Two Sad Faces
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Two Sad Faces

Luke 24:1–26  (ID: 2439)

Luke 24 recounts the story of two disciples whose first Easter Sunday was initially marked not by joy but by disappointment. The death of Jesus shattered their expectations of a Messiah and left them without hope. Alistair Begg teaches that just as Jesus revealed Himself to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, He reveals himself to us by giving life and hope to those who trust in Him.

Series Containing This Sermon

When the Church Was Young

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 26401

Sermon Transcript: Print

Make the Book live to me, O Lord,
Show me yourself within your Word,
[And] show me myself and show me my Savior,
And make the Book live to me.[1]


I’ve had a couple of lines from a song going through my mind all week. I’m embarrassed at how old this song is, that I could even remember it, and I’m even more embarrassed when I think of who it was that sang it. The lines are:

It’s all over now;
Nothing left to say,
Just my [dreams] and the orchestra playing,[2]

which is from a ballad sung by none other than Engelbert Humperdinck. If you’re under the age of twenty, don’t even worry about this; it will never have any impact on your life at all. And it’s just a perversity that these things are locked in my psyche and pop out with amazing frequency.

The reason that it was triggered, the reason it was in my mind, was because of the two sad faces that we have just read about here in Luke chapter 24. As I thought about these individuals and their journey down to Emmaus on what we refer to as the first Easter Sunday, I thought that they were essentially saying to one another, “It’s all over now. There’s nothing left to say. There’s just our dreams and the fading sound of the orchestra as the story dies away.”

Luke is very careful to tell us that it was on the very same day that the events of the resurrection had been discovered that these two individuals—one of them was called Cleopas, which makes me think it was probably a husband-and-wife team, because in John chapter 19, Clopas is around the cross along with his wife, Mary.[3] And the two of them were now exiting Jerusalem, going back to Emmaus. Perhaps that’s where they lived. It was a journey of some seven miles. And just as we would expect, the two of them were walking down the road, and their conversation was full of—as Luke tells us in verse 18—all these things that had happened in Jerusalem.

This couple, along with others, had high hopes of Jesus of Nazareth. Everything had been pointing in the right direction. Everything had been pointing in the direction of the fact that he was none other than the Messiah. That’s what they say when they encounter him unwittingly. In verse 19, they tell Jesus—not knowing it’s Jesus—about Jesus. This Jesus, they tell him, “was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.” And the expectation that they shared as first-century Jews was that when the Messiah came, he would actually bring to bear upon life a totally different age—that a whole new age would come, that he would overturn the oppressors, that he would rebuild the temple, that he would establish God’s justice.

If we want to understand what is happening here in the description of the Gospels, we need to realize this: that these individuals, as they respond to the events of the death and resurrection of Jesus, are responding to them within the thought form of their day. For a first-century Jew, the nature of the resurrection was not a story about how people would go to heaven when they die. The people in Jesus’ day… Remember Martha, when her brother is dead, and Jesus comes to set Lazarus free, and Jesus says to her, you know, “Don’t worry about Lazarus.” And Martha says, “Oh, we know that there will be a resurrection for all at the last day.”[4] That was part of Jewish belief. But what they didn’t have a concept of was a resurrection of an individual in the middle of the age that would transform everything.

So as they walk down the road on this first day, they are saying to themselves, “It’s over. Any expectation that we had of the overturning of the oppressors, the rebuilding of the temple, the establishing of a whole new age, the bringing to bear of God’s justice upon the world—it simply hasn’t happened.” And instead of all of these pointers culminating in the kingship and the messiahship of Jesus, it’s all gone badly wrong. That’s what they’re saying to each other. Hence Luke says that “their faces” were “downcast.”

Picture them! Can you see them standing on the roadway? Look at them! That’s them, up there in the spotlight, losing their religion.[5] It’s over! It’s done! Everything has come to a crashing halt. Their hopes have collapsed, their dreams have been extinguished, and they’ve been extinguished by the crucifixion of Jesus.

Now, the events in the early hours of the morning—which we read at the beginning of our time together—the events in Jerusalem in the early hours of the morning were frankly so peculiar to them that they confused them as much as they amazed them. They couldn’t make sense of this. They had no grid for this. They had no concept of this whatsoever. The idea that they were all waiting on Saturday to get up on Easter Sunday and have wonderful flowers and celebrate the resurrection just isn’t true. They had no expectation of this whatsoever. For the first-century Jew, and therefore for these two sad faces, the crucifixion of a Messiah did not say that he was true and that the kingdom had come. In fact, it said the opposite. It said his claims are not true and his kingdom has not come.

And they discussed these things as they made the seven-mile journey. They’re now speaking in the past tense: “We had hoped,” or “We were hoping that he was going to be the one to set Israel free.” See their expectation? They didn’t say, “We were hoping that he was the one who would make it possible for us to go to heaven.” They said, “We were hoping that he was the one who would be the Messiah, who would do what Messiah is supposed to do: bring the dawning of a whole new age, transform life as we know it, radically turn things upside down. But it’s all gone so dreadfully wrong.”

You see what’s happened to them? Their big picture, their way of explaining their lives to this point, has lost the central character. Consequently, their plotline has collapsed, and once again they find themselves with a story in search of an ending. They’ve got this story that leads to a culmination that apparently hasn’t happened. So either they’re going to have to get a new story, or they’re going to have to hope for someone else who will arrive to provide a new ending. In other words, their road to freedom, as they saw it, has turned out to be a cul-de-sac.

Now, let me just say this to you: in this respect, their journey is actually very similar to some who are in this room right now, for the story of your life is a beginning in search of an ending; the story of your life is in search of meaning and significance and a plotline and a central character that will explain your very existence; and that when you look at these two sad faces, to one degree or another, you see your own face looking back at you.

Now, in the time that remains—and it isn’t long—I want to tackle with you the what and the So what? What we are told here has happened, and so what if it happened? So, it’s the what and the So what?

What Has Happened?

First of all, the what.

Now, I should tell you that my Saturday evenings as a small boy in Scotland were mostly spent at my grandmother’s home. She had a television, which was sufficient reason for me going over there. We did not possess one. It was a black-and-white television, and my grandfather used to beat on the top of it with regularity in order to try and make sure that the vertical hold held, and every so often the man’s face would disappear somewhere in the box and would come around again until my grandfather beat on the top of it. It didn’t alarm me most of the time, but it was a great frustration to me when, during my favorite program, the vertical hold began to go.

My favorite program was about a policeman called PC Dixon in the Dock Green area of London. The program was called Dixon of Dock Green. Every evening, the program began with him standing in front of a police box wearing his PC metropolitan police helmet, saluting and saying, “Evening, all. Evening, all.” He was from London; he was a Cockney. And “Evening, all” became a catchphrase in Britain at that time. People would be walking in the streets, see one another, and say, “Evening, all,” and they knew exactly what they were referring to. In fact, the program became a parody for all kinds of things, mostly humorous. And the way in which he would respond to the scene of the crime became parodied in this phraseology: somebody would show up, and the person would be there with a dagger in their back, and the person would arrive, and he would stand, and he would say, “’Ello, ’ello, ’ello. What’s all this, then?” “What’s all this, then?” And then the story would unfold. You can tell it was a phenomenal drama. It was a Saturday-evening intellectual exercise of significant dimensions.

But I thought about it again this week. I thought, “That’s exactly what people need to do: they need to take the evidence that is presented here for the resurrection; they need to stand and look at it and say, ‘’Ello, ’ello, ’ello. What’s all this, then?’” And some people have dismissed Christianity without the “’Ello, ’ello, ’ello.” They’ve never dealt with the what—never dealt with the what. Now, we don’t have time to deal with all the what, but if you look at what has happened, it is quite striking, isn’t it? Let me summarize it for you.

These ladies arrive at the tomb in the morning, and what they’re about to perform is a sad task. A sad task. They had not set their alarms and said to one another, “Hey, don’t miss tomorrow morning. It’s Easter. We’ve got to get up early. It’s going to be fantastic.” No, they had made their way to the tomb not in order that they could witness a resurrection—because they anticipated no resurrection—but in order that they might conduct the embalming of a body. So they were heading to the tomb to perform a sad task.

What else? Well, they got a big shock. Their big concern going to the tomb, according to Mark—and this makes perfect sense—was that they were saying to one another, “What are we going to do about that big stone?”[6] “That was a big stone,” they said to each other. “How are we going to get the stone rolled away?” What they feared and what they were concerned about they didn’t have to tackle, because when they arrived there, the stone was rolled away. But that wasn’t the big shock. That was a surprise. The big shock was what they found—or what they didn’t find! The big shock was that there was no body. No body!

Sad task, big shock. Strange question, isn’t it? Strange question in verse 5b: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” “Why do you look for the living …?” Well, they weren’t looking for the living. The spices that they held in their hands testified to the fact that they weren’t looking for the living. They were looking for the dead. And they were in the right place to look for dead people. They were in the cemetery. If you go to the cemetery, you find a lot of dead people in there. “Why [are] you look[ing] for the living among the dead?” They must have said to one another, “That’s a strange question, wasn’t it?”

