Every Story Whispers His Name (Sermon)
Are you a reader? Do you like curling up with a good book? I like books—all kinds. I’ve loved to read ever since I was a little kid. Not all of my brothers shared this love. I remember on more than one occasion, my brother Jason would whine to my mother, “Mom, can you make Josh stop reading and play with me?”
Some books I’ve really enjoyed are by an author named Malcolm Gladwell. I find it fascinating the way he weaves stories, anecdotes, studies and interviews together. One time I was reading one of his books where he was discussing a string of plane crashes by Korean Air pilots. I was reading it while flying home from China. Cari was sitting next to me, when she looked at what I was reading, she didn’t find it amusing.
I really enjoy his books. I find them fascinating books, but I’m not really sure what the point of them was when I’ve finished reading them. I’ve recommended them to other people, but then had trouble describing what they’re about. “It’s a really good book. It’s got some fascinating stories. I learned some new facts.” “But what’s it about? What’s the point?” “I’m not sure.”
Have you ever felt that way when reading the Bible? What is the point of the Bible? What’s it all about? There are some fascinating stories—fighting, romance, adventure, comedy and tragedy. You learned some facts. But why was it written? What’s its purpose?
We find a number of different answers to that question. Depending on whom you asked, you could get one of many different responses.
Some think the Bible is a book of ancient tales. It’s not much different than Aesop’s Fables. You’ve heard the one about the tortoise and the hare—“slow and steady wins the race.” The Bible’s full of stories and tales like that.
Others think the Bible is a book full of moralistic lessons. It’s a Book of Virtues. It includes many different genres, everything from fairy tales to history lessons, Greek mythology to English poetry. Each is included to help instill certain positive character traits.
Still others think the Bible is like a driver’s manual. It tells you to turn here, yield over there, and stop when you reach this line. It tells you how to navigate through life. It’s our road map. “Doesn’t the word Bible stand for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth?”
Finally, there are people who think the Bible is full of secret codes. The extreme end of this view has people searching the Bible with their secret decoder ring looking for hidden messages and trying to decipher numerology. A less extreme view is taken by those who search the Bible for inspirational nuggets to impact each day—a little Chicken Soup for their Soul.
None of these views is completely wrong, but they all seriously miss the point of the Bible. They all fail to get to the heart of Scripture’s purpose. So, what is the purpose of Scripture? What is the point of the Bible? The Bible was written to reveal Jesus Christ.
Our goal this year has been to help you see that all of Scripture was written to reveal Jesus Christ. Our desire has been to cement into your mind the fact that Jesus is the point of Scripture. We have called our study the Emmaus Road. That title comes from the passage we’re studying this morning.
Before we dive in, let me tell you why this is so important. If we read the Bible while missing the point, we’re going to struggle with confusion, discouragement, frustration, ineffectiveness and stagnation:
Confusion because the parts won’t make sense by themselves.
Discouragement because it will seem like a duty instead of a delight.
Frustration because our love for the Scriptures won’t grow.
Ineffectiveness because we won’t understand why it matters in our lives.
Stagnation because we won’t see growth in understanding or maturity.
So, it’s important that we don’t miss the point. It’s important that we understand the Bible was written to reveal Jesus Christ. We’ll see this very clearly in Jesus’ encounter with two disciples.
(Luke 24:13-32 ESV) That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened.
This encounter took place on the very first Easter. Three days before, Jesus Christ had been unjustly condemned, cruelly beaten and hung on a cross to die. After He died, His body was taken down from the cross and buried in a tomb, which was then covered with a large stone and sealed. Earlier in this chapter, Luke records the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. This account takes place on the very same day.
(15) While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.
This is one of those easy statements to skip over as we read through the Bible. Jesus had been killed 3 days before. Now He’s walking down the road with two of His disciples. That’s not normal! People don’t walk down the street 3 days after they die.
The story of Jesus doesn’t end with His death, burial and resurrection. It continues through His disciples until the day when He returns. After Jesus ascends to heaven, the story of Jesus is told through the followers of Jesus.
(16) But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad.
They were sad—gloomy and discouraged. Can you blame them? Their Messiah had died. The flame of their hope had been extinguished. They found themselves in the shadow of a monumental tragedy.
