Jesus the Extreme Street Preacher

“Think positively, because I’m here to talk with you and walk with you along life’s narrow way. Give me all your tears of sadness and all your years of pain, and you’ll enter into life in my name. By being strong-willed, you will be able to overcome the obstacles of a long and winding, dry and hot desert road and arrive at your blessed assurance. Now you can testify that I’m alive because I live within your heart. Then, because I’m a loving and healing Bro, you can be happy and blest, praising your Savior all the day long.”

Readings: Genesis 3:15; Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 53:10-12; Luke 24:25-27, 44-47 (text); Acts 17:10-12; Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 19

January 1, 2012 Download PDF sermon

A year and a half ago, a man was preaching about the Ten Commandments on top of a stepladder in a street in England when a woman engaged him in a debate about his faith. So he mentioned the sins referred to in 1 Corinthians, including blasphemy, drunkenness and same sex relationships. As a result, a police officer arrested him for causing “harassment, alarm or distress” and using abusive or insulting language.

So-called street preaching dates back to the Old Testament when prophets stood by the city gates to warn the people of judgment against sin. In the New Testament, Jesus and the apostles often preached in the synagogues, marketplaces, streets and homes.

Today, the man arrested for pointing out that homosexuality is a sin against God is the typical image of a street preacher. Preachers standing in the street corner with a sign saying, “Repent! Judgment Day is Coming! are often looked at as weirdos or even bums, because some of them look more like homeless street people than preachers. But what do they accomplish, other than cheapening the name of God and “throwing pearls before pigs”? And even expensive open-air “crusades” turn out merely false converts with false assurance because what is preached is the false gospel of self-willed salvation. To be sure, some people are truly converted in mass evangelistic rallies, but the appointed means by which people are saved today is the preaching of the gospel in the church (Luke 24:46-47; Acts 2:42; Rom 10:14-17).

In our text, Jesus is not like the typical street preacher today, but he is more like those who are called today as the “extreme” kind—those who are involved in a high level of danger and physical exertion. He didn’t stand in a street corner with a sign, but he came alongside two disciples and walked with them for seven miles along a hot and dusty desert road. While he walked with them on the road to Emmaus for two to three hours, Jesus patiently explained God’s eternal salvation plan to them—from Genesis to Malachi. He did not leave them groping for answers to questions about the disturbing events in the last Passover celebration in Jerusalem.

And when they reached the village, the two disciples urged the stranger, “Stay with us,” for the evening was at hand. So he stayed, and even shared a fellowship meal with them. It was only as he broke bread with them that they recognized their Lord. After he left them, the two went back to Jerusalem to break the news to the other disciples that Jesus has appeared to them and then ate a meal with them. And as they talked about these amazing developments, Jesus again appeared among them, and at that late hour of night, he again ate a meal of fish with them.

"Christ on the Road to Emmaus" by Herri Met de Bles, 1480-c.1550

"Christ on the Road to Emmaus" by Herri Met de Bles, 1480-c.1550 (click to enlarge)

What’s so “extreme” about Jesus’s preaching? He spent many hours on the road and in homes explaining, discussing and revealing the whole of God’s redemptive plan to them. He ate meals with them in Emmaus and Jerusalem, and even shared a breakfast of bread and grilled fish with them by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-14). By doing so, he opened their troubled and confused hearts to believe in his resurrection.

On this first Lord’s Day of 2012, we will focus on Jesus’s preaching of the Word of God: The Subject of His Preaching, The Basis of His Preaching, and How His Preaching was Understood. To immerse yourself in the Word of God the way that Jesus himself did: a great New Year’s resolution to strive keeping.

The Subject of His Preaching

As the two disciples walked on the road to Emmaus, they were discussing the terrible events of the past few days, culminating in the crucifixion of Jesus their leader. They were sorrowing over Jesus, who performed mighty signs and wonders, but somehow could not escape his own death. They had hoped that somehow, he would be Israel’s redeemer who would lead them to freedom from the Roman yoke.

