Let's Make Our Hearts Strong  
By Paul Robison

I run each day because of Brother Bob Corbin, a physical education teacher at Harding, who did some research for NASA.  He told me that NASA's asked him to find how much exercise the astronauts could do to keep fit.  Fitness was described as keeping a healthy heart.  The result was that any strenuous activity done for 20 minutes daily could keep a person fit.  Now that's how we can have a strong heart physically.  But we want to see what it takes to make a strong heart spiritually.  Let's have strong hearts spiritually!  Let's make our hearts strong; this is the bulls eye or the main point of today's sermon.  There is story that gives us the secret of strong hearts by stressing how to do it in four ways.  It's a familiar story found in Luke 24:13-35 where we find two disciples who talk with the risen Jesus, but they don't recognize Him at first.
 
The first way you can have a healthy heart is to pray to unburden your heart.  In our text, verses 19-24, we see how these disciples talk with Jesus.  He asks them why they are downcasts.  And Cleopas replies that He must be the only stranger in Jerusalem who doesn't know the buzz about what's happened.  Jesus then invites further conversation and asks: “What things?”  So they explain how Jesus was a mighty Prophet, but the Jewish leaders had condemned and crucified him, and how they had hoped He was the Messiah, but three days had passed now.  These disciples provide a good example for us.  They talked with Jesus, and isn't that what prayer is?  We see them describing reality, making judgments about their leaders (note that the Romans aren't implicated), and they share their feelings (we can almost hear the despondency in their voices).  They talked (or prayed) with reality, sincerity, and anxiety (we see this because they had left Jerusalem and were returning home to get back to business as usual, and they reported that other disciples went to the tomb but did not see the Lord Jesus--how paradoxical that they don't see Jesus either, even though He is standing and talking with them)!  Let's pray for our congregation in the same way they prayed.  Let's pray realistically, describing things in our church as they really are.  Let's pray sincerely, and share our true feelings.  Let's even pray with some anxiety, and tell the Lord about our worries for this congregation!  We can pray in these ways because Peter admonishes us: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).  We can follow the example of two people in our prayers.  A church leader in Italy, named Sergio, once prayed a very simple prayer at the close of a worship service: “Lord, save our congregation!”  Do you hear the reality, sincerity, and anxiety?  His prayer was answered.  There's another believer named David Green who is the CEO of a large business.  His stores stay open until 8:00 so that employees can be with their families, the stores are closed on Sundays (which cost them $100 million a year), and they play Christian music while you shop.  In 2003, the company was about to go bankrupt.  Green said that learned to pray very seriously.  His prayer closet became the hole under his executive desk where he usually puts his feet.  That company makes a billion dollars annually now, and it is called Hobby Lobby.  Now if Green could pray seriously to have his company spared, why can't we pray seriously, just a like Sergio did, to have our congregation saved and revitalized?  There's a wonderful poem that states:
                 “I know not by what methods rare,
                 But this I know, God answers prayer. 
                  I know not if the blessings sought
                 Will come in just the way I thought;
                 But leave my prayer with Him alone,
                 Whose will is wiser than my own. 
                 Assured that He will grant my quest,
                 Or send some answer far more blest” (Elizabeth Hickok).

Pray to unburden your heart.  Let's make our hearts strong in 2011!
 