What happens when a great world leader dies? When John F. Kennedy died, the news of his death shocked the nation. Men and women wept openly. People gathered in department stores to watch the television coverage, while others prayed. Traffic in some areas came to a halt as the news spread from car to car. Schools across the U.S. dismissed their students early. You can still ask this question to people who were around then: Where were you when JFK was killed? They remember exactly.
(18) Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.
They had seen the words and works of Jesus. They had prayed for a second Exodus, where Jesus like Moses before Him, would redeem them from slavery, and reestablish Israel’s dominance. They had watched the religious leaders plot against Jesus. They had seen witnessed the mockery of His trial. They had seen His hands fastened with nails to the cross. They had watched Him draw His final breath.
They (v.21) had hoped (past tense) that Jesus was the One. Hoped (past tense). They no longer hoped. They didn’t see how He could redeem Israel. Their concept of redemption was more political than spiritual. They didn’t realize that redemption from sin required the death of the innocent One. Jesus’ death didn’t extinguish the possibility of redemption. His death accomplished the reality of redemption.
The apostle Paul wrote about Jesus:
(Titus 2:14 ESV) who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
They were depressed because though their hope had been vindicated, in their view it had vanished.
(22) Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. (24) Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”
The first account of Christ’s resurrection caught them off-guard. It came out of the blue, and they weren’t prepared. They were amazed at the women’s report. Notice though that their amazement wasn’t the resurrection, they still don’t believe it. They were amazed at the report. They expected that the disciples would see the body of Jesus Christ at the tomb, but they didn’t see Him. Nothing they say suggests they believe the resurrection was probable or even possible.
(25) And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Friends, we are accountable to know and understand what God has given us. Jesus doesn’t rebuke these disciples for being dumb. They weren’t slow of mind to understand. They were slow of heart to believe. Our problem isn’t intellectual; it’s spiritual. We don’t have a brain problem. We have a belief problem.
They had the Word of God. The death and resurrection of the Messiah was prophesied in the Word of God. They had read it, but they failed to believe it. What happened was that in their distress and despair, they didn’t run their experience through the grid of Scripture.
How often does that happen to us? They could have said, “We believe Jesus is the Messiah, but He died. What does the Bible say about that?” But they didn’t. They didn’t interpret their experience by the Word. They interpreted the Word by their experience.
Don’t we do the same thing? Something bad happens. We go through a trial, and instead of asking, “What does the Bible say about bad things? What does it say about trials?” We wonder if God cares. We wonder if He’s good. We wonder if He really loves us. We need to interpret our experience by the Word of God. That’s the outworking of real, tangible faith.
Jesus walks them through the Scriptures to show them that all the Scriptures pointed to Him. He began with Moses (the first 5 books of the Bible) and revealed to them how all the prophets and all the Scriptures were about Him. Everything that had taken place to Him—His suffering, death and resurrection—was prophesied already.
He had to suffer. Gen. 3—He was the Son whose heel would be bruised.
He had to be rejected. Ps. 118—He was the Stone who would be cast out.
He had to be killed. Is. 53—He was the Lamb led to the slaughter.
He had to be victorious—the bruised heel would crush the Serpent’s head. The rejected stone would become the cornerstone. The sacrificed Lamb would see His offspring.
All that had happened (v.26) was necessary. God’s plan for the Messiah was suffering, then glory.
(28) So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
What does it mean to “open” the Scriptures? We often think that as long as a preacher goes verse by verse he has opened the Scriptures. We throw around the phrase “expository preaching,” and what we mean is verse-by-verse. Opening or exposing the Scriptures is more than going verse by verse. Opening the Scriptures means you have explained them in relation to Jesus Christ. You can go verse-by-verse, but if you don’t get to Jesus, you have not opened them.
Let me speak to those of you who teach or preach for just a moment. Don’t be content with your sermon or lesson until you’ve shown how it connects to Jesus. We are Christian preachers and teachers. Your sermon isn’t Christian if it never gets to Christ! Jesus opened or exposed the Scriptures when He interpreted them in relation to Himself.
His disciples learned from His example and did the same exact thing:
(1 Corinthians 2:1-2 ESV) And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
(Colossians 1:28 ESV) Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
The Iditarod Race memoralizes in part an important piece of Alaskan history. “In the winter of 1925, an epidemic of diphtheria ravaged Nome, which lacked the medicine to combat it. The nearest supply of antitoxin serum was in Anchorage—nearly 700 frozen miles away. In what has become known as the "Great Race of Mercy," 20 mushers and some 150 dogs teamed up to deliver the drugs in under six days, quelling an epidemic that threatened to decimate the town. Balto, the lead dog on the final stretch of the relay, earned national acclaim — and a statue that still stands in New York City's Central Park.”[i]
Imagine all that work, sweat, danger to get the medicine to Nome. The medicine arrives, where weak, sickly hands reach out for it. They grasp that life-saving medicine, but never open the lid. They read the label. They look at it often. It gets a prominent spot in the house, but it never gets opened.
That’s what happens when we read the Bible but don’t see Jesus. When Jesus showed them Himself in the Scriptures, He truly opened both the Bible and their hearts.
Even these devout disciples (who cared about Jesus) missed the point. Could we? Yes. These men were faithful, they had read, listened, and memorized the Scriptures, but they still missed the point. Don’t think we’re exempt from this possibility.
The Danger of Missing the Point
Turn to John, chapter 5. It’s easy to miss the point, and it’s dangerous. I want you to see one group of individuals who studied the Scriptures diligently, but still missed the point.
(John 5:39-47 ESV) You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
Not long ago, Cari, my wife, finished putting a puzzle together. Now imagine she called me upstairs to see the finished product. As I walked up there, she went on and on about how beautiful it was, and how excited she was for me to see it. She was thinking of having it framed and put on the wall.
Now, I get upstairs and what do I see, she’s put the puzzle together face down. All I see is a cardboard colored square. Not beautiful, not exciting, not worth displaying. She put the pieces together but did so in such a way that the picture was obscured.
That’s what the Pharisees (religious leaders) did. They put all of the pieces together, but failed to see the image that was created. Missing the image meant all they could see were the individual pieces. They saw each individual rule, but failed to see the Ruler. They saw every little commandment, but failed to see the King. As a result, they fixated on the individual pieces. They studied each law, and made the laws their focal point. Missing Jesus, they obsessed over the most minute details, blowing them out of proportion.
This is the danger of missing Jesus in the Scriptures. So, parents, if you want to raise a host of spiritual hypocrites, make sure to read Scripture while ignoring Jesus Christ. Here are some practical tips for grooming Pharisees:
Skip over the stories of sin and redemption, and instead study just the rules. Turn these rules into posters and plaster them to the walls of your house.
Ignore the heart behind your child’s actions. Instead focus all your attention on their external conformity to your list of Biblical rules.
Don’t show unconditional love, but treat your kids differently based upon their behavior that moment. Make sure they understand that you will show them more favor the better they behave.
Finally, don’t forget that if one rule is good, then two rules must be better. The more impossible the commands you give, the more it will develop character and self-reliance in your kids.
Because they missed Jesus in the Scriptures, the Pharisees missed the deep truths of grace, forgiveness, redemption and freedom. All they could see were laws, rules and commands.
Friend, when you look at the Bible do you see only rules you either can’t or don’t want to keep? Do you understand the freedom and forgiveness Jesus offers you? If you’ll turn from your sin—your rule-breaking—and come to Him in faith, He will forgive you, cleanse you and give you grace to follow Him.
You see, the Bible, even the Old Testament, isn’t about rules and laws. Jesus told the Pharisees in John 5, and the disciples in Luke 24 that the Old Testament was about Him, and He is full of grace and life. Where does the Old Testament speak about Jesus? Everywhere. He’s all over the pages. We spent 40 Sundays this year looking at 40 different passages that all proclaimed Jesus Christ. Guess what? We just scratched the surface.
Look what Jesus says to the rest of His disciples later in Luke 24. This is important—we don’t want to miss the point. We don’t want to miss what Moses and all the prophets wrote about in all the Scriptures.
(Luke 24:44-47 ESV) Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
Have you ever re-watched a movie or re-read a book that had some twists in it? When I was a kid, some of my favorite books were about Encyclopedia Brown. He was a kid detective. The book would be made of up short cases, and each case would end by asking the reader to solve it. You could then flip to the back of the book to find the answer. I would read the case, make a guess, and then read the answer. Often I would read back through the case, noticing all the clues I missed the first time through.
It’s different reading a book or watching a movie knowing the whole time who the bad guy is and who the hero is. Now that you know how it ends, you pick up on clues and comments you missed the first time through.
