HIS HIDDEN FACE
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Paul Harvey in For What Its Worth tells of the young lawyer who was sitting in his office waiting for his first client. When he heard the outer door open he quickly tried to sound very busy. As the man entered his office the young lawyer was on the telephone saying this: "Bill, I'm flying to New York on the Mitchell Brothers thing; it looks like its going to be a biggie. Also we'll need to bring Carl in from Houston on the Cimarron case. By the way, Al Cunningham and Pete Finch want to come in with me as partners. Bill, you'll have to excuse me, somebody just came in...."
He hung up and turned to the man who had just entered. "Now how can I help you?" The man said, "I'm here to hook up the phone." His disguise as a busy man was ripped off, and he was exposed as a deceiver. We see the disguise used in the Bible by the wicked trying to hide their identity. King Saul disguised himself when he went to the Witch of Endor, and King Jeroboam sent his wife to the prophet disguised so as to hide her identity. Disguise is one of the ways Satan practices his deceit. He comes as angel of light, but is in fact the prince of darkness. Like Dr. Jekyll, he has something to Hyde.
Hypocrisy is the hiding behind a mask of deception, and pretending to be what you are not. Because the forces of evil specialize in the mask and hiding behind disguises, we tend to associate disguise with evil. There is a tendency to throw any weapon the devil uses out of the arsenal of Christian weapons. The folly of this is revealed by Jesus on the very day He conquered death and rose from the dead. Jesus became the master of the disguise, for He was the best known person in the lives of His disciples, yet He walked 8 miles with two of them and they never even recognized Him.
To add to the perfection of His disguises, D. L. Moody, the great evangelist, says, these two disciples were His aunt and uncle. The evidence does support his conviction, and many of the great preachers of history agree. One of the women standing at the cross according to John 19:25 was Mary's sister the wife of Cleopas. Moody reasons that it is likely that Cleopas in this passage who was heading home from Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified was the same man, and that his partner was his wife who stood at the cross. They invite Jesus into their home, and it is not likely it is two men living together. If it was today, it would be more likely, but this seems obviously to be a couple, a man and his wife, and they could very well have been the aunt and uncle of Jesus. Yet, here they walked 8 miles to Emmaus with Jesus, and as far as they know, they never saw him before in their lives.
Jesus had the ability to hide Himself so His identity was not known. Mary Magdalene had the same problem. She was at the tomb of Jesus, and He spoke to her, but she did not know Him, for she thought He was the gardener. This couple thought He was a stranger, and she thought Him to be a gardener. The clothes Jesus wore were different from His usual garb, for the soldiers took His clothes, and His burial clothes were all left behind in the tomb. We do not know if Jesus by a miracle created new garments, or if He had some stashed away for this need. But they were clothes that were not recognized as His. He looked different because He was in a disguise that hid His identity.
This was not a new thing, however, for God loved to play this game all through history. The game of hide and seek, or guess who's coming to dinner were His favorites. When God came to Abraham He came as a way fairing man, and ate with him as a friendly stranger. He came to Jacob as a wrestler, and to Joshua as a soldier. The Old Testament is filled with Pre-Incarnate appearances of Jesus, and He always comes in some disguise to hide His identity at first before He reveals who He is. This is not a game Jesus gets tired of playing with man, but is one that goes on all through history, and that is why we read in Heb. 13:2, "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it."
The supernatural is often disguised as the natural, and it can be right in front of your nose and you miss it because you assume all is as it appears, forgetting Jesus likes to play disguise. He said, "As you have done it unto the least of one of these my brothers you have done it unto me." And, "I was a stranger and you took me in." Every kindness shown to a stranger could be a kindness shown to Christ in disguise."
A popular children's book is Find Waldo. His face is hidden in a massive crowd, and the challenge is to find him in that crowd. The Christian game is similar. It is called Find Jesus. He is hidden in life, and in the crowd of strangers we meet from day to day, and we never know which face we confront is the face of the hidden Christ-the Master of disguise. The point is that we need to be kind to all strangers, for you may be being kind to your Lord who played the role of the stranger the first day of His resurrection.
The Gnostics of the early centuries threw out most of the Gospels, but they kept this account on the road to Emmaus, for they loved to see Jesus as the Master of illusion, and the great magician. This Easter special was their favorite, for Jesus did special tricks on Easter that He did at no other time. He conquered death, then walked through a closed door, and made Himself appear as someone else. They especially loved His vanishing trick at the end of the story. As soon as this couple recognized Jesus He disappeared into thin air as the grand finale.
What makes this different than any other day in the life of Jesus is that all His miracles were more playful than ever. Before His resurrection Jesus did not play around with His power. He healed and raised the dead, and He fed hungry people, but He did not walk through walls, disappear, and disguise Himself as someone else. His Easter miracles were less serious and business like, and more for fun and amazing as He played with the minds of His disciples. Jesus was alive, and in a new state of being as victor over the power of death. Life was less serious now, for Jesus had accomplished the task of atoning for man's sin, and opening the way to heaven for all who would receive God's gift of salvation.
