Sermon for May 4, 2014

Luke 24:30-35 (Third Sunday of Easter—Series A)

“Burning Hearts”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

May 4, 2014

In the name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text is from the Gospel lesson recorded in Luke 24:

When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 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?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

            The year was 1985. The most financially successful entry in the Rocky franchise, Rocky IV, was released. In the film, the Soviet Union and their top boxer make an entrance into professional boxing with their best athlete, Ivan Drago. He initially wants to take on World Champion Rocky Balboa, but Rocky’s best friend Apollo Creed decides to fight Drago instead. Apollo is killed in the ring. Enraged by this, Rocky decides to fight Drago in Russia to avenge his friend and defend the honor of the USA.

It is with this plot in mind that the band Survivor supplies the movie’s theme song, “Burning Heart.” “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.”

            I can’t help but wonder if Survivor may have had in mind our text from Luke 24 when they were putting this theme together for Rocky IV. It certainly could fit our text. As Jesus opened up the Scriptures to the two disciples walking the road to the village of Emmaus, their hearts burned within them. There was, within these disciples, a quest for answers following the darkest night after their Lord and Master was crucified, died, and was buried. They had hoped that this Jesus was the one to redeem Israel, and, three days later, some of the women had gone to His tomb early in the morning, claimed to have seen a vision of angels, and came back to the disciples without finding Jesus’ body and saying He was alive. What was true and what wasn’t? Could it be that Jesus was risen? Not likely, since that just doesn’t happen. What’s it all about? Their hearts were burning, about to burst, seeking to understand all these things that had happened.

            Then, like a rising spire in their burning hearts, Jesus interpreted to these two disciples all the things in the Scriptures from the Books of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms, the things concerning Himself—that it was completely necessary for the Christ to suffer and then enter into His glory. After Jesus opened up their eyes and they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread, they said to one another, “Did not our hearts burn within us as He spoke to us on the road, as He opened up completely the Scriptures?”—in the burning heart the unmistakable fire of God’s Word.

            Do our hearts burn within us as we hear the Word of God? Do we, like the prophet Jeremiah, feel God’s Word within us becoming a fire in our hearts that cannot be shut up in our bones? (Jer. 20:9) As God Himself asks through the words of Jeremiah, “Is not My word like fire?” (Jer. 23:29) I think we all know that old adage that if you play with fire, you’re going to get burned. Moses reveals the word of the Lord to us in Deuteronomy 4, “For Yahweh your God is a consuming fire.”(Deut. 4:24) The writer to the Hebrews repeats this phrase in chapter 12, “for our God is a consuming fire.”

            This is an aspect of the character of God as revealed in the Bible that doesn’t get a lot of attention in today’s word. However, if we want to be honest about God, we dare not ignore it. God is holy. He is without sin and hating sin. Sin is anything in our thinking, speaking, and doing that is contrary to God’s perfect commands. The God who descended on Mount Sinai in fire and spoke to His people of old from the midst of that fire still consumes in the white heat of His purity and holiness everything that is unworthy of Himself. That includes both sin and sinner. The justice and holiness of God burns up with punishment those who act, think, and speak contrary to His Word.  

            Is not the Word of God like fire? Indeed, it is. Does not God’s Word of holiness and justice cause a burning in our hearts? Certainly it does! It is the burning of fear at the Lord’s all-consuming punishment and condemnation against our sins and our sinfulness. The Word of God’s Law shows us what is good. Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does Yahweh require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”(Micah 6:8) And yet, this is not what we do by nature. We have sinned by our own most grievous fault. Some of the sin we know—the thoughts and words and deeds of which we are ashamed—and some is known only to the Lord.

            God is bound by His holiness and justice to consume and destroy whatever is useless and contrary to Himself. That destruction must come in the form of eternal death and everlasting condemnation. If you sin, you cannot be admitted into God’s presence in heaven. Sinners cannot be in the presence of the holy God. God’s wrath and anger against your sin would consume and destroy you. God’s Word is completely clear—if you sin, you will die eternally. This is the perfect judgment of God and it strikes the match of terror and sets our hearts ablaze with fear and trembling at the fate we deserve.