And then a brief explanation in verses 6 and 7. This is the what. Are you with me? “’Ello ’ello, ’ello. What’s all this?” It is a sad task, it is a big shock, it is a strange question, and this is a very brief explanation—verse 6 and 7: “Why [are] you look[ing] for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” Now, the shining one didn’t then say, “Don’t you feel it? Don’t you feel the aura? I mean, can’t you just feel it in the center, in your core? I mean, just experience it!” No! He said, “He[’s] not here; he[’s] risen! Remember how he told you…” In other words, he turns them back to what Jesus had said. What had Jesus said? Well, he’d said repeatedly that he, “the Son of Man,” must go up to Jerusalem, must be “delivered into the hands of [wicked] men,” must “be crucified,” and “on the third day,” he would rise again. And this is what the two sad faces, incidentally, later in the day, in verses 24 and 25, were to hear from the lips of Jesus himself—25, 26, really: “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe …. Did[n’t] the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”

Even after his death, Jesus’ followers continued to believe that he was alive, continued to proclaim that he was alive, continued to tell the world that he was the Messiah.

In other words—and this is very important in the age in which we live—the verifiable data is to be found in the things that Jesus has said. There’s no sense in which there is an introduction here to some kind of mystical experience, some weird and wonderful feeling, some conjuring up of a faith, some enlisting of a notion, as it were. There’s nothing like that. And people who want to turn the story of the resurrection into that do a disservice to what the Bible says. No, it’s actually very cut-and-dried.

And following the brief explanation, we’re told that they then went back and reported this to the eleven. The two of them then said, “Well, we’d better go down and let the rest of them know.” And the wonderful thing is, or the amazing thing, is that when they told the Eleven, these disciples, that didn’t meet with an enthusiastic response. In fact, Luke is honest enough to tell us that when they told the Eleven, they didn’t believe them. And the reason they didn’t believe them was because their words just seemed like nonsense. Peter, who’s an initiative-taker, we know, he says, “Well, somebody better investigate it. Why don’t I have a run down there and see whether what they’re saying is true?” He goes down, checks it out, comes back, but at best he’s bewildered. And there we have it.

Things have gone dreadfully wrong. Things have not turned out the way they had anticipated. The disciples at this point—think about this—the disciples at this point are either going to have to find themselves another Messiah, or they’re going to have to give up the dream completely. They’re going to have to find someone else to follow, someone else to pin their hopes on—or, I suppose, they could turn it into small groups, and they could say, “Well, we don’t need to go with a Messiah. Why don’t we just continue the message on our own?” Or they’re going have to go and invite somebody else to fulfill the gap that’s left. There’s an empty seat. There’s a missing row. There’s a leader who’s gone. There’s a Messiah who’s absent. Anybody who’s thinking this through needs to say to themselves, “I wonder why they didn’t just go and ask James to fill in for his brother?” That’s not unusual. It can happen: “Jesus is gone. James, how about you being the Messiah? Why don’t you have a crack at it? See if you do any better.” They don’t do that, do they?

Now, here’s the nub of things. Here’s the real nub of things: when you, as a sensible individual, ask the what question, and you are confronted by these truths, and you take what we’re looking at now in terms of the first experience of this empty tomb, and you go across two thousand years of history—the immediacy of church history, the development of the church, the establishing of all these things—and you go through two thousand years of church history right down to this congregation sitting in this room in this moment, you have to come up with some explanation for the fact that even after his death, Jesus’ followers continued to believe that he was alive, continued to proclaim that he was alive, continued to tell the world that he was the Messiah. Within a matter of weeks Peter, unbelieving Peter, disappointed Peter, is standing on the streets of Jerusalem saying to people who were present at these events, “Men of Israel,” he says, “listen to me. Listen! This Jesus, whom you crucified, God has made him both Lord and Christ”[7]—and to a group of people who were able to shout back at him, “What a load of rubbish, Peter! We know that’s not true!” But instead of these cries coming back, the dawning awareness of it touches their lives and changes their minds and turns them around, and three thousand of them profess faith in Jesus Christ.[8]

The witness of the early church was absolutely straightforward, and it was this: Jesus of Nazareth, they said, was raised bodily to a new life three days after his crucifixion. That’s what they said. And the alternative explanations, which we’re not going to tackle, are harder to square with the evidence than the straightforward statement of fact—ideas like “Jesus was not really dead, and so we do not have a resurrection; we have a resuscitation,” as if Roman soldiers didn’t know how to execute somebody; as if Roman soldiers didn’t know when someone was dead. They were masters at death. That somebody went to the wrong tomb. Sure. That somebody stole the body, and so the disciples, on the basis of a lie, got themselves killed. That Peter was hallucinating because he felt badly about the fact that he had denied Jesus. That Paul was hallucinating on the Damascus Road. And as a result of these hallucinations, they suddenly conjured up the notion of a resurrected Jesus, and they decided to go out and foist it on the world. No, I say to you again, if you want to consider the what, consider the what, and consider the fact that the straightforward claim of the church, which is reinforced in the fact that we even have a gospel, meets the issues head-on in a way that alternative explanations cannot do.