Jesus had fought the hardest battle ever fought, and He won, and so now it was time to lighten up. For the first time in His life Jesus did miracles that were not necessary, and which were for Himself and His own purpose. The resurrection changed the whole psychology of the Savior. The devil tried to get Jesus to use His power this way in the temptations. Make the stones into bread; leap off the temple and show the crowd the most spectacular trick of their lives. These were the enticements he tried to get Jesus to fall for, but He would not. Now that Satan is defeated, and Jesus has the keys of death and hell, He can feel free to use His power in a more personal and dramatic way.
Jesus ends His life on earth with the spectacular ascension. With all eyes on Him He, like a space ship being launched, slowly rises off the ground, and the soars into the heavens leaving His disciples in a state of awe. Luke 24:52-53 says of the disciples reaction, "Then they worshiped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually in the temple praising God." The disciples had their whole psychology changed by the risen Lord. They were sad and gloomy and fearful because of the cross, but now they have confronted the living Christ, and they are full of joy. Joy is to characterize the Christian life now because of the resurrection.
The risen Christ revised and revolutionized everything-even the way He taught. No longer does He speak in parables, but He boldly tells it like it is. Before the cross the disciples could never grasp it, but now that the cross is history Jesus takes these disciples on a tour through the Old Testament, and shows them that the cross and all He endured was the predicted plan of God carried out to the letter.
In His disguise Jesus reveals Himself more clearly than He ever did before, and thus, we see through the disguised Jesus the revised Jesus. He is a disguised stranger, but He makes His identity as the promised Messiah more clear than ever before. Concealed He is more revealed. We want to change our focus then from the disguised face of Jesus to the revised face of Jesus which He reveals to this couple. Not everything is revised, of course. Jesus is back to His old ways. He is on the road again teaching as He walks. Jesus was a travelling teacher with a mobile school all through His ministry. He taught as His disciples followed from village to village. Now, on this first Easter, Jesus is on the road again teaching as He did before.
There are some important truths to recognize here. First of all, if the risen Christ is going to spend a good portion of His day teaching, just after doing the most spectacular thing ever done in history, the conquering of death. We need to recognize there are few things more vital than teaching. The kingdom of God depends on informed disciples to do the will of God. Ignorance is no friend of the Christian. Intelligent belief and behavior depend upon knowing God's Word. So Jesus does not spend His first day back from the dead flying through the air with a banner announcing His resurrection. He spends it in teaching His disciples the Old Testament so they can see God has done just what He said He would do.
Jesus made it clear by His choice of how to spend His first Easter that the need to know the Word of God is more important than religious experience. Jesus gave these two the experience of their lives when He revealed Himself alive and then vanished. For an emotional high point this had to be the peak for them when they saw the risen Christ. But you will note that He did not give them this experience until He first taught them the Old Testament. Jesus is not saying that experience and emotion are not important. He is saying they are not the foundation on which to build. If they were, He could have forgotten the teaching all together, and just appeared and given them a great emotional experience. That is never enough. You can have visions of Christ, and mountain top experiences, but these are the fruits. The roots are to be in Biblical revelation. Neglect the roots and you will soon have faulty fruits.
Experiences are temporary, but the Word is permanent. The foundation for our lives must be built on knowing the revelation of God. There is no higher goal in life than to know God's Word. It was a priority for Jesus to teach it, and it should be our priority to do the same, and to know God's will through His Word. The second thing we see here is that Jesus, the Lord of life, who has the keys of death and hell, and is at this moment the greatest hero ever to live on this planet, is not gathering great masses on the hillside or in the temple. He is walking along with two obscure disciples to a podunkville called Emmaus.
What kind of strategy is this for the greatest success and winner of all time? Where is the common sense of Jesus wasting His time on this couple? Is this a good way to spend your first day alive from the dead? Is this wise use of the greatest day in history? Does it make sense to be giving the most important lecture ever given on the Old Testament revelation of the Messiah to a couple of unknowns? Apparently Jesus is determined to make the first Easter parallel the first Christmas where the only people in on the secret are the obscure and lowly shepherds.
Jesus has some strange priorities, and does not follow the advice He would get from any promoter on how to make the most of a great event. Christmas and Easter have become the most celebrated and promoted events of the Christian world, but not because Jesus set the example. He made it a day of low profile. He said by His actions there are no unimportant people in His kingdom. There is nobody so obscure they do not deserve the very best in Christian education. Jesus taught two people on the day of His resurrection. We ought not to ask is it worth while to teach just a couple. Jesus says, yes it is. It is worth while to teach God's Word to any number of people who are willing to be taught.
The essence of what Jesus taught these two is a revised picture of the Messiah. They were conditioned by traditions to expect a Messiah who would be a conquering hero. The texts about a suffering Savior were ignored, for they were not acceptable to the leaders of Israel. They did not want a Messiah like that. So all through history we see this tendency in man. He reads the Word of God, but there is a lot He does not like, and so He pushes this off to the side, and builds His theology on the parts He does like. This is going on in all of our minds constantly, for none of us like all that God has revealed. I have never seen a book of theology yet where the author likes all he finds in Scripture.
