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Different Roads but the Same Destination
“Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us? ” (Luke 24:32 NKJV).
“As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” (Acts 9:3-4 NIV).
Each of us has our own personal story of how we came to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. For some, the journey to Christ is sudden and dramatic as what happened to Saul, later to be known as Paul, on the road to Damascus. For others, the journey to salvation looks more like the road to Emmaus – a gradual realization that Jesus has been with us before we even realize it or accept Him due to His prevenient grace.
The Road to Damascus is an exciting story as detailed in Acts 9. Saul was a Pharisee on his way to Damascus to bring followers of Jesus to the high priest for persecution. On the road, God revealed himself to Saul in a dramatic fashion and Saul immediately submits himself to our Lord. I love the imagery in Acts 9:3-6. “As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? . . . I am Jesus. . . .’ So he, trembling and astonished, said, ‘Lord, what do You want me to do?’” Saul was blinded for three days after the encounter, and I suspect that this experience later prompted him to write, “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
Scripture tells of other “Damascus” experiences in which a person has a sudden revelation or epiphany that radically changes their beliefs. For example, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush (Exodus 3) and meets Isaiah in the temple (Isaiah 6). Mother Theresa has talked about her Damascus road experience when she was on a train at 16 years old.
The Damascus road experience is exciting and captivating. Many Christians feel disappointed if they do not have a similar testimony. The problem with waiting for our own Damascus road experience is that we may miss our walk to Emmaus experience. Remember, God does not always reveal Himself in a dramatic fashion. Sometimes, He is not in the wind, earthquake, or fire but rather speaks in a “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:11-13).
The walk to Emmaus story is detailed in Luke 24:13-35 and describes how Jesus can gradually and subtly reveal Himself to us. The story describes how two of Jesus’ followers were sad as they walked to Emmaus because the person (Jesus) that they thought was the Messiah had died three days earlier. Jesus comes along side of them as they walk. He walks and talks with them and interprets the Scriptures to them, but they do not recognize Him until at the end of the day when He blesses bread and gives it to them. Then, they finally recognized our Lord.
As I read the Emmaus story my mind takes me to the story of the LORD calling a young Samuel into ministry in 1 Samuel 3. God called Samuel three times, but Samuel did not recognize His call, and Scripture tells us the reason. “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him” (1 Samuel 3:7). Samuel did not recognize God because Eli was still teaching him about God. Now, with regards to Saul, clearly, the word of the Lord also had not been previously revealed to him. So, what about the men walking to Emmaus? Had the word of the Lord been revealed to them? Scripture tells us that the men were followers of Jesus and had hoped that “He was the one that was going to redeem Israel.”
Even though the Emmaus travelers were followers of Jesus, they too were “blind” to His presence because they did not fully understand Scripture. Their lack of understanding prompted this response from Jesus. “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! (Luke 24:25). Perhaps the word “blind” could be inserted for “foolish”?
The people in both the Emmaus and Demascus stories have issues of blindness. After Saul encounters God, he loses his sight for three days until a disciple by the name of Ananias lays hand on him and heals him. The two men on the road to Emmaus, were already followers of Jesus, but their spiritual sight was poor, so they failed to recognize Jesus as they walked.
Now, let’s go back to the number of times that God called Samuel – three. Numbers have symbolic purposes in the Bible, and number three stands out as one of the more prominent numbers featured in Scripture. Scripture tells us that the journey to Emmaus occurred three days after Jesus was crucified, which is the same number of days that Saul lost his sight after his encounter with God. You may recall that Jesus rose three days after His crucifixion. There are other examples in Scripture regarding the number three but perhaps none more significant than the three in one Holy trinity.
I have spent more time journeying to Emmaus than Damascus. God will often move on my heart in a gradual, incremental, almost imperceptible or “Emmaus” way, and looking back after days or even years I might eventually realize that my risen Lord was truly walking with me. Or after a moving sermon or a powerful small group session, I might look back and realize that God was using somebody else’s tongue to talk to me. Your calling may not come at one of the extremes (Emmaus or Damascus) but rather somewhere in between. Just as each of us are uniquely called into ministry by our baptism and profession of faith, we are also uniquely called and gifted to our unique positions within the Body.
Prayer: Dear God, Thank you for walking with us. We ask of You what the Psalmist asked – “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” Forgive us as we fail to recognize you and remind us of the promise of the Psalmist – “The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.” Amen.
Meet the Author
Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
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