Cleopas of Emmaus:
His Testimony to Jesus and the Resurrection
An Easter Sermon by Fred G. Zaspel
I suppose I should begin by introducing myself. My name is Cleo. Cleo Davidson. You have probably heard of me on occasion--Luke mentions me once in his gospel account by my proper name, Cleopas. But I doubt that you know very much about me. I tell you what, though, when it comes to Jesus and His resurrection, I have more to say than most anyone else you could want to meet.
Let me tell you a little about myself. Actually, you have read more about me than you probably know. Luke is not the only Biblical writer to mention my name. John also mentions me as the husband of one of the women named "Mary" standing near the cross. My given name was Chalphai in Aramaic. In Greek that can be transliterated as either Clopas or Halphaios--which in Latin is Alphaeus. That, you may remember, is the name given as the father of James in all four of the lists of 12 disciples in the NT--"James the Less/younger," Mark 15:40; not to be confused with the older James of Zebedee, Jesus' cousin on His mother's side.
But you see, if people would just learn to read more closely to the details, they would find that I am not such an insignificant nobody after all! I am the father of one of the 12 apostles. I am the husband of one of the women who stood near the cross--and who went early that Sunday morning to Jesus' tomb. My family was at the very heart of the circle of Jesus' followers throughout his ministry and up to the very end.
In fact, you may be interested to know that my acquaintance with Jesus is much closer still. A few of you may have read Eusebius, the fourth century church historian. Why neither Matthew, Mark, Luke, nor John record this, I'll never know--but Eusebius preserves the information that I am the brother of Joseph of Nazareth--Jesus' legal father. Jesus, you see, was my nephew--"Uncle Cleo" He used to call me. My acquaintance with Jesus goes back as far as His very birth--although then, I must admit, I had real questions as to why my brother Joseph would marry a pregnant woman--his sense of justice and all.
I grew up in Bethlehem, but for some years my wife and I had made our home in Emmaus, a quiet, little village about seven miles from Jerusalem. As Jesus grew we of course were very interested in His progress and development. He was a perfect child, always so obedient to His parents. He never did anything to show them any disrespect whatever. Although He would puzzle them at times--like that time when He was about 12 up at the Temple in Jerusalem--telling them that He did not go along with them (his parents) because He had to be about "His father's business." Those kinds of things were always rather puzzling. But under Joseph's instruction we saw Him develop His skills as a Carpenter. He was a good one--always accurate to the mark and ever creative. No dresser drawer of His making ever hung. And no table ever wobbled. And He could make yoke for the oxen which fit so comfortably and so well. In fact He became known in the area as "the carpenter." Joseph was proud of Him--and so were we.
From His birth onwards, it became increasingly evident that Jesus was different. Oh, I don't mean He looked any different or that He played any different as a child or would have stood out as any different on the playground--not at all. It was just that He was perfectly exceptional. And when as a man He began to teach it was evident that He Himself believed that He was more than just a man among others.
To verify that very point Jesus went about working all kinds of miracles. He healed more people than I can count--some of whom, in fact, were people whose illnesses were congenital. He freed people who long had been possessed of demons. He even raised the dead! There was simply no limit to His abilities--and everyone who watched Him recognized it.
But it was not only His miracles--it was His teaching. He began to tell people that He was the One sent from God to accomplish the Messianic mission.
One day--it was a Sabbath--Jesus sat in the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth. By now there was considerable talk about Him all over the region. And as He sat to teach in the Synagogue that day He took the Isaiah scroll and rolled it until He came to what you call chapter 61. Everyone's eyes were fastened on Him as He read: The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD
Then He added, "This day this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
I wasn't there to hear Him that day myself, but everyone was talking about it--the atmosphere was absolutely electric. Here He claimed in unequivocal terms that He was Israel's Messiah--sent of God to bring blessing to His people.
