“Their eyes were opened, and they knew him.” (Luke 24:31)
I want to share a simple message from these words in the last chapter of the gospel recorded by Luke. Shortly after Jesus was crucified and buried, we read about two of His disciples who were walking back home from Jerusalem. Along the way, Jesus Himself joined them. Yet for quite some time as they talked together they did not recognize who their companion was, until there came a point when finally “their eyes were opened, and they knew him.” (Luke 24:31)
I once preached a sermon titled “Jesus Himself,” and as I continued to meditate upon it afterward, I was struck by this thought: “How possible it is to have Jesus Himself with us and never to know it. And how possible to preach of, and to listen to, all the truth about Jesus Himself and yet not to know Him.” I cannot say what a deep impression was made upon me as I thought over it.
The disciples had spent a most blessed time with Jesus, but if they had parted before He revealed Himself that evening, they would never have been sure that it was Jesus, for “their eyes were holden that they should not know him.” (Luke 24:16) Alas, that is the condition of many in the church of Christ. They often have blessed experiences that come from the risen Christ walking with them. In a time of church convention, or in a time of personal Bible reading, or in a time of the visitation of God’s grace, their hearts burn. And yet it can be said of many people whose hearts are burning within them, that they do not know it is Jesus Himself.
So now if you ask me what it is we should seek, my answer is this: Not only should we think about Jesus Himself and speak about Him and believe in Him, but we should come to the point that the disciples in the text arrived at—“and they knew him.” Everything is to be found in that.
As I read the story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus, I get from it a picture of four stages in the Christian life.
To begin with, how did they start out that morning? With hearts sad and troubled, because they thought Jesus was dead. They did not know that He was alive, and that is the state of very many Christians. They look to the cross, and they struggle to trust Christ, but they have never yet learned the blessedness of believing that there is a living Christ to empower them. Oh, that word of the angel to the women who had come to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body—“Why seek ye the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5) What is the difference between a dead Christ and a living Christ? A dead Christ I must do everything for; a living Christ does everything for me.
The disciples were sad and discouraged that morning, likely having spent a sleepless night. Oh, what terrible disappointment! They had hoped that Christ would be the Deliverer of Israel, and they had seen Him die an accursed death. On the morning of that first day of the week, they rose with hearts full of bitter sadness, trying to pick up the pieces and go on with life. Many Christians feel just the same way today. They try to believe in Jesus and to trust Him, and to hope in Him, but there is no joy. Why? Because they do not know that there is a living Christ ready to reveal Himself.
Then there is the second stage. What is that? The stage of which Christ speaks: “Slow of heart to believe.” They had already received the message from the women who had gone to the tomb that morning, for they told the stranger, “Certain women… made us astonished… saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive.” (Luke 24:22-23) To this Christ replied, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe.” (Luke 24:25) Yes, there are many Christians today who have heard the message. They know that they must not only believe in a crucified Christ, but in a resurrected Christ. They try to grasp it and take it in, but it does not bring them a blessing. Why is that? Because they want to feel it instead of believe it. They want to work for it, apply their efforts to get a hold of it, instead of just humbly believing, “Christ, the living Jesus, will do everything for us.”
That is the second stage. The first stage is that of ignorance, the second is that of unbelief—the doubting heart that cannot take in the wonderful truth that Jesus lives. Then comes the third stage— the burning heart. Jesus came to those two disciples, and after He had lovingly reproved their unbelief, He began to open the Scriptures to them, and to explain all the wonderful things the prophets had taught. Then they began to understand the Scriptures. They saw that it was true that it was prophesied that Christ must suffer and rise again. As He talked, there came out from Him—the living risen One Himself—a mighty influence of His spirit. As it rested upon them, they began to feel their hearts burn within them with joy and gladness.
