He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.
The scene we are considering is the first meeting of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ with a large group of his disciples. There have been a few meetings with one or two people but here Jesus meetings with a congregation. There could have been twenty men and women present, and probably half of them were his apostles. They looked at him in this small room and there was no possibility of mistaken identity; this was Jesus of Nazareth their own teacher for three years. They had lived and eaten and walked and talked with him. There was no possibility that it was his ghost; they had just watched him eating a whole fish. If we were the ones writing a narrative about a man rising from the dead then we would invent quite another scene. We might imagine Jesus coming for a few minutes showing his glory, doing a miracle, and disappearing; saying a few words and disappearing; allowing them to touch him and disappearing; revealing to them his wounds and then disappearing. He would be tantalizing, illusive and mysterious. What impresses us with this description of a Sunday night when the risen Jesus came and met with his disciples – just two days after his lingering death – is that Jesus again spoke at length as he had in the morning to the two men on the road to Emmaus, and that what he said could have been spoken at any time during his last year of ministry, and probably had been spoken many times. There is nothing original whatsoever here in verses 46 through 49. We can find parallels way back to the early days in the Sermon on the Mount about the permanence of Scripture, or later in the Upper Room discourse when Jesus spoke with them of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord himself emphasizes the fact that he was repeating himself. Look at the opening words of this message, these monosyllabic lucid words: “This is what I told you while I was still with you” (v.44). “Do you remember?” he is asking them. There was nothing at all original in this sermon; “Let me refresh your minds . . .”
So what is recorded before us are the words heard from the larynx and tongue and lips of the risen Jesus. Those vocables written before us are what their ears heard, and then their minds grasped, sentences, arguments, preaching, promises and application, just as they had heard them from Jesus on many other different occasions before he’d died. There is a mighty phrase at the end of the prophecy of Hosea when the prophet is exhorting the people to return to God. He says this, “Take words with you” (Hos. 14:2). Hosea doesn’t ask for tears and high emotions; he doesn’t comment on a suitable posture – kneeling, falling before God or bending low. Hosea says to them, “Take words with you.”
Now we know that Jesus’ last words to God from the cross were, “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit.” And so for the last couple of days Jesus has been restored to the delight of inter-Trinitarian fellowship in heaven, back to the joy that had been set before him that he had always known and experienced with his Father and with the Holy Spirit. But there is still a work for him to do on earth before he can remain with God in heaven, and all three persons in the Godhead agree on this. They know of this work, and the mission of the Holy Spirit to come and work his divine work in the church. But first Jesus must rise from the grave and spend 40 days from resurrection to ascension in the company of his friends and disciples. He must prepare for the Spirit’s coming, and you can imagine the Father and the Spirit saying to him as he prepared to leave the glory, “Take words with you.” The way of salvation is described to us in words. The answer to the question, “What is man’s chief end?” is found in words, not in explosions of feelings in your gut, not in the Braille of goose pimples on your arms, not in something like electric shocks going up and down your spine, not in emotional trips but in words that tell you the answer to what is man’s chief end.
A film came out over twenty years ago called City Slickers. Three New Yorkers going through their mid-life crisis take a holiday on a cattle ranch out west. The boss is a hard cowboy named Curly and one evening they ask him the meaning of life. He says to them three words, “Just one thing.” That’s all, “Just one thing,” and each person has to choose what that is for himself, and then you do that. It’s essence of post-modernism. It’s up to every person to select their our own thing. Christianity’s ‘one thing’ is summed up in this dynamic sentence, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever.” So when the resurrected Jesus appears in this room with these twenty disciples he spends his time with them not performing minor miracles, not singing spiritual songs with them, but talking intelligibly and at length teaching them. And Luke (who might have been there) summarizes for us what the Prince of life said at that time. What did he say? Two things are clearly very important.
1. JESUS OPENED UP EVERYTHING IN SCRIPTURE CONCERNING HIMSELF.
Let’s break this down . . .
i] The risen Christ returns from the glory of heaven and the first thing he does is to endorse the Old Testament Scriptures. “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (v.44). You can imagine Cleopas and his companion quietly thankful that our Lord was echoing here what he’d said to them that morning, what they had repeated to the apostles about their time on the road to Emmaus with Jesus. Remember how he had said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (v.25). “Believe the Old Testament,” Jesus had said. Again, “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (v.27).
