(From Setting Our Affections Upon Glory)
In this sermon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones works through the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, as recounted in Luke 24. The two men, dejected over the death of Jesus, set out on Sunday morning toward a town so small and insignificant that no one is quite sure where it was. Along the way, they are joined by a traveler unknown to them. Miraculously, their eyes were closed to the fact that they were with Jesus. He asks about their dejection. They ask if he is the only one who has not heard about “the things”.
Luke 24:19–21 (ESV)
19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.
Jesus hears out their story and then responds:
Luke 24:25–27 (ESV)
25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
When they come to their resting place, they sit to eat. Jesus blesses the meal and gives them bread. As he hands them the bread, he vanishes from their sight. The story then takes this peculiar turn. They do not speak of their amazement that Jesus vanished. Something else takes their attention:
Luke 24:32 (ESV)
32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
MLJ uses this story to explicate the trouble of the church. Now his sermons was given in 1969, but the trouble and the solution are every bit as applicable today. First, concerning the trouble: he sees the dejection of the men to be like the dejection of the church:
And the more we commune and reason and talk, the more depressed we become, like these men on the road to Emmaus. But I think the ultimate explanation of these men is that they’re so certain of the death of our Lord they have forgotten all about the resurrection, They’re looking so much at the fact that he was put to death and buried that they have become absolutely blind to everything else. Now this is a very extraordinary psychological condition, and I suggest you that it is the condition of the church today. We are all looking so much at our problems and our difficulties that we have become blind to solution. We are experts in our problems. Never has the church been so skilled in analyzing its difficulties. The books that come off the presses almost daily give expert analysis and diagnosis. But there is never any solution. We spend the whole time reasoning and communing and talking together concerning our difficulties and this has a paralyzing effect. (73)
Someone might quibble here and say that our many books of analysis do provide solutions. Yet, I must say that very few books give precisely the solution which MLJ takes from this passage.
When reading through the sermon I thought to myself: Yes, the solution is that they did not know that Jesus had risen from the dead; and, too often, I live and forget that Jesus has not only suffered but has entered into his glory. That is quite true, and that is what Jesus did teach them.
But that still leads the more immediate question: How is this known? I know it, but how is it known? Jesus did not just say to these men, I am alive! He did do that on other occasions, but he did not do that here with these men. Is that not peculiar? And isn’t it strange that the first words out of their mouth were not “Jesus is alive! And he just disappeared!” (And yes, resurrection and vanishes are, to use an antiquated phrase “passing strange”; but that is precisely the point of the epiphany in this story).
The men spoke of their burning heart as the Lord opened the Scripture to them:
That is the significant and wonderful fact. It was not after they recognized him, after their eyes were open, that their hearts began to burn. The hearts were burning when they still regarded him as a stranger. It was as he open the Scriptures when they were walking together on the way. Thank God for this.
It was not seeing the Lord that made their hearts burn; it was as the Lord opened the Scriptures. That is a great encouragement to us, now. If it were merely a matter of seeing the Lord, then what hope could there be for us now? We will not see the Lord with our eyes until he returns. But the Lord has given us the Scripture; and the Lord has sent us the Spirit to open the Scriptures to our hearts.
Thus, when we look at the troubles in the Church we must first think, How am I living as I believe the Lord has died and left all this trouble to us, alone, to resolve? Yes, we must have the latest management tools, and studies and all. (That is not to say that there are better and worse ways to manage and lead — anymore than it is to say that pressure systems and temperature have nothing to do with rain. Yes, signage and parking and all matter; but none of those are the real point).
The Church is a divine creation, the work of the Word and Spirit. If we have trouble, our chief trouble is that the life of the church is drying up. The greatest trellis in the world will not bear the vine aloft if the soil is poison and dry. The trellis matters only for a healthy vine, to give direction. Yet when our troubles arise, we are too quick to study the trellis and to build the trellis and to forget the source of life: Spirit & Word. (And yes, pick up The Trellis & The Vine).
(Now is always the case with the Doctor, the sermon is littered with asides and observations, turns of phrase which are a marvel and worth your time. Do yourself good and read this volume from front to back yourself.)