            This Word of God’s perfect Law shows you and me that we are indeed sinners who have not done as God has commanded. The Word of God’s perfect Law shows us the just punishment for our sins in being eternally separated from God suffering everlasting death. The Word of God’s Law blazes in our hearts sending us to our knees before the Lord because we know there is nothing we can do to make things right with God, to make up for our sins and failures to love Him more than anything and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We hide our faces in shame from God. We weep tears of sorrow over our sins for we know we are justly condemned to death and hell. Truly, our hearts burn with fear and sorrow within us for we are lost.

            Is there not another Word that God can speak to us? Must we be left with terror burning within us, our sins left to condemn us to death forever?

            In the darkest night of our sin, with the full blown dread of our sinful condemnation hanging around our necks, there rises like a spire a wooden cross. On the cross hangs a man, but not just a man. Nailed to the cross of wood is God-made-flesh, Emmanuel, God-with-us. He is Jesus of Nazareth. He is the Savior whom God promised to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the One who would crush the head of that ancient snake, the devil. (Gen. 3:15) Jesus is the promised descendent of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through whom all families of the earth will be blessed. (Gen. 12:3; 28:14) Jesus is the Suffering Servant of Yahweh as recorded in Isaiah 53, the One who was “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” Jesus was “stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. . . . pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”

            Jesus, according to the Scriptures, suffered on the cross the consequence of God’s justice for sins He never committed. He bore our sins in His body on the tree. (1 Peter 2:24) Christ suffered the consuming fire of God’s holiness facing separation from His Father in heaven, complete God-forsakenness, total hell. Jesus allowed Himself to be burned up with God’s wrath against your sins and mine to the very point of death. It was our death to die and our hell to suffer. But in your place and in mine, Jesus hung on the cross. He shed His perfect blood to make atonement for our sins. He was consumed with the fiery wrath of God so that, through His suffering and death, we would have peace with God in the forgiveness of our sins.

            And so the Word of the Gospel speaks to us the gracious Words of forgiveness and eternal life. The Christ has suffered and died for the sins of the whole world. He has paid in full the debt of your sin and mine. There is no work left for you to do. Forgiveness has been won with the blood of Jesus shed on the cross and the suffering He endured as He was forsaken by God the Father. We can be sure of this because Christ is risen. He is living!

By God’s grace through the gift of saving faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord, you receive the forgiveness of all your sins. You receive eternal life. These gifts of God in Christ come to you in the Word of the Gospel. What sweeter, more comforting words can there be for sinners to hear than the Words of Absolution, those Gospel Words of declaration? “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Christ won your forgiveness on the cross and bestows that very forgiveness of sins to you through these words. What sweeter, more comforting words can there be for sinners to remember than those Words of the Gospel combined with water in Baptism, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Your sins in baptism are cleansed by the blood of Christ shed on the cross. As a free gift to you, your receive forgiveness, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation in this Gospel water and Word. And what sweeter, more comforting words can there be for sinner than to hear as you eat and drink the consecrated bread and wine which are the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

The Lord Jesus’ Gospel Words become for us a fire in our hearts. This fire is not the consuming, punishing fire of the Law, but the burning of the flame of forgiveness and peace with God that brings warmth and joy to our hearts. The Gospel Words that we receive produce the same reaction in us as they did in the two disciples who walked the Emmaus road saying, “Did not our hearts burn within us as He spoke to us, as He opened up completely the Scriptures?” Indeed they did. And so you and I who meet the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus in the Gospel today can also say in faith, “Do not our hearts burn within us as Christ speaks to us the Words of Absolution through your pastor? Do not our hearts burn within us as Christ speaks His Word to us today, opening the Scriptures to us through His preacher? Do not our hearts burn within us as we kneel in repentance and faith at the Table of the Lord to eat and drink His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, and the strengthening of our Baptismal faith? Indeed, our hearts do burn. For like Jeremiah, the Lord’s message becomes a fire burning in our hearts, shut up in our bones. And we just can’t hold it in! (Jer. 20:9 CSB)

So we go out from this place in the peace and joy of sins forgiven through the Gospel of Christ. We go back to our families, our schools, our jobs and we explain to people how Jesus died and rose to save us all from sin and death. We just can’t help it, for there in our hearts burns the fire of the Gospel. Our hearts are about to burst with thankfulness and joy for all that Christ alone has done for us as our Savior and Lord. So rise and go back to your “Jerusalems” this week and share the Good News that is in your burning hearts. For the Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

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