Where The Road to Emmaus Leads
Rev. Kit Billings
April 10, 2005
Psalm 116:1-9, 12-17
A Reading from New Church Doctrine
Heavenly Secrets 5620.14 The honeycomb and the broiled fish, which after His resurrection the Lord ate in the presence of the disciples, was also a sign of the external sense of the Word—‘the fish' meaning the truth associated with that sense and 'the honeycomb' the pleasure attached to it…. The appearance is that nothing of the sort is meant, for it seems to have been purely by chance that they had part of a broiled fish and a honeycomb. But in fact their possession of these was providential -- as is not only this but every other smallest fact mentioned in the Word. Because matters such as have been described were indeed meant, the Lord therefore referred to the Word, declaring that the things written in it had reference to Himself. But the things which have been written in the Old Testament Word regarding the Lord are but few in the sense of the letter, whereas everything contained in the internal sense has to do with Him; and it is from this that the Word gets its holiness. Everything contained in the internal sense is what is meant in the statement that 'all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms concerning Him.'
Let’s take a walk together down a dusty road with our Lord Jesus this morning, shall we? Let us learn deeply and beautifully of the Lord and His truth for our lives. Something tells me that perhaps like these two disciples who were befuddled and grieved by the Lord’s crucifixion and death, we too may easily struggle to recognize every day that our Lord and Savior Jesus walks beside us—loving us, encouraging us, and helping us in the power, the love and the might of the Almighty. For indeed, He is “God with us.”
Do you ever find yourself in the sandals of these two pilgrims…in the sandals of Cleopas and the “un-named disciple”? If so, you are not alone. In my experience, this is the easiest blessing in life to miss, the living truth that the Lord is with us and is dedicated to walking beside us every day of our lives, and so therefore we do not need to live a life with deep anxiety or worry; we can trust that the Lord is leading us into all that is good and true.
There are at least two awesome and vital things that our New Testament lesson teaches that I want to focus on with you this morning: 1) our glorified Lord Jesus Christ (God visible) has been walking on every level of existence since His resurrection with His Divine body, which means that another “physical coming” of Christ was never intended in the first place; and 2) He came here, in part, to begin opening up the Word for all to discover and enjoy, which expands our minds to the Lord’s presence with us, and toward the great and awesome spiritual transformation that we each are called to tread, which is one of the primary purposes for our living here on earth. But let us delve further into this second truth in a few moments. First, let us deal more with the first lesson of this story that Jesus is actually still walking with us.
One of the great challenges I find that most of us deal with is the same challenge the Lord’s first disciples struggled with, which was the difficulty of allowing Jesus to rise within our own minds into His full Divine Humanity. The natural level of our minds tend to focus our attention primarily on the person that Jesus was back then, before He rose from His grave, as opposed to who and what He is today. We may feel incredulous about these post-resurrection accounts that teach that nothing of the Lord’s natural body was seen in His tomb, just His linen cloths that enfolded Him after His death. We may, also, feel a desire to know just what Jesus of Nazareth looked like during His time here on earth. Such issues and questions, however, do not lead us toward the living truth of Christianity today; they draw us away from the basic point of these amazing post-resurrection visits that Jesus made with His followers for a full forty days after He rose from His grave.
The point being that our lesson in Luke’s twenty-fourth chapter this morning inspires us to not make the same mistake that Cleopas and his friend had made. They wanted to keep Jesus below His new and Divine status—they still had not been willing to let go of the natural degree of Christ, including the way Jesus looked and sounded to everyone before His resurrection. And this is the main reason why they were blind to the identity of the loving and helpful Man who suddenly appeared to them on that dusty road on their way toward the village of Emmaus. For the Lord had become fully Divine-Human, and His outward appearance had obviously changed to an extent from what He’d been before. The Lord had indeed changed, having become fully glorified, and these two men (probably deeply affected by their grief as well) were not immediately ready to see the Lord for who He really was, and is.
John, on the Isle of Patmos, was given one of among many personal visionary experiences of what the Divine glory in Jesus can make Him look like now, which is actually teaching us of the specific Divine power and rulership He enjoys over all life. We read in chapter 1 beginning at verse 12 of a wondrous correspondential picture of who Jesus is to us today: “Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen.”
Obviously, many, many people have personally experienced the risen Lord Jesus since after He appeared those many times to the disciples for forty days after that first glorious Easter morning, and not everyone experiences all of these awesome correspondences we read about in John’s vision. But the core point is here for us: it is important for us to understand and expect that Jesus Christ now, today, is much more than a finite human being. He is God…full of the glory and power of infinite Divine Love and Truth. Christ’s Love, therefore, infinite Love is here with Him as you tread through life here on earth. Christ’s goodness, therefore, has long ago risen to the highest degrees of light and life we may ever try to conceive of. And therefore, the Lord deserves our full worship and praise! And most importantly of all, whenever anyone chooses to pray to and connect with Jesus in life, we should be aware of these truths as we enter into prayer.
Yet we need to also understand that like those two disciples on that road to Emmaus, we can often be “slow of heart” to more fully believe and perceive the truth that Jesus Christ glorified is always with us, every day, and that He therefore brings with Him the full Divine love, power and truth of the Almighty, the First and the Last. Indeed, being in the presence of “God with us” is likely to cause our hearts to burn with spiritual love and fire when we choose to spend personal time with Him in study of His Word and in prayer with Him.
