Summary: The church needs to burn again. An Easter sermon

And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. 16 But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. 17 And He said to them, “What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” 19 And He said to them, “What things?” And they said to Him, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, 20 and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. 21 “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. 22 “But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive. 24 “Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.” 25 And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. 28 And they approached the village where they were going, and He acted as though He were going farther. 29 But 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. 30 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. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. 32 They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” 33 And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, 34 saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, known and remembered as a legend among preachers, was also a medical doctor. In fact, at a young age he passed by an opportunity to fill the lucrative role of personal physician to British royalty in order to answer the call of God to preach.

In one of his sermons Dr Lloyd-Jones told a personal story which I will convey to you in brief here. He said that he was guest preaching one year in a church in his homeland of Wales. After the service several men of the church came to Dr Lloyd-Jones and asked him if he would do them a favor. Well, of course he was willing to do anything to help if he could, so the men told him about a man in their community who at one time was strong in the Lord and in the service of the church. They said this man for whom they were very concerned had been in a state of depression for a very long time, and no one seemed to be able to help him rise above it.

Lloyd-Jones agreed to meet with the man and went to the man’s home to speak with him. He asked the man if he had any idea when this depressive state he was in first began, and the man said that he indeed knew exactly when it began. He then related the account of when he was serving during what we now call World War I. He was involved in the Gallipoli campaign and served on a submarine in the Mediterranean.

The man said that one day during this campaign and while engaged in battle, there was a sudden thump against the side of the submarine and the vessel shook violently then sank to the bottom of the sea.

Dr Lloyd-Jones waited for more, but the man had stopped talking. So he asked the man to continue his story and the man said, “But there is no more to tell. Something hit the side of the submarine and it trembled violently then we sank to the bottom of the Mediterranean”.

Now the Dr. in his sermon went into much more detail, but in brief, he asked the man several times to repeat his story, saying that he was anxious to hear the rest. But each time in telling it, the man ended with the submarine being whacked on the side, trembling violently then sinking to the bottom of the sea.

Finally, Dr Lloyd-Jones asked, “Then I take it you are still at the bottom of the Mediterranean?”

Oh, no! The man replied. I got out of the sub and made my way to the surface where I was rescued by another ship and sent to a hospital in Italy, where I recovered and was sent home.

Well Lloyd-Jones ended his story saying that after having been reminded that the story had a happy ending the man came out of his depression, went on to live a joyful life and even served many years as the pastor of a church in his home country.

I think that there are very many people who have been through tragic difficulties in their life, and labor under chronic unhappiness simply because they have forgotten that their story ended happily. They can only dwell on the hardship and what a devastating time it was for them, and they seem blinded to the fact that those circumstances are well in the past and over and that they have recovered and are no longer in the grip of the problem.

There is a tendency toward this phenomenon in the spiritual sense also. I do believe that the chronic unhappiness and restlessness in many Christians is due to the fact that they have forgotten or never understood the fullness of their forgiveness and their redemption in Christ Jesus. There are several reasons for this, and we see them all portrayed in this account of the sad disciples on the road to Emmaus and their encounter with a risen Lord.

SAD OF HEART (Forgetting the end)

Look back at the 24th chapter of Luke with me and let’s get the picture of what is transpiring there.

It is the very day of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This is confirmed to us at least twice in Luke’s narrative, when he tells of the visit of the women to the tomb and their finding it empty and running back to tell the other disciples, then in verse 13 Luke writes that ‘two of them’ – and if you look back briefly at verse 10 and 11 you will see that he has just mentioned the Apostles, so these are ‘two of them’ – ‘were going that very day to a village’.

Then in verse 21 as they speak to Jesus, whom they have still not recognized, they specifically mention that this is the third day since the crucifixion and death of the one they thought would do all these wonderful things for the nation.

Now I’m careful to point out to you that this is the very day of the resurrection of Jesus, because this should be, by far, the happiest day in the lives of these two followers of Jesus Christ. Indeed, it remains and ever shall remain the happiest day in the history of this created Earth and the history of human kind, because on that day Christ rose from the grave in triumph over sin and death and Satan and Hell, and because He lives all who believe in Him have new life now and eternal life with God in His magnificent glory.