Next, you can reflect to enlighten your heart.  In the story, we see how Jesus calls them foolish or dull to understand.  So He begins explaining how the prophets had predicted that the Messiah must suffer in order to enter into his glory.  Later, we see these disciples telling others that their hearts burned in them as Jesus told these things.  You see, they had what we might call “a holy heartburn”!  Their hearts burned because Jesus' news that the Messiah would conquer death was better than any triumph the Jews could have over their Roman oppressors!  There is an interesting play on the word “opened” in verses 31-32.  Jesus had opened the Scriptures to these disciples, and this happened right before their eyes were opened to recognize Him!  We need also to seek understanding.  Jesus had explained so that they could understand the Scriptures.  We need to try to understand the Scriptures too.  We need to understand both the Old and New Testaments.  The Old Testament is setting the stage for the New Testament.  For example, God promises Abraham that the nations would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:3).  That promises is fulfilled at the end of Genesis where all the world is blessed through Joseph, but Paul tells us of an even greater salvation as Jesus comes to give Himself as a sacrifice for all the nations (Galatians 3:8)!  How can we understand that Jesus is our Passover Lamb if we haven't ever read anything about the Jewish Passover?  We need to understand both testaments.  We also need to learn biblical prophecies.  Someone has calculated that there are 456 prophecies that relate to Christ (Butts)!  Prophecies like that in Genesis 49:10 which tell us the Messiah, called Shiloh, will come from the tribe of Judah.  Even the Jews see this passage as referring to the Messiah!  In Isaiah 9:6-7, we find this wonderful promise: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and peace, there shall be no end ...!”  Or we read those prophecies in Isaiah 53 that the Servant will be led like a lamb to the slaughter, and God would lay our iniquities upon Him.  And by His strips, we are healed!  Yes, by His strips, we are healed!  If He had not have died, none of us would be here in this assembly today!  Learn biblical prophecies!  And then let's read books about Jesus and His culture.  Did you know that in Jesus' day, the Jews were looking for two Messiahs?  One they called “the son of David,” and He would be a political ruler.  The other they called, “the son of Joseph,” and He would be someone who would have to suffer.  You see, Jesus' disciples could not bring these two Messiahs together, and that's exactly what Jesus did in His Bible lesson to those disciples on the road!  Here's some books that are on my desk which I will let you borrow: God of the Towel (McGuiggan), Jesus: Lord & Savior (Bruce), Jesus: Meet Him Again (Smith), Jesus: Our Mentor (Hazelip), Jesus: The Messiah (Stein), The Jesus I Never Knew (Yancey), The Life & Teaching of Jesus (Stewart), The World Jesus Knew (Punton).  When we were at my mother-in-law's over the holiday, she brought out a jig saw puzzle for us to do.  You know something, you don't usually work a jig saw puzzle very quickly.  You “reflect” on each piece—its color patterns and its position in the overall picture.  As you read these books about Jesus and His culture, you began to see “pieces,” and they begin to help you to have a better concept of the whole and to see how Jesus often acted very counter-cultural at times!  Reflect to enlighten your heart.  Let's make our hearts strong in 2011!
 
Next, you can get together to inspire your heart.  In this passage, there is an emphasis on togetherness.  Note that there was a “company” of disciples (verse 22).  The church had not been born yet, but here was the embryo.  Note also in verse 29, how the disciples “constrain” Jesus to stay with them.  They wanted His company.  Then, verse 33 tells us that they found all the disciples who were gathered together.  It is amazing that these disciples stayed together after Jesus' death and did not immediately disperse.  Lastly, verse 35 reveals that Jesus was recognized at the breaking of the bread, an event in which they were joined together.  This meal is probably not the Lord's Supper.  Luke uses “breaking bread” in several passages in Luke and Acts to refer to a normal meal.  These two disciples had not been at the Lord's Supper.  And if it was the Lord's Supper, it got caught short rather abruptly.  This was a meal, but how did they come to recognize him.  Some think that the way he broke the bread may have been similar to the way He broke it at the feeding of the 5000, of which these disciples may have been a part.  Some think that when Jesus broke the bread, His hands become visible for them to see, and they saw and recognized the nail-prints in His hands!  Isn't it wonderful how we can recognize Jesus in the lives of others?  We can see Jesus living in them, just like Paul did in Timothy's life.  Note what he said in 2 Timothy 1:3-5: “I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also.”  Paul saw Jesus living in Lois, and in Eunice, and in Timothy.  Pachomius was a general in Egypt who became a Christians.  In his day, 315 A. D., there was sort of an unusual practice.  If you wanted to really be a super strong Christian, you would break away from society and then go live in a cave or in the wilderness away from others.  The idea behind was: “If one could get away from the world, then they would be less likely to become worldly.”  The solitude would help increase one's chances of remaining holy.  Accordingly, Pachomius joined himself to another disciple who was a hermit.  After several months, Pachomius began to question this practice: “How could one learn love, patience, kindness, and long-suffering without having others present in their lives?”  So he broke away and tried something different.  He established a place where Christians could work together, and live together, and grow in their faith and holiness together.  In fact, he made a very simple, but profound statement: “TO SAVE SOULS, YOU MUST BRING THEM TOGETHER.”  I'm not sure if he was talking about lost or saved souls, but my hunch is that he was referring to those already saved.  You bring souls together to keep them saved!  And brothers, that is our challenge as well.  We will be meeting next Saturday to try to determine how we, as brothers, can have more interaction among us, how we can be brought together.  Our sisters are doing this pretty well in various activities that they have each month, but we need to be coming together in order to save our souls!  Be thinking about how we can do that!  Get together to inspire your heart!  Let's make our hearts strong in 2001!
 
