Shoulders of Giants

Bernard of Chartres once wrote “we are like dwarves sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.” Sometimes I think we forget that, when it comes to understanding of the faith, we are dwarves sitting on the shoulders of giants. We read this account of two disciples walking to Emmaus and we think “how could they not recognize Jesus” or “how did they still not get it?” We need to keep in mind that they didn’t have a lot of advantages we have, all of the explanations that were written down in the Gospels and the epistles that these two disciples might not have been present for, they don’t have thousands of years of people thinking about this, they didn’t have people explaining it to them all the time - it’s no wonder the disciples were still figuring this all out.

What this account gives us an incredible window into how faith and understanding can work and how Jesus uses both to draw us closer to Him.

At the beginning of their walk to Emmaus, the disciples do not understand who Jesus was, they do not understand what He did, and they even seem skeptical that He rose from the dead. We even read that they were kept from recognizing Him. Yet, Jesus is still working. Jesus engages them in their ignorance and in their skepticism. And that same Jesus who walked beside the disciples on the road to Emmaus is the Jesus that we worship and celebrate today. And while He doesn’t literally approach us as we’re walking around, He sends things into our lives - books and other things we read, the people we talk to, the things we experience, that plant the seeds of understanding and faith. Just as Jesus asked the disciples how they were feeling and where their heads were at, He uses these things to reach into our lives wherever we’re at - whether we recognize Him or not.

You’ve Gotta Start Somewhere

And from where the disciples were at, Jesus explained to them what was going on. He took something they were familiar with, Moses and the Prophets, and He showed them who He was and what He had accomplished on the cross. They experienced understanding, starting small and growing as Jesus continued to teach and form them. But it does start out small, if someone is just learning to read you don’t hand them Dante’s Inferno to work through.

Sometimes we get caught up in wanting to understand everything. This is especially true when we talk about mission, there’s a fear that we don’t understand enough to share our faith - but it just starts with the basics. And sometimes even when we talk about developing our own faith, there’s a concern that we don’t understand enough to grow - but everyone has to start somewhere. This might be an experience you’ve had if you’ve ever coached someone or tried to teach someone something. When I was in high school I helped to coach tennis with my coach for his class of younger kids, and occasionally a kid would try and copy a shot that he had seen Coach Kerry do (or even a shot that he’d seen a professional make on TV), then get really frustrated that he couldn’t do it. And as coaches we’d have to remind the kid that everyone starts somewhere and that greatness takes practice.

It’s a similar experience with our faith. And the question I want to ask y’all this morning is this. If you had two sentences, only two sentences, to be the beginning of someone’s understanding of the faith - what would those two sentences be?

God at Work

‌While I have you thinking about this, it’s also worth reflecting on the journey that it took you to get to where you are today. What I want to invite you to do is to outline your life at some point in the next week. Yeah, you’re getting sermon homework. Sit down and write it out or type it out, the major events of your life, the most important memories, the significant people, the biggest things you’ve learned along the way - as much of it as you would say “that’s an important part of my life.” After you have your outline written out, I want you to star or highlight or underline each part where, looking back, God was working to help strengthen your faith or deepen your understanding of Him. Because Christ is working to show Himself to us and to help us understand, even if we don’t recognize Him at the time.

So the disciples on the road have experienced this process that starts with Jesus walking alongside them and continues as He starts to explain things to them, but they have still be kept from recognizing Him. But when He breaks bread from them, they recognize Him for who He is and He disappears. Then they say to each other “did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?” In the moment, we don’t always recognize Jesus and the work He is doing to strengthen our faith by deepening our understanding. But He is working, and sending the Holy Spirit to work through all sorts of things to strengthen our faith and understanding of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. To draw us always closer to Him, secure because of the price He paid for us on the cross.

Our Understanding Blossoms

Their eyes were opened, and when they look back at their experience on the road to Emmaus that revelation changes how they view the experience. And that’s a tool that the Spirit uses in our lives. Sometimes our eyes are veiled, prevented from recognizing God’s work in the moment, because it’s going to be even more powerful later. One of the easiest places to recognize this phenomena is in reading the Scriptures themselves. My dad used to tell this story. He had the same Bible for a long time and at one point he came across some notes in the margin that he didn’t really understand - so he got mad at his sister for writing in his Bible. But then he realized that it was his writing, but a previous time reading the verse he had come away with an entirely different emphasis. I want to encourage you - I’m the mean teacher this week because I’m giving more homework - to pick a Bible passage, whether it’s a paragraph or a chapter or a whole book. I want you to read that same text every day for the next week and pay attention to how that meaning changes. Because God is always working to strengthen our faith and deepen our understanding, answering our prayer to draw us closer to Him and lead our hearts to burn within us at His Word. Amen.