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Sermon preached on Luke 24 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 4/8/2012 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Slow of Heart to Believe”
This is probably my favorite Easter passage to read, specifically the part about the journey along the road to Emmaus. There are actually three main scenes here in this chapter. There’s the first one that highlights the women finding the empty tomb. There’s the second scene about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. And then there’s the third scene about the larger gathering of the disciple, including the eleven. And yet even though there are these three distinct sections, they are all connected and interrelated. The first scene is recounted in the second scene, as the two on the road describe unknowingly to Jesus what the women found at the empty tomb. The second scene then spills over into the third when they race back to the eleven and tell them about seeing Jesus. And so all three of these scenes are interconnected, and they all dealing with the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. And so as we’ll see, this is a chapter that is quite fitting to read as a whole.
An idea that especially brings these three scenes together however, is what Jesus says in verse 25. He calls the two disciples there, “Slow of heart to believe.” Now yes, this is specifically directed to those two disciples on the road to Emmaus. And yet what we’ll see today is that this rebuke is so true for all three scenes. The women, the two disciples on the road, and the rest of the disciples, are all suffering from this. They all could be described in this way: slow of heart to believe. To believe in the resurrection. And to understand that Jesus as the Christ had to go through all this: his death but then his resurrection.
And so we’ll think about this slowness to believe in these three groups of people today. What’s great is that though they are slow to believe, it does seem that they all eventually did come to believe the clear reality. Jesus had risen from the dead! Jesus was alive! Jesus was the Messiah. They had not hoped for naught. Their hope had not been misplaced! Jesus died, rose again, and as we see then ascended up into heaven. And he continues to live and reign ever more. And he is coming again. That’s why what we celebrate today is still relevant!
Well, let’s dig into this passage. Notice with me first that we indeed see how they were all slow to believe. Let’s walk through the passage in order and observe this slowness to believe. Start with the women. They come in and see the empty tomb, and what’s their response? Verse 4, they were greatly perplexed. The angels tell them in verse 5, that they had been seeking the living among the dead. The angels tell them that they should have remembered that he said he would be crucified but rise again on the third day. Do you see the angels point? This is akin to Jesus’ rebuke to the two on the road to Emmaus. The women should not have been greatly perplexed! As soon as they got to the tomb and saw it empty it should have all clicked for them. That Jesus was risen! For that matter, the angels suggest that they didn’t need to come to the tomb at all. They should have knew he wouldn’t have been there; let alone coming with spices to embalm him! Do you see the slowness to believe that these women showed here? They should have remembered and believed Jesus’ earlier prediction about this. Then as the scene continues, the women come in verse 9 to the other disciples and tell them about all this. And see the response of the disciples? Verse 11, the women’s words seemed like idle tales, and they did not believe them. Again, slow of heart to believe. Yet, do note Peter’s commendable investigation here. He hears this report and immediately races off to the tomb to investigate. Some aren’t as slow as others.
Then of course, you have the road to Emmaus scene. The scene changes in verse 13, two disciples are making a seven mile journey on that Easter day. One is named Cleopas. Verses 14-24 then show them talking about all this. Look at how verse 15 puts it. They “conversed” and they “reasoned” about it all. As the passage goes on, they clearly are talking particularly about the report that the women had given about the resurrection. And they are talking about that in conjunction with all of Jesus’ earthly ministry. But what’s there to talk about? They should have immediately concluded that Jesus is risen! That would be a response of faith! And yet it’s here of course when Jesus appears on the road and joins them on their journey, but he somehow hides his identity from there, supernaturally closing their eyes. And here then is when Jesus explains their problem of slowness to believe, verse 25.
Then in the final scene back with the rest of the disciples, we see that they too had been slow to believe. We already saw that in part in verse 11. The tone of at least many of them is starting to change by the time you get to verse 34 – they report that Jesus had appeared to Simon. And yet even then, what happens? Jesus appears to them, verse 36, but they still struggle to believe. Verse 37 shows their initial reaction. They are terrified and frightened, and think they see a ghost. In verse 38, Jesus then acknowledges their slowness to believe. He acknowledges that they still have doubts in their heart. This is akin to Jesus’ rebuke to the two on the road in verse 25. And then verse 41 acknowledges that they still disbelieved for joy and marveled. It was all so overwhelming to them, but they still were having doubts inside. They still were having trouble to believe it all. Could Jesus really be alive? Could he really be standing right here in the body again? Really? You see, it’s as Jesus had said. They were slow of heart to believe.
Well, so far we’ve noticed that in all three main scenes, the people were slow to believe. The women, the two on the road, and the rest of the disciples. They were slow to believe the Jesus was really risen! Realize the point of Jesus and the angels here, is these this should not have been the case. They should not have been slow to believe. And so what I’d like to do now is make that case. I’d like to walk back through these verses a second time and show for each of them, why they should not have been slow to believe.
So for the women, the angels had pointed out in verses 6 and 7 that Jesus had told them this would happen. For example, Luke 9:22 and 18:31-33 are places in Luke’s gospel where Jesus makes this specific prediction. In verse 44, Jesus confirms this. That he had told them all ahead of time that this would happen. He even went into the specifics! And so, in other words, Jesus’ own predictions were a reason why they should not have been slow to believe. Jesus had told them all of this ahead of time. Instead of being slow to believe, they should have been quick to believe. They should have been just waiting for it all to happen! And so Jesus’ own predictions is one reason why all these disciples should not have been slow to believe.
In the second scene with the two on the road to Emmaus we see Jesus’ commentary on their state. In verse 25, not only does he say that they are slow to believe, but he calls them foolish! This was a searing rebuke! They were fools for missing the obvious, Jesus tells them! Jesus there points them to the Scriptures. He says they were slow to believe the prophets! That’s the most specific way Jesus uses this phrase, “slow to believe.” They were slow to believe the prophets, which of course is why they were slow to believe the resurrection report. Jesus goes on in verses 26 and 27 to give a redemptive historical explanation of the whole Bible from Moses to all the prophets. I wish I could have been there. To hear Jesus go through the whole Bible on this seven mile hike, and show how it pointed to himself. Notice in verse 26 the two big categories that Jesus identifies. That the Scriptures talked about both suffering and glory. That the Scriptures describe how the Christ would have to suffer first, then enter into glory. Those are the same two categories that Peter uses in 1 Peter 1:10-12 in describing how the prophets of old foretold Jesus. And so do you see what Jesus’ point is here? These two on the road to Emmaus should not have been slow to believe in the resurrection report. Why? Because all the Scriptures had foretold these things. That’s why they were slow to believe in the resurrection. Because they had been foolishly slow to believe in the Bible.
And so two reasons are given here why these disciples should not be slow to believe. With the women, they should have remembered Jesus’ earlier predictions. With the two on the road, they should have believed all of the Scripture’s earlier predictions. Then when we get to the third scene back with the rest of the disciples, we see Jesus brings up both of these two reasons again. That’s the point of verse 44. What the angels told the women, and what Jesus had told the two on the road – all of this is why they should not be slow of heart to believe. Jesus’ predictions and the Scriptures’ prophecies, these both tell us why they should have not been slow to believe. They should have been quick to believe.
I love how Jesus paints the Scriptures in verse 44. He points out that Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms, all talked about him. His break down there is reflective of how the Jews organized the Bible. They divided it up into three parts. The Torah, written by Moses, the Prophets, and then the Writings, which consisted of the Psalms and the other wisdom literature. So, the idea here is that Jesus sees really all the Bible, all three sections, as talking about him. Again, you see why he made this case. They should have known this would all happen. They should have understood and believed the Scriptures!
