Ashley Belle Coleman, “Traveling toward Emmaus,” Selections from the Religious Education Student Symposium 2008 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2008), 163–169.
Traveling toward Emmaus
Ashley Belle Coleman
Recently I took time to imagine I was one of the two disciples Jesus taught, incognito, on the road to Emmaus. I envisioned the Savior walking with these men on their journey. He is sometimes quiet, listening. At other times, He chastises and teaches. He is always there, though they do not see Him for who He is. As I apply this story to my own life, I know the Lord has always been with me, although I was not always cognizant of His presence at the time. I sense His presence more consistently now because I have been led through an inspired progression. This progression, this order, is laid out for us in the Emmaus journey of two disciples in Luke 24.
We are first introduced to Cleopas and another unnamed disciple in Luke 24 as they “talked together” (v. 14), puzzling over Christ’s recent Crucifixion and rumors of His Resurrection. “While they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near” (v. 15). It is significant that they gained, through simple searching, the companionship of Christ Himself. I love the truth taught through the timing of Christ’s appearance. The only step we must take for the Lord to begin to lead our lives is to earnestly seek. The men exhibited a sincere desire by reasoning together and attempting to figure out the truth of what they had witnessed and heard. At this point, that small step is enough, and as long as we keep that humble desire to understand, it will continue to be enough for the Lord to stay with us on our journey.
I am grateful that as I was growing up, Christ led me and stayed beside me through my relationships: the older girls in my ward whom I looked up to; my parents, who continued to bear their testimonies through my teenage eye-rolling; Church leaders and schoolteachers who showed genuine concern and love for me; and the Lord Himself sending His comfort and love as I prayed. I realize now that Christ has stepped in, even when I was so young and rebellious.
I cringe through the next few verses as the two men naively accuse Christ of ignorance. I was remembering my own accusations in which I vehemently pronounced my parents clueless. Jesus knows what is troubling these men, but in His desire to show concern, He asks, “What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another . . . . and are sad?” (v. 17).
Cleopas, in what could be seen as patronizing disbelief, asks in return, “Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?” (v. 18). Although not quite as offensive an accusation as mine, the insinuation of cluelessness is still present. Christ, ever patient and perfectly humble, does not take offense but humbly listens as they summarize the puzzling events of His own Crucifixion and Resurrection.
As I reflected on this, I realized Christ is demonstrating how we must approach our brothers and sisters. First, we must show genuine concern. We must notice discomfort in others and make the effort to ask why they are distraught. We must be humble. We cannot presume to already know how they feel or what they have not yet expressed. Our brothers and sisters must feel that we are listening to understand because we care, not because we are listening to check for accuracy or to prove our own point. Once they feel our love and desire to understand and help, we can begin to share truth through the prophets and scriptures. This is just what Christ does next.
It is clear that the disciples are confused and lack a correct interpretation of the scriptures when they tell Christ, “we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel” (v. 21). They did believe in Christ’s power and that He was the Chosen One, but their faith has been shaken by what they interpret to be a failed mission. They believe that Christ is dead and that Israel is still in bondage.
After they express this misunderstanding, it is time for Christ to teach them: “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (v. 25). The Greek term translated as fools suggests those who do not understand. Thus, the Lord is not name calling but rather expressing that they have been foolish to doubt the prophets who foretold these events. He is pointing out that the proof is before their eyes—the events that unfolded were not a failed plan but the complete fulfillment of a glorious plan, all documented by earlier prophets. In the verse preceding the Lord’s chastisement, the men admit the women testified of seeing a risen Christ, but they themselves never saw Him. When the Lord then chastises them, it is as if to ask, “Why do you need to see the Lord? Why is your heart so slow to accept the confirmation of truth when you read the prophets’ words?”
As I worked to gain my testimony of the Restoration and the reality of the First Vision, I often neglected the proof set before my eyes from ancient prophets in the scriptures. Joseph of Egypt prophesies in 2 Nephi that “a seer shall the Lord my God raise up, who shall be a choice seer unto the fruit of my loins . . . and his name shall be called after me; and it shall be after the name of his father” (2 Nephi 3:6, 15). How much more specific can a prophecy get? We are told this great seer’s name, even his father’s. If I accepted these prophets as true prophets of God, how could I doubt their prophecies? I felt I needed proof—my own vision to validate Joseph Smith’s. What I really needed was to value the confirmation from the Holy Ghost that came into my heart, testifying that the prophecies I read were true.
Therefore, the next step in our progression, after a sincere desire for truth, must be studying what the prophets have declared in the scriptures, and preparing our hearts to “believe all that the prophets have spoken.”
It is then time to introduce the fundamental question, and Christ does so when He asks our Emmaus men, “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26). Essentially, He is asking, “Well, did He do it or not? You say He was powerful. Do you believe He succeeded in His mission and entered into His glory with the Father? What say you?” Their hearts must have divulged their faith, their desire to believe Christ’s Atonement and Resurrection had indeed occurred, for Christ proceeds, “beginning at Moses and all the prophets,” to expound unto them “in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (v. 27). The Lord would not condemn any of us with more knowledge if we do not accept the fundamental truth that He is our Savior. When we accept that truth, then He will expound upon more truth, because our faith has allowed the Spirit to witness of greater knowledge to further our progression.
It is crucial to realize that even He, the greatest of all, uses the words of prophets from the scriptures to teach of Himself. That is a testimony to me of the immeasurable power the Word of God has in converting people to Christ. We find out six verses later that the disciples’ conversion comes while Christ is quoting the scriptures. This is when the Holy Ghost bears testimony.
