And if we look and listen for it, in our moments of longing and disorientation, we sense the presence of the Lord. His presence turns up in any number of ways:
- The surprising lyrics to a song perfectly timed for us.
- The gentle touch and concerned word of a friend or family member.
- The comforting aroma of a meal that evokes a flash of precious memory.
- The ache and longing of our own heart stirred by God's Spirit.
- The firm touch of a mentor's correction and advice.
- The sense of helplessness when we go to sleep only to awaken with fresh insight.
- The strange pull on our heart of a Scripture we thought we had long ago forgotten.
Maybe none of this has happened for you yet. Maybe you only yearn for it to happen. All I know is that an old, simple, mysterious little story from the end of the gospel of Luke reminds us that it can happen for all of us!
Our temptation is to think we know the story, or that it is too long to read again, but resist those thoughts. Read this story. Let it settle into your heart. Ask to hear the story fresh, with new ears. Listen to it as your own story:
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.
He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?"
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?"
"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. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 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. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."
He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 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.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 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?"
They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon." Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you" (Luke 24:13-36 TNIV).
I don't know if Cleopas and his friend didn't recognize Jesus because they were so distracted by their own disappointment or if the Lord intentionally kept his identity hidden. The way life is, it wouldn't surprise me if it was a little of both. What I do know, however, is that many of us ache for a similar experience. We yearn with a holy fire, a soul longing for an experience of Jesus' presence. We want to know that he is really present with us. We need to know that our life matters to him. We long for reassurance that he is not as far off as he seems. And what makes it really hard, we're not sure we even have the right to expect the Lord to be present, to show himself, to be real to us in any tangible way.
I know. I've been there, too. I've felt that "dark night of the soul." I wasn't sure I could go on. Fear gripped my soul in the deepest places. And even when the Lord showed himself clearly, it took him doing the same thing, several years apart, in amazing fashion, for me to really accept. He met me on my road to Emmaus and I have never been the same.
And if we listen to this story, especially if we listen to it as our story, we notice four simple, but amazingly powerful ways that can open our eyes to see the Lord walking with us on the dark and discouraging roads we travel.
We experience Jesus' presence when we join others in seeking him through ...
- Looking for Jesus in the story of Scripture (Luke 24:17-27).
- Serving others warmly and genuinely as if they were Jesus (Luke 24:28-29).
- Living in genuine fellowship and community in Jesus? name (Luke 24:30-32).
- Sharing the good news we have discovered about Jesus with others (Luke 24:33-35).
Go back and look at the story above, and you will find these four things. And if you go back and listen to Matthew's gospel, you find the same four things that the Lord has given us to experience — not know about or read about, but experience — His presence.
Looking for Jesus in the Story of Scripture (Matthew 1:18-23)
Serving others warmly and genuinely as if they were Jesus (Matthew 25:34-40)
Living in genuine fellowship and community in Jesus' name (Matthew 18:1-35)
Sharing the good news we have discovered about Jesus with others (Matthew 28:18-20)
I fear that all too frequently we settle for knowing about Jesus and hoping to meet Jesus, but not seeking the Lord and experiencing Immanuel's presence in our daily lives. God has always wanted to restore the relationship with us that we had with him before sin and shame separated us from his walking with us in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8-10). David talked about God's presence in every corner and along every road our lives take, from conception through death (Psalm 139:1-24). So we shouldn't be surprised when Jesus shares our journeys as Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). Nor should we surprised to hear Jesus promise:
I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. Anyone who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them. ... Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them (John 14:18-23).
The following questions are for your own thought, for us with a small group of others, and I'd love to get your responses on my blog:
Do you believe you can experience Jesus' presence in your daily life?
What is the difference between expecting to meet Jesus and simply trusting he is there with you? Why would both of these be important?
How do the four ways listed above — Scripture, Fellowship, Service, Outreach — help you best experience Jesus as Immanuel?
- Which of these four ways of experiencing Jesus connects best with you?
- Which of these four ways do you need to exert more effort to give you an opportunity to experience Jesus' presence?
- Why are all four important for us?
- Has one of these four ways been more important to you at one point in your life than today?
I'd love to hear from you on my blog: