“Hearts on Fire”
Text: Luke 24:13-35
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Luke has a wonderful way of sharing an account in a pleasant way that leads His readers to the truth of the matter. Of course, we can’t give all the credit to Luke. The Holy Spirit has an awful lot to do with how Scripture is conveyed through the hands of human writers. Regardless of where all the credit lies, Luke’s Gospel is one of Masterful storytelling. Here in the Gospel account we heard for today, two of the disciples “were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.” These weren’t the eleven who we find out through John are locked away “for fear of the Jews.” These are likely some of the other disciples, perhaps some of the 72 who were commissioned by Jesus in Luke 10. Whoever they were specifically, they’re disciples, followers, students of Jesus, and the fact they don’t immediately recognize their teacher is only one of the amazing things about this account.
In the midst of a whole account, filled with amazing details, one of the ones that I find most interesting is the words of the very disciples themselves after Jesus reveals Himself to them in the breaking of the bread “And their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him. And He vanished from their sight.” The next verse relays what the disciples said immediately upon Jesus vanishing from their sight. “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures.” I wonder in what sense their hearts were burning. Outside the Scriptures the expression is used in a negative sense of hearts burning with pain or desire. In our modern context if we hear about burning hearts we probably think of having eaten something we shouldn’t have and being in need of an antacid. When used in a positive sense though, hearts can burn with compassion for someone who’s in need. In the Psalms, David uses the phrase to describe his heart during anguished, fervent prayer. For those disciples, this feeling of hearts burning was an indication of an understanding, even subconsciously, that they were in the presence of their Savior. May our time together today, and every time we open the Scriptures, give to us that same sense of hearts burning and that
WE ARE IN THE PRESENCE OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR.
Those disciples were likely kicking themselves, having some significant regret that they hadn’t earlier recognized Jesus, but also that there was so much they hadn’t previously understood about the Scriptures. So may prophecies that now have their fulfillment in Jesus that now make sense to them. I’m a camp guy, and when I hear of hearts burning within the disciples, I can’t help but think of that old song we used to sing called Pass It On. Maybe you don’t remember it by that name, but I imagine that if I started singing “It only takes a spark to get a fire going…” you’d know exactly what I was talking about. Singing that song around a campfire, one could get confused as to whether we were talking about the ability to get the fire lit well enough to make s’mores, or whether we were talking about the love of God and our desire to pass it on and spread to others what we’ve experienced. It’s really about being salt and light in a dark and bland world that’s in need of Christ’s light, but we can get confused about what kind of spark, and what kind of fire, and what kind of burning in our hearts the Gospel is stirring up.
There are many flames, but there’s only one fire. In Greek, the words that we might translate as “burn” have quite distinct differences in the original language. For example, the burning of a substance for light, as in the case of a lamp or candle, may be expressed by a very different term than an expression indicating the destruction or burning up of something. If you’re talking about the burning of wood for cooking, that’s still another term. The size of the fire involved also requires some distinctions in terms as well.
The same is true in English. To kindle a fire requires small material and some specific actions to get, and keep, the fire going. To ignite might mean to toss a match on a fuel soaked pile of material. To scald means to burn with water and to sear happens when the burning is accomplished by a hot piece of metal. What kind of fire were these disciples talking about when they said, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?” What kind of fire was going on in their hearts? What kindled that fire? The same thing that caused them to rush back those 7 miles to Jerusalem and share that spark with the rest of the disciples.
These are simple questions. We know the answer is the Son of God explaining the Word of God to them. But they’re not unnecessary questions. Because we need to recognize what it is today that causes our hearts to burn within us. There is entertainment and diversions that have tremendous sentimental appeal to us. Special effects on the screen present us with visuals that appear to have a greater reality than the miracles of the Bible accounts, but none of that compares to the physical reality of the risen Lord coming to us in Word and Sacrament. Speakers filled with passion to present their ideas with force and intensity produce a bright flare for a moment, but then they fade just as fast. The difficulty today is not that our hearts aren’t warmed by many and various things. The problem is that we have difficulty discerning what warms our hearts for just a moment and then turns to ash, and what produces the warm glow that will last through time and eternity. The real question is what, out of the many flames, is the one true fire?
The true fire is kindled by the Word. Those two followers of Jesus encounter the one true fire on the first Easter Sunday. We could spend a ton of time examining why, on that road, “their eyes were kept from recognizing Him,” but let’s just say that Jesus had good reasons to keep them from knowing who He was while He “interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Jesus’ words and actions tell us what really kindles the eternal fire in the human heart. He holds for them the very first post-resurrection Bible overview seminar. A private course in all the things that point to Him as the fulfillment of all prophecy. Perhaps He started with Deuteronomy 18:15, where God promises another leader “greater than Moses.” Maybe then He went to Psalm 22 which describes the crucifixion, which should have immediately turned their hearts and minds to some of the very words Jesus spoke while hanging on the cross. It’s likely He would have directed them to Isaiah 53, where the reason for the crucifixion is explained. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;… But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Then He asks the disciples, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” All they heard during this two hour Master class in the Scriptures and their meaning led to their eventual realization that they had been blessed by the resurrected Christ walking with them and opening their minds to the reality of all God’s Word had to teach them.
The Word warms our hearts. It had its effect for these disciples, and it does the same for us. Even today, we’re shown from God’s Word that all these frightening things, the things that caused such grief for those journeying to Emmaus, were part of God’s plan for our salvation. Even death and resurrection are in God’s hands. And with the faith this kindles in us, our hearts should be burning as well. Because it’s the Word of God that is the spark that gets a true fire going. First it goes to work on our cold, dead, sinful hearts, by exposing all our transgressions against the Law. The Word readily uncovers the words and deeds that reveal our inward nature. It exposes all the excitements and diversions of this world that light fires that pale in comparison to the one God ignites. And when that cold heart, filled with sin, has thawed, God’s gracious gift of forgiveness and love is able to be received. In that forgiveness our hearts burn, and come alive, like never before.
The Holy Spirit, who put tongues of fire on the heads of the disciples at Pentecost, sets our hearts on fire by the message of Jesus resurrection and our forgiveness won on the cross. With God’s Word we have been given the spark to set many more hearts aflame. May the Masterful storyteller continue to open our eyes, and cause our hearts to burn within us as He opens the Scriptures and all their promises to us.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.