Thomas Jefferson
April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826

3rd Sunday of Easter
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 24:13-35 Sermon
April 6, 2005

Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
149 "The Church's One Foundation"
100 "Alleluia! Jesus Lives!"
95 "At The Lamb's High Feast We Sing"
576 "Abide With Me"


TEXT (vs. 25-27): “And [Jesus] said to [the two on the road]: ‘O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

This morning, I’m going to have a little American history lesson for you.This lesson is going to be about one individual by the name of Thomas Jefferson, the man whose face has been cast on the nickel ever since the buffalo was put out to pasture.And I’m sure that pretty much any of you could tell me a bit about him.

For example, we all know that he was the third President of the United States.His home is an estate in Virginia called Monticello.He was a very well educated and learned man.He had a law degree.He was a gifted architect, and his Monticello home was of his own design.He was also a gifted inventor, and his home had many custom features he designed, like a dumbwaiter.He also is credited with inventing some things we take for granted today, like the coat hanger and French fries.

His place in American history can be well noted, especially with his most revered work, the American Declaration of Independence.He chaired the committee of five people who were to prepare this document for presentation to Congress; however he was the chief author of it, and it reflects much of his way of thinking.

One common misconception that exists amongst the American public is that people think Thomas Jefferson was a Christian.Nothing could be further from the truth.In actual fact, he was what is called a “deist,” which is a term used to describe someone who believes in some sort of nebulous “supreme being.”The Declaration of Independence reflects his thinking on this, where he uses terms for God such as “creator” and “nature’s god.”

In a document by Avery Dulles where he speaks about Jefferson, he concludes with the following quote:“In summary, then, Jefferson was a deist because he believed in one God, in divine providence, in the divine moral law, and in rewards and punishments after death; but did not believe in supernatural revelation. He was a Christian deist because he saw Christianity as the highest expression of natural religion and Jesus as an incomparably great moral teacher. He was not an orthodox Christian because he rejected, among other things, the doctrines that Jesus was the promised Messiah and the incarnate Son of God. Jefferson's religion is fairly typical of the American form of deism in his day.”

One of the most noteworthy things he did can be seen in a work which is still being published entitled “The Jefferson Bible.”Jefferson originally entitled the work, “The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth.”

What Jefferson did, was to sit down with his King James Bible and a pair of scissors.Jefferson omitted the things that he thought were inauthentic and retained those he believed were original.In his own words, Jefferson said that he was “separating the diamonds from the dung hill.”Jefferson recollected that the cut-and-paste job was the work of two or three nights only, at Washington, after getting through the evening task of reading the letters and papers of the day.

Jefferson did not believe in Christ’s divinity.Rather as he puts it: “[Jesus was] a man, of illegitimate birth, of a benevolent heart, (and an) enthusiastic mind, who set out without pretensions of divinity, ended in believing them, and was punished capitally for sedition by being gibbeted according to the Roman law.”

Further, Jefferson refers to Jesus’ disciples as “rogues” and calls them a "band of dupes and impostors;" and the Apostle Paul as the "first corruptor of the doctrines of Jesus."

The result of all of this was the systematic removal of the account of the virgin birth of Jesus, the removal of all of his miracles, the removal of all references to Jesus being true God, and the removal of Christ’s most important miracle of all, his physical resurrection from the dead.

What remains is a rather short list of moral codes which specifically apply to the way people relate to other people.This can be summarized in this fashion: 1) Be just; justice comes from virtue, which comes from the heart.2)Treat people the way we want them to treat us. 3) Always work for peaceful resolutions, even to the point of returning violence with compassion.4)Consider valuable the things that have no material value.5)Do not judge others.6)Do not bear grudges.7) Be modest and unpretentious.8)Give out of true generosity, not because we expect to be repaid.

As we think about this list of moral values, of course there is nothing wrong with any of these.They are all Christian values we would consider very noble and honorable.But we need to think about what is missing.If this list were to stand on its own without anything else, we would have a religion of works.There is no room for faith, nothing to believe in, and absolutely no hope for the future.The love and grace of God is conspicuously absent here; and should any of these moral standards be transgressed, there is no forgiveness or reconciliation; only a fearful expectation of punishment.

Thomas Jefferson’s interpretation of the Bible has been limited by the confines of his own mind and intellect.Even though he was brilliant in so many areas, his view of Jesus and Biblical Christianity is clear evidence of his theological stupidity and his complete lack of faith.

As we get into our Gospel lesson for today, we find two disciples of Jesus walking together on the road heading to Emmaus, a small town probably located about 3 ˝ miles northwest of Jerusalem.We’re not sure about the exact location, but Luke describes it as being 60 stadia, or 7 miles away, most likely the distance of a round trip.Anyway, it was an easy walk away from Jerusalem.

As they were walking, they were talking about all of the events which had occurred. They were expressing discouragement about what had happened.In verse 21 they said, “…but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel…”

And so, as these two men are walking along, a stranger joins them.This would turn out to be the most significant walk of their lives.The stranger (who turns out to be Jesus) asks them what they were discussing.They tell this stranger all about their hopes and their disappointments.Jesus simply provides a listening ear for them.Jesus reassures them and helps them.What did he do?

