A Light on The Path

by David Lien

Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the Book it is written of me. (Psalm 40:7)

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.

And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened.

(Luke 24:1-11, 13-14)

I.

Cleopas had a hole in his sandal. He walked like a juggler over hot coals, cursing a silver streak. Step, wince. Step, wince. Cleopas wiped sweat from his brow, staring with unconcealed hatred at the sadistic noonday sun. Birds wheeled overhead, mocking him, winging past him. He walked through swooping shadows, wishing he could take wing as well. I’ll fly myself straight into the Mediterranean. Yes, and why not? The sea would be wet and wild and cold. The sea would be a relief. It was so hot...

And his foot hurt.

“You think it was really true?” his friend asked him.

Cleopas glanced over. “Not likely. Dead men aren’t known for rolling stones away and disappearing. There were centurions posted and everything. What do you think—he just got up?”

“I believe Mary,” Herodion said. He pursed his lips. “I want to believe her.”

“I wish we could.”

“You think she lied?”

“About angels and empty tombs?” Cleopas sneered. “Surely, she lied.”

“I don’t know.”

“You never do.” Cleopas trudged on. As he did, each step crunched in the gravelly dust, leaving flecks of dried blood and flaky scab in its wake. “Go on believing, if you wish.”

They walked in silence for a moment. Step, wince. Step, wince.

“Sorry about your foot,” Herodion offered. He scratched his ear, squinting back at the loping blood-trail. “Looks bad.”

“Feels worse. Doesn’t matter.”

Cleopas stepped, winced. Stepped, winced. He fumed. What, God?! I don’t have enough problems? He bit down on a blasphemy and pressed on, walking gingerly, painfully, keeping his eyes fixed on the horizon.

Step, wince. Step, wince. He only had to keep this up a bit longer. A few more hours, and they’d be home. They could probably make it by sundown, he reckoned, but that still lay many hours in the future. Emmaus, he remembered. Home. He’d be there soon.

Step, wince.

Cleopas cracked his neck. Emmaus would come up quickly; it always did. He just had to keep grinding out the miles, had to keep going, had to bloody-well-keep-going, with nothing but cotton in his mouth, bitterness in his soul and pain in his feet. In time, his mind started limping, as well. Crucified hopes and mangled dreams hopped across his imagination, torturing him.

They’d been so close to seeing it done, he thought. So close seeing the kingdom on earth, just like Caleb and Joshua. He was the Anointed One. He had to be. Who else could have done the signs? Who else could have slain Caesar? It had to be Him.

But it hadn’t been. Cleopas sighed. His Master had failed him after three long years of walking, serving and avid listening. He’d followed Yeshua for so long. So long. And now he’s just another lifeless traitor. Dead and buried. I wasted my time.

Cleopas frowned. He deserved better than this disappointment! Worse, he’d led Herodion—his dearest friend—astray, led him straight into the service of a mad rabbi with delusions of deity. Cleopas wondered if his friend would ever be able to forgive his folly . . . and then remembered that Herodion would forgive him anything, short of rape and murder. Herry will go wherever I lead.

“I hope you’re right, my friend,” Cleopas whispered, his words lost on the wind. “I hope that tomb stood empty. I hope—YAHH!”

He stepped on a thorn and cursed. Hopped forward a pace. Hissed. I said so many things—so many shamefaced ridiculous things! Cleopas had seen bread multiply; he’d seen demons shudder and flee; he’d watched the Pharisees gawk and stammer at the Master’s wisdom. Yeshua seemed so . . . right. But it had all been false prophecy, in the end; it had all been a show.

The Christ couldn’t have come to suffer. He felt a fool now, thinking of it. How could he have ever entertained such fancies? It goes right against the prophets, right against the Word! The Christ on a Cross, ha! The whole idea reeked of absurdity. Cleopas ground his teeth. He’d been wrong. He’d squandered his youth tramping around Lake Tiberius; he’d squandered his friend’s trust tramping on the Torah. And his flaming feet!

Cleopas spat in frustration. No matter how much pressure he put on the edges of his arches—or how carefully he rolled his steps smoothly from heel-to-toe—he still managed to step on pebbles, rocks and anything else under heaven that might sneak into a man’s sandal.  Before too long, a second thorn lanced his big toe.  

Cleopas yowled, tried to pluck-up the thorn, but couldn’t get a grip on it. At last, he had to sit down, unlace his sandal, and sort through the dust, searching for the thorn’s brown plug. There it was, in deep, against a backdrop of ruby-red blood.

By the time Cleopas had yanked the wicked spine from his foot, he found that his companion had pulled far ahead. Herodion stood with his arms crossed, talking to a group of men a dozen yards down the track. Cleopas counted four silhouettes at the crossroads, tall men, lean as evening wolves. If it hadn’t been broad daylight on a broad road, Cleopas might have taken them for robbers—but he dismissed the thought.

Not robbers. No, never so soon after an execution. There wouldn’t be any thieves on Caesar’s highway until another day or two passed. Not after the two thieves had screamed and yelled and soiled themselves on Roman Trees, drowning on their own blood and blasphemies. Theft would remain at a low ebb around Jerusalem after that—crucifixion made for a fine deterrent. Idly, Cleopas wondered what the Master’s crucifixion had deterred... besides Israel’s hope for freedom. Cleopas strode forward, leaving red blobs behind him. Cursed thorns!