This is of course what we do here each Sunday. We look at how the Old and New Testaments talk about the work of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, we see just what Jesus said. Passages that talk about the suffering of the Messiah, like Isaiah 53 and his glory like Psalm 2. Passages that get at his resurrection like Psalm 16:10. These are to name just a few.
Well, so far we’ve seen that all these disciples were slow to believe: the women, the two on the road, and the rest of the disciples. We’ve seen how they should have not been slow to believe. But what I want us to now see is that though they were slow to believe, they did finally come to a point of belief. That they finally did believe. This is important in general, and it’s especially important to see how they came to that point.
Again, a third time we’ll walk through this passage as we see this. And we’ll walk through each of the three scenes. Each scene shows a snapshot of the people coming to believe. First, let’s begin with the women. We see that they came to some good point in verse 8. After the angels reminded the women of Jesus’ words, verse 8 simply says, “And they remembered his words.” Before they did not remember, and so they came expecting to find the dead. Then in God’s grace through the angels, they remembered. They then leave and go and testify to the others. There was a change that took place in these women. The change especially is around their minds. They want from forgetful to remembering Jesus’ words.
Even more clearly is what happens in to the two on the road in the second scene. Look at verses 30-32. When Jesus sits down with them in Emmaus to break bread, finally the change takes place. Don’t miss verse 31. Their eyes were opened. They knew then that it was Jesus. They came to believe that he had risen. Verse 32 then connects that recognition with their discussions of the Scriptures on the road with Jesus. Their hearts had burned as Jesus opened up the Word to him. This was something that struck them inwardly. And then in verse 35 they acknowledge that it was in the breaking of the bread that they finally made the connection. That their eyes were opened. So, do you see how this worked? Jesus was responsible for the change. For the opening of their eyes. Not only that they would recognize him physically. But that they would recognize him in the Scriptures as he opened up the Word to them.
And we see the new faith of these two very quickly. At that very moment when their eyes are opened, they race back to Jerusalem to let the eleven know what had happened. Remember, that was a seven mile journey from Emmaus to Jerusalem. Remember, they had convinced Jesus to stay with them because it was already late in the day and that they didn’t think it made sense to keep traveling any more that day. Yet, that didn’t hinder them from immediately getting back on the road and heading probably late into the night back to Jerusalem. This information was too important to wait! That shows their faith put into action!
Well, then when you get to the third scene here, you see something similar. Again it’s Jesus who is instrumental in working faith in these unbelieving disciples. In verses 38-40 he acknowledges their concerns that he might be a ghost, and so he invites them to touch him. I think of 1 John 1:1 which talks about how the disciples touched Jesus. I think of passages like this when I hear John talk like that. They didn’t just touch Jesus in general. They had seen and touched the risen Lord Jesus. Along those same lines, Jesus goes out of his way to eat fish with them in verses 42-43. Again, that shows that Jesus had been raised bodily. Spirits don’t’ eat! Jesus appeals to the physical evidence right before them to solicit faith.
And yet the real change for them comes in verse 45. He opened their understanding, or as other translations have it, he opened their minds. He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. Here is when it really clicked for them. Finally they got it. Remember, Jesus said that they should have believed in the resurrection because the Scriptures demanded it. Now, he works in them to understand those Scriptures.
It’s interesting how this passage presents the supremacy of the Scriptures. It seems to suggest that it was more important for the disciples’ faith to have them understand the Scriptures, than to grapple with the physical evidence. Verse 41 shows them still struggling to believe when faced with the physical evidence. As Jesus stood there inviting him to touch him, they still disbelieved for joy. They were struck with amazement, but still had trouble mentally processing it all. It must have seemed just too good to be true. And yet Jesus is shown to address that by opening their minds. Opening them to understand the Scriptures. As they understood the Scriptures, then they’d be able to mentally process the clear physical evidence before them. By understanding all what the Scriptures had said on this, they were able to make sense of how Jesus was standing right there before them. Suddenly, it all made sense. It all came together.
