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A Fly On The Wall

by Bob Yarbrough

Some say the English language is very difficult for foreigners to learn.  I wouldn’t know since I was born and lived in Texas all my life.  Texans, however, have been accused of speaking a strange dialect; but I guess that could be said for many parts of these United States.  English is rich in certain kinds of speech patterns, one of which is the idiom.  An idiom is usually a phrase that defies a literal interpretation.  Its meaning cannot be understood from the individual meaning of its elements.  Without thinking we say phrases like “he kicked the bucket,” “it’s raining cats and dogs,” “she’s a ring-tailed tooter,” or, as our title suggests, “a fly on the wall.”  One learning English for the first time is in “quicksand” when learning about idioms.

I never shall forget the time Michiya Nakahara (a missionary in Japan) asked me to speak at the dedication of a new church building in Japan.   An interpreter was necessary for the occasion since I could not speak the language.  The message was on the unity of believers in Japan (Psalms 133) and how much they needed each other in a predominantly Buddhist country.  I quoted a phrase from Benjamin Franklin during the days of our American Revolution.  He said, “Unless we all hang together, we will all hang separately.”  I thought that was a perfectly good illustration, but my Japanese interpreter “went bananas.”  Japanese do not use idioms in their language.  He literally went through various gyrations of pretending to choke himself, then reach for the ceiling, then cause his head to go limp , then move around, then do it all again and again.  He was trying to demonstrate what it meant for all the colonists to hang together.  Finally he nodded to the audience and they laughed and applauded.  We looked at each other and also had a good laugh, but I learned that day that idioms are not shared by all languages.  Further, in Japan I could not have written this article with an idiom for a title.

I suppose there are times that we would want to be like “a fly on the wall.”  We wish that we could be present on some occasions when we know it is impossible.  We wish we could hear things we could never possibly hear.  We wish we could be as inconspicuous as a “fly on the wall.”  A top Southern Gospel singing group, The Perrys, captured this idea well with a song they entitled “I wish I Could Have Been There.” In the song they mention many events in the life of Jesus.  There are events in the Bible that I wish I could have been there as a “fly on the wall” to observe the happenings.  Perhaps my favorite, and the subject which prompted this article, was the time when Jesus appeared alongside the two disciples on the Emmaus road after the resurrection.  I wish I could have been there to see and hear the events of that day.  That would have been an “out of this world” experience.  The story is given in Luke 24:13-36.

As those two disciples left Jerusalem and headed home to Emmaus on the Sunday after the crucifixion of Jesus, they undoubtedly were filled with questions, confusion, and despair.  All they knew and believed about Jesus had disappeared as they left Him dead and their faith in shambles. Or so they thought.  But the power of the living Word and the power of the written

Word are formidable and forceful.   The author of the book of Hebrews reminds us: “The word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).  The fog of their confusion was soon to be lifted giving them a new purpose for living.

Jesus joined their journey home, but for some unstated reason they were “prevented from recognizing Him” (v. 16).  He immediately began to probe their wounded hearts with questions about the recent events in Jerusalem.  One of the disciples is identified as Cleopas (v. 18) but the other remains unknown.  It could have been his wife, Mary, since she was present at the crucifixion (John 19:25; Matthew 28:1).  Further, it would be logical for Cleopas and his wife to travel home together and to invite Jesus to come in to stay with them overnight (v. 29).  But, since the other disciple remains unidentified by name, we will not be dogmatic in our guessing.  Some day we will know.  The important thing in this discussion is how tender and patient Jesus was with them in moving their faith forward – slowly, deliberately, patiently – much the same way He works with you and me.

There is no doubt that these disciples were confused about several issues.  However, their hopes and expectations led to their confusion.  Things had not happened as they had thought.  Listen to them: “We were hoping that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (v. 21).  They knew that mankind was in a fallen state and that God had pronounced judgment for disobedience.  But with that condemnation God offered hope when He said to the serpent:  “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (Genesis 3:15).  The seed of woman was the promise.  One day a deliverer would come; so when Jesus arrived, these two (and others) believed the time had finally come.  What had only been anticipated, was now a reality; but that hope was dashed to pieces at the crucifixion.  Thus, confusion saturated their thoughts as their expectations did not match reality.

In addition, their confusion increased with new information which they simply did not know how to process. They told their companion about some rumors - things that seemed unbelievable to comprehend as fact:  1)  Some women had gone to the tomb and found it empty. 2)  Some women claimed to have seen angels declaring a message of the resurrection of Jesus.  3)  Some men went to the tomb and found it empty.  4)  Those men did not see Him; but the women claimed to have seen Him.  All this added to the disciples’ confusion since they did not see Jesus alive after the crucifixion.   And since they did not see him, their default position was doubt and confusion.  So, there they were, walking back to Emmaus, struggling with broken dreams and confused spirits.

