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It was a bitterly cold night.A powerful winter storm had swept up along the Delaware River and enveloped the city of Trenton, New Jersey, in snow, ice and sleet. The year was 1776. Inside his headquarters in Trenton, Colonel Raul, the Hessian commander was entertaining guests at a Christmas Eve party, when a loud knocking sounded at the door. The man outside wanted to speak to Colonel Raul, but the Colonel, who was said to be fond of parties, refused to leave his guests and speak with him. Desperate to deliver his message, the man tried again, knocking with increasing urgency. With persistence, the mysterious man managed to have a letter passed to the Colonel. A while later another series of knocks sounded, louder than before. This time the messenger requested an interview with Colonel Raul, only to be turned away.

Early the next morning, General Washington led a surprise attack on the city and defeated Colonel Raul’s forces. Two days later, Colonels Raul’s body was found in the streets and in his coat pocket was the unopened letter warning him of Washington’s impending attack. Colonel Raul died a fool!

Open the letter

We have been given a message, in effect, a letter from God. What have we done with it? Is God’s word unopened in our houses? Are we ignoring the one message that can save us from the enemy — sin? Are we living like the Colonel, enjoying the present with no concern for the future?

When we find our enthusiasm waning, our hope growing dim, our attitude toward the truth indifferent, it is because we have neglected God’s message.

Paul describes God’s word as our energy: “The word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (I Thess. 2:13). The phrase, “effectually worketh” means – “energy, to put forth power, to display one’s activity.”

God’s word is the energy that fuels the believer and results in action. This is exactly how Jeremiah felt: “His word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones” (Jer. 20:9). It was God’s word that fueled the prophet, energizing him. The word “burning” has the idea of kindling a fire, of feeding logs to the flames. It paints the picture of a fire so hot that it explodes into activity.

Fuel for the fire

Consider those weary disciples making their way home to Emmaus after witnessing the crucifixion of Jesus. In answer to the “stranger’s” enquiry they reiterated the recent tragedy, adding: “But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, today is the third day since these things were done.” Identifying the problem, Jesus replied: “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk. 24:19-21,27).

The opening up of the word renewed the waning hope of the disciples, the letters sent by God. Their fires were rekindled and their zeal energized. “And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures? And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem” (Lk. 24:32-33).

Dying embers

When we are in spiritual decline, one of the first things we neglect to do are the daily readings, closely followed by a decrease in and eventually the elimination of our prayers. Gradually, our attendance at the meeting declines, until sadly, there is complete absence. Slowly we choke the flames that should be burning brightly and, imperceptibly the fire goes out.

One of the ways that Jesus lives in us is through the reading and absorption of God’s word. Paul instructs us to, “be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Eph 4:23). This only happens when we remember the words and teachings of our Lord. God’s word is how we synchronize our thoughts with His. In the same manner, the mind of Jesus becomes part of our thinking (Phil. 2:5).

Solomon wrote: “Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth” (Prov. 4:5). Wisdom comes from reading God’s word and then applying it in everyday life. Or as Jesus describes it, “let your light so shine before men…” (Matt. 5:16).

The light of those two disciples on the road to Emmaus dimmed because they thought the Messiah had not come; they thought their prayers were unanswered. A week earlier they had been among those who shouted: “Hosanna, Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Three days later, some in that crowd shouted “crucify him, crucify him” (John 12:13). Being witnesses to all of these events, the disciples became perplexed and saddened.

We, too, have witnessed events that we were sure would lead to Christ’s return, and yet Christ has not returned. “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved” (Jer. 8:20 ). Have we become demoralized on our road to Emmaus?

Integrating the signs

Many of us never thought we would live until 2006 without the kingdom being here. How do we react to the signs given us? Are we excited to realize that every necessary prophecy that precedes Christ’s return has seemingly been fulfilled?

The two disciples had both seen and heard signs that Jesus was alive: “Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre; and when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive. And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not” (Lk. 24:22-24). With hindsight, it seems incredible that they refused to believe, remaining downcast and miserable.

Let us take the lesson to heart, remembering that we have witnessed many signs of the imminent return of our Lord, and yet he is not here. How easy it is to become disheartened through disappointment.

Maybe Peter gives us a clue as to why the Lord delays his coming: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (II Pet. 3:9). Perhaps the clock has been slowed in order for others to be saved or to enable us to re-ignite our enthusiasm and faith.

Rejoicing on our way

The Ethiopian eunuch believed, and acting on his beliefs was baptized. Then he went on his way rejoicing. Are we still rejoicing at the privilege of being on the road to God’s kingdom? Samuel’s words to the Israelites are just as applicable to us: “Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider what great things he hath done for you” (I Sam. 12:24).

On the road, the two disciples remembered Jesus in the past tense, as a dead man. Paul, having received the commandment from the risen Lord, urged the believers in the present tense: “This do ye…in remembrance of me” (I Cor. 11:24). The meaning according to Vines is, “being mindful of.” When we gather together around the table, it is to remember, to be mindful of our Lord’s achievements and his return.

Jesus the Christ knocked on our door and we opened it to receive him and read his life-saving message. But our memories are short and the pressures of life can cause the words to fade. If we are wise, we will constantly allow the word of God to revitalize our lives and not neglect to meet together around the table of remembrance.

Being proactive

Peter, who was perhaps one of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, was found to be preaching fervently less than two months later: “Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:40-42). Continuing in the doctrine of Christ, meeting prayerfully with our brethren and sisters, and partaking of the emblems is vital to our eternal well-being. Should any of these elements be missing from our lives or the life of our ecclesia, the fires of our faith begin to burn low and our spiritual energy becomes endangered.

We cannot afford to be like Colonel Raul, who neglected to open the door and refused to consider the life-saving letter. Instead, let us remember the words of Malachi: “The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 3:1).

Steve Cheetham

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