When Jesus drew alongside two travelers on the road to Emmaus on resurrection day, he addressed their fearful hearts by opening up the Scriptures to them. Mike McKinley helps us see how our own hearts can also be set on fire by our understanding of God’s big plan in the resurrection…
Many people experience a surge of passion and joy when they first become followers of Christ. This “first love” (Revelation 2 v 4) is fueled by a delight in God’s love and the new sensations of freedom from guilt and sin, and certain hope for the future. But let’s face it: as time passes, it is easy to let that fade. What was once mind-blowing and heart-burning becomes, well, just “nice.” What once sent you to your knees in thanks and opened your mouth in praise now just becomes a background fact, taken for granted. The demands of following Christ can feel like a burden and the sacrifices can seem to outweigh the benefits. The ongoing battle with indwelling sin is discouraging and painful at times. Life goes on, with all its difficulties and disappointments. No wonder the flame of our first love feels as if it is flickering sometimes!
And when that flame flickers, lots of lesser things seem to have a greater ability to make my heart burn within me. I am very passionate about my favorite football team, my family, my favorite music, and so on. Those things take up residence in my heart; they fill my daydreams and my spare time. They thrill me. But I am capable of listening to a sermon, reading the Bible, singing a hymn, and praying to God without much passion at all. It shouldn’t be so. I can’t help but think that part of my problem is that when I am unmoved by the things of God, the suffering of Christ for me—the great plan of redemption that God has included me in—is not the reality that controls my heart.
It is interesting to see the way that Jesus responds to a similar problem faced by the two dejected disciples on the road to Emmaus: his diagnosis of their problem is instructive for us. He tells them that their problem is that they have been slow to believe the prophets. It’s a strange comment.
It turns out that the specific thing that the prophets spoke about, the one thing that Cleopas and his friend didn’t believe, was that the Messiah would
“have to suffer all these things and then”—only then—“enter his glory” (v 26).
You can see how Jesus has put his finger right on the issue: they failed to understand what God’s King would be like. Not only had they defined what “glory” would look like (fleeing Romans, victorious Jews)—they had not even begun to get to grips with the fact that suffering had to precede glory. Here the disciples are, wondering how it can be possible that the Messiah would be a victim of such violence, and Jesus comes along and tells them that not only was it possible, it was mandatory!
The Christ’s suffering was necessary, and his glory inevitable, because God wanted it to be so. Jesus knew exactly what he would do, because he knew the plan that God had formed before the creation of the world, and had promised before Roman armies ever marched out from Rome (before, in fact, there even was a Rome). If these two men had not been so “slow” to believe the prophets through whom God had laid out his promised plan, they would have understood, too. They would have looked at the cross and seen the Christ suffering, just as God’s plan had said. They would have heard of the empty tomb and recognized the Christ’s glory, just as God’s plan had said.
Hearts on Fire
So what? Well, look at how Cleopas and his companion felt as the Lord Jesus laid out the Old Testament for them, showing them
“what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (v 27).
Once they had finally had their eyes opened to Jesus’ identity,
“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?’” (v 32).
In other words, the truths Jesus shows them, and us, on this road will set hearts on fire. It will set your heart on fire, when you understand that Jesus’ death and resurrection bring a greater redemption than you would ever have thought to look for, one that will take you an eternity to appreciate. It will set your heart on fire when you understand that Jesus’ death and resurrection are part of a far greater plan than just God’s reaction to Israel’s issues with the Romans, or your problems today; a plan that began before creation, and involves all of creation. When you realize this is what the resurrection means, it sets your heart on fire.
If you are like me, and prone to listless, fireless faith, then take heart. There is good news for people like us: the same kindling that was set on fire in the heart of Cleopas is available to us today. If anything, we have more than they did; from our perch in history we can see further and better. And so there is a standing invitation to you to search the Scriptures and realize that Jesus had to suffer, and did suffer… for you. You can read the Old Testament, read of God’s plan to send his Christ to die and rise, and know: “He did that for me. He planned to rescue me.” You can read of the sin and death God has redeemed you from, and the life and future and joy God has redeemed you for, and think: “He has given that to me. His death has redeemed me.” As you do that, you will find your hopes reoriented, given an eternal focus. You won’t ask for too little; your disappointments will be put in perspective. You’ll find yourself thinking: “My greatest hope is that Christ would enable me to enjoy life with God for ever. And he has.”
That is a truth that can set your heart ablaze.
Mike McKinley is the author of Passion, Did the devil make me do it? and Church Planting is for Wimps. Since 2005 he has been pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in Sterling, Virginia. Before that, he served on the pastoral staff of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington DC, having received his MDiv from Westminster Theological Seminary. Mike is married to Karen, and they have five children.
Image courtesy: ©WikimediaCommons/AdolfWeidlich
Publication date: April 17, 2017