In Breaking of Bread

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"But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them." Luke 24:29
The disciples on the Emmaus road had many doubts and questions about the recent events in Jerusalem concerning this one they had hoped was the Messiah. They knew his ministry and believed he came from God, yet struggled to understand how the Messiah of Israel could be apprehended and condemned by the chief priests and rulers of Israel to death by crucifixion at the hands of the occupying Roman soldiers. Furthermore, the sealed tomb where he had been laid was now empty, and some were saying that he had risen.
In their perplexity, they reasoned together yet could come to no conclusion. They were interested in the events, familiar with the participants, and must have known the scriptures, but they were "slow of heart to believe." Human reasoning alone could not definitively perceive what had happened. But when they met the "stranger in Jerusalem" along the way, he taught them from the Word and opened to them the scriptures so that their "hearts burn[ed] within." Their eyes were still blinded, so they did not see Jesus, but they recognized that truth was being revealed to them through the Word, and so when he would have parted from them, they constrained him to stay. Jesus accepted their invitation, and when he broke bread with them, they knew him.
Why did they see Jesus in the literal breaking of bread, but not when the bread of the Word was broken for them? Luke 24:27 says that Jesus showed to them out of "all the scriptures the things concerning himself." Others in the Gospels had varied experiences, where they knew him through some specific act or revelation. However, just like the disciples on the Emmaus road, the realization of who Jesus is could not have been the work of a single moment but was rather the culmination of experiences as God revealed to them the truth and as their hearts chose to accept it or reject it. Peter describes the awakening as "a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day star arise in your hearts" (2Pe 1:19). Anyone who has sat in the woods with the cold of the early morning waiting for the sun to rise knows how slowly the minutes pass and how imperceptibly the sky lightens, until that first warm gleam of sunlight shoots down and fills the trees with color and the heart with warmth.
Some additional examples of when others recognized Jesus. Matthew 14:26-33 by seeing Jesus' control of the elements. Matthew 16:15-17 by direct revelation from God. Matthew 20:30-34 by hearing. John 18:6 by his declaration, "I am.” John 19:7-8, 21-22 by discerning truth in others' accusations. Luke 23:39-43 by his sinless life and undeserved death. Luke 23:47 & Matt. 27:54 by the tumult of the crucifixion. John 20:16 when called by name. John 20:20 when they saw his scars. John 21:6-7 by a miracle.
Each of these examples could be the subject of further study, but one of them tells a story of another road Jesus walked with one who was struggling to understand. Luke's account of the crucifixion tells about two malefactors (lit. evil-doers) who were led with Jesus to Calvary and crucified with him, one on either side. One railed at him, but the other defended him, and showing greater faith than any of his disciples who had abandoned him, he said, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom (Luke 23:42).
How did this man, an evil-doer, come to be so convinced of the righteousness of Jesus that he would defend him while dying on a cross? Where did he learn of Jesus' kingdom? And how did he catch on to what the disciples had missed even after following him for three years: that Christ would rise from death and would establish his kingdom? Possibly he had listened to Jesus preach, or maybe he had overheard the trial before Pilate. Maybe, along with Barabbas and the other malefactor, he had taken part in an insurrection to overthrow Roman rule and only now realized that Jesus' kingdom was not of this world. As he walked the road to Calvary with Jesus, was he thinking about these teachings? When Jesus was nailed to the cross, did he hear with hope the prayer of forgiveness for the soldiers?
Regardless of how he came to his faith, this evil-doer realized his sinful state, acknowledged the justice of his punishment, and feared the God of judgment he was going to meet. But he also recognized a Savior who would not be bound to the grave by death and would intercede on his behalf. He could literally say with Paul, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20). Just like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he knew Jesus when the Bread of Life was broken before him.