Prayer: Risen Lord, speak to us through your Word by your Spirit & may our hearts burn for you as a result, for your glory, Amen.
Let me start with a question. Why have you come here this evening? Is it, if I can put it provocatively, to listen to a ‘lecture’ and then meet friends over coffee afterwards? Or is it to meet the risen Christ, who promises to be with us by his Spirit, remember his death, hear his Word, be changed and begin to put it into practice as we meet and encourage one another after the service and praise and glorify God? Perhaps you’ve still to meet Christ for the first time. You’ve been coming, you’ve been talking, you’ve been discussing what you’ve seen and heard, just like the two on the road to Emmaus in v13, but you’re still unsure about why Jesus had to die and whether he rose from the dead, your eyes have still to be opened to see who Jesus is: the Son of God, who loves you, died for you and rose again, and offers you new and eternal life through faith in him.
The risen Christ met me on my 'Emmaus Road' twenty-seven years ago on a weekend away with a Christian youth group. I was reading Romans chapter 5 when suddenly my heart was burning within me. I knew God was speaking to me, that Jesus loved me and offered me freedom from sin by his blood shed on the cross. I recognised the risen Christ and I knew I had to receive him as my Saviour and Lord. More famously on May 24th 1738, John Wesley found his 'Emmaus road' in London. "In the evening", he wrote in his journal, "I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate street, where someone was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change that God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death." Through Luther's commentary on Romans Wesley heard the voice of the living Christ and found in it salvation.
I pray that today, Easter Day 2005, will be your 'Emmaus Road' when the risen living Christ speaks to you through your doubts and confusion, when the Scriptures are explained and when Christ reveals himself and you believe and trust him with your life and with your death. Or perhaps you're a believer but you’re struggling with doubt and sin and you’re confused about certain things and in need of reassurance that the resurrection is true, that the tomb was and is empty, that Christ is really alive, that through his death and resurrection he has won the victory over sin, death and the devil and that he is with us. Perhaps the Bible seems dry and your faith doesn't seem to be as real as it once was. The fire has gone. The thorns and thistles of this life are getting you down and you’re failing to see that for us too there is suffering before the glory. Often ‘we are so foolish and slow of heart’ as Jesus tells the two travellers in v25. Yet Jesus meets us where we are. As he did with the discouraged and confused two on the historical Emmaus Road, Christ graciously walks with us, opens the Scriptures to us and then our hearts and our eyes to recognise and receive him. Drawing us, opening us, reminding us of his words, and convicting us by the Holy Spirit. So to my first heading:
There is much confusion and ignorance today about the Christian faith. According to a survey published this week by ‘The Readers Digest’ more than half of adults in the UK do not know what the significance of Easter is. Recently a friend on Merseyside invited a colleague to an Easter Sunday service. "Easter?" replied the man, "why is there something special on?" (I can’t do the Scouse accent!) Here in Luke 24 Cleopas and the other unnamed follower of Jesus on the road to Emmaus were confused and downcast (v17) about the events of the first Easter. They’d been in Jerusalem when Jesus, the man they thought was going to rescue Israel from the Romans (v21), was crucified. Their hopes had been shattered. They didn't realise that an even greater victory had been won. They were shocked and disheartened and now they were bewildered as there were reports from some of their women that Jesus was alive (v22-23). They probably felt a little bit like many American Democrats did after President Kennedy was shot dead in Dallas in 1963 or as many black Americans did when Martin Luther-King was murdered in 1968. Their saviour was gone. But unlike the murders of Kennedy and King the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ had been prophesied and publicly scripted hundreds of years before his birth and taught by Jesus himself. Yet Cleopas and his friend still had not grasped who Jesus is, what Jesus had really come to do, why he had to die, what the redemption of Israel really meant (v21) and that on the third day he would be raised. Their hearts were discouraged, but also slow and cold. Yes they'd heard the reports of the women that the tomb was empty and that Jesus was alive, but they didn't believe them (v11), ‘because their words seemed like nonsense’, and partly because the testimony was from women who were not recognised as reliable witnesses at that time, but also because their companions had then gone to the tomb, found it empty but did not see Jesus (v.24). Like Doubting Thomas they wanted to see Jesus in person. Well as this account unfolds you feel like yelling at them don’t you, ‘Take a closer look!’ So often the evidence is right there staring us in the face, but we are so foolish & slow to look and believe.
Overall you get the impression that the two followers were downcast because God did not do what they wanted him to do. They saw something of the glory of the kingdom of God but they failed to understand the suffering. Are we the same sometimes - not understanding God's ways and plans - wanting him to do what we want and feeling despondent when he doesn't? And also failing to understand that there is suffering before glory in the Christian life? Instead we are to learn to understand and trust God’s promises; and to accept and trust his purposes.
