Luke 24:32-35 “They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’ They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, ‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognised by them when he broke the bread.”
Luke’s life of Christ begins with Jesus’ parents looking for the twelve year old boy in desperation for a few days. It was three days before they discovered him back in Jerusalem in the Temple with the learned teachers. “Didn’t you know that I had to be involved in my father’s work?” he said. Now the gospel is ending with two people experiencing three days of agony and searching. Jesus speaks to them and he says in effect, “Didn’t you know that I’d have to do my Father’s work?” The whole gospel story is framed between those two scenes. The first thing and the last thing in the life of Jesus was doing the will of God. For that reason he was born and for that reason he died.
Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus had been joined by another traveler. He was the Lord Jesus, but they were kept from knowing this until he had made himself known to them through showing them the necessity of the Messiah suffering and dying as declared in Scripture. Then the time came, appointed by God, for him to reveal to these men the identity of their Bible-teaching companion. Jesus became known to them when in their own home he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and offered it to them. In other words, before they took it from his hand they knew, in his prior breaking of the bread, that this man was Jesus. The gesture was itself eloquent. I remember an old member of the church Mr. Dix speaking to me of his father who would peel an apple in one continuous strip, and that no one else he know could do it like him. It was his gesture, and Jesus broke bread and we are told, “Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight” (v.31).
1. NEW HEARTS.
See the change in these men. Leaving Jerusalem there were few other people who were more broken hearted in the whole world, but now they look at one another and they say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (v.32). What a transformation! They were filled with fervour and enthusiasm and hope and glory. What’s happened? Something had changed inside them. They have burning hearts. And so when you hear the question, ‘How do we get burning hearts?’ Then you have to look at this incident. It is the recipe for making cold hearts warm. How we would desire that dying hearts would burn and shine again. ‘Ah,’ someone protests, ‘you know, you’re really depressing us. The hearts of these men were burning because the Lord Jesus was sitting with them and because they recognized him.’ Is that it? That’s not what the record says. And this, to me, is a very glorious thing. What made the hearts of these men burn? Well, they tell you themselves as they talked to each other in amazement after the Lord has gone. They said, “‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’” That is the significant and wonderful fact. It was not after the journey was over and they were home that they recognized him. It was not after their eyes were opened, that their hearts began to burn. We are told that their hearts were burning while they were walking on the road listening to him speak, while they still regarded him as a stranger. Then they heard him as someone who knew his Bible, and could teach it and apply it to their despair. It was as he was opening the Scriptures when they were walking together on the road to Emmaus that their hearts began to burn.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones says, “Thank God for this. I have known many a person, and I have felt it myself many times, I am ashamed to admit, who has said, ‘If only I could have seen the Lord Jesus with my natural eyes as the people did who were alive in his day. Oh, how different I would be! If only I could have seen him, it would have made all the difference.’ That is a very great fallacy. You don’t need to have a vision. You don’t need to see him with your natural eyes for your hearts to begin to burn. There is only one thing that is necessary for this burning heart, and it is this—that you look in the Scriptures. It was as our Lord opened the Scriptures, showing this amazing plan of God, this increasing revelation, that the men’s hearts began to burn. He took them right back to Moses, we are told (v. 27). You don’t even need your New Testament to get a burning heart! You can get it from the Old Testament if you know how to read it. What did our Lord do? He preached the Bible to them. As our Lord did that, explaining and expounding the Scriptures, that their hearts began to burn and their whole condition was transformed.
“And, my dear friends, that is the position with us today.
I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay.
No angel visitant, no opening skies;
But take the dimness of my soul away. (George Croly)
That is all we need. Do not look for phenomena. Do not look for strange, amazing, semi-magical somethings. Go to the Scriptures. ‘Ah,’ you say, ‘but it was the Lord Jesus Christ who expounded the Scriptures to the two disciples. And if he only did that with me, I believe that my heart would be burning. But he doesn’t come to us like this now.’
