The Lord's Day Morning
January 15, 2012
“Did Not Our Hearts Burn within Us?”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to the gospel of Luke, the twenty-fourth chapter. We have been in the gospel of Luke together since 2009, which is a good argument for coming to Sunday evening worship so you can hear something other than Luke, but you've almost made it to the end! And we are in one of the great passages in all of the Scripture. I never read this passage without being moved by some part of it. We read part of it last week. We really cut off in the middle of the story, and when we were looking at it last week we emphasized Jesus saying to these two disconsolate disciples who were walking to the little village of Emmaus that the source of their hopelessness and their loss of joy and their lack of faith was that they did not understand and believe the Scriptures. And we talked about what that meant for our own Christian lives and the importance of believing what God says in His Word.
Today we're going to go back to this story again and understand what Luke is up to. Luke is impressing upon his original readers and you and me the details of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are a number of narratives in the New Testament gospels that recount what Jesus did after the resurrection. This one is remarkable. And Luke is giving us this detail so that we will have confidence in the reality of the resurrection. That's what he's up to, but he not only wants his original readers and you and me to believe in the reality of the resurrection, this passage also has for us many, very significant, experiential lessons — lesson for the living of the Christian life — and I want us to give attention to those things today.
In particular, as we read through this passage, Jesus, through Luke, wants to draw to our attention three things. First of all, he wants to focus us on the person of the Redeemer, secondly, on the cost of the redemption, and third, on the power of the resurrection. Well let's look to God in prayer before we read His Word.
Heavenly Father, this is Your Word and we ask that we would be able to understand and believe it. We know that this is not simply a matter of reading the words, but it is part of the Spirit's work to convince us and convict us and to enable us to embrace all the fullness of the truth of Your Word. So come, Holy Spirit, and open our eyes and our ears and our hearts to the glorious truth of the Word and enable us to believe it, to our salvation and to our everlasting good. In Jesus’ name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it in Luke 24 beginning in verse 13:
“That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing Him. And He said to them, ‘What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?’ And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered Him, ‘Are You the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And He said to them, ‘What things?’ And they said to Him, ‘Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a Man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered Him up to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find His body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that He was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but Him they did not see.’ And He said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if He were going farther, but they urged Him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.’ So He went in to stay with them. When He was at table with them, He took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him. And He vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?’ And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
This is a remarkably vivid account. It is so vivid and rich with minute details that many critical scholars spend much of their effort in attempting to account for its origin. “Surely something so elaborate, so artistic, couldn't have been composed by Luke. He must have gotten it from somewhere else.” However, many early church fathers, when they read this passage, their reaction was different. They read it and they said, “There is no way that Luke could have known these things unless he was the unnamed disciple on the road!” So they speculated that Luke himself was the other disciple on his way to the village of Emmaus. We don't know, but what we do know is that Luke is giving us these details so that we will be confident in the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. And he says things in this passage that he would not have written were they not true. And so he attests to us the reality, the historicity, of this event.
Let me just point a few of those things out. One thing is he names the village that they’re going to and it's a little village called Emmaus. And guess what? We don't know where it is! If you were going to make up a village in order to convince people of a reality of a story, you would have come up with a bigger name for a town. You would have come up with a name for a town that lots of people would have known. The only reason why he would have said that they went to a little nondescript village named Emmaus, seven miles away or sixty stadia away from Jerusalem, is because they went there. And then again in the passage, notice how these disciples who clearly loved and respected Jesus were not expecting for Him to be resurrected. Have you ever wondered, “How much did the disciples understand before the resurrection?” and “What exactly did they think about Jesus?” Now early Christian scholars and New Testament scholars spend lots of time thinking about that question, but here, if you’ll look in verses 19 all the way down to verse 24 you will get very close to getting inside the head of what early Christian disciples thought about Jesus based on His life and teaching before His resurrection. And again, because this is written years after the resurrection, you wouldn't have said this about Christian disciples unless that's what they said, because after the resurrection Christians came to believe more about Jesus than these disciples describe in their response. You wouldn't make this up.