But they are sad. They were walking along, Luke says, ‘conversing and discussing’.

What were they conversing and discussing about? Wouldn’t you think that on the heels of and apparently only a few hours after hearing the news that the tomb was empty and that angels had appeared to the women who went there and announced to them that this Jesus they were seeking was not among the dead but among the living, that they would be energetically conversing and discussing the wonderful news that just as He had predicted of Himself less than a week before, Jesus had risen from the dead proving Himself to be the very Messiah for whom they and all of Israel had hoped and looked for?

But they weren’t. They were discussing the events of just the last several days during the Passover in Jerusalem, when the one they thought would redeem Israel was arrested, tortured, crucified, died and was buried.

They were like the man in Lloyd-Jones’ story, weren’t they? In his mind he was still at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, and in their minds Jesus was still hanging on the cross – or laying in the cold ground.

But listen. They are like people in the church also, even in our day.

How often do people hold to a negative assessment of a certain church or certain people based upon something that happened in the past, with no thought given for how much the person or the situation might have changed since then?

Sometimes we can even see, if we were to bother to look, that God has done amazing things in the life of someone else or in the development of a local church but what defines them in our thinking is the unpleasantness of a past behavior or a past circumstance. And don’t we cheat them and insult God when we converse and discuss and rehash the negative – sadly shuffling along as it were and mumbling to ourselves about old hurts and old wrongs, failing to see the evidence of God’s grace and goodness that came after?

Have you ever known someone who seems to dwell on some trial of their past so much that every time you think of them the first thing you remember about them is the frequency with which they go back and retell their sad story – yet you can’t remember them ever talking about the goodness of God Who saw them through the bad and brought them out of the trial and blessed them many times since and is even now providing for them and by His Spirit leading them deeper and deeper in their experience with Jesus?

Well I’ll tell you at least in part why you aren’t hearing that from them; it is because they are so focused on the past hurts and wrongs and sickness and trials in their life that they haven’t gone any deeper in Jesus. They haven’t recognized God’s goodness and His grace and mercy in their lives. Do you know why? It is because we have a living God who moves on and moves forward and is active and acting always in the present. And if you haven’t moved on, my friend, then you haven’t been walking with Him and you haven’t even recognized that it is He who speaks to you when He does.

They were sad, and they were conversing about the past, not even mindful of the good news they had heard that very day. They had already forgotten the end of the story. “He is not here, but He has risen”, just as He said.

Christians! We far too often forget the end of the story too! Yes, we do!

What? We forget that Christ is risen from the dead? Certainly not. But oh, we live as though we have forgotten. We relate to one another as though we have forgotten.

Why do we have battles over semantics? Why do we have division over creeds? Why do the same people who pack and plan excitedly to go to a ball game or on a vacation trip or to a movie struggle to get out of bed on Sunday morning and then sit joylessly in church either snoozing or thinking about something far away, or doing a slow burn inside because the music offends them or the preacher offends them or the person behind them offends them?

It must be because we have forgotten that the reason we are Christians at all is because Jesus Christ who died has risen bodily and gloriously from the grave and our very life is in Him and secure forever in Him and we are not who we were once. We are new creatures – made brand new – given spiritual birth from above and bound for glory – and all because JESUS CHRIST HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE!

Would some of the unchurched in our communities be more interested in looking into what we have if they could see that we were excited about THAT?

SLOW OF HEART (Failing to believe the Prophets)

Well, the disciples were sad of heart and they were also slow of heart. Jesus said so.

In fact, He called them fools. So since we’re illuminating the parallels between them and us today I guess we’ll have to admit that He would call us fools also. Foolish. Let me take just a moment to explain that word.

When Jesus said, “O foolish men’ here, He used a word that means ‘unwise’ or ‘ignorant’. This would be in contrast to the word employed by Paul in Romans 1:22, where he said ‘professing to be wise they became fools’. The word there is the word from which we get ‘moron’. Jesus didn’t call these disciples morons and He does not call us morons…I hope…

So what is He saying to them in response to their sad, sad story? O unwise and ignorant men! He had a right to say that to them, didn’t He? I mean, not only as God did He have a right but for the fact that these were people who had followed Him and been taught by Him for several years, and as those who had heard Him say that He was going to be crucified but that they were not to worry because in three days He was going to rise from the dead and that they should then meet Him in Galilee.