And in His preaching He turned the accepted religious thinking of day on its head. He spoke of a Pharisee & Publican, for example--a model of virtue vs. the epitome of vice. Yet at the end of the story it was that Publican and not the Pharisee who simply casting Himself on God's mercy went to his house justified --and that without any righteousness of his own to show thru keeping the law.
He spoke of Laborers in a Vineyard who all received the same wage--a denarius--however long they had worked--whether 12 hours or one. His point seemed to be that God's love is not parcelled out in quantities proportionate to individual merit. There is a 12th part of denarius --a pondion we called it. But what He emphasized is that there is no such thing as a 12th part of God's love, and that salvation is as full as it is free.
He spoke of Two Debtors --one who owed a large sum of money and the other a relatively small amount. But in that neither could pay their debt the creditor frankly forgave them both. And again we were all left with the clear impression that the Salvation He had come to bring was not sufficient only for so many sins or for some kinds of sins--but that by Him we could receive full pardon for all our sins, and that without cost to us!
He spoke of the Prodigal Son who defied his father and disgraced his family. And coming home he begins that carefully prepared speech that a wandering son feels that he must make--asking if he could just become his father's servant. But the father would hear nothing of it. He didn't say, "OK, but from here on you must prove yourself by...." Not at all--rather than putting him on probation to see how he would turn out the father went to pains to assure his returning son of his complete acceptance--that in perfect grace he could be accepted and enjoy all the benefits of family life.
And at times His teaching was more direct still. On one occasion He simply said boldly that if there was anyone at all who was burdened with sin and chafing under its sense of guilt, if they would but come to Him He would give them rest in the peaceful assurance of Divine favor.
Throughout His entire ministry there was that theme--that announcement that God's salvation was freely available thru Him. That God demanded precisely nothing but that the sinner recognize his need of grace and to find it go to Jesus. The law, He taught, while it was entirely righteous and good, could not do by itself--it merely showed what was required and wherein the sinner had failed. It made no provision for the sinners rescue. But over & again He insisted that He was the bread of life, the water of life, the light of the world, the way, the truth, the life. That He had come to graciously provide for sinners what they could never do on their own.
Oh, I tell you, as that message gradually began to sink into my heart I was more and more thrilled by it. This is just what I needed--and I knew it. I had often thought that for all my religious heritage and involvement I was still a sinner. And how to be accepted before the Holy God I thought must be impossible. And as to how to fix that problem I was completely in the dark--until I heard Jesus preach the acceptable year of the Lord. I came to see that God would have me not for what I had done--for that would never be enough. Rather, He would accept me for what Jesus would do for me. And I learned that by simply believing in Him I could be righteous before God--however I may have violated the law at so many points.
But you must understand--what message was music to my ears was heresy to the religious establishment. Their whole boast was in the law--because they had it they felt they were safe. And so as a result of what they perceived to be Jesus' repudiation of the law of Moses, they hated Him. So intense was their hatred that they wanted nothing more than to see Him dead. You have to understand--they believed with all their hearts that they were right. And they believed that they were being true to God and to His law. But when Jesus began to show them from their own Scriptures that they had perverted its teaching, and when they could not show that He was wrong--they had only two choices: they could agree with Him and so take Him as their Messiah, or they could silence Him. And human pride being what it always is, they chose the latter.
Often they would carefully prepare a debate, send their chosen spokesman to corner Jesus in a clever argument, to discredit Him before the crowds. Time and again they returned having had their own argument turned back at them and explode in their hands. Jesus' insight into the law was profound, and it was precise.
Meanwhile there was His growing popularity among the masses --not that they all saw clearly the spiritual nature of His mission, they didn't-- but there was growing excitement about Him all throughout Judea. In fact, only a few days before His death, as Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a young donkey, the crowds were larger than ever, and they were beside themselves with excitement. And they all were shouting as Jesus rode by, "Hail, Son of David! Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Glory in the highest!"
Here Jesus was finally being rightfully received as Messiah. For all of us this was the greatest day of our lives--all of us, that is, except for Jesus. He saw through it all as a selfish desire for mere political freedom, and that without any regard for deliverance from sin.