We read the Bible knowing how it ends. We read the Bible knowing who the true hero is. We must read it in light of who Jesus is and what He accomplished. As He told His disciples, He is the point. It all testifies to Him, and it’s dangerous if we study the Scriptures but miss the Savior.
The Benefit of Seeing Jesus Christ in Scripture
We saw the danger of missing Jesus in Scripture, now I want you to see the benefit. Listen to what the apostle Paul wrote:
(2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV) And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Spiritual transformation comes from seeing Jesus in Scripture. We look at the Word of God. We behold the glory of the risen Christ, and the Holy Spirit begins to change us into the very same image. Spiritual transformation comes through seeing and savoring Jesus Christ in the Scriptures.
We see it happen in the lives of the disciples. We see this transformation take place. In this passage, we see four transformations.
1. We see their sorrow transformed into joy.
They begin sad and end up joyful. Why? Because they saw Jesus Christ. If you miss Jesus in Scripture, then reading Scripture is depressing. It’s a long list of rules and obligations you can’t keep. It’s a horrifying reminder of your failure to measure up to God’s demands. It’s a mirror which reveals your spiritual deformity.
But when you learn to see Jesus in the Scriptures, you see mercy instead of condemnation. You see freedom instead of slavery. You see peace instead of enmity. You see healing instead of disease. You see life instead of death. You find joy that conquers sorrow.
2. We see their selfishness transformed into worship.
When we first meet the two disciples on the road, they’re focused on what they see as their problem. Their hope has been vanquished. The eleven disciples are in a locked room worrying about what’s going to happen to them. None of them can see past their own issues.
But when they see Jesus, everything changes. Their focus turns from internal to external. It turns form horizontal problems to vertical praise. The more we see of Jesus, the more the darkness of our problems fades away in the light of His glory. The more our selfish concerns evaporate under the brilliant beams of His radiance.
3. We see their skepticism transformed into faith.
They doubted the resurrection. They doubted the women’s account. But after seeing Jesus, they no longer doubted. Nothing could shake their faith. Nothing could sever the cords of their confidence in Jesus.
The more real the portrait of Jesus becomes to you in the gallery of God’s Word, the more your confidence in Him will grow. Seeing the promises of God fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ provides impregnable armor against arrows of doubt.
4. We see their fear transformed into boldness.
Before they saw Jesus, they were hiding out in an upstairs apartment. The doors were locked, the shades were drawn, and the lights were dim. Afterwards, they proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ in the temple, synagogue and courtroom. They were no longer quivering from fear of persecution. They were rejoicing that they were worthy to suffer persecution.
What happened? How do you go from shaking in the corner of the room to shouting on the corner of the street? They saw Jesus. Seeing the glory of Christ transforms us step by step into the same image. They became bold, like Jesus was bold, by seeing Jesus. We become bold, confident and joyful as we gaze on the One who perfectly displays all of these attributes.
But you might object. “Wait a second,” you say, “There’s a big difference! Their transformation came from seeing Jesus face to face. They saw Jesus in the flesh. If I saw Jesus face to face, then my distress, selfishness, unbelief and fear would be transformed too.”
At first blush, your objection seems legitimate. But it doesn’t take into account the experience of the disciples on the Emmaus Road. Consider this: Why did Jesus not reveal Himself to the 2 disciples immediately? Why did He wait so long to make Himself known to them? He didn’t reveal Himself to them until after He opened the Scriptures.
His purpose was to show them and to show us the power of seeing Jesus Christ in Scripture. It wasn’t seeing Jesus in person that brought this transformation. It was seeing Jesus in the Scriptures.
(Luke 24:32 ESV) They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
That’s what happens in Scripture. When we see Jesus revealed in the Scriptures, we will be transformed. When our eyes open to the person of Christ revealed in the text, our hearts open to Him as well.
What I’ve said this morning in a long and labored way, Sally Lloyd-Jones wrote in her brief and beautiful introduction to the Jesus Storybook Bible:
“Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should do and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.
Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but…most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean.
No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne—everything—to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!
You see, the best thing about the Story is—it’s true.
There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.
It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.”[ii]
This sermon was originally preached at Redeemer Community Church in 2012.
[i] Alex Altman, “A Brief History of the Iditarod” TIME (March 06, 2009), accessed at: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1883457,00.html
[ii] Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible