Jesus in the midst.
Selected Writings of Charles Stanley: Volume 1, p. 45.
There can be no doubt that the last days of difficulty and perplexity are present realities. You meet a friend, and almost the first word is, “What a state of confusion everything is in!” His face as well as words seem to say, Everything is gone. Some have been expecting the universal spread of Christianity, and the conversion of the world; others, who have long seen the unscripturalness of such a thought, have been expecting there may be some great display of the Church in its unity on earth. Instead, they find division and sorrow, through the perversity and obstinacy of men. Such become greatly discouraged, and have real sadness of heart.
Thus, if we turn to Luke 24, we shall find a picture of the things that are happening in our very days. We know the Church, or Assembly, was not yet formed, for the Holy Ghost had not yet come to form it. But the company then gathered at Jerusalem was the very company which was afterward baptized by the Holy Ghost when the Church began.
We find, then, two of them with their backs on Jerusalem — on the Assembly there, and their faces toward Emmaus. They were not going far away — about six miles. Now what was their condition, or state of mind? They were occupied with the things that had happened. Intellect was at work, and they reasoned. There does not appear to be any wilfulness or stubbornness in their conduct; but they were very sad of heart, and sorely perplexed.
Let us remember they were of the company at Jerusalem, but not in their place. They were walking away, as if all were over and lost. Things had turned out very different from what they had expected, and they were sadly disappointed. Is not this a picture of many in this day? They are of the Church of God, the Assembly; they are members of the body of Christ, but as to their position, they are so sad, by reasoning about the things that have happened, that, though of it, “two of them,” yet they are walking with their backs to the Assembly, and their faces toward Emmaus. Did the Lord forget these two wanderers, as they talked together of all these things which had happened? No; it was while they thus communed and reasoned Jesus Himself drew near, and went with them. Now what is really the matter with souls in this state is just as it was with them — “Their eyes were holden that they should not know Him.”
How tenderly He inquires of their sadness! Does He not feel the same now? Is His love changed? May we not say, “O teach me more of Thy blest ways”? There was little intelligence in them, and their faith in His resurrection was very weak. How tenderly He listens to every word! One thing He did rebuke was their slowness of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken! “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” And may not the wandering, sad hearts be rebuked in this matter now? Oh, for the tender love of Christ to open up the Scriptures, and show that not a single thing is now happening that has not been foretold in Scripture. Yes, all our disappointment and sadness of heart arise from not knowing the Scriptures. They were ignorant of the Scriptures, and they knew not Him.
And now they want to turn in, and settle down for the night; a little independent company, or if you please, individuals away from the Assembly. Oh, the love that could not give them up! Though He showed His disapproval of their step, He opened to them the Scriptures, and their hearts did burn, though as yet their eyes were closed. But what a change when their eyes were opened, and they knew Him! “They rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them.” What a picture! While our souls are in that moral state not to know the Lord in the midst of the Assembly, our backs are sure to be turned to Jerusalem. And the moment we truly know Him, the face is immediately turned toward the Assembly. Wonderfully does this picture illustrate the condition of many of the children of God at this time. Doubtless many are sad of heart, and sorely perplexed with all the things that have happened, who never yet knew the sanctuary of deliverance revealed in this scripture. They reason in vain; their thoughts turn to convocations, alterations in ecclesiastical law, questions of so-called church and state. They are distracted with discord, jarrings, and divisions on every hand, but are as blind to the true deliverance from these tumults, as these two sad hearts were blind to the One who so gently opened unto them the Scriptures.
Others who have walked with Him have been turned aside; not only those who, in wilfulness, have sought to lead disciples after them (Acts 20:30), but such as have, like these two sad hearts, been so occupied with men and things, that they have lost the power of discerning the Person and mind of the Lord. Oh, that such might dwell on the love of the Lord to these two wanderers! Would He not take you to the Scriptures, and show you that all that has happened was foretold? Ah, He would not merely make our hearts burn by His own precious ministry, but He would open our eyes to know Himself. And we cannot know Him without becoming attracted to the Assembly, His Body. Is there anything on this earth so dear to the heart of Christ as His Church? Does not the Spirit of God move the heart of the reader to arise, and go back to the Assembly?
O meditate on that infinite love to the Church, and you will soon find yourselves on the way back. We cannot know Him without loving that which He loves. There may be little intelligence, yet we shall soon find ourselves where He delights to reveal Himself.
