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An Unrecognizable Savior

“Now, on that same day, two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” (Luke 24:13-16, NRSVue)

Have you seen Jesus lately? If so, are you sure it was him? What did he look like? If you haven’t seen Jesus lately, do you think you would recognize him if you saw him? What would you expect him to look like?

We have several accounts throughout the gospels of Jesus appearing to people following his resurrection. Mary Magdalene didn’t recognize him in the garden on Easter morning until he spoke to her. In John’s gospel, Jesus revealed himself to his disciples on two separate occasions, first on Easter evening when Thomas wasn’t present and then a week later when Thomas was there. He appeared to seven disciples a third time at daybreak as they returned from fishing. Even after seeing him those two previous times, they didn’t recognize him that morning on the beach until Jesus provided a miraculous catch of fish. These interactions beg whether he looked so physically different after the resurrection that he was unrecognizable. I don’t think so—I think the problem was the expectations (or the lack of expectations) of those to whom he appeared.

Mary Magdalene assumed he was dead, so when Jesus appeared to her, she thought he must be the gardener. I don’t know what the disciples’ thoughts were when he appeared to them on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, but in the early morning, after returning to their old jobs as fishermen, they didn’t recognize him. Here’s the problem: They weren’t expecting him to show up. Neither Mary nor the disciples expected him to be alive and walking around as he did before his crucifixion and death, and their expectations were too low.

On the night of the resurrection, Cleopas, a follower of Jesus, and his traveling companion discussed the weekend’s events as they journeyed to Emmaus, from Jesus’ crucifixion and death to the reports of his resurrection and appearance to some of his closest disciples. As they were talking about him, Jesus showed up, but they didn’t recognize him. To them, he was just a bloke who didn’t have a clue about anything that had happened—or so they thought. Even after he opened their hearts and minds to the deepest meanings of the scriptures, they missed the obvious—that the One they spoke of was in their midst. They weren’t expecting him!

I’ll go into more depth in my message on Sunday about how Jesus revealed himself to these two disciples in the breaking of bread, but for now, suffice it to say that it’s hard to see the Risen Lord if we don’t expect to see him. St. Augustine described how we are likely to miss Jesus in this way:

“The Teacher was walking with them along the way, and he himself was the way.”

If we hope to recognize Jesus in our midst, we must open our eyes to the possibility that he walks with us always; otherwise, he could be standing right before our eyes, and we would never know it. Have you seen Jesus lately? If so, are you sure it was him? What did he look like?

I hope to see you on Sunday as we explore living daily in Jesus’ presence, and don’t forget to bring a friend! — Senior Pastor Rev. Dale Cohen

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