The Burning Heart

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Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way? — Luke 24:32

"thick clouds and darkness" 2 Sam 22:12
“thick clouds and darkness” 2 Sam 22:12
A Beautiful Story That Lives [Burns] in Our Hearts

Every detail of this amazing story still lives in God’s people today. Never a week passes but some earnest heart is travelling with the two down to Emmaus. We see them joined by the stranger on their journey, and then the talk turns on all that has been happening. We see the three entering the house, and sitting down to supper, where the bread is broken. Then the eyes of the two disciples are opened; they recognize that their fellow wayfarer is Christ Himself!

In the very moment of that recognition they glance again and He is gone. They looked at each other with a wild surmise; and in that moment of tumultuous excitement they spoke out frankly, as in such hours people often do. “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?”

I have often wondered about this parable and why the disciples did not recognize Jesus, until they sat down to eat with Him. The closest I could get to an answer for that is that as soon as we go somewhere, and do something with Jesus; then we “have” Him. 1 John 5:11-12 tells us that if we “have The Son,” then we “have” [eternal] life…” For example, if I say “I have a wife,” what do I mean? Hopefully, I mean that we talk together, we go places and do things together. We talk. We confide. We do things together. We “have” a relationship.

Eating together makes most relationships more intimate, and the people eating together are more likely to know each other better. So my thought is that when the disciples sat down with Jesus to eat, then they took closer notice of Him, and they recognized Him for who He really was. If we think about that for a moment, we know that the disciples had their own ideas about Jesus, and they thought He just died, and were not so sure about the resurrection. So they would not be expecting Jesus to be the one walking beside them on that dusty road, or of sitting down with them to eat.

One Distinctive Mark of Christianity Has Been, This Burning of the Heart

Someone once said “religion is morality touched with emotion.” In all the fullness which such words are capable of bearing, that is conspicuously true of Christianity. We know how the Gospel has renovated morals, yet the Gospel is far more than any moral philosophy. We know how the Gospel has quickened and expanded intellect, yet the Gospel is not primarily intellectual. Its deepest appeal is not to the intelligence: its deepest appeal is always to the heart.

I have seen a fountain with one great central basin, and round about it a dozen little basins—and of course it is always possible to fetch water, and to fill these lesser basins separately. But the fountain was not intended to be filled so. That was not the idea in the mind of the designer. He meant the water in the central basin to rise, and well up to the brim and lap and overflow, and in that superabundance from the centre every vessel and receptacle in the structure would be filled.

This is how the Gospel deals with human life. It does not begin with the brightening of the intellect; it begins with the burning of the heart. It touches what is deepest and truest in us by the power of a love passing the love of family; and all its influences in the world of conduct, and all its expansive action on the brain, and all the recreation of the nations, with the new ideals and aspirations of the ages, are the result of that burning of the heart.

From the day of Pentecost with its tongues of fire, we hear as it were the echo of our text, “Did not our heart burn within us?”

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We all have some idea of what a stoic was: we know how zealously he repressed all emotion; and though perhaps we are apt to overdraw the picture (for the human heart is always too big and strong to be effectively fettered by any iron creed), yet the fact remains that in the old pagan world the burning of the heart was not distinctive. It was not the virtues of the heart that were applauded; it was the virtues of the judgment and the will.

Today as the very crown of all the virtues there stands love; but in the old world love was not a grace—it was an appetite. Today to be tender-hearted is a noble thing; but then to be tender was to be reckoned weak. Today it is a mark of the highest manhood to be pitiful; but in the eyes of the stoic, pity was a vice. And today we can see how some power has been at work shifting the accent of the moral life. Somehow into the life of the church there has come a recognition of the heart. Pity and tenderness and love and charity have won a hearing for themselves at last. The heart has been touched and has begun to burn; and it is the Gospel of Christ Jesus that has done it.

I think, too, that in this burning of the heart lies the great secret of Christian progress. A Gospel that carries this power in its message has little need of any other aid. Mohammed conquered, but Mohammed used the sword, and without the sword he would have made little progress. And Buddha conquered—he won thousands of followers—but the message of Buddha never kindled anybody. It lulled people to rest with dreams of infinite quietude, and with the hopes of Nirvana where they should cease to feel.  Roman Catholics & Protestants both contribute to this confusion as well.

But there is something more inspiring than quietude—it is ardour, enthusiasm, animated feeling; and there is a better secret than a brandished sword: it is the secret of a burning heart. And I humbly submit that if our Lord is conquering, and if His Gospel is going to be a universal Gospel, it is because Jesus has touched that heart and created that new life in Christ. (2 Cor 5:17).

When we are faced by any great endeavour, it is not more light we want, sometimes, it is more heat we need! And kindle the heart by any ruling passion—love, anger, indignation, pity—and any person will fling himself on any obstacle. The only politician who ever moved an entire country are the ones who can set the people’s heart a-burning—and that is true of the Savior and of the world.

Jesus meets us where we are, as we travel by our weary life’s ways and for every battle we will have new “weapons” and for every temptation the necessary strength, and nothing will be too hard for us to try, and nothing will be too sore for us to bear, if we can simply say, with belief, like these two going to Emmaus, “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us?”

The Gospel Ever Makes the Heart Burn as Christ Did Here

We should carefully mark that the hearts of these two disciples that walked with Jesus began to burn, not so much by learning what was new, as by a new interpretation of the old. These travellers were no strangers to the Scripture. They were Jews, and had read deeply in every book of it. When they were little children in their village homes, they had clambered round their father’s knee on Sabbaths, and had listened to the stories of Moses and David and Daniel with the eagerness that our own young folk display. They had studied Jeremiah more intently than any of us, and they had heard it expounded in the synagogue.