Verse 27 of our text says, “Jesus explained to them what was said about himself in all the Scriptures, beginning with the books of Moses and the writings of all the prophets.”

What Jesus did was to point them right back to the Bible.Now it’s not that the disciples didn’t know what the Bible said.They would have been well schooled in the Scriptures.But they had only one thing on their minds, and that was the events that had just occurred with Jesus.They weren’t focused on Biblical prophecy or things in the past; their only concern was on the here and now.

Now I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating.Those two disciples on the road to Emmaus must have received one of the best Bible studies to have ever happened.Jesus would have most likely started at the beginning—how sin entered into the world by the disobedience of one man, and how the prophets foretold about a Saviour who would be obedient, even unto death.He probably referred to the description of the suffering servant of God in Isaiah 53 where he writes, “(He was) wounded for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities.”And then he would have continued, looking at passage after passage which foretold the things about him, and what would happen to him.It was all there.

Jesus took the Scriptures and explained the whole thing to them.He enlightened them.Some translations of the Bible have substituted the word “interpreted” for the word “explained,” and that’s okay as long as Jesus is doing the interpreting, and not someone the likes of Thomas Jefferson.

As we saw in my opening illustration, Biblical interpretation can be a very dangerous thing.But that little word “interpretation” is a word that people, especially amongst the laity like to use.And I’ll give you an example.

So often, people will use that word as a cop-out.When speaking about doctrinal differences amongst religions, they’ll use the phrase:“Well, you have your interpretation, and I have mine,” thinking that makes everything credible.

In actual fact however, that doesn’t work.If there are two differing theological opinions, and for the sake of this example we’ll call them “Position A” and “Position B,” we automatically know one of three things:Either “A” is right and “B” is wrong, or “B” is right and “A” is wrong, or both “A” and “B” are wrong.They both can’t be right.God doesn’t set forth two opposing doctrinal positions where both are credible.It just doesn’t work that way.

The technical term for Biblical interpretation is “hermeneutics.”Here are some key hermeneutical principles:1) Let the clear words of the Bible speak for themselves.God means what he says, and not what we think he might be saying.2) Scripture interprets itself.If there is a passage which seems unclear to us, read it in light of a passage that explains it more clearly.3)Read everything in context.Quoting something out of context can be damaging to people or make them appear to say something they didn’t mean.We don’t like to be quoted out of context, and God doesn’t either.And finally: 4) Always regard Scripture as the very Word of God, without error or contradiction.It is the voice of God speaking to us.It is objective truth; and truth is never subjective to our personal will or opinion.

So why are the principles of Biblical interpretation so important?It’s because the Gospel is at stake. The Bible so clearly and forthrightly presents Jesus as the Saviour of the world.The Bible tells us that those who believe in Jesus as their Saviour will see eternal salvation.The Bible tells us about the grace of God which was demonstrated in the person and work of Jesus.The Gospel message which is so eloquently presented in the words of John chapter 3 verses 16 and 17 must not be changed or altered: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”

Amid our own doubts and fears, we know we have a God we can trust and a Saviour who has redeemed us through his holy and precious blood.Despite our many sins, we know that the forgiveness Jesus purchased for us on the cross is ours through faith.Regardless of what others may say or whoever may assault our faith, we know we have the Word of God upon which we may rely.That Word shows us our Saviour upon whom our hope of heaven is secure.

Thomas Jefferson and Jesus on the road to Emmaus provide us with two radically contrasting methods of Biblical interpretation.Thomas Jefferson’s answer was to open his King James Bible and go after it with a pair of scissors.Jesus opened the Scriptures to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and showed them the truth of what the prophets spoke, and how it was fulfilled in him.In a nutshell, that’s the difference between God doing the interpreting and man doing the interpreting.I guess we can credit Jefferson for inventing “cut and paste” long before computers were on the scene.And as an added note, Jefferson’s hatcheted Bible is on display at Monticello if you’re curious as to what his finished product looks like.

Thomas Jefferson was not a man of faith, and his method of Biblical interpretation proves that.When asked about the book of Revelation, he responded:"It is between fifty and sixty years since I read it, and I then considered it merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherencies of our own nightly dreams."

The contrast between faith and unbelief in the area of Biblical interpretation is astounding.And it’s tragic to think that there are many people out there who share Jefferson’s ideas, at least to some degree.The beautiful picture of heaven recorded for us in Revelation, Jefferson regards as “merely the ravings of a maniac.”How sad.

Just as Jesus gave those disciples hope, he has done the same for us.We know without a doubt that Jesus rose physically and bodily from the grave.He proved from the Scriptures he was who he said he was.And we know that the promises Jesus gives us are one-hundred percent true.We can bet our life on that.

If we ever have doubts about what God says in the Bible, or if Satan tries to trick us into limiting God by the confines of our own minds, let’s remember the words God the Holy Spirit caused to be recorded by the Apostle Peter in his first epistle, verse 16 and verses 19-21:We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye-witnesses of his majesty….And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation.For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”