Jesus was endorsing the whole Old Testament prophetic testimony of which God says, “They are my servants the prophets.” Jesus had often emphasised this; he had told them that the Scriptures cannot be broken. He had told them that heaven and earth would pass away before a jot or tittle would pass from the word of God. He told them that he had not come to destroy the law but to fulfil it. He had submitted to the baptism of the last and final Old Testament prophet. John was in Jesus’ estimation the greatest and most outstanding of that line of prophets. John’s preaching was the very same divine message that all the Old Testament prophets had brought. All those prophets had declared the sin of the people in God’s sight. All had spoken of God’s wrath revealed against them from heaven. All had summoned the nation to repentance. All had pointed the people to the actions of God as their only hope. Be ready for the promised one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, they had said.
So to these disciples our risen Lord began by endorsing all that the prophets had spoken. Our Lord was saying, “There is nothing in the Scriptures that I condemn. There is nothing in its letter or spirit which is ever to be deemed by my followers a contradiction of what I am, or think, or do.” The Lord Jesus, and so all his followers, support the whole of the Old Testament prophecy. His apostle Peter speaks on behalf of us all when he says, “Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21).
Jesus is endorsing the Old Testament prophets, but more than that, Jesus is validating the whole Old Testament dispensation. Not a jot, and not a tittle of it will pass away from all those Scriptures, in their threefold division, the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms, until all of it is fulfilled. Those Scriptures cannot be broken. When Jesus met Satan then he answered the devil’s temptations with Old Testament Scripture: “It is written,” and if it is written then God said it. Many people are concerned to drive a wedge between the whole position of the Old Testament and the stance of God the Son. “Not the Old Testament,” they say, “not its moral stringency, and its righteousness, and its awesomeness, and the fearfulness of the Jehovah God found there. It is Jesus we want.” That is what modernists say; “Give us the living Christ not a dead book.” No. There is no such dichotomy. Jesus will not allow it. “They have no right to say that,” says the risen Jesus who has all authority in heaven and earth. He speaks no word of disavowal of the Old Testament, and no word of criticism of those Scriptures is entertained; quite the reverse. Jesus, returning to earth from his days in heaven with his Father and the Spirit, is now saying to his people, “That kind of disdain can never plead my support. What Scripture says, I say. I believe and obey the Old Testament.”
ii] The risen Christ is telling us that we will never understand why the Lord Jesus needed to be born, and die, and rise again without the explanation of the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. Jesus Christ came into the world to rescue us. The angel told his mother’s husband that he must call the boy ‘Jesus’ for he will save his people from their sin. What is this ‘sin’ from which we need to be saved? To answer this, we need to go back to the first book of Moses, Genesis. This has the key which opens up to us how all the problems began from which we must be rescued. At the end of Genesis chapter one we are told that God created the universe, our world; and he created people ‘in his own image’ (Gen. 1:26—27). In the second chapter marriage is instituted. That chapter ends with everything in harmonious relationship. The man and the woman are open with each other with nothing to hide. This couple, our first parents, are living in a harmonious relationship with God, and the world is a welcoming and agreeable environment. Everything in the garden was rosy.
By the end of the third chapter, everything seems to have fallen apart. The man and the woman are threatened by one other. Because they fear exposure they ‘hide’ from each other; they wish they were not in this situation. They make clothes with fig leaves. Not very substantial! They hope they will soon be back to where they were before, open, loving and unashamed (Gen. 2:25). But mere time will show that they need a Rescuer on a much bigger scale than they imagined.
When God comes to them we discover that they now feel threatened_- by Jehovah himself. When he calls, ‘Where are you?’ then Adam replies, ‘I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid’ (Gn. 3:10). Adam surely wanted to be found or he wouldn’t have spoken, but he doesn’t want to be revealed in his new defiant state as a rebel. He feels threatened by God and needs to be rescued. For the man and the woman, life becomes difficult. The very environment in which they live – the spread of thorns and thistles – now threatens them. It is no longer the pleasant, all-providing garden. Decay begins to set in as time passes. The wages of sin is death, and they no longer have access to the tree of life (Gen. 3:24). The first born becomes a murderer and kills their second born.
