Theology on fire [a trip through Emmaus]
On Friday, I wrote that the Bible is a healthy mixture of both Law and Gospel, which, when read in its entirety, brings a person low by showing them the impossible commands of God’s holy Law, and yet elevates the one who puts their faith in Christ. When you read the Bible with a full view of both Law and Gospel, you nourish the soul! But if these two elements are the whole of Scripture, it still leaves us wondering about the point of Scripture. We can get this by walking through the narrative of Emmaus.
Luke 24:13-25 (HCSB)…
Now that same day two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 Together they were discussing everything that had taken place. 15 And while they were discussing and arguing, Jesus Himself came near and began to walk along with them. 16 But they were prevented from recognizing Him. 17 Then He asked them, “What is this dispute that you’re having with each other as you are walking?” And they stopped walking and looked discouraged. 18 The one named Cleopas answered Him, “Are You the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that happened there in these days?”19 “What things?” He asked them.So they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus the Nazarene, who was a Prophet powerful in action and speech before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed Him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified Him. 21 But we were hoping that He was the One who was about to redeem Israel. Besides all this, it’s the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women from our group astounded us. They arrived early at the tomb, 23 and when they didn’t find His body, they came and reported that they had seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they didn’t see Him.”
My commentary: The story starts with a group of discombobulated disciples, still trying to put the pieces together after Rome crucified their Messiah. In an ironic twist, they end up griping about their “failed Messiah” to the risen Messiah Himself, even dumbing down some of the first eyewitness reports of the resurrection (I’m trying to imagine Jesus’ facial expression).
He said to them, “How unwise and slow you are to believe in your hearts all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things and enter into His glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.
My commentary: Jesus rebukes them for being ignorant to centuries of Scripture that foretold all that would happen. But the great part is in verse 27, when Jesus gives the disciples a Bible study through the entire Old Testament! A Jesus-led Bible study? Yes, please! (I would love to be a fly on that wall). But I want you to notice this key phrase: the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. This is our lens for reading the Law and the Gospel in the Old and New Testaments. The Bible is more than just a bunch of disconnected clippings of life in the Ancient Near East, or proverbial moral statements. It is an intricate narrative that points to one hero alone…
The point of all Scripture is Jesus.
But what exactly is the point? Some would say the point of Scripture is to be more like Jesus. Others would say the point is to pay closer attention to his teachings–while others would emphasize his actions. What do you think Jesus said to His disciples concerning the Old Testament Scriptures? He taught them that the Old Testament in its entirety pointed to His redemptive death and subsequent resurrection. The underlying question in the heart of the Torah is, “Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things and enter into His glory?” (v.26).
The most glorious display of Jesus is seen in the horror of the cross.
But how should this inform our reading of the Scriptures? Surely not every obscure passage is about the cross, right? Should I read Obadiah or Philemon as though every verse and passage was a reference to the cross of Jesus? Well, no, not exactly. But yes! Here’s what I mean…individual verses deal with a scattered variety of topics, but you must see them through the narrative of Scripture–the full story–as one that is about Jesus redeeming the world through his gruesome death. Even if a verse does not directly make reference to the cross, the framework surrounding the verse is looking forward to (or looking back to) the finished work of Jesus. THIS is what Jesus is telling His disciples. But even after what must have been the most mind-blowing Bible-study ever given, these men are still not receptive of the message–proving even further that the Holy Spirit must open our hearts to understand God’s Word–but let’s finish the story…
They came near the village where they were going, and He gave the impression that He was going farther. 29 But they urged Him: “Stay with us, because it’s almost evening, and now the day is almost over.” So He went in to stay with them. 30 It was as He reclined at the table with them that He took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him, but He disappeared from their sight. 32 So they said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts ablaze within us while He was talking with us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us?”
Wow. Just wow. At the moment that Christ gives out the sacraments, the Holy Spirit opens their eyes to recognize Jesus, not only physically, but as presented rightly in the Scriptures. Specifically, it says that their hearts were “ablaze” leading up to the full recognition of Jesus. This is profound. Yes, we need to do the hard work of studying and exegesis when reading the Bible, but we also need the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to see the glory of Christ, or it will be nothing more than literature for us–or, even worse, a set of moral teachings–instead of broadcasting the treasuries of Christ.
This is also attested powerfully by the Apostle Peter, as he explains to a group of second generation Christians the times he has personally seen the Lord. But then he pulls an unexpected move: he tells them they are better off because they have the Scriptures.
“So we have the prophetic word strongly confirmed. You will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dismal place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all, you should know this: No prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19-21, HCSB).
Based on all of this, I suggest that while you are prayerfully reading the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit might be already working in your hearts (setting it “ablaze”), even when you are struggling to understand, and that you must tenaciously continue until “the day dawns and the morning star [Christ] rises in your hearts.”
Keep reading the Scriptures until a glorious Christ emerges!
The cross is the blazing fire at which the flame of our love is kindled, but we have to get near enough to it for its sparks to fall on us. – John Stott