The only reason there is controversy in Christian circles is because nobody likes all of God's Word, and the result is, different people and groups focus on what they like, and exclude what they don't. The problem is that others like what they don't, and so you have conflict. These two Christian disciples are victims of theologians who did not like the suffering Savior revelation that runs through the Old Testament. They basically never dreamed that God would send the Messiah to suffer and die. It was not a part of their tradition. Jesus had to take them through the Old Testament and show them a new perspective they had never seen. This is the only way He could make it clear that everything that happened to Him was just as God had planned it.
The lesson for all time, and for all Christians, is this: Do not depend on any tradition, but be a searcher of the Scriptures for yourself. People who depend on somebody else to tell them what God's Word says end up in cults and groups where their faith is in what men are saying rather than what the Word of God is saying. It is never wise to ignore parts of God's Word because you don't like it. It may run counter to your pet theories, or the way you were taught, but it is always better to change and conform to the mind of God than to change the Word to conform to the ways of men. Jesus revised their perspective on the Messiah, and they were wiser disciples than they were under their old convictions. Their revised view enabled them to see the cross as positive rather than negative.
We have seen the disguised face, and the revised face of Jesus, but the story ends with the recognized face of Jesus. Verse 31 says, "Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him." Jesus chose to take off the disguise and let them know it was Him as He handed them the bread. It was only a glimpse of His face, and then He was gone. Not another word did He speak. He did not even taste the bread before He disappeared. That is all it takes to change these two lives, and fill them with enthusiastic energy that took them flying back to Jerusalem to tell the rest of the disciples. History is filled with examples where one glimpse of the face of Jesus changes all of the future for those who recognize Him.
Paul on the road to Damascus is the great example. The face of Jesus was like the sun, and it blinded Paul in a flash, but Paul was made to recognize the one he was persecuting. He is converted by the recognized face of Jesus, and all of history is changed. Over 200 years ago in England the church was dead. Society was in a state of decay and crumbling, but the clergy were out hunting fox. John Wesley was one of those dry as dust clergymen who cared more about ritual than people. But then he had his Damascus road, or Emmaus road, experience. Like these two, he had a heart strangely warmed he said as he recognized Jesus Christ was the living Lord of his life. He began a revival that saved England from a revolution like what happened in France, and multitudes were saved for the kingdom of God. It never would have happened had he not come to recognize who Jesus was.
The goal of Jesus on that first Easter was to be recognized, even though he wore a disguise. This is the goal of all we do as Christians. In our worship, and in our Sunday School, and in all our groups, the goal is to see Jesus for who He really is. To recognize Jesus is the bottom line, for it is that awareness that gives meaning to all of life. Their sorrow was turned to joy, and their pitiful shuffle was turned to powerful jogging as they raced back to Jerusalem. If you want to see your energy level rise, and your spirit changed to one of joy and enthusiasm, you need to recognize the face of Jesus in your life.
Russell Conwell, one of the great preachers of the first half of the 20th century, tells of how his father seemed to be uninvolved in his life. He felt bad that he did not seem to take much interest in him. Then one day he fell from the barn beam to the floor, and was severely hurt. When the thought struck his father he could have lost his son, he became the most tender nurse he ever had. Dad would sit by his bed and entertain him, and eat meals with him. He never had such attention before, and he said, "I would fall again to find my father was my greatest friend."
This is the way it was with these two on the road to Emmaus. They had lost their greatest friend they thought. But the fact is, the cross did not take him away, but rather, gave Him back to them as their permanent Savior, companion and friend. They recognize now that all that was suffered was necessary for God's best to be theirs. God was with them even in their sorrow, but they just did not recognize Him. He was hidden from their view.
Leonard Griffith, a great preacher, tells of Ethel Rogers Mulvaney, a Canadian who worked for the Red Cross in Singapore when it fell to the Japanese in 1942. She, along with 4000 other civilians, was put in jail. They suffered 4 years of crowding and hunger. Filth was everywhere, and they had no contact from their families. Sometimes they felt God forsaken. On the first Easter they were there she asked the prison commandant if they could sing hymns on Easter morning. He barked a loud no, and that was that. 12 times she made this request, and 12 times she was refused. Then out of the blue the order came that women prisoners could sing for 5 minutes on Easter morning. They did just that, and praised the Lord for His resurrection which was their only hope to cling to. As they were marched back to their cells, a guard pulled out a tiny orchid from his brown shirt and handed it to Ethel. He softly said, "Christ did rise." He then made a military about face, and marched down the hall way. They stood there with tears in their eyes, for not only was Jesus alive, He was recognized, and that gave them the energy they needed to go on until they were released. The energy to cope with life and be victorious comes through the face of Jesus recognized.