But Christ does meet us in our need. As the 2 followers of Jesus were walking, talking, discussing and debating, trying to make sense of what had happened, the risen Christ met them where they were and walked along with them (v14-15). But, v16, notice that at first they were kept from recognising him. By special divine intervention they were prevented from recognising him as the risen Lord. Why? Well because of all their uncertainties and lack of belief. Because their hearts were slow and cold and their eyes blind they were slowly being given an opportunity to see and respond. Jesus wanted to reveal himself gradually. As he walked and talked with them he could speak into their particular situation and belief, sort out their lack of understanding and confusion by opening the Scriptures and in so doing convict their hearts and open their eyes for good. If they'd recognised Jesus straight away maybe they would have run off without being taught, thinking that they'd seen a ghost. In their state of mind and heart Jesus' timing was perfect. He had to first minister to their hearts and minds before they could see him, the risen Saviour and Lord. As we learn here we cannot see the risen Christ unless he wills to disclose himself to us. So Jesus meets us where we are and reveals himself to us in his time. God is in control.
Certainly Jesus' questions to the two walkers give nothing away about himself in vv.17&19. "What are you discussing? What things have happened in Jerusalem?" Jesus asks. The two can't believe he doesn't know and so begin to tell him what they believe about him and what has happened over the last three days. If only they'd known who they were speaking to! So what did they believe about Jesus and about what had happened in Jerusalem? To what extent were they confused? Look with me at verses 19-24. Look at the gospel according to Cleopas.
To them Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people and they’d hoped he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. They'd hoped that Jesus was the Messiah who had come to set the Jewish nation free from bondage to Rome and so usher in the kingdom of God. But he was crucified by their chief priests and rulers. And despite rumours of him being alive they believe he’s still dead. They were confused about Jesus' purpose and bewildered about his end. They still had respect for Jesus as a man of God but as they thought he was almost certainly dead they were now reluctant to call him Messiah. His death puzzled them. And perhaps Jesus' death is still puzzling to some of us. The gospel of Cleopas, so to speak, is believed by many today around the world, even by some who attend church. Perhaps some of you here this evening just respect Jesus as a man of God, a great teacher and example rather than worship him as Saviour and Lord, as the one who died to pay for our sin and who was raised to seal the victory over sin and death. The talk on the TV yesterday was all about Doctor Who returning to our TV screens, the fictional time lord who travels around trying to save the world and the universe. But Jesus is truly Lord of all. Through him all things were created – the whole universe in fact - and in him all things hold together. He is the only Saviour of the World. Please don’t be confused about that – he, God the Son, is the only way to God the Father. He alone can rescue us from hell. On the cross he, God incarnate, took our punishment for sin, so that we can be forgiven and was raised from the dead so that we can have life with God forever. But even though some of us might still be confused the two on the road to Emmaus should not have been if they'd remembered and believed the words of Jesus. So Jesus rebukes them "How foolish [or how dull you are]"(v.25) “and slow of heart”. How foolish or dull and slow of heart are we sometimes to believe the Word of God, which leads me to the next heading, so…
Secondly, EXPLANATION (v 25-27)
So far the risen Jesus has drawn alongside these two people and listened, and we can learn much from him in that. How important it is to listen. But now (v25), still unrecognisable to them, he gets straight to the point, straight to the heart of the matter and to the heart of their problem and need by opening the Scriptures to them. Jesus doesn’t mince his words. Look at vv. 25-27:
He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
We are not to be mealy mouthed when explaining the Word of God to people. Yes, like Jesus we are to listen to people as they ask questions and be willing to go ‘seven miles’ with them to help them. For example the seven weeks of a Christianity Explored course. It can take time! But we are to point people to the living Christ and allow him to speak and the living and active Scriptures to speak. You see what Cleopas and his friend needed was a personal word from the living Christ to warm their hearts and to feed their minds. People today whose hearts are slow and minds confused need the Gospel explained - the death and resurrection of Jesus - the suffering before the glory and their hearts convicting by the Holy Spirit. We need to open the Scriptures to them and allow God to work.
On the road to Emmaus Jesus opened the Scriptures to explain to them about himself, his suffering and death and his resurrection from Moses and all the Prophets or what we call the Old Testament. The evidence is all there. The prophets had spoken clearly enough but the minds of the two had not grasped it. The Christ had to suffer and die. It was necessary. But that is not the end of it - he must also enter into his glory. He had to rise from the dead. (John 20:9) God is not defeated on the cross. He triumphs through the sufferings of his Son. And Christ showed them how all the OT points to Jesus, to the cross and to the resurrection. The words of the risen Jesus and the Scriptures spoke to their confused minds and cold, slow hearts. Without them they could have discussed the events in Jerusalem between themselves for days without working it out. They might have been able to warm their tongues but not their hearts. But the risen Jesus' words cut to the heart of the questions of these two on the way to Emmaus, revealing his own living self as the key to both their hearts and their questions. And in v. 32 they tell us so, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?"