He glanced up, gauging the situation. My friend versus four men. Things looked worse by the second. Step, wince, step wince. The four newcomers loomed all around Herodion, pointing and hooting. Herodion shook his head at a scornful remark, then began pumping the air with his palms; he took a step back, trying to make himself look non-threatening, peaceful, small. Easier said than done, Cleopas thought. Herodion hadn’t passed for ‘small’ since the day of his circumcision.

Cleopas shuffled to support his friend, thinking he’d better stop this fiasco if he could. Last week, in one of his final public teachings, the Master told his disciples to buy a sword—that would’ve been good advice. Unfortunately, Cleopas hadn’t gotten to it just yet. Swords cost a pretty penny, and wine wasn’t cheap these days, either; a man had to ration his coppers. Cleopas stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Herodion.

“Peace to you,” he said to the first man, apparently the leader of this ragged quartet. “My name is Cleopas.”

“And my name is the Blessed One,” the man said, parting his lips. The others snickered a bit. “If you follow me, we can save the world together. I’ll even give you your own vine and fig tree!”

“We follow no blessings or blessed ones,” Cleopas said darkly. “Only curses and cursing.”

“You followed the last ‘Christ’ easily enough,” said a second man, unruffled by the response. He stood near the back of the crowd, leering. This fellow sported a green scarf around his neck, and a scruffy beard around his jowls. “Why not join yourselves to our lot? You can be our friend for a small contribution.”

“A bribe?” Herry asked, sharp as satin.

“Think of it as a religious donation,” said Green Scarf. “Pious men like you should leap at the chance to fund God’s work.”

“What are you talking of?”

“I told them,” Herodion said. “They asked where we came from, who we are.”

“He did,” said the third man, “told us right out.”

“And imagine our shock,” said their Leader, “to find that we were in the presence of two disciples. And not just apprentice scribes, no! That would be too rich. You two are distinguished followers of Yeshua ben Joseph!”

“Bloody sorcerer,” the third man cursed, holding up his fingers in a strange ward-shape. “We’re well rid of him.”

“He teach you any of his tricks?” Green-Scarf asked. He scratched the scruff around his lips. “I remember his trick with Lazarus. Maybe you know how to raise the dead, eh? You could raise Him from the Grave, too, couldn’t yeh?”

“Better hurry,” said the Leader. “The worms’ll have all of him soon.”

“He was a great Rabbi,” Herodion said. His knuckles burned bright white where they gripped the hem of his garment. “You know nothing of him!”

Cleopas murmured a cautionary syllable to his friend. Sometimes you had to treat the big oaf like an ox in the yoke. Loyal to a fault and stronger than city walls, Herry got himself into more fights than the average gladiator.

Cleopas stepped between Herry and the highwaymen. “We are passing down the road,” he told them. “We will trouble you no further.”

Cleopas began walking, his agonized steps carrying him under the shadow of a palm tree, grown hard by the side of the track. The soothing shade of the tree led him to believe that maybe—just maybe—they would dance right out of this scrape.

“Your Messiah was a fool’s jest!” called the Leader. “A tavern song. A bastard.”

Don’t answer, don’t answer. Cleopas didn’t know what motivated him to defend the departed Rabbi—was it true conviction or wounded pride? He ground his molars. Let them say one more word...

“He led Israel astray,” said one of the men. Sounded like the bearded one, Green Scarf. “He was a witch and a liar.”

“That’s what all the warrants say,” the Leader agreed. “Pharisees wanted him tried for a long time. They say he’s a black magician, don’t they? A blasphemer.”

Cleopas whirled. “Well, he’s good and dead now. I’m afraid you’ve come late to the pursuit of holy justice.”

A mistake, he realized. He’d started the quarrel afresh when he should have forsaken it. Cleopas spun slowly, knowing he’d committed himself now. He stared back at Herodion and the four men, paling as he turned. Each of their four enemies now held a blade. The knives glittered in the noontime sun, grinning at Cleopas, grinning at Herry.

“Hooold on now,” Herodion began, frowning. “There’s no offens—”

            “Way I figure it,” said the Leader, “a sorcerer always teaches his secrets.” He circled closer to Cleopas, picking at his teeth with the point of his dagger. “Lotsa secrets. Maybe you two know how to make bread and fish grow right out of a basket. Maybe you know how to switch wine kegs for water barrels. A demon or two might listen to you. The Pharisees will have questions to ask: ‘how,’ they will wonder, ‘can a man spend three years with a warlock and learn nothing of his iniquities?’”

            “They’ll pay good, too,” said the last man, silent until now. He glanced at the Leader, then licked his dagger. “They’ll pay real good to find out. You’ll tell them everything, boys, once they’ve got you in their dungeons.”

Four robbers stepped closer, twirling their steel.

The hand that touched Cleopas’s shoulder nearly stole his life. Behind! Only a miracle kept him from leaping ten feet into the palm branches. Five men? Thought there was four. Where’d he come from?

