13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “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. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 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. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 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?”
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.—The words of Saint Luke from Luke 24:13-35
Two were traveling together... hardly on a path they intended, however. All had been going so well for them. How could it be that things had come to this?
A hulking giant had captured them, put them into his dungeon which was “nasty and stinking to the spirits” according to John Bunyan. “Here they lay,” reads his classic book Pilgrims Progress, “without a bit of bread, or drop of drink, or light, or any to ask how they did.”
The giant’s name was Despair. He was the long-time Lord of Doubting Castle. It was his property they had unintentionally transgressed.
“When the giant arose the next morning, he getteth him a grievous crab-tree cudgel, and goes down into the dungeon to them, and there first falls to ranting of them as if they were dogs, although they never gave him a word of distaste: then he fell upon them, and beat them fearfully, in such sort that they were not able to help themselves, or to turn them upon the floor.”
The morning of the next day, this Giant Despair:
“...goes to them in a surely manner as before, and perceiving them to be very sore with the stripes he had given them the day before, he told them, that since they were never like to come out of that place, their only way would be forthwith to make an end of themselves, either with knife, halter, or poison: for why, said he, should you choose to live, seeing it is attended with so much bitterness?”
When alone, these two traveling companions, their names being Christian and Hopeful, talked over their options. Their conversation included a very weary and discouraged Christian saying:
“My soul chooseth strangling rather than life; and the grave is more easy for me than this dungeon!”
Consistent with his name, Hopeful offered these words:
“Who knows but that God, who made the world, may cause that Giant Despair may die, or that, at some time or other, he may forget to lock us in; or that he may in a short time have another of his fits before us, and may lose the use of his limbs?”
“Thus did Hopeful moderate the mind of his brother; so they continued together in the dark that day, in their sad and doleful condition.”
Later, the Giant came again and took them into the castle-yard and showed them bones and skulls:
“‘These,’ said he, ‘were pilgrims as you are, once, and they trespassed on my grounds, as you have done; and when I thought fit I tore them in pieces; and so within ten days I will do you. Get you down to your den again;’ and with that he beat them all the way thither.”
Discouragement—How often it waylays spiritual travelers.
Dismay—“And to think that when we started on this path it seemed so pleasant and rewarding.”
Hopelessness—“No one cares. Why should we continue? No one even asks how we are doing.”
Despondency—“What difference does it make anymore? Nothing seems worth the effort. Life is attended with so many problems.”
A heavy spirit—“Lately it’s a burden to even get ready to go to church.”
Oh yes ... the old Giant Despair still stalks these lands. He’s such a big fellow, you would think pilgrims could see him coming and quickly flee. But, that’s seldom the case. Despair has a way of entrapping you almost before you know it.
Like with Christian and Hopeful—exhausted from traveling hard toward the Celestial City, on an awful stormy night, even with all their skill and experience, they still couldn’t make it to their point of destination. Having lost their bearings they sat down under a shelter. But, being weary, they fell asleep. Unfortunately, early the next morning the Giant was out roaming his acres, and with a grin and surly voice had bid the two “Awaken!”
Once captured by Giant Despair, it is extremely difficult to get free on your own. Have any of you here found that to be true? Just because you personally tell Depression to “Leave me alone!” doesn’t mean it will oblige.
What discouragement hangs over you this day?
- Did someone tell you that you weren’t needed anymore?
- Did someone tell you don’t fit?
- Did someone treat you like a mad dog?
- Did someone invalidate your years of ministry?
- Did someone verbally abuse you?
- Did someone tell lies about you?
- Did someone trash your reputation?
- Did someone steal your job from you?
- Did someone make a mockery of your efforts to serve Christ and His Kingdom?
- Did someone speak ill of you to others?
- Maybe you’re a visionary. But, too few have rallied to your dream. It’s much too big to pull off on your own. You probably won’t make it without the help of others. And now, you’re too far into the process to quit, but too far away from the goal to remain excited about thinking you’ll actually finish. And, what were those three options again—poison, a rope, or a knife?
Possibly, my friend, your wounds come from within the church. Unexpected back stabs can be especially debilitating. You tried your best to be Christian, but that didn’t stop the false accusations—or the gossip—or the lies. So now, you render your service without joy. It’s constrained. You said you would, so you do your duty. But, God knows, it will sure be good when your present term has ended.
