An Exercise in Observation

This painting is by the famous seventeenth century Dutch painter and printmaker, Rembrandt. He is praised as a master storyteller who captured intricate details with his paintbrush.

Go ahead and study this painting. What do you observe? Who are the four figures represented? What are they doing? Do you recognize this scene?

This painting is titled, The Supper at Emmaus, and it is based on Luke 24:17-35. It is a powerful story that reminds us of the personal and real nearness of God.

Notice in this painting:

  • Jesus is the central figure.
  • Jesus’ glory is represented by the glow emanating from him. Additionally, his light colored robe stands in contrast to the drab colors depicting the other characters. Jesus is thus portrayed as distinct and set apart—as being holy “other.”
  • Jesus’ focus is heavenward toward the Father.
  • Jesus has just blessed the bread (given thanks), broken it, and opened the eyes of the two disciples to recognize him. Thus, the eyes of the two disciples are on Jesus.
  • The disciple on the right side of the painting seems startled, surprised, and in awe of Jesus. You can almost imagine him thinking, “What? Can this really be happening? Is this truly the man that we just walked seven miles with?”
  • The disciple on the left side of the painting has his hand raised to his mouth, perhaps in astonishment or in an act of humility. “Me, Lord? You would appear and reveal yourself to me?”
  • But notice the face of the servant or innkeeper. He appears oblivious to it all. He is the background, obscured by shadows, and literally kept “in the dark.” His gaze rests on the food that he is serving.

When I study this painting, I’m struck by the contrast between the servant and the two disciples. All three are in the presence of the resurrected Lord and have intimate and unique access to him.  Yet, they each have very different responses to Jesus.

And so pause for a moment and think, at this season in your life, which character do you most identify with in this painting? And even more importantly, which character are you going to play in your life story? Will you choose to remain oblivious to God’s presence in your life, like the servant? Or, once you’ve seen the glory of God, like the disciples did, will you choose to praise God and tell others of his goodness?

More days than I care to admit, I’m like the servant. I’m oblivious to God’s presence and complaining, “God, where were you today? I needed you to come through for me and you were nowhere to be found.”

But I hunger to be like those two disciples. I want to go and tell others of God’s goodness. I long to point to God’s trustworthiness. I desire to bless others with the blessings that I’ve received.

And so I need to take some action steps. I need to hone my observational skills by daily listing God’s gifts, a tangible way to receive his gifts and be more mindful of his presence. I need to review my prayer journals and be reminded of God’s faithfulness, even when it seems like he is silent. And I need to look for concrete ways each day to show and tell others of God’s goodness.

Tiffany is the Women's Ministry Coordinator at Irving Bible Church, and a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary. A proud, native Texan, she and her husband, Jason, live in Grapevine, Texas. She is passionate about advancing the God-given value of women and helping women to embrace their unique identity in Christ. She serves as a board member for the Association for Women in Ministry Professionals (AWMP) and served for the past 3 years on the leadership team for Polish Ministries, a ministry dedicated to helping young professional women connect their faith with their career.