Faith and Understanding

Faith and Understanding

TEXT: Luke 24:33-49
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Last week we looked at Jesus’ appearance to two travelers on the Emmaus road on the day of his Resurrection. We talked about how their eyes were opened and their hearts enlivened by faith. Those two travelers turned around and went back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples about seeing Jesus. While there, Jesus appears again to the gathered group, startling everyone, who thought he might be a ghost.

He showed them he was not a ghost by offering for them to touch him. Then he asked for something to eat to further show he was alive and not a spirit. This was much the same thing he did on the road to Emmaus, walking and talking for a while, then sharing a meal.

Then, with the disciples and others gathered he did the same final thing he had done with the two travelers: he opened the scriptures to them. While we don’t know the specific content of that teaching (and wouldn’t that have been amazing to hear!!), I’d like to briefly suggest what that might have sounded like…

All the things written in the Law, Prophets, and Psalms (v. 44)

The Law

I can think of a number of passages from the Law that Jesus might have spoken about that day. I think of Moses himself, who led God’s people from slavery to freedom in the Exodus, facing the wrath and opposition of Pharaoh, King of Egypt. That same Exodus story contains the first Passover, where God’s people were saved from death by the blood of a lamb identifying them as God’s people and marking their trust in God’s Word and direction.

I think of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. There, in response to questions about being “born again,” Jesus compares what will happen to the Son of Man to the Numbers 21 account of Moses making a bronze serpent – a symbol of the people’s sin – and putting it up on a pole that all who looked upon it in obedience and faith would be healed. Jesus says later in John 5:46, talking about the ways scripture testifies about him: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.”[1] Clearly, Jesus believes God has been preparing the world for generations as seen through the Torah, the core five books of Moses that make up Hebrew scripture and our Old Testament.

The Prophets

In the prophets, the 17 books of preaching that end the Old Testament, I can think of a number of passages from that anticipate Jesus. Isaiah 53 describes the “suffering servant” that would come: a “man of sorrows acquainted with grief.” (v.3) Jesus quoted from that passage more than once, but especially in Luke 22 at the Last Supper and as they prepared to head to the garden where Jesus would be arrested. Isaiah is also in the forefront in many of the details of Jesus’ birth as well early in his ministry, like when he reads from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue to declare good news, liberty, freedom, and the Year of the Lord.[2] One of the recurring themes of the prophets is the promise of God’s Messiah, or “anointed one.” These promises helped prepare the world – setting the table – for the coming of that Messiah, Jesus Christ.

The Psalms

Finally, Jesus explains how the Psalms point to him. Often we will focus on Psalm 118 on Palm Sunday, but Psalm 22 and 69 are well-known in conjunction with Jesus’ crucifixion in their description of forsakenness and suffering. Psalm 72 speaks of God’s righteousness and judgment, extended through the descendant of David (i.e., the Messiah). That Psalm also concludes with a vision of God’s blessing extending through God’s people to all nations: “Let all nations call him blessed… may the whole earth be filled with God’s glory.” (vv.17,19). We will see that same theme in play at the end of today’s text.[3] The poems and songs found in the Psalms have been telling the story for ages until Christ should come and God’s mission be undertaken anew.

A Personal Experience and an Open Mind

Jesus not only explains from scripture; he also lets people touch him. He eats with them. He provides a human and tangible experience of him resurrected. I’m not saying that Jesus should have appeared in the flesh to all of you or has done so to me. But almost everyone I know with sincere faith would describe that faith as more than “head knowledge.” God may have answered prayer or delivered from bondage or given hope in the darkness… often there is some kind of experiential component to what we would call faith. My point is not to make you feel like you’ve missed something, but to point out that God not only comes to us through words and through the mind, but through life itself; and the best word I know to put on that is “experience.” Sometimes, if you are looking for faith to grow, one of the most effective prayers is to ask God to help you see where he is showing up in your life. Often it’s already happening and we just don’t see it, like the two on the road to Emmaus who walked some distance before realizing who was walking with them!

Finally, don’t miss what is in verse 45. Jesus also “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” That’s why I said that God comes to us heart, mind, AND spirit. That’s one of the roles of the Holy Spirit – to illuminate our understanding, to help us to see. We need God’s help from start to finish; the Good News is that God is pleased to provide that help! So that’s really the best thing to pray. God is meeting us and speaking to us all the time; we just have trouble SEEING it… UNDERSTANDING it. For someone interested in faith or even for someone who is not, I can’t think of a better prayer than the prayer of illumination: “Lord, help them (or help me) to SEE!”

Christ for the Nations (vv. 46-47)

So all that is the main portion of the stories in Luke 24… how Jesus came to two different groups of people in mind, heart, and spirit. And I think that is instructive for us as we try to understand and appreciate a God who pursues humanity.

In a slightly more public direction, but definitely related, our text ends with an expansion on the scripture-fulfilled-in-Christ theme. After appearing and opening the scriptures to his followers Jesus says, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (vv. 46-47)

Scripture is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, but Christ’s work did not end on the cross or even in Resurrection. The forgiveness of sins purchased on the cross and the victory over death and sins achieved on Easter are FOR THE SAKE OF THE WORLD… the nations. Even in that we are reminded of the ancient scripture, the promise to Abraham that God would be his God and his children would be God’s people, blessed in order to be a blessing for all the nations of the world. God is in pursuit of humanity and the proclamation of that news is just beginning in these days after Easter.

It is a stunning and humbling reminder that God’s love and salvation are personal, but not private. God is personal and pursuing and public, for the sake of the world. That should and must set our course as God’s people, fixing our hearts outward towards the world God loves. And in the weeks to come that is indeed where we will follow scripture and Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Some Music Used

  • See What a Morning
  • Open My Eyes that I May See
  • Gratitude
  • Speak, O Lord

[1] Moses: see also Gen 3:15; 12:3; Num 21:9 [John 3:14]; Deut 18:15 [John 1:45]; John 5:46

[2] Prophets: see also 2 Sam 7:12–16; Is 7:14 [Matt 1:23]; Is 9:1f [Matt 4:15f]; Is 42:1 [Matt 12:18ff]; Is 53:4 [Matt 8:17; Luke 22:37]; Dan 7:13 [Matt 24:30] Mic 5:2 [Matt 2:6]; Zech 9:9 [Matt 21:5]; Acts 13:27

[3] Psalms: see also Ps 2:7ff [Acts 13:33]; Ps 16:10 [Acts 2:27]; Ps 22:1–18 [Matt 27:34–46]; Ps 69:1–21 [John 19:28ff]; Ps 72; 110:1 [Matt 22:43f]; Ps 118:22f [Matt 21:42]