“Yes, that is the stage we want to come to!” you may be saying. But, no; God forbid you should stop there. You may have the burning heart, and yet still lack something—the revelation of Christ. The disciples had experienced the blessing of His divine powers, but He had not revealed Himself. Oh, how often it is that in church conventions and meetings of blessed fellowship with God’s saints, our hearts burn within us. These are precious experiences of God’s Spirit working among us. And yet there may be something missing. Jesus Himself has been working upon us, and the power of His risen life has touched us, but we cannot say, “I have met Him. He has made Himself known to me.” For the burning heart becomes cold after a time. It is a feeling that comes and goes, thrilling but unreliable. Oh, the difference between a burning heart and the blessed revelation of Jesus Himself as my abiding Savior, taking charge of me and blessing me and keeping me every day! This is the stage of the satisfied heart. O my brother, my sister! This is what I ask for you, and I am sure it is what you ask for yourself. I ask it for myself as well: “Lord Jesus, may we know You in Your divine glory as the risen One—our Jesus, our beloved Companion, and our Mighty One!” Oh, if there are any sad ones who cannot understand this, if there are any who say, “I have never known the joy of religion yet,” then listen, we are going to tell you how you can. All will center round this one thing, that just as a baby lives day by day in the arms of his mother, and grows up year by year under a mother’s eye, it is possible for you to live every day and hour of your life in fellowship with the Holy Jesus. He will do it for you. Come, and let your sad heart begin to hope. Will He reveal Himself? He did it to the disciples of old and He will do it to you today. Perhaps there are some who have gotten beyond the sad heart, and yet they are not yet truly satisfied with what they have. If you throw open your heart and give up everything but just believing and allowing Him to do what He wants, it will come. God be praised, it will come! Jesus will reveal Himself. Perhaps you have arrived at the stage of the burning heart, and can tell of many blessed experiences, but somehow there is a worm at the root. The experiences do not last, and the heart is so changeable. Oh, come, my beloved, follow Christ! Let us say together, “Jesus, reveal Yourself that we may know You Yourself. We ask not only to drink the living water, we want the fountain. We ask not only to bask in the light, we want the Sun of Righteousness within our hearts. We ask not only to know You, who has touched us and warmed our hearts and blessed us, but we want to know that we have the unchangeable Jesus dwelling within our hearts and abiding with us forevermore.”
Now comes the question which I really want to focus on: What are the conditions under which our blessed Lord reveals Himself? Or, put it this way—what sort of person is it to whom Jesus will reveal Himself? I think we will find out when we consider these disciples and how He dealt with them.
First of all, I think I find here that Christ revealed Himself to those disciples who had given up everything for Him. He had asked them to forsake all when He said, “Follow me,” (Luke 9:23) and they had done it (Matthew 19:27). With all their feebleness and all their unfaithfulness they followed Christ to the end. He had noted that, saying, “Ye… have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me.” (Luke 22:28-29) They were not perfect men, but they would have died for Him. They loved Him, they obeyed Him, they followed Him. They had left all, and for three years they had been following hard after Christ.
You say, “Tell me what Jesus wants of me so that I may have His wonderful presence. Tell me what kind of character Christ is looking for in the one to whom He will reveal Himself in this highest and fullest way?” I answer, “It is the one who is ready to forsake all and follow Him.” If I want Christ to give Himself wholly to me, surely I must be giving myself wholly to Him. May God give the grace of understanding what it is that Jesus expects from you and me in terms of consecration and the surrender—not only of forsaking all evil, but of many lawful things too, and even, if necessary, of life itself (Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 12:1-2).
The motto of the Cape General Mission is “God first.” In one sense that is a beautiful motto, and yet I am not always satisfied with it, because it is a motto that is often misunderstood. “God first” allows room to mean “I” second, something else third, and so on. God is thus only first in a sequence of powers, but that is not the place God deserves. The meaning of the words “God first” is really “God all; God everything,” for that is what Christ wants. For a person to be willing to give up everything, to submit to Christ to teach him what to say and what to do, is the first mark of the man to whom Christ will come.
Are you not ready to take this step? Say, “Jesus, I do give up everything. I have given up everything. Reveal Yourself to me.” Dear brother, dear sister, do not hesitate! Speak it out in your heart, and let this be the time in which a new sacrifice shall be laid at the feet of the blessed Lamb of God.
Let us now consider another trait. The first is the having forsaken all to follow Him; having given up everything in obedience to Him, and just living a life of simple love and obedience. But there is a second thing needed in the man or woman who is to have this full revelation of Christ. He must be convicted of his unbelief. “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” (Luke 24:25) O brother, sister, if we could catch a glimpse at the amount of unbelief in the hearts of God’s children, barring the door and closing the heart against Christ, how we should stand astonished and ashamed! But when unbelief has been evicted by the coming of faith, Christ Himself cannot help coming in. He cannot help coming where there is a full and living faith. The heart is opened, the heart is prepared. As naturally as water runs into a hollow place, so naturally Christ must come into a heart that is full of faith.
