The 19th Century singer/song-leader Ira Sankey was traveling with Dwight Moody on an evangelism tour in Scotland, when he spotted a poem in a British newspaper. He tore the poem from the paper, put it in his pocket, and promptly forgot about it. The next day, at the end of their service in Edinburgh, Moody asked Sankey for a closing song. Although initially caught by surprise, the Holy Spirit gently reminded Ira of the poem in his pocket. He brought it out, said a prayer, then composed the tune as he sang. Thus was born “The Ninety and Nine” … Sankey’s first attempt at writing a hymn tune … He went on to write 1200 songs!
The opening lines of that hymn, based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:12-13, introduce today’s blog post …
“There were ninety & nine that safely lay … in the shelter of the flock … But one was out on the hills far away … Far off in the cold & dark … Away on the mountains wild & bare … Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.”
At first glance, the title “Pursuing Jesus” might indicate the need for all of us to pursue Jesus in every aspect of our lives … and that would be true … But in Luke 24:13–35, known as the “Road to Emmaus Encounter,” the opposite is true … Jesus is Pursuing Us!
Here’s the immediate context … Jesus has risen! … earlier that morning … but His followers are confused, fearful, even doubting. Not deterred by their misgivings, Jesus persists in pursuing them, inviting them to “Come & Follow” Him. This passage describes in striking details a post-Resurrection encounter that Jesus had with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. In today’s post, we’ll look at two details of what occurs when Jesus invites us to “Come & Follow” …
- Jesus Pursues with Urgency
Verse 13 states that “two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem.”
The small village of Emmaus is about 7 miles northwest of Jerusalem … less than a two-hour walk. Unfortunately, this was not the destination declared by an angel at the empty tomb. That angel had instructed, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him” (Matthew 28:7 & Mark 16:7). Galilee was 65 to 70 miles to the north … about a 17-hour walk.
These two followers of Jesus are heading in the wrong direction! Later in this passage, we discover some of the reasons why, but the fact is, these two are not going to meet the resurrected Jesus as instructed. But how does Jesus respond? He pursues them! … mere hours after His resurrection!
Can you remember a time when Jesus pursued you with urgency? Maybe He is doing that right now. Why delay in responding? The writer of Hebrews warns, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once … and after this comes judgment” (9:27).
But why does Jesus pursue us with such urgency? The second detail we’ll look at today reveals a primary reason.
- Jesus Pursues Intimate, Personal Relationships
This has been God’s design since the beginning of human creation. In the garden of Eden in Genesis 3:8-9, newly rebellious Adam and Eve hear the voice of the Lord God calling to them, “Where are you?” He knows everything about them, including where they are, but He wants them to come to that realization, too.
Luke 24:15 states this about the two wayward disciples of Jesus … “while they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them.”
The Greek term for “traveling with” [συμπορεύομαι] literally means to journey together. In other words, Jesus joined their journey!
How has Jesus “joined” your journey? … maybe a better question is … Are you letting Him?
Verse 16 then reveals a curious problem … “But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.” This is usually interpreted as something supernatural, but another possibility emerges from unpacking the terms that Luke uses.
The word “discussing” [συζητέω] in verse 15 is used 10 times in the New Testament, most often to denote disputing, debating or arguing. In other words, their conversation is not a pleasant one, but one filled possibly with anger.
The word “exchanging” [ἀντιβάλλω] in verse 17 literally means “to take turns throwing something without caring where it falls” … This denotes, at the very least, that their conversation may have also been filled with frustration.
- “Rabbit-trail” Alert! … a friend of mine once theorized that these two disciples may, in fact, have been a man and a woman … possibly a husband and wife! The pronouns used to describe them can be translated as male, female, or both. The fact that only one is identified by name, Cleopas, is certainly consistent with how a married couple would be referenced in the text. If true, this certainly explains some of the dynamics of this animated conversation!
The main point here is that Jesus joined their journey anyways … even though they failed to recognize Him. What “prevents” us from recognizing Jesus?
Jesus is pursuing all of us … He pursues us with urgency … He pursues us so that we might be in intimate, personal relationship with Him. Luke, the Gospel writer, tells us this is Jesus’ life purpose … “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (19:10)
Listen to the very words of Jesus … “What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray.” Matthew 18:12–13
Peace & Joy!
P.S. This blog post was preached as the first half of a sermon a month ago in Yirgachefe, Ethiopia … the land of premium coffee beans! More than 20,000 people attended a 3-day outdoor conference of church planters and their congregations … most of them sitting on the ground!
Click on the following link for a sample of the worship singing we enjoyed … I call it the “Bible Dance” because they were singing about the power of God’s Word. My buddy from seminary days, who raised his family there, is right in the middle of it!