Lastly, you can confess to release your heart.  Those disciples in the story had told Jesus to remain with them because it was getting late and would soon be dark, no time for travel.  But after they recognize Jesus, they high tail for 7 miles back to Jerusalem, along a road that had no electric lights!  They found the other disciples.  And the other disciples had some news for them: “Peter had seen Jesus!”  Now earlier, the women had also, but in the Jewish culture, the witness of women was looked upon with suspicion, even in a Jewish court!  Ah, but here was Peter saying that he had seen the Lord!  Now that was indeed remarkable!  But then, these two disciples have some news for the group, and they share how Jesus had met them on the road, explained the Scriptures to them, and they recognized Him when eating together!  Question: “Now why did these disciples have a reaction to tell their news?  Why did they go back to Jerusalem in the night to share what they had discovered?”  They did it because IT WAS THE GREATEST NEWS IMMAGINABLE—JESUS HAD CONQUERED DEATH, AND HE TRULY WAS THE LONGED-FOR MESSIAH OF ISRAEL!!  Now, think about this.  Who were those disciples?  One was named Cleopas, and the other is unknown.  They weren't “special” disciples; they were just ordinary disciples, just like we are ordinary Christians.  And here are these ordinary Christians sharing the greatest news in the world!  And we, we ordinary Christian, can do exactly the same thing!  WE CAN SHARE THE WORLD'S GREATEST NEWS WITH OTHERS WE KNOW!  Like the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:20-21, we can confess: “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep!  For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead!  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ, all shall be made alive!”  Jesus changes everything; business as usually has been overturned!  There is a newspaper in London called “The Guardian,” and they print a column every day called “Corrections and Clarifications,” where they print up and correct all the previous edition's errors.  Do you know that because of this practice, their readership increased!  People liked that kind of honesty and accountability.  One preacher comments: “Neither newspapers nor human beings can avoid making mistakes.  It is candor in admitting them and taking responsibility for them that is unique.”  So, let's admit our errors, share our joys (like these disciples did), and talk positively!  Confess to release your heart!  Let's make our hearts strong in 2011!
 
Let's pray: “Father, we want to have strong heart during this next year.  Help us to pray, to reflect, to gather together, and to confess.  Help us to grow to be more like your Son.  In His name, we pray, Amen.”
 
“Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8)!  If you are not a Christian, you need to establish your heart now!  The first step towards having a strong heart is to make Jesus the Lord of your life!  You need to repent of your sins, confess your faith in Him as God's Son, and be immersed in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit for the remission of your sins!  Or maybe you've been like these disciples and have failed to recognize Jesus.  If you have that “holy heartburn” to return to Him, won't you do that today?  Come to Christ right now!