A CASE OF HOLY HEARTBURN
Dr. Ray Summers, the well-known New Testament scholar, called this incident the most beautiful of all the post
resurrection experiences. He makes that observation because of the context and the outcome of the encounter.
It all began with two heavy-hearted disciples making their way home to Emmaus from Jerusalem. It is the third
day after the crucifixion of Jesus or the afternoon of Resurrection Sunday. Their hopes had been crushed by
the recent events in the city. The outlook has never been darker for them. As they make this seven-mile
journey to Emmaus, a Stranger joins them on the road. This Stranger enters into their conversation and leads
them through a most unforgettable experience. They will later discover that the Stranger is none other than the
risen Christ Himself. It is their testimony after they made the discovery that the walk with Him was a time when
their hearts burned within them. The imagery of burning would suggest that their hearts were warmed with
hope, and joy, and love. They suddenly found their whole perspective on life being transformed by the time
they were spending with this unknown stranger. I have called this, "a case of holy heartburn." I believe that we
can learn from this incident that it is possible for all of us to know that inner spiritual heartburn that meant so
much to those two walking the road to Emmaus. I want us to read and study this passage in search of a fresh
case of holy heartburn.
I. A SURE CURE FOR DESPAIR.
The two disciples embody despair. When Jesus met them along the way, their hearts were downcast. The
heartburn that they received as a result of time spent with Him became a sure cure for their inner despair.
1. The downcast face - the sign of despair.
In Luke's report of the incident, which was probably based on a conversation that he had with Cleopas, he
reports that when they began their conversation with Jesus, "They stood still, and their faces downcast." Jesus
sought to enter into their conversation and immediately became aware of the despair that was in their hearts.
The word "downcast" literally means "dark-faced." Their face was darkened by sorrow, by perplexity, or perhaps
even by impatience with the interruption by this unknown stranger. To put it in a modern idiom they were "long
faced." They actually looked like their best friend had died.
When we become sensitive to people around us, it is amazing how much of a message you can read in their
faces. Their face will often tell the story of their hearts. You can tell by the face that the heart is cold, empty,
broken, and hopeless!
2. The loss of hope - the essence of despair.
As Jesus began to question them about their conversation, they indicated they were downcast because of what
had just happened in Jerusalem. Under His probing, they began to recount to Him the events of the recent days
in Jerusalem. Unknown to them they were recounting His story. As they reported the death of the one they had
believed to be the Christ, they made this observation, "But we had hoped that He was the one who was going to
redeem Israel." In that one statement, they tell it all. Because of wrong ideas about the mission of Jesus, they
had embraced a false set of hopes. These hopes and dreams had been utterly shattered by the death of Jesus
in Jerusalem. They interpreted this to mean that whatever His mission might have meant, it had ended in failure.
Their long faces and inner despair meant that all hope was gone.
Can you imagine what they must have felt? For them it meant that there was no hope of Israel ever being
saved. For them it meant that the nation would have to suffer the consequences of its sin. For them it meant
there would be no coming of the kingdom of God and no casting off of the oppression of the Roman rulers. For
them it meant the nation of Israel would never accomplish its national destiny. It was a dark, dark moment for
Is that not the essence of despair? Is not despair the moment when all hope is lost? Is it not having all your
dreams shattered with no expectation that anything will ever be different?
3. The heart of unbelief--cause of despair.
The Stranger surprised them by His response to their sad story. "He said to them, how foolish you are and how
slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and
then enter His glory?” With this word, He puts His finger upon the source of their problem. They are at a point of
despair because they have within them an evil heart of unbelief. They have just acknowledged to Him that there
had been a report that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Some women actually claimed to have seen Him.
Instead of reaching out and grasping such a truth and pressing it to their hearts in faith, they had rejected it as
an idle rumor. Furthermore, in His word to them Jesus indicated that they were ignorant, foolishly ignorant, of
the Holy Scriptures. Their hearts had been slow to receive what God had been revealing to them through the
Scriptures through the ages. Indeed, the things that happened in recent days were in direct fulfillment to words
that God had given to His people in the writings and proclamation of the prophets.
Is not despair always the result of a heart of unbelief? How can a person ever despair if they believe God? How
can they ever be without hope if they have a sure word from God?
When they had spent the time with Jesus and had the evil heart of unbelief removed from them, then their
hearts did burn within them. The holy heartburn was the quickest cure for the spirit of despair. If you find
yourself tonight in the grips of hopelessness and despair, the quickest cure I know is to have a fresh encounter
with the living Christ.
II. THE RESULT OF TIME SPENT WITH THE RISEN SAVIOR.
In this inspired record of the events of that Sunday afternoon, we have Jesus the risen Christ spending time
with two long faced, heavy hearted disciples. The result of the time spent with Him is a case of holy heartburn.
We need to look deeply at the time these two spent with Jesus the risen Christ.
1. A time of personal conversation.
The walk that Jesus had with these two disciples began with Him listening to them. They poured out their
disappointment and hurt to Him in very meaningful words and He listened patiently. When they had finished
their words of despair, then he began to explain to them things concerning Himself that were found in all of the
scriptures. We are not sure how far along they were in the journey when Jesus joined them. But we do know
this, that when they arrived at their home, they felt that they had not spent enough time with Him. When He
acted as though He would go on, they urged Him to spend the night with them at their house.