It was on Saturday night, about midnight, that Christian and Hopeful began to pray, and they continued until almost the break of the next day. Bunyan writes:
“Now, a little before it was day, good Christian, as one half amazed, broke out into this passionate speech: ‘What a fool,’ quote he, ‘and, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty! I have a key in my bosom, called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle.’
“‘Then,’ said Hopeful, ‘that’s good news, good brother, pluck it out of thy bosom, and try.’
“Then Christian ... began to try at the dungeon door, whose bolt, as he turned the key, gave back, and the door flew open with ease, and Christian and Hopeful both came out. Then he went to the outward door that leads into the castle-yard, and with his key opened that door also.
“After that, he went to the iron gate, for that must be opened, too, but that lock went desperately hard; yet the key did open it. Then they thrust open the gate to make their escape with speed; but that gate, as it opened, made such a creaking, that it waked Giant Despair, who, hastily rising to pursue his prisoners, felt his limbs to fail, for his fits took him again, so that he could by no means go after them.
“Then they went on, and came to the King’s highway again, and so were safe, because they were out of the Giant’s jurisdiction.”
A key called Promise—Bunyan didn’t tell us which of God’s promises it was. Before I finish this blog post, I will have a suggestion I’d like to make.
The Giant Despair. I first heard about him when I was a student. Then, this story was somewhat academic to me. Not academic because of the classroom setting, but rather because I hadn’t yet put any time in the dungeon of this Giant’s castle. You have to be some days and weeks in that putrid hole, “nasty and stinking to the spirits,” to be sure that if you ever get out, you’ll do your best to not get caught a second time by this foul-mannered Goliath.
But, I have attempted this week to recall what it’s like to be trapped in that dark pit ... and how the beatings hurt ... and how one’s spirit can sink—sink so low, so very low.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have to try very hard to remember what it’s like to be held in that dungeon. Truth be known, I sometimes seem to vacillate, almost on a daily basis, between laying my despair at Jesus’ feet, and feeling so weighed down with despair that my body actually aches from the awful weight of it.
I suppose my greatest problem stems from one of the high points of my own character: I am a person who abhors injustice. Why, when I was an eight-year-old boy, I created a super-hero called “The Commander of Justice,” who roamed my neighborhood—at least inside my childish mind—righting wrongs and punishing bullies.
Little did I realize that the injustices I suffered as a child would not begin to compare with the injustice I have suffered over the course of the last three years and ten months. It hasn’t helped that my particular personality absolutely demands justice. Thus, I find myself far too often imprisoned in my own particular dungeon of despair.
So in this blog post, I want to share with you a word that I believe comes directly from the Lord. At least that’s what I felt in my own spirit, as I considered the Scripture reference at the beginning of this blog post. You see, I don’t want to write things that are little more than clever truisms about two walking together on a most awful journey.
It was a seven mile road running west and north from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus. These two didn’t walk at a good clip like most of you do when you go shopping or come to church. Instead, they more or less shuffled along. Involved in a most serious and somber conversation.
One kicked at a stone, while completely missing the beauty of the sky overhead. You see, his face was downcast. It says so in the Bible.
The other asked, “How can it be, Cleopas, that things have come to this?” But, Cleopas didn’t answer. His head was turned, now, because he heard footsteps behind them. How could this pair ever have anticipated the wonderful surprise that was in store for them? It would be unthinkable that the stranger who now asked “What are you two discussing as you walk along?” would be the Christ. Hadn’t He died an awful death two days earlier on a Roman cross?
Well, you likely know this story quite well. And, if not, you can read it by clicking on the link following the Scripture passage at the beginning of this blog post.
Have you come to read this blog today in a burden-carrying mood? The truth is many people do. Life tends to be filled with more lows than it does highs.
My guess is that if I asked for hands—and if I could actually see them—I suspect that more of you would indicate this has been a hard year, than would lift your hand indicating that for you it’s been an easy, magical, wonderful year.
One of the reasons John Bunyan’s book has become such an all-time classic is that so many readers can identify with episodes like Giant Despair showing his browbeaten captives the collection of bones and skulls and telling them:
“Why don’t you just end it all and leave this miserable world behind.”