“Wait a minute, men and women. Do not fall into the same mistake as Thomas. Poor Thomas, when he was told of the resurrection, he said in essence, ‘I won’t believe it. I don’t believe it. I can’t believe it. It’s impossible.’ His actual words were, ‘Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe’ (John 20:25). Do you remember what our Lord said to him? ‘Thomas,’ he said, ‘because you has seen me, you have believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed’ (John 20:29). Our Lord’s literal, physical presence is not necessary. He has sent another, the Comforter. He has sent the Holy Spirit, and he is the teacher. He is the expounder. He is the one who brings back to our remembrance all that was taught by the Lord himself and he explains it and makes it clear. This is the secret of every saint who has ever lived. They have not seen the Lord, but they are able to say with the writer of the hymn:
Jesus, these eyes have never seen, That radiant form of thine;
The veil of sense hangs dark between Thy blessed face and mine.
But he was able to go on:
I see thee not, I hear thee not, Yet art thou oft with me;
And earth hath ne’er so dear a spot, As where I meet with thee. (Ray Palmer)
The Lord has promised to manifest himself to his people. He has promised to make himself known to them. And they can meet with him, and they are ravished, and their hearts begin to burn as they do so. The Spirit mediates. He was sent to do this. And this, as I said, has been the secret of every individual whom God has used in the long history of the church, and it has been the secret of the church as a whole in periods of revival and reformation.
“Let me give you a notable, well-known example. It all turns on how to get rid of a dull, sad, slow heart and get a burning heart. See it in the case of John Wesley, a brilliant, erudite man, religious, moral, and zealous. Over two hundred years ago he gave up a wonderful post in the University of Oxford and crossed the Atlantic with all its hazards to preach to the poor natives in Savannah, Georgia. Yet he was a miserable man, a miserable failure, and he said that as he tried to preach to those poor natives, he felt he needed to be converted himself. Then he went back, in the same condition, to England and was a failure and would have died a failure but for one thing. You do not think of him as a failure. You think of him as a flaming evangelist. What made the difference? He has told us himself. The story is well-known.
“On the evening of May 24, 1738, John Wesley went to a little meeting in Aldersgate Street in London. He went feeling utterly dejected, absolutely cast down. He felt that he was useless. He was doubting everything. It was a very small meeting, and there was not even a preacher. But a man read out of the preface of Luther’s commentary on the epistle to the Romans. He was not even reading the commentary itself but simply the preface! So there was this little man reading, and John Wesley said that as he was listening, suddenly his heart was ‘strangely warmed.’ He said, ‘My heart began to burn within me. I knew that my sins, even my sins, were forgiven.’ The cold iceberg of a heart began to melt, and the fire came in, and the man became a flaming evangelist.
“John the Baptist prophesied that when our Lord came he would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost, ‘[in] cloven tongues like as of fire’ (Acts 2:3), the fire of God, the fire of Mount Carmel, the fire that gives energy and power to a preacher and to a people in their praying and witnessing, in everything; the fire that burns away the dross and the refuse and that produces the pure gold of a sanctified person.
“The burning heart is the one great need and necessity of every one of us. Do you have it? If you haven’t, realize why you haven’t. You are a fool! You are not giving your time to this. You are spending your time with your television or your laptop or your Ipad. Give time to the Scriptures. Bring your mind at its best. Discipline it. Read the Scriptures. Start in Genesis and go all the way through. But never read without praying for the Spirit to enlighten your eyes and to open them and to give you understanding. Ask for this blessed unction and anointing that alone can enable you to find Christ. Look for him, the living Christ, the resurrected Christ. Look for him everywhere in the Scriptures. We must not spend most of our time in analysis of the problems. Shame on us! Let us stop looking at our problems. Let us search for him in the Scriptures and find him and look at him and bask in the sunshine of his face until our cold hearts begin to burn. Then we will scarcely be able to contain ourselves in the joy and in the ecstasy that we shall experience.” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Setting Our Affections on Glory, Crossway, 2013, pp. 83-86). He once sad to me about the times he had in his little office in his London hospital, “I had good times there.” He was talking about his burning heart. So they were transformed by the ministry of God to their lives through the Scriptures and they hearts began to burn within them.
2. NEW ZEAL.
What was their response? Did they ask one another, “How was it that we didn’t know Jesus?” Did they say, “Wasn’t that remarkable?” and laugh in delight together? Then did they have a drink and go to bed? No, none of those things. They put their sandals back on and they locked the door and out they went walking back to Jerusalem to the place of their former grief and despair and they went as fast as they could – “at once” Luke says. Their feet were lighter; they were men with a mission. They didn’t wait to eat the bread he had broken. There was nothing magical or potent in swallowing that particular loaf. Strength came from knowing the truth. How it liberated them. They left their home for the threatening city of Jerusalem unafraid.
Once we’ve encountered the living Christ nothing is the same again. If Jesus is alive we’ve a story to tell to the nations. If Jesus is alive there’s no time to waste. If Jesus is alive everything the gospel says is true. If Jesus is alive then death is defeated. If Jesus is alive then heaven is more than wishful thinking. If Jesus is alive then our sins are all forgiven. If Jesus is alive then all his promises are true – if we come to him we have rest. If Jesus is alive then we’ll never be all alone again. If Jesus is alive life has a purpose.
I thought of the famous story of the lepers in Samaria who were starving alongside all the people of the city being besieged by the Arameans. They were living in a camp for lepers in the shadow of the city walls near the entrance gate, feared and shunned by Jew and Aramean alike. One night they came to a decision; “They said to each other, ‘Why stay here until we die? If we say, “We’ll go into the city” – the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.’ At dusk they got up and went to the camp of the Arameans. When they reached the edge of the camp, not a man was there, for the Lord had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army, so that they said to one another, ‘Look, the king of Israel has hired the Hittite and Egyptian kings to attack us!’ So they got up and fled in the dusk and abandoned their tents and their horses and donkeys. They left the camp as it was and ran for their lives.The men who had leprosy reached the edge of the camp and entered one of the tents. They ate and drank, and carried away silver, gold and clothes, and went off and hid them. They returned and entered another tent and took some things from it and hid them also. Then they said to each other, ‘We’re not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.’ So they went and called out to the city gatekeepers and told them, ‘We went into the Aramean camp and not a man was there -not a sound of anyone – only tethered horses and donkeys, and the tents left just as they were.’ The gatekeepers shouted the news, and it was reported within the palace” (2 Kings 7:3-11)
The news was so wonderful that the lepers felt guilty of gorging themselves and drinking to their fill while all their family and friends and fellow countrymen were starving in Samaria. “We are not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves . . . Let’s go at once and report this.” So they went to the city gates and shouted to the watchmen the news.
It was exactly the same attitude that had gripped Cleopas and his friend. Didn’t they know the most wonderful news that this world has ever heard. Jesus Christ is risen today. They left their home and immediately walked all the way back to the house where the Eleven and those with them were staying in order to tell all that had happened. Incidentally you see the distinction that Luke makes of the people there? The Eleven were the apostles, the companions of our Lord, and soon the witnesses of his resurrection. They were men who were given the Holy Spirit in a uniquely favoured way so that their preaching and writings were altogether true. They had a unique authority so that they spoke and wrote the exact word that came from heaven. These apostles were one day going to die and then their ranks would never be filled. There was going to be a cessation of the gift of apostles. There have never been apostles with apostolic authority and apostolic gifts since the death of the final one of the Twelve. Paul calls himself the ‘last apostle.’ There are today the people of God led by preachers and elders and deacons who with the congregation all have the apostolic word of God as their foundation. The church today is built on the authority of Christ and the apostles.
So do you see what we have here? We have the most graphic picture of New Testament evangelism. Men with burning hearts full of a sense of love and duty on a mission to tell others the good news of Christ the conqueror of the grave. They knew that Jesus Christ was alive, and that assurance made them zealous. There was this faith, and there was this message, “The Lord Jesus is alive!” and there were their actions – up they got and they returned at once to the city. They showed what the Bible often tells us, that the gospel is to be conveyed not through word alone but through actions too. God has put us in a certain place and there we are called to be the salt of that place. In our society, politicians are sprinkling the salt of politics on the land. Sportsmen are sprinkling the salt of soccer and rugby on the land. Entertainers are sprinkling the salt of entertainment on the land, but we are sprinkling the salt of the risen, living Saviour where God has put us. We do this by our actions as well as our words. When they arrived knocking on the door of the Jerusalem house they would have been greeted by such words as, “Back already? Fancy seeing you here again. Is everything all right? You left this morning for home.” Their actions testified to the reality and importance of what they’d seen and heard.
