Alfred Place Baptist Church

11:7-10 Self Hardening and Divine Hardening

Luke 24:25-31 “He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going further. But they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight.”

Every disciple of Christ has bouts of doubt and discouragement. How does our living Lord deal with this? Surely we can get help in understanding this from this famous and beautiful incident. Two people are leaving the scene of the crucifixion of their friend and teacher Jesus Christ in bleak despair, and as they walk the seven miles home the risen Jesus joins them, but incognito, and he begins to help them. Firstly he makes inquiries as to what they were talking about and why did they appear so sad, and at this time God prevents either of them from recognizing him. So Jesus initially is dealing with them as if he were just a Bible-believing Christian. In other words, he doesn’t simply cry, “Look! It’s me!” and reveal himself to them as the Son of God and the conqueror of death. He begins by asking questions and probing to see what their problem is and listening sincerely to all they say.

That is where we all are to start as friends and counselors and helpers. But I hope we don’t stop there. I hope we don’t let people unburden themselves, their criticisms and unhappiness on us, and then say nothing. That was the greatly favoured approach fifty years ago and I guess it is still popular. It is called “non-directive counseling.” We are told by its practitioners not to impose our values on others. We are urged to let people find their own truths about themselves and the way ahead. Well, that is not what we learn here; the Lord Jesus couldn’t have helped them that way. Certainly he asked them questions and he listened at length but then he spoke to them.

HOW THE LORD JESUS MINISTERED TO THEM.

i] He helped them by asserting his authority over them. “He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart’” (v.25). If he is going to help us for the rest of our lives it is by being our Lord. In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge and he is called the Wonderful Counsellor. We are always his pupils and he teaches and informs us. He assumes that position here and that is how he wonderfully helps us. He is our kind and loving God, and so we see he begins by rebuking both of them. They are there to listen to him and to consider and apply his counsels to their lives. They’d not been doing that. So he calls them foolish people “Oh fools!” It is a common term in the Bible particularly in the book of Proverbs where there are four synonyms translated by the word ‘fool.’ The issue is not a person’s IQ but rather that he is morally and spiritually obtuse. He can look at the wealth of God’s wisdom and see nothing in it, but he can get girlishly excited over the so-called wisdom of the world. That is the fool. He is a dense man, and I have an awful feeling that that is what our Lord is say­ing about us and to us today. Think of this, that we went to church to worship God and there the Lord met with us, and he actually said to us, “You fools!” He told us that we were dullards, that we were simpletons, that we didn’t know how to evaluate, how to judge, how to think aright and so we were depressed. We were allowing ourselves to be governed by circumstances and accidents and change, by the things that were happening to us and the conditions in which we found ourselves. We were a prisoner of them, instead of using our minds and our rea­son and our understanding and applying the truth that we’ve received from God to the situation before us. No, we had allowed ourselves to get into this state of misery and dejection and discouragement. These two men were saying, “Woe, woe, woe! What a terrible world this is!” I am asking you can’t we Christians be just like them?

You come here on Sundays and I am constantly asking you to think, to gird up the loins of your minds and reason aright. Dr. Lloyd-Jones says, “The tragedy is that we constantly tend to fall back on other things in order somehow or another to relieve ourselves and to keep things going. We are sentimental. Sentimentality is very largely the trouble with the present church. We are very nice people, we members of the Christian church, but we are very foolish. And the first thing we must do is wake up and think and understand the truth and begin to apply it to the situation in which we find ourselves, instead of giving way, instead of giving in, instead of just commiserat­ing with one another. I am sometimes afraid that the church is dying of niceness. We are really good at praising one another, aren’t we, and saying that we are doing well. We have become a mutual admiration society, sympathizing and communing with one another, and thus being sentimental with one another. And the whole time the condition of the church degenerates from bad to worse. Fools! We must apply our understanding to the situation with which we are confronted. That is our Lord’s first word to these disciples. It is alarming. It is surprising. But, alas, it is true” (D.Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Setting Our Affections Upon Glory,’ Crossway Books 2013, p.76).

