Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1395
April 28, 2019 Luke 24.13-35
Dr. Ed Pettus
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
“Opening the Scriptures”
That Very Day
Luke continues the story of resurrection throughout the day on Easter Sunday. We get to see some of the immediate situation following the early morning trek to the tomb by the women and their return to tell the disciples. It is how I wish some movies would go on so that we could find out how people dealt with the climax of the story. I think it is important to remember that this is the very day Jesus rose from the dead. The crucifixion is still fresh in their minds and the empty tomb is still a perplexing possibility. They were amazed at what the women reported and that others had confirmed the tomb was empty. But as they walk along, they are focused on the fact that no one had yet seen Jesus alive.
So these two are walking along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, about a seven mile journey, plenty of time to talk these things through. One of the things that so intrigues me about this story is that we know they were talking but we have nothing of what they actually said to each other. Granted, they do share with Jesus what they are talking about. They explain to Jesus all that had happened in the previous days. They tell him of the hopes they had and how those hopes were dashed by the witnessing of the crucifixion and further bewildered by the possibility that Jesus was alive again.
Assessing One’s Thoughts
Jesus is a master conversationalist. He is a master communicator and knows how to get the thoughts of others. How does he do that? The One who knows exactly what has happened gets the two disciples to share their thoughts on what they believe has happened. Jesus comes in asking what they are talking about. They appear stunned that this person who has approached would not know that everybody is talking about Jesus these last few days. But Jesus does not reveal anything yet, instead, He asks a simple question. “What things?” Jesus does not come in assuming, although we know He knows. He comes in assessing what they know and how they perceive the events of these days. He wants to know what and how they are thinking.
They affirm that they are talking about Jesus. They call His name, Jesus of Nazareth, I suppose to clarify for this stranger who they are talking about specifically. They reveal their understanding of who Jesus was, a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and everybody. That’s all they give on Jesus at this point. It is as if the crucifixion invades their story just as it invaded the events of these days. They tell of how the chief priests and rulers crucified him. They assumption at this point might be that all their hopes died with Jesus, because they speak of that hope in the next breath. We had hoped He was the One to redeem Israel. Then they tell Jesus the news that some of the women said Jesus was alive! His body was confirmed missing by some of the others.
If Jesus did not know what they were talking about before, He certainly does now.
Interpreting the Scriptures
Jesus responses to them by calling them foolish. Can you imagine what it would have been like to just tell this stranger your hopes had been crushed only to be called foolish and slow to believe. But before they can respond, Jesus reveals to them everything the Old Testament had revealed about these days. I would imagine that the same tone of authority that had once amazed all who heard Jesus throughout His ministry was now amazing these two disciples. Something must have begun to click in their hearts and minds as Jesus was sharing His story.
Luke tells us that Jesus interpreted the Scriptures for them. There is this thread of seeing and not seeing throughout this short journey. Their eyes were kept from recognizing Jesus as he first approached them and now their minds eye is beginning to open to the Scriptures as Jesus explains what has truly happened. This is another place where I wish we had the full text of their conversation, or better said, the monologue of Jesus. What texts did He point out to them? What passages were interpreted? Did He quote from Isaiah 53? Did He mention Psalm 22? Did He speak of Moses lifting up the serpent like He did for Nicodemus in John 3? We don’t know. All we know is that He astounded these disciples with what He told them about Himself. The two disciples were mesmerized by it all and speak of their hearts burning while Jesus spoke.
This is how interpreting the Scriptures is supposed to work. We are taught the things of God, the purposes of God, the character of God, and all that the Scripture intends to reveal. We read the text and ask, what does it mean? The beauty of Scripture is that often the Scripture itself helps us understand it. What I mean by that is the various parts of Scripture help us to understand other parts of Scripture. That’s why I harp on knowing more and more of Scripture because it will help us to know more and more of what it is revealing.
We might also consider the role Jesus plays in interpreting Scripture for us as He did for these two on the road. Jesus promised to bring all that He said to our remembrance (John 14.26) by His Spirit and today we have that same Spirit to interpret the Scriptures.