But Jesus doesn’t even bring all that up at this juncture. He accuses them of being slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken.

Now what does that mean? Well, first of all it tells us that He has specific knowledge that these two sad travelers have read and been taught all that the prophets have spoken. Right? He would hardly rebuke them for being slow to believe something they’ve never been exposed to.

But there is something more important for us to take note of in this. It is that Jesus considers their slowness of belief to be a heart problem, not a head problem.

They were dull in their thinking – that’s another way to interpret that word ‘foolish’ – but their dullness in thinking was not due to a lack of head knowledge. It wasn’t because they didn’t know what the prophets had spoken. He didn’t accuse them of being slow of mind. No, they were slow to believe. They were slow of heart and it is always out of the heart that the sort of faith that pleases God arises.

“…for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation”. Romans 10:10

Notice exactly what it is Jesus is chiding them for being slow to believe here. It is the prophets. All that the prophets have spoken. That is a confirmation directly from our Lord’s mouth, my friends, that the Old Testament is valid for us. This was after the cross and it was after the resurrection, and the risen Jesus was telling these two disciples that He expected the true disciple of His to believe ‘all that the prophets have spoken’. Why? Because ‘all’ that the prophets spoke was from God and it was about Christ. Luke says so in verse 27 – but look first at verse 26.

“Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?”

What does that tell us? It tells us that according to Jesus, if we properly read and understand the words of the Old Testament prophets, we will find the truth established through them that it was necessary that the Christ suffer and enter into His glory.

So if anyone ever says to you that they don’t bother with the Old Testament because they are New Testament believers and only need the New Testament, you can tell them that Jesus expects them to know and believe all that the prophets have spoken concerning Him, so they’d better get studying.

And let me just point out here that slowness of heart won’t be your problem if you don’t first get it in your head.

I’ve referred in the past to something R.C. Sproul wrote concerning this in his book, “The Soul’s Quest for God”. I won’t give you the entire quote here, but the last couple of lines give the gist. He said:

”We cannot reasonably expect the Spirit to give us the excellent sense of the Scripture in our hearts if we are unwilling to get it in our minds. A cavalier approach to Scripture will not do. The only ‘devotional’ reading of God’s Word that pleases Him is a devout study of His Word”.

Just let me remind you here that Jesus didn’t rebuke them for not knowing it; but for not believing it.

Christians, you and I have the Word of God. It was divinely inspired, it is divinely preserved and protected through the years and it remains inerrant, infallible, unchanging and eternal. God expects us to know it, and He demands that we believe it.

I fear that there are many in Christendom today who are slow of heart to believe all that the Scriptures say; I tell you, they are all and entirely about Christ and the necessity of His suffering and resurrection and entering into His glory and if you fail to believe any part of the Word of God you deny Christ.

“And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures”

BURNING OF HEART (Rekindled by the Word)

Well, I’m happy to tell you that the story gets better from here. You will be happy to know that when Jesus finds us sad of heart and slow of heart to believe He doesn’t just write us off as losers and failures. He doesn’t leave us in our sad state; He walks with us on the way and brings us up to speed.

He rekindled the flame in these downhearted disciples and I want you to see precisely how He did it, because it addresses a trend in today’s church that is near to my heart.

Read verse 27 again, and then let’s skip to verse 32.

27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

And verse 32

32 They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?”

Now I want you to notice that it wasn’t the presence of Jesus that accomplished this burning.

Don’t worry, I’m not saying this to diminish the blessing of having the Lord present with us. We know as believers that by His Holy Spirit Christ is with us always. That is not the doctrine I am teaching at this moment but I’m not denying it either.

What I want you to see is that they had not yet recognized Jesus for who He was. It wasn’t until they arrived in Emmaus and invited Him in to eat with them and He blessed the bread and broke it that their eyes were opened to recognize Jesus and they realized who He was and He immediately vanished from their sight. That’s all in verses 28 through 31.

