• on April 8, 2018

To Know with Certainty

The St. Paul’s Pulpit 

To Know with Certainty

 

A Sermon

Delivered on Sunday, April 8, 2018, by

Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph.D., at

 St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Baton Rouge, LA 

And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures? And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon. And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread. (Luke 24:30-35)

No, I’m not going to preach the same sermon that I preached last week, though many of you regretted that I did not record last week’s message.  One person even asked me to try to record it at home, but I don’t know if I could do it with the same enthusiasm.   After I finished my sermon last Sunday, my daughter leaned over to my granddaughter and said, “That’s the Granddaddy I grew up with.”  Hopefully the sermons during Holy Week and Easter Day were a blessing to you.

Last week, I preached a sermon about the encounter of Jesus after his resurrection with two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus, and we saw that this passage teaches us that this is the way that we encounter the resurrected Christ.   Christ taught them from the Scriptures on the road to Emmaus.  He sat down with them for a meal, and when he broke bread, they recognized him.   In other words, Christ makes himself known to us through Word and Sacrament.   This encounter establishes the pattern of New Testament worship.   First, there is the proclamation of the word, and then there is the breaking of bread.   Or, as we could put it, first there is catechesis, and then there is the sacrament.   First comes instruction from the word of God, and then comes Holy Sacrament.   When you combine Word and Sacrament, you will encounter the resurrected Christ, for Christ is present with us in his resurrected body–present with us in the Holy Sacrament.   We want our church here at St. Paul’s to be known as the church that emphasizes table fellowship with Jesus.  With that in mind, I am preparing a Bible study booklet for the ladies to use, eleven lessons from the gospel according to Luke which will deal with the theme of table fellowship with Jesus, especially as it is illustrated in the gospel according to St. Luke.

Today, I’m going to return to Luke 24 and spend several weeks here, leading up to Pentecost, because these verses, Luke 24:13-53, will be the key to the life of our church in the coming years.  I will return to my favorite style of preaching, going verse by verse through a passage of Scripture and expounding those verses in detail.  These sermons will be recorded, printed, and posted on the website so that you might review them as often as possible.  Last week, because of the length of the Easter service, I was able to only touch on some of the great truths contained in this most important passage, but now I will turn to deal with them in more detail.

On this occasion when Jesus breaks bread in the presence of these two disciples, we are told in verse 31 that they knew him, or they recognized him.   This word for “recognize” is the same word that Luke uses at the beginning of this gospel, when he tells Theophilus why he is writing this gospel.  Luke writes in chapter 1, “…it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed” (Luke 1:3-4).  Luke writes this gospel so that Theophilus might “know.”   Jesus reveals himself to these disciples and they “know” him.  The word that is translated in Luke 1:4  as “instructed,” is the Greek word “katecheo,” and if you hear the word catechism in that word, you are exactly right.   It is the word from which we get our word catechism, catechize, and catechesis, and it means to teach, or to instruct.   Luke uses this word again in the book of Acts when he describes Apollos:  “And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord” (Luke 18:24-5).   This great preacher of the word, Apollos, is also someone who had been catechized, instructed in the way of the Lord.   In like manner, Theophilus, the man to whom Luke is writing this gospel, is someone who has been catechized, he is someone who has received instruction by the church in what Christians believe.  Luke is writing this gospel in order that Theophilus might know with certainty that the instruction he has received is true.

I think of all the thousands and millions of people have been instructed in the Christian faith, and still do not know with certainty that these things are true.  I think especially of our young people who grow up in traditions such as ours, in which they are literally catechized from their youth up, and yet, when they get older, even in Anglican circles, they just start attending other churches as though they had never been instructed in what we believe at all.   Some of our young people go so far as to leave the Christian faith altogether.   Why?   They have never come to know with certainty that the things in which they have been instructed are true.    They are much like these two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