Marriage is under threat. The man now wishes to dominate his wife; gone are mutual love, openness and respect (Gen. 3:16). They need to be saved. The cause of this tragedy needs to be identified and tackled. Remedial action is called for. The cause of the problem is identified for us. The man and the woman have been tricked by Satan who appeared in the form of a serpent. He persuaded them into joining him in his rebellion against God (Gen. 3:1, 6). They have been duped into thinking that they will be gods themselves if they listen to the Serpent. They will be able to exercise their own rule and authority independently of God (Gn. 3:5). This proves to be a terrible lie. Then, even as God himself is pronouncing the just judgment on Satan and the man and the woman, the Lord gives them hope. He tells them of the Messiah who will come one day. The offspring of the woman is going to crush Satan’s head (Gen. 3:15). This ‘offspring’ turns out to be the Lord Jesus. We know all this only because it is recorded by Moses in the Old Testament.
If the man, our federal head, and the woman thought they had done a small thing, they were mistaken. What happened had devastating consequences as the whole human race lurched into further acts of disobedience towards God. Fratricide, the erection of a tower that would reach heaven, the ignoring of 120 years preaching by God’s prophet Noah. This pattern continues as the whole Old Testament narrative unfolds, until finally Jesus, the Rescuer, is born. He alone, by his sinless life, sin-bearing death, and resurrection can deal with the devil and saved those who trust him. This is good news indeed, but to appreciate the good news in its glory you must know why we need him and know the promises of his coming against the black backcloth of the narratives of the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.
iii] The risen Christ is telling us here that who he is and what he has done is the key to understanding the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. Christ is found in the first five books of the Bible. He is the Ark by which his people are saved. He is the Tabernacle and the High Priest and the sacrifices. The rock out of which water gushed in the wilderness is Christ. He is the brazen serpent set up high on a pole which men looked at and were healed. He is the scapegoat. He is the suffering servant Joseph, innocently condemned but vindicated and exalted by God.
Christ is found in the prophets. Isaiah saw him high and lifted up and his train filled the temple and the angels covered their eyes before him and cried holy, holy, holy. That prophet said a virgin would conceive and bear a son. He said his name would be Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace. He said that the Lord would lay on him the iniquity of us all.
He is the suffering servant of the book of Psalms. He is the one who says in Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He is the Shepherd who is spoken of in Psalm 23 so that when we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death he promises to be with us and comfort us. He is the one that all people on the earth sing to with a cheerful voice. The Old Testament is all about the coming Christ. It is preparatory and prophetic. It builds up to his appearing. There is a great word right at the end of the Bible in the book of Revelation, chapter 19 and verse 10; “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” The true spirit of prophecy always bears witness to Jesus.
So all study of Scripture should centre on him. Jesus is the cause for which Moses and the prophets and psalmists wrote their scriptures. God says to the serpent, “He will come, the Seed of the woman, and he will bruise your head,” and the rest of Scripture fills out the prophecy. Only when you see this can you piece together the different parts of the Old Testament. They seem at times to be contradictory until you find the silver bullet is Christ. He is the one who comes despised and rejected of men, and bruised by the Lord, and yet he is the one coming in glory and power to judge the quick and the dead. How can he be both? He is Christ and coming twice, in humiliation and later in majesty.
Some of the New Testament writers like Matthew and John and Peter and maybe Mark and Luke too were amongst the twenty people listening to the risen Jesus speaking here, and it is clear that they took these words to heart because they often referred to the Old Testament as helping their readers to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only in the light of what God did in sending his Son could the meaning and intention of the Old Testament be understood. “The New is in the Old concealed; the Old is in the New revealed.”
So our risen Lord repeats to the assembled group of disciples what he had already taught Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus. “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (v.27). So Jesus began his resurrected life by opening up the Old Testament and explaining it to his hearers. This is the template for all future Bible teachers and preachers of the gospel. We have confidence that it is by opening up the Scriptures that people will come to the truth and know God and know themselves and understand the life and the work of the Lord Jesus. So this is what I do, and what I have spent my life doing, opening up all the Scriptures and telling people the things concerning Jesus.
