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July 1975 · Vol. 4 No. 3 · pp. 347–49 

The Preaching Lab

John Regehr


Within the last several months I have heard no less than three sermons on the Emmaus story (Luke 24:13-35). This is not surprising, since the portion is a rich resource for good-news preaching. Indeed, a few years ago (as some of my students will confirm) I found in this text a pattern for personal counseling which parallels almost step by step an accepted psychiatric interview.

One of the recent sermons on this text was preached in an MBBC chapel hour. Since I was to be in charge of chapel a few days later, I thought I might continue the reading of the chapter. To my amazement, I found the text richer than I had dreamed.

This experience confirmed what I already knew:

  1. We are prone to select our own functional canon. For many of us this personal, functional canon is rather thin. God went to a great deal of trouble to get the entire text of Scripture written and preserved. We ought not to toss huge chunks of it aside as of little value.
  2. All scripture is useful “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” not only those great sections which have been customarily used by preachers.
  3. The “great” texts of the Scripture throw light on the commonplace paragraphs which border them. If we can find this illumination, we have at the same time found illumination for the commonplace in our lives.
  4. The less striking portions of the word yield much helpful truth if we will take the time to dig a little. (That is an imperfect image, since “to dig” sounds like mastering the text. It is better that the text come to us. The tools we use to discover meanings of words and significance of syntax are means of opening the windows of our understanding to allow the text to come to us.) We must take time to let the text do its work in us, and thus reveal to us its treasure.

Note: You will notice that the sermon is an attempt to let the text preach in contemporary language, rather than an attempt to talk about the text.

In the actual preaching, this means using the actual words of the text as words spoken to the hearer directly rather than to keep jumping from “then” to “now” and back again.

For example, rather than saying, “In our text the disciples were startled and frightened,” we might say, “In the very words these people are saying (reference to section A) we sense a divine presence. We are startled and frightened. This all seems so unreal.” (cf. vv. 36-37) {348}


Text: Luke 24:34, 36-49

Key Truth: When Jesus reveals himself to us in the everyday things of life, our fear changes to joy, and our understanding grows to witness.

  1. Sometimes Jesus is a Presence that frightens us. (36-37)
    1. He approaches us through an experience others have had.
      1. “Tremendous! glorious!” they say.
        “Now we know!” they say.
        “If only you could also . . .” they say.
      2. And we are afraid
        “Would Jesus do this for us? even me?”
        “What changes would be necessary in me if he did?”
        “I’m afraid!”
    2. We sense that there is something super-natural here.
      1. We perceive a presence.
        “Something is going on!”
        “This is unreal!”
      2. We are startled, jolted, shocked.
      3. I am frightened
        “My perception of how things are has no room for such a mysterious presence.”
        “I must get my hands on real things; I must see, feel, touch, grasp, hear, control!”
        “I don’t know what to do with things that appear to be, but have no business being!”
  2. Then He becomes a presence that overjoys us. (38-43)
    1. We know the deep rebuke (38)
      1. triggered by insensitive, cutting, supercilious words of people:
        “You don’t think such things can happen!”
        “You don’t believe the Spirit works this way!”
        “You’re not in favor of evangelism! revival!”
      2. the question Jesus asks is sharp too, piercing the conscience.
        “Why are you troubled when I make myself known?”
        “Does it bother you when I make my appearance in ways you can’t anticipate?”
        “Why try to rationalize me away by asking questions you think can’t be answered?”
        “Indeed, why crowd out new adventure with me by stuffing your heart with questions?”
    2. Jesus’ rebuke is not an indication that he’s turning away. (39-40)
      1. He looks us in the eye, holds us firm and asks about our heart.
      2. He seeks to convince us that he is still one of use, that the incarnation is an ongoing arrangement. {349}
        “The experience these others talk about is not nine clouds removed from reality.”
        “The Calvary sacrifice and the resurrection have not removed me from life where it’s at for you.”
        “I have flesh, bones. I’m for real!”
        “I can meet you as ‘graspably’ as I met others.”
      3. “Let me be who I am, to you!” Jesus, the Christ; here; for you.
    3. Jesus does not let our hesitation of faith turn him away. (41-43)
      1. Disbelieving joy is the threshold of discovery.
        Our questions have not evaporated.
        Wondering lingers on, “How can this be?!”
        But joy is tingling through the system as we pump our lungs full of this fresh, crisp morning air of divine reality!
      2. Jesus himself helps us to a firm faith.
        “Have you something to eat?” he says.
        He invites us to share our commonplace with him.
        (food, chapter in a text book, job, joblessness, decision, friends, debts, family)
        Our commonplace becomes hallowed ground, because Jesus shares it. He’s for real, touching my commonalities, making the everyday sacred. Imagine! the Calvary Sacrifice, the Risen Christ, gracing my life by sharing ordinary, everyday things of my existence!
  3. Now Jesus is a presence that continues with us. (44-46)
    1. As the incarnation was a fulfillment of all that God had predicted and was tied to the Word, so Jesus’ continuing presence with us is tied to the Word.
    2. True, we need enlightenment to understand the Scripture and tie it to life where we are.
    3. But our greatest problem is not understanding, but becoming acquainted with it—absorbing, learning, thinking it. (The understanding will come; after all the Holy Spirit who wrote it is in us.)
    4. If we understand the mind of God through the Word, then even the roughest experiences won’t unsettle us (46).
  4. Jesus is now free to become a presence through us. (47-49).
    1. Where Jesus is, great things happen (47).
    2. Our witness will make Jesus a real presence (notice how the cycle begins again, see v. 36).
    3. God has provided ample power for us to become what he intends—witnesses. (The Holy Spirit in us causes things to keep happening so that we have something to talk about.)
John Regehr is Associate Professor of Practical Theology at the Mennonite Brethren Bible College

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