So when this stranger came alongside them on their journey, they were amazed that he asked them, “What things are you discussing about the events of these last few days?” So they told him about this prophet Jesus who was crucified and laid in a tomb. But now the most amazing story is that some of their friends are saying that he has vanished from his grave because he has risen from the dead!

Since the two did not yet recognize him, Jesus listened to their sad account of the story, and after they were finished, Jesus chided them, saying, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory… and on the third day rise from the dead?” (verses 25-26, 46) Three times earlier, their leader has told them about the sufferings and death that await him at the hands of wicked Jews and lawless Romans, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22; cf Luke 9:43-45; 18:31-34). But they did not believe and understand his words.

Why did Jesus say that his suffering, death, and resurrection are necessary? What are they necessary for? Throughout the Old Testament, true prophets and other leaders appointed by God all suffered first before being brought to glory—Moses, Samuel, Samson, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah the son of Barachiah, to name but a few. Therefore, the Messiah himself would also first be the Suffering Servant of God before he enters into his glory, “When his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days” (Isa 53:10-11). In his death on the cross, the Messiah “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows… he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isa 53:4-5). His sufferings, death and resurrection were all necessary to justify sinners and save them from sin and God’s wrath.

What did Jesus preach to those two disciples? According to many pastors today, he could have tried to comfort their sorrow by analyzing their mindset, since they were so sorrowful and disillusioned, by saying:

Think positively, because I’m here to talk and walk with you along life’s narrow way. You must not blame themselves and have guilt feelings for not being able to help and defend me from my enemies. Did you leave Jerusalem because you wanted to forget about your broken dreams and disappointments? I’m here with you now, and I will touch your hearts deeply and listen to your stories of dashed hopes. Give me all your tears of sadness and all your years of pain, and you’ll enter into life in my name. By being strong-willed, you will be able to overcome the obstacles of a long and winding, dry and hot desert road and arrive at your blessed assurance. Then, because I’m a loving and healing Bro, you can be happy and blest, and praising your Savior all the day long.

Or Jesus could have encouraged them with these words:

Get out of your lonely shells, and instead be like me! As I did before I died on the cross, you must walk alongside the broken, the lost, and the poor in this world’s lonely, poverty-stricken roads, and listen to their desperate cries for help and then meet their needs. Feed the hungry, satisfy the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothed the poor, heal the sick, and visit prisoners. You should see me in every homeless child, woman, and disabled begging on the streets. When you offer a piece of bread, or speak a word of encouragement to them, you are being Christ to the poor. Now you can testify that I’m alive because I live within your heart.

And Jesus might have concluded:

The moral lesson is this: If you also could face your troubles head-on with confidence; spend time alone with God in prayer; obey God’s commands even in the midst of trials; and meet the needs of the hopeless, you also would be able to overcome your troubles and temptations.

Before he left them in an inn at Emmaus, Jesus might have promised them:

If you will just be faithful and obedient in your quiet times and Encounters with God at the prayer mountain, I will reward you with abundant blessings, much more than you ever asked for. For whatever you ask in my name, my Father will generously give them to you. If God rewarded me with glory for my obedience, so will he reward you with success, happiness, health and material wealth if you just name it and claim it. I love you with an unconditional love and I promise to prosper you because I have wonderful plans for your lives.

No, Jesus preached none of these things, for these are false gospels. What then did he preach? Simply, himself—Christ—who lived, was crucified, and was raised from the dead for their justification and salvation from sin and God’s wrath. Paul learned from Jesus’s preaching on the road to Emmaus when he said, against the culture of his day, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1Cor 1:23). In his hours-long preaching, he told his disciples, “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (verse 47).

