The Emmaus Road Counseling Technique
by Derek Thomas
One Sunday morning, two somewhat forlorn disciples, Cleopas and his companion, were making the seven-mile trek from Jerusalem to Emmaus (Luke 24:13, 18). Two days earlier (three as the Jews counted days), Roman soldiers had taken Jesus to Calvary outside the city of Jerusalem and crucified Him. The two were in such a state of grief and disappointment that they were unable to think straight. They had hoped that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but now He was dead and buried in a tomb since Friday evening.
Suddenly, the two were joined by a third. Though they did not know it, their companion was the newly risen Jesus. How did He counsel them in their grief and melancholy? Three things stand out.
First, He asked questions. He got them to talk. Little progress can be made if things get bottled up inside. The poison has to be let out—in words and confessions blurted out in rough and (as here) rude ways. Jesus got Cleopas to talk. Sad, confused Christians need to talk.
Second, He took them to Scripture. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, and much that is good is discernible in the creation around us. Plundering general revelation may reveal much that is sound and good to help us, but these two on the Emmaus Road had problems with Jesus’ identity, partly because their expectations of the Messiah were skewed. What they needed was a Bible study that corrected their perception and evaluation of what God had promised and what Jesus had delivered. What puzzled them the most was Jesus’ crucifixion. And what Jesus did was to take them on a walking tour through the Old Testament showing how this was prophesied: “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
Third, and only after He had opened up the Scriptures to them, He showed Himself to them. It was at a meal (not the sacrament, as some have suggested) that Jesus suddenly revealed His identity as the risen Lord. Why they had not recognized Him earlier is difficult to explain. In part (but only in part), it may lie in the fact that Jesus’ resurrection face was somewhat different in appearance —the sorrow associated with his preresurrection life leading to death now removed. In part, it was because they did not want to see Him—their affections too darkened by the sorrow to perceive clearly. In part, too, there was something “sovereign” about it —“their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16). Only when they were ready—newly informed by a clearer understanding of Scripture —did Jesus reveal His identity.
Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and He counsels discouraged disciples in a similar fashion today. He draws us into conversation, teaches us His Word, and discloses Himself as the risen Savior.