There are some people who are like the two men in the Gospel. They are not completely lacking in faith, yet they are struggling with faith. They say, “We hoped that Jesus would redeem Israel,” as if to say, “We hoped He would do it, but He did not.” Of course, they were missing the fact that Christ DID atone for the sins of Israel, and not only theirs, but those of the whole world. But they thought that redemption had failed, and that made them sad.
Like them, many people hear the Gospel and like it. The disciples traveling to Emmaus were not hostile to the Gospel. On the contrary, they wished that the promised redemption had taken place. They loved Christ and were disappointed in His death. As disciples, the two on the road had listened devotedly to Christ teach.
Like them, many people, although they love Christ and listen to the Word, are still timid and afraid. They do not feel strong enough, and they wish there was a redemption for them, but they do not feel like redemption has worked for them. This can be for a variety of reasons, but the bottom line is that they are very aware that they stumble in sin and are disgusted by their failures. They feel that they are spiritually sick and weak, which is accurate. We are all sick and weak in spirit. We are all like this in some ways. We often lack strength. We often have doubts. We are often timid and fearful. We are all in this group of people who love the Gospel, yet we sometimes struggle.
I am not talking about outright unbelievers. They do not feel the weight of their faults, nor desire to be free of them. Or if they want self-improvement, it will be by their hard work. They cannot see how great their sin is. The last thing they want is redemption.
But when we believers feel our weakness and sin, we should pray to God, “My Lord, I fall often. I want to do better. Please help me.” Then we should go hear the Word of God. If we want strength from God but ignore the chief place He gives it, then we ask for strength in vain.
In the Word, our faith is strengthened. Otherwise, we could only struggle and eventually fail. We may often feel our lack of faith, since our sinful flesh still stubbornly resists. If we do not feel our lack, that is even worse. Our shortcomings in faith exist, whether we know it or not. We may as well see our weakness accurately, pray for forgiveness, and receive His Gospel. If we try only self-improvement, then we follow the path of the unbelievers. God keep us from that.
Nor should you despair because you feel that you are not making it as a Christian. Do not give up, whatever sin or stumbling you experience. If you feel that you are a failure and a disgrace, good! Then you see accurately!
But then look to Christ. He does not despise the weak. He does not snuff out the smoldering wick. He came to these struggling disciples on the road and encouraged them with His Word. He strengthened those who had faltered by opening the Scriptures to them. In the same way, Christ is ready to strengthen you in His Word.
So do not boast in your strength. Do not be bold and defiant, as if you do not need Christ or His Word. Christ loves the timid, and He upholds the lowly. The proud and self-sufficient He will leave alone to their own devices, and woe to them! But for you who tremble at your weakness and sinfulness, Christ is ready to calm your conscience with His redemption.
This means that your entire Christian life must be one of struggle and repentance. No one arrives at perfection in this life. No one even arrives at a state of being truly and consistently strong. But rejoice in your weaknesses, because in them God’s grace is made perfect.
This is not so say, rejoice that you sin. We should never celebrate sin. Those church bodies that openly celebrate trespasses are enshrining wickedness. May that never happen among us! But when I say, “Rejoice in your weakness,” I mean rejoice that the Spirit has given you the awareness that you are weak. Rejoice that you know that you need Christ. Rejoice that you have not been deluded into thinking that you are just fine without God’s help.
To us who know our weakness, Christ speaks His Word. Then our cold hearts are lit with flame. His Spirit works in us with His mighty power, giving forgiveness and salvation, and nurturing faith. The Spirit flies along with this Word and preaching so that the Word cannot be dull and lifeless. Even if we feel that it is, it cannot ever be. It is living and active, and accomplishes what God sets for it to do.
The disciples on the road felt their hearts burn within them as Christ opened the Scriptures to them. The very same powerful Word that Christ spoke to the them is also here for you.
The summary of this Word He preached is this: Christ had to suffer these things and enter into His glory. What are “these things”? They are all that He took upon Himself to win our salvation - the beating, the scourging, the thorns, the nails. At the very last, He hung on the Cross to receive the punishment that all mankind’s sins deserved. That was the worst of all, which He also had to suffer. Then at last He surrendered His spirit, thereby dying. His holy, innocent flesh should never have been placed in a tomb, yet He was.
After suffering all this, then what? We know that He rose from death, thus entering His glory. He stepped forth triumphant from the tomb to show that the grave is beaten, and immortality is won for you and for me.
But the disciples on the road did not know this yet. They thought that He was not risen. That is why they were so sad. And you know, they were sort of right. If Christ is not risen, then redemption has failed. If Christ did not literally come back to life in the flesh, then His sufferings and death would have been completely meaningless.
Easter is so important because it shows us, among other things, that God has accepted this sacrifice as the proper atonement for all the world’s sin. The Lamb of God has died, and His death is the suitable price to save us from sin and death. But if Easter did not happen as a historical event, then Christ’s death would not help us one bit.
So the two men got that much right. Without the resurrection, redemption failed. However, they missed one little fact. Christ is risen, the very same Christ who, ironically, was talking to them on the road!
We could look down on them for their blindness and ignorance. Or we could use Christ’s words, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” But Christ did not say, “You silly disciples! You didn’t recognize Me!” No, that wasn’t really their fault. The text says that His face was hidden from them, and their eyes were restrained from recognizing Him. No, He rebukes them for their lack of faith.
So we should realize that we, too, often lack faith, just like them. We should apply the words, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe,” to ourselves. We are all that.
But thanks be to God, that Christ speaks to us foolish ones. He who has completed redemption and proved it by rising from the dead still speaks to us. We have not been worthy of the immortality that He has bestowed upon us. Far from it! But He does not wait for us to prove ourselves worthy. That would be a long wait. No, He gives the gift and accomplishes the task. He does not wait for our wisdom, but He acts wisely on our behalf. He does not even wait for us to come up with the faith necessary for salvation. He gives it to us by the Spirit’s flaming work in our hearts.
Do not feel like He’s burning in you? Don’t worry about it. It burns, whether you feel it or not. Only look to Him, and trust in Him. He has done all for you. He has even shattered the grave’s power over you, so that you will be raised like Him.
In your weakness, cling to the Man who is so strong that He conquered death. He will carry you through to your eternal home.
In His Name, the Living Lord who can never die again, who is your life. Amen.
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