The Burning Heart


Those troubadours from another generation put it this way:

In the burning heart
Just about to burst
There’s a quest for answers
An unquenchable thirst
In the darkest night
Rising like a spire
In the burning heart
The unmistakable fire

Survivor didn’t know it, but that “unquenchable thirst” is the greatest need in the Church of Jesus Christ today. Never before in Church History has there been such an educated clergy and laity. We know our theology and our doctrines inside and out and our understanding of Jesus Christ has never been as spacious and correct as it is today. And yet the Church, generally speaking, is as cold and impotent as it has ever been. Where is the passion in serving Jesus? Where is the excitement in going to church? Where is the expectation that God will do something extraordinary when we pray? We may sing “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” yet He stands in our midst wondering why we don’t love Him back in kind. It must seem to the “lover of our souls” that we are fickle lovers at best; hot one moment, cold and moody and distant the next. Without a doubt, “the burning heart” is what is desperately needed in the Church today – not a false, imitation fire, but a genuine fire – a fire of fervor, of passion, of devotion in serving the Lord.

In Luke 24, we read this startling statement:

They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32 | NIV84)

This verse is actually the end of one of the most interesting and compelling post-resurrection stories. Godet refers to this story as “one of the most admirable pieces in Luke’s Gospel,” and of all the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, only Luke records this one, though Mark alludes to it briefly.

We call this a “post-resurrection” appearance of Jesus and we are still living in the post-resurrection period of history. The Jesus Christ who appeared to these two disciples was the same Person as He was before His crucifixion, and yet He was completely difference. You and I as modern Christians love and serve this same Jesus and we frequently feel like these disciples did:

their faces downcast. (Luke 24:17b | NIV84)

Many different things cause us to have “downcast faces.” Whatever the cause, the result is always the same: We are depressed or discouraged; sometimes we lose our devotion to Christ – not our love for Him, mind you, but our passion cools. But though we may lose hope in Him, he doesn’t lose hope in us. And as Jesus inserted Himself into the lives of these two men, so He inserts Himself into our lives to restore us.

What these men still had and what they lacked

One thing is certain. These men, whatever else, still loved their Lord. Reading the account, this is obvious. They loved Him and they still believed in Him. Their faces may have been downcast, but they still had their faith. And Jesus was still on their minds. Their walk to Emmaus was not a journey of forgetfulness.

But something was wrong. Jesus once said this:

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45 | NIV84)

These men certainly weren’t “evil men,” but their words revealed with they really thought about Jesus.

He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.” (Luke 24:19-21 | NIV84)

Those verses tell us a couple of things. First, it’s pretty clear as far these disciples were concerned who was responsible for the crucifixion of their friend: the chief priests and the Roman leaders. There was no doubt. But second, you can tell these fellows are depressed and especially disillusioned: “…we had hoped.” But that hope was all in the past. With Jesus nowhere in sight, their hope was gone. Everything they said was in the past tense. They had hope, but not any more. Their hope was that “he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” This gives us a glimpse into how the disciples viewed the mission of Jesus. Jesus was going to do for them what Moses did for his people in Egypt. Their hope was that Jesus would be the great political Savior who would deliver them from the Romans. But that hope was evaporating as Jesus had died three days ago.

These men, who still loved Jesus and still believed in His mission, couldn’t see how any of it was going to come to pass now. They didn’t even believe the rumors that He had risen:

In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”. (Luke 24:22-24 | NIV84)

Instead of staying in Jerusalem with the other disciples, these two men who still loved Jesus decided there was no point in waiting for something that would never happen, so they off to Emmaus they went. They were sad and disappointed. The fire they once had for Jesus and His mission had cooled to the point where now there was no fire. No passion. No fervor.

