More Than Facts

Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 25:05 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The facts are not enough. You can have all the facts, and it still will not be enough. But of course, no one ever has all the facts—unless you are omniscient, unless you are God. We might think we have all the facts we need to come to a conclusion. But it seems like people have fewer and fewer facts, but more and more conclusions. There is always more information that we do not have, which might cause us to come to a different conclusion. And when our original conclusions are proven wrong, that should cause us to be more hesitant about coming to firm conclusions, but it doesn’t seem to stop anybody. When the facts as we know them fit the narrative we already have in our minds, we are happy to use them for our own purposes, no matter what other information there might be.

These two disciples on the road to Emmaus have the facts. They have nearly all of them, or at least enough to draw a conclusion. When Jesus walks beside them and asks them what they’re talking about, they tell Jesus about Jesus. Are You the only one who has been in Jerusalem this past week who doesn’t know what’s happened? Oh? Like what? About Jesus of Nazareth; He was a prophet—certainly, He was more than that, but He was a prophet: He spoke from God; He was mighty in deed and word before God and all the people; He was handed over by the chief priests and leaders; He was condemned to death; He was crucified; now it’s the third day since all these things happened; we had hoped He was the one who was going to redeem Israel; some women from among us found the tomb empty and said they had a vision of angels; Peter and John went to the tomb and found it like the women said, but they did not see Him.

They have the facts, and they have them in the right order. They even seem to recognize something significant about the third day. They have the facts, but the facts are not enough. How foolish and slow of heart to believe all the things that the prophets have written! Isn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer all these things and enter into His glory? And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them all the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures—all the things concerning Himself, although of course they don’t know that it is Himself. They have all the facts: they know the Scriptures. Jesus isn’t telling them facts that they don’t know. He’s giving them the story that connects all the facts. The facts are not enough, without the story that makes sense of them. And Jesus is the story that makes sense of these facts.

Even the historical fact of the resurrection is not enough, if it remains as a mere historical fact. It is now the third day since all these things happened, and all these people said the tomb was empty and the women said the angels told them the same thing. Unless it is the living Jesus, here and now, interpreting all the Scriptures to you, will the empty tomb itself be enough? The fact of that resurrection is not enough in itself for you, but it is necessary. As Paul says, if Christ is not raised from the dead then our preaching, our believing, is all empty and worthless, and we are still in our sins. If Christ is not actually, historically, factually raised from the dead, then we might as well stop messing around here right now. But He is raised, and not only is He raised, He is alive and present and interpreting all the Scriptures to us.

And then, as they get to the place they are going, Jesus acts as if He is going to travel on, but they compel Him to stay with them because it is near evening and the day is far spent. So He does. And He takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them. And then, with this Man doing those actions, they see who He is. Before, their eyes were kept from recognizing Him. Now their eyes are opened and they recognize Him. And as soon as they see Him truly, He becomes invisible to their physical sight. But it no longer matters, because they have seen and known and recognized. Their eyes have been opened, as the Scriptures have been opened. And they run back to Jerusalem, to the other disciples, who tell them that Jesus is risen indeed and that He appeared to Peter. And these disciples tell those what happened on the road and how He was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

This is the Christian life in miniature. These unbelievers, who had hoped that He was the redeemer, have Him open the Scriptures to them, and then reveal Himself in the breaking of the bread. We know Him as we are enlightened to see Him in the Scriptures, and then we eat bread, and drink wine, and we know Him—not because we can see Him visibly with our physical eyes, but because He has made Himself known to us where He has promised to be. None of us has seen Him like those disciples, or the women, or the eleven, or Peter. But He is no further from us, and in fact He is closer. And we are on the way throughout our lives, as baptized believers who are continually being taught everything that the Lord has spoken, until the completion of this age.

It is more than the facts that we know and believe. Historical knowledge of the events of the Scriptures, of what the prophets and apostles have said, is not what saves you. Those facts are not enough, until Jesus Himself by the Spirit of God opens them up to us, to reveal Himself on every page, in every word, and feed us with His Body and Blood, invisibly but immediately present. The facts are not enough, but they are necessary. Jesus doesn’t tell those two about Himself from nothing; He tells them from the Scriptures. How can we take them for granted? If we refuse to read, to study, to meditate, on these words, what is our faith, actually? If we don’t have the facts, how can they be interepreted to us? How can we not pursue the words of Jesus from His prophets and apostles eagerly and with joy? More of Jesus, more of His words, hearing His voice more clearly. Every day, every week. Jesus does not give us Himself apart from the words we know from the Scriptures; and we cannot know the Scriptures or understand them unless Jesus opens them to us.

So pray with the psalmist: “Uncover my eyes that I may behold wondrous things, amazing things, incredible things out of Your instruction,” O Lord (Psalm 119:18). Open my eyes, as you opened the eyes of those disciples, from Moses, the Prophets, the Psalms, to see Your wondrous works in Jesus. Open my eyes, open my eyes! And, as we eat and drink, give us eyes to see the unseen Jesus who feeds us, until we have completed our way in this world, all things are made new, and we see Him face to face, whom we have come to know in the Word and the Sacrament.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/22/23

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