As you read this account, you see that though they were disciples of Jesus, they were very much in the dark.   They didn’t really know who Jesus was.   The fact that they didn’t recognize him on the road to Emmaus emphasizes that they had no true understanding of why Jesus came into the world.   That they are so ignorant is seen in that they are on the road to Emmaus, a village about 7 miles from Jerusalem.   This action really shows how much they believed that everything was over.   They have left their fellow disciples believing that all that Jesus had promised about the coming of the kingdom of God was not going to be fulfilled, at least not by Jesus.  We are told explicitly that they are leaving town of the first day of the week, the very day of the week that Jesus had told them he would be raised from the dead, the day when a whole new world was going to come into being.   But they have no faith.  They didn’t expect the resurrection, and they left town.  When Jesus asks them what they were talking about and why they are sad, they said that he must be the only man who doesn’t know what has just happened in Jerusalem.   Here is the depth of their ignorance.   They thought they knew what had happened in Jerusalem.   They were authorities on what had just happened in Jerusalem, but they didn’t really know what had happened in Jerusalem at all.   We really see the depth of their ignorance when they described Jesus in verse 19 in this way: “Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.”  For them, Jesus was just a mighty prophet, not the son of God, not God in the flesh– just a prophet, a mighty prophet like Moses, Isaiah, or Jeremiah, and nothing more.  Again, what a perfect picture of people in America today, even in our churches!  Some people in our nation will accept Jesus as a great teacher, but to them, he was nothing more than that.   People really think they know who Jesus is and what he accomplished, but if you talk with them for a while, you find that they don’t really understand anything.     They may know some facts about what Jesus said and did, but they don’t have a clue about the meaning of what Jesus said and did.  Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they don’t really know what Jesus accomplished in Jerusalem.  The only person on the road to Emmaus who knew what had happened in Jerusalem was Jesus himself, and it would take Jesus  himself to explain to them what had actually happened.

Finally, Jesus says, “O fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.”   The word translated “fools” at this point means “unknowing,” or “lacking in understanding.”   After he tells them that are lacking in understanding, he begins to teach them from the prophets.  Again, these people were not ignorant of the prophets.   These two disciples had read the prophets or had heard the prophets read to them many times.   But they didn’t understand the prophets.   They were unknowing, lacking understanding.  Luke’s purpose in his gospel is to bring people from a state of unknowing to a state of knowing, truly recognizing Jesus.  Luke demonstrates that this kind of knowing comes through Word and Sacrament.

We thank God for his mercy in Christ, for people never know these things with certainty until Christ himself instructs them, opens their understanding, and reveals himself to them in the breaking of bread.   Again, for that reason, we celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion each Sunday, praying earnestly that Christ would make himself to all those who assemble here.  After they have recognized Jesus, these two disciples go back to Jerusalem and tell the rest of the disciples that Jesus was known of them in the breaking of bread.  That word for “known” is in the passive tense which means that something was done to them.   They didn’t know him through an effort of their own.  He was made known by the power of Christ himself.   When verse 31 says, “their eyes were opened,” the implication is that they did not open their own eyes.   They were blind to the truth of Scripture and blind to who Jesus was.   Only a supernatural act of God could give them the ability to see the truth of Scripture and the reality of who Jesus really is.    Anytime a person comes to true faith in Jesus Christ, it is a supernatural act of God opening the eyes of blind sinners.   As St. Paul writes in I Cor. 2:14, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”  Those who are outside of Christ cannot understand the truth of the gospel because the truth of the gospel is utter foolishness to the people of this world.   The only way a person will ever receive these truths, know these truths, is through the presence of Christ revealed in Word and Sacrament.

Now, keep in mind that these disciples on the road to Emmaus, just like all the other disciples, had been instructed by Jesus on many occasions, but none of them had an understanding about what the teaching of Jesus meant.   Jesus teaches these two disciples from what we call the Old Testament, because, as of yet, they did not believe all that the prophets had spoken concerning the coming of the Messiah, Jesus himself.  The purpose of Jesus’ instruction, his catechizing of his disciples, was to enable them to finally understand and believe all that the prophets had spoken.  Then, when Jesus breaks the bread, they understand.   The same thing happens to each us when we celebrate the Sacrament of Communion.   We might have known the facts of the story, but we don’t understand it until Christ makes himself known to us through instruction and the breaking of bread. The word that Luke uses for “know” is not a merely knowledge of facts.   It refers to a kind of penetrating, intimate knowledge, in this case, not merely of facts, but a penetrating, intimate knowledge of a person.  But the full knowledge of faith comes not only from understanding the facts, but also from recognizing Christ in the breaking of the bread.

After this encounter with Jesus, these two disciples on road to Emmaus have seen the light, as we might say.   They now understand the Scriptures, and they have recognized the resurrected Christ.   They know that he is alive, and how his crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection had been foretold by the Old Testament prophets.   What do they do with new knowledge?   They go to the eleven and those that were gathered with them, and they tell them what they have seen and heard.  In Luke 24:35, we read, “and they told what things were done in the way.”   The word for “told” there means to provide detailed information, make fully known, carefully describe, or reveal in detail.   Notice how verse 35 says that these two disciples not only told them how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread, but also “what things were done in the way.”  In other words, they also told these disciples what the Lord had told them as they were walking with him in the way.  Again, we see that these two things must go hand in hand—word and sacrament—understanding the word and the recognition that takes place during the sacrament.  These disciples went into much detail, not only telling them about how they sat down at table with our Lord, but also all the things that he had taught them on the way to Emmaus.   In other words, as the great Lutheran scholar, Arthur Just points out, these two disciples, were catechizing the rest of the disciples, instructing them in all that the Lord had said to them while they were on the way.   These two disciples understand fully the purpose of the life, death, and teaching of our Lord, because the Lord has opened their understanding, and it won’t be long before he will open the understanding of the rest of the disciples.

Now we can understand the whole purpose of Luke’s gospel.   The introduction to the Gospel of Luke and the last chapter of the gospel of Luke serve as bookends to illustrate a great truth.   Luke tells Theophilus the he is writing the gospel so that he might know the truth with certainty, and in Luke 24, he shows how the disciples come to know the truth with certainty.   There must be catechesis, and the whole gospel of Luke is that catechesis.  At the end of the catechesis, the Lord reveals himself with certainty in the breaking of bread.

These two disciples arrived home at Emmaus, and they invite Jesus to stay with them.  It is significant that this is the home of one of the disciples, and they invite Jesus to be their guest.   But a strange thing happens when they sit down to eat.   The owner of the house does not act as the host.   Jesus, suddenly, from out of the blue, acts as host.   There is something else rather unusual here.  You would have thought that this was going to be a very informal meal, a spur of the moment thing, a last-minute snack sort of thing.  But we see this turns into quite a formal meal.   The KJV has it, “And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them,” but the word “sat” is the word “reclined.”  Reclining at table describes an important, festive occasion.   Furthermore, Jesus takes over the role of the host, and he is the one who does the following things: “he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave unto them” (Luke 24:30).   Where have we see those words before?  When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, we read in Luke 22:19, “And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them…”  In other words, he is doing in Emmaus what he did on the night of the Last Supper.  These words are very similar to the words used when he fed the five thousand in Luke 9:16:  “Then he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed them, and brake and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude.”   All of the meals in Luke are in a sense, eucharistic meals, or at least, explain something of the nature of the Eucharist.

One of the interesting things that happens in this story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus is that the moment they recognize Jesus, he vanishes out of their sight.  Why did Jesus do this?  It would seem that this would be the very time when he would want to linger with them, reveal his glory and teach them even deeper truths about himself.   But instead, he vanishes.  Again, according to Dr. Just, Our Lord is teaching us that in the days to come, he is not going to be present with his people in exactly the same way that he was before.  He will ascend to his father, but he wants his disciples to know that he will still be with them.   When we gather here at his table, he is not visible to us in the way that he was then, but he is still present in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. The presence of Jesus with us now is a sacramental presence.  He is still present with us in the Sacrament, in the bread and wine, because the bread and the wine are his body and blood.   He is still present with us bodily, but he is unseen.   The risen Lord is always the host at this table, his table.  He is, still present, and just as he gave the gifts of bread and wine, his body and blood to his disciples on the night when he instituted the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, now, though invisible, he himself is the one who feeds us his body and blood.   As we who serve at the altar come to you and give you the bread and wine, Christ himself is dispensing the elements, feeding you himself with himself.

What a change occurred in these two disciples on the road to Emmaus!  Before Jesus instructed them and broke bread with them, they had no understanding, no faith.   To them, Jesus was just another martyred prophet.   But after he has instructed them, and after he makes himself known to them in the breaking of bread, they are suddenly filled with understanding and can’t wait to share that understanding with others.   Reality makes the difference.   If we will receive the word and sacrament in the way that we should, we will not only know some facts about Jesus, we will encounter Jesus in his word and sacrament, and our lives will never be the same.  We assemble here for this reason.  The liturgy of the word and breaking of bread makes Christ real to us.  Christ is not made real to us through trances and visions.   Christ is not made real to us by using certain meditation techniques or the emotionalism of certain kinds of worship services.  In our day, word and sacrament have been replaced by meditation and drums.   But if you want to meet the resurrected Christ, you will meet him in the liturgy of the word and the breaking of bread.  When you meet him this way, the real way, then, like these two disciples, you will be anxious to tell others what Christ has taught you, and how he is made known to us in the breaking of bread.   Amen.

 

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