But still this was simply to much for the religious heavy-weights to tolerate. Jesus just had to be stopped before things got any worse. And so in the most awful miscarriage of justice in history, they bought off Judas Iscariot, one of the 12, who agreed to identify Jesus as one guilty of teaching blasphemy. The arrest, the interrogations--from Caiaphas to Pilate to Herod and back to Pilate--in it all His innocence was clear, but because of the great stir created by the religious leaders, Pilate--who admitted publicly that he could find nothing in Jesus worthy of punishment--ordered Him whipped. But that was not enough. They wanted Him dead. And death they demanded. "He claimed to be a king! He is then a rival to Caesar! And if you do not crucify Him we'll make sure Caesar knows of your complicity with treason!"
So finally, Pilate had Jesus crucified. Crucifixion was one awful way to die and one horrendous thing to witness. Bleeding already from the whipping he had received He was forced to carry His own cross outside the gate and up that hill called Golgotha. Laid across the beams His hands and feet were fixed in place with huge spikes nailed into the rough-hewn wood. Then He was lifted up and as the cross was dropped into the socket, Jesus' body settled with a jolt, and all the weight fell hard on those spikes, and His back--already full of gaping wounds--scraping down along the jagged timber.
Standing close by were John, his cousin and most loved disciple; His mother, Mary; Salome, His mother's sister / His aunt; Mary Magdalene; and my wife, who also is named Mary (we had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover). I am embarrassed to say that the rest of us were too afraid to be seen there for fear that we might meet a similar fate. We retreated to Zebedee's house where John eventually returned also with Mary, Jesus' mother. We all were frantically wondering what we should do. Zebedee and I, however, just had to go back & watch, but we carefully remained on the outskirts of the crowd.
You've read the accounts, and I'm sure you are familiar with them. And reading them as one who has also read the following chapters it is difficult for you, I think, to sympathize with us who believed in Jesus then, and who were there to see it all come crashing down. You have to understand that we hadn't read those next chapters. For us precisely everything we believed was being made a lie. Never mind that we had given the last several years of our lives to what seemed now to be a lost cause; all of our hopes and assurances for eternity and fellowship with God we had pinned to Him. We had learned from Him to speak of God in a new light; we had learned to speak to Him with a new confidence--because simply by our association with Jesus we had been assured of Divine favor. But if God would after all He had done abandon Him like this, then it was clear that all of our hopes had been misplaced. And we were left to that dilemma of sin and guilt which we had faced before He ever came along.
While Jesus hung there dead, suddenly a realization came to us that His body would no doubt be taken with that of the two criminals who were crucified with Him and thrown into some criminal's common grave--if not perhaps into the Valley of Hinnom, the local dump. Ironically, it was a man who up till now was but a secret disciple, Joseph of Arimathea, who asked Pilate for the body and placed it in His own newly-cut tomb which was nearby. Along with Nicodemus he took the body of Jesus. My wife and Mary Magdalene followed along also and saw how the body was laid.
Actually, even here things here were not as we would have done. It was late Friday, and with the Sabbath quickly approaching they had to hurry the body to its burial--there was no time for the usual washing and anointing with various perfumes. They agreed to let some new linens suffice--with which they wrapped His body and packed it with dry spices. The women agreed to return to the tomb at first light following the Sabbath, and complete the burial rites. Friday evening was an evening I will never forget. It was pure misery. We hardly slept a wink for grief. We cried and cried, and for all of our attempts, there was no comfort to be found. The Sabbath was no better. All day long we watched one another's grief continue. Everything was so wrong. All that we believed had been dashed. It seemed that life itself had ended and that hell had come to earth.
Saturday evening, as soon as the sabbath was ended, I took my wife and Mary Magdalene back to Bethany. We had family to check on, and we were beside ourselves wondering if our Son James was still alive. We found him there with eight other of the disciples--frightened and full of grief, but physically unharmed and so far unthreatened.
