How the Inner Fire Spreads to Others
When metal begins to heat, the molecules in it start moving, vibrating to some tune within. The heat may originate from an outside source, but when the tiniest bits of the metal start vibrating, the substance generates its own heat. Scientists call this “exciting the molecules.”
And so it is with the church and the community. The impact of a congregation on a community is not primarily the result of public worship services. Instead, the most effective witness of the church to the community is the influence of the people of the church through the week. If the church is full of hot-hearted believers who let the Holy Spirit lead and empower them each day, the lives they live provide
• a more beautiful witness than a choir and orchestra anthem,
• a more powerful testimony than a Gospel hymn,
• a more eloquent utterance than any sermon, and
• a more authentic demonstration of the Spirit than a carefully planned, well executed service of worship.
When someone makes a public declaration of faith in Christ, it is usually the result of a believer’s personal influence. The more public worship services resemble presentational concerts and ceremonies, the more crucial the authentic witness of ordinary people becomes.
We are talking about two levels of incarnation:
1. In public worship, the truth of God becomes visible, audible, and tangible but it is still a representational presentation. It is powerful, artistic and spiritual but it is still an abstraction.
2. In personal witness, the love of God is made flesh—our flesh—in a multi-dimensional reality. No longer an artistic abstraction, the truth and love of God take on real, human form.
To touch the world for Jesus the people of God need both levels of incarnation. In fact the most powerful witness of the church is when one incarnation fuels the other.
• Powerful Christian living through the week culminates in powerful public worship on the Lord’s Day.
• Conversely, great worship services stir the spiritual fires of the people to live holy and productive lives.
The Road of the Fiery Heart
The story of the pilgrimage of Cleopas and his unnamed associate from Jerusalem to Emmaus and back again is an eloquent description of how the church affects the community. (Luke 24:13-26) What can we learn about the community of faith of the Disciples? They lived in a real community. More than geographical neighborhoods and villages near the cities, the disciples of Jesus had authentic spiritual communities. • Jesus was the center of their individual lives and therefore, of their communities. • His words formed the center of their beliefs. • His compassion had drawn each of them together and each had a story to tell of His grace. • His vision of the Kingdom of God come to earth “as it is in heaven” was their vision of what life should be. • They were a faith family—brothers and sisters, parents and children in the faith—because Jesus commanded it to be so. • His presence was their shared experience. • The closer they drew to Him, the closer they became with each other.
In view of this deep sense of community, it is easy to understand their despair when Jesus was killed. The journey to Emmaus happened in a time of confusion about what had happened.
They were processing current events. These brothers lived in neither a cave nor a cocoon. They lived in the real world. Their theologies were not abstract. They had witnessed the power of God at work:
• sick people healed,
• blind eyes opened,
• dead people brought back to life,
• multitudes fed from a morsel,
• storms ceasing and demons fleeing at Jesus command.
• They had heard His voice and His words, though it is sure not all of them were understood, had gone like an arrow to their hearts.
In those terrible hours after the cross and burial, Jesus’ promise to rise again on the third day was the topic of discussion.
They judged current events by Scripture. When, unknown to them, Jesus was suddenly walking along and talking with them, their analysis of current events shifted to a higher plane. Instead of rumors and incomplete testimonies, Jesus opened the pages of the Word of God to them. He took them on a tour of scriptures they had known since boyhood, explaining them in whole new light. As He did, their hearts caught fire.
They shared a meal together. Arriving at Emmaus, they asked Jesus to share a meal with them. Somehow they still did not recognize Him. When Jesus prayed and broke the bread, their eyes were opened and they understood who their companion in the way really was. Scholars see the Lord’s Supper in this action and I quite agree.
Jesus was their traveling companion. The Lord is revealed to our hearts when we worship Him. It can be when we break bread at the Communion Table or simply the reading of the Bible; Jesus is revealed in the breaking of the Bread of Life. Suddenly they understood the flame in their hearts. He vanished from their physical sight, but the fire He left behind burned all the more brightly.
The resurrection set their hearts on fire. Weariness, despair, confusion, and doubt were all quickly consumed by the fire in their hearts. A mere seven miles could never keep them from rejoining the other disciples in Jerusalem so they made better time returning than they had leaving. As they shared their experience with the others, Jesus miraculously appeared to all of them, striking the same sort of spirit-fire in each of their hearts.