And soon they arrive at Jerusalem; weariness, and sadness, and disappointment are all left at Emmaus — all uncertainty is now gone. The Lord is risen indeed, is the certainty they find in the company gathered together. And the two returned ones are ready to tell their story of deliverance from sadness and disappointment, “how He was known of them in breaking of bread.” Is it not sweet also in our day to have returning ones tell the story of restoring love? This touched the heart of Jesus; “And as they thus spake, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.” Surely this was as superior to the earthly sanctuary, the worldly temple, with its priesthood and ritual, as heaven is to earth.
Have we been gathered to Christ, the Holy and the True? And are those who had wandered in sadness, a little way from the assembly ground of the twos or threes gathered together unto His name, being now restored by Him? Is it still true that, apart from all worldly sanctuaries, human priesthoods, and carnal ordinances, set up of man, Jesus Himself is in the midst of those gathered to Him? And does He still speak those precious words to those so gathered, “Peace be unto you”? Can we not hear, above the roaring tempest of human discord, those tender words, the very voice we know — “It is I, be not afraid”? Mark 6:50.
It is indeed very blessed when He first speaks peace to the conscience through His precious blood — “It is finished” — “Peace unto you.” Eternity will never unfold the infinite debt of love we owe to Him for this character of peace.
But let us see Him, and hear Him in the midst of the company gathered in the upper room. Ah, they were even afraid of the religious world outside, so the doors were shut. What a contrast with that religious world! It had antiquity, and everything to please the ear and the eye. Shall we say they, the little company, had nothing but Jesus? The fullness of the Godhead stood bodily in their midst risen from the dead — the Head, and the beginning of the new creation. Where are you, reader? with the religious world, or with Jesus Himself? He speaks in the midst of those gathered to Himself. Truly He is not now present in body. But is He not as really present in Spirit? They were afraid. Yes, though it is unspeakably blessed, yet it is an awful moment when the soul is first separated from earthly religion and brought into the very presence of the risen Lord. He says, “Peace unto you.” What pen, or tongue, can tell the wondrous peace His presence and His words give, in the midst of those truly gathered to Himself? Peace in every sense, both to conscience and heart.
Now since He is risen, since He is present, since He says, “Peace,” how searching the question He put to them, and to us! “Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?” Troubled ones, what do you answer to the Lord? Why are ye troubled? Do you say, we are troubled about our sins? He has borne them on the cross; He shows you His hands and His side. Do you say, we are troubled about the confusions and divisions in the professing church? But, He says “peace” in the midst of those gathered to Himself. Nothing can ever break that peace. All the things that trouble you vanish in His dear presence. No need of convocations to legislate or decide in His blest presence. No need of altered prayer books, or learned doctors there — oh, the simplicity, the reality of His presence! But no man can come there truly to Him, unless the Father draws him. It is hid from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes; and from every stormy wind that blows, He gives perfect rest. “Peace unto you.” Satan’s greatest effort is to keep souls from being gathered thus to Christ. It may be asked, But has not Christ now gone up to heaven? Quite true; and has not the Father sent down the Holy Ghost? He abides with us to the end. How little this is believed!
And it may be asked, But is it not all over now? Have not difficulties arisen, and is not this blessed testimony to the Person of Christ all lost? Oh, beware of staying too long at Emmaus. What is lost? Is not Jesus Himself as truly present in Spirit now as at the very moment He was bodily present in the upper room? Is not the unspeakable peace of His presence just the same? Is not the Holy Ghost as truly present to take of the things of Christ as at the beginning? Why then are ye troubled? Difficulties may arise, you say, or have arisen. There are no difficulties where His presence is owned. Disown His presence, and we have human intellect only!
There is always danger in reasoning about the things that have happened. These two had the letter of Scripture for expecting the setting up of the kingdom. They had not spiritual discernment of the times, and hence were greatly disappointed. Some have trusted and expected the testimony to be something to be seen in the world, but if we have the mind of the Spirit, what can we expect beyond the sure promise of the Lord? “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt. 18:20.) It was not at Emmaus that He said, “Peace unto you,” but in the midst of the little company gathered together at Jerusalem — the foreshadowed Assembly. Yes, all is perfect peace in His presence; while all is perplexity and sadness with those who have turned their backs on the Assembly.
May the Lord teach us more of His blest ways in seeking the sad hearts who have wandered to Emmaus. And may He ever keep us satisfied with Himself.