So, what they were to discover was that the story had not come to a sorry end, but the story had actually reached its climax in these staggering events. What they were going to discover, at least when it dawned on them, was that this was actually a fantastic morning. “See what a morning! Here is God’s salvation plan!” they were saying to one another. “It’s been wrought in love. It’s been borne in pain. It’s been paid in sacrifice.” Suddenly, dramatically, this radical alternation.

So What If It Happened?

Now, we must go to the So what?, because we have only a moment or two left. So what? Well, there is a lot to answer to the So what?, but I can only do what I have time to do.

First of all, because Jesus is risen from the grave, he speaks life; he stirs hope; he brings peace to those who trust in him. This risen Jesus speaks life, stirs hope, brings peace. Because what the Bible says is this: that by his death, Jesus was dealing with our alienation from God. The fact of our sense of alienation—personal, emotional, psychological, in terms of our integration within a community, and so on—all of these things speak to the fact of our great alienation, an alienation that is described by the prophet many years before Jesus came. And this is how he puts it: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him”—that is, on Jesus—“the iniquity of us all.”[9]

Alienated from God—that’s why it seems as though God has his phone off the hook. Alienated from God, alienated from one another at a very deep level, alienated—many of us—from ourselves, with a story in search of a plotline, with a story in search of a central character, with a story in search of an ending, we come up against this Easter story, and we discover that Jesus is risen, stirring life and bringing peace and granting hope. And the question, of course, that confronts us is: Have we met Jesus in this way? Is that our testimony: that Jesus is not simply a remote figure in history, but he is one who has come and has brought about this great transaction in our lives?

By his resurrection, Jesus declares that sin has been dealt with, that death is dead, that love has won, and that Christ has conquered.

Paul describes it in one word. It’s a kind of theological word, but we all understand the word at one level. It’s really, in one sense, the opposite of alienation. Paul talks about it in terms of reconciliation. He says, “If anyone is in Christ, he[’s] a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” And “all this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ … God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”[10]

In other words, Christ accomplished on the cross what we, given a thousand lifetimes, could never achieve. Christ, in his death on the cross, bears our iniquities, our sins, our rebellions, our hurts, and our hatreds in his own body—dies the death which is the punishment inevitable upon sin—in order that we who are alienated from God, who are far away from him, may be brought near as a result of what Jesus has accomplished. And this is the good news: that someone has done for us what is absolutely essential and what we could never ever do for ourselves.

And by his resurrection, Jesus declares that sin has been dealt with, that death is dead, that love has won, and that Christ has conquered. That’s what the resurrection says: death is dead! Oh, people still die, but “the sting of death is sin,”[11] and Jesus has dealt with sin.

There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate
Of heaven and let us in.[12]

And his resurrection affirms this.

Now, in the dying moments, let me say this: it was the dawning reality of this fact which put a smile on these two sad faces, and it is the same dawning reality, it is the same sad story, which transforms the lives of all who accept the reconciliation which Christ has accomplished.

You see, confronted by the death of Jesus, the couple on the road were robbed of their hope; they were devoid of any overarching explanation of life. Did you get that? Devoid of hope and robbed of any overarching explanation of life. I say to you: they are not alone. They are not alone. They are a perfect picture of contemporary, twenty-first-century dwellers: devoid of hope and absent any overarching explanation for life itself; trying to make sense of their days; trying to make sense of the moments in atomized experiences, in existential encounters; trying in the moment, living in the now.

Why do you think everybody talks about “living in the now” in the twenty-first century? Because they only have the now, but because they have no ability to look beyond the now or to look back to yesterday’s now. So the only thing you could do is block out the past and make sure you don’t think about the future, because you’re devoid of hope and you have no overarching explanation for life. We live in a microchip universe, a microchip world that is sad. It’s confused. It’s full of sad and confused faces. Get on a plane and join the group—you know, the iPods in the ears and the personal stereo on the lap and every accoutrement which says, “I have my own world, I have my own reality, I have my own space, I have my own music, and I have my own story—and leave me alone.”