You see, it is the word which brings life…First it is Jesus who speaks. It is the word of his risen power, for he has been designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead. (Ro 1:4) And in the power of the Spirit he is still alive. That is why today we can still turn to his words and our own dead hearts come to life; still today we can tell others with delight what Jesus says, and they come to life in their turn. Secondly the Scripture speaks - both the Old Testament that Jesus was expounding and in which on his own authority we find everywhere things concerning himself and the New Testament. So we turn eagerly to the Scripture, for it is a living testimony to the living Christ". Christ is revealed through the Scriptures - Christ the incarnate Word is known through the written Word of God. Now knowing Christ is a richer reality than mere acquaintance with Bible teaching about him. But the Christ we know in personal experience is the Christ we find in the Bible; there is no other Christ. Are our hearts burning within us or are they cold and slow? Then let us open the whole of the Scriptures OT and NT and let the living Christ and the living Scriptures speak in the power of the Spirit. That was the experience of David Suchet, the actor who plays Poirot on ITV. One lonely night in a New York hotel he picked up a Gideons Bible from the bedside table and began to read in the bath. God’s Word convicted him of his sin and his need of Jesus Christ and he trusted him.
So thirdly and finally REVELATION v28-35
By opening and explaining the Scriptures about himself the risen Jesus had warmed and convicted his followers' hearts (v32) and now their eyes could be opened too. Until then Cleopas and his companion hadn’t understood all that the prophets had written about the Messiah. They'd seen him as a conquering Redeemer not as a Suffering Servant. They’d failed to see the crucified Jesus as the true Messiah, the Saviour of the world, who would be raised from the dead as the fulfilment of the OT prophecies. But now they did begin to understand. Their hearts were burning within them. They were being convicted of the truth. Jesus was gradually revealing himself to them and warming them into new life. Their hearts were burning and they wanted more. They still couldn't recognise Jesus but (v29) they urged him to stay with them in Emmaus. They invited him in. Note Jesus doesn't force his way into our lives. But when Jesus stayed, he the guest became the host as he broke bread and gave it to them. And something in this action struck a chord with Cleopas and his companion. Perhaps it reminded them of the feeding of the 5000 or perhaps they saw the nail marks in Jesus' hands. Then (v31) their eyes were opened and they recognised him and he disappeared. Jesus revealed himself during the breaking of the bread. God opened their eyes to recognise Jesus as the risen Lord. The risen Jesus had opened the Scriptures, convicting their hearts and minds and now he opened their eyes to see him the living Saviour. They were so excited- their hearts continued to burn- no longer were they discouraged. Their eyes were not just open but bulging. They were no longer blind and their minds were no longer confused. They could not keep this news to themselves so they immediately (v33) ran the 7 miles back to Jerusalem with the news, news that was confirmed by the Eleven (v34) - IT IS TRUE THE LORD HAS RISEN! The risen Jesus was not an apparition or a ghost or a hallucination. He had appeared to Simon. He had appeared to them. He had walked, talked and broken bread with them and been recognised by them. He had opened the Scriptures to them and their hearts had burned. He was and is alive.
Yes, it is true the Lord Jesus has risen. Luke wants us to know the certainty of this. Have you taken on board the evidence? Have you looked into the resurrection accounts we find in the Bible, written down so that you may know the truth Jesus’ body was not hidden by the disciples as why would they have been willing to die for what they knew to be a lie? And if the authorities had taken the body of Jesus from the tomb why didn’t they produce it to prove the Christians wrong? No it is true - the Lord has risen! Do you know it? Or would you value the time to look into it further by going on a Christianity Explored course? Don’t delay as these issues are so important – indeed they’re a matter of life and death.
Have you heard the Word? Has the living Christ spoken to you? Ask him to speak to you by his Spirit through his Word tonight. Is he doing so now? Do you see? Are your hearts burning within you and burning to tell others? If so recognise him tonight as your risen Lord and Saviour, believe and trust in him and, in the words of that old Frank Sinatra song, start spreading the news! And what news! The Lord Jesus is risen! Death has been defeated. Heaven is a reality but the only way there is through faith in Jesus.
Finally in v36 we read:
“While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
The risen Jesus is with us tonight by his Spirit and he says to us: “Peace be with you.” As he says elsewhere: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)