Opening the Scriptures
The ESV of the Bible uses two different words in the story to talk about the Scriptures in relationship to the disciples. The first is that Jesus interpreted the Scriptures for them, and the second time in Luke 24.32, the disciples say that He opened the Scriptures for them. It may not be a big deal as open versions use words like explain in both verses, but let us imagine that the interpretation of Scripture “opens” the Scriptures to us for a particular purpose. Interpretation opens doors and windows of the heart and mind. By the spirit we are given understanding of the biblical text. Something happens in our hearts and minds when the Scriptures are opened up for us.
Reassessing One’s Thoughts
In our last point today I want us to consider how our thoughts are assessed at certain times in life and then, like the story line here on the road to Emmaus, there may come a point where we can see anew and then reassess our thoughts. Now that we see, how do we respond? Jesus, having interpreted and opened, brings new thoughts to reshape their lives. This is one of the goals of opening the Scriptures, that it might reshape our thoughts and thus our actions. It is not just about opening the book physically but having it interpreted and opened to the heart and mind for transformation. The prophet Jeremiah says it well in Jer 15.16, “Your words were found and I ate them and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart!” Is Jeremiah eating his Bible? No, but He is savoring the text in a way that gets it digested. The Bible gets into our DNA. We memorize, contemplate, imagine, and engage the Bible like the disciples did on the road. In the end their eating the Scriptures gave them heartburn! At the core of their being they were on fire, they were understanding, they were excited, and they were amazed.
With Scripture we have two inclinations, joy, on the one hand, and resistance on the other. This living Word offers life and Good News. This is the joy of salvation, the joy of forgiveness and love and all that we treasure in Christ. But it also challenges who we are and what we do, often in ways we would resist. This is classified as sin! We sometimes resist obedience to things that would cause us to abandon our way of thinking and doing or resist what has become comfortable for us even if bad for us. It is not easy to take up the cross and die, spiritually, emotionally, or in personality. We may not think this is true for us, but Scripture has this power to transform and bring a perspective so different from our own that we resist it. Perhaps this is one reason we spend so little time living with the text of the Bible. We might use other excuses like it’s too difficult to understand or we just don’t have the time or we don’t know where to start. Those infamous Gallop polls have shown time and time again our biblically illiterate church and certainly illiterate culture.
As we look at these two disciples who walked with Jesus, they had a particular perception of who the Messiah was to be, how he would act, and what he would do. Yes, they thought Him a prophet, a redeemer of Israel, but they never thought the Redeemer would be killed, especially on the cross. They seemed to never really grasp what Jesus had told them would happen in His suffering, death, and resurrection. In essence they were not thinking like the Bible. They did not think with the prophets or Moses or the Psalms. If they had, they would have seen Jesus as the Messiah despite the suffering and death or, or, as the way the prophets foretold. This is why Jesus calls them foolish and slow to believe. They really misunderstood the Old Testament and so Jesus tells them how Moses and the prophets spoke of the Redeemer.
Jesus has fulfilled the Scriptures. He is the lens through which we come to understand what God has said. In Jesus and through Jesus, our eyes are opened. Jesus is our teacher through the power of His Spirit. I see this story as a metaphor for our lives. We don’t always recognize Jesus walking with us in life. We think we can see clearly enough, but when challenges come our way, it often takes us to new places of interpretation and thought. Jesus brings us to a new understanding of His Word. This is not a one time event in our lives, but happens time and time again. It is the ongoing “aha” moments with Jesus. It comes in a simple devotion reading. It comes in a more in depth Bible study period. It comes even on occasion through a sermon. It comes in a conversation with someone. It comes while walking along the road to Emmaus or on a drive to Bluefield or in some way we may not expect. However it may come, know that Jesus walks with us to interpret the Scriptures, walking to open our hearts that we too might burn with the joy of knowing the risen Christ, who came and died for us, was raised, and walks with us today. This is the Good News, the Easter News! May our thoughts be reassessed as our hearts burn with the joy of the Gospel. Amen.