Then what is the hindrance with some earnest souls who say, “I have given myself up to the Lord Jesus. I have done it often, and by His grace I am doing it every day, and God knows how earnestly I am surrendering myself to Him.” What is missing? They have not been convicted of their unbelief. “O fools, and slow of heart to believe.” Do you know what Christ said about a man calling his brother a fool (Matthew 5:22)? Yet here the loving Son of God could find no other word to speak to His beloved disciples: “O fools, and slow of heart to believe.” You want the Lord Jesus to give you this full revelation of Himself? Are you willing to acknowledge that you are a fool for never having believed in Him? “Lord Jesus, it is my own fault. There You are, longing to have possession of me. There You have been all this while with Your faithful promises waiting to reveal Yourself.”
Can you imagine one who loves another and does not long to reveal themselves to the one they love? Christ longs to reveal Himself, but He is hindered by our unbelief. May God convict us of our unbelief that we may get utterly ashamed and broken down, and cry, “O my God, what is this, this heart of unbelief, actually throwing a barrier across the door so that Christ cannot step in, and blinding my eyes so that I cannot see Jesus, though He is so near? Here He has been for ten or twenty years, from time to time giving me the burning heart, enjoying the experience of a little of His love and grace, and yet I have not had the revelation of Him, taking possession of my heart and dwelling with me in unbroken continuity.” Oh, may God convict us of unbelief! Do let us believe, because “all things are possible to him that believeth.” (Mark 9:23) That is God’s word, and this blessing—receiving the revelation of Jesus—can come only to those who learn to believe and to trust Him.
There is another mark of those to whom this special revelation of Christ will come, and that is, they do not rest until they obtain it. You know the story. Their hearts were burning as they drew near their destination, and Christ acted as though He were going farther. He put them to the test, and if they had allowed Him quietly to go on, if they had been content with the experience of the burning heart, they would have lost something infinitely better. But they were not content with it. They were not content to simply say, “Oh, what a blessed afternoon it as been! What wonderful teaching we have had!” No! The burning heart and the blessed experience just made them say, “Abide with us,” (Luke 24:29) and by their earnest begging they compelled Him to come in.
It always reminds me of the story of Jacob’s determination, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” (Genesis 32:26) That is the spirit that prepares us for the revelation of Jesus. Oh, dear friend, has this been the spirit in which we have looked upon the wonderful blessing that we have sometimes heard of? “Oh! my Lord Jesus, though I do not understand it, though I cannot grasp it, though my struggles avail nothing, I am not going to let You go. If it is possible for a sinner on earth to have Jesus every day, every hour, and every moment in resurrection power dwelling in his heart, shining within him, filling him with love and joy—if that is possible, I want it.” Is that your language? Oh, come then and say, “Lord Jesus, I cannot let You go except You bless me.”
The question is asked so often, “What is the cause of the feeble life of so many Christians?” How little the church responds to Christ’s call! How little the church is what Christ would have her to be! What is really the matter? What is the cause of all the trouble? Various answers may be given, but there is one answer which includes all the other answers, and that is, each believer must have the personal full revelation of a personal Christ as an indwelling Lord, as a satisfying portion. When the Lord Jesus was here upon earth, what was it that distinguished His disciples from other people? He took them away from their fishing nets, and from their homes, and He gathered them about Himself, and they knew Jesus. He was their Master—He guided and guarded them, and they followed Him. What makes the difference between Christ’s disciples—not those who are just hoping to get to heaven, but Christ’s wholehearted disciples—what makes the difference between them and other people? It is this: to be in fellowship with Jesus—every hour of the day. Just as Christ upon earth was able to keep those people with Him for three years, day by day, so Christ is able in heaven now to do what He could not do when He was on earth—to keep in the closest fellowship with every believer throughout the whole world. Glory be to God! You know that text in Ephesians: “He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.” (Ephesians 4:10) Why was my Lord Jesus taken up to heaven away from the life of earth? Because the life of earth is a life confined to localities, but the life in heaven is a life in which there is no limit and no bound and no locality. Christ was taken up to heaven, that, in the power of God—the omnipresent God—He might be able to fill and abide with every individual believer.
That is what my heart wants to realize by faith. That is a possibility, that is a promise, that is my birthright, and I want to have it. By the grace of God I say, “Jesus, I will not rest until You have revealed Yourself fully to my soul.”