Then our Lord rebukes us by using a second word: “How slow of heart” (v.25). Here again is a most interesting condition, not so much con­nected with the mind as with this other part of us. Again, Dr. Lloyd-Jones says, “Surely we all know something about this. The word ‘heart’ does not refer to the affec­tions alone. It means, in a sense, one’s general condition. And I know of noth­ing that is more dangerous in the Christian life than this condition of being slow of heart. What does it mean? You have experienced it, haven’t you? There you are, seated in your home. You have been read­ing the newspaper or watching TV; you are taking it in, and you are alive and alert. Then perhaps you take up a book, maybe a novel or a biography, and you are enjoying reading it. Then you suddenly feel an impulse to read the Scriptures. You have not read your Scriptures much lately, but this call arises within you. So you put down your book and pick up your Bible. You open it and begin to read a passage of Scripture, but immediately you feel tired. You yawn and realize that you have had a very heavy day. You think that really you are not in a fit condition to concentrate. Your mind wanders, and you cannot keep your attention on what you are reading. Then you try prayer. It is exactly the same. You can’t control your thoughts. You have nothing to say, or your imagination travels all over the world. A deadness, a lethargy, creeps over you. Have you not experienced this many times? That is what is meant by slowness of heart.

“‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart!’ The devil afflicts us with this spiritual lethargy. He seems to inject some kind of jaundice into us that paralyzes us and makes us dull. And we cannot rouse ourselves. We can be ani­mated in conversation with others, but we suddenly become speechless when we are confronted by God. We can read other things, but not the Scripture. This is slowness of heart. The devil, as it were, is causing this poison to circulate in our spiritual system. All our faculties are para­lyzed. That is one of the troubles with depression. It affects the whole person. It affects the muscles, and people become physically weak. They cannot think clearly and cannot do anything properly. Slowness of heart. Now this is something we must be conscious of. It is not enough to say, ‘Well, I don’t feel like it now.’ I should ask myself, ‘What is the reason why I don’t feel like it now?’

“Slowness of heart is a condition that must be dealt with. We must stir ourselves up. We must rouse ourselves: not only gird up the loins of our minds, but ‘stir up the gift of God, which is in us’ (2 Tim. 1:6). Slowness of heart was the great disease of Timothy. The young man was always complaining to the apostle Paul about his difficulties and his problems. And that is what the apostle tells him: Stir up the gift of God, which is in you. Rake the fire! [“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire” (IThess.5:19]) Wake up! Get rid of this dullness, this slowness, this lethargy. Shake it off. ‘Away, thou sloth and melancholy,’ as Milton once put it” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Setting Our Affections upon Glory, Crossway, 2013, p.78)

So our Lord doesn’t upbraid them for leaving Jerusalem and walking back home. That was understandable given the circumstances of the past days and the fragmentary information they’d received. But first he diagnoses their condition. It is this, that they were slow of heart and foolish. Then he begins to treat this spiritual sickness.

ii] Jesus helped them by opening up the Scriptures to them. He told them they should have known and believed what God had said. That led to what someone has called “the ultimate Bible conference.” Christ proceeded to tell them plainly that it was absolutely necessary for the Messiah to suffer and die on the cross. I received a magazine this week and there was a long testimony in it by a woman in her late 60s called Wendy Underhill, and of course it was the second name that caught my eye as it was the same name as our beloved Kenyan missionary Keith. Her daughter Jane Underhill had been converted in her teens and the mother said, “Like so many of our generation I had grown up going to church on a regular basis. I knew the services off by heart and many of the hymns, and had been confirmed when I was 14 years of age in Winchester Cathedral. Yet I did not have a clue what it was all about, especially why Jesus had to die on the cross. Church felt familiar and comfortable, something to cling onto during the bad times. But I kept God at arm’s length, preferring instead to rely on fortune tellers and horoscopes for hope and security.”

This was very similar state spiritually as Cleopas and his friend. They didn’t have a clue why Jesus had to die on the cross and then he himself began to explain the necessity of the Messiah becoming the Lamb of God and taking away the sin of the world. What seemed like the ultimate miscarriage of justice turns out to be the Father’s plan to glorify his Son. Christ was no victim being led against his will to the cross. No one wrested his life from him. He laid it down. The cross was no accident. It was part of God’s plan from the beginning. That’s why the prophets and the poets wrote about it. There’s a trail of references to the suffering Messiah throughout the Old Testament. He must suffer and then enter his glory. Genesis 3, Genesis 22, 2 Samuel 7, Psalm 16, Psalm 22, Psalm 69, Psalm 110, Psalm 118, Isaiah 7, Isaiah 9, Isaiah 53, Zechariah 12, Zechariah 13, Zechariah 14. The whole story from Genesis to Malachi pointed forward to a fulfillment which could only be seen when the Lamb – whom God took from his own flock and from his own bosom – bore our condemnation for our sins in the sacrifice of himself on the cross.

Don’t miss Jesus’ point. The whole of the Bible, Christ claims, is testifying to himself. And as the day of the first Easter Sunday was advancing, and Jesus was speaking to them from the Bible, the two disciples were listening with rapt attention. This third man, the stranger they did not recognize, explained to them how the Scriptures were all pointing to God’s suffering servant. Do you understand that we deserve eternal death because we are sinners but Jesus Christ, because he loved us, died for us? Please don’t make the same mistake that these two disciples made and fail to understand the heart of the Bible. If you do you too will be foolish and slow of heart to believe. This woman Wendy Underhill sat her Christian daughter down one day and told her that she and Dad were not happy and that her father was asking for a divorce. She said, “What I want is to find someone who really loves me for who I am and the person I need to become in order to be loved.” Her daughter seized the opportunity and said to her, “There is such a person, the Lord Jesus!”

How will our despair go away? When we know that there is a Saviour, and the Son of Man who loves us can help us. The Bible is full of him. In the Old Testament he is found on every page. He is the true theme of the Old Testament—by type, by teaching, by sacrifice and by prophecy. He is the prophet greater than Moses. He is the priest greater than Aaron. He is the king greater than David. He is the captain greater than Joshua. He is the seed of the woman, the fulfillment of the brass serpent, the goal of all the sacrifices, and the true meaning of the tabernacle. He is the Kinsman Redeemer, the Scapegoat and the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. He is the great high priest who lives for ever to intercede for us. He is the lion of the tribe of Judah and the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. He is the Judge who will pass judgment on all mankind in the latter day.

If you want to find Jesus, just open your Bible because the whole book is about him. If you want to understand the Bible, look for Jesus. He’s there on every page. The whole purpose of the Bible is to point us to Jesus. He’s the theme of every book from Genesis to Revelation. If you want to find Jesus go to a church which believes and preaches from all over the Bible. That’s the great encouragement this story gives to us. Where is Jesus when we need him? He is with us even when we are foolish and slow of heart to believe. What then do we need? One thing we need is pastor-preachers who on the Lord’s Day will do what Jesus did and take us through the Scriptures because that is why God has given such gifts to them and us. They are not a nice bonus to our daily living; they are essential parts of the Christian pilgrimage

This was the way which from now on Jesus was going to make himself known to his billions of disciples throughout history, through the Scriptures, not through sudden physical appearances on a road, or in a house, or in a grotto, or in the sky, or in a stadium, or on TV. None of that! We will all come to know him as he, by the Spirit of Christ, and through a man he has called, opens up the Bible and makes himself known to us from the Scripture. After the mount of Ascension (which would be in 40 days time) they were never going to see him again until they saw him in heaven, but he would make himself known to them and speak to them and comfort and strengthen and build them up in faith day by day as they read the Bible and every Sunday. The climactic aspect of every service would be the Lord speaking to us through the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. But it is very personal. He deals with us as individuals. He delights to come and help us every hour of every day. I can’t see the gods of the Hindus or Allah or Buddha dealing with their followers in this way, tenderly and lovingly coming so close, counseling them and lifting them up.

HOW THE LORD TESTED THEM.

We are told by Luke, “As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going further” (v.28) At this time they hadn’t put into words what they were feeling; “This stranger really knows the Bible. This man is so helpful and understanding. This man is able to touch us and lift our spirits. I wonder who he is. What’s his name?” That is what they were thinking, but all very vaguely. I am saying that it is important that we put into words what we are feeling about Jesus. For example you know how the apostle Paul describes saving faith to the Christians in Rome. He says, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Roms. 10:9&10). In a matter of priorities we might think that it is more important to believe in our hearts in the resurrection of Jesus than to confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, but Paul puts down as the first essential requirement to confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord.

So it was here on the road to Emmaus. Our Lord presented to them the suffering Messiah of the Scriptures so that they could understand why it was necessary for our Lord to die; “all we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). Jesus wants them to be aware of this and to confess their need of the Messiah, the Son of the living God, as their sacrificial substitute. And so this is what happened next. They arrived at their front door, and Jesus said something like, “It’s been good talking with you. I have to go. Luke says that he “acted as if he were going farther” (v.28). The word “acted” is not referring to some elaborate act, but that Jesus “behaved as if . . .” Of course Christ did have other places to go, and other people to see. We have a hint of this in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians where he says, for example, that Jesus had a special meeting with James his half brother, “Then he appeared unto James” (I Cor. 15:7). The gospels have no record of that encounter or conversation. Soon Christ would be returning to his Father, but before that there was his pastoring work of these crestfallen men and women. So it wasn’t that he was trying to deceive his own disciples. No, there’s nothing of that. He was aware that he now had to depart from them and walk back the seven miles to Jerusalem, but there was no way he could leave his disciples still unaware that he had risen from the dead. In fact he loved to hear them protesting about his plans to leave them, saying how much they wanted him to stay with them. He loves to hear us pray for his presence with us when we gather in his name. “Keep your promise Lord; meet with us O Christ; we are gathering in your name.” There are the words of the famous hymn based on this response of theirs . . .

Abide with me fast falls the eventide,

The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide.

When other helpers fade and comforts flee

Help of the helpless, O abide with me. (Henry F. Lyte, 1793-1847).

Jesus made out that he could choose to go on just then, and leave them behind, so that that thought would cause them to realise just how dependent on him they’d become. They’d arrived at their destination, Emmaus, and there was their home, and then they could play the hospitality card. They’d invite him to come in and stay with them. It would be churlish of him to refuse their offer of a meal and warm bed for the night. So they use different arguments to that effect, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over” (v.29). It doesn’t mean it was twilight. It could have been that the sun had reached its zenith and was beginning to go down. It was a characteristic of Eastern hospitality to ask guests to stay, “It is almost nightfall. We have a room and bed ready for you, and you can go on tomorrow.” What was in mind would have been a late midday meal, not a supper, because soon these two people were to walk back two hours to Jerusalem and find the gates still open – they closed at nightfall – and that the eleven disciples were gathered to have their evening meal. But Cleopas used various arguments to persuade Jesus to abide with them, and Jesus says OK. He is persuaded, and he enters their home, perhaps it was Luke’s own house.

Think about that for a moment. Our Lord sometimes may seem to leave us in order that we’ll cry to him, “Please stay!” I’ll have what I consider to be a bad Sunday. I don’t think I had much help from heaven in my preaching. Jesus didn’t seem to be there in the congregation, and the result of that is that I cry to him, “Please be present. Please stay and work and bless and speak to us. Don’t leave me here without you.” he Lord Jesus can seem to move away from us so that we’ll realise how much we depend on him and seek him all the more. He loves to be sought by us, and welcomed into our company, however poor and few we are. In Emmaus there were only two! In the days when we feel alone and confused, then that is part of God’s plan to wean us away from the things of the world and bring us to a place where we say, “O Lord, it’s you and you alone who’ve become so important to me. Give me Christ or else I die.” Remember Wesley’s hymn;

Speak to us Lord, Thyself reveal, while here on earth we rove;

Speak to our hearts and let us feel the kindling of They love.

With Thee conversing we forget all time and toil and care;

Labour is rest and pain is sweet, if Thou, my Lord, art here (Charles Wesley 1707-88)

These two disciples had no idea what a glorious discovery they were going to make when he agreed to stay with them a little longer. It would be this discovery, that Jesus Christ had really risen from the dead, not as a ghostly spirit but as a real living person who could pick up a piece of bread and break it in his hands. No ghost could do that, and be the one answering questions by them for an age, and he would have preached to them for an hour or two as they walked together down the road. When he first came into the world there was no one in crowded Bethlehem who would give his mother room for his birth in an inn, but now that he was getting ready to leave the world people were inviting him into their homes and hearts and confessing their longing for him to stay with them.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;

What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?

Who like Thyself my guide and stay can be?

Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me! (Henry F. Lyte, 1793-1847).

HOW THE LORD CONFIRMED TO THEM THAT HE HAD RISEN.

We are told, “So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him” (vv.29-31). God chose to end the blindness he had imposed on them when the Lord took bread, gave thanks and gave it to them. These two had not been in the Upper Room on the previous Thursday. All the information of what had happened there, his preaching, his washing their feet, the first Lord’s Supper and his praying could hardly have been talked about on the next day – the day Jesus was crucified, and little about it on the Saturday. They were stunned men and women. What had been done to Jesus would have been quite obliterated the memories of the Upper Room. So I don’t believe that his breaking the bread was an association with the first communion service in the Upper Room. That was not the connection that revealed to them that this companion they had invited into their home to receive their hospitality was the risen Lord Jesus. Cleopas knew little or nothing about the Last Supper yet.

When you read Luke’s description of the Lord’s Supper in chapter 22 there are significant differences from this breaking of bread. The tenses of the verbs are different in the original, and here we are told that he blessed the bread, while in the Last Supper he gave thanks for the bread. You wouldn’t see those differences in the NIV. They are in the Greek. If Luke wanted us to see a sacramental connection he would have used identical words, and also he would have brought in the wine, whereas there is no reference to any wine here and are no words of institution to present it as the Lord’s Supper.

There is a difference between ordinary meals which we Christians share together – the students coming back and eating lunch with us on Sundays – and on the other hand, holy communion. What a happy time we have eating at the Manse, but that is not the Lord’s Supper and we don’t try to make it the Lord’s Supper, and you can’t blend the Lord’s Supper with an ordinary meal. We are going to have Fellowship Lunch today and we do that each month. That is a good time for horizontal friendship and affection. But next week we will have the Lord’s Supper and there we will show forth the Lord’s agony and bloody sweat in his dying for us. You should not muddle up these two any more than a young people’s meeting for a swim at the beach or in the swimming pool should be blended into believers’ baptism, which is totally different. We do all to the glory of God, eating and drinking, yes, but it is unhelpful to make every commonplace action sacred or a sacrament. Marriage is a creation ordinance; it is not a sacrament. Paul was facing a problem concerning the abuse of the Lord’s Supper in the church in Corinth, and he wrote to them “Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! . . . If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.” (I Cor. 11:23&34). There are warnings in Scripture about partaking wrongly in the Lord’s Supper. We can incur God’s judgment in doing that.

So it was not the Lord’s Supper that Cleopas began to think of as Jesus broke bread. It was more like to be the feeding of the 5,000 as Luke records in chapter nine. Listen to verse sixteen; “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people.” There were five thousand men and our Lord showed his power over creation by picking up loaves and fishes and breaking them and putting them into baskets and sending the disciples out into the crowd who were seated in various companies with paths in between for the disciples to serve them. Our Lord kept breaking the bread and filling the baskets until all 5,000 men had their fill and afterwards they gathered twelve baskets of uneaten food. That often repeated gesture of his, breaking the bread and giving it out lived on in their memories for the rest of their lives.

So when he broke bread in their home (in an inimitable gesture of self-revelation) then Cleopas knew, “This . . . is . . . Jesus himself.” It was not so surprising then that the one who could feed 5,000 men with a few loaves and fishes could also rise from the dead. Christ earthed his resurrection in their remembrance of all his miraculous power. In a few days this risen Lord would also repeat the catching of a huge haul of fish in their net. Then God ended their blindness (because they weren’t the ones who opened their own eyes); “their eyes were opened” (passive voice) “and they recognized him,” (active voice), the latter was dependent on the former act of God, and then Jesus had done everything needed to lift their downcast hearts, assuring them that he was God incarnate and more powerful than death. This new friend was their old friend and the best of friends, alive and caring for them. The women who had been to the tomb, and found it empty, and had been spoken to by angels, were right all along, and Cleopas and his friend must return to confirm the truthfulness of what they had seen with what the Eleven and the women had seen and heard.

Do you see what we have here? Jesus comes seeking for us. Jesus makes himself known to us through the Bible. Jesus comes in when he is invited. Jesus fellowships with us. Then Jesus vanished as soon as he was recognized. He left them because they no longer needed his personal presence. That does not mean that he was no longer there. He sends another Comforter to be with them. It simply means that they were no longer permitted to see him visibly. This is one great point of the story. Just because you don’t see Jesus doesn’t mean he isn’t there. Just because you think you are alone doesn’t mean he’s not by your side. He stayed with Cleopas and his friend long enough for them to be sure, but no longer, and when we say, “Lord it would be wonderful if you would stay longer,” then Jesus says, “I am with you always, even though at times you imagine I’m not.” Where is Jesus when we need him? He’s with us still.

26th May 2013 GEOFF THOMAS