The Stranger on the Road, Part 4: The In-Gathering

The Stranger on the Road, Part 4: The In-Gathering


Last week we looked at two things that keep us from seeing Jesus clearly: walking by sight and impurity in our hearts. We also saw that at the core of both of these things is the human impulse toward self-preservation.

Yet, Jesus calls to those who have been saved – who have found life by believing in Him – to come to Him again that they might die and truly experience life!

This morning, we’ll see the end of this beautiful picture Luke paints for us at the end of his Gospel – we’ll see the rest of the story! Our text is Luke 24:32-43, but rather than read it for you now, we’ll get to it in due time.

The Problem with Life Preservers

1) We’ve been studying the encounter that two disciples had with Jesus on resurrection Sunday as they were walking home to the village of Emmaus.

They didn’t recognize that the ‘Stranger’ walking with them was Jesus until they invited Him to eat with them. At that meal He blessed the bread, broke it and gave it to them. At once, they recognized Him.

Now, last time we solved the mystery of the bread that opens blind eyes. We saw that there was nothing special or magical, or even unique, about the bread which Jesus broke and gave to them. What opened their eyes was not the bread itself, but the hands which served it to them – they were Jesus’ own nail-scarred hands. This was a call to true discipleship!

Luke 24:30: Jesus “took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.”

Once they recognized Him, He vanished from their sight because once they could finally see Him, they had what they needed to walk with Him without seeing Him. In showing them His nail-scarred hands, Jesus was inviting them to follow Him in death that they too might truly live. He does the very same to everyone who has put his or her faith in Him.

The Apostle Paul testified about his own co-crucifixion with Jesus:

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” And Bonhoeffer did just that. He was executed on April 9, 1945, at Flossenbürg Nazi concentration camp. The full quote from The Cost of Discipleship is this:

“The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

So, in salvation we come to the cross and finally understand Jesus’ death: that it was for us. But in discipleship, we pick up our own cross and follow Jesus down the road.

2) I said last week that the desire for self-preservation is at the heart of why we go through life failing to recognize that the Stranger on the road is Jesus Himself.

The hands that offered the bread to these disciples didn’t look back to His death, it looked forward to theirs. Picking up one’s cross is the very definition of what it means to be a true disciple, as Jesus defines discipleship anyway. Everywhere we find it in the New Testament, discipleship is about putting off the impulse of self-preservation and entering into co-crucifixion and co-burial, so that we might at last walk in co-resurrection, or the newness of life in Christ Jesus.

Jesus has a life for His children – a life He wants us to experience. It’s an abundant life, and exuberant life, Paul called it the newness of life. This life is resurrection life, but many believers miss the point that before we can experience resurrection, we must first experience death. And so, over and over again, Jesus paradoxically calls us to death so that we might truly live.

3) Many believers try to keep one foot in this world, with all of its fleeting pleasures, and the realm of the Spirit, that place where we walk with Jesus on roads of the Spirit.

The Bible warns believers about the danger of loving this world.

James 4:4 put it this way: “[W]hoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

The Word of God is clear, I cannot love the world and love God.

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world … comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:15-16).

Now, we might think the cure for worldliness is changing our behavior, but it’s not. The cure for worldliness is dying. It’s only when we die to this world that the world loses its grip on us. It’s only then that the light comes on and we finally understand what Jesus meant when He said, “What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). It’s only then that we realize that the world which we were so fond of, actually hates the Jesus whom we love!

“If the world hates you,” Jesus said, “keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).

Believers who try to keep one foot in the world and the other in the realm of the Spirit never find a firm footing in either. They’re double-minded, always longing for something that they know is missing. They never experience the newness of life that Jesus offers – not just life after we die, but living while we’re on this side of eternity – because they refuse to give it all up for Jesus. But Jesus will accept nothing less than all from His disciples.

4) The essence of Jesus’ teaching on discipleship is well summarized in Luke 17:33: “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” Many Christians come to the end of their lives never having experienced a single moment of this living which Jesus offers to those who have put their faith in Him.

So, Jesus said, “I’ve come that they might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

But He also said, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it.”

Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,” Jesus said (John 8:12b).

But He also said, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it.”