“Who are you?” Herodion asked, staring at someone behind Cleopas. “Where’d you come from?”

“Heaven’s gate, it seems.” The newcomer stepped out from behind Cleopas and smiled back at him. The man stood tall, straight. His robe rippled in the warm wind, clean and deep brown, the color of his eyes. His hair bore similar tints, but streaks of obsidian bled into it as well, signs of vigor and youth. Cleopas had never seen the man before, yet he felt like he ought to recognize him.

The four robbers stood still before him, unmoving. “Who are you?”

 “I’m here to bring you into your city, Cleopas,” the man said. “Come. You and stalwart Herodion, as well.”

“You know us?”

“I heard your names as you talked. I sat under the shade of the palm tree, but neither you nor any of your four friends took heed of me. I have a way of escaping the notice of proud men with uplifted eyes.”

The newcomer laid one hand on Herodion’s shoulder and wound the other into Cleopas’s sleeve. He turned them round and led them away from the four men at the crossroads. None of the robbers moved to intervene. They just stood there, holding their knives, almost drooling. Birds swooped overhead, their shadows adding deep, quizzical colors to four frozen faces.

The Leader gritted his teeth and managed to force out: “What’re you—”

            “I will watch over them,” the newcomer told him. “There is no need to deliver them up to the scribes and judges. The Law toward them is satisfied, though you could do with a closer reading of it yourselves. Your reward will not come to you in silver this afternoon, though truly, you will be repaid for this action one day. Seek mercy and not justice—for when mercy is found, true justice will follow.”

The Leader bobbed his head stupidly. “Go with them then,” he mumbled.

*

            “Well,” the man said after half-a-mile or so, “we seem to be going the same way. Emmaus is your destination?”

“Yes,” Herodion said. “You know a lot about us, don’t you?”

The newcomer reached beneath the left sleeve of his robe and scratched at his wrist, almost absent-mindedly. He smiled. “I know enough to lead you home.”

Cleopas tried to say something, but still, he stammered. He remembered the way the four thugs had quavered at this fellow’s approach. Who was this man? “Good thing you came along,” he said at last. “Good thing. And yes, we’re going to Emmaus. You could come with us—do you want to?”

The man laughed, high and clear and clean. “I will walk with you—only tell me why those men took such exception to your passing.”

“Quarrel,” Herry muttered.

“It was about Yeshua ben-Joseph,” Cleopas said. “He was a prophet, mighty in word and deed. We followed him, you see.”

“And they didn’t.”

“Ah,” the man said. “And who is this Yeshua?” The newcomer ambled along to their left, keeping a rhythmic pace. Cleopas found it easy to fall in step beside him.

“Lots of opinons.”

“Who do you say he is?”

Cleopas sped up, wanting to look the man in the face while he answered. He jogged along for an instant. And halted, startled. What happened? My foot! He could walk more quickly now. What’s more, his foot no longer leaked blood, and tentacles of white pain had ceased to crawl across his toes. He lifted his foot, searching for wounds... and saw only clean, fresh skin where the road had savaged him.

“Wha—?”

“How can you not know about the Teacher?” Herodion asked the newcomer. He ignored Cleopas, which was fine with him. Healed. I’m healed. Is it an angel, like the one Mary saw? He had to think on this.

“I know many teachers,” the newcomer said.

“Not like him!” Herry continued. “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard of these things? Those robbers at the crossroads—they were ready to kill us just for claiming his name. And him dead three days now! I still can’t make myself believe he’s dead. I—I just can’t believe he spoke false, that’s all.”

“In what did he speak falsely?”

“He claimed to be the Christ,” Cleopas said, rejoining the conversation. “Claimed.” His voice grew icy, his relief perishing under a flood of disappointment and remembered sorrow. “He talked of bringing in the kingdom, of fulfilling all righteousness.” Cleopas paused. “He talked of living water and an end to thirst. He talked of peace. He had power.”

“And?”           

“He died,” Cleopas said. He sighed then, realizing just how deeply that death had wounded him, realizing just how much his faith had tangled itself up in his hope. He realized how much he had sold for that Man—and how much he’d loved Him. He choked on sudden tears. “He died three days ago.”

II.

“And what does that matter?” The man laughed, his eyes glowing like silver discs of spinning starlight. “If he truly was the Christ, he would have to die. The Scriptures make this issue plain. Are you slow of heart, or unlettered?”

Wha—!

“I hope you do not take offense,” the man said. “But my question stands.”

“I’m unlettered,” Herodion admitted. “The foreman never gave me much time for reading.”

“And what do you mean ‘slow of heart?’” Cleopas yelled. His rising grief crystallized into affronted rage. This man knew nothing of their Rabbi, and yet he had the gall to impugn him, along with all his disciples!

“I learned directly from the Teacher,” Cleopas said. “I have letters and understanding.”

“And that is why you do not understand. Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer and enter into his glory? Why do you reject your Master simply because he endured the cross?”

“What’s your name anyhow?” Herodion asked. “You never told us.”

“Names mean too much for casual commerce,” the man said. “But you may call me ben-Israel, for our acquaintance. It is close enough to my name. But we were talking of prophecy.”