It was then that Jesus offered answers:  “And He said to them, O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer for these things and to enter into His glory?  Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (v.25-27).  Wow!   Talk about wanting to be “a fly on the wall!” Think about being privy to the greatest small group Bible study in all history.  The living Word of God was expounding on the written Word of God from the Old Testament Scriptures the things concerning Himself.  He began with Moses, the author of Genesis and the entire Pentateuch. Then he said, “and all the prophets.”  Well, that covers some history, some poetry, and all the prophetic books from Isaiah to Malachi.  In other words, Jesus talked about himself “in all the Scriptures that pertained to Him” from Genesis to Malachi – the whole of the Old Testament.

It would be presumptuous of me to explain here what Jesus said during that Bible class; I can only guess.  That’s why being a “fly on the wall” is so appealing, but since I was not there, I only wonder what He might have told them.  Here are some of my thoughts:

And what I have listed above is just the low hanging fruit.  Feel free to add to the list.  Jesus had the whole of Old Testament scripture to outline His coming, His work, His cross, and His triumphant victory.  It seems obvious that Jesus had to be selective since Emmaus was about a “stone’s throw” from Jerusalem – about a three hour walk unless they stopped along the way.   This exercise in the Word of God, no doubt, began to cement together their understanding of their confused minds into truths they never could have imagined.

The “fly on the wall” would continue to observe one final chapter in this story.  As great as that Bible class was while on the road, these disciples didn’t want it to end there.  They “twisted his arm” and encouraged this “anonymous” stranger to stay with them for dinner.  “They urged him saying, ‘Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.  So he went in to stay with them” (v. 29).  This invitation for dinner was going to be the greatest “shot in the arm” they would ever receive.  For, you see, the teachings begun in the Scriptures on that dusty road would find their climax at the supper table.  The unknown traveler took charge.  Luke says, “When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them” (v. 30).  My, my, my!  What that “fly on the wall” could have observed at that point!  Earlier, at another table in an upper room, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and then gave it to His men.  Afterward, He walked to the garden and was betrayed, tried as a common criminal, crucified, buried, and rose on the third day.  Now here He is breaking bread with friends again.  In that moment, the lives of these two were literally transformed:  “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight” (v. 31).   I don’t think that the vanishing act was what moved them; it only verified the Lord’s resurrected body.  I think what grabbed their attention here was the fact that the risen Jesus opened their minds to the power of the Word of God during their walking seminar earlier in the day.  They said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us” (v. 32)?  The Word burned their hearts and minds.  It opened their souls.  Now, they truly, deeply, personally understood.  There is no substitute for understanding. “The Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6).

For these two disciples, the day began in Jerusalem filled with questions, uncertainty, and confusion.  It ended with truth, not only for them, but for us as well - Jesus is alive and the Scriptures are to be believed.  Everything else is “not worth a plugged nickel.”  The difference was the fact that the Living Word explained the Written Word in a way that satisfied their minds and left them craving for more.  So, like “a duck on a junebug” Luke tells us that they immediately left and returned to Jerusalem to report that Jesus was alive.  “Then the two told what had happened on the way and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread” (v. 35).  There is power in the WORD.  Howard Hendricks, long time teacher at Dallas Seminary, was fond of saying, “The Bible was not written to satisfy your curiosity – it was written to change your life.”  It certainly changed the lives of these two disciples.  The Apostle Paul knew of the power of the Word.  He wrote: “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

It would have been really neat to be the “fly on the wall” in this scenario recorded in Luke 24.  What a powerful story of the two on the Road to Emmaus.  For many years I had a large framed portrait of Robert Zund’s famous painting of “The Road To Emmaus” (1877) hanging on the wall in my office at school.  I loved the thought it represented to me as a believer; but also I appreciated the implications it presented about a teacher and his pupils.  I would often gaze at it and wonder about their discussion because the portrait begs that question.  Specifically, what were they talking about?  I have attempted to share that through this article.  Even though none of us were the “fly on the wall” and were present on this occasion, I take great consolation and joy in the statement that Jesus made to Thomas when he missed out on Jesus’ appearance to the disciples earlier in the day.  After finally seeing Jesus, the Lord said to him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29).   That just makes me “as happy as a clam,” “tickled pink,” “on cloud nine,” and “in seventh heaven!”  I am so happy that He blessed my faith in Him in this way.

“How many idioms did you count as you read this article?” Two bits says you won’t guess it on your first go round,


Bob Yarbrough lives in Forney, TX and worships with the Crosspoint Church in Mesquite, TX.

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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33