The story of the Road to Emmaus has been on my mind for several months now. It’s an interesting story:
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 the only one visiting Jerusalem who does 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 they did not see Jesus.”
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah 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 continued on 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.
(Source: Luke 24:13-35)
When I reflect on this passage of Scripture, I’m drawn in. Not in the typical way though. I’m drawn in because of what happens in the story – observing it from the outside and hearing what happens. And hearing the call of Jesus for the church.
I hear five stages that I think apply to discipleship today.
Stage 1 – Initial encounter. We read this in vs. 13-17. The disciples were doing their thing and then Jesus comes and encounters them. And not only that, engages with them, even though they don’t recognize him. How is this any different that what we are called to as church – to bring Jesus, to be Jesus’ presence with others, even when they don’t recognize Jesus yet. And to engage. How do we as church do initial encounters with people?
Stage 2 – Visitors/Spectators. We read about this in vs. 18-27. The disciples are engaged in conversation, but aren’t called to anything yet. And Jesus goes a bit deeper. He tells them what he is about. And they watch and listen. And he leaves it there for them to decide if they will move to the next step. Will they move on towards discipleship or let Jesus slip through their fingers. Do we do this in church? We’re really good at allowing people to be spectators, but how about nudging people to further commitment? Do we make being a spectator too easy?
Stage 3 – Deeper engagement/commitment/membership. We read about this in vs. 28-29. They’ve heard and they want more. But they don’t realize yet what that means. What do we do as church to offer people the opportunity to go deeper even without knowing what that means for them. Is membership just a simple thing where people sign up and then get lost in the mix of other members, or does it mean more? Can it be a step on the path to discipleship? What are we doing to engage people who have encountered Jesus and want more? How are we helping them to that deeper commitment?
Stage 4 – Discipleship. We read about this in vs. 30-32. It’s in the breaking of the bread that Jesus reveals himself to the disciples. Their hearts are on fire now. They have encountered Jesus and it has changed their lives. And they are ready to go and do, to serve, to proclaim, to make more disciples. And it is at this point that they are ready to follow Jesus, the one who encounters and engages them. And it is at this point that Jesus steps aside to free them to go and do. Do we do this in our churches? Or do we stop with membership?
Stage 5 – Leadership. We read about this in vs. 33-35. The disciples are truly disciples, and they are now in the role of making more disciples, of starting the process over again with others. They go and proclaim Jesus to others so that others can encounter Jesus, be intrigued, want more, engage with Jesus, and become his disciples so they can go out and spread the word and start the process over with others. How do we do this in our churches? Are we creating an environment where people can not only encounter Jesus, but become disciples and equip them to go and make more disciples?
If a church have these five stages in place, I’m willing to bet it’s a church that is thriving, where hearts are on fire, where people want more Jesus because they see how lives are changing, where the lay people are leading the way in service, and where disciples are going out making more disciples.