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How to Have a God Encounter

Lessons from Emmaus (All Things Examined)

In contemporary Christian music, few songs convey the longing for God like Paul Baloche’s “Open the Eyes of My Heart,” as performed by Michael W. Smith.

Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

Over half of the lyrics consist of the title appeal, followed by the reason for it: “I want to see you.” The repetition of those simple phrases, over and over, expresses a desire, bordering on desperation, for a life-giving encounter with the risen Lord.

The good news is that Christ does have a habit of showing up in our lives, sometimes in unexpected ways. At times He bursts upon us in laser brightness—the Light of the World illuminating our rebellion—as he did to Saul on his murderous march to Damascus. At other times, He whispers our name—the Good Shepherd calling us to Him—as He did to Mary Magdalene in her frenzied search at the garden tomb. And on occasion, He pulls alongside of us in life’s messy and confusing journey—the Way helping us find our way—as He did to two bewildered travelers on a dusty road in Judea.

The Emmaus Road

On Resurrection Sunday, Cleopas and another disciple were making their way to Emmaus, a seven-mile hike from Jerusalem. Embroiled in discussion over the events of Passion Week, they are joined by another traveler who, unbeknownst to them, is Jesus. Luke describes the disciples as downcast, and from the remarks to their unrecognized companion it is clear why.

Their reference to the crucified newsmaker as a “prophet” and the one hoped “to redeem Israel,” indicated that they had expected the conquering Messiah, not the suffering Servant. Even the reports of Peter and John and Mary Magdalene about the not-so-empty tomb—no body, only graves clothes in a collapsed, cocoon-like condition—had not helped them put the puzzle pieces together.

Jesus chides them for their ignorance of Scripture (“Those I love, I rebuke and discipline”), then proceeds to connect the dots for them.

Tracing the thread from Moses to the Cross, Jesus likely began with Genesis 3:15, where, in the aftermath of the fall, God informed the Serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman...he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” From there, Jesus probably reminded them of the animal skins given to Adam and Eve to cover their “nakedness”—coverings provided by God at the cost of innocent life—a divine initiative that foreshadowed the sacrificial system culminated on the Cross.

Exhausting the Pentateuch, Jesus moved to the Psalms and Prophets pausing, in all likelihood, on Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, and Daniel 9. When He reached Zechariah, His two companions would have been particularly stung, given their quick exit from Jerusalem, by the prophet’s warning, "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered."

But whatever discomfort these men may have felt, they were so stirred by what Jesus said, that when they arrived at their destination, they pressed Him to come inside for food and fellowship, presumably in hopes of continuing their tutelage. “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:19-20). The reaction of others to “dot-connecting” was not so welcoming, ranging from cool detachment to heated fury.

When Paul attempted a gospel presentation to Felix and Drusilla, Felix, with a yawn and a sigh, waved him on, “When I find it convenient, I will send for you.”

Peter got a similar response from King Agrippa who dismissed him with, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

When Peter and John explained how the Old Testament covenants were fulfilled in Christ, the religious leaders opened the doors not into their homes, but to jail.
After Stephen traced Israel’s pattern of persecuting prophets, the Sanhedrin invited him not to their banquet table, but to the stoning pit.

Seeking and finding

When the confused, crestfallen disciples set out that day, the hope that they would encounter the risen Lord was as far from their thoughts as the idea that they would meet Abraham. But their hospitality to a stranger and hunger for Scripture led to a high-voltage encounter that energized them to make the seven-mile journey back to Jerusalem the same day. I suspect they covered the return trip in record time.

For those who long to have a similar God encounter, Cleopas and his companion have much to teach us.

First, although it would seem to go without saying, wanting a God encounter is a prerequisite for one. God told Jeremiah, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all you heart” (Jeremiah 29:11-13). One lesson from the Emmaus Road is that if we would meet God, we must earnestly seek Him, knowing full well that a soul-searing conviction may accompany our eye-opening experience.

Scripture

Another lesson is that we meet God in his Word.

From Genesis to Revelation, the central subject of the Bible is Jesus. While this is obvious for the New Testament, it is equally true for the Old Testament—the Scriptures that Jesus unpacked for the Emmaus travelers. Whereas the NT presents Jesus in re-view, the OT presents him in pre-view through the sacrifices, feasts, and even the design and details of the Tabernacle; two warranting special mention here: the Ark of the Covenant and the Table of Showbread.

In its material construction, the Ark foreshadowed Jesus’ dual nature. Made of acacia wood, a symbol of humanity, and overlaid with gold, a symbol of divinity, the Ark prefigured Christ as the Son of Man and Son of God. Inside, the tablets of the Law, a symbol of the old covenant, pointed to the Law’s fulfillment and the new covenant; the jar of manna, a reminder of God’s past provision, pointed to the Bread of Life, God’s future provision; and the budded staff, a symbol of the temporary leadership of Aaron, pointed to the eternal leadership of the Good Shepherd.

The Table of Showbread (also constructed of acacia wood and gold) held 12 loaves of bread, arranged in two piles, signifying Jew and Gentile unity at the Lord’s Table. The loaves were unleavened and punctured, representing Christ’s sinless body pierced for our transgressions. The bread was divine food the priests ate as they fellowshipped with God in the Holy Place.

The Christological types and foreshadows of the OT segue seamlessly into their NT fulfillment, giving us confidence that when we open God’s Word, we can encounter Him on every page.

Fellowship

The Emmaus Road also teaches us that we meet God in fellowship with other believers.

Moses instructed the people to talk about God things “when you walk along the road” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). Jesus promised, “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). That is not to say that we cannot encounter God outside the circle of Christian brotherhood; but, rather, through our diversity of gifts, experiences, and knowledge, there is a synergy in fellowship that leads to a Solomonic “iron sharpening iron.”

Whether they were conscious of Moses’ instruction, Jesus’ promise, or Solomon’s proverb, Cleopas and his companion were engaged in a session of “iron sharpening” that drew the Lord to them, and them to the Lord.

Communion

Which brings us to the last point of the Emmaus Road: We meet God in His Sacrament.

Although they had spent the better part of three hours with the traveling expositor, it wasn’t until He sat at the table and broke bread that they had their “aha!” moment. When He vanished, leaving them agog, they turned to each other, as if to make sure the whole experience wasn’t a dream, with the breathless question, “Were not our hearts burning within in us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

It is possible that the Emmaus disciples had heard about the strange ritual at the Passover meal a few nights earlier. It is also possible they were in the crowd Jesus fed with a few loaves of bread before announcing, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven...This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51). And surely they knew about the tearing of the temple veil on Friday afternoon.

But whatever knowledge they had of these events, Jesus’ table act corrected their astigmatism with the Old Testament images, allowing New Testament realities to come into focus.

The manna and showbread were shadow images of the Food from heaven symbolized in the Lord’s Supper. By partaking the physical elements of bread and wine, the believer receives the spiritual, but real, Presence of Christ in the Person of the Holy Spirit, making Holy Communion the visible sign of the invisible reality that our mystical union is complete, being “in Christ” with “Christ in us.”

If the lyrics of Paul Baloche ignite a yearning for God, we can either sit around wait for him to meet us, or we can take the road to Emmaus and meet Him through Scripture, fellowship, and communion.

Regis Nicoll is a freelance writer and a BreakPoint Centurion. His "All Things Examined" column appears on BreakPoint every other Friday. Serving as a men’s ministry leader and worldview teacher in his community, Regis publishes a free weekly commentary to stimulate thought on current issues from a Christian perspective. To be placed on this free e-mail distribution list, e-mail him at: centurion51@aol.com.


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