Now I know some of you are thinking, “Yeah, but it's a common convention of our fictional literature to make up things that will make the story more convincing.” Yeah, I understand that; they didn't do that in ancient literature. That is a modern convention that they did not have. The only reason this would have been written this way is because it happened, and Luke, as a faithful historian, is recounting it. Or, look at the end of the passage. There's this interesting point where they've gotten to Emmaus and He acts as if He's going to go forward. And some people say, “Well Jesus was deceiving them! He was pretending to do something that —“ No, no, no. it would have been impolite in that culture, just like it would be impolite in our culture, to invite yourself to spend the night with somebody, to invite yourself to eat with them. And Jesus, as a good, polite, Middle Eastern occupant of Palestine, is waiting for His hosts to invite Him to come to the house. And that's what's going on there.
But there's still something strange. When He gets to the table, who's breaking the bread and who's praying the blessing? Jesus! Now isn't that strange? He's not the host, He's not the owner of the home, but He's breaking the bread and praying. Why is that happening? Maybe because He was the oldest of the three and they were deferring to His age. Age was a big deal in Palestine in those days and you deferred to those who were older than you. But again, why would Luke write that? It's not what you would expect. The only reason he would write that is if it happened. All of these details Luke is piling on to you and to his original readers so that we will understand the reality of the resurrection because the resurrection changes everything.
UNDERESTIMATING THE PERSON OF THE MESSIAH
But it's three things in particular that I want us to see in the disciples’ response to Jesus’ question, “What things?” in verse 19. The first of them is this — we saw last week that Jesus said to them that at the bottom of their hopelessness and loss of faith in light of the events that had happened in Jerusalem was that they did not understand and believe the Scriptures. Well what exactly did they not understand and believe in the Scriptures? In this response Luke and Jesus point out three things. First, they underestimated the person of the Messiah. Look at what they say. “What things?” He says. And they respond. Look at verse 19. “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a Man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,” and then look down to verse 21, “We had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel.” Now they tell you that they believe that Jesus is a prophet, a prophet of God, and that He was the Messiah. They believe that He is a prophet; they believe that He's Messiah. Both of those things are true, but Jesus is more than that. Jesus is more than a prophet and He's more than the Messiah. He is the Son of the living God. He is God in the flesh. And though they believed true things about Him, they underestimated the person of the Messiah. The Jewish people had been looking for a Messiah who would come and give them deliverance. They underestimated that God Himself would come in the flesh to deliver them! And so they underestimated the person of the Messiah.
Before you pick on these disciples, let me just say, do you realize from their reactions, they have clearly built their world around Jesus. They believe that He is a prophet of God, they believe that He is the Messiah, and their world has literally been shattered because of His crucifixion and death. They had built their world – their lives revolve around this Man. Whereas your seven year old children know more about Jesus the Messiah than they did before this walk on the road happened. And do we build our world around Jesus? They had built their world around Jesus even though Christians in every generation since the New Testament was completed have known more fully who Jesus is than they do at this moment. They’d built their lives around Him. Have you built your life around Jesus? Does every beat of your heart and rise and fall of your chest, is it all wrapped up in Jesus? It was for them, even though they underestimated His person. How much more should our life revolve around Jesus?
UNDERESTIMATING THE COST OF REDEMPTION
Secondly, they not only underestimated His person, they underestimated the cost of redemption. Notice again what they say. Go back to verse 21. “We had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel.” Now there again, by the way, is another testimony that this is authentic. If this had been made up by someone forty years later in the Christian era, you would not have found that focus on Israel. This is an authentic indication of what a pious Jewish believer would have hoped with regard to the Messiah. He hoped that the Messiah would come and redeem Israel, the nation-state of Israel, the social-political reality of Israel, probably by driving the Romans out and reestablish a Davidic kingship or at least a Biblical kingship in establishing the rule of God's Law in the land. That's what pious Jews hoped for. But it underestimated the cost of the redemption that God was going to undertake. They did not understand that God was going to come in the flesh and shed His own blood for the redemption of His people. The cross was not a part of their Messianic expectations. They wanted a Messiah to come; they couldn't conceive that Messiah was going to come and in order to accomplish redemption, die on behalf of His people. And that's what God did. He sent His beloved Son into the world and He died and they underestimated the cost that God bore for the redemption of His people. And consequently, they were hopeless and they lacked joy.