Some of you are probably wondering if I’m going to remember to tell you what that key called Promise is. And, when I do, will you realize that what I say has great value? Or ,will you choose to believe it’s not really worth getting all that excited about?
Others of you may still be mulling over the passage about the two on the road to Emmaus. Cleopas is a man’s name. Was the second individual a man as well? Maybe this was a husband and wife team. Nothing in the text prohibits that from being the case.
History is filled with stories of two traveling a difficult path together as couples. Given to each other by God, they are to be a mutual encouragement or helpmates.
I’m thinking of one such pairing where the husband had a tendency to get caught rather consistently by the Giant Despair. Because her overtures of encouragement seemed too often to fall on deaf ears, to get Martin’s attention, his hopeful wife, Katie, dressed herself all in black.
“And who’s died now that I didn’t hear about?”
Martin Luther the reformer asked this question of his mate when he saw her. No doubt this was yet another woe to add to his list that already was quite long.
“Oh, didn’t you hear,” she replied. “God died!”
“God can’t die!” Martin Luther snapped back, more than a bit annoyed with her remark.
“Then,” Katie wanted to know, “Why are you acting like He did?”
Katie Luther was reminding Martin that God is life, and that God’s son, the Lord Jesus Christ, was risen from the dead—that his grave remains empty—and that there IS a key of Promise that opens every lock in Doubting Castle. Katie wanted to clearly remind Martin Luther that two traveling a difficult path together can encourage each other with the promise of the presence of their resurrected Lord.
Together they can get the risen Christ to join them in their situation. Didn’t He promise in Matthew 18:19-20:
“I also tell you that if two of you agree down here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together because they are mine, I am there among them.”
What a marvelous promise! As few as two can be assured of the Emmaus road experience. We don’t have to mope along with heads down all the time missing the miracle delight that Jesus brings to such a journey!
Two traveling together!
If you’re on an extremely difficult path as a disciple, and you have no friend to walk it with you, you may not be in God’s will. At least I’ve found that the Lord seldom asks one individual to go it all alone on a road filled with many hardships. That’s not usually His way. You need an understanding spouse, a close Christian friend, a co-worker, a prayer partner, sometimes even a support team! Why? To encourage each other. It’s one saying to the other, like Hopeful and Christian in Pilgrims Progress:
“Haven’t we been in these dreadful straits long enough? What do you say friend, let’s turn to God and get serious about His role in this matter! Did He raise His son from the dead or didn’t He? If God did that, certainly He ought to be able to help us out as well.”
An enemy trap to avoid when coping with discouragement is his attempt to keep you alone and focusing on the problem, forgetting all about the wonder of the risen Christ journeying with you. The devil will do anything he can to keep believers from joining together in prayer and, by doing so, encouraging each other in their faith.
Are you in a difficult situation? Does it feel like the Giant Despair has it in for you? Then, your number one job is to find a praying friend. Not just any friend, but a friend who knows how to pray, or at least is willing to learn how quickly.
Is life going great? Couldn’t be better? Find a praying friend. Keep the enemy at bay. Don’t let the devil get anywhere near.
Most married couples don’t pray all that much together. Not all that many church people have prayer partners. This needs to change.
Two, coming together before the Lord in an attitude of praise, equals more than just “one plus one.” By the King’s sacred oath, He joins with them in such an experience.
In summary, what I’m writing to you distills down to this sentence: “Two traveling a difficult path together can encourage each other with the promise of the presence of the resurrected Christ.
Let your story of two walking together take a new and wonderful turn. Look around and see that you’re being followed by another whom you might rightfully suspect is the King of kings Himself. Oh my!
Will you pray with me?
Thank You, God, for loving us. Thank You for sending Jesus to be our Savior. Thank You for sending us Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us.
We praise You that in our hours of despair when we cry out to You for justice You graciously send someone to walk with us as we seize upon Your promise and begin to walk out of the prison that binds us.
Thank You, dear Father, for leading us by Your Holy Spirit along the pathway that You have laid out before us. And, thank You for hearing our prayer in and through the precious Name of Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Author’s Note: I am indebted to my spiritual mentor, Rev. Dr. David R. Mains, who many years ago preached a message on his radio broadcast, The Chapel of the Air, that formed the basic foundation for this blog post.