This post-resurrection visit the Lord gave to those two good men, which is yet another of the Lord’s heartwarming visits He made to many people before His ascension, shows us one of God’s highest means through which we can now see and experience and find fulfillment in our Lord’s Spirit, which is to let Him teach us and speak to us through more than the literal meaning of the Bible, but also within the inner meaning of His Word. Clearly, one of the primary purposes of the Lord’s visit with Cleopas and his friend was for them to be taught personally by the Lord of the deeper meaning within the Holy Scriptures. Ah to have had the joy and delight of being personally taught by the Lord of all that the books of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms reveal concerning Him! How precious it would have been to have been there, walking and talking with Jesus as He comforted those men in grief and confusion. And yet, our doctrines show us that in a very similar way, we still can experience the love, comfort and presence of the Lord, when we choose to submit our lives to Him by means of worship and prayer, and through careful study of both the literal and inner truths we are given in the Lord’s New Church on earth.
This true story of these two disciples on the road to Emmaus is the most obvious place in the New Testament that reveals to us of the deep importance of the Lord’s goal with us that we not just study the literal level of the Bible, but that we need to graduate into its internal sense as well. Another important passage that teaches of this vital perspective was written by Paul in 2 Corinthians in the third chapter: “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”
If we wonder why the great revelation of the full doctrine of the Bible’s inner sense was not revealed to the first apostles on earth, given that humanity was not in a stage of development to wisely handle them, we can read in John 16:12-13a, ”I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth…” Some scholars today try to change what the Bible actually says, but this is a mistake, and a dangerous one. Also, there are those who after coming into contact with Swedenborg’s writings try to do the same. And this is also a grave mistake. For it is through the instrument of Swedenborg’s writings, the doctrines of our church, that the Lord has now disclosed to humanity the details of correspondence found in the Holy Word that enable the Lord to indeed “open the Scriptures” to us. For it is only in these non-literalistic levels where the deepest level of truth speaks to us of the Lord’s more interior life and power. Indeed, the literal sense of the Bible is the foundation upon which our understanding of God and His kingdom stand, and it gives us a lot of pleasure and sweet delight in and of itself. And this is why the Lord chose to eat the broiled fish and honeycomb with those two men that evening on their way toward Emmaus. Our theological reading this morning reminds us that every word and action that Jesus took contains more than literal truth for our minds to enjoy. They also contain a much richer, deeper Divine light that brightens our minds even more! For true, the literal level of the Word receives its living power and light from the more interior, inner meaning it possesses.
To be sure, the earliest apostles of Jesus knew that there was a vital, inner meaning to the written Word of God, but their half-truths of the time led to many inaccurate renderings of what the inner meaning really was. The efforts were from good intention, but God knew that humanity was not yet ready to know the science of spiritual correspondence. The early Christian Church “fathers” work in this way led many to disbelieve in the practice of “allegorizing” what the Bible was revealing. But thanks to God, we know today from our church teachings that the precious opening of God’s Word is the primary meaning of the Lord’s Second Coming, and that it was accomplished in the mid-eighteenth century when one of the Lord’s humble servants was chosen and prepared by the Lord to receive and write down for us the fundamental principles by which the Word is to be opened and understood.
We can read in The Book of Acts, chapter 2, of the literal fulfillment of the Lord’s promise He made to His disciples that they would be imbued with divine power to teach and share the glory of God in Christ, and of the vital path we must follow if we want the Lord to regenerate and transform us in His love and light. Indeed, the crowning achievement of being an apostle for the Lord today (as it was back then) is the ability to teach and lead others in the saving truths the Lord has given us, so that people’s lives may also be transformed, lifted, blessed and regenerated. In other words, the highest achievement of discipleship is to be able to help bring others into a personal recognition of the Lord and into an acquaintance of the means through which we learn of Him. To have such power we must choose to put self-centeredness aside (with the Divine help of the Lord) and follow the inner meaning example of what Christ’s disciples did together back then. Historically, the disciples tarried or gathered together in Jerusalem, rejoicing in the Lord their Savior. Spiritually speaking, we need to spend adequate time tarrying within what cities such as Jerusalem correspond to—we need to expose our minds to the vital doctrines of the Lord’s New Church on earth, which lead us into a careful understanding and enlightenment of the Lord’s truth that comes through His Word.
One example of this may be found in the story of Moses striking that boulder when the Israelites were journeying through the desert and were continuing to complain of things, and this then caused that boulder to spew fresh water for all to see. The literal story is an important revelation of God’s Divine love for His children, in that He did not want the Hebrew people to suffer long without water. We need such reminders as well. However, let us learn briefly of the precious inner meaning that this great tale reveals for our minds! Boulders represent base spiritual truths we have learned, which exist within out memories. But such natural truth is not alive yet while it exists in this state. There are probably many such truths from God’s Word that exist in our memories right now, perhaps things we may have learned from childhood, yet which have not yet come to life within us, thus not giving us the fresh spiritual truth we need to both live on and that can satisfy our deeper thirsts. An example then of what I’m driving at here, is that it is one thing to learn that Jesus Christ drove out many demons which had possessed many people back in first century Palestine. It is yet another thing to discover that the Lord is the only power that can overcome and defeat the evil spirits that often attack our minds with their malicious self-centeredness. And it is crucial that we each reach out to our Savior in life when such attacks happen to us. For even with our best, personal efforts, we cannot defeat the onslaught of selfish living and feeling without the help and protection from the Lord. And until we start to embrace the deeper truth within these stories of demonic possession we find in God’s Word, their truth remains as hard, unmoving boulders within the inner reaches of our minds. Any area of the Bible that one day comes to life for us is like when Moses (who represents a thorough understanding of the literal meaning of God’s Word) strikes the rock, letting the living water in it spew forth!
The road to Emmaus leads us into this precious calling of deeply learning about the Bible within the light of the Lord’s new teachings or doctrines found in our church writings. Which of you are willing to take up (or continue) such study and find our Lord’s fuller presence and leading as we follow Christ’s example of a life lived in compassionate service of one another? Amen.