This blog post first brought to my attention the insightful comparison between the road to Damascus and road to Eummaus.
“Road to Damascus experiences” get a lot of attention. You may know the story of Paul’s conversion – on the way to the city of Damascus, Jesus appeared to Paul in person, dramatically, with blinding light, a miracle, and a 180-degree life change (see Acts 9:1-22). Before this encounter with the resurrected Jesus, Paul had been a legalistic Pharisee and a persecutor of Jesus’ people, i.e., the last person you would expect to become a Christian. Afterward, his whole life changed. He became the apostle to the Gentiles, the author of much of the New Testament, and probably the most important Christian who ever lived. His road to Damascus experience changed not only his own life but the course of history.
Paul’s conversion story is not the only account in the New Testament of an encounter with Jesus on the road to a city, however. A somewhat lesser-known story is found in Luke 24:13-35, this time on the road to the town of Eummaus. Two God-fearing, law-abiding Jews had spent some time with Jesus before his death as his followers, although they did not belong to his “inner circle.” After his death, they felt disturbed and confused, for they had thought him to be the Messiah.
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him… and beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Luke 24:13-16, 26
The resurrected Jesus himself “drew near” to these two disciples, just as near as he drew on Paul’s road to Damascus. In this case, though, they did not recognize him. He came with little drama or fanfare; he did not use a miracle or a vision of his glory, but a sermon on the Old Testament, to get their attention. They did not suddenly grasp everything about Jesus in an instant, but gradually grew in knowledge as he walked with them, taught them, and revealed himself to them in the Bible. Actually, you might be justifiably surprised that this encounter with Jesus on the road to Eummaus is in the Bible at all, because it seems so mundane.
It did not produce a mundane reaction, however. The two disciples’ hearts “burned within them.” They called Jesus “Lord” and spoke with conviction that he really is alive, that he really conquered death. They were included when Jesus came back to speak to the “Eleven” (his inner circle) and when he gave the great commission. They worshiped him along with his apostles, filled up with the joy of the gospel (see the rest of Luke 24). You can be sure, their lives changed forever.
So often in life, we want “big” things to happen, to show that God is real, to dispel all our doubts, to give us an answer or direction. We look for “signs and wonders,” major revelations, emotional highs, dramatic turnarounds (cf. John 4:48). Too often we dismiss the “ordinary” things, like sermons, taking communion, the Bible, prayer, and unexciting testimonies; but God consistently uses the “small” things to get our attention and to shape us into who he wants us to be (1 Corinthians 1:27-28). Have you had a slow, undramatic, “road to Eummaus” experience, Christian? Do not be ashamed of it – Jesus spoke to you all the same, and that is what counts. He is the Lord, and he is alive, and that is “bigger” than us all!
Jesus is always speaking. Sometimes he shouts in our face and other times he whispers in our ear; but be sure, he is never silent. The question is, then: are you listening?