Luke 24 tells the story of two disciples on the road to a village called Emmaus. It’s one of my favorite passages in all the New Testament.
It was the third day after Jesus was crucified. Whoever these two people were, they had been die-hard followers of the poor Nazarene. In fact, they had placed all their hope in their rabbi as Israel’s Messiah. And now that he was gone they were devastated.
It showed on their faces, evidently.
But then, “while they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.” Incognito, as it were, Jesus came alongside them as a stranger in the way.
He asked them, “What are you talking about?”
For a moment they said nothing. Sadness was etched on their faces. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
Funny, because in reality Jesus was the only one who did know what was going on, while everyone else was yet in the dark. Still he asked them, “What things?”
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. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. There 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. 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. (Luke 24:22-24)
Then the magic happened. The Lord Jesus began to unfold the scriptures in glorious fashion. Point by point he took the two disciples through Moses and all the prophets, showing how it all was pointing to himself.
Never forget: The Lord Jesus gave a Bible study once, and the only subject He spoke on was the subject of Himself.
Eventually they arrived at the village. Jesus acted as if he would go further but the disciples urged him to stay with them for the night. He complied. Then as they sat down to eat the story reads,
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. (Luke 24:30,31)
Christ was revealed to them as they broke bread together. This is a wonderful allusion to the church life. Christ is never so real as he is in the fellowship of the saints.
When he vanished from their sight the disciples recalled, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” Here we find the namesake for this post: The fellowship of the burning heart. I believe the term was originally coined by A.W. Tozer, and it has long been one of my favorites. The fellowship of a people whose hearts have been awakened to life, who through the resurrection of Christ have been united forever to God and to one another. The mutuality of fellowship and ministry which flows out of this experience we call the church.
According to Luke’s account, “they rose that same hour and returned to Jersualem.” When you have seen Christ you can’t sit still. You must tell the world, and your first instinct is to search out anyone else you think may share your experience of the resurrected, living Lord. The two disciples went immediately to find Peter and the others to tell them about their encounter with Christ.
But lo and behold, upon arrival they discovered that the saints in Jerusalem had their own story to tell! So one side told about their experience of Christ while the other listened eagerly with bated breath; then the others responded with a story so much alike and yet so unique that the whole assembly could not help but be overwhelmed with a flood of divine life and light!
This, my friends, is God’s intention for the church! This is the only “pattern” worth holding onto for the church’s meeting together.
And yet the best is yet to come. For as the saints assemble, each telling about their experience with the risen Lord, Christ himself appears in their midst! And together, as one body, they encounter Christ.
The fellowship of the burning heart. May every hungry heart who is reading this post be blessed by God to find their way into such spiritual reality. It happened at least once before, so surely it can happen again, in our day, in our city.