April 26, 2020 Burning Hearts
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Each of the lessons for today remind us that the death & resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central teaching of Christianity; AND the center of the Christian’s life. From the Book of Acts, people respond to Peter’s sermon with /repentance, / Baptism, / & a changed life: a life devoted to God’s Word, and to the fellowship of believers. Then in His first letter, Peter reminds us that Christians are ‘obedient to the truth, with sincere brotherly love’, because Jesus has redeemed us from a ‘futile’, or ‘empty life’, and we are reborn with hope in God.
And finally, in the Gospel reading, the two men from Emmaus, being instructed in God’s Word, & recognizing the Risen Lord, return to Jerusalem to share their renewed faith with ‘hearts on fire.’ So, the central teaching of our faith, and the center of our lives, is Jesus = His dying & rising again, & His teachings. Because of Jesus, our lives have gone from empty-to-full, and from cold-to-burning.
It was a very emotional week for those disciples back then. From Palm Sunday to Good Friday their feelings went from the highest to the lowest; from hosanna to crucify; from living with their Messiah to having Him ripped away, tortured & murdered. Their lives went from hope to despair. It’s no wonder they didn’t recognize Jesus right away; they didn’t know what to think next. BUT when they recognized Him, their cold & confused hearts became a burning source of sharing with others their life’s eternal hope.
OUR emotions may not have such highs & lows, but we can relate to that ‘burning heart’ sensation. It’s when we have some very good news to share with someone, and our heart is warm with excitement. It might be some personal good news of love or success, & we want our friends to share our gladness. Maybe we get that warm-heart-sensation as we look forward to celebrating Christmas with our family. That same warm hope is what patiently looks forward from Ash Wednesday to our Easter Sunday celebration.
We can feel that ‘burning heart’ sensation when we smell the Easter lilies, and hear the Easter morning trumpet lead the first hymn: Jesus Christ is risen today, alleluia. We like that feeling when our hearts are warm with hope & peace. And because our lives can have a lot of ups & downs, so the Spirit of God’s Word reminds us that at the very center of our lives is … JESUS.
Jesus Christ died for you = a sinner; and Jesus rose for you in victory over death.
Your life has hope & meaning & direction because of Him. Nothing is more certain in our lives than those promises of God in Christ. Jesus warms our hearts.
The opposite of that is NOT desirable in any way. To have our selves -or this world- as the center of our lives, leaves our hearts cold & empty. This world is unpredictable; /people are selfish & mean; /life is good for a while & then it goes bad; /we advance in life, we work hard & accumulate things we like, and then we get old & sick & we die. This fallen world is a cold & cruel place. This cold existence is the result of our sin against our Creator.
People’s hearts are focused on different things. A ‘sad heart’ is one weighed down with the heaviness of sorrow or suffering. A ‘troubled heart is one confused by the problems of life. A ‘weak heart’ is one that struggles with the temptations of the world. A ‘doubting heart’ is uncertain whether God really cares about their life. A ‘lukewarm heart’ is one that doesn’t really care about God’s spiritual & eternal things.
There are many different kinds of ‘cold hearts’ that are not burning with the proper response of faith, & hope, & peace that fits with the good news that the Savior-of-the-World was crucified & risen again for us. But whatever a person’s ‘heart condition’, the ‘road to Emmaus’ assures us that the Risen, Living, Son-of-God is still meeting US on the road-of-life.
He is still speaking to us of what He did to establish our salvation-hope. He still breaks- bread with us in His Meal so that we will recognize Him for all He is. We have His promise to meet with us here =at church= so that -in a cold world- our hearts would be warm & burn for Him.
Let’s join the two men on the road to Emmaus; they show us the hopelessness of life without Christ. Without Christ, they could discuss world-events well enough, and safely go from one place to another; they had a place to eat & sleep. But they were downcast, empty, & discouraged; true life is more than just worldly things. Their hopefulness had been crushed; their faith had gone cold. They said, they had HOPED Jesus of Nazareth would be ‘The One’ to redeem Israel. They had hoped, but now it seemed they were wrong. They were men without a living Teacher, Lord & Master for their lives; their hearts were cold.
Even today, the human soul without Christ can function in the world well enough, but overall it is empty & cold. An empty heart is revealed in pessimism, (or negativity) with harsh language & impatience with other people’s weaknesses. A cold heart doesn’t notice its own crude behavior, & cruel actions toward others. A soul without hope-for-the-future only pretends to be satisfied with today. Like a person who piles on quilt after quilt on a January night in MN, people try to warm-up their life by piling-on material things, to make their life look warm & meaningful. But earthly things can’t fix a spiritual chill.
John-the-Baptizer said that The Christ would come, and Baptize with the Holy Spirit and with FIRE ~ the fire of faith & true life. That day on the Emmaus road, and in the house at dinnertime, for Cleopas & the other disciple, FIRE had come. The Christ they had hoped-for was the One they had seen & heard. The Crucified -but now Risen Jesus- came to them to warm their hearts with His hope.
*How did He do that? With the message of eternal grace & mercy from God’s Holy Scriptures. From Genesis to Malachi, Jesus taught them, book by book. He explained the OT symbols, or images that foreshadowed the Messiah: /such as Moses-the-Deliverer, /Boaz-the-kinsman-redeemer, /and the prophet Jonah who was dead to the world for 3 days.
Jesus explained how the genealogy of Abraham and David, & the temple & sacrifices, were all pointing toward the promised ‘seed of the woman’ who would crush Satan’s head.
Thankfully, these disciples on the road did what the best disciples DO: They listened. Altho, they were probably thinking, ‘Yah, Jesus really looked like that One, but…now He’s dead.’ But, they needed to hear all that divine-doctrine again that day, because their lives had been so topsy-turvy, so those truths had become like empty data. Just like some of the young adults we meet, whose warm truths from confirmation now just seem like cold & empty Bible stories to them. We know people whose faith has grown cold.
So, the Living Lord comes among those disciples with living words, with the Spirit & fire, and He was there to warm-up their hearts again. This is His promise to you & me thru every Sunday worship time. They wanted to hear more, so they begged Jesus to stay.
Their hearts were burning with hope once again, altho they still feel a little chilled. Jesus stays long enough to re-open their eyes to recognize Him, and to rejoice.
So, now -once they recognize Him- He no longer needs to be visible for them.
Now they believe & know that He is alive; and all that was promised is true. Jesus had taken sin itself to be crucified on the cross; /death had been swallowed up in victory; /the grave
had lost it sting; /& the gates of heaven are open == all because Jesus rose-up & walked out of the tomb. *I wonder how long it took, with their cold hearts, to shuffle & trudge to Emmaus those 7 miles, maybe 3 hours? But now, their hearts are burning with eternal hope & joy, so they RUN back to Jerusalem; maybe in record time. That’s the difference Christ makes.
We will admit that this life CAN be lived without Christ, & many try to do it; BUT it’s a cold & empty life; downcast & trudging. But the history of God’s promises and the work of Jesus Christ changes everything for those who believe Him. Peter describes the Christian life: ‘we have been reborn “into a living hope thru the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.’ We do not walk alone in this life; we are never alone on our way to the grave. Our Lord walks with us, and He assures us, “Because I live, you also will live.”
When WE open the Scripture, the Lord Jesus has His NT Apostles interpret for us all of God’s promises of mercy, forgiveness, hope & peace. This is how He warms-up our hearts, so that -now- we are not just shuffling along thru life. We have the walk of new hope, and we run-the-race toward the promised prize. The Christian life is BOTH a warm personal satisfaction, and a warm desire to let others know that “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon.”
I heard this interesting, historical story. Napoleon’s army was marching upon Austria, taking control of towns so as to conquer the nation. It was Holy Week and the French troops were only 6 miles from the village of Feldkirch; the Austrian army was far away, and it looked as if the little town would be taken over without a struggle.
On Saturday, the townspeople stayed up & prayed all night that the Lord would save their village. At sunrise on Easter Sunday, the church bells rang out in the Easter tradition. No matter what, they would celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection. But Napoleon’s officers did not realize it was Easter Sunday. When they heard the bells, they thought that the Austrian army had moved into position during the night and were rising to arms. They ordered a retreat, and the occupation of Feldkirch never happened.
Even without that kind of history, the peal of Church bells call God’s people to worship the Crucified & Risen One, who brings the fire of faith, & the warmth of hope into the lives of His people.
This world will always threaten us; but it cannot change or take away what God has accomplished for us, and promised to us. Let’s consider the church our ‘Emmaus’; and after a hard week, we trudge back here, where our Lord is waiting to meet with us. Here He speaks to us to remind us that there is life beyond our problems. And every time we stand at the cold grave of a loved one, He comes to stay with us, and to warm our hearts with the hope of the resurrection to new & heavenly life.
It is because of who He is: Jesus IS the One, / the Son of God, / and the promised Savior. He is all the things God told us we need, and promised to send for us.
His cross has taken away our sin & empty way of life; His open tomb means that we will rise and live with Him forever. He is our hope, and His Words are the fire & warmth of our life.
WE are today’s disciples with burning hearts. Let us be glad to face another week as those who recognize -& walk with- our Resurrected Lord.