Martin Luther on Christ’s Sermon to the Emmaus Disciples

 In this excerpt from Luther’s sermon on Luke 24:13–35 included in his Church Postil, the reformer reflects on the “sermon” that the risen Christ preached to the two disciples as they traveled from Jerusalem to Emmaus. With Christians throughout history, Luther here ponders what Christ may have told the disciples, as He “interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”

This was without a doubt a very beautiful, glorious sermon [that Christ preached to the disciples on the way to Emmaus]. Now it is true that we all—and each one of us—would like to know which Scriptures the Lord quoted which spoke about Him, by which they were kindled, strengthened, and convinced. We find very little—almost nothing, it would seem—in Moses which speaks about what He says: that He must suffer and rise on the third day and repentance and forgiveness be preached in His name [Luke 24:46–47], etc. The Jews had Moses at that time and long before, and still to this day diligently read themselves full of him, and yet they have never observed something so great and unusual in him.

But the evangelist answers this and solves the problem in this way: their hearts were kindled when He explained the Scriptures to them [Luke 24:32]. Shortly afterward the Gospel says that He opened their understanding so that they understood the Scriptures [Luke 24:45]. It is established that Moses certainly writes about Christ and that He can be read about there, but what matters is that whoever reads also should understand what it says. Paul also says that the veil of Moses, which only Christ takes away (2 Corinthians 3 [:14]), remains before the face of the Jews when they read the Old Testament. He says to His apostles: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to the others that they see and hear it but may not understand it” [Matt. 13:11].

Therefore, Scripture is the kind of book which requires not only reading and preaching but also the true Exegete, namely, the revelation of the Holy Spirit. In our time we see in our own experience that, when we prove most clearly from Scripture the articles of pure doctrine and refute the errors of our opponents, it does not help them. There has never been any article of faith preached which was not more than once attacked and contradicted by the heretics, who, after all, read the same Scriptures that we have.

This revelation also requires true students who want to be taught and instructed (like these simple, godly disciples), not sophists and obstinate spirits and self-made masters who with their cleverness reach far above the heavens. This is the kind of doctrine which makes our wisdom into folly and puts out the eyes of our reason, if it is to be believed and understood. It does not come from human wisdom like other teachings and knowledge on earth, which have come from reason and can again be grasped by reason.

That is why it is impossible to grasp this [revelation] with our reason; and if you presume to measure and calculate how far [the revelation] agrees with [reason], you will not succeed. All heresies from the beginning have arisen from [reason], and both Jews, Gentiles, and now the Turks become frantic and wild about our doctrine and faith because it does not conform to reason and human wisdom. Only the godly, simple people who hold to this course and say, “God said it; therefore, I will believe it,” can grasp and understand how Christ Himself speaks and thanks God from a happy heart that He “had hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” [Matt. 11:25].

There is no help for it—we cannot instruct wise people and high reason in the wonderful things about Christ: that a natural man is God’s Son from eternity and yet died and rose again and became Lord in heaven and earth in His human nature, and rules all creatures with divine power even though no one sees Him; and that we are saved only for His sake, if we believe in Him, etc. Therefore, God had to set it up in this way: that whoever does not want to be a fool and a child and simply believe shall not grasp it.

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Amended from Luther’s Works volume 77, pages 51–53. © 2014 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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Dawn Weinstock

Dawn Mirly Weinstock has been with Concordia Publishing House for 25 years and has served as a production editor for professional and academic books for more than 10 years. Her projects have included Luther's Works, Johann Gerhard’s Theological Commonplaces, and the writings of Hermann Sasse, C. F. W. Walther, and many others.

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