2. JESUS OPENED THEIR MINDS SO THEY COULD UNDERSTAND THE SCRIPTURES THAT HE HAS OPENED UP.
Christ opened the Scriptures, and I am under a commission to do the same, but that is not enough to make a person a Christian. People need light and God’s word is a light to our path. We cast the light of the word on their darkened understanding, but more is needed. I see a blind man walking along the street in our town at the end of the day as it’s getting dark, his dog leading him. Do I think to myself, “It will be better for him tomorrow when the sun rises”? No. Because that man does not need light, he needs sight. So it is with these disciples; they had the light of Jesus’ teaching but from their whole unbelieving response to his resurrection they needed more than light, they needed inward illumination.
So the Lord Jesus then proceeded to do something to these twenty people that no man is able to do, “he opened their minds so that they could understand the Scriptures” (v.45). That is our Saviour’s grand prerogative. In that honour I cannot share. There is no way that I can give you sight. I cannot open your minds. I am utterly helpless to do that. Yet often as we preachers speak the Lord makes things clear. He opens our understanding and things click. We might have heard the Christian message for years, since we were children, but it did not move us, or make sense to us until a period in our lives – or even one single day – when our minds were sovereignly opened by the Lord. You remember how Luke gives us an example of the Lord doing this in Philippi in the book of Acts when Paul was speaking to a group of religious women. He could explain the gospel to them but even an apostle couldn’t open their hearts and minds to receive it. Their minds were closed to Paul’s message, but what he was unable to do the Lord did and we are told, “The Lord opened Lydia’s heart to respond to Paul’s message” (Acts 16:14). She became increasingly interested in what this preacher was saying; she was gripped by his words; she thought it was the most wonderful message she’d ever heard; she just knew that what he said was true; she had to have this Jesus for herself. All that was the result of the Lord opening her heart. Then it is that men and women can understand the message and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
At one place where Paul is writing to the Corinthians he points out to them an interesting fact that the people who crucified Jesus didn’t possess open minds. In fact their minds were utterly closed to Jesus Christ. For them Jesus was a charlatan and a criminal worthy of crucifixion. “If they had [hearts opened by God,] they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (I Cors. 2:8). Then Paul explains to the Corinthians that the Lord opens hearts by the Holy Spirit: “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cors.2:10—14). Paul tells us that it was just as if one Sunday, as you were sitting bored and listless in church suddenly you were increasingly gripped by the message. The Holy Spirit had come to the meeting and he was speaking to you, he taught you by expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. He has to do that.
When you fall in love with a girl in the congregation then you begin to sit next to her in the pew and talk to her after the service is over and go away with her. So it is when the Spirit of God loves you with a saving love he starts to come near to you on Sundays and he speaks to you and you begin to understand more and more what God has given you.
We need the work of God which Luke describes as the Lord opening our minds, or Paul describes as the Spirit teaching us, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. How will we darkened men and women know God and his Word without that? We all know that only the spirit that is within a person really knows everything about that person, his inner imaginations and ambitions and feelings and memories; so in order for us to really know another person, that person’s spirit must open up to us about himself or herself. Well, that is very difficult. A wife will hear something that her husband will tell her about his past, and she’ll say, “I never heard that before.” They’d been married 40 years and she didn’t know that incident, but his spirit knew it and he speaks about himself to her.
So this is especially true of God, that nobody at all knows God fully except the Spirit of God within God. Even the angels as creatures don’t know God exhaustively. The Spirit of God and the Son of God alone know the Father through and through. The Spirit must open our minds to give us understanding of God. Imagine a triangle; the triune God is at one corner, the Bible is at another corner, and people like ourselves are at the third corner of the triangle.
There is the triune God— Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—one God in three persons and how can we finite specks of dust comprehend the immense, limitless, infinite God? Why, we often have a difficult time knowing ourselves, not to mention others. We know God by the Bible. The Holy Spirit revealed God’s nature to Moses and the prophets and the writers of the psalms. When Paul wrote letters that later became part of the Bible they were messages directly from God; Paul did not speak “in words taught . . . by human wisdom,” but he used “words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.” The apostle emphasizes essentially the same idea in the book of Galatians: “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Gals. 1:11,12). In other words, Jesus personally opened the mind of Paul to understand the gospel.