“Because I live, you also will live,” Jesus said (John 14:19).

But He also said, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it.”

Jesus couldn’t possibly have made it clearer than He did in Luke 14:27: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” It is to this death, this co-crucifixion, that Jesus is now calling these disciples at Emmaus.

Slow Hearts Begin to Burn!

Now, as Jesus walked with them on the road, Cleopas and his companion were greatly disappointed. They said that they’d “hoped” Jesus was going to be “the One to redeem Israel,” but now He was dead (Luke 24:21).

Jesus responded: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27).

After He’d vanished, they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

1) It’s an amazing thing, but like many Christians, these two disciples were “both in a fog of doubt and in the presence of the risen Messiah at the same time.”[1]

Did Jesus look differently than He had? I don’t think so. They didn’t see Jesus as He was because there just was no room in their eyes for a resurrected Jesus.

2) They knew that Jesus had died. Sure, they had heard some rumors that He might be alive, but they dismissed these as nonsense. Earlier in Luke 24, “Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them” came and reported what they’d seen at the tomb of Jesus to the apostles, but “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:10-11).

The two disciples even mentioned this to Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

They said, “Some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see” (Luke 24:22-24).

But they didn’t believe it. Their Jesus was crucified and buried, not resurrected.

3) Jesus called them “slow of heart” (βραδεῖς τῇ καρδίᾳ), which means they’d refused to embrace all of Jesus’ teaching – including His promise that He would rise again. So, what did Jesus do to help them to see? He pointed them to the Scriptures.

So, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 19:27).

No less than 356 Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus in His First Advent.[2] It’s the Word of God that is the authority, it’s the Word of God that brings light, not seeking some sign or wonder!

Remember when the rich man pleaded with Father Abraham to allow him to return from torments to warn his brothers? Do you remember Abraham’s reply? In Luke 16:29-31, the Patriarch said,

“They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” 30[But the man] said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

It was because they saw the nail-scarred hands which offered them the bread that they finally recognized Jesus, but it was because of the Word of God that their hearts were set on fire! Their hearts went from being “slow to believe” in verse 25, to burning in verse 32.

So, in Luke 24:32, they said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?”

They were now aware of two things: The divine Presence – Jesus was with them, and the authority of the Words of Scripture. One should never be found among us without the other. Acknowledging God’s Presence without the Word leads to subjective mysticism, magical thinking and misguided hyper-spirituality. While studying the Word without the Presence of God will lead us to a cold, letter-of-the-Law legalism that misses wide the heart of God!

So, what did these disciples do as soon as Jesus vanished – with their eyes wide opened and their hearts on fire?

The In-gathering

Luke 24:33-43, NKJV: “So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.

36 Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” 37 But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. 38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”

40 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 41 But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” 42 So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. 43 And He took it and ate in their presence.”

1) Notice it: the FIRST inclination of these ‘two disciples with their new-born heartburn’ was to gather together with other believers! They immediately wanted to share what had happened to them with the rest of the community of Jesus-followers – the Eleven and the others.

So, they headed back to Jerusalem. Now, I think it’s easy for us to forget the crisis that the first disciples were experiencing on that first Resurrection Sunday! There was real danger. Their Leader had just been crucified; were they next?

The believers were experiencing a myriad of emotions – they were sad and despairing, confused and bewildered, anxious and afraid – huddled together trying to figure it all out. Initially, the believers dismissed the testimony of their sisters who claimed to have seen Him alive. Thomas, famously, doubted – I’m afraid I would have done the same.

They were still very much on the ‘Jesus is Dead’ side of the picture, but the ‘Jesus is Risen’ side was about to come into clear view!

Where at the beginning of the story these two disciples are seen moving away from the epicenter of uncertainty and danger that Jerusalem was for the early believers, we now see them returning to the dangerous epicenter to be with their brothers and sisters! The LIVING Jesus has entered the picture – and now they can face whatever the future holds with assurance and resolve.

2) And Luke 24:33 is so beautiful – unfortunately, it’s a bit hidden in our English translation. It says,

“[T]hey rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together …”

The word translated “gathered together” is ἀθροίζω. It’s a plural perfect passive participle which means that these brothers and sisters received the action of being gathered together (that’s the passive voice) and that they kept being together indefinitely (that’s the perfect tense). It’s a picture of Jesus gathering His followers together to celebrate the Resurrection! They were all gathered together because that’s where they belonged – together! 

