Truth and the Heart


In the knowledge of God and the character of redemption, two vital realities must embrace each other—revealed truth and an enlightened heart. An enlightened heart will grow in grace and be strengthened in faith as more of revealed truth takes root in the understanding; the mind that grasps the external form of revealed truth, but has no enlightenment in the heart, will make a very splendid devil. When, however, such a person is converted, then spiritual understanding increases rapidly and potential usefulness in the cause of Christ expands immensely (Galatians 1:14, 15; 2:7-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-16). Sometimes the heart can be confused because of misunderstanding and lack of knowledge breeds distress of soul. When truth enters a distressed but humble soul, new confidence and a spirit of unquenchable joy begin to mark his life (Colossians 1:9-11).

I. Verses 13 – 24 – Hopeful Hearts, armed with facts but destitute of their meaning, sink into insoluble mystery

A. Verses 13-16 – Luke does not record the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene but gives an extensive narrative of his engaging two disciples in a conversation and a walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, about seven miles in distance.

1. Their personal conversation was focused on the events of that day [“the same day”]. Their knowledge of the details comes out in the ensuing conversation.  They spoke of “all these things,” and obviously were trying to put the facts together in some meaningful way. Jesus will reveal to them what they are missing.

2. Evidently they were deeply and energetically engaged with each other on the issue. “They were absorbed in their serious talk and discussion,” according to the Phillips translation. Perhaps they were debating, [the Knox translation uses the words “debating together”] disagreeing over what all of these events meant, for possession of a collection of facts without the integrative key produces only speculation and, possibly, personal strife. Armed with the same facts but with radically different integrative principles, evolutionists and creationists come to radically different conclusions about the origin of the world and its meaning. This is not a wild or irrelevant reference, for even in that contemporary confrontation the resurrection has much to do with one’s orientation to the facts.

3. The very one about whom they were speaking and to whom all “these things” had happened now joined their company and waited for an opportunity to join the conversation. It seems that God Himself kept these men from recognizing him. Since they obviously had been in one of the outer companies that followed Jesus regularly and attended his ministry when possible, they would have recognized him. The temporary “cloud of unknowing” was imposed so that a greater knowledge and sense of wonder might be theirs.

B. Verses 17, 18 – Jesus joined the conversation and commented about both the content of their talk and their demeanor.

1. The intensity of their talk with each other was worthy of the confused state of their knowledge and perceptions. It seems to have involved a rapid and intense exchange of ideas and comments with no lulls in the interaction.

2. Also, their demeanor indicated sadness. His question brought their walk to a halt and they simply stood, perhaps with sadness giving way to incredulity, for the response of Cleopas indicates that they could not fathom any person traveling between Jerusalem and Emmaus who would not have known something about these rapidly developing polarities of the past week, now climaxed by the mysterious disappearance of the body of Jesus.

3. Perhaps one of the greatest ironies in all of Scripture is embraced in the question: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days.” No, in fact he was the only one who knew precisely what had happened—and he knew it more profoundly than any other person, for he knew and had  brought to consummation all the spiritual meaning as well as the eternal purpose of everything embedded within those events. But first he would hear them out, and then he would explain.

C. Verses 19-24 – Jesus sets up their narrative with another question. They gave a summary of the events, the reasons for their hopes, and the perplexing turn that brought them sadness.

1. They identified the events, rightly so, in terms of one person—Concerning Jesus of Nazareth.

As had often been surmised during his life, they identified Jesus as a prophet. In Matthew 16 the disciples reported that the people were identifying him as one of the prophets. The woman at Samaria had perceived that he was a prophet (John 4:19). Also those that saw him feed the multitude concluded that he was “that prophet that should come into the world” (John 6:14).

His credentials as a prophet extended both to the might of his deeds and the clarity, confidence, and purity of his words.

They knew that God was with him, for as Nicodemus had said, “No man can do these miracles that you are doing except God be with him.” His power over nature, disease, and demons was either intrinsically divine or boundlessly bestowed.

They also testified to his sway with the people. Before being manipulated by the religious leaders, the people heard Jesus gladly and responded with wonder at the graciousness of his words, the clarity and authority of his teaching, and his confident power in the face of the physical devastation—he opened the eyes of the blind (John 9) and raised a dead man even from the corrupt state back to life (John 11).

2. Verse 20 – Quite contrary to the character of his actions, the actions of the Jewish religious leaders toward him led to his death by execution at the hands of Rome. He had overcome them at their every attempt to discredit him or embarrass him into obscurity that they knew their hegemonic power over the religious lives of the Jewish people would be maintained only by his death. Death was in their desire for him from the first time he identified the nature of his mission on earth (Luke 4:29-30) to the clear identification of his authority as intrinsically divine and as particularly set apart in eternity for his mission (John 8:59; John 10:36-39). After the raising of Lazarus they had begun an intentional plot to kill Jesus and Lazarus as well (John 11:48-53; 12: 9-11). Their plot consummated in their having arranged his arrest and trial (Luke 22:52-54). From then on they manipulated the crowd to bring about the death of Jesus even at the cost of releasing a murdering insurrectionist in his stead (Luke 23:17-21).

3. Verse 21 – Contrary to the judgment of these religious leaders, they saw him as the one that was to redeem Israel.

At this point, they did not use the idea of redemption with its full significance.  They viewed this more in terms of a righteous and godly rule, a king like David, but without David’s faults. They saw Israel as free of Rome and free of any tendency to idolatry (Zechariah 12:7-9; 13:2); divisions that presently plagued the people would be dissolved and they would be in no danger from their neighbors (Zechariah 14:9). His teaching would be perfect—exhaustive and clear, far surpassing that of any prophet given to the nation until his coming—and  no other prophets would be necessary (Zechariah 13:2-5). Look at Luke 10:23, 24 for an event that might have moved them toward that interpretation of his messianic rule.

They mentioned that now they were in the third day since “these things” had happened. Surely they are wondering if this is what Jesus meant when he said “and on the third day be raised” (9:22; 18:31) It is not certain that these men were present when Jesus gave these statements, but surely by now they would be aware of his words. They follow this with a statement of facts that seemed gradually to peel back the mystery from a prediction that seemed highly cryptic at the time Jesus gave it.

Women went to the sepulcher and did not find his body

They reported that they saw angels who confirmed by word that the Jesus they sought was alive.

Certain of their company, Peter and John, went and found the tomb empty as the women had said and saw no trace of Jesus.


 II. Verses 25-29 – Understanding the word in its true sense lays the groundwork for effective witness.

A. In light of such evidence as they had cited, Jesus now shows them how dull they were both in mind and heart concerning the Scripture. Their grasp of the prophets was abysmally shallow and one-sided though they had felt that their expectations were accurately informed. Their perception of the radical measures necessary to deal with sin and forgiveness showed a heart only partially in touch with the depth of sin that plagued them and the infinitely shocking measures that were necessary to bring about justification and the full display of God’s righteousness. They had not considered the relation between Psalm 51 and Isaiah 52:13 – 54:5.

B. On the long walk to Emmaus, Jesus gave a lesson in biblical interpretation to those two disciples and he showed them that the unity of the entire Scripture depended on a proper understanding of his suffering death, and his resurrection to life. How had they not understood that grace and a heart longing for mercy would not be given to Jerusalem until they looked on  the Lord as the one that they had pierced (Zechariah 12:10)? From the entrance of sin into the world with its penalty of death, the necessity of sacrifice from the time of Adam forward until its establishment as an official part of the Jewish pattern of worship until his own sacrifice of himself, now culminating with the overcoming of death, he showed them the meaning of Scripture and why all these events were necessary. He had been highlighting the necessity and the scriptural certainty of his death with his disciples in Luke 9:22; 18:31; 22:22, 37, and now, after the resurrection, they could begin to comprehend it.

C. Verse 28, 29 – So intrigued were they with this exposition of biblical redemption, and so drawn were they to the magnetic power of the words and way of this “stranger,” that they wanted him to come to stay with them, eat with them and tell them more. The soul that is touched by the power of Christ’s words and the beauty of his dying love and overcoming life cannot bear to abide without an increasing knowledge of him and personal communion with him.

III. Verses 30-35 –  Harmony in the great concert of truth produces courage, joy, and a unified witness

A. Verses 30, 31 – Jesus did not delay in showing them who he was, thus removing any remaining perplexity in their souls. How great is his condescension and mercy to us who are indeed “fools, and slow of heart?” Their eyes were opened at the point of their recognizing a particular authoritative action performed by Jesus. They had ample opportunity to know that this was a real live human being with a body; he walked, he talked, he took his position at the table, picked up bread and distributed it. Since these two were not at the last supper with the disciples, perhaps they had been at the places that Jesus had broken bread to feed both the 5000+ and the 4000+.

B. verse 32 – They recognized that the co-witness of love and truth provided the basis for their receptivity to his revelation. Their recognition involved the elevated state of their spiritual understanding (“Didn’t we feel our hearts on fire?”), the attachment to the personal presence of Christ (“while he talked with us”), and the witness of truth (“while he opened to us the scriptures”).

C. Verse 33 – Now, with the truth firmly in mind and heart, they traveled immediately back to Jerusalem with their witness to the truth. Leaving Emmaus, after having just arrived there, on this same day they returned to the place where all these events had taken place and where the eleven disciples were gathered. Perhaps they went in order to add their witness to that of the women of having seen the risen Lord. The scriptural instruction they had received probably was an agendum in itself. A transforming engagement with Christ and with his truth cries out for fellowship and union with those who share the same truth.

D. Verse 34 – They found the disciples gathered and already convinced by Jesus’ appearance to Simon. Though Peter would receive from the Lord many lessons during the forty days of his earthly life before the ascension, the discussion with these two residents of Emmaus could have been ringing in his mind as he penned the words in 1 Peter 1:10-12—“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”

E. They add their witness to the rapidly expanding fabric of truthful witness to Christ’s resurrection. The unique combination of eye-witnesses, life altering discussions, and commissions to proclaim the message implicit in these events and explicitly revealed as their meaning demonstrates the universal relevance of the gospel. If such events in such a person were necessary, they show also the absolute exclusivity as Savior of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, the King of the Jews, the resurrected Lord.

F. We should pray for both the knowledge of Scripture and the burning hearts that first accompanied a personal encounter with the risen Christ..

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts