Jesus, The Stranger
Hi, My Name Is Hank
If I were to find myself walking down the road with a couple of fellas, complete strangers, and we began to dialogue, I mean, really get into it, a conversation that changes everything, eventually, I imagine, we’d introduce ourselves to each other.
“My name is Jason,” I’d say. “I’m a writer.”
“Oh, mostly memoirs that reveal the love of God.” I’d respond when asked, “what kind of writer.”
Then we’d move to either shake hands, bump fists, or there’d be the awkward touching of elbows, cause that’s a thing now.
I’m not sure what the traditional Jewish greeting was in Jesus’ day.
I could look it up, and maybe at some point, I will. More likely though, a friend, or dissident, will inform me before I get around to it.
But it’s not really important because it’s not the point. I am simply using the cultural norms for how strangers greet one another today as a literary device to set up a retelling of the Emmaus Road Journey from Luke 24; the story where Jesus happens across two of His followers on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus “but they were kept from recognizing him.”
If you know the story, then you remember that Jesus showed up incognito, hidden, unfamiliar to his friends.
It’s an odd thing, but it actually happened several times after Jesus’ resurrection. We have three incidents where He goes unrecognized by His closest friends.
Once by Mary Magdalene in the garden where Jesus had been buried and then risen. She thought He was the gardener. Jesus had to make Himself known to her. (See John 20)
Once on a beach where Jesus prepared a meal of bread and fish for several of his disciples. John writes, “None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.” (See John 21:12)
That’s an odd thing for John to write. It’s almost as if he was saying, “We knew it was Jesus even though we couldn’t recognize Him in the ways familiar to us.”
The third time is my favorite, it happened on the evening of His resurrection somewhere between Jerusalem and Emmaus when Jesus joined two travelers, two followers, two friends, to discuss His life, death, resurrection.
And as already noted, scripture tells us “they were kept from recognizing him.”
We don’t have specifics on how Jesus introduced Himself, but I imagine He would have given them a name and maybe even a fist bump.
And I imagine the name He would have given to be clever; like maybe a name in a language unfamiliar to them that meant, “Resurrected Savior,” or “Messiah,” or “Guys, it’s me, Jesus” or, “The name that is above every name.”
But we just don’t know.
So, for this retelling, I’m gonna go with Hank…
After an introduction and a fist bump, Hank asked, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
“They stood still; their faces downcast. 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?’”
“What things?” Hank asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.”
Hank looked at them and shrugged as if to say, “Never heard of Him.”
The guys couldn’t believe it but they quickly brought Hank up to speed.
“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.”
Hank listened intently, smiling at that last sentence.
Then, with a strange enthusiasm, he looked at them as if to ask, “What more?”
“And what is more,” They said, “…it is the third day since all this took place.”
Hank nodded as they continued.
“In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body.”
Hank’s eyes grew large with excitement; kinda like the thrilling enthusiasm a parent feels as they watch their child unwrap the gift of a lifetime. It takes everything in Hank to restrain from helping the fellas rip off the wrapping paper.
“They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive.”
Hank grinned knowingly, encouraging them to keep going.
“Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
Hank looked at them for a moment, anticipation emanating from every part of his being.
“And…” radiated from his face, it hung pregnant in the air. Hank waited for them to continue the story, to maybe recognize the truth in the words they had just spoken. But their story seemed to have run its course.
The boys looked at Hank and simply saw a stranger traveling down the same road they were on; lost to their understanding of things.
Hank looked at them with a love so deep as to render them breathless.
And then Hank did something so Hank. Like, everyone who knows Hank would nod and say, “Oh man, that’s so something Hank would do.”
He rebuked them. He corrected them. He revealed the Truth to them.
“How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” Hank said with passion.
They looked at the stranger confused, vulnerable, and suddenly more hopeful than they could explain. There was no getting their heads around what Hank had just said, but their hearts leaped within them as he spoke. It was as if they knew a Truth they couldn’t understand.
Hank grinned and then said the most powerful thing they had ever heard, “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”
They had no idea what Hank was talking about. But at that moment a fire ignited within them, a nuclear reaction bursting forth in their very core, radiating life and light to every part of their being.
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Hank explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Jesus.” (See Luke 24:17-27)
I imagine Hank preached the best biblical exegetical message ever preached regarding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Hank searched the scriptures and revealed eternal life.
But hermeneutics is a subject for another chapter.
My point here; I imagine Hank’s preach was the very best ever given for one reason, Hank was Jesus…
Hank Was Jesus!
Hank was Jesus!
But the fellas hadn’t put it all together yet.
So, Hank, using scripture, shared with them about Jesus. We don’t know exactly what scriptures Hank used, but if you know Hank, you know he is brilliant at revealing Christ in scripture.
Whatever scripture Hank shared, his insights challenged and began to transform the fella’s thoughts and ideas about Jesus.
If the fellas had stopped to wonder, it would have seemed strange to them that Hank, having apparently never met Jesus, having never even heard of Him, seemed to know Jesus beyond what they could ask or imagine.
But they didn’t have time to wonder at this as Hank spoke so powerfully, so beautifully, and so insightfully that by the time they got to their destination they couldn’t imagine spending another moment without him.
Hank was amazing!
“So, as they approached the village to which they were going, Hank 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, Hank went in to stay with them.
When Hank 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.” (See Luke 24:28-31)
They looked at each other amazed and said,
“Hank is Jesus!”
“Jesus is alive!”
“Christ is risen!”
“Jesus, the name that is above every name, has reconciled the whole world to Himself not counting our missing of the mark against us!”
Scripture tells us, their eyes were opened, hallelujah!
Hank opened their eyes so they could see Jesus!
It was the very best news they had ever received. It was an earth-shaking, life-transforming gospel of salvation, pure and perfect…and given to them by a stranger.
The most important revelation of all time and Jesus thought it best to communicate it through Hank.
But the story isn’t over, it gets stranger.
The moment the fellas knew Hank was Jesus, the moment they knew that Christ is risen, the moment they discovered the joy of their salvation, “He disappeared from their sight.”
I gotta be honest, when I was a kid and until just a few years ago, I never understood this part of the story.
I loved incognito Jesus, and I loved the big reveal, but I always felt His sudden disappearance was a bit of a letdown.
Now I’m convinced it’s the most amazing part of the story.
As they sat there reveling in resurrection life, 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?” (See Luke 24:28-32)
Revelation is when we see what was always there; when we discover what has always been true.
So, Hank takes the bread and he breaks it. And at that moment, the fellas get revelation. Christ is risen.
And then Jesus disappears from their sight.
I think it’s because Jesus didn’t want the limits of their understanding to come between Him and their burning hearts.
Jesus, on a mission to reveal Himself, walked with friends that knew Him intimately, that had walked with Him three years, but showed up unrecognizable to them so that their understanding, their preconceived ideas about who He was, their worldview, their ideology, their theology, their eschatology, all their ologies, wouldn’t get in the way of the heart burning revelation of God with us, God within us, reconciling the world to himself, not counting our missing of the mark against us.
I think Jesus showed up as a stranger,
- so their limited ideas regarding the goodness of God wouldn’t cut them off from experiencing the goodness of God
- so their limited ability to understand friendship with God wouldn’t impede them from experiencing friendship with God
- so their theology wouldn’t undermine their ability to encounter the nature of Gods kindness
- so their understanding of the reconciling love of God could be experienced without their belief in the retributive nature of God getting in the way
- so their devotion to the law would not cut them off from experiencing grace
- so their perspective of mercy could bend the knee to mercy
- so their thoughts on justice wouldn’t divorce them from experiencing justice
And I think he disappeared from their sight for the same reasons.
He didn’t want them to screw it up by asking questions that would only address understanding but have little to do with faith; that burning within the heart that we steward long before our heads catch up.
Why did He hide and then disappear? Because if He hadn’t, all of their preconceptions would have become questions that cut them off from simply reveling in the wonder of resurrection life.
Jesus wanted them to recognize and understand one thing and one thing only “did not our hearts burn within us when he spoke to us on the road; did our hearts not know Him even when our minds couldn’t yet understand.”
Hank engaged with them, or rather, Jesus engaged with them through Hank, a complete stranger who seemed to have no idea who Jesus was.
Jesus didn’t want what they knew to cut them off from revelation.
Jesus was convinced that Hank, a stranger, could expose, reveal and transform their broken ideas about Jesus better than Jesus could.
Jesus sidestepped their fallen preconceived ideas about Jesus by coming to them as a stranger. He knew their knowledge and understanding would deprive them of revelation. He didn’t want their ideology to get in the way of the burning heart that knows a Love that is beyond understanding. (See Eph 3:16-19)
Jesus Is The Way
Let me be clear, I am absolutely sold on Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I have never been surer that Jesus is the only way to the Father. And I’ve been a follower since I was five. But Jesus doesn’t have an ego.
He doesn’t need us to call Him by His name before He reveals Himself to us. He doesn’t need our prayers before walking beside us.
He walks with everyone down every road, sometimes as Jesus, sometimes as the stranger, always to reveal Himself to us so we can repent, so we might experience His great affection, the joy of our salvation.
While I’ve never left Jesus, I can’t tell you how many times He has walked beside me as Hank, the stranger, so my thoughts about Him didn’t get in the way of truly knowing Him; so I might repent and leave my broken beliefs about Him.
Dear Church, lets repent of our idolatrous obsession with the limits of our understanding regarding His goodness, His reconciling love, His mercy, grace, kindness, and justice.
Let’s trust that He is the best communicator on the planet, brilliant at revealing Himself to us. As my friend Jessica Kane says, “…it’s not that all roads lead to God, but rather our Father will go down any road to be with us…”
Let’s humbly partner with Him by stewarding the burning so we might recognize His great gift of resurrection life and live confident in and as His great affection.
Excerpted from an early edit of my book, Leaving and Finding Jesus