As soon as their eyes were opened, they knew instinctively that they didn’t belong in Emmaus; they belonged with the other brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, despite the danger.

And as it was then, so it is today. The Bible knows nothing of an independent Christianity that’s lived apart from other believers. The moment you were saved, Jesus joined you to His Body. Each believer has a part to play in that Body – all of us are necessary.

Any believer who can be serving Jesus as a part of a Body of other believers, but refuses to do so, is a believer who is living in outright rebellion against God.

The writer of Hebrews urged us to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

The Bible commands us to encourage one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to do good to all (especially those of the household of faith), to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice. But how can we weep with those who are weeping if we don’t know they’re even weeping?

Jesus called us to worship together, to pray together, to serve together, to grow together and to fulfill the Great Commission of making disciples together. Paul made it clear that no part of the Body can say to another, “I have no need of you” (1 Corinthians 12:21).

For any believer to imagine that he or she isn’t needed, or doesn’t need other believers, is to call the Word of God into contempt and to insult the Holy Spirit who has provided each of us with spiritual gifts to use within the Body, and has united us into one Body by the seven intrinsic, immutable unities of Ephesians 4:4-6:

“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

The early Church, despite the very real possibility of danger to their own physical lives, “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread [that is, together] and the prayers [that is, together] … 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common … 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42, 44, 46-47, brackets mine).

Throughout every period of Church history, believers have risked their own lives and even the lives of their families to gather together to praise God, and share His Word together, and to partake of His Table, which was only ever a communal meal.

While there are many Christians who absent themselves from regular gatherings with other believers, there are zero disciples, zero true Jesus-followers, who do so deliberately. Why? Because a disciple is one who has picked up his or her cross and followed Jesus down the road to their own death. And the life that they NOW live, they live by faith in the Son of God.

Their agenda, their desires and any self-styled Christianity they may have practiced previously has been eclipsed by picking up God’s agenda, serving His desires and living out a biblical Christianity in community with other Jesus-followers – the only kind of Christianity the Bible knows.

Now if you can’t gather with other Christians, you can only do what the Lord allows you to do. But I’ve known many people who, while they could not physically gather, their hearts longed to do so! Please, brother or sister, no matter where you are, if you are physically able to gather with other believers, begin to do so and do so as often as you can. They need you – and you need them. And the Father will be glorified through His Church in this untoward generation.

You know, friends, the Apostle Paul had a troubling thing to say about what people would be like in the “last days.” He said, they will be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:4-5). The “power” Paul speaks of here is the Word of God (which is “alive and powerful”) and the Holy Spirit, who always leads us to, and illuminates, the Word.

We need to check our ‘I-love-Jesus’ claims against Jesus’ own definition of what love for Him really looks like: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). It’s nice to say we ‘love Jesus,’ but if we’re not ordering our lives according to His Word, then ‘I love Jesus’ are mere words.

Jesus asked His disciples, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you’ in Luke 6:46. He was saying, ‘Talk is cheap.’

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21)? He was saying that if we’ve been saved, our works will show it. Talk is cheap and always has been.

When Jesus said, “I love you,” He proved it by spreading His hands to be nailed!

There is a cost for following Jesus. Peter said,

“The end of all things is at hand … 12 [So] Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed … 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God …” (1 Peter 4:7, 12-13, 16-17a, brackets mine).

‘Do you love me, Peter,’ Jesus asked the apostle? ‘Yes, Lord, you know I do,’ he replied (John 21:16). And that love led to him to be crucified as His Lord was crucified. That’s what love looks like. That’s what it means to follow Jesus. 

3) So, in our passage, God Himself produced the action of gathering the believers all together in Jerusalem because that’s where they belonged. And the perfect tense indicates that this would ever be true of the Body of Christ.

What did this new burning in the hearts of these two disciples compel them to do? To hurry themselves back to Jerusalem to share with their brothers and sisters all that Jesus had done! And they were all gathered together because that’s where they belonged! As soon as their eyes were opened, they knew instinctively that they didn’t belong in Emmaus; they belonged with the others in Jerusalem.