It is true, as you know, that the Bible was written by Moses, and David, and Isaiah, and the others, and that we can discern many of their characteristics and personality when we read what they wrote. But, most importantly, the Bible is the written means by which God reveals himself. Through Scripture the Holy Spirit communicates the deep things of God. The apostle Peter also highlights that fact: “You must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20,21). And writing to the young preacher Timothy, the apostle Paul called the holy Scriptures ‘the breathing out of God’ (2 Timothy 3:16)—another reference to the Holy Spirit’s special work in divine revelation.
So think of this triangle. There is God, the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and then there is the Bible, and that Bible comes from God by the Spirit and it is a true and accurate revelation of who God is. It is exactly what God wanted the writers to write.
Finally, in the third corner of the triangle we find ourselves—people like you and me, who may be given Gideon New Testaments, and who come to a time in our lives when we want to read and profit from the Bible. But how can we read the Bible so as to get something out of it? Our minds must be opened. The Lord must open our hearts. The Spirit of God must teach us spiritual truths in spiritual words. In other words only if we have the Holy Spirit in our lives can we understand the Bible. As the apostle says, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). So here is the lesson, it takes a spiritual person to understand the Bible because the Bible has been formed by the Spirit of God.
Looking again at our triangle illustration, we see that when it comes to reading and understanding the Bible being preached to us, the Holy Spirit of God is involved at every point, in each of the three corners representing (1) God, (2) the Bible, and (3) people. The Holy Spirit knows the deep things of God because he is as much God as the Father is God and the Son is God. Then the Holy Spirit has revealed God through the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament. So here is the Word of God. We find it in the words written in the Bible. Then the Lord opens our minds as we read the Bible or hear the Bible explained by a teacher, and that is absolutely indispensable to making the Bible understandable and meaningful to ourselves.
The risen Lord Jesus was not satisfied merely to walk six or seven miles with these men explaining the Old Testament to them and showing that he was there in all the Old Testament and it was all about himself. Jesus also opened their minds so that they could grasp this, and they could say, “Ah! I see it now!” When you’re not understanding the preacher, or the contents of the Bible, or what the Bible means, you simply have to take the living God into account. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are all actively involved in bringing you into contact with the Bible, and giving you a taste for the Bible, and bringing you to a Bible-preaching church and helping you understand the Bible’s glorious message. Yes, there will be certain passages in the Bible which are obscure, but its basic message concerning God’s amazing grace revealed in sending his Son to be the Lamb of God to take away not henceforth Israel’s sin but the sin of the world, that truth is entirely clear to Spirit-taught people who read it and hear it preached.
If you have tried to understand me preaching the Bible, and just haven’t been able to get much out of it, why don’t you ask the living Jesus Christ to come to you like he came to these disciples and open your mind so that you can understand the Scriptures? Remember, you need the Holy Spirit within you to understand God’s Word which is produced by the Holy Spirit and designed to reveal God himself to people like us. In it we learn about how God in his love has sent his only Son into the world to save us, that he made the cosmic sacrifice for our sins, and that that was acceptable to God because he raised him on the third day. In the Bible we find God the Son teaching that Scripture is wholly true and opening the minds of men and women to understand it.
Saved people are those who have been born of the Holy Spirit of the living God. They have become spiritual people by a birth from above. That Spirit is the Spirit of illumination and enlightenment. If you are living your life far from God, far from the Lord Jesus Christ, then feel the pain of your ignorance. You are responsible for your ignorance. If you drive a car you are responsible for knowing the Highway Code. The magistrates will not accept your plea that you did not know about driving on the left or not parking on a double yellow line. It is wrong not to know those rules. And so it is wrong not to know who Jesus Christ is and how you can know him and know the way of salvation through him. Repent of your sin and ask God to take over in your life. And as you read God’s Word, the Bible, ask God for his Holy Spirit—ask him to enlighten you, to open your heart and mind. When you do that, then what was a puzzle beforehand will become clear.
To understand the Bible, you need the Holy Spirit in your heart, the very Holy Spirit who knows God perfectly and who wrote this unusual book. God wants you to ask for the Spirit of the Lord, and he will change your heart and your mind. In Luke 11:13 Jesus speaks this wonderful promise to us: “If you . . . know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
23 June 2013 GEOFF THOMAS