The Basis of His Preaching

"Landscape with Christ and his Disciples on the Road to Emmaus" by Jan Wildens, 1640s (click to enlarge)

"Landscape with Christ and his Disciples on the Road to Emmaus" by Jan Wildens, 1640s (click to enlarge)

How did Jesus know what to preach to his disciples? His preaching came, not from the teachers of the law—scribes and Pharisees—but from his knowledge of Scriptures. He knew the books of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings from cover to cover. Knowing that all Scriptures were about things concerning himself, his interpretation of Scriptures—hermeneutics—was sound (verse 27). All of the Old Testament writings were pointing forward to his person and his redemptive work: “Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (verse 44).

Luke does not tell us which Old Testament texts Jesus explained to the two disciples, but we can make an educated guess on a few. Beginning with Genesis 3:15, he might have mentioned that he was the Seed of the Woman who was bruised by the serpent in his death, but he crushed the serpent’s head when he arose from the grave. He might have reminded them of the significance of the bronze serpent in the wilderness (Num 21:4-9) in relation to his death on the cross, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

Jesus might have asked them if they recalled the parable of the wicked tenants where he quoted Psalm 118:22, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” He would have interpreted this text as God’s declaration of Christ the Messiah as the One whom Israel will reject, so God will take his kingdom away from them (Luke 20:17-18). Or that Psalm 16:8-11 talks about the “Holy One [who will not] see corruption” because whom God raised him up from the dead (Acts 13:34-37).

What about the Lord’s invitation, through the prophet Isaiah, to his people to come to him, and to all those who would come, God “will make with [them] an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David” (Isa 55:3)? Jesus would have interpreted this prophetical text as God’s promise to him to “give you the holy and sure blessings of David” (Acts 13:34).

And in saying that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (verse 47), Jesus would have quoted God’s promise to the Messiah in Isaiah 49:6, “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” In fact, Luke repeats Jesus’s words in Acts 1:8 when Jesus commissions his disciples to preach the gospel beginning from “Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Again and again, Jesus would have pointed out to the two disciples that every passage of the Old Testament relates to God’s grace given to his people only because of his atoning sacrifice on the cross. Jesus’s interpretation of the Law, the Prophets and the Writings, the three main divisions of the Old Testament canon, is a demonstration of Christ-gospel-centered, redemptive-historical interpretation and preaching. The Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 19 repeats Jesus’s words to the two disciples, that all the Old Testament were foreshadows of himself, the Messiah to come:

God Himself first revealed in Paradise, afterwards proclaimed by the holy patriarchs and prophets, and foreshadowed by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law, and finally fulfilled by His well-beloved Son.

So if Luke 6:38 (giving), Proverbs 27:13 (co-signing), Proverbs 21:20 (saving), Psalm 37:21 (avoiding debt), and Proverbs 23:23 (budgeting) function only as props for a “Five Principles of Biblical Money Management” sermon, he has misused God’s Word. If the refusal by Daniel and his friends to eat the king’s food becomes a “Daniel Plan” for weight loss by holistic living and eating, then the whole narrative becomes nothing more than an exposition of the New York Times bestseller Change Your Brain, Change Your Body.

If the Israeli march around Jericho is nothing more than an effective tool to do a “Jericho Walk” around a shiny, new Toyota Vios, then it is nothing more than a ploy by false prosperity gospel teachers. This is a true story I heard a few days ago where the wife of a pastor “preached” this story. After their “Jericho Walk,” they laid hands on the car, and later that same day, excitedly drove the car out of the dealership with the absolute minimum down payment! Of course, God will take care of the rest of the monthly payments through the church’s “tithes and offerings.”

When a pastor fails to preach Christ and his redemptive work in history, he has failed in his duty to faithfully expound God’s Word, and will be accountable to God for misleading his flock with his false gospel. This is because Jesus himself declared that all Scripture is about himself and his work: his life, death and resurrection.

How His Preaching was Understood

"Supper in Emmaus," Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1601 (click to enlarge)

"Supper in Emmaus," Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1601 (click to enlarge)

It was difficult to convince these disciples that Jesus had been raised from the dead. The empty tomb and the word of an angel could not persuade them. Even Jesus’s own exposition of Scriptures could not completely clear away the fog from their unbelieving eyes. But the Word of God began to burn away the fog, and slowly they came to recognize the Savior. So after they recognized him and he left them, 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?” (Luke 24:32).