If there is one moment in all of history that I would desire to recapture and listen in on the conversation that
took place, this would be my selection. Oh, how wonderful it would have been to have been the fourth person in
the traveling party that walked toward Emmaus. Do not discount the personal conversation aspect of this. In
conversation there is giving and receiving. There is speaking and listening. Can you imagine it -- the risen Son
of God listens to the whimpering despair of two broken-hearted disciples. And then they have the privilege of
listening to Him. They speak and He listens. He speaks, and they listen. I fear that many times we are guilty of
speaking but not listening. We blurt out our words of disappointment and despair to the risen Christ but never
give Him an opportunity to respond to what we say. Maybe we should build into our time of conversation with
Him which we call personal prayer, as much time as we to listen as we take in speaking.
2. A time of spiritual illumination.
It is of interest that when they spoke of the burning heart they specifically spoke of the way He opened the
Scriptures to them. Luke reports to us that in that extended journey toward Emmaus, that He was spending His
time explaining to them, "What was said in all the scriptures concerning Him." He must have spent some time in
the Mosaic law and indicated to them how He was the fulfillment of the sacrificial system that was set forth in the
law. He must have spent some time in the prophets: maybe especially Isaiah 53 identifying Himself as the
suffering Servant who suffered for the sins of His people. In fact, if He had had the time He could have spent
some time in each of the Old Testament books because there is something about Him in each of those books. It
was as their hearts began to be open to the scriptures that they found themselves with a burning heart. Such a
holy heartburn is a wonderful thing. It is something to be desired. My memory is flooded with experiences where
in my personal time spent with Jesus, He began to open the scriptures to my understanding. From the Holy
Scriptures He began to show me things about Himself that I had never known before. I remember the time when
as a young pastor, he opened to my understanding a revelation of Himself in the book of Leviticus. Leviticus
was a very unlikely place for a young minister to catch a vision of the risen Christ. But as He began to show me
the things about Himself in the book of Leviticus, my heart burned so much within me that I had to close the
Book lest I be overcome with the inner joy that came from that illumination.
Even this past week as I have been reading through the gospel of John, my heart has burned at the early
morning hour as I have seen Jesus in a fresh way. The holy heart burn is the result of time spent with the risen
3. A time of heavenly communion.
Luke is specific about the moment when they knew that the stranger was Jesus. "When He was at the table with
them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they
recognized Him and He disappeared from their sight." It was in that setting of a simple meal in a home in
Emmaus, probably in the home of Cleopas, that it happened. He did what He had often done before, picked up
the bread, and blessed it. There was something in that act that caused them to recognize Him. Some have
suggested that they saw the print of the nails in His hands. This is a possibility. Others have suggested that it
was that familiar act; they had been present when He had done this at other tables. No direct connection should
be made to the observance of the Lord's Supper because these two would not have been present at the Upper
Room. Since we are not told for sure what it was, we will have to live with the uncertainty about it. We know this,
it was as they sat at the table and suddenly realized who He was, that the heartburn reached it highest level.
It is remarkable that as you read the response of the two there does not seem to be any sense of loss that they
are no longer able to physically see the Lord. He evidently just disappeared from their presence. It was not that
He got up and left; He just disappeared. There was a transcendent element to the resurrected Christ. Some
way even when He was gone, there was still an abiding sense of His presence with them. This was a part of the
You will not catch a burning heart from simply reading about Jesus. You have to spend time with the risen
Christ personally before you will ever have a case of a burning heart. Holy heartburn is the result of time spent
with the risen Christ.
III. THE BEST PREPARATION FOR WITNESSING.
What the two did when Jesus suddenly disappeared is so illuminating. They immediately left Emmaus and made
their way back to Jerusalem. Even though night was falling, they rushed back across those seven miles to the
holy city to meet with the other disciples. We can learn from this. Witnessing just naturally grows out of a
1. The necessity of witnessing.
These two now knew something that they must tell. They were not sent back to Jerusalem out of a sense of
duty, but rather out of the compulsion of a burning heart. Their hearts were burning with such joy and such
warmth that it demanded an expression. The only thing that would give them relief would be to be able to tell
somebody what they had just experienced on the road to Emmaus and at the table in their home. Oh, that more
of us had such a case of holy heartburn! What impetus it would give to our witness. What energy it would put
into us. We would be like Paul declaring ourselves to b e under a woe if we did not share what we knew.
2. The joy of the witness.
Can you not see the glow on their faces as they recounted what they had just seen and heard? I can imagine
Cleopas as he says to the group, "You will not believe what He showed us in the prophecy of Isaiah. Do you
know He is the suffering Servant! Do you realize He was bearing your transgressions when He died? Do you
realize that we can now be healed through His stripes? It was with joy that they shared the good news.
Surely the reason the witness of the church today so anemic is that there is not enough of the burning heart.
Not enough of us have a case of holy heartburn. Nothing will do more for revitalizing the witness of the Church
in an unbelieving world that time spent in the presence of Jesus that results in a case of holy heartburn.
3. The confirmation of witness.
We ended our reading with the report that the two gave to the Jerusalem disciples. Luke does not end his
report there. Indeed, they had no sooner finished their conversation, in fact while they were still in the process
of giving their report, "Jesus Himself stood among them." When they bore witness, He confirmed their witness
with a manifestation of His presence. Is there not a lesson there for us? When we bear witness to what we have
come to know of Him, does He not manifest His holy and spiritual presence to confirm our witness? Indeed He
There is a type of heartburn that none of us need -- physical heartburn. But there is a type of spiritual
heartburn of which all of us should seek. If you are serious about it, you can find it by spending quality time in
the presence of the risen Christ. You will be bearing witness with the two on the road to Emmaus "Did not our
hearts burn within us!"