They continued to learn from the Lord until they reach Emmaus. Their search for truth had taken them a considerable amount of time, for Emmaus is more than seven miles from Jerusalem. This mileage measurement is comforting to me. I feel like my progression has been slow, and that my testimony, though still growing, only stabilized after about seven years, a pace of one mile a year. The length of their journey assures us that a testimony does not come instantly. Instead, we keep moving forward, slowly learning truth line upon line in an inspired order.
After truth had been received came their test. When they drew near the village, Christ “made as though he would have gone further” (v. 28). What jumped out at me was that Christ only “made as though he would have gone further.” Christ already knew their hearts, and He knows mine. He wasn’t really planning on leaving them—He already knew they would ask Him to tarry. By pretending to leave, He gave them the opportunity to prove to themselves how they would respond. He provides tests for us so that we can exercise our agency and choose to invite Him to stay with us or not. Would the men ask Him to stay? Would they demonstrate to themselves that they had recognized the Spirit and desired more? Or would they esteem His words as naught?
Following Nephi’s counsel to “liken all scriptures unto us” (1 Nephi 19:23), I searched my memories for my testing moment. I am disappointed to admit there hasn’t been one defining test. I was never literally asked, in one instance, to decide whether I was going to invite Christ to stay or let Him walk away. The instances I recall are smaller tests, tests of specific principles, like whether I was going to get on my knees and give thanks even though I was so tired, or if I was going to leave an inappropriate movie or not.
I reread their test, imagining myself in their position. They were full of the Holy Ghost and felt what they had learned so far from this man was truth. That was it. That is all they knew. They were not cognizant that they were literally asking the Lord to stay with them. They were probably acting on an impression from the Holy Ghost with a desire to keep feeling the peace they felt in His presence. That wasn’t so far off from how I had been tested. I remembered when I felt the Holy Ghost leave during a movie, and I wanted it back enough to leave too. I remembered what had convinced me in times of anger and bitterness to pray: a desire for the comfort I believed I would receive.
Their response to Christ’s test can also be seen as a spiritual baptism. The men constrain Christ to abide with them. This brought to mind our sacrament prayer: “they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him” (Moroni 4:3). Since Christ was invited to preside in their household, they would be taking His name upon them. Having Him stay in their home would certainly help them always remember Him.
Because they do commit to Christ, He “sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them” (v. 30). Through their simple righteous choice, expressing a desire for baptism, these disciples were given the privilege of taking the sacrament with Christ. Each of our baptisms, and subsequent simple tests, faithfully accomplished, will merit the same blessings. If I continue to follow the Holy Ghost and keep Christ in my life, I will also be given the privilege of being in Christ’s presence and seeing Him face to face in heaven.
As they partook of His sacrament, “their eyes were opened, and they knew him” (v. 31). What happened to them represents the goal of our progression. We first desire to know; we build faith as we learn more truth. We then demonstrate our faith and prove our commitment to Christ to ourselves through righteous choices. After baptism, we continue to take the sacrament, renewing our covenants. Eventually, through this process, we come to know Christ, with knowledge as sure as if we had literally seen Him. These are the steps which every follower of Christ must journey through in order to know Him.
He does not reveal Himself to any of us before we have gained a testimony of Him. It is not because we don’t deserve it or because we aren’t important enough. He loves us, and His work and glory is to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). There is a divine order in our progression, and He loves us enough to walk with us patiently as we take each step towards knowing Him, so that through Him, we can gain eternal life. He loves us enough not to short-change us even though He would receive our immediate praise if He prematurely appeared.
When Christ did reveal Himself unto them, the disciples did not exclaim, “I thought so! Now I know He’s real.” Their first words prove that it is not a miraculous vision that converts us. They give credit for their conversion to the witness of the Holy Ghost: “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (v. 32) Feeling the burning confirmation from the Holy Ghost as the scriptures were read is when they gained their testimony of Christ’s divinity.
Their testimonies had been forged the step before their baptism, but “he was known of them in the breaking of bread” (v. 35). Our testimonies, built of faith, are changed into knowledge by the covenants we perform. By partaking of the sacrament, renewing their covenants, “their eyes were opened, and they knew him.” This is the last step if we desire to reach our goal of knowing Christ. We must make and keep our covenants in order for Him to make Himself known unto us and convert our faith into knowledge. Keeping our covenants demonstrates that we have reached a level of our progression where we can safely know Christ. I say safely, because our premature knowledge would condemn us if we did not have the capacity to fulfill the responsibilities that sacred knowledge entails.
The story does not end here, “for of him unto whom much is given much is required” (D&C 82:3). What did the disciples do with the knowledge they had been given? “And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem . . . saying, the Lord is risen indeed . . . and they told what things were done in the way” (Luke 24:33–35). They turned around immediately and began to testify. They had walked more than seven miles already that day, but they did not even sleep. Their testimonies of a living Christ were burning within them, and they could not rest. They set off to the place of Christ, testifying all along the way.
This is our duty once we have been the invaluable gift of a testimony and knowledge of truth. We should be unable to rest, desirous to return to Christ as soon as possible, telling all we meet along the way of the reality of a Savior, even Jesus Christ.
As with these disciples, our individual journeys to Emmaus are gifts that God gives us. Along the way, He guides us through a necessary progression until we have gained personal testimonies. I am grateful that Christ’s house is a “house of order” (D&C 132:8) and that there are specific steps everyone must take to truly know Christ. I have wished and even prayed for a vision like Nephi’s or Joseph Smith’s. But now, instead of desiring those appearances, I cherish my tender experiences with the Holy Ghost that have proven to me just as intimately that He lives and loves me.