On the road though, as they walked along, they did not know who He was and to their minds He was just another traveler who was proving Himself to be very knowlegeble in the Scriptures as He explained to them beginning with Moses and all the prophets, all the things in the Scriptures concerning the Messiah and this Jesus of Nazareth, who needed to suffer and enter into His glory.

So what was it that caused their hearts to burn within them? It was the Word of God! The Scriptures!

Have you ever known that burning? Can you identify with what these disciples of old were saying to one another? Please notice also that this was a shared experience and they weren’t surprising each other with the revelation or with the description of what they had felt.

“Were not our hearts burning within us, while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?”

Were not our hearts burning within us? Have you ever known that? While someone was preaching the Word of God to you, have you ever sensed that burning, that Spirit-borne confirmation in your very heart that what you were hearing was true and full of meaning and significance to your life? Oh, I hope you have…

But I have to go from the positive to the negative for a minute and I’m sorry to do so but this is an item of great consequence to the church today and it must be addressed.

For quite a number of years in the Christian church a battle has raged over the validity and necessity of preaching. Sadly, the trend toward minimalized preaching or no preaching at all has grown very strong, so that in many churches and even from our seminaries the message being expounded is that dialoguing is much more productive than monologuing. Small group discussion is more progressive and helpful than listening to a preacher.

Now before I go further I want to state clearly that there is a place for small group discussion – small group Bible study. Of course there is; it would be foolish to advocate avoidance of that sort of gathering. But the benefit of dialoguing about the Scriptures comes out of sound teaching of the Scriptures. If preaching is laid aside as unnecessary what will a group of lay churchgoers dialogue about? Their own opinions? Their feelings about what they’ve read?

I want to give you an excerpt from a book pastor Alistair Begg of Parkside Church in Cleveland OH had published in 1999. It is only one of many publications that have needed to be written in recent decades in defense of Biblical preaching, but I don’t have the resources to find them all and you don’t have the time to listen to them all.

Let me preface the excerpt in saying that I have also come across publications from the other side of the issue, some written by pastors whose names are well-known and recognized in contemporary Christianity, who decry preaching as old fashioned and tedious and unnecessary. I won’t quote them here.

I have even had pastors in my own acquaintence debate with me about why they have deemed preaching a mode of communication that has outlived its usefulness.

My response to them is that if preaching is not God’s ordained and decreed method of delivering His Word to His people, then Jesus made a mess of things, and so did His Apostles later on when they admonished ministers to preach the Word, and declared over and over again that their Lord had commanded them to preach everywhere.

Here is the excerpt from Begg’s book, Preaching for the Glory of God

“About fifty years ago W.E. Sangster, a great Methodist preacher in Britain, began a volume on preaching with the words, ‘Preaching is in the shadows. The world does not believe in it’ (The Craft of the Sermon, [Harrisburg, PA: Epworth Press, 1954], p.1) Today, at the beginning of a new millennium, the situation is graver still. Preaching is still in the shadows, but this time much of the church does not believe in it.

Much of what now emanates from contemporary pulpits would not have been recognized by either Alexander or Baxter or Sangster as being anywhere close to the kind of expository preaching that is Bible-based, Christ-focused, and life-changing – the kind of preaching that is marked by doctrinal clarity, a sense of gravity, and convincing argument. We have instead become far too familiar with preaching that pays scant attention to the Bible, is self-focused, and consequently is capable of only the most superficial impact upon the lives of listeners. Worse still, large sections of the church are oblivious to the fact that they are being administered a placebo rather than the medicine they need. They are satisfied with the feeling that it has done them some good, a feeling that disguises the seriousness of the situation. In the absence of bread the population grows accustomed to cake! Pulpits are for preachers. We build stages for performers.” Preaching for God’s Glory by Alistair Begg, James Montgomery Boice Crossway Books, 1999

My friends and family, the absence from the church of the burning that these men experienced on the road to Emmaus; the burning that the prophet Jeremiah described when he said ‘in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones’(20:9), the burning that made the early church and the historical church during times of revival spread like a mighty flame – the absence of that burning in the hearts of Christians today is due to a widespread neglect of the sound, Biblical preaching of doctrine; of the preaching and explaining of all things in the Scriptures concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, who being perfected as the author of salvation through His sufferings has now entered into His glory and takes many sons there with Him by the same resurrection power that raised Him from the dead!

