“And they said one to another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us by the way and while He opened to us the Scriptures?’” –Luke 24:32
Many of us have hanging in our homes the beloved painting of Jesus walking with two disciples on the way to Emmaus on Easter afternoon. And, although the occasion itself is specifically connected to the Savior’s mighty resurrection from the dead, and the content of their conversation was a discussion of what had just happened in Jerusalem and how all those things had been prophesied of old in the Holy Scriptures of “Moses and all the prophets” (v. 27), both the image of that intimate walk with the Savior and the content of His “Bible class” are truly timeless. As we wistfully look at the three figures standing on that dusty road shaded under the lush canopy of the forest, we can almost hear strains of “Abide with Me! Fast Falls the Eventide” (TLH 552) and imagine ourselves enjoying that blissful communion with the Lord Jesus and then inviting Him to spend even more time with us in our Christian home and family circle (v. 29).
We would hope, of course, that the picture has just such significance for us and for our dear people and is not merely decor to be displayed and dusted — as are many family Bibles on coffee tables and in book cases. And yet, Christian art, pictures and images should not just serve as sentimental “triggers” to evoke superficial emotionalism in us. For it is a cunningly-devised myth (II Peter 1:16a) and therefore a deceptive error that there is a “closer walk” with our Savior that involves something MORE than His indwelling presence (John 14:23) which we have by faith in Him (Ephesians 3:17a), a walk that requires “feeling” His presence and “experiencing” Him in our lives. And, closely attached to that error, is the false teaching (also a cunningly-devised myth) that God communicates with us apart from His written and spoken Word, the Holy Scriptures, and that therefore we should want to have, look for, and even expect personal, special revelations from our Savior as evidence of our communion with Him. Those who accept and trust in this latter myth often speak of prayer as a “dialog” with God in which they speak with Him and in which He answers them directly apart from the Scriptures. We apply to all such the term “enthusiasts” [German: Schwärmer] to identify their fanatic, anti-Scriptural position and their insistence that the Holy Ghost works in the hearts of men apart from the Gospel and the Sacraments as the “means of grace.”
Jesus said to Thomas, who had demanded to experience His risen Savior with his senses (John 20:25): “Blessed are they that have NOT seen and YET have believed” (v. 29b). The writer to the Hebrews defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things NOT seen” (11:1); and that faith is created, strengthened, and preserved in us by the Holy Spirit of God through His Word (John 17:17, 20; I Peter 1:23; Romans 1:16; 10:17; John 8:31-32; I Peter 1:5; etc.), a “more sure Word of Prophecy” (II Peter 1:19) than even eye– and ear-witness testimony. Therefore, when Christ dwells in our hearts by faith (Ephesians 3:17a), we have His sure promise: “Lo, I am with you [believers] alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20b) — “whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (I Peter 1:8).
It is, of course, significant that even the two disciples walking with the risen Savior on that road to Emmaus did NOT really “see” Him at all, did not even recognize Him, “while He talked with [them] by the way;” for “their eyes were holden that they should not know Him” (Luke 24:16). When, therefore, we Christians pray the Savior to abide with us, when we utter that prayer also in our hymns and spiritual songs, we do not look for a visual manifestation, nor for an auditory manifestation, nor even for an emotional manifestation of Him that we can “experience” or perceive with our senses. For we already have better-than-that in the certainty of His promises. We have His mystical presence with His indwelling in our hearts (Ephesians 3:17a); we have His personal illocal presence, also according to His human nature, “even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20b); we have His sacramental presence in the Holy Supper of His true body and blood which we eat and drink in, with and under the visible elements of bread and wine (I Corinthians 11:24ff.); and we have His repletive presence, according to which He fills all things with His divine power and majesty (Ephesians 4:10). Concerning the Savior’s presence among us, therefore, we should “be not faithless but believing” (John 20:27b).
What was even more striking to the Emmaus disciples than the fact that they had actually walked with their risen Savior, in His visible presence, without even realizing it, was the content of their conversation with Him and what He had revealed to them. Note their words in our title-text: “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us by the way and while He opened to us the Scriptures?” Though He seemed to them to be “only a stranger,” they shared with Him the information that made them sad (v. 17), the fact that they had trusted in Jesus of Nazareth as a great prophet and as the Redeemer of Israel (vv. 19 and 21), the tragic news that the Jews had delivered Him to be condemned to death and had crucified Him (v. 20), and their almost vain hope — on the basis of the women’s testimony and that of Peter and John — that He had perhaps risen from the dead, but that no one had actually seen Him. You see, His mere “presence” did nothing to allay their fears. to comfort them, to convince them, and to focus their “holden” eyes on His promises. He “lit into them,” as we sometimes say, with a forceful admonition concerning their foolish reticence “to believe” …not what their friends had told them, not what their hearts hoped for, not what their “gut” was revealing to them, but rather “all that the prophets have spoken” (v. 25). For, as Abraham had said to the rich man in hell concerning his unbelieving brothers, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets [that is, the written Scriptures], neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31). It would not be His mere “presence” that would persuade them, nor a mere “appearance” to them “at meat” in Emmaus (v. 30) and later that evening to the ten disciples in Jerusalem (vv. 36ff.). For Jesus had “showed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them,” Luke tells us in Acts 1:3; and yet the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is denied still today despite those “infallible proofs.”
The mere perception of Christ’s presence with us, whether real or imagined, is not what enables us to “walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and stablished in the faith as [we] have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6-7). But the Psalmist confesses to the Lord: “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (119:105); His Word is that perfect illumination “whereunto [we] do well that [we] take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place” (II Peter 1:19). And the Lord Jesus states in His prayer to His heavenly Father: “Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17). “Everyone that is of the truth heareth My voice,” He testified to Pilate (John 18:37). Therefore if we are to be His true followers (John 10:27), those who walk in Him (Colossians 2:6), those who are His “disciples indeed,” who “know the truth” and are made free thereby from soul-destroying error, Jesus tells us: “Continue in My Word” (John 8:31-32). For “[we] are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets [the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments], Jesus Christ Himself being the Chief Cornerstone [the essential, central, and indispensable keystone or capstone], in whom all the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord, in whom [we] also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:20-22). If Jesus is to abide in us and we in Him, then it is His Word that must abide in us (John 15:7) as the only source and standard of the “one faith” (Ephesians 4:5), “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3), “the doctrine which is according to Godliness” (I Timothy 6:3; cf. 4:6).
If we hear Jesus’ Word and refuse to follow it, we foolishly build upon a foundation of “sand,” He says (Matthew 7:26) and should expect a great fall (v. 27), a fall about which we have been amply warned (I Corinthians 10:12), a fall “from [our] own steadfastness” (II Peter 3:17) into doubt, misgiving, unbelief and despair! How do we avoid that catastrophic collapse of our faith? Peter writes that if we truly want to beware of “being led away with the error of the wicked” and falling from faith, we need to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (v. 18) — growth which comes only from that perfect, pure, and essential spiritual “milk” which God Himself has given to us for our sustenance (I Peter 2:2).
No wonder the hearts of Cleopas and his fellow disciple burned within them as Jesus “talked with [them] in the way,” while they were walking along the road with that “stranger in Jerusalem” who they imagined to be ignorant of all the things that had transpired on the first Good Friday and on that very Sunday morning! It was not Jesus’ presence; it was His Word! No wonder their hearts burned within them as Jesus, the “stranger,” “opened to [them] the Scriptures”! It was not the “vibes” of Jesus’ presence that warmed the cockles of their hearts, but the spiritual heat generated in them by the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures, the Scriptures which “are able to make [us] wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 3:15).
The hearts and minds of those who refuse to walk with the risen Savior in His Word will never “burn within [them]” with the knowledge of the truth, with the surety of salvation, with the comfort of the Gospel, with steadfastness of faith, with “the peace of God which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), and with the ready ability “under fire” to “give an answer to every man that asketh [them] a reason of the hope that is in [them] with meekness and fear” (I Peter 3:15). Instead they will be as unsteady, as uncertain, and as ungrounded as a paper boat on a breezy pond, “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:14). We have heard of their own mouths not the “oracles of God” (I Peter 4:11) but the “good words and fair speeches” (Romans 16:18) of rationalism, subjectivism and emotionalism that leave them without “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast” (Hebrews 6:19) — the “good words and fair speeches,” however, “whereby they lie in wait to deceive” the unwary (Ephesians 4:14b), and, in the case of shepherds, whereby they destroy their own flocks (Jeremiah 25:34; Ezekiel 34:2-10; etc.)!!
Instead of proclaiming rock-solid Scripture upon which to base true surety, we hear their uncertain, equivocating buzz-words again and again: “We consider this to be the truth…” “we perceive this to be right…” “we are not comfortable with the use of this passage…” “the maturity of my faith enables me to distinguish between true and false doctrine…” “we believe that the strict application of a clear passage of Scripture is an overemphasis and is an unevangelical policy…” “I find as a pastor and theologian that trying to follow the logic and thinking of a false prophet is helpful…” “we deplore the use of Romans 16:17;” etc.
It is even dangerous to quote “orthodox fathers” indiscriminately, giving the impression that just because they wrote or said something, it must be true. The “fathers” dare never become our authority! When we cite them, we should be careful to limit our acceptance of their words and of their judgment, saying, for example, “as Luther [Walther, Chemnitz, Quenstedt] rightly points out in conformity with Scripture… on the basis of Holy Writ,” etc. Even our quia subscription to the Book of Concord (1580) is predicated on the fact that the Lutheran Confessions are a correct exposition of the Word of God in those matters which they treat. However, we cannot give, nor do we require, a quia blanket subscription to the writings of our “fathers.”
By God’s grace and with His help, “let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, for He is faithful that promised” (Hebrews 10:23) — “hold fast” with the strength that only His Word supplies; “the profession,” speaking “as the oracles of God” (I Peter 4:11); “of our faith,” that one faith “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 2:20); “without wavering,” steadfastly anchored on the Rock of our Salvation and His precious Word “which liveth and abideth forever” (I Peter 1:23). “For He is faithful that promised” — promised in His faithful Word: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life!” (Revelation 2:10b).
“Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent” (Luke 24:29).
Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide,
for ‘round us falls the eventide;
nor let Thy Word, that heavenly Light,
for us be ever veiled in night!
In these last days of sore distress
grant us, dear Lord, true steadfastness;
that pure we keep ‘til life is spent
Thy Holy Word and Sacrament!
Oh, keep us in Thy Word, we pray;
the guile and rage of Satan stay!
Oh, may Thy mercy never cease;
give concord, patience, courage peace!
The haughty spirits, Lord, restrain,
who o’er Thy Church with might would reign
and always set forth something new
devised to change Thy doctrine true.
A trusty weapon is Thy Word,
Thy Church’s buckler, shield and sword.
Oh, let us in its power confide
that we may seek no other guide!
Oh, grant that in Thy holy Word
we here may live and die, dear Lord!
And, when our journey endeth here,
receive us into glory there!
(TLH 292, selected verses)
— D. T. M.