Well, you’re going to have to do that. A person’s going to have to do that if they don’t have any big story. If they don’t know how they fit in the broader scheme of things, the only thing they can do is retreat into a world of their own, with all their unanswered questions about identity and about significance and about purpose, with all these things threatening to completely overwhelm me. Our culture is so out of touch with reality that we invent reality—that we watch supposed reality on television; that we retreat into a virtual reality in cyberspace, where, with no one watching, we can do what we like, but we don’t even remember why we liked doing it.

Last Monday, a sixteen-year-old sophomore called Jeff Weise in Minnesota blasted out of his cyberspace world, taking nine people plus himself into eternity, establishing a notoriety that he never lived long enough to experience. If you read anything in the reports concerning him, it is a drama of gargantuan proportions. Two hundred and thirty-five pounds, taller than most, bigger than most, fatter than most, alienated in his own school world, he sought, by his own testimony, a community in cyberspace. There, he confided with the faceless and the nameless. There, on one of his websites, he wrote to people he had never, ever seen, “[My mother] would hit me with anything she could get her hands on,” and “would tell me I was a mistake, and … would say so many things that its [sic] hard to deal with them or think of them without crying.” In a New York Times article, he says, “I have friends, but I’m basically a loner inside a group of loners”; “I’m excluded from [everything and anything] they do. I’m never invited. I don’t even know why they consider me a friend or I them.” Writing in January on a website, he said, “Right about now I feel as low as I ever have”; “I’m starting to regret sticking around. I should’ve taken the razor blade express last time around. Well, whatever, man. Maybe they’ve got another shuttle comin’ around sometime soon.”[13]

He is a tragic, dreadful, extreme example that speaks to the fact of a life alienated from God. He is simply, horribly, tragically giving vent to a deep-seated, venomous sense of lostness—a sad face on a road to nowhere with no overarching explanation for his existence at all. Einstein would frankly have been unsurprised to see him. In his credo in 1932, he said, “Our situation on this earth seems strange. Every one of us appears here involuntarily and uninvited for a short stay, without knowing the whys and the wherefore[s].”[14] And across that narrow journey between time and eternity stands Christ, like a colossus, inviting men and women to trust in him.

I’ve been thinking about these two sad faces all week. I think you can tell that. I was thinking about the fact that as they made their sorry journey down these seven miles, they met Jesus, and they didn’t know they’d met him. What a wonderful picture of the responsibility of those of you who are believers today. You get back out on the tracks and back out on the roads to Columbus and the roads to Phoenix and the roads to contemporary Emmauses and take your seat on the plane next to a sad face and sit on the bus next to a sad face, and it may well be that just as Jesus, incognito, drew near to them, so Jesus will, incognito, draw near to those who are your friends and companions. It didn’t have to end this way for this boy.

And finally, what do I have to say to you in conclusion? I say what Paul said to the Corinthians: “I implore you, I beseech you, on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God.”[15] Receive the reconciliation which Christ has accomplished, dealing with sin, conquering death, establishing love. Now, that would be a morning, wouldn’t it?

Father, I pray that you will help us to see the significance of the wonder of who Jesus is and what he came to do so that it might transform all of our mornings and turn our weeping into dancing, turn our emptiness into fullness, and give significance to the plotline of our lives. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

[1] R. Hudson Pope, “Make the Book Live to Me” (1943). Language modernized.

[2] Barry Mason and Les Reed, “The Last Waltz” (1967).

[3] See John 19:25.

[4] John 11:23–24 (paraphrased).

[5] Michael Stipe, Bill Berry, Peter Buck, and Mike Mills, “Losing My Religion” (1991).

[6] Mark 16:3 (paraphrased).

[7] Acts 2:22, 36 (paraphrased).

[8] See Acts 2:41.

[9] Isaiah 53:6 (NIV 1984).

[10] 2 Corinthians 5:17–19 (NIV 1984).

[11] 1 Corinthians 15:56 (NIV 1984).

[12] Cecil Frances Alexander, “There Is a Green Hill Far Away” (1848).

[13] Monica Davey and Jodi Wilgoren, “Signs of Danger Were Missed in a Troubled Teenager’s Life,” New York Times, March 24, 2005,

[14] Albert Einstein, “Mein Glaubensbekenntnis” [My Credo] (speech, German League of Human Rights, Berlin, 1932), quoted in Michael White and John Gribbin, Einstein: A Life in Science (New York: Dutton, 1994), 262.

[15] 2 Corinthians 5:20 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.