UNDERESTIMATING THE POWER OF GOD AT WORK IN THE RESSURECTION
But there's a third thing too. Not only did they underestimate His person, not only did they underestimate the cost of the redemption that God was working through Jesus Christ, they underestimated the power of God at work in the resurrection. It is clear that they know that something significant is supposed to happen on the third day. Luke draws your attention to that before you even get into the conversation by telling you — what does he say back in verse 13? “That very day” — what day? What we call Sunday morning, the first day of the week, the Lord's Day, that very day they’re walking on the road to Emmaus. So he's already drawn attention to the fact that this is resurrection day. And then, as they’re responding to Him and telling Him all the things that have happened in Jerusalem, look at what they say. Verse 21 — “Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.” They know something significant attaches itself to this day, but they don't expect the resurrection. By the way, there's another testimony from Luke that this is authentic. Can you imagine making up a story about early Christians not expecting the resurrection? You’d never do that. They didn't expect the resurrection. They underestimated the power of God. They looked at this event and they thought the world had come to an end. They’d put their hope in this Man as a prophet and as Messiah and He had died. And as far as they were concerned, their hopes had died with Him, and in so doing, they underestimated the power of God in His redemption through the resurrection. Now Luke is telling us this because he wants us to understand and be assured of and convinced of the reality of the resurrection.
Now let me tell you, my friends, there is a very significant life experience lesson that we need to learn from this and it's this — when we are in circumstances in our lives which tempt us to think that God has thrown us a curve ball, that the rug has been pulled out from under us, that there is no hope, that we have been consigned to a misery that we do not deserve, that somehow God's plan has failed, we are exactly where these disciples were. All the lights have gone out for them. When you’re in a circumstance that you did not want but you have, or if there is a circumstance that you have longed for with all your heart and you do not have it, and you think that God has thrown you a curve ball, you are right where these disciples are. They looked at these events, they look at the death of the prophet and Messiah that they loved and they think, “God, You've thrown us a curve ball,” not realizing the only curve ball thrown has been thrown at sin and death and hell and Satan. In this very event which they see as the end of the world, God has revealed His power in using it as His stratagem to display His glory in His redemption.
And it is always like that in our own lives. When you are in the place where you are tempted to say, “This is too hard. This is not how it's supposed to be. My plan would be better if I were in charge” you are doubting the power of God in His redemption and resurrection. When you are there, He has you right where He wants you and you have no idea of the joy that He is capable of giving you when you believe it, when you trust it. No rug can be pulled out from under you when your confidence is in the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now circumstance can rob that from you. And my friends, the beautiful thing is, these men got it! He breaks bread, He prays, He gives them the loaf — suddenly their eyes are opened and they go, “It's Jesus!” and He's gone. But when they get back to see the eleven, they say what? “The Lord has risen indeed!” They get it! They believe; they embrace the person of the Messiah, the cost of the redemption, and the power of the resurrection, and it changes their lives.
Believers, there may be some, many of you, who need to know that today, who need to believe that today. And if you’re an unbeliever here, let me just say this, there is no sure and certain hope in life built on anything but Him — Jesus, and the power of His resurrection. If your hope is built, if your joy is dependent on anything else, it will not, it cannot last. And may God grant to all of us belief in the power of His resurrection.
Our heavenly Father, our dead eyes are only opened by Your Spirit, so it's my prayer that You would do that, for unbelievers and for faltering believers alike. In Jesus' name, amen.
Now if you would take your hymnals in hand and turn to number 286 we're going to sing a song about the resurrection. And pay attention to the words because it will help you through the truth of this passage.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord, Jesus the Messiah. Amen.