Faith Precedes Understanding – Believing Jesus

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. As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 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. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” – Luke 24:13-32


This devotional series began with a question—“What does it mean to have real, biblical, saving faith?”  The series title alludes to a basic premise that contradicts worldly rhetoric: In God’s economy, belief comes first and understanding follows; therefore, Faith Precedes Understanding. In the second devotion, we read about Cleopas and his friend, who encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus and had a life-changing experience. We will expound on that passage and continue to unpack three crucial steps a person must take to attain authentic belief and genuine understanding. In the last devotion, we learned that the first step is hearing: You must hear the Word of God in your heart. The second step is believing: You must believe Jesus in your heart!

Notice the conversation that took place between Cleopas and his friend. In verse 19, Jesus asks them, “What things [have happened]?” At that point, they did not have real saving faith. They did not yet recognize who Jesus was. Thus, they said, “This Jesus of Nazareth was just a prophet who was a great speaker, powerful in word, and who performed great deeds.” Isn’t that how many people today view Jesus?

Oftentimes, people say Jesus was merely a great man or a dynamic teacher. Cleopas and his friend, along with their religious leaders, had expected the Messiah to be the One who would restore Israel to her rightful place, and these two disciples had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah. But their hopes were dashed when, instead of restoring Israel, Jesus was first handed over by their own religious leaders and subsequently sentenced to death by crucifixion. The way things turned out left these disciples feeling discouraged. However, as they walked along the road to Emmaus, without really knowing why, these two friends were drawn to Jesus, so much so that they insisted He join them for dinner in their home that evening. Just before they ate, Jesus explained how all of the Scriptures that had been written at that time (the Old Testament) were about Him. Then Jesus “took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them” and, suddenly, “their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (Luke 24:30-31). The result? Their hearts burned within them because, for the first time, they had true heart belief in Jesus, the Savior. 

As Jesus revealed Himself through the Scriptures, Cleopas and his friend experienced the first step toward true belief – they heard the Word of God in their hearts. A few moments later, they moved to on to the second step when they believed in their hearts.

These two disciples are just like many people today who attend church every Sunday, recite the Apostles’ Creed, say the Lord’s Prayer and partake of communion. They hear nice homilies about this man called Jesus, but their religious leaders never explain to them who Jesus really is and how they can know Him and have true faith that is alive and real. For them, going to church has become like walking on a religious treadmill… and they are going nowhere.  

How has the church experience become a monotonous grind of simply going through motions without meaning? Blind guides. What do I mean by “blind guides?” I will share a recent experience to explain. A while back, I had the opportunity to meet a very nice minister of a local church. While we were meeting, I wondered to myself, “is he a true believer?’ I came away from that meeting without really knowing the answer. For one thing, I didn’t talk with him long enough about spiritual matters, nor have I listened to any of his sermons. Definitively speaking, I can’t say one way or the other. But what I did notice is that the minister is very kind and gentle. Furthermore, I know many people who go to his church and love him and his manner of telling funny stories.

However, I was struck by the fact that, as we met, he neither offered to pray nor mentioned anything about his relationship with Jesus. Nothing about our conversation indicated that he is a true believer. I share this with you to say that regardless of whether he is a true believer or not, he helps us visualize the appearance of a blind guide. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness.” The problem is that blind guides never look like blind guides. Paul makes it clear that they masquerade as someone they are not. To masquerade simply means to put up a false pretense. The mask hides who they really are and, more often than not, these blind guides have the countenance of an angel. They are very kind, hospitable and even intelligent, but they work against God because they don’t really know Jesus and, thus, have no way of leading a person to Christ. They are blind guides.

Likewise, Cleopas and his friend had no one to turn to because their religious leaders were blind guides, so Jesus came to them and explained all that is written about Him in the Scriptures. One of the reasons I chose to enroll in seminary back in 1999 surrounded the teachings of a very liberal church where I was a member. I sat under the preaching of a blind guide for several years until I could no longer take it. Then I pulled my family out of that church and we became Baptists. I went to seminary to study theology so I would be in a better position to defend true Christianity in the face of liberal theology that has swept through nearly every denomination in our country.

When I graduated from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2003, the Lord led me to start Finding Purpose, a ministry to men. Through this ministry I go and teach the Bible to men who are willing to hear what Jesus has to say about Himself throughout the Scriptures. In many cases, these men have no one to whom they can turn, so they enroll in Bible study. I have discovered that when men are willing to study God’s Word, they come to know Jesus and, like the two disciples, their hearts begin to burn within them. They want more—they hunger for the Word. It is a life-changing experience!

For example, several years ago I met a man who had never been in a Bible study, and I would say, back then, he was not a Christian. After attending the study I taught at Christ Baptist Church for several weeks, he approached me. I will never forget what he said to me that night: “Russ, this Bible study is like a drug, and I can’t get enough of it.” Clearly, the Word was burning in his heart, and his eyes were being opened. Seven years have passed, and he still comes to Bible study, but now he is a true follower of Jesus Christ. After Jesus opened the Scriptures to Cleopas and his friend, we read in verse 31: “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” They had heard the Word and then believed in their hearts. From that moment, their eyes were opened, and they saw who Jesus really is. Augustine said, “Faith is to believe what you do not yet see; the reward for this faith is to see what you believe.” Hence, Faith Precedes Understanding.

In conclusion, the steps a person must take in order to have true faith accompanied by genuine spiritual understanding are as follows: 1) hear the word of God and take it to heart, and 2)  believe in Jesus with all your heart. Next week we examine the third step. Stay tuned! Amen!