Summary: Learn some lessons from the two men on the road to Emmaus about what it takes to move from religion to relationship.
“The Forest-for-the-Trees Syndrome”
Have you ever heard someone recommend, “Don’t miss the forest for the trees?” Or a person say, “You can’t see the forest for the trees!”? That phrase simply means that someone is so overly occupied with all the details and loads of information that they miss the main point. It’s when someone is so inundated with the intricacies of a situation that they miss the impact of it.
That phrase describes well the two men walking to Emmaus on a Sunday Evening about 5:00 back in about AD 30. They were so immersed in the weekend’s incredible turn of events that they didn’t even understand the point of everything that happened. It wasn’t random or ridiculous; it was prophesied and predictable. Yet, in the flurry of activity surrounding the mock trial of Jesus, his crucifixion and burial, as well as the reported resurrection, these two men missed the very person all the events were pointing towards. In other words, they missed the forest for the trees.
So take your Bible and turn to Luke 24, and put a finger on verse 17. While you’re turning there, here’s some background. Emmaus was a city just 7 miles southwest of Jerusalem (24:13). I think these two men were part of the morning’s conversation with the women, but were still wandering in doubt and debate. As they walked and worried, suddenly Jesus joins them (24:15), but the two guys weren’t allowed to recognize him in his post-resurrection body (24:16). We’re not sure why, but it is clear there is a divine blindfold in place here. Let’s pick it up now in Luke 24:17
[Exegete Luke 24:17-24]
• 24:17-18 lets us know they were not resurrection believers yet. The word “downcast” indicates disappointment and discouragement.
• In addition, they were surprised that this newcomer to their walk wasn’t aware of the most recent events in the city of Jerusalem (24:18). In fact, they assumed he was a guest!
• As a way to update their guest, Cleopas and his friend begin to fill Jesus in (who he was, why he came, and why they were disappointed). Not surprising, though, their commentary is in the past tense (24:19-24), affirming they were in a state of unbelief and doubt. Quite honestly, they were assuming it was all over and done. And they were simply letting Jesus know what happened.
• In addition, their commentary was quite extensive (24:19-24); they knew a lot of information. Yet, none of it was penetrating their hearts and minds. It was just information without any impact. By the way, that’s what religion is – information without impact! Its lots of trees with no connection to the forest.
Isn’t it intriguing how they were so “informed,” yet so “in-the-dark”? Information on their terms seemed to be primary to Cleopas and his friend, and a relationship on God’s terms seemed to be secondary. They were overly occupied with what they knew, not who they knew.
You can see why I say that Cleopas and his friend were having difficulty believing because of what I call the Forest-for-the-Trees Syndrome. What is that? The Forest-for-the-Trees Syndrome occurs when there are so many things for one to see that one can’t see the one thing.
In a simple contrast, it would look something like this:
Information vs. Interaction
(“There’s a lot of trees here.” vs. “This is a beautiful forest!”
Fortunately, Christ doesn’t leave them in this no-man’s land, this contrasting desert of unbelief and doubt. He rescued them from the “inferno of information.” Let me show you.
[Exegete Luke 24:25-32]
• Christ confronts their religion – their unbelief (24:25). And he begins to bring them towards faith and belief by using the Scriptures (24:27). But this time it isn’t information without a connection. Instead, it is information tied to a person. Luke 24:27 says, “concerning himself.” That’s when information turns to interaction: when Jesus becomes the focal point of it all! It all came together when the Scriptures were explained with the relationship in mind.
• Based on what we read here (24:27), Jesus used much of the Old testament to explain the Gospel. Rest assured, church, all of the Bible points to the cross. The Old Testament points forwards, and the New Testament points backwards. In every book, though, it is God’s redemptive hand throughout history that shines clearly.
• As he did this, we know from 24:32 that their hearts were “burning” within, indicating that the light bulbs were starting to come on! As he connected the trees to the forest, guess what? Impact! Interaction! A relationship!
• Luke 24:31 says “their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” WOW! The text doesn’t tell us specifically why they recognized him at this point, except that it was during the breaking of bread. Was this communion? Simply a meal? We don’t know. My personal opinion is that when they saw his hands and the scars, the lights came on. Up to this point the interaction, though not distant, was still not very close. They were traveling, so it was a casual conversation. But when you eat with someone, you get closer, don’t you? They did, and at that point – probably when he gave thanks and broke the bread – all the Scriptures Jesus had planted burst forth and their eyes were wide open to the truth of who was actually with them – Jesus!