“You are speaking of the Scriptures, are you not?” Cleopas asked, plunging into the conversation. “You’re saying the Scriptures tell of a suffering Christ? I wish it were so!”

“Not so slow of heart, after all,” the man drawled, nearly winking at him.

“Where does it say that?” Herodion asked. “Doesn’t sound like the Scriptures. I’ve never heard much of ‘em, to be sure, but I’ve heard the kingdom ones. Heard a lot from Him, too, from the Rabbi. I don’t remember much of it, though. I never had a good head for figures, only for laying stone and shaping rock.”

“My father always put great stock in such qualities, Herodion,” Israel commented. “What Scriptures do you remember concerning the Christ?”

“Well,” the big man said, “in my old synagogue they used to read passages about the kingdom. It was always about glory and animals. I remember a lot of animals. Bears and lions and lambs. Vipers eating with cattle and little children. I remember that one.”

“That’s from the prophet Isaiah,” Cleopas said. His feet carried him easily now. He no longer thought of the journey ahead or his poor, flaming feet. This man, Israel, seemed to be mighty in the Scriptures. He wanted to hear what he thought of Yeshua, and of the Christ. “Isaiah speaks of the Prince of Peace,” Cleopas continued, “about the King, virgin born. But he says nothing about a Cross.”

“True enough.” Israel smiled again. He did that a lot, it seemed. “But unless you have eyes to see, you will never understand.”

“You sound like Him,” Herodion said, an edge of reverence on his tongue. “Are you sure you never heard our Rabbi speak?”

Cleopas cut in. “Explain your meaning, Israel. We still have far to go on this road; what do Moses and the prophets say regarding this man, the Messiah?”

III.

            “The Law, from the very beginning, foretells a suffering Christ,” Israel said. “Did not Moses speak of the coming Seed in Paradise—that Seed also promised to Abraham—born of fallen woman, born under the failings of man, born to bring life to his people and death to the serpent?”

            “You’ll have to go slower,” Herry told him. “I heard ‘seeds’ and ‘serpents.’ That’s it.”

            The man clapped him on the shoulder. “Hear now the words I speak,” he said slowly, “and pray to God for roots. Pray that you might understand, and your heart will grow around these truths.”

            “Grow around!” Herodion exclaimed. “Gardens grow. You speak of the garden, don’t you? The garden where the serpent tempted Eve? Yes. That was where God promised that her son would crush the serpent. I remember the old rabbi at my synagogue—he said the Seed would be bruised, but that he’d smash the serpent completely. That bruise is the suffering! That Seed is the Christ! He had to suffer!”

            “You see it now,” Israel said. “You are truly blessed.”

Cleopas turned toward Herry, goggling. He’d never heard the big man speak like that, never seen him squint and smile and sigh. Herodion’s eye sparkled, and Cleopas felt his heart flame at the sight of it. For a moment, the newcomer’s words rang true.

Israel kicked a pebble and scratched his side. “So, then. You can see that the Christ must face the Serpent in his own world, on his own terms. He must defeat death. He must dethrone the devil, de-fang the dragon and overcome the world.” The man turned to Cleopas. “Did Yeshua say nothing of this? Did he not face the Adversary’s treason?”

“Judas,” Herodion said. “Simon Iscariot’s son. He betrayed Yeshua. Turned him over to the torturers, just like you said.”

“Yeshua even predicted it, I heard.” Cleopas remembered, now. “He quoted a psalm about it. Something about heels and bread.”

“Heels. Bruised heels,” Herodion said. “It fits.”

“You see much,” Israel smiled.

Cleopas chewed his lip. He had to admit—there were a few grains of merit in this traveler’s argument. Herodion kept nodding, pleased as girl plucking wildflowers. He gets one answer right and now look at him, the oaf. Cleopas wanted to believe right along with Herry, but...

No. No, Cleopas had always prided himself on his practicality. He wouldn’t stagger down this trail of silliness. He knew what he knew, and he knew the Messiah wasn’t supposed to die. “You can’t be serious,” he said. “The Christ is to be a king, sir. Not a criminal.”

            “He is a king, indeed,” Israel said. “But his reign begins with the announcement of peace. Or have you never read that ‘he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.’ It is written.”

“Where?”

“Zechariah’s prophecy,” Israel said. He scratched at his wrist again, the right one this time. Must be a nervous gesture. I’m winning the argument. Let him talk himself in circles, now, and you’ll have him. 

Israel continued: “The Christ must ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, the beast of pilgrimage and rest. So the same prophecy tells us.”

“He did that!” Herodion blurted. “He rode in on one! On a donkey!”

“Did he?” Israel asked. His cedar gaze pierced Cleopas to the core. “How very... unsurprising.”

“Yet, he is still a king!” Cleopas objected. “He ‘rules the nations with a rod of iron,’ doesn’t he?” Cleopas remembered that psalm; his Rabbi used to quote it ad-nauseum. Why did Israel ignore it? “He’s to ‘dash the nations in pieces.’ That doesn’t sound like a peaceful king to me.”

Israel tugged at his wrist again. “One day he will judge; this is so. But not until the ends of the earth have heard His gospel of peace. You must remember the Prophets, good Cleopas. The LORD will pour his wrath on all nations at His last coming, certainly. But Zechariah holds in view a first coming. He means that Messiah’s first decree will be one of liberty and reconciliation, God with man. Don’t you see it?”