This is a fascinating picture of good evangelistic practice in the early church. They didn’t begin with their pagan neighbours in Emmaus. That would come in time. Providence dictated that they started with the people they knew, those who were beginning the Christian life with them. There is life-long evangelism with our friends and family. It is all about determining to go on loving them, cultivating a relationship with them and developing trust, earning more credibility to speak of the claims of Jesus Christ. Then, those memorable times come when a conversation takes a turn towards spiritual matters, and then talking about our faith feels natural, not forced. Only a few of us will ever be called to preach, but we are all called to be ready to share the love of Christ with others, and that should be evident in how we live our lives. We pray for our Christian friends that they may be helped to say something to our children or to our parents or friends in a way that will grip and change them. Oftentimes, God seems to use more than one person to draw an individual to himself. Several people may be instrumental in planting seeds in a person’s heart – sometimes over a period of years – before a commitment of faith is ever made.
Cleopas and his friend went on a mission to tell others of Jesus Christ who was alive, and he was counseling and helping them, teaching them from the Bible, delivering them from despair. Their change of heart was striking from those two traumatized people who’d limply raised a farewell wave that morning and crawled off to Emmaus. Their words were confident; their whole demeanor spoke of hope and joy. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus had happened in their space and their time. We are being encouraged to notice the change in Cleopas, and ask God to use us so that we can be a blessing to others with the same assurance. We desire people to “see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven” (Mark 5:16).
3. NEW FOUNDATION FOR BELIEVING.
These two witnesses, Cleopas and his friend, arrived in Jerusalem and homed in on the house, knocked, and were let in, but before they could open their mouths everybody in the house shouted to them, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon” (v.34).
i] These other disciples had believed that Jesus was risen because of what Peter had told them. They had not yet seen Jesus for themselves. They believed the resurrection was true on the grounds of the testimony of Peter to them. He must have come to them quietly and subdued, and then had said to them, “I have something important to tell you. The Lord has risen. He has appeared to me and spoken to me.” How he said it, with all his authority and humility, after the way he had denied his Lord, meant they immediately believed that Jesus Christ was risen that day.
Now Luke tells us nothing about that appearance to Simon Peter. Luke is so anxious to tell us everything about Jesus’ meeting with the two on the road to Emmaus. He completely ignores the risen Lord meeting with the Peter who denied him. It was an important meeting, but it is only alluded to very allusively in the New Testament. It is here; “the Lord has appeared to Simon,” and again it is referred to in I Corinthians 15, “He appeared to Cephas” (that is the Aramaic form of the name that was given to Simon by the Lord Jesus). In fact in I Corinthians Peter is the first person mentioned in Paul’s list of those who had seen the risen Christ – though Paul is careful not to infer that this was the first appearance of Jesus to anybody. Before Jesus had appeared to Peter he had appeared to Mary Magadalene. Mark in his gospel gives us a hint that the appearance to Peter was to be significant because the divine messengers on resurrection morning told the women to “tell his disciples and Peter” that he would meet him in Galilee. But concerning the nature of this first meeting with Peter the New Testament is absolutely silent.
You remember that Peter had entered the empty tomb and had seen the grave clothes neatly folded and we are told “he went away, wondering to himself what had happened” (v.12). Then there is John’s gospel and there is a description of the later scene that Luke gives us in the rest of this chapter 24, Jesus meeting with all the apostles and Peter. Then in the final chapter of John we are told about the miraculous draft of fishes a week or so later when Jesus challenged Peter, “Do you love me” and recommissioned him to feed Christ’s sheep and lambs. But there is nothing about this particular meeting with Peter on the first day of the resurrection. That it took place is notable. The people in Jerusalem clearly speak of it to Cleopas and his companion as something very significant, “The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon” (v.34), and Paul says, “he appeared to Peter.” Consider the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that the first person he appears to is a woman out of whom he had cast seven demons. The second was an anonymous disciple from the second rank of followers, and the third person was the man who had sworn and cursed that he didn’t belong to Christ.