And if that doesn’t describe the Church as a whole today, nothing does. No Church or member of a church would dare say that they no longer loved Jesus or that they’d lost faith in Him. Churches and Christians are undeniably loyal and faithful to the Jesus Christ, but there’s no fire in our bellies. We look around at the world around us – at all the violence and cultural rot – and we get discouraged and disillusioned as it seems wrong prevails over right and wickedness over righteousness. And we wonder if anything Jesus said is relevant today. We’ve come to measure the teachings of Christ against what others are teaching or against what we ourselves think and often His Word doesn’t measure up. Where once the church sung, “Jesus is the answer for the world today,” it has now joined the ranks of so many competing for government grants to do after school programs or is now employing secular methods for fulfilling the Great Commission. The tears have dried up as committees try to figure out just how worldly the church can be and still be considered “the House of God.”

How did we become like this?

This attitude arises, not so much because we no longer love Jesus, but because we’re no longer sure whether we can trust the Bible. We’re not sure the Gospel writers got it all right. We think that maybe the ancient psalmist wasn’t quite right, either. Many churches pay the barest of lip service to the supremacy of the Bible but in reality they’ve come to view it as “one word among many.” Even as Christ is walking so close to us, we’re perishing in His light because we just can’t see Him any more. We no longer have a clear vision of the majesty and sovereignty of Jesus Christ. Proverbs 29:18 says it best:

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. (Proverbs 29:18 | KJV)

How Jesus dealt with these men

Jesus’ estimation of Cleopas and his pal is most surprising:

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25 | NIV84)

That’s not my estimation of these guys, it’s our Lord’s, and it’s surprising. This is Jesus at His most politically incorrect best. He thought they were complete, utter fools because they ceased to believe what their own prophets had said, referring to their Scriptures. They were mental incompetents because they didn’t believe the Word of God.

What does that say about all these Christians who have given into their fleeting doubts about the veracity of the Bible? If these disciples were foolish, then so are they.

But Jesus didn’t abandon these two men. He knew them and He knew their hearts. And though they had given into their doubts and allowed the circumstances of life to influence their faith, He saw what still remained. In Revelation, our Lord had something to say about certain churches. Here’s what He said to one in particular:

Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. (Revelation 3:2 | NIV84)

The church at Sardis wasn’t all bad – not by a long shot.

To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. (Revelation 3:1 | NIV84)

This church was full of good deeds, and in their community they had a “reputation of being alive.” But Jesus’ estimation was that they were “dead.” A church looks alive when it’s full and making noise and doing “stuff” in the community. But a church is dead when it is spiritually dull. This church in Sardis looked good but was in the same shape as these two disciples on the road to Emmaus: the fire was gone.

Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. (Revelation 3:3 | NIV84)

Jesus urged the members of this church to remember the Word of God and simply obey it. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus did pretty much the same thing with these two disciples. Here’s how that went:

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:27 | NIV84)

And that’s all it took to result in their hearts burning. But there’s another way to look at it. Their hearts burned when He talked to them, not when they were talking about Him or talking to Him. That’s significant. Nothing happened to them when they questioned Him or complained and whined to Him. But when they stopped talking and let Him talk to them, the fire burned.

Jesus didn’t teach them anything they didn’t already know, He just put what they knew in perspective, as only He can.

There are really only two big take-aways from this story. First, it is absolutely essential to believe the Word of God. Jesus said these disciples were “fools” because they didn’t. When you doubt the Word, the fire fades.

Or as Pascal said:

Human knowledge must be understood to be believed, but divine knowledge must be believed to be understood.

And second, the Bible is a divine Book – it is not like any other book that has ever existed. It can only be understood with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:45 | NIV84)

Paul put it this way:

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14 | NIV84)

If your faith has grown cold – the fire has perhaps gone out – examine your relationship with the Bible. It is the Word of God and it is food for your spirit. You can believe all the right doctrines. Your theology may be totally orthodox. You may never miss a church service. But if your passion for Christ just isn’t there and the things of God interest you less and less, you may miss the Savior as He passes by.

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