“But the Psalms! The prophets, too!” Cleopas recovered his breath and his wits. “The same Zechariah talks of the LORD splitting the Mount of Olives in His fury. I cannot believe in this quiet salvation you speak of. I cannot believe that the God of Israel would forgive the murderers of his own people! Why would Yahweh proclaim peace to the foes of Zion?”

            “And who is a foe to Zion?” the man asked. “Only those who reject Zion’s King—even a eunuch from Cush was counted free when true-born Jews forfeited their lives to Nebuchadnezzar. And now you tell me that this Yeshua was rejected—by our very people, by the very sons of Abraham—not three days ago. That, also, is written.”

“He was,” Herodion said. “Give us Barabbas, they said. Crucify him, they said.”

Israel nodded. “It’s not shocking,” he muttered. “The Lord’s Servant spoke thus through the Isaiah the seer: ‘I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that was not called by my name. I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually.’ ”

“They called for it,” Herodion said again. “Beginning of the week, they wanted Yeshua lifted up as king. End of the week, they wanted him up on the wood.”

Israel hunched over for a moment, massaging his wrists. His face looked graver than rotten entrails. “Again, our people commit their ancient sin,” he rasped. “It’s the very sin for which Samuel rebuked them. Remember how God said, ‘they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them?’ Did God speak only of Saul and Israel’s choice of him? No, He had the Christ in view when He spoke to Samuel.”

“Israel rejected her King,” Herodion said. “And she just did it again.” Herry’s gaze combed the surrounding hills, eyes darting from side to side, as if wary of the wilderness itself. “Will God be angry?”

“God is never angry at Israel’s trueborn sons,” the man said. “He is often, I fear, angry at Jerusalem, however. The greatest rages often burn through tears.”

“So your argument,” Cleopas asked, “is that the Christ must be rejected as King, and bruised by Satan? What glory becomes such a king as this?”

There was a moment’s pause.

“The very greatest,” Herodion said.

Israel laid his hand across the stone mason’s broad shoulders, pulling him close. “Wisdom rests in your heart, Herodion,” he said. “I am glad to know you.” Israel adjusted his brown robes and looked back at Cleopas. “Did he not tell you His people would reject Him?

Cleopas remembered it. Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem! “But...” he spluttered. “But it can’t be!” Years of sermons, decades of stories, hundreds of political rallies, thousands of palm branches and millions of stinging dreams melded into a collage of confusion inside his head. Cleopas halted. “He’s supposed to be a king! He’s supposed to set us free!”

“He is a king, true,” Israel repeated. “But is the Christ only a king?”

“Uhh,” Herodion began, “No?”

“No indeed,” Israel said. He put his hand to his side every few steps, as if adjusting his robes. It got a bit annoying once you noticed it. Cleopas tried to focus on the man’s words, which rushed and chimed like the finest music.

“The Christ is to be the world’s Sovereign,” Israel said. “Yet in the very psalm that names him King, He is also named a priest. Have you never read: ‘The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’”

“Melchizedek,” Cleopas said slowly. “From the Law. The king of peace.”

“You are seeing it,” Israel said. “Melchizedek was both king and priest. And now look further into the law, to the Day of Atonement, to the priestly sacrifices. One goat is sent away for the releasing of sin, while another is punished in the place of the people. Now: did God intend Israel to view goats as the ultimate sacrifice... or to see the ultimate Sacrifice through the picture of the goats?”

“Hmm.”

“Did God intend Israel to be forgiven by priests... or to see in the priests the One who would forgive them?”

“The second one,” Herodion said.

“Yes,” Israel laughed. “You know that the priest’s function is to offer sacrifices for the people. He must enter in behind the veil, where he is considered dead to the people.”

“True,” Herodion said. “One of them got struck mute there a few decades back.”

“Zechariah,” Cleopas confirmed. “He was the Baptizer’s father—yet he never even saw the mercy seat. Only the High Priest can go all the way in—and many of them fell in the years of the kings. History says they were struck dead by the LORD Himself, killed in the Holy of Holies—they were too impure to be accepted by God, for He must be regarded as holy by his priests... and before all the people He must be sanctified.”

“You are not ignorant of the third book of the Law,” Israel said, inclining his chin. “Yet, you do not read it in a way that can give life—not yet. Think on the High Priest again: after making intercession—unseen by the people and considered dead to the world—he returns to the Temple court, back to the land of the living. Having offered his sacrifice, he returns to his people with triumphs and blessings. His reappearance is the witness that his sacrifice has been accepted.

So too, the Christ must vanish from mortal sight and appear before Heaven’s Mercy Seat to offer the sacrifice of his own soul. This fulfills what Isaiah prophesied long ago, that He would ‘make his soul a sacrifice for sin.’

Israel scratched a wrist. “And so: you tell me this Yeshua has gone away. If and when He reappears, you will know that His sacrifice has been accepted for all time. You will know that you are forever purified. Did He not tell you to look for the sign of Jonah?”

“You must have heard him speak,” Cleopas said. “Yeshua always talked of Jonah, of the whale and the man dead for three days. Cephas told me he talked about the other thing, too. The other thing you said—about disappearing from sight and going where we could not come.”

“Fit words,” Israel said. “For none but the High Priest could come into the presence of God to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”

“Where does it say that the Christ is to be a sacrifice?” Herodion asked.

“Yes,” said Cleopas. “I would hear this answer.”

“The Word says so in every line of its script.”

Cleopas cracked his neck. “I can believe that the Christ would be a priest on Israel’s behalf... yet what Scripture could possibly teach that the Blessed One Himself would die? How is that even possible? I mean, think what you’re saying, man! It’s nigh on sacrilege—to think the Holy Redeemer would be slaughtered like a sheep!”

“He was led like a lamb to the slaughter,” Herodion said.

Israel and Cleopas both turned to him, one in pride, the other in shock. The big man continued, his eyes lowered, never raising them from the dust: “And as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”

“That is the very passage,” Israel said.

Cleopas stood aghast at his ‘ignorant’ friend. “How did you know that? And in perfect meter, too. Was that Isaiah?” Cleopas tapped Herry’s shelf of brow. “What other secrets are you hiding up there?”

“I know the animal passages, that’s all.” Herodion shrugged, flushing. “Our rabbi reads all of them, one every Sabbath. I told you! I know about the lambs and lions and everything.”

“And you have mentioned the key passage,” Israel said. “It is the midpoint of Isaiah’s entire messianic prophecy; the Lamb is at the center of it all. So you see that the Christ is not only a king and a priest, but a spotless Substitute as well, an atoning sacrifice.

“He had to come thus,” Israel continued. “He had to come, ‘more marred than any other man,’ tested in every human way. For the LORD spoke to David concerning the Christ, saying: ‘I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When He commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him.’

Israel kept talking: “See this clearly: David’s Son is so closely identified with His people that God would actually regard Him as the Guilty One in their place. He would be made sin. Though guiltless, would be counted as the one who had ‘committed iniquity.’ As the rest of the Scriptures say, the Christ must become our brother and our curse, our ransom and our wrath-bearing substitute. Or have you never heard of the Bronze Snake and the Hanging Curse? To bear a curse, one must hang upon a tree, as did Yeshua. Why, Isaiah even writes that the Christ has engraved his people on the ‘palms of his hands!’

“Furthermore, remember what the Holy Spirit writes of Achan, whose death turned the anger of the LORD away from the entire congregation of Israel. And recall to mind Phineas, who, with a single stroke, poured out the LORD’s vengeance upon the transgressors, that the plague might depart from the people. In the same way, the Christ must deflect the wrath of the Almighty from all his saints. The Scriptures show how one brutal punishment can absorb wrath for a multitude.

Israel wasn’t finished: “And what did Yeshua tell you? Did He not call you His own sheep, to be purchased with his blood? Did He not call you His slaves? Did he not call you His bondservants?”

Herodion shook his head. “He called us his friends.”

“And indeed you are,” the man said, “if you are truly His offspring. You belong to Him now, and to God. You are ransomed. That is the last part of the Prince’s sacrifice. The Christ Himself must pay the ransom of His people, for He is both their Boaz and their Samson, their Redeemer and the Avenger of their blood.”

“How is he their Boaz?” Herodion asked. “He’s a warrior, not a romantic farmer.”

Israel chuckled a bit at that. “What Boaz are you reading about? He was a mighty man of valor and a strong husband. Likewise, the prophets remind us that the LORD is a husband to Israel, her redeemer and protector. And even as Adam had to be wounded and a bride drawn from his side, so the Christ, the Rock of Moses—when smitten on the Tree of Curses—will produce a ransomed Bride from His own side: a Bride born of water and blood. Did he not tell you that He must be pierced to win a people for his own possession?”

They stood silent, putting the pieces together.

Israel ended the interlude: “Think on this further. Did not Job look forward to the day of vindication? He thought of the day when his iron words would be stained bright with crimson, soaked in the blood of His Redeemer. Did he prophesy without knowledge?

“Or did Hosea prophesy without hope when he asked, ‘Shall I ransom Israel from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes?’”

            “I believe he spoke with hope,” Cleopas said. “But Hosea looked to the Anointed One, who would revive God’s compassion toward us. The Christ will reveal God’s face to Israel once again.”

“This is true,” the man said. “And to restore this compassion, he had to be forsaken himself, abandoned to loneliness. He had to be executed as the Lamb, friendless in the world. It is no surprise that the psalmist laments in the voice of Christ, calling out: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!”

Cleopas and Herodion came to a bare halt on the road just then. They remembered the lonely hill, the bloody crosses, the dark sky. They remembered the weight of despondent fear, crushing down on Roman soldiers and ravenous spectators alike. They thought of the dread, circulating around Golgotha like an unholy mist. They remembered the carpenter on the Cross and His soul-shredding despair. They remembered his famous cry.

“Those words were fulfilled,” Cleopas whispered. His heart fluttered. “I’ll tell you: I hope this ransom has truly been paid. But... I can’t see it. What about the forty-ninth psalm?”

“What’s it say?” Herodion asked.

