Faith Precedes Understanding – Hearing the Word of God

“Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.” He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” – Luke 24:13-35


The title of this devotional series, Faith Precedes Understanding, seems backwards from a human perspective. However, the road to understanding is more easily navigated when we begin with two questions:

  • What does it mean to really believe?
  • How is faith born in a person’s heart?

Keeping these two questions in mind, we will unpack the Scripture passage to discover that faith truly does precede understanding. Simply put, in order for a person to really understand spiritual matters, he or she must believe first. Why? Because this is the way God has ordered His spiritual kingdom; this is how faith works.

What are the steps a person must take to attain authentic belief and genuine understanding? The first step is this: You must hear the Word of God in your heart. Paul writes in Romans 10:17, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Look again at verse 15. Here are two disciples on the road to Emmaus discussing events that just happened in Jerusalem, when Jesus joins them, “but they were kept from recognizing him.”

Why were they unable to recognize Jesus? I would suggest that Jesus’ body had changed to some extent. He was now in his resurrection body, though I don’t believe He was fully glorified yet. We know something had changed about his body by the way Mary Magdalene responded to him outside the empty tomb:

 “Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means teacher).”
–John 20:15b-16

It was only when Jesus said her name that she recognized him. Therefore, after the resurrection, something about Jesus’ appearance changed, which is one of the reasons the two disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognize him.

However, the primary reason they did not recognize Jesus is found in v. 16: “they were kept from recognizing him.” In other words, God prevented them from recognizing Him. We need to understand something about salvation, and there is plenty of mystery in what I’m about to say. I believe that salvation is totally the work of God. In his most famous poem, “The Hound of Heaven,” English poet Francis Thompson rightly describes God as the Hound of Heaven who pursues us while we are running away from Him in rebellion. If God did not come after us, none of us would be saved. He is the one who chooses us. We do not choose Him. He is the one who makes us alive in Christ though we are dead in our sins – it is only by grace that we are saved. The faith we possess is a gift from God that He alone gives to those whom He will, and salvation comes in His timing. These men did not immediately recognize Jesus because they did not fully believe until Jesus opened their eyes. This is why Jesus said to them in verse 25, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” They did not yet possess saving faith.

Faith precedes understanding. The world says, “Seeing is believing!” but the Bible says, “Believing is seeing!” Likewise, man says, “Show me and then I will believe!” but Jesus says, “Believe me and then I will show you.” These two disciples could neither see nor understand until they first believed. That is the way God has ordered things.

Notice what Jesus does as he walks with these two dejected disciples. Verse 27 says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” At that time, “all Scriptures beginning with Moses and all the Prophets” referred to the Hebrew Bible, which we call the Old Testament. Thus, Jesus began to reveal Himself to these two disciples. Imagine having Jesus, the greatest teacher in the world, as your Sunday school teacher. I’ll bet the conversation went something like this:

“Cleopas, remember in Genesis 22 when God told Abraham to take his only son and sacrifice him on the mountain? Abraham obeyed, and just as he took his knife to slay his son, my Father stopped him and provided a ram to take his place. Abraham called that place ‘The Lord will provide.’ Cleopas, the Lord has provided—I am that provision. Do you see?”

“Cleopas, remember when Moses told the Israelites to kill lambs without defect and put the lambs’ blood on the doorposts? That night, the death angel passed over Egypt, and the firstborn in every household that was not covered by the blood died. Don’t you see? Those lambs pointed to me. Three days ago, when Jews all over Jerusalem were shedding the blood of lambs to celebrate Passover, the Lamb of God was being nailed to the cross. Cleopas, I am the Passover Lamb. Isn’t it ironic that while everyone was celebrating Passover I was being nailed to the cross?”

“Cleopas, Psalm 16:10 says, “You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.” David prophesied that the Messiah would rise from the dead, which is why the women found an empty tomb this morning. The two of you have heard the Word. These are the Scriptures that point to me. Now you must believe! Faith must be born in your hearts.”

Cleopas and his friend were brought to the same point of decision each of us must reach in order to place our trust in Jesus and His Word and be saved. So what steps must a person take in order to be assured that he or she has authentic faith accompanied by true spiritual understanding? First, you must hear the Word of God with the ears of your heart. Many times throughout the gospels, Jesus says, “Let him who has ears hear.” Do you have ears to hear? Have you truly heard the Word of God with the ears of your heart? Next week, we will examine the second step that leads to saving faith and spiritual understanding. Remember, faith precedes understanding. Stay tuned. Amen!