The Unrecognized Christ
J. R. Miller, 1905
One of the most beautiful incidents of the Easter Day, is the one that occurred at Emmaus. Two disciples were walking to their home in the country. On their way a stranger joined them and inquired the reason of their sadness. He talked with them and sought to comfort them. When they came to the end of their journey they begged the stranger to abide with them, as the day was far spent. As they sat down to their evening meal, they discovered that this stranger was Jesus Himself! He had walked with them all those miles, unrecognized. It is so with us continually. Christ is with us—but we do not recognize Him. The question is often asked, "If Christ should come today, what would people do?"
We may leave off the "if," and say, "Christ has come; He is on the street with us; He is in the quiet room where we sit; He is with us in the thick of our business affairs; He is beside us in the darkness when we flatter ourselves that nobody sees or knows what we are doing!"
There are two ways of thinking of this. One is, that we pass all our life in the presence of the living Christ and should never do anything, never speak a word, nor think a thought, nor cherish a feeling, of which we would be ashamed if we saw His holy eyes looking down into ours. The other thought is, that we are never left alone in any need, trouble, or danger. We do not have to call for Christ or send for Him, as Martha and Mary did, when their brother was sick, waiting for Him—one day, two days, four days, until it seemed His coming at last was too late. He is always near, nearer than our dearest friend.
We think of Christ as in heaven, and so He is; but He is just as really on the earth as in heaven. A recent writer happily illustrates this by the sky. We look up at the sky and it seems far away, like a great blue arch or canopy, high above us. But where does the sky really begin? Not up in the air, above the hills and the mountains. It begins right beside us. Indeed, the sky is all about us. We walk in it. We sit down in it. We sleep in it. It is all about our house at night. We breathe the sky and draw nourishment for our life out of it. The rain comes out of the sky to refresh the earth and make it beautiful.
This illustrates the nearness to us of the living Christ. We walk in Him. In Him we live and move and have our being. He is never so far off as even to be near—He is more than near. He wraps us round about continually with His blessed life. We breathe Christ if we are His friends.
It will be well if we train ourselves to think thus of Christ, as always as near to us, as is the air surrounding us. We may think of Him as with us in our walks, at our business, in our home circles, in all the circumstances and experiences of our everydays.
A French painter has recently made a sensation in Paris by the manner of his work. He fitted up a cab for a studio and drove about the streets, stopping here and there to make sketches of places and things he saw. People did not see him shut up in his cab, looking out upon them through his little window and taking his pictures of the nooks and corners and by-ways of Parisian life. He thus caught all manner of scenes and incidents in the city's hidden ways. He then transferred his sketches to canvas and put Christ everywhere among them. When the people saw his work, they were startled, for they saw themselves in their everyday life, in all their follies and frivolities, and always Christ in the midst. Every kind of actual life is on the canvas, and in the heart of it all—the Christ.
Could there be a truer representation of the living Christ than this? There is no part of the whole life of any of us, whether good or bad, whether it be a holy scene of kindness, of helpfulness, of devotion—or a scene of frivolity or sin in which we would be ashamed to have ourselves caught and photographed—there is nothing in the life of any of our days or nights—in which the Christ is not. We attend church to see Christ, and that is well—He loves to meet us in worship. We go to His table, and our communion is close and sweet. We need more, not fewer, of these trysts with our Lord. But we should never forget that the living Christ is with us, not only in holy places and at sacred times—but just as really in life's commonest ways and at every moment.
The Emmaus disciples walked miles with the risen, living Christ that first Easter Day—and did not recognize Him. Think what they missed. But think, also, what we miss continually because we do not recognize the Christ Who comes to us in our need or sorrow.
There is a picture of a mourner—a fisherman's widow—sitting on a bare rock looking out over the sea, into which her husband and sons have gone down in their fishing-boat. Her grief is so great that her face seems stony with despair. A little behind and above her is an angel, touching the strings of his harp. But the mourner is not moved by the music—does not even hear it. So it is that many people are unaware of the presence and love of Christ. Think what they miss. Think what we all miss. Not one of us always recognizes Christ when He comes to help us. If we knew who it is that comes—and why He comes, and would take the blessing He brings to us, what victorious lives we would live!
The way Jesus revealed Himself to these Emmaus disciples is suggestive. It was at the evening meal, when He broke and blessed the bread, that in some way they discovered who He was. We are apt to think of Christ as coming to us only in unusual ways, whereas He really comes nearly always in familiar experiences. A disciple said to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied." The disciple expected to see a transfiguration, a theophany, some bright and dazzling display of divinity. Jesus answered him, "Have I been so long time with you and have you not known Me? He who has seen Me has seen the Father."
He had been showing the Father to His disciples for three years—in pure, sweet living, in radiant joy and peace, in kindness, in patience, in thoughtfulness, in comfort for sorrow, in mercy to the penitent, in feeding the hungry, and opening blind eyes. They had seen these beautiful ministries—but they had never thought of them as being revealings of God. Some people say now that if they only saw some miracles—they would believe on Christ. They want Him to do startling things. They do not think that the divine kindnesses which come continually in providence can be revealings of God. But in nearly all cases it is thus that Christ makes Himself known to us—in familiar, common experiences, and not in startling or unusual ways.
We do not need to go far to find Christ—He is always near to us. We do not need to seek Him in great deeds, in marvelous ways. There is more of the revealing of Christ in the common ways of life than in all the world's great ways. Seek for Him in the simple duties of the passing days, in doing the work of the present moment, in showing love to those who have need of Christ.
In the Emmaus story, Jesus vanished the moment the disciples recognized Him. "Their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished out of their sight!" How often it is true that only in their vanishing, do our friends reveal themselves to us! They live with us for days and years and bless us in countless ways, bringing to us the best gifts of heaven—and yet, somehow, we do not see the splendor of their lives or of their ministry until they are gone.
It is always so. We never know the best even of those we love most truly and appreciate most fully—until they are leaving us. Somehow our eyes are blinded. Faults seem larger, and blemishes mar the picture more, and blots are blacker, in this world's light. But when our friends die—our eyes are opened, and faults seem smaller and smaller, blemishes change into marks of loveliness, and blots turn white. We should learn not to wait until they are leaving us, before we begin to see our loved ones fairly, justly, truly—with love's eyes. Of course, they have their faults and make their mistakes—but faults and mistakes may be only the imperfections of unripeness, of immaturity. Shall we not pray for eyes of charity, that shall not see the flecks and flaws—but that shall see the beauty and the worth, that one day they shall have?