Where did Peter meet Jesus? Let’s think about it. It was an appearance to Peter alone, so it wouldn’t have been in a crowded city house in the Upper Room with others looking on; it could hardly have been in Joseph’s garden where the empty tomb was. There was a buzz there. It had become a tourist centre for both the Jewish and Roman authorities. It was close to a busy thoroughfare. So what had happened? Had Peter gone for a walk, slipped out by the city gate near John’s house and had gone back to the Garden of Gethsemane? Who knows? This appearance of Jesus to Peter had to be an occasion of great poignancy, because there the Lord spoke the word of forgiveness to one who had three times disowned him. But we have no record of what happened other than that it took place. Maybe it was an occasion that too personal and too sacred to be made a matter of public knowledge. Did Peter weep bitterly again? In John 21 we have a later scene where Peter in the presence of some of his colleagues is restored to his position as leader of the eleven by the Lord Jesus charging him three times to feed the flock of Christ.
So, before Cleopas could tell them that they had met with the risen Jesus everybody is shouting at them, “The Lord has risen. It’s true! He’s appeared to Peter.” It must have been a little deflating because they thought that they were going to be the first to bring them confirmation of this wonderful news of the resurrection to the Eleven apostles, but they knew it already through the testimony of Peter.
ii] Cleopas and his companion believed that Jesus was risen because they had spent a few hours in the company of the risen Christ. They could say equally humbly, “Yes we know that it is true because Jesus has just spent three or four hours talking to us! We have seen him for ourselves and he has been teaching us from the Scriptures.” Then they told them all that had happened, how he rebuked them and called them foolish and slow of heart, what he said to them about the Messiah suffering as it’s recorded in all the Scripture, and finally how when he broke the bread and then they recognized that it was he.
Cleopas and his friend didn’t believe in the risen Christ because of Peter’s testimony. That was the basis of the faith of the people listening to them. They believed that the Lord had risen because they had spent hours with him that first day of resurrection. They were all believing in the resurrection but at this moment some had seen the Lord and others simply trusted the word of those who had seen him. All of us are in this latter category. Let me illustrate it like this. Maybe you saw for the first time a photograph of a man, an attractive man with an interesting face showing some intellectual power and thoughtfulness. You made some assessment of him from that impression, but nothing more. Then a friend said to you, “That’s John Murray’s picture,” and a host of details springs to your mind. You have read some of his Collected Shorter Writings. You have read Redemption Accomplished and Applied and his Commentary on the Letter to the Romans. You have heard some of his sermons on CD. You know something of that rich vein of Scottish Highland piety that formed the man. At the moment you hear his name and you can associate it with the photo before you then that portrait of him gains a new life. “So that is John Murray . . . well, well, well . . .” The picture means a hundred times more to you than it was when you were ignorant as to who this man was. You did not know him personally but you knew him as well as a book can interpret their author to anyone.
But it would be different for me. I had been one of his students in Philadelphia. I had sat at his feet and taken his notes from many lectures. He had been to our house and stayed with us. We had walked around Aberystwyth together. He had preached here and I remember the effect of his preaching on the congregation. I had been to his home and seen him with his wife and two children. We had had breakfast there, driven in the car to Inverness, sat in the evening in his front room and had family devotions, talked and discussed things with him. I had seen what a noble and godly man he was. I had a knowledge of him that no one else in our country ever had or ever will have this side of glory. You knew him at one level, from that photo of him, and from your reading his helpful inspirational writings, and all you knew of him is true, but my knowledge of him was more personal and prolonged. Then I tell you about him. I write about him and describe what I saw and heard and your knowledge of him grows through my words to you. That is saving faith; it is something that develops and grows as we understand more about Jesus Christ. To know him is to love him; to know him more is to love him more.
So it was with Cleopas and his friend. They were not dependent on Mary Magadalene and Peter to tell them that Jesus was risen. They knew that he had risen through their own full and rich experience of him. Their minds were full of the time they had spent with Christ and how he had spoken to them and broken bread with them. But they have to tell us, because we were not there. We depend on the testimony of all the people who had seen Jesus, more than 500 of them, far too many for some elaborate conspiracy, all of whom saying one thing, “It is true! The Lord has risen!” and it is on the basis of their testimony that we believe that the Son of God rose from the dead on the third day and that he is our Judge and Saviour and has brought you here today to believe also in him who said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he dies, shall live.” We can’t grasp him with our hands but we can see him with the eyes of faith. The tomb is empty. Jesus is alive. We are not alone. It is true! Believe it! The Lord is risen. He is risen indeed! Amen!
June 2 2013 GEOFF THOMAS