Cleopas screwed up his face, concentrating. He quoted: “It says, ‘no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit... but God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.’”

            “Well-spoken,” Israel said. “Yet the Spirit has even more to say on this matter. Moses writes that no ransom may be accepted for a murderer—the only payment for blood-guiltiness is the blood of the Guilty One. God requires the very life of his flesh.”

“So how can the ransom be paid?”

“Simple enough,” Israel shrugged. “Yahweh Himself chose to partake of human flesh, that he might redeem his beloved. For you have rightly said that only God may ransom a soul. Surely your Rabbi taught you these things! Did he not tell you that He had come to give His life as a ransom for many?”

“Who are you?” Herodion asked. “An angel?”

“Perhaps you might call me ‘angel,’ ” the man said. “I bear and speak the word of God. But do not fear or stumble—only walk with me a little farther. Emmaus comes up quickly, and we must soon part company. You are not the only disciples I mean to visit today.”

“Forgive me,” Cleopas said. He fell to one knee. “I did not know you were sent to us from God! The road—the men... you saved us. And my healed foot! It makes sense now! I’ve played the fool this whole time, I... Please—tell us more of the Christ. Tell us more of his sacrifice.”

“I should be glad to,” the angel said. “So in keeping with our bloody talk, I think it’s best to follow the flow of Scripture along this same vein.”

Herodion stood silent, frowning at the angel.

“Did you just jest?” Cleopas asked, mildly stunned. He hadn’t expected it . . . and it hadn’t even been humorous. “Angels should be funnier.”

“Oh, they are,” said the man. “You should hear what they say about you, good Cleopas. But I said that you may call me ‘angel,’ not that I am one.”

“But you are sent to us, aren’t you?” Herodion asked. “Sent from God?”

“I am.”

The human angel grinned broadly. “But enough idleness. We have spoken of the Christ as a king, a priest and a sacrifice. But is he only these things?”

“If He is really Yahweh in flesh,” Herodion said, “then He is all things.”

Ben-Israel’s smile nearly took in his ears.

Cleopas’s jaw nearly took in the gravel.

“You are a born student,” the man told Herodion. “You shall be mighty in the Scriptures, if you devote yourself to them. Remember that they are life to you, but only as far as they point you to Life. Find the Way and you will find the Life.”

“But I’ve already found Him,” Herodion said. His eyes shimmered, moist in the twilight. “And now I’ve gone and lost Him. We all have.”

“Take courage, great heart,” Israel said. “The Christ holds many titles. In fact, you yourself have named Him a prophet. Now tell me this, young Herodion and Cleopas: What prophet, anointed of the LORD, did not endure suffering and persecutions?”

That brought Cleopas up short. “You mean Jeremiah?”

Israel tilted his head. “I mean all those who heaped glory upon their Lord and crowns upon their heads, receiving a kingdom through agony and tribulation. As the second Moses—the great Prophet foretold in the Law—how could the Christ fail to experience similar hardship? How could he fail to die and descend to the Grave?”

Cleopas asked: “How does being a prophet have anything to do with death?”

“Well, they’re all dead,” Herodion said. “That’s something.”

“All dead, yes,” the man said, “but think of their lives. How many prophets were written off—considered dead and buried—before rising again? Think of the Psalmist David, who wrote of the Messiah so often and so eloquently. He hid in caves and pits, below the surface of the earth. He rejoiced—in the fortieth arrangement—that the LORD, after much patience and endurance, had visited Him. Yahweh dragged David up from the mire and set Him upon the rock, restoring the king to the land of the living.

“And if we talk of shadows and examples, we cannot fail to mention Joseph, Elisha and Daniel. Jeremiah is important as well, just as you rightly said. Let us begin with Joseph, the favored child who rose to rule the house of Israel, who suffered at the hands of his brothers, endured stripes for the sake of righteousness, and was raised from the dungeon to the right hand of the King. Indeed, he rose to the highest place, from whence he could save his people and feed them with everlasting bread.”

“But they threw Joseph in a well because he was a snob,” Cleopas pointed out.

“At first he was,” the angel agreed. “But later, he came to his senses quite well. Remember the rest of the tale—how Joseph descended into prison, into the depths of the earth. There, he prophesied that two men would be raised up in three days, a butler and a baker. One would be raised up to die upon a tree, and the other to full restoration and blessing. So the Christ combines both of these prophecies; in his descent to the Grave he bears the curse of the first man and restores to life all those who rise with the second man, released by the Word of God.

“So, too, Joseph was raised to life from the Pit, as were Daniel from the Lion’s Den and Jeremiah from the cistern. Even Elisha had to die before his bones could restore a wayward sinner to life. Can you see why the Christ—in his service as Prophet—had to suffer, that he might proclaim God’s peace?”

Herodion laughed. “It’s right there in the Scripture, Cleo.”

Could this be right? Cleopas had never read Moses through that lens before. He shuffled from foot to foot, bouncing. His toe felt fine, the pain having evaporated once again. Cleopas clicked his tongue, then began to trudge forward. His heart lifted. He was beginning to see it now.

“But,” he said, softly this time, “it can’t just end there. How could this Christ—Yahweh in the flesh— remain in the Pit? How could he stay dead?”