At first sign of light Sunday morning I returned with my wife and with Mary Magdalene to the Zebedee house. Salome had gone to market to obtain spices, and so the three women went off to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus in burial.
I waited there with Zebedee and John and Peter for some time. All of a sudden we heard a woman's frantic voice and footsteps fast approaching. It was Mary Magdalene. She said that when they arrived at the tomb they found that someone had come and stolen Jesus' body. In an instant Peter and John ran off to see for themselves, but I remained behind. Then not too much later the other women returned also--my wife and Salome. They said that after Mary Magdalene left the tomb they went on in and saw empty grave clothes. That's right--empty grave clothes. And they said the linens were exactly as they had left them on Friday--only they were empty. There was no thief--the clothes were undisturbed. It was as if the body had vanished! And they said an angel appeared there to them and told them that Jesus had risen, just as He said, and that they should go and tell all the disciples!
But this kind of thing was simply impossible! And I didn't believe them. I couldn't. But undaunted, the two went off to fulfill their commission to tell all the disciples.
I decided to return to Emmaus. Luke went with me, and as we walked we rehearsed all the things that had happened. As we walked, a man came up to us asking what we were talking about, and why we were so sad. Why I did not recognize Him at first, I still don't really know. But we said, "Where are you from? Don't you know all the things that have happened in Jerusalem over the past three days?" "What things?" He asked. "The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet mighty in word and in deed -- who was crucified. We were hoping all along that He was going to redeem Israel, but now.... Now today some of our women went to the tomb and found it empty, and said they saw angels who told them He was alive again. But when two of the men went to investigate, they found the tomb empty alright, but they didn't see Jesus. We frankly don't know what has happened to Him.
Then do you know what He said to us? "You fools. Have you never read your Bible!" And within minutes He set our hearts to pounding as He opened the Scriptures for us as we had never before seen. We had no copies of the Scriptures with us, but this man didn't need it--He had it all within Himself. Not only was it memorized--its whole significance in the saving plan of God was firmly fixed in His mind. And that significance He explained to us in detail. And it was not just Moses' law only--but the whole of the Scriptures--in its larger picture and in its details--He saw it all as pointing forward and having direct bearing--indeed, final fulfillment--in Jesus.
The smoldering embers of my faith began to flicker again as He took me back to the very beginning and showed us that in the very Garden of Eden God had promised deliverance from the Tempter thru the bruising of the deliverer! He reminded us of the Passover in Exodus--which we had just gone in Jerusalem to commemorate. And He reminded us how God delivered our fathers from the Death Angel in Egypt through the sacrifice of a spotless lamb!
He reminded us of the Guilt Offering and Day of Atonement and the whole sacrificial system. "What was God intending to teach us in all that?" He asked. What of the innocent victim, the slain lamb? What of the transferring of guilt to its head and then its death? What is all that designed to teach? Was there not in all that the clear indication that it was necessary to have an innocent substitute to die for the sinner if the sinner was to go free?
And what of the priest himself--did He not work in a representative capacity, bringing the people into the presence of God through the sacrifice that he offered?
And why, he asked, did the sacrifices need to be repeated? Why was it necessary for the priest to make atonement every year? If the sacrifice made atonement, then why does it need to be offered again and again? Or was it designed to point forward to a Greater Sacrifice?
And then He quoted the prophet Isaiah who said of the Messiah, Jehovah's Servant, that "God will make Him a guilt offering for the sins of His people. He said that God would bruise His servant and by His stripes effect the salvation of all of His people! There it was--I had heard it read in the Synagogue, but never really understood its significance.
But it was not just Moses and the prophets. He took us also to the Writings--the Psalms and so on. There He quoted the words of the Psalmist who said in prophecy, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" I had heard those words myself only 3 days ago--Jesus quoted them while He hung there dying! He quoted parts of Psalm 16 in which David expressed such confidence that God would not allow him to rot in the grave--but he did decay in a tomb, this man reminded us. David, being a prophet, spoke of someone else--He spoke of Messiah!
