Pastoral Perspectives

Seeing Jesus Through Ordinary Means

After the resurrection of Jesus, we learn from the Gospels that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene, Joanna and the other women and then to his disciples. In the Gospel of Luke, there was this unique account commonly known as the Emmaus Encounter where two of Jesus’ disciples were heading towards a village named Emmaus when Jesus suddenly appeared and walked with them. However, the disciples were unable to recognise Jesus because “their eyes were kept from recognising him” (Luke 24:15).

Considering that Jesus’ resurrection is of such great significance whereby Christianity would never have been the same if it was not a true historical event, one would have expected Jesus to reveal his true identity at the first instance. After all, these men were sincere followers and they were likely to be at one of the lowest points in their lives. They had harboured great hopes for what Jesus was going to accomplish and now everything seemed to have come to a nought (v.21). In addition, they were also baffled by the women’s account of angelic visitation and news of the empty tomb (v.22). Surely this would be an opportune moment for Jesus to lift up their heavy hearts and bring some clarity in the midst of their emotional turmoil.

It is interesting to note that even though these two disciples had walked and talked with Jesus, they still had no idea who Jesus was. Despite possessing first-hand information about Jesus’ life and ministry and being familiar with the Old Testament, Jesus had to gently rebuked them and called them “foolish ones and slow of heart” (Luke 24:25).  But lest we think that the other followers of Jesus fared better than these two disciples, the fact is that Mary Magdalene and the other disciples were also unable to recognise the post-Resurrection Jesus on first sight (John 20:11-16, 21:1-7). All these seem to suggest that their physical senses and knowledge in and of themselves are insufficient to help them recognise Jesus for who he was.

Although Scriptures do not reveal what are the reasons why Jesus did not let these two disciples know who he was from the beginning, it is suffice to know that they did come to recognise him by the end of the day. Out of his grace, Jesus did not let them remain in their spiritual blindness. Instead, God supernaturally intervened and dealt with whatever that was hindering them from having faith so that they could truly know Jesus. In the context of the Emmaus encounter, the remarkable thing is that the way Jesus went about doing so was through rather ordinary means.

Firstly, Jesus began by interpreting to them “in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Through an exposition of the Old Testament, Jesus explained to them the significance of his death and resurrection and gave them a proper understanding of how he is the fulfilment of all the covenantal promises and messianic prophecies recorded in the Old Testament. Jesus did not teach anything new or revolutionary but a faithful retelling of God’s redemptive plan had a way of setting the disciples’ hearts on fire (v.32). Before they could “see” Jesus, the disciples needed to first understand God’s revealed word.

Secondly, Jesus re-enacted a familiar scene of a shared meal whereby the breaking of bread (v.30) would have undoubtedly reminded the disciples of their last meal with him at the Upper Room. In and of themselves, there was nothing unique about the bread or impressive about Jesus’ actions. But through the hands of Jesus, it turned out to be a sacramental experience of a lifetime. Indeed, Luke records for us that after the disciples received the bread from Jesus, “their eyes were opened and they recognised him” (v.31).

Although we do not get to see Jesus physically today, we thank God that we are not necessarily hindered from getting to know God and his truth. Neither are we missing out on God’s presence simply because we are unable to partake of the Holy Communion due to the circuit breaker measures. For that matter, we would be belittling God if we are to think that God’s glory will only be revealed after this pandemic blows over.

If Jesus who had broken out of the tomb and triumphed over death used ordinary means to reveal himself to his disciples, there is no doubt God can minister to worshippers through a recorded scaled-down worship service led only by the worship leader and pianist. When believers reverently gather before our laptops or smart televisions and listen to God’s Word being expounded, the Holy Spirit will also open our eyes to his truth and lift up our weary hearts in the midst of this pandemic. For that matter, even if we do not have Wi-Fi connection and can only read the Bible by ourselves, we can rest assure that God will still meet us during our time of private worship unto Him.

While we certainly look forward to the time when those circuit-breaker measures would be lifted, let us not miss out on what God may be teaching us in this season. For some congregations, they may need to come to this realisation that they have become dependent upon soothing music or a speaker’s eloquence to inspire their people to trust in Jesus. For some individuals, it may be time for them to clear this misunderstanding that we will only encounter the Living God through the spectacular.

As much as the coronavirus itself is mute and is incapable of pointing people to Jesus, the way God’s people respond to it will speak volumes about the worthiness and goodness of Jesus. A donation of our Solidarity payment or a phone call to an anxious person may not seem like a big deal. But at a time where everyone has to put on a mask to protect ourselves from a virus that cannot be seen with our naked eyes, who knows how God is sovereignly working to remove the veil of people’s eyes so that they can truly see Jesus.

Rev Edwin Wong

April 19, 2020