We need that fire again, church! We need to know that burning in our hearts – in the very heart of the true church! There needs to be an overwhelming, Holy Spirit driven return to the pulpit with the Word of God and over the pulpit to the hearts of Christians in our churches everywhere if evangelical Christianity is ever again to see any real spiritual fruit in our land.

They had been His followers for years. They had hung on His every word and witnessed His every miracle. Then they watched Him die and His voice was silenced to them and they despaired. But they had forgotten. They forgot the end of the story. They forgot their Scriptures and all that the prophets had spoken.

But Jesus met them on the road and, O but their hearts burned within them while He spoke to them; while He explained the Scriptures!

BELIEVING OF HEART (Rejoicing in the truth)

Well, they returned to Jerusalem. Now that in itself is of significance; just the fact that they went back and when they went back.

Remember that the Romans had just crucified Jesus at the insistence of the Jewish nation’s leaders. So these guys and the disciples still in Jerusalem had all the existing powers flat against them. The Jerusalem disciples were already in hiding; remember?

In addition, it was getting late in the day when they arrived at Emmaus. That’s why they asked Jesus to stay with them instead of going on down the road. It says that in verse 29.

So they go inside, set the table, Jesus breaks bread and disappears as soon as they recognize Him, and they arose ‘that very hour’ verse 33, and returned to Jerusalem. They traveled at night, they went to where the others were hiding, through the streets of a city that was hostile to their leader and hostile to them.

Why? Because of the burning! The risen Christ had used His Word to rekindle their faith and put a burning in them for truth, then He had shown Himself to them and they couldn’t contain it! They had to return to Christian fellowship. They had to go to where the truth was known and share it.

Look at how verses 33 through 35 are put together.

And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.”

So apparently as they come in the door those who were already there start saying, “Hey, the Lord really has risen and He appeared to Simon” That would be Peter. Then…

They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.

Do you get the excitement present in this room? Knock-knock, ‘Hey, it’s us. Let us in’. Door opens. Someone inside greets them with ‘The Lord really is risen and Peter saw Him!” And immediately these two from Emmaus come back with ‘Yeah! We did too! Listen to what happened while we were on the road home this afternoon!’

Things have changed, haven’t they? These people have changed. They were on the road, downhearted, sad-hearted, slow-hearted, forgetting the good, dwelling on the bad. But they had an encounter with the risen Jesus. They had an encounter with the Scriptures. They heard what really amounts to the first sermon preached after the resurrection.

Now they’re not sad. Now they’re not slow. Now they’re on fire! Now they’re burning!

They’ve gone from sad, slow thinking to reality thinking. The Lord has really risen from the dead!

Yes, my friends. Jesus has really risen from the dead. He has fulfilled all that the prophets have spoken. He has suffered and entered into His glory.

He has said, ‘…because I live you will live also’ (Jn 14:19) and in saying that He really meant that our life is due to and resulting from and born out of His Life.

Our life exists because He is Life. He is our life. He is really risen from the dead. And the first thing He did was preach and commission those who are His to preach, and the foolishness of preaching lit fires in the hearts of all who were appointed to eternal life and the fire spread down through the years, through the centuries, around the world, and all the attempts of the enemy to extinguish the flame have failed and will fail.

Christians, we need the burning rekindled in our day, in our church, in our hearts. We need to be a burning church once more at the end of the age. We need to once more desire the glory of God not the glory of man, not our own glory, but His glory. There needs to be a return to sound, doctrinal preaching that glorifies God through His Word because Christians, that is what the Holy Spirit uses to set hearts on fire.

Please pray for a rekindling. If you need it, pray for the Lord through His Word and His Spirit to burn in your heart. Pray for rekindling. Pray for it in the leaders of the church, pray for it in preachers, pray for it in the pew.

The Lord Jesus is coming!