And on and on He went through the Scriptures. In Jesus, He showed us, a whole stream of ancient anticipations found their answer and fulfillment. Jesus was that prophet like unto Moses. But He was also the deliverer Joshua. And He was Aaron the priest who offered sacrifice. Indeed, He was innocent Isaac who was offered by Father Abraham in sacrifice. He was the sacrificial lambs which for centuries had been offered in hopes of atonement. He was David the King. He was Noah by whom deliverance was brought to those who went with him in the ark. He was Jonah who was--mark it--three days in the fish's belly. In Jesus a whole stream of ancient anticipations met their fulfillment.
I tell you, things were finally taking shape, and I thought my heart would pound right out of my chest with each new passage of Scripture He cited. Jesus' death was no accident! God had not allowed things to get out of hand. God had given His Son in death--a death which was in place of all of His elect people. He --the only righteous one ever to live-- died under the awful judgment of God so that sinners would go free. O, my heart did burn and began to swell and my faith began to revive. In the death of Jesus my own salvation had been secured.
When we arrived in Emmaus this stranger seemed intent on going further, but we weren't about to let Him go. And we finally prevailed on Him and convinced Him to come and eat dinner with us. And when we sat at the table, I was the host --but He took the bread, and blessed it, and broke it and gave it to us to eat. And then, all of a sudden, we looked at Him as if for the first time all day --it was Jesus! He was alive! There He was, at my table. No wonder this stranger knew so well the whole plan of God --it was a plan of His very own making and doing!
But just as soon as we recognized Him, He was gone -- He just vanished out of our sight. We looked at each other with both fear and amazement! Our faith in Jesus was vindicated --He was alive! I believed --but I couldn't believe it! We had seen Him ourselves --we talked with Him! He was alive again!
All of a sudden we didn't need to eat --for the 4th time that day I walked that 7-mile road between Emmaus and Jerusalem and found the eleven and those with them --they were gathered together in a room at John Mark's house. We burst in to give them all the news -- but before we could say a word they all shouted -- "Jesus is alive! He appeared to Peter!" As it turned out we were not the only ones Jesus spoke with. There were also the women. Mary Magdalene. But we told them of how He had come to us and how He had opened the Scriptures and set our hearts aflame.
Now mind you, we were behind locked doors --we still were not sure what the authorities might do. But as I told them of Jesus' appearance to us and His teaching and His breaking of bread --there He was again, standing there in the room with us. Most of us thought it was a ghost --so would you! You must remember that the strong image of His dead and mangled body was fresh and firm in our minds. We were terrified. Funny as I look back --He asked, "What are you afraid of? Look at my hands, my feet --you can see that it is I Myself. Touch me and see --you ever hear of a ghost with flesh and bone?" And then He took food, and began to eat in front of us. It became clear -- it really was Jesus.
The realization of what was going on gradually settled on us, and He proceeded again to teach us from the Scriptures how it was necessary for Him--the Messiah--to die and to rise from the dead the 3rd day, and that as a result repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
That was not the last we saw of Him. During the following days and weeks He showed Himself on many occasions --once to above 500 of us at once. And yes, I was there in Bethany when He ascended into Heaven.
Well, that is my story. What is important is not that I was Jesus' uncle. And no, it is not important at all that you remember me --except in that you remember me as one who can affirm first-hand that Jesus is alive. I saw Him. I touched Him. I talked with Him and ate with Him. He is risen-- just as He said.
Listen, the faith that is proclaimed here in this church is a well-founded one. The Great Object of our faith is not a good man who spoke well and did nice things --and who died. The great Object of our faith is the Lord from Heaven who came, lived among us, died for us, and lives again as our faithful and eternal high priest and King.
If the faith you profess for salvation is founded in Him, you rest in good hands.