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The Scripture was a familiar book to them. And what did our Lord do when He met with them? He took the book they had studied all their lives. He turned to the pages that they knew so well. He led them down by the old familiar texts. And in the old He showed such a depth of meaning, and in the familiar such a wealth of love, and He so irradiated the prophetic mystery and so illumined its darkness with His light, that not by what was absolutely new, but by the new interpretation of the old, their hearts began to burn within them by the way. Jesus would always seek ways to identify with the people whom He wished to reach. I have wondered why so many churches do not do this.

Does not our Savior always act like that when He begins to make our heart burn? He does not startle us with unexpected novelties; He touches with glory what is quite familiar. It is the familiar experiences that He explains. It is the familiar cravings that He satisfies. It is the familiar thoughts which have filled the mind since childhood that he expands into undreamed of fullness. We have known what sin was since we were at school. Christ meets us and talks about our sin—and we learn that sin is more exceedingly sinful than we had ever thought.

In our most reproachful moments. We learn, too, that Jesus died that we might be forgiven, Jesus did not come to condemn us. (John 3:17). There is pardon for the worst of us; that we may become the best of us. We all have known what pain and grief fells like; and we have known what death is, and we have known that there was a heaven and a God; but when Christ meets us as we travel by the way and talks to us of these familiar things, there is such promise and light and love about them all, that everything becomes new. (2 Cor 5:17).

That is the first secret of the burning heart—nothing new or startling or revolutionary but the life we are living, and the sin we are sinning, and the death we shall die, and the God we shall all meet at the resurrection, set in the light of a love that is unfathomable, and interpreted through the very heart and mind of Jesus. (Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Phil 2:5)

The Christ Behind the Word

What exactly was it that set their heart a-burning? It was not the mere word of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was the Christ who was behind the word. It was their immediate contact with that Personality, and the mysterious outflow of His life upon them, which stirred them, as only The Person of The Word can do, and moved their nature to its very depths:

“The Bible is the only rule of faith and doctrine. And there is nothing more calculated to energize the mind, and strengthen the intellect, than the study of the word of God. No other book is so potent to elevate the thoughts, to give vigour to the faculties, as the broad, ennobling truths of the Bible. If God’s word were studied as it should be, men would have a breadth of mind, a nobility of character, and a stability of purpose, that is rarely seen in these times. Thousands of men who minister in the pulpit are lacking in essential qualities of mind and character, because they do not apply themselves to the study of the Scriptures. They are content with a superficial knowledge of the truths that are full of rich depths of meaning; and they prefer to go on, losing much in every way, rather than to search diligently for the hidden treasure. {FE 126.1} “

On that road to Emmaus, their hearts began to burn, and it was not the talk that did it—it was the amazing Person behind the talk. Dimly, then, and very imperfectly, such instances help us to understand our passage. It was immediate contact with a resurrected – living Christ, that made their hearts burn as they journeyed to Emmaus. I wonder, how many of us can truthfully claim that we have walked with Jesus today?

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Need I mention at this point, that it has been the same in all the ages? Throughout all time? The ardour of a true Christian; their life and its enthusiasm, its countless efforts, its unwearied service—all that is rooted, not in any creed, but in the immediate presence of a Living Christ.

Why are we toiling in our darkness tonight? Why are our “thick clouds and darkness” all that we care about today? There is, in verity, Light in every cloud. Christ died for me that I might live. Jesus took on what I deserved that I might take on what He deserved. If I could convince anyone to do anything, it would be to simply realize the love of Christ. To recognize the scope of His love.

That is the secret of the burning heart, and with the burning heart one can do anything. It is entirely possible that that “burning” is what created the receptiveness in those two disciples to believe that “Christ is not here; He is risen!” (Luke 24:6)

Christ, the sinless One, will save every son and daughter of Adam who accepts the salvation proffered them, consenting to become the children of God. The Saviour has purchased the fallen race with His own blood. When the voice of the angel was heard saying, “Thy Father calls thee,” He who had said, “I lay down my life, that I might take it again,” “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” came forth from the grave to life that was in Himself. Christ proclaimed over the rent sepulcher of Joseph:

“I am the resurrection, and the life.”

In His divinity Christ possessed the power to break the bonds of death. He declares that He had life in Himself to quicken whom He will.

During these days that Christ spent with His disciples, they gained a new experience. As they heard their beloved Master explaining the Scriptures in the light of all that had happened, their faith in Him was fully established. They reached the place where they could say, “I know whom I have believed.” 2 Timothy 1:12. They began to realize the nature and extent of their work, to see that they were to proclaim to the world the truths entrusted to them. The events of Christ’s life, His death and resurrection, the prophecies pointing to these events, the mysteries of the plan of salvation, the power of Jesus for the remission of sins–to all these things they had been witnesses, and they were to make them known to the world. They were to proclaim the gospel of peace and salvation through repentance and the power of the Saviour. “To them that received Him, gave He power, to be the sons and daughters of God.” (John 1:12)

Pure religion is an imitation of Christ. A religion that is built on self-confidence and selfishness is worthless. The true Christian is a follower of Christ. This following means walking in the light. The heart must be opened to receive the heavenly guest. As long as the heart is closed against His entrance, there can be in it no abiding peace. No sunshine can flood the chambers of the soul temple, breaking through the thick clouds and darkness. One of the many reasons I say “There is Light in every cloud:” (2 Sam 22:12)

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