Why was it difficult to convince the two disciples? Because they—and all mankind—are sinful, their minds darkened and eyes blinded by Satan who has enslaved their whole being to sin. So there are many who study the Bible and listen to the preaching of the gospel for years and yet never come to any understanding of God’s salvation by faith in Christ.

Paul says that an unregenerate sinner “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). He is unwilling and unable to accept and understand spiritual things of God. Apart from God’s sovereign intervention to change our hearts by the work of the Spirit, we are dead in sin and unable to respond to the preaching of salvation from Scriptures (Eph 2:1–3; John 3:5; Rom 10:14-15).

Jesus alone is able to open the darkened minds of sinners. True understanding of the Bible and how all of its words, verses, chapters and books fit together in one redemption plan from eternity, is a gift of God. When Paul preached in the city of Philippi, there was a woman named Lydia who listened and Luke says that God did the same thing for her as he did for the two disciples on the road, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” and she believed (Acts 16:14).

How did Lydia believe? Was it by her own “free-will” decision? Throughout the book of Acts, Luke the historian affirms the paradox of the sovereignty of God and human responsibility and activity. For example, it is God who sent the apostles to preach the gospel to all nations, but he is the one who opens hearts so people might believe. Luke tells us in Acts 13:48 that when the Gentiles heard Paul’s words, they “began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” Lydia and many other Gentiles were graciously elected by God for salvation, and at their appointed times, believed in the gospel of Christ.

The reverse is true: God alone can hide truths from us, just as he concealed the truth about Jesus’s death and resurrection from his disciples, “But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it” (Luke 9:45; 18:34). When the disciples asked Jesus why he spoke in parables, he bluntly told them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand’” (Luke 8:10).

Faith, repentance and forgiveness are all gifts of God (Eph 2:8) by the working of the Holy Spirit in giving us new hearts of flesh, enlightening our darkened minds, and opening our blinded eyes. Unbelievers are “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Eph 4:18). How then can the wisdom or charisma of the preacher, or the creativity of human gimmicks and entertainment, draw people to Christ? No, it is only by the preaching of the gospel that a person is saved, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). Preaching the Word of God is the appointed means by which man is saved, through the Spirit who regenerates our hearts to believe this Word.

Conclusion

The hearts of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus began to burn within them as they walked with Jesus and heard him open the Scriptures to them (verse 32).

This new year, may your hearts burn with love for Christ your Lord and Savior who alone has words of eternal life. May your hearts burn for the Word of God daily because all of it concerns Christ and his redemptive work. May you have renewed zeal for the Old Testament just as Jesus did because you will never have a sound understanding of his work in the New Testament without it. Philip witnessed to his friend that Jesus is the one of “whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote” (John 1:45), and preached the crucified Christ to the Ethiopian from Isaiah 53 (Acts 8:35). Why then would you neglect God’s Word that reveals Christ?

Like the Bereans, always receive God’s Word with all eagerness, always examining what your pastors and other teachers preach and teach by the light of all Scriptures, even if they are the most popular preachers and teachers. The most important criteria is this: Is the crucified and risen Christ preached using Scriptures, or the latest self-help moralistic bestseller?

It was when Jesus ate a meal with the disciples in Emmaus that they finally recognized him. For “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them” (Luke 24:30). This act of taking, blessing, breaking and giving bread reminded them of the night in which he shared the last supper with them before he was betrayed.

The risen Lord first gave them God’s word. Then he communed with them in a meal so that their hearts burned with love and rejoicing for Christ and his gifts of faith, repentance and forgiveness. May this communion in the broken body and shed blood of Christ in this the Supper of our Lord keep your heart burning within you for the crucified and risen Savior.

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