And so, see how connected the resurrection is with the Scriptures. As great as the resurrection is, we don’t take it alone. We don’t understand it alone. We understand it in light of the Scriptures. I think of the importance of the Scriptures on this, in light of the parable Jesus told in Luke 16, the one about the rich man and Lazarus. In that parable, the rich man and Lazarus both died, with Lazarus going to paradise, and the rich man to a place of torment. Lazarus pleaded to Father Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn the rest of his family. Father Abraham’s response in the parable is telling. Luke 16:31, “He said to him [the rich man], ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'” If people don’t believe the Scriptures, they are not going to believe in the resurrection. They go hand in hand. That’s surely why the disciples themselves struggle to make sense of the resurrection, until Jesus finally opens their eyes and minds to understand the Scriptures and gets them to recall his own prophetic words to them.
So do you see the overall point here? Do you see what happened with these people who were slow of heart to believe, to bring them to a point of faith? God worked in their lives. God sent angels to the women to remind them of Jesus’ prophecies. And Jesus himself opened the eyes and minds of the other disciples to get them to understand the Scriptures. Scriptures that explained the facts of resurrection. Jesus opens eyes and minds and brings people to a place of faith. That’s the take away home point here. It’s a wonderful picture of how God saves. He rescues his disciples even from doubt and unbelief! God did not need to send angels or have Jesus teach them from the Scriptures yet again about himself. But God did that because he knows our needs, and he loves us, and so he reaches out to us even with our struggles of faith.
And you have to love what Jesus goes on to show them. Jesus said here that the Scriptures showed the necessity for him to suffer and die, verse 46. But then he goes on to say in the next two verses that there was also a necessity for repentance and remission of sins to be proclaimed to all the nations. And that they would do that. They’d be his witnesses.
And that is how this all comes back to us. Jesus continues to seek and save the lost. He continues to make disciples out of unbelievers. He sent his apostles out as witnesses with that commission. He established his New Testament church to declare that Christ is risen! To call for repentance and faith, that people would receive the remission of sins. That we would be saved by faith in Christ and what he accomplished on the cross. For by his death on the cross he paid the penalty for our sins. And by his resurrection he shows his power to overcome death. That resurrection hope is now our hope for all who have turned to Jesus. That we would have eternal life.
This then is how Jesus continues to reach out to people in their unbelief. Externally he does it through the witness of his church, declaring repentance and remission of sins by the blood of Christ. The witness of the church declares that, using the Word of God, calling people to faith and repentance. And internally, Jesus is working through this by his Holy Spirit. His Holy Spirit attends the witness of the church, opening eyes and minds. That we would believe.
Well, as we continue this witness today on this Easter morning, I would ask this question. Have you been slow to believe? Have you been slow to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Have you been slow to believe when the answer is right there before you? If you’ve found yourself struggling to believe, let me encourage you and also exhort you. The encouragement is this – Jesus knows your slowness to believe. But surely he has you here today in order to hear his message. As surely as he appeared to the disciples back then on that first Easter. Here he appears to you today in his Word. Today, his words call out to you. “Why do doubts arise in your hearts?” Stop doubting, but believe! Christ’s words speak to you right now by the Holy Spirit. Hear them, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
And so my exhortation is that if you are still struggling with this, then go to the Scriptures. Be like Peter who raced off to the tomb to investigate it. It left him marveling. Well, if you are struggling with your faith in the resurrection, we’ve seen the importance today of understanding the Scriptures. Go then with that energy of Peter to the Scriptures. Be marveled at its testimony to Christ. And with an initial act of faith, ask Jesus to open your eyes and minds to understand the Scriptures.
My final application to us all comes from verse 53. And they were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. The resurrection is not something to celebrate just once a year. We ought to continually celebrate the resurrection. We ought to continually praise God and worship him for what he has done for us in Jesus Christ. Amen.
Copyright (c) 2012 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.