Perhaps one of the saddest declarations in the Gospels is that of the chief priests and Pharisees in Matthew 27. 63, “Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while He was yet alive, After three days I will rise again”. What should have been clear to the disciples of our Lord was forgotten. His enemies had a sharper memory.
So, following His triumphant resurrection, the Lord Jesus began the indispensable ministry of spiritual restoration in the saddened, defeated hearts of His people. They had forgotten His promises, and had gone under in the moment of severe trial.
Mary Magdalene, coming to the sepulchre while it was yet dark, is weeping, John 20. 11. In her abject grief, she clings to memories of the past, and will even hope to glean solace in locating the dead body of her Master. But He, who calls His own sheep by name, then calls hers, and a converted woman, who has turned round to catch the full-orbed vision of the Risen Christ, pours out her joy in that worshipping word: Rabboni! My Master and my Lord!
For the down-to-earth, logical Thomas, treating the memories of the past as an unsound basis for future confidence, the sight of the wounds in the Lord’s hands and side is more than sufficient evidence of His blessed identity, John 20. 25. The truth of His triumph breaks gloriously through the barrier of frigid, materialistic reasoning, and the transformed Thomas cries out, in worshipping wonder, “My Lord and my God”, v. 28.
For Simon Peter, whose future ministry will be impregnated with divine power, the deep work of restoration is gently and slowly realized. The futility of a dark night of carnal endeavour was only accentuated by the vision of the Risen Lord on the shore. Depressed, cold and hungry, Peter, who had tried to warm himself at the world’s fire, finds true warmth, welcome and food at the fire provided by the Lord, 21. 9. But the burden of the threefold denial must be removed, and his repeated declarations of affection for His Saviour and Lord spring from a heart that, humiliated salutarily by defeat, can now, even in a weak manner, affirm its devotion to the totally understanding Lord Jesus. Perhaps it is the man who realizes his insufficiency and his incapacity, and whose erring heart has been overwhelmed by the pardoning and restoring ministry of Christ, who is best able to feed His lambs and to shepherd His sheep. “Tor ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop (overseer) of your souls”, 1 Pet. 2. 25.
The truly detailed experience of the two disciples on the Emmaus road, Luke 24. 13-35, reveals our Lord’s delicate handling of perplexed and disconsolate hearts that were travelling in the wrong direction. Cleopas and his friend had abandoned the centre of the divine will. The city of Jerusalem was envisaged, in the purpose of God, as the place where initial blessing would be experienced. They were moving away to Emmaus.
The tenacity shown in their retrograde step is realized by their own confession. They had left the eleven, and those gathered with them, in spite of their sudden memory of “the third day”, v. 21, despising the testimony of the women, v. 22, counting as nothing the “vision of angels”, v. 23, and turning a deaf ear to the evidence of the apostles, v. 24.
Since their fixed idea about political and military victory had not fulfilled itself, v. 21, they refused to entertain any other thoughts, or even to consider that they might have been mistaken.
Backsliding believers are always most eloquent in their justification of the pathway chosen. They exchanged ideas and coldly reasoned about the situation, v. 15, and as a result, looked extremely glum and unhappy, v. 17.
When Jesus Himself drew near, why did He not instantly rebuke them, and cause them to return at once to Jerusalem? Restoration can never be achieved brusquely. In Galatians 6. 1, the word used for “restore” is also applied to the patient mending of fishing nets, or the setting of a broken bone. The process cannot be accelerated by brutal means. So our patient, loving Lord will walk all the way with them to Emmaus.
Backsliding Christians can wound. To the blessed Redeemer who, so short a time before, had suffered agonies untold on Calvary’s cross, Cleopas said, “Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass?”. Here our Lord’s reply is fraught with divine patience, “What things?”, Luke 24. 18-19.
They talk and talk. This is obligatory in restoration, as in Hosea 14. 2, “Take with you words, and turn to the Lord”. The total truth must be told in His presence. And when they have outlined their whole position, the sharp rebuke is given. How foolish they had been, how slow of heart, to discuss so readily their own ideas, and not to meditate exclusively on the writings of the prophets. Retrogression is the inevitable result of neglect of the Word of God.
The rebuke having been administered, the gentle, soothing remedy follows.
Oh! to learn later on in the glory of heaven the contents of those grand Bible studies on the Emmaus road. Not the geology of Carmel, nor the topography of the valley of Jezreel, but in the books of Moses, and in all the Scriptures, the things concerning Himself, Luke 24. 27.
Now it is all happening. The Emmaus couple are beginning to run a spiritual temperature. Frigid, logical reasoning has melted away. Their hearts are beating in unison with His own, burning with a new appreciation of the Word of God, because of the slowly forming vision.
Their condition must be put to the test. Our Lord is perfectly courteous and will only enter on invitation. He made as though He would have gone further. Such a thought is completely rejected by the disciples. For them, at that moment, life without Him had become totally impossible. He must come in. He must abide.
Suddenly the circumstances change, as the invited Guest becomes the Head of the table. He will take control, and from the moment of our capitulation, of our sincere repentance, He will dominate in a way that relieves .us even of the problem of organizing or choosing. But the control is not harsh nor dictatorial. Most agree that the Emmaus couple recognized their Lord, as He broke the bread, by the print of the nails in His hands. Sweet restoration, leading to the triumph of divine love, as hearts once again throb at the thought of His sufferings on Calvary. “I shall know Him, by the print of the nails in His hand”.
But full fellowship was impossible far from the divinely chosen centre. There is always a definite centre in the pathway of God’s will. So, at the moment they desired Him most, He vanished. There is now the obligation to retrace their steps, to take the Jerusalem-Emmaus road in the opposite direction. There is no hesitancy. The work of restoration is complete. They rose up at the same hour,, and returned. What a blessed conversion, Luke 24. 33.
In Jerusalem, with the eleven and the others, they gathered to welcome the peace-giving Lord in the midst, to have their understanding opened with regard to the Scriptures, to learn of their work as witnesses, and to be continually praising and blessing God, with burning hearts.
Mary Magdalene, Thomas, Simon Peter, the Emmaus couple, and all the others, needed a new vision of His glory and an overwhelming appreciation of His sacrificial love. And I?