4) But when Cleopas and his friend arrived in Jerusalem, before they could even report what had happened to them, they learned that Jesus has already appeared to Peter! We know nothing of this visitation – but, O, how I wish we had details!

Paul does confirm, however, in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, that, after His resurrection, Jesus “appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

Well, after hearing that Jesus appeared to Peter, they share their testimony. And then – in a climactic moment – Jesus appeared again, this time to the whole group which the Father had gathered for the occasion. “Where two or three are gathered together in My name,” Jesus had promised, “I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Here He fulfills His promise literally! 

And until He returns, whenever God’s people are gathered together – two or more – He is there in our midst, just as truly as He was on this first Resurrection Sunday!

So, their “dull” hearts have been replaced with ‘burning’ hearts, and eyes wide open and mouths ready to share the Good News of all that has happened.

Church, I hope that our hearts are burning this morning!

And that our eyes are open!

O, may our mouths be ready to share the Good News of all that Jesus has done.

Counting the Cost of Following Jesus

1) Now, in Luke 14:25-35, Jesus gave His clearest teaching on what it costs to be His disciple, His follower. In this passage, Jesus is basically laying out the terms of what following Him will cost. Great crowds were following Jesus now, but mostly for the wrong reasons. They liked the free food and watching the miraculous things He was doing. They were following Him for the benefits they enjoyed in doing so.

And so, Jesus decided to set them straight.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27).

2) Then, Jesus explained what He meant by using two very straight-forward illustrations:

#1: “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’” (Luke 14:28-30).

Obviously, before a person begins to build, he should make sure that he can afford to finish the project! To not be able to finish would be shameful. In the same way, those who would follow Jesus must be sure they’re willing to pay the price before coming after Him.

#2: “Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace” (Luke 14:31-32).

War is obviously very costly. It brings lots of pain and requires great sacrifice. So, before going to war, a king should think carefully! Is this war worth fighting in the first place? Am I willing to sacrifice all that it will take to achieve a victory? In the same way, anyone who would follow Jesus must count the cost and see whether or not they’re willing to sacrifice all that they must to be a disciple.

According to our Lord’s own words, following Him may cost us relationships – even the most treasured relationships in a person’s life. It may cost us possessions, and even our own lives.

And Jesus doubled down on this in Matthew 10:34-39:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; 36 and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”

“So therefore,” Jesus concluded, “any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). The one who would be a disciple must be willing to surrender everything for Jesus.

3) In a remarkable passage in John 12, Jesus tells us why this idea of dying to self is the essential factor in following Him – and it speaks to mission. It answers the “why” of it all.

Jesus crucifixion is hours away. First, He begins talking about HIS own death:

And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:23-24).

But then, He switches suddenly and begins talking about …. YOURS!

Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:25-26).

Jesus wheat analogy answers the two great questions of discipleship: (1) what is our mission and (2) how do we achieve it? The answer: our mission is to not abide alone, but to bring others with us; the way to achieve it – the only way to achieve it – is to die.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).

Other translations help to convey a fuller picture. The NIV has: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” The HCSB translates it, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop.”

Jesus was used this little analogy to explain a paradox that any farmer already knew: a kernel of wheat which dies in the ground produces many seeds from which spring life. Death must come before life. Death is necessary for every harvest.

And so is it with every true follower of Jesus: we pick up our cross so we might die and live to Christ – and through our laid down lives, bring many to Jesus. If we’ve come to follow Jesus, our goal is clear: DON’T REMAIN ALONE! BRING OTHERS TO HEAVEN WTH YOU! And that is only ever achieved by dying to self so that we might live to Christ in the newness of life.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

O, Church, may we bear much fruit for the Lord!

May we pick up our cross and follow Jesus down the road!

May we walk in the newness of the promised resurrection life!

May we gather together whenever we can to worship the Lord and study His Word, and pray, and fellowship and encourage one another to go out into the harvest and win souls for the Lord!

May our eyes be opened to see that the ‘Stranger’ on the road with us is Jesus!

And may our mouths be opened too to share the Good News of all that Jesus has done!

[1] Garland, David, Luke: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), ad loc.