize who they are walking with—but this does make the climax of the story all the more interesting.  

Summary of Events

Moving along, let’s continue reading Luke 24:17-24

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast.  One of them, name dCleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“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.  The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.  And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.  In addition, some of our women amazed us.  They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body.  They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive.  Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”

As Jesus joined their conversation, he asked them what they were talking about, and I love their answer: “Are you the only one who doesn’t know?”  I think it’s safe to assume from their answer that the death of Jesus was a major event for the entire city of Jerusalem that weekend.  

Sometimes I think skeptics of the Bible and the life of Jesus think that his death was a small event—only concerning a few of his disciples and some of the religious leaders—but that doesn’t fit with this answer.  These travelers were basically claiming that the entire city of Jerusalem was talking about what happened to Jesus on the cross.  

And more than that, when Jesus asked them what specifically they meant, they told him about Jesus, the PROPHET who was powerful in word and deed.  They were pointing to his mighty and authoritative teaching and his miracle-working power.  But they still had doubts about Jesus.  You see, while they told about Jesus as a prophet, they also said they “hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel.”  They had thought he was the promised Messiah, but now that Jesus was dead, they were not so sure. 

Then they continued to tell the story of how he was sentenced to death by the religious leaders, how he was crucified, but then how they were told that his tomb was empty.  Unexpectedly, these travelers came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, but were going home Easter Sunday completely confused about what happened and where Jesus’ body was. 

Challenging and Teaching Old Testament

Back to the story—Luke 24:25-27

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Now in these three short verses, we see Jesus take control of the conversation.  First, he did something completely unexpected—he scolded them for their foolishness in failing to understand that the Messiah HAD to suffer and die.  Remember, Jesus was just a stranger who happened to walk upon these travelers and now he began challenging their lack of belief.  Imagine how you would feel if somebody joined your conversation with a friend and then started telling you how foolish you were.  But for some reason, perhaps because of the authority with which Jesus always spoke, these travelers didn’t seem to get upset.

And then we come to my favorite part of the story —he began unpacking for them how the entire Old Testament, from Genesis to the Prophets all point to Jesus!  Some of you have perhaps wondered about my love of the Old Testament—that boring part of the Bible where the stories seem so disconnected from our lives as Christians—but the real reason for my love of the Old Testament comes from this story!  Think about it —Jesus showed these people how stories strewn across the entire Old Testament all point to HIM, his life, his suffering, his death, and his resurrection! 

Now wouldn’t you love to know what parts of the Old Testament he discussed with them? 

Serpent – Perhaps he began with Genesis 3:15 where we have our first prophecy about Jesus’ death as God curses the serpent that deceived Adam: 

I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. And He will strike your head and you will strike His heel.” 

Exodus – Or perhaps Jesus reminded these travelers that it was the death of the first-born son, the passover event in Egypt, the Passover these people had just celebrated, that marked the Israelites freedom from slavery and bondage, followed by their travel to the Promised Land.  And in the same way, Jesus Christ, God’s only son, died to set people free from slavery to sin and lead them to the promised land of eternity with God. 

Isaiah – Likely Jesus took them to the prophet Isaiah where we read such verses as Isaiah 53:7 about the coming Messiah:

“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter, and like a sheep silent before His shearers, He did not open His mouth.” 

All of these show how the Messiah, in order to SAVE the people, must DIE for his people! 

Now I don’t know about you, but just sharing these glimpses of Jesus in the Old Testament with you gets me excited about God’s incredible plan that he wove through thousands of years to bring to fruition in his son Jesus! 

Jesus Revealed

As these travelers reached their destination, we read the end of the story, picking back up at Luke 24:28-35 

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther.  But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; they day is almost over.”  So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to  them.  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.  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?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem.  There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true!  The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.”  Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

So as night came, they asked this stranger who taught with such authority to stay with them, and the stranger, Jesus, agreed.  And he dined with them.  Now it’s important in reading this story to understand the custom here.  At dinner, it was typical for the host, whoever’s home they were in, to break the bread and pass it to the others.  But what we see is that Jesus took the bread, he broke it, gave thanks, and gave it to them.

And it was in this act that their eyes were finally opened and they recognized Jesus.  Notice it wasn’t in hearing all the stories about how the life of Jesus actually was foretold in the Old Testament that gave them eyes to recognize Jesus.  No, it was in this intimate time of eating together, watching him break the bread, just like the disciples probably told them he had done on Thursday before his death as they all sat together on Saturday, shocked by the death of the man they thought was their savior.  It was at this moment they realized, “This is HIM!  This is Jesus!” 

And at that moment, Jesus vanished.  And in excitement, the travelers ran back the seven miles, in the dark to Jerusalem to tell the disciples about this most unexpected encounter.  

Jesus’ Actions in the Story and Today

Jesus did four things in this encounter with these travelers.  And he still does those four things with each one of us today.  So it’s important for us to understand these four actions, so we can recognize them when we encounter Jesus in our own lives.

1) Jesus Approached

Them: These travelers weren’t looking for him, they didn’t expect him, but he showed up. In fact, they were doubting him—they weren’t so sure that he was the Redeemer they thought he was.  But it was in that doubt where he stepped in.

Us: More often than we realize, we are just like these oblivious travelers; Jesus is approaching us during our daily activities and we don’t even know it! 

  • Maybe we don’t recognize it because we just don’t expect to encounter Jesus anywhere other than church or during our prayer time. 
  • Maybe we don’t recognize him because we don’t know what he looks like.  We expect encounters with Jesus to be big emotional affairs, or to include blessings and joy.  But just like these travelers, sometimes we encounter Jesus in dry times of doubt or in our suffering.

The point is, Jesus doesn’t wait for us to come to him.  He is always at work, coming to us with his presence.

2) Jesus Challenged

Them: Jesus challenged the doubt of these travelers.  He didn’t let them sit in their sadness without knowing what was going on.  He challenged their doubt that Jesus, the mighty prophet in word and deed, was actually the redeemer they thought he was.

Us: When we encounter Jesus, it typically isn’t to let us just stay where we’re at.  Like we say around here —Jesus Changes Everything.  And that means he challenges us. 

  • He challenges our doubts and calls us to trust in him. 
  • He challenges our sin and calls us to holy living.

Being challenged in our sin or doubt is never fun, but we have a choice in how we respond.  Will we get angry and fight back, or will we receive what comes next. 

3) Jesus Taught

Them: After he called them out on their lack of belief, Jesus taught them what they were missing.  He showed them, from their own Scriptures that everything that happened that weekend shouldn’t have been so unexpected.  In fact, it proved God’s marvelous, sovereign plan was working to full effect!

Us: Jesus never challenges us and then leaves us in a situation we can’t fix.  No, the Bible says all wisdom comes from above—and Jesus gives us the wisdom we need to grow in faith, and in Christlikeness.  And some of that wisdom even comes from the Old Testament! 

4) Jesus Opened their Eyes

Them: After Jesus challenged their faith, he taught them more about God’s plan, but he didn’t stop there—he continued on with them, to their home.  He ate with them and intentionally took the lead at dinner so that their eyes would be opened and they could see him for who he was.  Jesus didn’t stay hidden—he revealed himself to them!

Us: In the same way, Jesus is at work in our lives all around us, trying to get our attention, to help us see who he truly is.  Sometimes he does this in unexpected ways, but he always is trying to reveal to us more of who he is. 

Our Response

That’s what we should start expecting from Jesus, so that our encounters with him stop being so unexpected and start being incredible times of connection and growth. 

And as we begin to recognize more of these encounters we are having with Jesus, we need to respond like these travelers—and go tell others.  You see, most people still think Jesus is dead and buried somewhere like every other human who has walked this earth.  They don’t think it’s possible to have an encounter today with a man who died.  But if we have experienced these encounters with Jesus, we have been challenged and taught, had our eyes opened to who he is—then we HAVE to tell others.  He is alive and he wants to be with them too! 

Jesus in our Journey

Each one of us is on a journey in this life.  And just like these two travelers, we have Jesus approaching us at various times, wanting to challenge our unbelief and sin, to teach us more about himself and spend time with us, revealing to us more of who he is.  The question is, will we recognize him or will we foolishly miss him?   

These travelers walked with Jesus for seven miles, heard him explain the scriptures, heard all the logical explanations for why the man they hoped would be their savior had to die, but they still missed him—until they shared the intimate experience of dining with him.  It was when they ate with him, when he broke the bread in front of them that they realized it was Jesus. 

Some of you have Jesus right beside you as you walk through life, and you don’t even realize it.  Perhaps some of you, like these two travelers, have your heart burning inside you right now as I talk about Jesus, but you don’t know what to do.  


Here’s my challenge to you—ask Jesus to open your eyes to see him more clearly. 

Maybe you have been a Christian for a long time, but you can’t remember the last time you felt like you really experienced a moment with Jesus.  Ask him—ask him to show you all the ways he is working in your life that you haven’t even noticed.

Maybe you’ve never had an encounter with Jesus and you’re not sure about everything I’ve been saying.  I challenge you—ask Jesus to open your eyes so that you can see him for who he is for the first time. 

4Jesus wants to reveal himself to us.  He wants to spend time with us.  That’s why he’s the one who always approaches us first. 


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