There are often very blessed experiences in the Christian life in what I call the third stage—the stage of the burning heart. Do you know what another great mark of that stage is? Delight in God’s word. How did the disciples get their burning hearts? By that marvelous opening of the Scriptures to them. He made it all look new and different, and they saw what they had never seen before. They could not help feeling, how wonderful, how heavenly was that teaching. Yes, many Christians find the best time of the day is the time when they can get with their Bibles, and who love nothing so much as to get a new thought from the Word. As a diamond digger rejoices when he has found a diamond, or a gold digger when he has found a nugget, they delight when they get from the Bible some new thought, and they feed upon it. Yet with all that interest in God’s word, and with all that stirring of the heart with joy, when they go into their business or attend to their daily duties, there is still something wanting.
We must look beyond the many and various blessings that Jesus can bestow from time to time, until we find the blessed unity of that one—that Jesus makes Himself known. Is not this just what you and I want, what many of us have been longing for? I am sure you answer, “That is what I want.” Think what the blessedness will be that comes from it! You often sing:
“Oh, the peace my Savior gives,
Peace I never knew before!
And my way has brighter grown
Since I’ve learned to trust Him more.”*
Someone wrote me recently, saying what a wonderful comfort and strength that little verse was in the midst of difficulties and troubles. Yes; but how can that peace be kept? It was the presence of Christ that brought the peace. When the storm was threatening to swallow up the disciples, it was the presence of Christ Himself that gave the peace (Mark 4:35-41).
O Christian, do you want peace and rest? You must have Jesus Himself. You talk of purity, you talk of cleansing, you talk of deliverance from sin. Praise God, here is the deliverance and the cleansing, when the living Jesus comes and gives power. Then we have this resurrection of Christ, this heavenly Christ upon the throne, making Himself known to us. Surely that will be the secret of purity and the secret of strength.
Where does the strength of so many come from? From the joy of a personal friendship with Jesus. Those two disciples, if they had gone away with their burning hearts to the others, could have told them wonderful things of a man who had explained to them the Scriptures and the promises, but they could not have said, “We have seen Jesus.” They might have said, “Jesus is alive. We are sure of that.” But they could now go and say, “We have seen Jesus Himself. He has revealed Himself to us.”
There is a common complaint throughout the church of Christ, from the ministers in the pulpit down to the feeblest worker, of lack of joy and blessing. Let us try and find out whether this is not the place where the secret will be discovered—that the Lord Jesus comes and shows Himself to us as our Master and speaks to us. When we have Jesus with us, and when we go every footstep with the confidence that it is Jesus who wants us to go, it is Jesus who sends us and is helping us, then there will be brightness in our testimony, and it will help other believers. They will begin to understand: “I see why I have failed. I took the word, I took the blessing, and I took, as I thought, the life, but I was without the living Jesus.”
You might be asking, “How will this revelation come?” Brother, sister, that is the secret that no man may tell, that Jesus keeps to Himself. It is in the power of the Holy Ghost; Christ, the risen One, entered into a new life. His resurrection life is entirely different from His life before His death. You know what we read—“They knew him.” He revealed Himself, and then He vanished. And was that vision of Christ that was gone in a moment worth so much? It was worth heaven, eternity, everything. Why? Because henceforth Christ was no longer to be known after the flesh. Christ was henceforth in the power of the Spirit, which fills Heaven; in the power of the Spirit, which is the power of the Godhead; in the power of the Spirit, which fills our hearts. Christ was henceforth to live in the life of Heaven.
Thank God, Christ can by the power of the Holy Ghost reveal Himself to each one of us. But, my brother, it is a secret thing between Christ and yourself. Take this assurance, “Their eyes were opened, and they knew him,” and believe that it is written for you.
You say, “I have known the other three stages: the stage of the sad heart, mourning that I knew no living Christ; I have known the stage of the slow heart to believe, when I struggled with my unbelief; and I know the stage of the burning heart, when there are great times of joy and blessedness.” You say that? Oh, come then and know the fourth stage of the satisfied heart, the heart made glad for eternity, the heart that cannot keep its joy in, but goes all the way back to the others in Jerusalem, and says, “It is true. Jesus has revealed Himself. I know it, I feel it.” O brother, O sister, how will this revelation come? Jesus will tell you. Just come to the Lord Jesus and breathe up before Him a simple, childlike prayer. Then I, His servant, will come and take you by the hand and say, “Come, now, my work is done. I have pointed to the Lamb of God, to the risen One. My work is done.”
Let us enter into the Holy Presence and begin, if you have never yet sought it before, begin to plead: “O Savior! I want to have this blessedness every moment present with me—Jesus Himself, my portion forever.”