The man’s eyes blazed. “How indeed?”

Cleopas thought of Mary and the women. Of the empty tomb. Of the words he’d been too wise to believe. The angel gestured, then, bringing them back to the topic: “But think of Yeshua, my friends. Did he not tell you he must suffer at the hands of his brothers?”

They walked for a few more moments in pleasant silence, the only sound coming with the chuff of sandaled feet across chalky, sloping ground. The sun dipped lower, and its rays became oppressive, even sadistic. Cleopas barely took note of it. Questions and puzzles gyrated through his mind. “Sir,” he began, turning to the man.

“Yes?”

“I would speak more with you. We will reach Emmaus in a under an hour, but the sun is going down. Would stay with us a while? Speak to us more about these things!”

 “If I am invited,” the man said, “I will come and eat with you.”

IV.

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them.

(Luke 24:28-29)

“I’ve been thinking about all you said,” Cleopas admitted, chewing chunks from the end of a barley loaf. The table stretched in front of the men, bedecked by linens and bronze serving bowls. Bond-slaves bobbed and ducked to every side, loading their plates with olives, figs, bread and fish. Herodion had found his house occupied as expected, but his parents had gone to the market and would not return home for another hour or so. That gave Cleopas time to finish his conversation with the human angel.

“So you’ve thought about it?” Israel asked. “Have you made up your mind?”

“I am a son of Abraham,” Cleopas said, resolved. “If you can prove to me that Abraham himself had faith in a suffering Seed, I will believe. If you can show me—plain from the Scripture—that he expected the death of his salvation, I will believe.”

“Nothing is ever ‘plain’ from Scripture,” the teacher said. “You must pray and seek if you desire to find anything. Yet, I will open this much to you.” He picked up some olives and shoveled them into his mouth, chewing very noisily, very un-angel-like. He talked with his mouth full: “Have you thought much about the Exodus during our travels? About the Feast of Unleavened Bread?”

 “The lamb led to the slaughter,” the big man said. He ate his own olives daintily, a strange counterpoint to the angel’s voracious appetite.

“That one, yes,” Cleopas said. “Isaiah.” He took a drink of wine and swished it around his mouth before swallowing. He felt a good deal better now, with fellowship, food and alcohol fumes around him. Strange what a comfortable seat and a good meal can do for a man’s attitude. “But Abraham now,” he said, “what’s he got to do with the Exodus and the lamb?”

“Remember,” said the teacher, “when Abraham lifted his knife, intent to slay his son? Remember how the angel of the Lord spoke from heaven to stay him, even though Abraham had resolved to obey. Now: do you recall the assurance Abraham gave to his son?”

“He said the ‘Lord will provide for himself a lamb’ for the sacrifice,” Cleopas answered. “Every schoolchild knows this story.”

“Every schoolchild, but apparently not every disciple,” the angel quipped. “Tell me: did God provide a lamb for the sacrifice?”

“He—” Cleopas paused, remembering the account. “No. No, He didn’t. They found a ram instead, tangled in the thickets.”

“Ram’s not a lamb,” Herodion said. “I know animals.”

“It was a ram,” the angel confirmed. “And Abraham knew that the ram was but another shadow. He knew that the greater Lamb was yet to come, the Lamb that would cause God to pass over the sins of His people. Abraham knew the final Passover was coming, the spilling of the Lamb’s blood. He knew about the true Passover, sacrificed once for the sins of those who trust in God.”

And with that, Ben-Israel picked up a flagon of wine. He looked directly into the eyes of Cleopas, then filled his cup to the brim. The wine bubbled and gushed, aromatic and clean, biting and deep—holding all the promises of freedom and life. Cleopas stared at the glass. Blood of the covenant, he thought.

            “I believe!”

            Cleopas could never explain—on that day, or in all the days to follow—what exactly had changed inside him, or when. Something simply tore through his heart and clawed across his eyes. A burst of clarifying pain slammed into his chest, followed by a whoop of euphoria. He thought back over the entire afternoon, the whole painful, boring, illuminating conversation. His heart took fire.

“It’s all there!” he exclaimed. “The Pit. He had to go to the pit! And he’s the only sacrifice—only God could pay the ransom. He’s the King, the Lamb, the sacrifice... oh God, he’s the Lamb we’ve waited for! Yeshua is God!” Tears streamed down his face as Cleopas remembered the words of Mary, the words he’d mocked. “And He is risen!”

“He is risen indeed,” Herodion said.

“You are not as foolish as you look,” the angel said. He grinned and broke a loaf of bread, handing half to Cleopas. As he reached out, the sleeve of his robe fell back. And Cleopas saw the scar, wide and long and white and cruel. A nail-scar.

“Master!”

Cleopas spun to look at Herodion, then spun back. He held the bread in his hand, but the Man had vanished. The Messiah had vanished.

Cleopas gulped. He turned to Herodion again, but could not speak a word. The big man stared at the stranger’s empty seat, stock still. Olives tumbled from his open mouth.

“You saw that, right?”

*

“[Then] they said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?’ And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’ ”

(Luke 24:32-36)

For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

(Revelation 19:10)